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* CYBERSPACE *
* A biweekly column on net culture appearing *
* in the Toronto Sunday Sun *
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* Copyright 1999 Karl Mamer *
* Free for online distribution *
* All Rights Reserved *
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The oldest scam on the net is the pyramid scheme. I've covered
this topic a couple times in my ol' Cyberspace column, from the
"Make Money Fast!" chain email to bogus offers of work
"stuffing" envelopes (translation: pay $20 for the no-brainer
secret that you should resell the no-brainer secret of posting
an ad to the net offering work stuffing envelopes).
An interesting variant turned up on tor.general a few weeks
ago. Just as Super 7 lotto fever was gripping Canada, a Toronto
Freenet user was offering netizens the chance to become a
multi-level marketer of "Pick-Six-Lotto" lottery software.
Multi-level marketing is code for a pyramid scheme where you
sell some trinket to keep it all legal like. The people at the
first couple levels come away with money while the rest lose.
Given the listed system requirements of Pick-Six-Lotto (DOS
2.x, 120K RAM), you might not necessarily be the first on your
block to try to turn a buck with this ancient product.
No matter. Pick-Six-Lotto, we were told, could calculate
"assured winning ticket combinations." The post explained the
software's creator had spent a year running "statistical
analysis programs" on a whack of 6/49 draws and discovered 50%
had a consecutive number combination (for example 12, 13, 22,
29, 32, 41, 44). Zowie, is this a trend those nasty lottery
officials are hiding from the public? Nope. It's a result of
pure chance. And you don't need to spend a year figuring it
out. You can work it out with pencil and paper in ten minutes.
I did.
Suppose the first number drawn is 12. The odds that the second
number is going to be 11 or 13 is roughly 4%. Lets say the
second number drawn is 4. We now pin our hopes on the third
number, which can be 3, 5, 11, or 13. That's roughly a 9%
chance. Suppose our third number comes up 40. If the fourth
number is 3, 5, 11, 13, 39, or 41 it will satisfy our two
consecutive number condition. That's a 13% chance. By the time
we get to the 6th number, there are now 10 possible numbers
that will create a two consecutive number combination. That's
roughly a 23% chance. If I remember Stats 201 correctly, all
those percentages get added to calculate the chance /any/
position will satisfy the condition. So, pure chance assures
roughly 66% of winning numbers will, over time, have two
consecutive numbers.
We can test this hypothesis by looking at a list of winning
numbers published at the Lottery Buddy page at bud.ica.net.
Between September '96 and September '97, 55% of 6/49 draws had
two consecutive numbers.
Does this knowledge really improve our odds? Nope. All what you
know is more than half the time one of 49 possible numbers in
one of five possible positions will be followed by its ordinal
kin. It's not the rainbow leading us to the pot of gold.
So how can our Freenet friend claim to offer software that
picks assured winners? Simple. I assure you 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 is
going to be a winner ... one day. Not possible? All
combinations have equal probability of being drawn. A drawn
number has absolutely no influence on what the next number will
be. A neatly ordered run only seems more improbable because it
defies our psychological expectation of randomness.
Another web page lets us test this hypothesis. Lottorobics at
www.prefect.com/java24/lottorobics.html can simulate a decade
of lottery draws in five minutes flat. I punched in 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6 and let it run for 1042 simulated draws. After spending
$1042 on tickets, my highly improbable combination produced
about $230 in winnings. Okay, I let it run on a randomly
generated combination: 8, 12, 13, 26, 39, 48. Guess what? After
1042 draws, I pocketed $220. I actually did better with 1, 2,
3, 4, 5, 6.