Oracles to the rescue

Oblique Strategies, that famous deck of cards by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, is frequently mentioned when artists with a creative block are seeking a way out. You pick a card, read the short suggestion and try to act accordingly, I suppose. I've never tried them myself, nor have I suffered any serious drought of ideas.

There's this dynamically loaded page that in effect draws one of the cards for you:

In a similar vein, John Cage popularised the I Ching as a method to escape intention in composition. There's even a script that does it for you in the shell.

Even though I've never relied on this kind of oracle I find them fascinating in a way. You probably need to put yourself in a suggestible mindset and practice divergent thinking. The suggestions are mostly very vague, the oracle doesn't provide any help with interpretation. That has to come from the user.

Peptalk, my new oracle

When I recently found one of these pages I got the idea to make my own oracle. It follows a slightly different approach by using partly stored fixed messages, partly generatively constructed messages. Sentences are combined from three parts where each part is a phrase or a noun drawn randomly from a list. This simple device amply expands the variation of output phrases, some of which can be of surprising originality. Sometimes the program provides you with a lucky number, and sometimes (more likely in the night hours) it quits with the excuse that the service is closed.

It can be tempting to run the program repeatedly just to draw new suggestions from it. Maybe the nightly downtime can help users take a break. If I knew any way to keep track of how many times the program had been called the last few hours, and if it were really easy to implement, I might consider limiting how often it will reply. I might release a version in a few days. Meanwhile, there are a few tweaks and additions to do.

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