Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The pavers going down in our parking lot make a nice statement—I think they look much better than simple cement would look. They’re one of the few items where we decided that a little extra cost was worth it to make CityWalk look better. I would really love to do a project some day where we didn’t have to squeeze.

If you look closely then you’ll notice that the pavers come in three sizes, 3”, 6”, and 9” and in a variety of colors. The pavers are intended to be laid in a random pattern, and there is more of a story to that than you might think.

One of the hardest things for human beings to do is to fake randomness. Our minds tend so strongly towards order that want to impose it, even when it’s not wanted. So if you watched the pavers being laid, you would see that the workers are constantly backing up a few pavers and laying them down in a new order. That’s because they’ve fallen unconsciously into a pattern in laying the bricks and have to rearrange the pavers to create at least a look of randomness.

The difficulty in maintaining randomness doesn’t affect just the pavers at CityWalk. Statisticians use studies of “real” randomness to detect “fake” randomness. A typical study of this type is Geoffrey C. Berresford (2002), The College Mathematics Journal, 33(5), 391-394. The article abstract states, “If you ask people to make up random sequences of H[ead]s and T[ail]s, they will fail; our brains have so much structure that they cannot produce chaos. Here is how to tell real randomness from the fake, human-created, kind.”

I have to admit not reading this, or any other, study of randomness—I simply don’t have the math to understand them. I have read some of Nate Silver’s work on my favorite blog,, and the comments on his work, so I can at least say that most of the experts seem to agree that it’s statistically valid to tell fake results from real ones through analyzing their approach to randomness.

So, it turns out that faking sincerity may not be the ultimate test, maybe it’s even harder to fake randomness—even in laying pavers.

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