Sunday, 22 May 2016

Computer casting

There are currently many sites and applications that will generate an hexagram for you. Most of them offer links to commentaries to directly get an interpretation of the hexagram and some of them offer also the possibility to switch between the yarrow stalks and the three coins method probabilites.

While, conceptually, casting hexagrams is an extremely simple task for a computer, there are drawbacks that we should be aware of.

First of all, generating true random number on a computer is extremely difficult. In most cases the program will use a pseudo-random number generator (PRNG), meaning that the sequence of number is completely fixed once an initial seed is given.
A good PRNG will generate sequences that appears to be truly random when subject to statistical tests but they are not really random. The PRNG commonly available in the standard libraries of programming languages usually trade speed for accuracy and will generate sequences that could not been considered random at all.

Second, there is often no feeling of a direct connnection between the user and the hexagram got as response: you click a buttom and you instantly get a line (or even an entire hexagram). The connection created by counting, shuffling, throwing, etc., is completely lost, just a click and you're done!
This may not be a problem for some but, personally, it is what always discouraged me to cast hexagram online; I like to have something physical to handle and that represents my connection with the resulting hexagram. I want my actions to directly influence the outcome.

I have examined some of the online hexagram generators and they use a mix of these strategies:
  1. Simply use the random number generator available.
  2. Use the date and time to link the hexagram to the time it is cast.
  3. Incorporate element from the user (e.g. mouse movement).
I wrote my own on line hexagrams caster, which uses the two last strategies mentioned above, to increase the participation of the user to the casting process. The applet collects random bits from the users mouse movents and clicks and use them to generate the lines (with yarrow stalks probabilites).

To make it easier to use, I've added links to a number of online I Ching text so one can immediately get a reading.

It is not very mobile-friendly, I hope I'll have the time to improve it some day.

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