Friday, July 11, 2014

Show and Tell

When we broke up our mother's household,  I inherited was some of our father's braille and blindness equipment.  I suppose that since I've, officially, got the worst eyesight of all my siblings, they figure I'd probably be the one who would need it.

His very old, frozen up Perkins Brailler which I should try oiling in case it's needed.   It's missing the handle on the side, too.  I suspect my grade-school teacher, sister let her little monsters at school at it.
His stylus and slates, the awls missing

I remember our father using it, which he would have to emboss his writing backwards, something that impressed me to no end when I was a kid.  I remember him making individual samples for an entire elementary school classroom with it.    

An odd little Banks Brailler that embosses a paper tape, which I don't remember him ever using (his looks like it's in mint condition and is maroon). 

His slide rule which is so antiquated that there isn't any picture of it online and his Cramner Abacus, which is what brings about this post.  

I remember when he got the abacus, back in the early 1960s and how excited he was because it allowed him to do complicated computations after not being able to do them for two decades.  He never got the hang of doing it with his brailler, a complex process that was hard even for relatively simple problems.  He used it often enough so he wore the felts holding the beads in place several times, one of his he finally and with much effort replaced it with a piece of leather.  Moving the beads was hard but it didn't wear out.

The rules for using one are the same as for the modern Japanese abacus and after not too much time practicing, I was surprised to find that it's a lot easier and faster to use than a calculator, for the four common operations.   Someone online pointed out that most of the countries that beat the pants off of the United States for math scores made extensive use of the abacus in elementary school level mathematics.  Yeah, I know, I'd figured they'd gone to electronic calculators too but, according to what I'm reading, no.

Considering my limited experience with this, it's an appalling scandal that the United States isn't teaching basic arithmetic using an incredibly cheap, simple and far more efficient technology than electric calculators.   Though, of course, it's not patented so no huge corporations are likely to make money producing them, probably a big reason the sighted United States didn't do what the blind United States apparently did more than 50 years ago.

Bought a used Japanese style abacus for less than a dollar, on which the beads move freely and which works perfectly, big surprise, huh?   It's what I'll be doing my every day figuring with.  My father's fingers must have been like iron bands the way he moved those beads.  Two of them, anyway.

Update:  I showed this to my brother and he wondered what happened to our father's talking calculator that someone gave him.  I'd forgotten all about it because, unlike his abacus, it broke rather quickly and became unusable.  I don't remember him using it much, though I do remember his sighted family members using it when they couldn't find a calculator that was working.   He wasn't all that impressed with it.

1 comment:

  1. I've always been impressed by anyone who could use an abacus well. I never got the hang of it (but of course I was never required to). Back in high school we all learned how to use a slide rule, another unbelievably simple device for calculating. I was never very good at it, but I could use one, and every now and then I start to buy one off the internet, then think it's just pure vanity.

    My dad worked in a department store before WWII, and because they didn't have cash registers he became very adept at making calculations in his head. He was no math prodigy. They just routinely used a lot of tricks in those days. I remember once he multiplied a three digit number by 25 instantly. I asked him how he did it, and he said (of course) just add 2 zeros and divide by four.

    And (if you'll forgive me for rambling backwards through your post themes), when I was in law school, for two years running, I had two next door neighbors in my dorm who were blind. They got through the enormous quantity of case-reading by having readers read the material into special recorders, and then listening to the playback at speeds that made the sound unintelligible to me, but which was comparable to reading to oneself.

    The first guy, Aaron, happened to have the Uniform Commerical Code in braille, but it was enormous--it took up most of a shelf. Sort of stupid, I know, but I've always wished since that I could read with my fingers, eyes shut. Like using an abacus. Abstract thought communicated through the sense of touch.