21 December 2017

An abacus in a pile of toys

I was at my brother’s house recently when I noticed an abacus sitting in my niece’s pile of toys. I paused for a moment and realized I had never learned how to actually use one. I think in my childhood, I wrote it off as some antiquated tool for people who didn’t have access to calculators or couldn’t just do the math in their heads.

Given the marvelous world we live in and how we have access to information right at our fingertips at all times, I searched on my phone and came across this video youtube.com/watch?v=wxsS-gmz554.


The video is 6 minutes long, but I paused it a couple times to play around with the abacus in front of me and try out the various operations myself. After about 10 minutes total, I now knew how to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—even division that goes down to decimal points—with an abacus. Not only did I learn these operations, but I immediately gained appreciation for how well of a job it does at getting one to think visually about how the different powers of 10 interact with these types of operations. It’s really cool to think how familiarity with an abacus can aid someone in immediately adding and subtracting large numbers in their own heads. It’s also cool how you can use the top section to keep track of the math while doing multiplication or division.

I came away from this experience as seeing learning the abacus as a great way to teach people how to approach math problems in different ways. This fits well into my own take on math, which is that the journey is more important than the destination. Understanding various ways to think about a problem and why it works is empowering, it builds creativity, and it makes solving any other math problems easier.

Furthermore, this was a simple reminder to be open to different ideas and learning new things. It’s easy to write-off something that you don’t understand, and I think all of us can look back into our pasts and see various things we initially rejected before actually learning or experiencing them.

While I don’t see myself employing an abacus for an application to my job or everyday life, I’m really happy I chanced across one and took the time to learn about this piece of technology that has existed for thousands of years!

Three days ago, I sent the following note to the FCC stating my strong support for protecting the FCC Open Internet Rules and maintaining Title II classification. The current administration and their appointed head of the FCC want this to be removed. I believe that some regulations are good, and it is important for a functioning economy to have a government that protects reasonable regulations.

If you would like to send them your opinion, I recommend the Fight For the Future (FFTF) website battleforthenet.com as an easy way to post.

You can also watch John Oliver in his Last Week Tonight segment on Net Neutrality. At the end he shares a URL that redirects directly to the FCC page to post gofccyourself.com (NOTE: it seems you have to click “express”, then it opens a new page with the proceedings set as 17-108, which is the proper number for entering your comment!)

Here is what I sent:

Dear FCC and congressional representatives,

Please protect the FCC Open Internet Rules.

The digital sector has been a huge area of innovation and growth in our economy. I firmly believe that a strong reason why this is possible is because we have a free and open environment in which newcomers can experiment with and test out new ideas. While they do not have a level playing field of having the massive cash reserves of the incumbents, they at least have the security of net neutrality to keep some level of fairness in how the Internet—an essential utility of everyone’s daily lives—operates.

If the FCC ends Title II classification, which can lead to ISPs charging for "fast lanes", I see no benefit to anyone other than the ISPs and large, rich tech incumbents who can afford them. How on earth will this help our economy and how will it help with innovation (the real source of growth and a critical factor in what actually makes America great)? This change would only stifle our economy and the creativity of the US tech sector.

I regularly contribute open source software to the online community. I have worked at large and small tech companies. I hope to, one day, start my own company that will bring jobs and money to our economy. I am optimistic in the idea that this will not be a rigged, pay-to-play system where the ISPs can arbitrarily or even corruptly determine the winners and losers. If I do and I succeed, you can also be certain that I will continue to defend the ideas of net neutrality and an open Internet.

You can also be certain that congressional actions on this topic will inform my voting and how I communicate this issue to other voters.

Furthermore, I support and understand the FFTF statements that are pasted below.

Best regards,
Peter

The FCC Open Internet Rules (net neutrality rules) are extremely important to me. I urge you to protect them.

I don't want ISPs to have the power to block websites, slow them down, make some more accessible than others, or split the Internet into "fast lanes" for companies that pay and "slow lanes" for the rest.

Now is not the time to let giant ISPs censor what we see and do online.

Censorship by ISPs is a serious problem. Comcast has throttled Netflix, AT&T blocked FaceTime, Time Warner Cable throttled the popular game League of Legends, and Verizon admitted it will introduce fast lanes for sites that pay—and slow lanes for everyone else—if the FCC lifts the rules. This hurts consumers and businesses large and small.

Courts have made clear that if the FCC ends Title II classification, the FCC must let ISPs offer fast lanes to websites for a fee, and Chairman Pai has made clear that he intends to do just this.

But if you let ISPs make some websites fast and others artificially slow—for a fee—you will kill the open marketplace that has enabled millions of small businesses and created the 5 most valuable companies in America—just to further enrich a few much less valuable cable giants famous for sky-high prices and abysmal customer service.

I'm sending this to the FCC's open proceeding, but I worry that Chairman Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has made his plans and will ignore me and millions of other Americans.

So I'm also sending this to my members of Congress. Please publicly support Title II rules and denounce Chairman Pai's plans. Do whatever you can to dissuade him.

Thank you!

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Peter Coles

Peter Coles

is a software engineer who lives in NYC, works at Ringly, and blogs here.
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