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Programming Math Music Science

Exploiting Network Captures For Truer Randomness 189

First time accepted submitter ronaldm writes "As a composer who uses computers for anything and everything from engraving to live performance projects, it's periodically of some concern that computers do exactly what they're supposed to do — what they're told. Introducing imperfections into music to make it sound more 'natural' is nothing new: yet it still troubles me that picking up random data from /dev/random to do this is well, cheating. It's not random. It bugs me. So, short of bringing in and using an atomic source, here's a way to embrace natural randomness — and bring your packet captures to life!"
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Exploiting Network Captures For Truer Randomness

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  • Random (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somersault ( 912633 ) on Saturday November 05, 2011 @05:51PM (#37961042) Homepage Journal

    The imperfections in music aren't perfectly random either, so what's the big deal?

  • What the cluck? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YodasEvilTwin ( 2014446 ) on Saturday November 05, 2011 @05:55PM (#37961080) Homepage
    Network captures do not embody "natural randomness". Packets are produced by computers too, not by the entropy of the universe or something. This guy has toked a little too much ganja. They're probably not even as random as a regular pseudorandom number generator. The latter makes some guarantees with regards to what you'll get out and ensures that no basic patterns are present. Network captures don't have these features. Depending on the computer, the network, and so on the incoming packets may be quite deliberate and ordered.
  • Confusion... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Junta ( 36770 ) on Saturday November 05, 2011 @06:03PM (#37961176)

    /dev/random is about as random as you'll get. I presume your issue is that the pool is exhausted for the given desire. /dev/urandom is your endless of supply of 'good-enough' random for something like this. If your criticism is that it isn't really 'random', it's no less random than your pcap stream. Besides, given the application 'true' randomness will not be distinguishable from good pseudo-random.

    If you wanted to be random and artistic, then maybe point a webcam at a fireplace or something as an entropy source.

  • Re:Random (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday November 05, 2011 @06:40PM (#37961478) Journal

    The imperfections in music aren't perfectly random either, so what's the big deal?

    Most insightful comment on this story. Period.

    Even if we could get perfect randomness in our art, it wouldn't really matter because the humans who see it or hear it will just try to impose some order on that randomness. It's what we do.

    Instead of randomness, what I seek to add to my sounds in the music I make is complexity. That's what makes for a rich sound.

    For example, if you look at the harmonics in a struck piano string or plucked guitar or bowed violin, they appear at predictable places. Now look at the harmonics in a free reed instrument, such as a chromatic harmonica. All sorts of weird places, strange ratios. It's what gives the chromatic such a distinctive, heart-rending timbre. Listen to the album Affinity by Bill Evans and Toots Theilemans and you can see why Evans decided to record his masterwork with a "trivial" instrument like the chromatic harp. It's basically a shaped noise generator with pitch.

    Similarly, listen to the digital sound used in "Sky Saw" in Brian Eno's Another Green World album. A simple waveform made extremely complex using god knows what filthy circuitry and it feels like someone is sticking the motor from a pair of hair clippers up your butt (not that I would know what that feels like since I would never, ever do such a thing since I turned 40).

    It can be easy, or hard, using pseudo-random algorithms in MaxDSP but it's the complexity that makes the sound do it's business. Except when it's simple, like a flute which is basically a sine wave. Oh never mind. I hate thinking about this stuff. It's a waste of time and I left my days as a theorist behind me. I'll let the young guys like the lad in the article worry about how pure the randomness is in the sounds he uses. It'll keep him occupied until inspiration comes along.

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Saturday November 05, 2011 @06:49PM (#37961528)

    In brief:

    "The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance."

    Anyone trying to create a new random number generator with the intent of producing more random numbers, without an extensive and specialized education, is guaranteed to fail.

  • by anwyn ( 266338 ) on Saturday November 05, 2011 @08:53PM (#37962366)
    It is impossible to prove that true randomness exists in the Universe.

    Let U be the universe that you believe in, and let R source of true randomness for that universe. Then the universe that you believe in is U(R).

    Let R' be one of the pseudo random algorithms that is too computationally complex for you to detect. How ever computationally advanced you are there will be an infinite number of these.

    It will be impossible for you to prove that the real universe is not one of the U(R'). Occam's razor is only a human convention which prefers simplicity. It is true that the U(R') universes may be more complex and violate non-locality, but these again are human conventions adopted for simplicity not because we can exclude the U(R') with experiment.

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.