2.6.2. Dynamic random variables (class dynamic_random_variate)

Learning objectives

The class dynamic_random_variate
A reasonable application of the method resize() of the class array

The loaded dice from the previous section may have brought us luck at cards, perhaps, but it can never grant us luck in love, though. If we are in this awkward situation, we should not try, under no circumstances, to drown our sorrow by alcoholic drinks, because then our way home might look like in Figure 2.20.

Figure 2.20. A random walk

A random walk

What we see here is the more or less random walk of a drunken person. With every step forward the drunken person makes one step to the left or to the right at random, staggering to his rescuing resting-place in this manner. We want to assume now that his memory and his decision ability are not put completely out of action but that he is still capable of thoughts of the following kind: “I think I just have gone to the left, I should go to the right now again, should I? Oh, I don't care...” In other words: If he has just gone to the left or to the right, the probability should get smaller that he goes to the left or to the right, respectively, in the next step again.

If we want to simulate such a random walk, we need a random variable for the staggering directions “left” and “right”, obviously, whose probabilities allow to be adapted dynamically. The LEDA class dynamic_random_variate accomplishes exactly this.

We imagine in the simulation that we stand on the real axis. We start at 0. We walk to the left or to the right with equal probability in the first step. Every time we have walked in one of the two directions, we double the weight of the other direction. (This does not mean that the corresponding probability is doubled!) We make one million steps altogether. (Hopefully, an actual way home is not so long.) We count in an array how often we stood at which number and output the counter readings at the end.

Filename: RandomWalk.C
#include <LEDA/random_variate.h>
#include <LEDA/array.h>
#include <iostream>

using leda::dynamic_random_variate;
using leda::array;

enum direction {LEFT, RIGHT};

array<int> weight(LEFT, RIGHT);

inline void double_weight(dynamic_random_variate&, direction);

int main() 
  weight[LEFT] = weight[RIGHT] = 1; 

  dynamic_random_variate DRV(weight);

  array<int> counter(-1,1);
  counter[0] = 1; // Start at position 0
  counter[-1] = counter[1] = 0;

  const int num_walks = 1000000;
  int cur_pos = 0;

  // Do random walk
  for(int i = 0; i < num_walks; i++) {
    int dir = DRV.generate();
    if(dir == LEFT) { // Walk to the left
      if(cur_pos < counter.low())
        counter.resize(counter.low() * 2, counter.high());
      double_weight(DRV, RIGHT);
    else { // Walk to the right
      if(cur_pos > counter.high())
        counter.resize(counter.low(), counter.high() * 2);
      double_weight(DRV, LEFT);

  // Find boundaries of walk
  int lbound = counter.low();
  while(counter[lbound] == 0) lbound++;

  int ubound = counter.high();
  while(counter[ubound] == 0) ubound--;

  // Print statistics
  for(int i = lbound; i <= ubound; i++) {
    std::cout << i << ": " << counter[i] << "\n";


inline void double_weight(dynamic_random_variate& DRV, direction dir) {
  int otherdir = 1 - dir;
  if(weight[otherdir] > 1) {
    weight[otherdir] /= 2;
    DRV.set_weight(otherdir, weight[otherdir]);
  else {
    weight[dir] *= 2;
    DRV.set_weight(dir, weight[dir]);

An example run created the following output:

-6: 2
-5: 147
-4: 2499
-3: 21527
-2: 95324
-1: 228021
 0: 304723
 1: 228780
 2: 94966
 3: 21386
 4: 2482
 5: 139
 6: 5

This points out that we always sway around 0. The further we have deviated from the middle, the more improbable it will be that we will deviate even further.

Like the class random_variate, the class dynamic_random_variate requires an array at the definition in which the weights of the random values to be created are held:

dynamic_random_variate DRV(weight);

As opposed to the former class, however, the individual weights can be changed at runtime by a call of the method

DRV.set_weight(i, w);

Here i refers to the corresponding index of the weight array and w is the new weight of the i-th random value.

The above program is an example of a reasonable use of the method resize() of LEDA arrays and, at the same time, for LEDA arrays having negative indices. The original array bounds are -1 and 1. If we trespass these bounds, we double the array bound in the respective direction. This duplication strategy gives us enough “breath” until the next duplication, that is, it has constant amortized time costs.

In the duplication of the weights in the function double_weight() we make use of a trick: We cannot simply double the corresponding weight every time because otherwise we would get beyond the definition domain of the type int very soon (depending on the machine architecture after 31 or 63 duplications). Instead, we make the observation that with only two possible random values, the relative weight of a value also can be doubled by halving the weight of the other one. So if the respective other weight is larger than 1, we halve it, otherwise we double it. Again it should be noted that the weights of the classes random_variate and dynamic_random_variate must always be integral!

Further information

More about the class dynamic_random_variate can be found on the corresponding manual page.