Category Archives: randomness

Tagged Again?

I seem to be one of few bloggers fellow anthroblogger Nancy Leclerc (aka Gary Dickinson) wishes to tag:

Music, Books and Spirit: 8 things . . .

So, even though I’ve been tagged very recently,  I’ll play along. But just because I’m lazy and reveal a lot about myself anyway, I’ll just say eight random things about myself, regardless of how well-known they may be. What’s funny is that Nancy and I have never met IRL.


  1.  I’ve had a crush on a number of women when I was a kid, including some fictional characters. One crush I had as a teenager was with Simone Foster from Head of the Class. I still love humanists.
  2. Not only did I have imaginary friends when I was a kid but I kept imagining all sorts of things throughout my childhood, some of which were just too extreme in terms of megalomania. I still have a very active “internal life.”
  3. I don’t really have an alter ego but people are telling me that I act very different whether I speak English or French. Does that count?
  4. I decided to go into anthropology when I was 13 and never really deviated. Between ages 8 and 11, I wanted to become a lawyer (to defend innocent people). I eventually decided (at age 11) that law had too much to do with personal profit for my tastes.
  5. Despite being a single-parent household, my family (my mother, my brothers, and myself) has mostly been quite unified. Actually, I revealed quite a bit about this in a blog post in French.
  6. I’m not shy at all and I probably appear to be overly eager, assertive, extrovert, or friendly to a number of people. Though I’m sorry if I rub people the wrong way, I probably won’t change on this point.
  7. I’m in love with someone who lives 460km away from here. For the past 10 years, we spent about half of our time away from one another. The cool thing is, we’re going to settle down in Austin together, come December.
  8. I love teaching so much that I’m not sure how I can envision my life without teaching opportunities. Oh, I may get other jobs and I may spend some time without any formal teaching duties. But I’ll still get withdrawal symptoms.

Oh, kay… This was, erm, different. Whom should I tag?

Let’s go semi-random, this time.

Andi, SteveAnne-José, Gary Lee, Vanou, Kevin, Debbie, Sarah

Keeping Up With the Loshes

Elizabeth Losh has tagged me:

virtualpolitik: Pieces of Eight

I actually feel honoured. I met Losh randomly, on a rather high-profile blog she contributes to. I simply posted a comment. And here I am, tagged by a high-profile blogger (and, it seems, a very interesting person).

This “meme” seems to be about revealing eight random things about yourself. As silly as this may sound, I like the idea.

What Losh did was pretty neat. She used eight (presumably consecutive tracks on her iPod Shuffle as inspiration for her facts. Since I can’t get coolness points for doing the same thing, I’ll reverse the randomness factor by using Losh’s facts as inspiration for mine. I’ll then associate some music with every fact.

  1. My family has never been into partisan politics and none of us has been very faithful to a political party. I did attend, as a child, a meeting of Parti Québécois during the 1980 referendum. (Stéphane Venne, Le début d’un temps nouveau, Renée Claude)
  2. Though I’m not a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, the only time in my life I skipped school was to see the parade when the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley cup in 1986. There was a riot later that day, IIRC. (Dolores Claman, The Hockey Theme)
  3. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I archive episodes that I want to blog about. I only use a very small fraction of those archives. Guess I should find an easy way to nanoblog based on podcast episodes. Too bad iTunes doesn’t have any blogging/sharing feature. (Fabio FZero, Samba do Aeroporto, Gerador Zero)
  4. I pretty much never had a hero. My role models have been my mother, my paternal grandmother, and my wife. No wonder my “PersonalDNA” has me at the 72th percentile for femininity and at the 10th percentile for masculinity. (Claude Dubois, Femme de rêve)
  5. I never got my driver’s license. As surprising as it may sound, not driving hasn’t been so much of an issue for me, even in car-intense parts of the United States. (Tracy Chapman, Fast Car)
  6. The comment I originally left on one of Losh’s blog entries was about addictions. I don’t think that I’m addicted to anything. There’s a number of things I do quite regularly (drink coffee, play solitaire on a PDA, spend time online…) but none of them I ever feel compelled to do. (Robert Palmer, Addicted to Love)
  7. Though I haven’t been baptized, I’m culturally Catholic meaning that I probably behave like a Catholic by mere virtue of having been raised in Catholic Quebec during the end of the Quiet Revolution. (Jacques Brel, Les Flamingants)
  8. Among the first things which tickled my philosophical curiosity was thinking about an infinite universe. I kept thinking about what would lie beyond the Universe. I was quite young (10yo) and didn’t know much about (astro)physics. I still wonder about the grander scheme of things. (Nancy Hamilton/Morgan Lewis, How High The Moon, Ella Fitzgerald)

(Can anyone guess what took me longer while preparing this entry?)
Now, who should follow this meme? Here’s a list of people I’m tagging:

Sydney Hutchinson, Mireille Caissy, Jean Crawford, Yara El-Ghadban, Erin McLeod, Aurora Flewwelling-Skup, Hélène Recule, asphaire

(Notice a pattern, here?)

Let’s see who goes along.

The Future Is Non-Linear

In this movie, the audience picks the scene | CNET

Non-linear narratives are among the favourite concepts of several post-modernist scholars. The online world in which we live certainly makes non-linearity quite apparent, often equating it with freedom. There’s also a playful dimension here. Although such a movie is quite different from “Choose your own adventure” gamebooks (what we knew, in French, as «livres dont vous êtes le héro»), there’s a clear connection between a non-linear movie and those games/narratives.

Does sound like an interesting project. The film’s website explains some of the technical details (including the fact that it can’t be played on Mac OS X computers).

iPod/iTunes Shuffle Mode Really Totally Random?

MSNBC – Does Your iPod Play Favorites?: it’s entirely possible that nothing at all is amiss with the shuffle function. . . .
Life may indeed be random, and the iPod probably is, too. But we humans will always provide our own narratives and patterns to bring chaos under control. The fault, if there is any, lies not in shuffle but in ourselves.

This reminds me of a recent igNobel prize: “when people pay close attention to something, it’s all too easy to overlook anything else — even a woman in a gorilla suit.”

In the case of iPod/iTunes randomness, many people fail to see a pattern. Those people all use the same examples (the Birthday “Paradox” is one) to convince themselves that because human beings often misunderstand probabilities, iTunes (and the iPod) must be random. Kind of a reverse argument, ain’t it?
This has been discussed on blogs, on Slashdot, and on two MacSlash threads [1], [2]. Some people even want this thread to “die” (talk about anthropomorphism) yet add nothing of scientific value to the discussion. Many comments are derisive and condescending, coming from self-appointed experts in human cognition (apparently, as they seem to know so much about why we see patterns; they must have all attended the same PSY101 class or, maybe, had the same instructor for statistics in high school).
Thing is, it’s hard to find anyone doing an actual experiment (with null hypotheses) to in fact determine “how random” the algorithm in iTunes and/or the iPod really is.
As we know that no computer algorithm can generate true randomness (but maybeLava Lites can) and as it’s quite likely that the algorithm used in those devices isn’t the most advanced/complex one, it’s safe to assume that the degree of randomness we’re talking about isn’t as high as those deriders assume it is. I’m saying this without knowing whether or not there is such a measure for randomness but, surely, there must be some measure for entropy. That’d work!

What’s infuriating about this series of personal comments (“you see patterns because you don’t know stats!”) is that, assuming those condescending nay-sayers have any scientific background whatever, they should know better than that, just assuming that the algorithm really produces random series of numbers. Pffish! I’d like to be on their dissertation committees…
Why don’t they apply the scientific method? Ya know: observation, hypothesis, test… Kind of thing. It’s taught in some high schools too…
In this case, people observe patterns in a supposedly random series. One hypothesis is that these patterns are artefacts of the human tendency to see patterns everywhere. Fair enough. These people (or people with an experimental bend) could test this hypothesis and show us the results. If you want to do it, don’t test with 100 songs by a few artists. People who see these patterns have thousands of tracks by hundreds of artists in their collections*. Do it with a real world collection. In fact, do it with a collection to which tracks have been added at different times. Here’s why it matters:

The patterns that people see have to do with tracks from the same artist or, more broadly, with tracks that are similar in a more atypical way. Fine. One thing that might be common with these tracks is that they could have been added at the same time. If they have in fact been added at the same time, it’s probable that they reside on the same part of the hard drive, especially on an iPod to which things have been added in a very limited number of “sessions.” When one adds tracks to iTunes, the import process seems not to follow any obvious order so it’s likely that there are specific locations for tracks added in iTunes (on a computer or on the iPod). In this case, because of the way both iTunes and the iPod work, it’s quite possible that it means that they’re in the same folder. Yes, those “Fnn” folders that are supposed to be invisible but from which we can extract files if we want to. Isn’t it possible that tracks in the same folder have a higher probability of being played within a given sequence because of the way the randomization algorithm has been applied to them?

Now, a disclaimer of sorts. I do observe patterns in the way iTunes and my iPod select some tracks. We’re talking about tracks from two albums (out of several hundreds) playing alternatively (a track from album one, a track from album two, another track from album one…) for fifteen tracks. That’s pretty patterned to me. Not “intelligent.” Just patterned, clustered, not-so-random.
In fact, the other day, I noticed that my iPod played one song from one artist, then a song from another artist, then a song from the first artist. I “made myself a bet” (so to speak) that the track after the next would be a track by the first artist. Turns out that it was a song with the same artist involved but listed under another artist (so the “artist” tag wasn’t the same). I believe that I added all those tracks at the same time. Coincidence? Possibly. But it should be proven. “Real scientists don’t believe in coincidence.” Or some such.

It does feel awkward. In a nice way. Another time, I was listening to a song and, for no apparent reason (at least, not apparent to me), I started thinking about a song by a completely different artist. Turns out, that song was the very next song that played after the one to which I was listening. Very strange effect. Now, it’s possible that I always think about many different songs and that I noticed this occurrence because it appeared to “fulfill my prophecy” (the same way people see a conscious hand at play when one connection occurs between different events that have been associated in many different ways). Or it might be that I had heard these two songs in succession before and that hearing one made me think of the other. I tend to lean toward the second hypothesis because, the way my brain works (when it does work), I usually think about “the next song” based on sequences to which I’m used. For instance, if I made myself a specific playlist and I played it (in linear sequence) enough times, chances are that if I hear one of the tracks, I’ll think of the next track in that playlist even if the context is completely different. I’m probably not the only one who does this type of “stream of thought” association. But, you never know.

Anyhoo… I’m not saying the iTunes/iPod “shuffle” algorithm is smart/intelligent/sentient. But I do think that it generates some kind of cluster effect, the result of which sometimes feels spooky…

*My iPod (2G, 20GB) statistics:
101 Genres
644 Artists
703 Albums
3737 Tracks
Tracks by/with the artist of whom I recently had a cluster of songs: 55