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Paper Calculator Not Great for Math Homework But Will Help Explain Binary

When the war with the machines comes, they will foolishly think they have an advantage over us in computational power, what with their fancy high-tech means of doing complicated mathematics in the blink of an eye. However, it is that very hubris that will lead to their destruction and to our salvation. Because while they might have the power of technology, we long ago harnessed the power of paper and pen!

In this video from the YouTube channel Numberphile, which we first came across at Mental Floss, comic book artist Jason Shiga demonstrates how his paper calculator works. Using a series of long, twisting tubes and “flip” points, he shows us the difficult path that follows when you add (only adding, no subtracting) a zero or a one to another zero or one.

Those machines won’t know what hit them.

Obviously this is not the sort of calculator that can help you calculate a tip at a restaurant (at least 20% always), but rather it is a visual display of how binary works for calculators and computers on an electronic level. For those of you that already understand, this might seem obvious to you, but for a binary dummy like me this is actually a very easy way for me to start to grasp how it all works.

Although I definitely, definitely do not recommend that when the Great Machine War begins that you put me at the front line with a handful of pens and a notebook. We will lose.

Oh how we will lose.

Did this help you understand how binary works? If you already know how it works can you share another way for the rest of us to visualize it? We want to hear from everyone in the comments below (but please use words and not zeroes and ones.).

Images: Numberphile/YouTube

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