iPod Shuffle Not Random Enough?

Via Craig Newmark I read this article on MSNBC.

The crux of the piece seems to be one writer's attemt to figure out if there's something odd going on behind the function of his iPod Shuffles randomization process. It seems he's not the only one who's questioning the results of randomness.

There is an unintended consequence of the allure of Shuffle: it is causing iPod users to question whether their devices ''prefer'' certain types of music.

I'll second Craig's comment that people seem not to understand randomness. While the MSNBC writer should personally be ashamed that, given a chance to speak with Steve Jobs he actually brought up the possibility that the Shuffle function wasn't truly random since it seemed to hit some songs more than others, he does by the end of the article find someone to explain that true randomness doesn't mean a complete lack of groupings or "odd" patterns. Even the NYT piece touches on it briefly.which is too bad, really, since the iPod and iPod Shuffle could be great hooks to actually inform people about randomization and randomized processes.

The same issue arose in the show Numb3rs. (Newmark the Younger was positive on the show; I found it to be tedious in plotting and overly mystical about the actualy numbers, which seemed counter to the point of the show.) The "math genius" brother asked people to scatter themselves "randomly" around a room. When their spacing proved relatively even through the space, the ah-ha! moment came when he mentioned that true randomness exhibits groupings by sheer chance. Thus, clearly, the pattern of murders on map could be said to be "too perfect" in its attempt at randomness. Not well written, I think, but at least someone had the nerve to try bringing the issue up in prime-time.

For more information I would recommend the book Fooled by Randomness. Well written and free from the level of technical detail that a statistics text might have.


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This page contains a single entry by published on February 3, 2005 12:48 PM.

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