Math Skills Resource: Abacus, Napier's Bones, The Slide Rule

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Poet's picture
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Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1892
Math Skills Resource: Abacus, Napier's Bones, The Slide Rule

Since I know neither how to use a slide rule nor an abacus, one strategy I have is to store a solar calculator in a cool, dry place, like in an ammo box. I have an 14-year-old solar powered scientific calculator that still works - and it wasn't even stored properly.

That said, I think knowing how to use an abacus and a slide rule, and being able to pass these instruments and skills on, may be useful for anyone contemplating a declining future when computers won't be available, and yet accounting, engineering and other math-related skils will still be needed. If you want to brush up on skills, or learn anew, here are some resources:


Link to above YouTube video:

Wikipedia Article on the Abacus

Virtual Chinese Abacus (Suan Pan)

Virtual Japanese Abacus (Soroban)

Instructions (one of a number of web pages on the topic)

The Abacus is still being made - of wood, plastic, metal, etc. It is still being taught in classes. Easily found on-line.



Wikipedia Article on Napier's Bones

How to use Napier's Bones

Interactive Napier's Bones (Extremely easy to learn!)

You can make your own set of Napier's Bones out of paper.



Link to above YouTube video:

Wikipedia Article on the Slide Rule

Virtual Slide Rule (Web, Picket N600-ES pocket rule)

Virtual Slide Rule (Windows PC download)

Addition Virtual Slide Rules and Resources (includes several virtual models and link to examples on how to use one)

An Online Slide Rule Museum

You can still buy serviceable Slide Rules on and, including manuals and boxes.


I hope these resources are useful to you and your family. At the least, try to have fun with the Napier's Bones.


Ken C's picture
Ken C
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 13 2009
Posts: 753
Slide Rule

I still have my old Pickett slide rule from many years ago. I can still use it but I sure hope Idon't HAVE to.


Doug's picture
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Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3200
Ken C wrote: I still have my
Ken C wrote:

I still have my old Pickett slide rule from many years ago. I can still use it but I sure hope Idon't HAVE to.


I still have a nice aluminum one with something like 12 scales.  I never had the heart to throw it away.  I'll have to brush up on skills.


Poet's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1892
Slide Rule Cross-Over

Over in the John Michael Greer: Archdruid Report Essays thread, I had posted a write-up pointing to three short stories from the Long Descent kind of future that he envisioned...

The one single little item in all three future short stories - each from the years 2050, 2100, and 2150 - is a slide rule and accompanying manual passed from one generation to another. Makes me want to get my hands on one...


Poet wrote:

Speculative science fiction....

What would a post peak oil world look like in the year 2050, 2100, and 2150?

In a reply to someone's comment, he wrote: "I thought a lot of people were missing the point... The future we face isn't business as usual with a coat of green spraypaint, or a hitching post for utopian fantasies, or some satisfyingly dramatic catastrophe that punishes the people we like to blame for our problems. It's the decline and fall of a civilization the way this process actually happens: slow and messy, as real history always is.

"Mind you, I'm not silly enough to claim that this fictional narrative is what the future actually holds. My point is that this is the kind of future we can expect: a future in which the same sort of political, economic, and social crises we've experienced in the last two centuries keep happening, against the backdrop of contracting energy supplies and slow but massive climate change."

John Michael Greer takes his crystal ball and looks into the future. Warning: This future is very bleak.

Christmas Eve 2050 (November 15, 2006)
"Human beings make sense of their lives by telling stories, and the tools of narrative fiction have enormous value for putting facts in context - especially when the context is as unfamiliar as the aftermath of peak oil will be to most people in the industrial world. With this excuse, if any is needed, I’ve sketched out the first of three glimpses of what life might be like for an average American family in the deindustrial future. This one’s set in 2050, about 40 years postpeak, during a respite from one of the first waves of catabolic collapse."

Solstice 2100 (November 29, 2006)
"My second attempt to use the tools of narrative fiction to explore the deindustrial future, this story is set half a century after 'Christmas Eve 2050.' Once again the subject is an American family’s experience in a world after peak oil. Between the two narratives, several more cycles of catabolic collapse, involving civil war, epidemic disease, and the onset of severe climate change, have transformed the physical and cultural landscape, with more changes in sight."

Nawida 2150 (December 13, 2006)
"This is my third and (for now) last exploration of a deindustrial future using the tools of narrative fiction. Fifty more years have passed since 'Solstice 2100.' Massive climate change, including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, and the final stages of catabolic collapse have transformed the setting almost beyond recognition. In the aftermath of these changes, new cultural forms are evolving to replace the last fragments of industrial civilization."


Honestly, such a future timeline is a little scary. At the same time, there are a few glimmers of hope at the end.

And then Greer takes it a step further. He "interviews" the main character in each scene to get some backstory. The tone doesn't quite match the people, but then again, it's just fantasy:

Christmas Eve 2050: Q&A (November 22, 2006)
"I make N$250 an hour, like all the office staff. Flat tax is 30%, so for a fifty-hour week I take home N$8750. Joe’s on the factory floor so he makes less, even though he’s a foreman. The two of us make a bit over N$16,000 a week. That’s all in new dollars, of course, so figure $320,000,000 in old money."

Solstice 2100: Q & A (December 7, 2006)
"...Sophie Mendoza has a ten million old-dollar bill from back before the Persian war, Earth Mother bless her, but of course it’s not worth a penny now. I think some of the new governments printed bills back a few years, but nobody would take them. These days, people want money that has more than promises behind it."

Nawida 2150: Q&A (December 20, 2006)
"Money? Very little; there’s not much of that in circulation these days. I have one student whose family pays me in money—they’re in trade, so it’s convenient for them. The rest pay in barter or rice chits - those are markers good for a fraction of next year’s rice crop. Most local trade uses one or the other. Still, you can’t buy foreign goods with them, and even if I sold everything I got I couldn’t keep myself in poppy resin for more than a little while."


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