Michael Carr writes, "While examining an iPhone dictionary app (KanjiDicPro), I got a laugh from the attached "bǐshùn biānhào' 笔顺编号." [VHM: bǐshùn biānhào' 笔顺编号 means "stroke order serial/code number"]
Before getting into the technicalities of how to input the character 靐, I had better explain how it is pronounced and what it means. Basically, bìng 靐 is an onomatopoetic word for the sound of thunder, and it normally occurs in the reduplicated form bìngbìng 靐靐 (somewhat comparable to "bang bang" or "bam bam"). So that means if you want to write this onomatopoetic expression for the sound of thunder, you'll have to squeeze 78 strokes into two small squares, no mean feat (not to mention that it takes quite a bit of time to do so)! Of course, not many people have the patience to write characters by hand any longer, especially not characters like 靐.
Admittedly, bìng 靐 is something of a monster. As you can see with your own eyes, squeezing 39 strokes into the same standard size space as for all other characters (e.g., hǎo 好 ["good"], huài 坏 ["bad"]) causes the density of the individual strokes to be so great that they inevitably blur together into a black blob. And yet bìng 靐 has lately become rather common on the internet.
The reason for the current popularity of bìng 靐 is that it is made up of three léi 雷 ("thunder") graphs. Now, one of the most fashionable of all internet locutions is léidǎole 雷倒了 or, with the passive signifier at the beginning, bèi léi dǎole 被雷倒了 ("bowled over; thunderstruck; astonished"), and léile 雷了 by itself can convey the same notion. (Grammar notes: dǎo 倒 is a resultative complement indicating that something or some person has fallen over; le 了 is a particle with many different functions [e.g., completed action, change of state — I think that in the expression léidǎole 雷倒了 it indicates change of state, though I fully expect to be challenged on this point]). Thus bìng 靐 is like léi 雷 to the third power: super thunderstruck / awestruck / astonished.
Given its current vogue, people need to know how to enter 靐 into their communication devices. Naturally, the simplest way is to call it up by the pronunciation written in pinyin, viz., bìng. However, if you don't happen to know the pronunciation of the graph, then you have to enter the character through its shape. Before explaining how that is done, I should observe that entering a character into an electronic communication or processing device is the reverse of looking it up in a dictionary; there is an inverse correlation between lookup and inputting.
For the last 1,900 or so years, the traditional way to classify characters has been by semantic keys, customarily called "radicals." From 1716 until the founding of the People's Republic of China, the standard number of radicals was 214, and every Sinologist worth his or her salt memorized them cold. (Much earlier, when there were far fewer characters, the number of radicals was ironically more than twice as great.) Since the simplification of characters under the PRC, there is no longer a standard set of radicals, and it seems that everybody and his brother comes up with a different set when they produce a new dictionary: 181, 186, 252, and so on and so forth.
Thus the system of radicals has descended into chaos, and this has led to an explosion of non-radical systems for looking up and entering characters. (The quest for a magic, easy way to classify characters had actually been going on long before the the founding of the PRC, but the demise of the standard set of 214 radicals during the last half-century has resulted in a wild profusion of frantic attempts to come up with something to replace the radicals.) Trying to find a user-friendly shape-based character lookup / entry system is like trying to invent a perpetual motion machine: it's a chimera that can lead the seeker down the path of mental illness. Perpetual motion machines do not exist because they would violate the first or second law of thermodynamics, or both. Easy shape-based Chinese dictionary lookup / entry systems do not exist because there are too many (potentially an infinite number, since the system is open-ended) characters composed of a severely restricted inventory of basic strokes (somewhere between 6 and 8, but usually no more than 10 — it all depends on how you count them — some people even claim that there are as many as 30 different strokes, but most of those beyond 10 are merely variants of the main few types); people argue endlessly over this aspect of the Chinese writing system too. The character yǒng 永 ("forever; everlasting; eternal; always; perpetual [!]) is supposed to embody all eight different types of strokes. How that is possible when 永 has only 5 strokes is a mystery of mysteries!
Moreover, determining which part of the character is the radical is often maddeningly ambiguous and devilishly difficult. One is reminded of the crie de coeur in David Moser's celebrated essay, "Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard," now available in a Chinese translation.
So there are countless ways to look up Chinese characters in dictionaries and to enter them in electronic communication devices, with new methods being invented all the time. The one we are concentrating on in this post is called the stroke order serial code / number method. The serial code for 靐 is 145244442512114524444251211452444425121, where the 1, 4, 5, and 2 respectively refer to the following types of strokes: héng 横 ("horizontal"), nà 捺 ("downward to the right"), zhé 折 ("turning"), and shù 竖 ("vertical"). These four types of strokes comprise all but one of the system, the fifth — number 3 — being piě 撇 ("downward to the left").
Right away we know that, although it superficially may seem simple (hey, guys, only five different types of strokes to worry about), this is going to be a troublesome system to learn. How do we know this? For one thing, since there are only five strokes in the system, these are not the normal repertoire of strokes one masters when learning the characters, which are usually around ten in number. This leads to some strange aspects of the system, such as that the second stroke of 靐 (the vertical stroke on the left side near the top) is classified as nà 捺 ("downward to the right"), the same as the four small strokes within the enclosure. This means that — in order to become proficient in this system — one is going to have to learn all sorts of special rules and exceptions; this is a failing of all shape-based entry / lookup systems for Chinese characters.
Finally, in order to use this particular stroke order serial code / number method (there obviously could be many other stroke order serial code / number methods, depending upon how many strokes one admitted into one's system and how one defined each of the strokes), one must scrupulously follow the exact stroke order or sequence specified by the system. If you do not, you simply will fail to find the character you are seeking. Yet, just as different Chinese people hold chopsticks in various idiosyncratic ways, so too do different Chinese people sequence the strokes of characters in various idiosyncratic ways, even though both for chopsticks and for stroke order, there is a supposedly correct way that everybody ought to follow, yet it is honored more in the breach than the observance.
Given the arbitrary nature of shape-based lookup / entry methods and the heavy demands they place upon memorization, it is no wonder that the vast majority of individuals prefer phonetic lookup / entry methods.