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Impossible? by Julian Havil

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Chapter 9

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THE TOSS OF A COIN

Constant repetition carries conviction.

Robert Collier

A Modern Matter

If the reader was asked to judge whether the following 1679 bits of binary data is random or could possibly contain a message, the answer would most probably be the latter: the eye discerns some sort of ‘lack of randomness’ with those sequences of 0s surely too long for mere chance to have created them. Think of tossing a coin 1679 times and writing a 0 if a head appears uppermost and a 1 otherwise: such long runs of heads would surely cause us to suspect the coin’s fairness. If the reader agrees with this, he or she will be acting precisely as ...

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