|Saturday, March 8, 2003||
LATER "the calculator" to Mr Processor, the computer: "Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story, 'Into the Comet', in which, when a ship enters a comet to explore it, the crew discovers that the ship computer is no longer functioning and radio contact with the outside world has been lost. This means they won't be able to return home. During a dream, one of the crew remembers using an abacus as a boy. He fashions one out of spare supplies and convinces the captain of its worthiness, following which, the crew builds a number of devices to calculate the course back."
"A particular kind of
abacus will appear in the future. It will tell you nothing that's not
already in the multiplication tables, but a collective amnesia will make
people unable to remember the tables. When asked trivial questions like
"how much is 13 times 15", most persons will have to stop and
think, or take out small abaci from their pockets. Immense efforts will
be invested in the construction of gigantic super-abaci, each the size
of a dozen large cupboards put together, that will be able to chant the
entire law of additions and multiplications hundreds of times every
"What has he been saying about me?" says Abacus Abu, dropping in suddenly. Later (recovering): "He knows nothing about you, so, he was just curious."
Abu: "Abacus is probably the first of calculating devices; the word abacus comes from Phoenician abak (sand), Greek abax and Hebrew avak (dust). The Ancients used a flat surface with sand strewn over it as a tool for writing and counting. Later-day abaci had grooves for small pebbles and, after that, wires and counters. Each wire corresponds to a digit in a positional number system, commonly in base 10. Till Renaissance, calculation was done on the devices with authentic place-value system, in which, zero was represented by an empty line or groove. Zero, borrowed by Arabs from Hindus, was introduced in Europe in 1202 by Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa in his 'Liber Abaci' (The Book of Abacus). Counting with abaci was so convenient that no one wrote symbols on any paper."
Mr Processor: "You
mean you were as indispensable as I am, now, or calculator was, before I
came in?" "Yes," says Abu. (To be continued; write at The
Tribune or [email protected])