implement random selection in Python

Boris Borcic bborcic at
Fri Nov 16 12:00:56 CET 2007

Bruza wrote:
> No. That does not solve the problem. What I want is a function
>   def randomPick(n, the_items):
> which will return n DISTINCT items from "the_items" such that
> the n items returned are according to their probabilities specified
> in the (item, pro) elements inside "the_items".

and in the initial post you wrote :

 > But how about the general case, for N > 1 and N < len(items)?

The problem is you need to make "the n items returned are according
to their probabilities" more precise. "According to their probabilities" implies 
n INDEPENDENT picks, but this is contradictory with the n picks having to 
provide DISTINCT results (what clearly constrains picks relative to each other).

Of course there are obvious ways to combine the results of random choices of 
single items to obtain a set like you want, but it is not obvious that they are 

This is the most simple-minded :

def randomPick(n, the_items) :
     assert n<len(the_items)
     result = set()
     while len(result)<n :
     return sorted(result)

This is another (but it won't work with your version of singlePick as it is,
although it would with that provided by the other posters) :

def randomPick(n, the_items) :
     result = []
     items = dict(the_items)
     for k in range(n) :
         pick = singlePick(items.items())
         del items[pick]
     return result

I would be surprised if they had exactly the same statistical properties, IOW, 
if they did fit the same exact interpretation of "according to their probabilities".

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