This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.

Sunday, 16 May 2010


What is randomness? We take it to mean something like "without physical cause or mechanical explanation". We say, for example, that tossing a coin or rolling dice shows randomness, but it actually doesn't. Because, as Jack knows, the coin lands one way or the other depending on physical reasons. Just because we can't see them, doesn't mean they're not there.

When I was at university I was a member of the Psychic Research Society, and our aim was to set out to try to prove or disprove, find evidence for or against, various supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts or clairvoyance. We even tried to test a ouija board. "Amazingly", we did get some actual answers from the ouija board - the glass really did move around and spell out letters.

Erm, actually it wasn't that amazing. I know perfectly well that someone round that table was making it move. How do I know? Well, it was me. I just couldn't help myself. (Which you might call being possessed but I'd call just being a trouble-maker.) And if it hadn't been me it would have been someone else.

Anyway, forget ouija boards. And don't mess around with them - either there'll be some idiot like me trying to freak everyone out, or nothing will happen, or something will happen which you won't be able to explain.

So, what's this got to  do with randomness? For various bits of scientific research we had to find a way to generate random numbers. So that we could make sure psychology didn't come into it and it was pure unbiased science. Now, I am no mathematician - trust me - and I thought it would be easy: you could maybe stick a pin in a list, blind-folded; or you could ask a computer to generate "any old numbers"; or you could write numbers on bits of paper, throw them in the air and see which landed face up. Or something.

But the clever people explained to me that those methods would not create true randomness. All those things are like tossing a coin: they depend on physical cuases, not randomness. Unless we redefine randomness to include quantum uncertainty, but I don't know how that would work and I certainly didn't know about quantum mechanics then. (Not much new there.)

Now, frankly, I became very bored with this and pretty much gave up and left the Psychic Research Soc. But it did get me thinking about randomness, in a vaguely interested way. I never came to any conclusions and I'd quite like to know what you clever mathsy people think.

Meanwhile, let's apply some pseudo-randomness and let's have a competition. If you'd like to win a signed copy of one of my books (sent anywhere in the world because I've had a good day and am feeling happy), simply add a comment below, with your name. Then, suggest how I will apply some kind of randomness to picking a winner. There's no prize for the person who gives me the best suggestion but I will then apply it and we'll see whose name wins the book!

Deadline 30th May.


Stroppy Author said...

Use someone else's expensive pseudo-random generator: so the first two or three digits of this Sat's lottery winning number. How many digits you use shd reflect the number of comments you get. You might have to keep moving through the numbers if the first two digits are 99, I suppose.

The best pseudo-random number generators are used for top-level encryption, but you probably don't have access to those :-)

Joe Iriarte said...

int random {
return (2)
/* Chosen by die roll.
/* Guaranteed to be random.

Direcleit said...

Once the competition has closed, you select two letters of the alphabet. Count how many times letter '1' and letter '2' appear in each comment and calculate the ratio of the first to the second. The closest to the so-called 'Golden Ratio' of 1.618... is your winner. A bit of effort, but it combines letters with numbers and will keep you out of mischief for a few minutes/hours!

Grethic said...

My favourite employed by Mel on a blog called I Speak Melsh, is using a hamster in a hamster ball to roll over tickets with names on. Where it stops is the winning ticket. Sadly the hamster is now RIP but I did win a prize from her before its sad demise.

Lacer said...

Ooh I have no idea! Call me soft when it comes to animals but I like it when bloggers get their pets to chose winners in competitions. I saw one blog recently where after testing that their dog had no particular preference to certain shaped dog biscuits, counted out the same number of biscuits as comments, wrote a number representing the comment on each biscuit and then waited to see what biscuit the dog ate first. But of course that's not truely random, the dog may have a preference for eating food on it's right (for example) first, or something like that.

Completely seperate but still linked to randomness, I saw Derren Brown perform recently and one of his tricks depended on a series of what at least appeared to be random events, basically completely random choices made by the audience, all coming together to make the trick work and when the trick did work, Brown argued that it worked because there's no such thing as randomness. Believe him or not, it was interesting stuff.

PS I hope I win! I live in a one bookshop town now that Borders has closed and it completely annoys me that my local branch of the bookshop with the new pervy bottom logo only stocks Fleshmarket and not Wasted! I'll have to resort to Amazon if I'm not careful!

Marisa Birns said...

Put all names on folded pieces of paper in a container, walk up to a random stranger on street, ask person to pull out slip...

Homeless people here always are eager to help, especially if there's a dollar or two involved.

Colette said...

Oooh, a chance to win a book mailed to the US! Yeah!

Well, not to be a wet blanket, but you can't guarantee randomness. That said, you can be quite reasonably fair in selecting a meant-to-be-random winner. How about calling someone you know and ask them to pick a number between 1 and xx (however many names you have).

Shelley Sly said...

I really don't have an awesome idea for randomness, but I really want to win your book! :)

What if you assigned each entry a letter-number combination from a Bingo ball and turned the crank on that plastic whatever-you-call-it that's used in Bingo? Assuming, of course, you have one of these or know someone who does.

catdownunder said...

Dear Ms Morgan
I have spoken to Spike and to your dog. We have agreed that there is only one way that this is possible.
Your dog has agreed to donate a random hair to this cause. Close your eyes and run your hand down your dog's coat, continue down to the very tip of the tail. Along the way you will collect the random hair. This is for your use and your use alone.
Now, holding it carefully, go to the closest book. Close your eyes and open the book at a random page. Place the dog hair somewhere on the page. Do not breathe. Open your eyes. Look at the dog hair. Look at the letter starting the word closest to the outer tip of the dog hair. Use that letter to find the first person in your reading list with that initial.
If this does not work the first time it shows that...well it shows something, perhaps that your dog, Spike and myself are better at randomness than human beings?
Yours sincerely, Cat
PS The human writing this for me may have got it wrong - but that is randomness for you!

Laura Marcella said...

Heehee, when I was little at sleepovers, I was always the person moving the Ouji Board glass thingy, too! Hahaha, gosh, that was fun!

Here's my randomizer suggestion- it's very complex so I hope you understand what I mean: Close your eyes and point your finger at the computer screen. Whose name your finger points to is the winner!

Haha, yea, real complex, right! ;) Hope you had a great weekend!!!

Linda said...

I'm for the simple life.
1. Grab telephone directory
2. Close eyes, and open it. A dramatic little flourish won't increase your randomosity, but will feel good.
3. Point to a name
4. Open eyes (you see, I cover all bases here)
5. Take last two pairs of numbers


catdownunder said...

Nicola's dog, Spike and myself are bemused at all these random suggestions - and still believe that we have come up with...what do you mean it won't work?! The Cat.

Captain Black said...

To generate a random number between 1 and 100, copy and paste the following into your browser's address box:

javascript:alert (1 + Math.floor (Math.random () * 100));

You can replace the number 100 with whatever maximum you want, such as the number of blog comments.

Jayne said...

Hello Nicola. I would love to win a copy of your book! And my suggestion of how to randomly pick a winner is to buy a tube of smarties, and a bag of M&Ms. There are 9 colours for Smarties, and 6 for M&Ms. Assign each sweet with a named of someone who entered, and then put them in a bowl and mix them up. Smarties and M&Ms are similar shapes but M&Ms are marked so you will tell the difference (you can see I have studied this!). And then pick a sweet, and voila - your winner. Even better, you get to eat the rest! :)

Works only on smaller comps. Larger ones may have to employ more sweets. Oh the hardship.

Nicola Kim said...

The winner should be the person whose 3rd letter in their name is 'c'. Very random. Or first letter 'n'. :)

Nicola Morgan said...

So, first I had to decide whose randomness generator I preferred. (Yes, bearing in mind that I don't believe in true randomness anyway, as explained in Wasted, despite what the irritated matshy people say - because we have a different meaning for the word "random").

Anyway: because I'm lazy, I looked for the easiest method and Captain Black's was the one. It was also, basically, magic. Utterly cool to someone of my little brain.

So, i then applied Captain Black's method and got the number 5. Which means that the winner is.... Lacer!

So, thanks to all of you for being good sports and amusing me and better luck next time. And Lacer - email me your postal address and tell me which book you'd like and signed to whom.