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Wow, now here’s a blast from the past. Kids today don’t know what an adding machine or pocket calculator is, but the dictionary is still talking about abacuses? Maybe they should pull this entry out of the dictionary and put it into an archaeological textbook.

For the benefit of anyone who is not in the know about this ancient device (damned, young whippersnapper), an abacus is a contraption with beads that sit on rows of rigid wires. By sliding the beads back and forth the user can somehow, allegedly, perform calculations.

I have little to say about abacuses other than what I’ve already said in the preceding two paragraphs. I’ve never used one. More than that, I have no idea how to use one. I’m sure that they really do what they are supposed to do when manipulated by the hands of a master, but their operation is a complete mystery to me.

I’ve always suspected that people using abacuses move beads back and forth rapidly, but randomly to put on a good show. Then they announce the answer that they already got from an adding machine or pocket calculator. I’m probably wrong about that, but whatever the case, it is a cool show to watch.

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