[Beowulf] OT: public random numbers?

David Mathog mathog at caltech.edu
Fri Aug 12 08:58:28 PDT 2011


Peter St. John wrote:
> But at any given time, a group can agree on (say) the lowest significant
> digits of the temperatures at time T in cities X, Y, and Z as reported at
> time T2 by the NWS.

Actually we don't know that, at least not reliably enough for this
purpose.  It may be that the one web address is actually multiple
servers, and if the NWS pushes out data revisions these could return
different results for T:X,Y,Z at T2 if the servers were not strictly
synchronized.  Never mind the caching problems that revisions like this
would create on browsers.  I have no idea if the NWS revises their data
files, but it would not be surprising if they did.

After posting I thought of one other source of more or less random
verifiable numbers - the scores of sporting events.  These are not
always generated every day, and are seasonal for the various sports. 
They are however highly verifiable and when multiple events are grouped,
pretty much impossible to "fix" to preselected digits.  For instance:

  http://www.nfl.com/scores
  http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/scoreboard
  http://scores.espn.go.com/nba/scoreboard?date=20110304

These sites maintain historical records.  Even if they didn't the scores
are widely published, and there are tens of thousands of witnesses to
the original event, so it would be pretty much impossible to
intentionally change a final score.  There could still be copying/typo
errors from site to site though, but if such an error was discovered it
would be easy enough to resolve.  There is no intrinsic order to the
scores, and some scheduled games might be canceled, so it would have to
be something like "sort the scores from all NBA teams who played on
4/4/11 into ascending order and concatenate the digits".

Regards,

David Mathog
mathog at caltech.edu
Manager, Sequence Analysis Facility, Biology Division, Caltech


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