Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Can You Do with an Abacus?

Apparently one can do amazing things...with a great deal of dedication and practice. This isn't the first time I've seen how quickly and accurately those who understand and devote themselves to the art of the abacus can calculate complex problems, but it never ceases to astound me.


If you'd like to see A Brief History of the Abacus, more information is available.


Laney4 said...

"Sometimes I hit them ... I hope they [are] happy." Yikes!
Despite my dismay (and repulsion) at hearing a teacher say that, I AM impressed with how quickly the students can get results after all that practice. Math was my best subject in school (other than secretarial classes later on), and I would have loved learning how to do that. Not so much today, though. I'm lucky to remember what I had for lunch yesterday....

Myrna Mackenzie said...

Yes, that part was pretty disturbing. We're all kind of math-oriented around here and we have an abacus or two, but none of us knows how to use one. I do remember there was a movement called Chisenbop or finger math back in the seventies and eighties in the U.S. (although I've read that it was invented in the forties by someone named Sung Jin Pai (in China, I think) which was a way of thinking all of the fingers on one hand as ones and the fingers on the other hand as tens. Calculations could be done somewhat rapidly. Here's a link to a cute little boy doing calculations using this method (hope it works. I've never tried to insert a link in a comment before):

Myrna Mackenzie said...

Not sure why the spacing turned out weird in that last comment, but I tried the link (had to cut and paste) and it worked fine.

Laney4 said...

Wow. That was quite the link. (BTW, the link did that because of the full justification in the comment section - there weren't any spaces in the link to help it split up "better".)
My husband grew up using a slide rule. I think we still have it, but I'm sure he doesn't remember how to use it.
When I first worked in an office taking cash, we used an adding machine that was cranked after each number. Felt like I was playing the slots!

Myrna Mackenzie said...

Thank you! It was a bit disconcerting, so I'm glad to know there's a logical reason for it.

I was at a garage or estate sale a couple of weeks ago and they had one of those adding machines. I seem to recall that they made a very satisfying sound when you pulled the handle (better than modern calculators in that sense, but...a bit cumbersome). We still have a couple of the electronic ones with rolls of tape, but there's a reason for that (you have a physical record to keep, which is useful now and then). Mostly, though, I just use a cheap calculator I bought for a few dollars. (Remember when calculators cost the moon)? It has the advantage of having very big buttons.

Oh, and on the slide rule front, there was an image circulating last week that showed the moon landing with the caption: "They did this with a slide rule," or words to that effect. Not really true but I still laughed. Mostly because although there were computers, they were pretty limited and also because I wondered how many people under "a certain age" even know what a slide rule is. Not that I can laugh. I never learned to use one.