For centuries the abacus ruled as the calculator for traders and merchants the world over. Today, much of the world now embraces new technology and the once mighty abacus has been replaced with solar-powered calculators and excel spreadsheets. Yet in some places, the abacus is still used as a learning tool for elementary school students and as a method of calculation for traders.
Though many cultures have used the abacus throughout the years, the two most common types that exist today are the Japanese abacus (called soroban) and the Chinese abacus (called suanpan). The main difference between the two is the Japanese abacus has one row of beads on the top deck where the Chinese has two rows, allowing the suanpan to compute to hexadecimal.
This abacus is modeled after the suanpan.
If you're in the mood to nerd it up, check out some of the other types of abaci used over the years.
The simplicity of this 'computer' belies the complexity of computations achievable. Word on the street is there are techniques to solve for square and even cube root using the abacus!
(this instructable also covers elementary arithmetic, jump to step 7 to see.)
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enough talk, let's abacus!