atmospheric random generator?!

As I was glancing through The Cleanest Line, (the outdoor clothing company) Patagonia‘s enjoyable—as long as one keeps in mind Patagonia is a company, although with commendable ethical and ecological goals—blog, I came upon this entry “And the Winner of “Chasing Waves” is …” where the name of the winner of the book Chasing Wave was revealed. (Not that I am particularly into surfing…!) The interesting point to which I am coming so circumlocutory (!) is that they use a random generator based on atmospheric noise to select the winner! I particularly like the sentence that the generator “for many purposes is better than the pseudo-random number algorithms typically used in computer programs”. For which purpose exactly?!

Now, to be (at least a wee) fair, the site of random.org contains an explanation about the quality of their generator. I am however surprised by the comparison they run with the rand() function from PHP on Microsoft Windows, since it produces a visible divergence from uniformity on a bitmap graph… Further investigation led to this explanation of the phenomenon, namely the inadequacy of the PHP language rather than of the underlying (pseudo-)random generator. (It had been a while since I had a go at this randomness controvery!)

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