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Perl Cookbook by Nathan Torkington, Tom Christiansen

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Generating Biased Random Numbers

Problem

You want to pick a random value where the probabilities of the values are not equal (the distribution is not even). You might be trying to randomly select a banner to display on a web page, given a set of relative weights saying how often each banner is to be displayed. Alternatively, you might want to simulate behavior according to a normal distribution (the bell curve).

Solution

If you want a random value distributed according to a specific function—e.g., the Gaussian (Normal) distribution—consult a statistics textbook to find the appropriate function or algorithm. This subroutine generates random numbers that are normally distributed, with a standard deviation of 1 and a mean of 0.

sub gaussian_rand {
    my ($u1, $u2);  # uniformly distributed random numbers
    my $w;          # variance, then a weight
    my ($g1, $g2);  # gaussian-distributed numbers

    do {
        $u1 = 2 * rand() - 1;
        $u2 = 2 * rand() - 1;
        $w = $u1*$u1 + $u2*$u2;
    while ($w >= 1 || $w == 0)

    $w = sqrt( (-2 * log($w))  / $w );
    $g2 = $u1 * $w;
    $g1 = $u2 * $w;
    # return both if wanted, else just one
    return wantarray ? ($g1, $g2) : $g1;
}

If you have a list of weights and values you want to randomly pick from, follow this two-step process: First, turn the weights into a probability distribution with weight_to_dist below, and then use the distribution to randomly pick a value with weighted_rand:

# weight_to_dist: takes a hash mapping key to weight and returns # a hash mapping key to probability sub weight_to_dist ...

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