Jul 22, 2012

Electronic I Ching Calculator

The second Dirk Gently book, "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul", is arguably not as good as the first one - it's less poetic and less well structured, but it has more "cool stuff" in it, such as this:

 He had never before even guessed at the existence of such a thing. And to be able to move from total ignorance of something to total desire for it, and then actually to own the thing all within the space of about forty seconds was, for Dirk, something of an epiphany.

The electronic I Ching calculator was badly made. It had probably been manufactured in whichever of the South-East Asian countries was busy tooling up to do to South Korea what South Korea was busy doing to Japan. Glue technology had obviously not progressed in that country to the point where things could be successfully held together with it. Already the back had half fallen off and needed to be stuck back on with Sellotape.

It was much like an ordinary pocket calculator, except that the LCD screen was a little larger than usual, in order to accommodate the abridged judgements of King Wen on each of the sixty-four hexagrams, and also the commentaries of his son, the Duke of Chou, on each of the lines of each hexagram. These were unusual texts to see marching across the display of a pocket calculator, particularly as they had been translated from the Chinese via the Japanese and seemed to have enjoyed many adventures on the way.

The device also functioned as an ordinary calculator, but only to a limited degree. It could handle any calculation which returned an answer of anything up to "4".

"1+1" it could manage ("2"), and "1+2" ("3") and "2+2" ("4") or "tan 74" ("3.4874145"), but anything above "4" it represented merely as "A Suffusion of Yellow". Dirk was not certain if this was a programming error or an insight beyond his ability to fathom, but he was crazy about it anyway, enough to hand over 20 of ready cash for the thing.

"Thank you, sir," said the proprietor. "It's a nice piece that. I think you'll be happy with it.

* * *

The little book of instructions suggested that he should simply concentrate "soulfully" on the question which was "besieging" him, write it down, ponder on it, enjoy the silence, and then once he had achieved inner harmony and tranquillity he should push the red button.

There wasn't a red button, but there was a blue button marked "Red", and this Dirk took to be the one. He concentrated for a while on the question, then looked through his pockets for a piece of paper, but was unable to find one. In the end he wrote his question, "Should I buy a new fridge?" on a corner of his napkin. Then he took the view that if he was going to wait until he had achieved inner harmony and tranquillity he could be there all night, so he went ahead and pushed the blue button marked "Red" anyway. A symbol flashed up in a corner of the screen, a hexagram which looked like this:

3 : CHUN

The I Ching calculator then scrolled this text Across its tiny LCD display:

"Chun Signifies Difficulties At Outset, As Of Blade Of
Grass Pushing Up Against Stone. The Time Is Full Of
Irregularities And Obscurities: Superior Man Will Adjust
His Measures As In Sorting The Threads Of The Warp
And Woof. Firm Correctness Will Bring At Last Success.
Early Advances Should Only Be Made With Caution.
There Will Be Advantage In Appointing Feudal Princes.
"The Horses And The Chariot Obliged To Retreat.
Streams Of Bloody Tears Will Flow."

Dirk considered this for a few moments, and then decided that on balance it appeared to be a vote in favour of getting the new fridge, which, by a staggering coincidence, was the course of action which he himself favoured.

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