Missing the Point


I was looking at ebay tonight and i found these two calculator auctions.



They were interesting to look at but i can't help wondering who was more unclear on the concept, the manufacturers or the original buyers.


I couldn't load the images of the 2nd calculator, but I actually got acquainted with Japanese people some time ago and they told me about that special arithmetics method with an abacus, that is the same as presented on the Sharop calculator auction.

It is tought in every school in Japan and is quite impressive how fast it is assimilated and how fast one can do simple arithmetics with.

Unfortunately I have no clue how it works but maybe some people in this forum can explain us better...


Well, of course the abacus is an ancient calculating device still used in much of the orient. Each column of sliding beads represents a decade in the decimal number system. Each bead below the bar has a value of 1; each above the bar, 5. Machines I've seen have either one or two 5-counters.

Manipulating the beads lets one add and subtract, with the user performing all carrying and borrowing that has to be done. Multiplication can be performed by shift and add; division by shift and subtract. I understand that square roots and cube roots can be done also, but I don't know anything about their method. Calculation on an abacus by a skilled user can be very fast.

My guess is that this dual-use device is made for doing calculations beyond the abilities of the four-function machine or situations (eg, a store) where there would be multiple users.



Reading the replies, i got curious about the "soroban" and asked about it in general and that one in particular. My Japanese friend says that the one in the auction is probably not for students and that the older type used two "5 counters" and the newer type uses one "5 counter". I couldn't get a quantification on old/newer. In a culture with roots that old, the one bead type may have been introduced 500 years ago and is still the new wave.

I still think that ebay item is a silly juxtaposition, and i think the Casio fortune telling calculator is ridiculous. Are there Gypsies in Japan?



Although I haven't seen one of these fortune telling calculators before, they used to sell an awful lot of astrological and biorhythm calculators; are they any different? I think that the manufacturers got it "right"; no comment on the original buyers.

The abacus calculator sort of makes sense as a bridge between two technologies for those that have trouble switching. Faber Castell made the western version of this. Their TR1, TR2 and TR3 where electronic calculators on one side and slide rules on the back. (I'd love to get one of those, BTW.)



It could be made for the school market in Japan. I believe that they still teach the use of abacus over there.


. . . or it could be a way to market calculators to conservative buyers -- a way for the old-schooler to justify buying a new-fangled calculating device?


Until very recently, clerks in Russian stores used abacus instead of machines, and they were pretty fast with them, much like the Japanese. Soviet-era stores were well known for this accounting method, and probably many stores still use it.

No wonder neighbouring Japan uses the abacus system too. Russians even developed a machine called arithmometer, a small-size mechanical calculator, the first model being named after Feliks Dzherzhinkiy, the founder of the KGB.


When I was a kid, I actually saw real shopkeepers in Chinatown, New York use abacuses. In those days, there were no HPs, handheld nor desktop, definitely NO TIs, Bowmars, though I wonder if they would have used a Wang Labs desktop adding machine if they were invented at the time ;)

I guess only IBM mainframes were around in those days, and mechanical NCR cash registers... you know, the kind with the ornate, baroque metalwork plating!


When I lived in China ('95-'98), the abacus was used everywhere. All of the little shops and stores had them at the ready. (and they were FAST!) We used to challenge them to race in math calculations until we grew tired of being humiliated. It is a skill still taught to accountants in the universities.

I saw one being used in a small village restaurant that looked to be 1000 years old. It had lots of character and was well worn. I bought a new one and took to the little old woman to use to entice her to sell it to me. When I offered an outrageous sum of money and the new abacus, for the old one, she turned me down. My translator told me that she simply didn't trust the new one like the one she was used to. ......? When you think about it, it is just like preferring a 41CV to a 49G because of the keys.

I took the new one home and now it hangs on the wall in my office, at the ready, should my 48GX fail.

Just like HP's, each abacus model has it's loyal fans.


Great story, Bob! Thanks.

However, I'm told these things have a very small ENTER key, so it's a real no-go for me. ;-)



(comment to Bob's "Just like HP's, each abacus model has it's loyal fans.")

Edited: 14 Oct 2003, 8:21 p.m.


If he'd been born in China, maybe he'd have been recently in orbit around Earth with his HP-34C. ;)


I recently found at the thrift shop and then offered on eBay a similar hybrid - this one a marketing combination of a four-banger and an abacus.

(Didn't make a whole lot of money on the deal, though!)


Back when I was visiting that part of the world (before calculators were in common use), I noticed that those using the abacus or soroban often did calculations on them faster than I could've done with either pencil and paper or an adding machine. It looked like magic, and as far as I could tell, always got the correct answer.

The combination would be good for when the batteries go dead.


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