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Random is more than Arthur Dent‘s daughter in “Mostly Harmless,” the fifth book in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy. Random is also more than a disputed Wikipedia article. Interestingly, Wikipedia will let you generate a “Random article” by clicking a link in the left-hand column! I have a good friend who will get angry with me if I even bring up Monte Carlo methods, because her Ph.D. thesis from the University of California at Berkeley dealt heavily with them.

The generation of truly random numbers is often harder than imagined (why? :-) ) and, for some purposes, folks make do with pseudorandom number generators. John von Neumann said, “Anyone who uses arithmetic methods to produce random numbers is in a state of sin.:-)

I am one of those folks who are fascinated by “coincidences,” in particular, those events that seem to recur “randomly” in my life, or more specifically, those that repeat, at irregular intervals. Oddly enough, several of those occurred today, which, again oddly enough, have seemed to have a calming effect on me, in this particularly negative time.

The first of these was a demonstration about “electricity” to a group of elementary school children by a presenter from The Lawrence Hall of Science (where some scenes from “THX 1138” were filmed – I often ask kids if they know the origin of the THX in THX sound). The presenter “WOWed” the kids with a Van de Graaff generator and a Tesla Coil and a Jacob’s Ladder like the one I built for a seventh grade science fair. However, the presenter seemed to “WOW” himself with the repetition of his analogy of an atom – “If the whole auditorium were an atom, the nucleus (where almost all of the “mass” is) would be like a grain of sand at the center of the auditorium and all of the rest of the space would be “filled” with electrons whizzing through it.” He repeated this at least once, and it is still as fascinating to me as it obviously still is to him.

Every now and then, I like the scientific “shot in the arm” (see definition 11) that, in my later worklife, would come to me through such things as replays of Jacob Bronowski, or James Burke‘s “Connections,” since “science” was pretty alien to many of the folks I met in high tech (oddly enough).

Another of the events that occurred coincidentally (I won’t say “randomly”) today was, in the middle of a classroom full of third graders reciting poems (randomly? I drew sticks out of a jar! :-) ) about Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day, a single student started to recite “maggie and milly and molly and may” by e.e. cummings, one of my favorite poems. The poem is pretty “deep,” maybe especially so for a third grader :-) and has a lot of meaning for folks like me who love the sea.

I did not get the opportunity to ask the young man why he chose the e.e. cumming’s poem… but I am very glad that he did. I wonder if he chose it at “random?” :-)

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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