Chapter 4

Chapter Four: Math Grenades
by Jackie Lim (COM 12 – A)

Chapter four is the first chapter to explore the idea of fetishism in William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition”. Though there have been hints of fetishism in the previous chapters (e.g. Rickson’s jacket), it is in this chapter where the idea is explicitly illustrated. Fetishism can be referred to as a deep obsession towards trivial objects. When people fetishize over things, they give much more importance to them (things), as if they cannot continue living without such objects.

Chapter four starts with Cayce waking up and still perceiving London as the mirror-world of New York. She goes to Portobello (Notting Hill), one of the most famous tourist attractions in London because of its unique stores. Portobello accommodates numerous antique-dealers in London; there is even an endorsed organization in Portobello for the antique-dealers. Check their official site here.

It is in Portobello where Cayce saw the Curta and the ZX 81 (Timex 1000), both obsolete gadgets but still coveted by some fetishist.

The Curtas

Fetishism for “historic” objects such as the Curta, ZX 81/Timex 1000 is especially shown in this chapter. Curtas are manual calculators, which were invented by Curt Herzstark, an Austrian prisoner in Buchenwald. According to this site, Curtas can be bought for as cheap as $10 to as expensive as $700. Curtas can be acquired from flea markets, like the ones in Pattern Recognition, and online stores (E-bay).
It is interesting to note that the Curtas are identified to as the “math grenades” in this chapter. (On the other hand, some compare these calculators to “pepper grinders”.) On the literal sense, Curtas quite look like grenades. However, the author could have used such term to signify the something abstract yet profound about the Curtas. At first glance, these manual calculators may seem to be uncomplicated but this site proves otherwise. The Curtas, as small as they are, actually contain 605 parts inside it. Furthermore, Curtas do not require electricity to operate, which makes this invention more remarkable.

This video shows how Curtas work and the narrator mentions something about the history of Curtas. (The video is actually one of the URL references of Sir. Nevertheless, I embedded it because it is the best video in youtube to show to those who are not familiar with the Curtas.)

This is one of the better videos in youtube about the curtas.

The ZX 81 or Timex 1000

The ZX 81 is also one of the ‘antique - gadgets’ (sounds a little ironic) that is featured in Pattern Recognition. I encountered this site about ZX 81; I found out from this site that there is also a Brazilian version of the computer. Also, it is amusing to know that some people would want to connect SD Cards and Hardware to ZX 81 to utilize it.
The ZX 81 are vintage computers with 1K of RAM. Though it is completely not-so-useful compared to more up-to-date computers, many still want them because of historical importance. The ZX 81 were marketed in the US as Timex 1000. The dissimilarities between the two (according to Pattern Recognition) are the price – ZX 81 cost $10 less than the Timex 1000; and ZX 81 requires users to know how to program.
The Brazilian version (CP 200), on the other hand, has 16KB of RAM and is said to be enhanced in terms of capacity and appearance.

Diversity of nationalities ― globalization

There are other recurring themes in chapter four, such as globalization. (However, I think “fetishism” is the biggest and most significant one in this section.) The idea of globalization can be seen in the mirror-world concept between NY and London. Also, the remark about Starbucks exemplifies globalization. (In the novel, it is as if Strabucks is the only place where Cayce feels at ease when she stayed in London.) Starbucks is one of the brands that transcends between national borders. Starbucks stores almost have the same features (interiors, products, packaging and more) all over the globe. However, it cannot be denied that Starbucks in different countries also have dissimilarities. This shows how globalization can penetrate beyond geographical borders but only up to a certain extent. A better example of this is the ZX 81 and Timex 1000; both products have the same features but since it is marketed in two different countries― the manufacturer has to make slight changes in the function and name to adjust to the different cultures/lifestyle of the people.

Here are some pictures of Starbucks in different places/countries:


in Florida


in London


Starbucks New York


Xiang Ba Ke "Starbucks" in China

Ok, so this is not a true Starbucks store. I got this from this blog; it is a coffee shop in Ethiopia but it is not the Starbucks we know.

Chapter4 Annotation by Elizabeth Unay Com12-G

There's a surprising number of links online devoted to the Curta, but here's one that contains a great picture, a YouTube clip of the device in action, AND a Flash-animated online version. I'm not really big into calculators, but when Gibson talks about it in Pattern Recognition, I find myself fascinated.

The Sinclair ZX81 is almost as fascinating, and though the links at the bottom of its Wikipedia page point to the ZX80 predecessor unit and isn't as plentiful as the Curta sites, you'll be surprised to find instructions on how to make your own ZX81.

Now why would you do that? Why would you want to work on creating a device that fails in comparison to the power of a contemporary wristwatch? This might help.

Finally, and speaking of the ZX81, here's a short blog entry by a programmer who is part of "the Sinclair generation."

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