The folks at random.org care about randomness. An honest set of dice will generate random numbers. There is a fixed range, and the outcomes are predictable by the laws of probability (you’ll get more sevens than threes), but each individual roll has an unpredictable outcome. Something is random if you can’t predict it.

If a computer generates random numbers they are not truly random. A computer has to follow an instruction set and if a number is created in response to a programming command then it is not random but deterministic. A computer can create a list of pseudo-random numbers, that is, numbers that show enough variety that they appear to be random. This works well for many purposes but not always for cryptography. Modern encryption techniques involve doing math with randomly-generated number sequences. Such pseudo-random numbers are not necessarily good enough. If a computer program created a list of such numbers in theory that method could then be re-created and thus the entire encryption scheme compromised.

True randomness requires nature, that is, a physical phenomenon. Radioactivity is truly random. A pile of radioactive material will decay at a predictable rate, but which individual atoms will decay and when they will decay are not predictable. Those are random events.

At random.org they use atmospheric noise. Tune your radio to a frequency between stations. You get “hash” or radio noise from all the electromagnetic activity in the atmosphere. That’s random.

Here’s one of the tools you can use at random.org:

I chose the numbers 1-92 because that’s how many elements there are. At least, elements that occur in nature. The “trans-uranium” elements (beyond 92) are synthetic—they are created in the lab.

So I’m going to get a randomly-generated list containing the numerals 1 through 92 and each represents a chemical element. It would be like putting the names on cards and tossing them in a hat and then pulling them out one-by-one.

The list is my next writing project. I’m going to do a post about each of the 92 elements. My new randomly-generated list will give me the sequence! I could have used a simple pseudo-random list, but I was intrigued by the random.org website. And I could have decided to do them alphabetically, or in the order they appear on the periodic table, or whatnot. But I went with random, so that’s what you’ll get.

My first element is #3, Lithium. I’ve posted about lithium before but it never hurts to review. Lithium is very fashionable these days so we should all be up-to-speed.

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