Random Number Seed

Daniel T Konkle daniel.konkle@dynetics.com
Mon Mar 1 20:06:00 GMT 2004



I've not tested it but this perl script at this link to compute a random 
number seed seems to be better than using the time.


At 11:55 AM 3/1/2004, Robert G. Brown wrote:
>On Mon, 1 Mar 2004, Przemyslaw Sliwa wrote:
> > Hi,
> >
> > I have a question:
> > When one wants to use the random number seed different than the default 
> one (equals to 0) one can use the macro GSL_RNG_SEED=seed from the 
> command line. I would like to use the system time as the seed and have no 
> idea how one can use the it from the command line. Therefore I want to 
> use the function clock() in my C program. Could you help me how the seed 
> can be initialized from the function claock() within my c program?
>This is getting to be a faq.  Here is a short discursion on seeds yet
>Depending on the rng chosen, using the clock as a seed ranges from a
>maybe-safe bad idea to a really BAD bad idea.  Obviously the seeds on
>all jobs started in (say) any given hour will have substantial bit-level
>correlations.  Whether or not those bit-level correlations will cause
>supposedly "independent" jobs started with nearby seeds to exhibit
>unexpected correlations depends in part on the quality of the rng
>selected, but LOTS of the GSL rngs are not terriby high quality and
>would be likely to exhibit the problem.
>Seeding by hand can also be problematic as humans have a hard time
>selecting random unsigned long integers from the full range of available
>The "best" solution (in my opinion) for seeding a rng to get unique rng
>series in disparate computations (so one can, for example, apply
>statistics safely to results from the computations under the assumption
>that those results are "independent, identically distributed" numbers
>according to the requirements of statistics and the central limit
>theorem) is to do the following:
>   a) Use an rng with a very, very, very,...very long period.  The period
>really should be long enough that all of your samplings from the rng are
>"unlikely" to overlap.
>   b) Use a "high quality" rng, one that passes the Diehard suite or most
>of the NIST/FPE suite of tests of randomness.
>The default GSL rng, mt19937, is a very good choice wrt both a) and b).
>It has a period of 2^19937, which is yes, a very large number and has
>passed the diehard tests.  It is also pretty fast -- one of the faster
>generators in the GSL suite.
>   c) Seed the generator from /dev/random when it is available.
>/dev/random is slow and unsuitable for monte carlo sampling in most
>cases, but it is highly "unpredictable" and appears to do well on
>bit-level randomness tests.  It is almost certainly adequate and may
>even be ideal.  Note that EVEN mt19937 had problems with bit
>correlations caused by certain seeds -- the current version is
>supposedly fixed but it still cannot hurt at all to use the most random
>seed you have available.
>   d) If you DO want to ensure that all your samplings drawn from each
>seed are unique, record the seeds and use them to label your answers in
>such a way that IF by any miracle you get two seeds that are identical,
>the answer derived from those two runs is only counted once.  In most
>cases this will make no observable difference in the answer, of course,
>if one is pulling seeds from bitlevel-random unsigned long ints, but is
>still a good practice.
>   e) Only if /dev/random is not available consider using the clock.  In
>that case you can use a bit of common sense to determine whether or not
>to take extra measures.  If you're writing a game, don't bother.  If
>you're doing simulations, you MIGHT want to use the clock to reseed one
>(good) rng, and use the first rng to determine e.g.  a bitshuffling or
>other "randomization" of the original seed to create a new, less
>obviously correlated seed for the second (better) rng.  I don't have an
>explicit theoretical foundation for this (although there may be one) but
>intuitively doing this in two stages with good rngs will break up
>bitlevel correlations in the second while diluting overall seed-based
>correlation by something like the product of the available phase spaces.
>A code snippet for seeding from /dev/random (with fallback from the
>clock) is included below.  It basically returns an unsigned long
>integer with at least some of its bits set by the faster usec scale clock in
>gettimeofday.  If you prefer, you could only use the seconds portion of this.
>It is important to note that the addition it uses has a distinct nonzero
>probability of returning the same seed but is generally more "random"; using
>seconds alone is very strongly correlated (and will OFTEN return the same
>seed value if multiple jobs are started per second or on a cluster where
>there is a bit of clock drift).
>    rgb
>Robert G. Brown                        http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
>Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
>Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
>Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb@phy.duke.edu
>#include <stdio.h>
>#include <sys/time.h>
>unsigned long int random_seed()
>  unsigned int seed;
>  struct timeval tv;
>  FILE *devrandom;
>  if ((devrandom = fopen("/dev/random","r")) == NULL) {
>    gettimeofday(&tv,0);
>    seed = tv.tv_sec + tv.tv_usec;
>    if(verbose == D_SEED) printf("Got seed %u from gettimeofday()\n",seed);
>  } else {
>    fread(&seed,sizeof(seed),1,devrandom);
>    if(verbose == D_SEED) printf("Got seed %u from /dev/random\n",seed);
>    fclose(devrandom);
>  }
>  return(seed);

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