Randomness and Random.org

* Random.org provides some great Web-based tools for generating random numbers

If you want to pick a winner in a drawing, take samples for statistical purposes, or any of hundreds of other technical tasks you are going to need a source of random numbers.

If you have ever looked at the science behind random numbers and generating them you will know that mathematical techniques to create truly random sequences are problematic and the majority of mathematical Random Number Generators (RNG) can at best create extremely long pseudo-random sequences.

True randomness is the product of physical effects such as flipping coins or detecting the decay of radioactive materials. The former is, needless to say, time consuming when long random sequence are needed, and not many of us can claim the ownership of a Geiger counter with a computer interface.

I have to mention one of the coolest physical random number generators I have ever seen: Video cameras that monitor the activity of lava lamps! The project is called LavaRnd. Since their earlier days of using lava lamps they have moved on to produce excellent random number sequences using nothing more than a cheap Webcam that looks at nothing.

But should the idea of building your own random number generator not appeal to you, or you need random numbers quickly, you might want to take a look at random.org.

Random.org is not only a great resource of information about randomness it also provides some great Web-based tools for generating random numbers. Behind the service is a simple RNG system: “A PC running GNU/Linux is equipped with a series of sound cards, each of which is connected to a radio. The radios are tuned in to (different) frequencies where nobody is broadcasting, and the atmospheric noise picked up by the receiver is fed into the PC through the sound card. A program samples the noise as an eight-bit mono signal at a frequency of 8KHz. The upper seven bits of each sample are discarded immediately and the remaining bits are gathered and turned into a stream of bits with a high content of entropy.”

Random.org provides a number of outputs including the Coin Flipper, the Die Roller, a Random Sequence Generator, and a List Randomizer.

The service is available for free, but your IP address is allocated 1,000,000 random , which is topped up by 200,000 bits each day up to the maximum of 1,000,000. Should you absolutely need more bits you can buy them, $10 for 10 million bits, up to $150 for 600 million bits (payments are made only through PayPal).

Random.org also offers a two premium services: A Third-Party Draw service for lotteries, raffles, etc.; and a Premium Generator that allows for the generation of “up to 10,000 unique numbers from any interval and can also remember the last 10 times you used it, which is useful if you need to pick a random number with someone who is in a different location.” These services require registration, but as they are in beta at present are free until the first full release with pricing is made.

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