Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Minding The Mind: Using Your Personal "Neck Top" Computer! (Part II)

When I was growing up, I read books about people who had incredible gifts of memory or number crunching.  It was so fascinating, but it never seemed attainable - it was like being some kind of superhero. It seemed you were either born with the ability or not.  Most of us are familiar with  the impressive abilities of "mega savant", Kim Peek, who was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man.  Are we all capable of these incredible feats of mental gymnastics?  While I definitely do believe that these things are gifts, there are some skills that can be learned and mastered which can help us with memory or math(s).

On July 30, 2007 I was honored to meet Mr Scott Flansburg - "The Human Calculator".   (Scott could have mentally calculated that it was a Monday)  I had seen him before on television promoting his human calculator learning materials.  He was on tour doing a bottled water promotion and was in Jacksonville for the day.  For a few hours he was at the Jacksonville Landing - which was within walking distance from where I worked.  I walked over and quickly found him under a canopy;  free cold bottled water was available and I took a drink and cooled off and listened while Scott asked the woman in front of me what was her date of birth - month, day, year.  After she told him, he quickly told her what day of the week she was born on.  I told him mine and - zing! - he said that I was born on a  "Sunday" - absolutely correct!  I knew that there was a formula for determining the day of the week from the month, day and year.  When I was a kid, I collected a few math books and some slide rules.  I especially liked the books that had math tricks or shortcuts in them.  In one book, I remember coming across this formula and calculated the day of the week just as Scott had done.  However, it took me a few minutes and I had a pencil and paper.  Scott calculated it in about 3 seconds!  
He is truly blessed with a wonderful gift;  I was totally fascinated with how lightning fast he could calculate.  It was awesome to meet a real life version of  "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes"!  He took the time to show a group of us some of the shortcuts he uses to add columns of numbers (from left to right, instead of the way I was taught, beginning in the units column and working left),  multiply two digits numbers, etc.  He is a great teacher and loves to help make math fun for young and old.  I wish my wife & sons had been there.  Later, I showed them what I remembered - it was not as impressive.   I was so fascinated that I forgot to ask him for his autograph!

Where to begin?

 The first book I recall reading on the subject was The Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics by Jakow Trachtenberg and Ann Cutler.  I had the paperback version.  Of course when I say that I had read the book, this really means that I took pencil and paper and followed along by attempting the calculations myself.  I had already been exposed to the "new math" and I could see how many of the techniques were based on some of the techniques that I had learned in algebra.  This is a good book.  However, it is not necessarily "user friendly" or fun.

In addition to the fantastic materials available by Scott Flansburg , you may also want to take a look at the following two books by Mr. Bill Handley:

Speed Mathematics: Secret Skills for Quick Calculation
Speed Math for Kids: The Fast, Fun Way To Do Basic Calculations

Also, Edward H. Julius has some very good books on Rapid Math Tricks, too!

When it comes to math, are you more of a "hands on" type of person?  There is a calculating system just for you - literally.  Have you heard about "Finger Math"?   I was impressed by a demonstration that I had seen on a Talk Show by some young children.  They called it Chisenbop/Chisanbop (Korean for finger calculation).  No pencil nor paper - just fingers being used to perform some hefty calculations - columns of numbers, multi-digit multiplication, division, etc.  The technique is based on some of the same techniques used when working with an abacus.

For further information:
Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain by Ron Hale-Evans  
(see Chapter 4 Math ... Turn Your Hands Into An Abacus)
The Complete Book of Fingermath: Simple, Accurate,Scientific by Edwin M. Lieberthal
The Complete Book of Chisanbop : Original Finger Calculation Method by Hang Young Pai, Sung Jin Pai

There are some online tutorials available, too:

ChisanbopTutorial 1

Chisenbop Tutorial 2 

Also, check these out on YouTube:

Chisenbop addition and subtraction

Finger Math: The Basics

Cute Child Demonstrating Technique

There is much more information available!  Just search the internet and specific sites (like YouTube)  using the key words: "Finger Math", "Chisenbop" or "Chisanbop".


  1. Woody this is very interesting. Glenn's son Sean is working on his Doctorate in Mathmatics at Emory. He is teaching along the way. He just got married recently. Sean told me a few years ago that he works on math equations for fun! I need to take the time to look at these resources. Thank you! Mark Thomas PS Do you have a link for Part 1 of this article?

  2. Hi Mark! Thank you for sharing that news about Sean. I've heard it said - "Do what you love and you won't have to work a day of your life" - sounds like Sean is in the perfect field - especially since he solves math equations for fun! (I see from the comment that you left at Part I that you were able to find the link)