Stop The Relaxing, Start The Flowing

Csikszentmihalyi view of Flow: the goal is the upper right.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi * passed away this week, with far too little notice, considering he had unlocked the secret to happiness.

Csikszentmihalyi, a sociologist, wanted to study statistically what brought people their own, self-defined “optimal experience.” Like many philosophers, writers, and sociologists, he had noticed a couple of societal paradoxes. First, while lack of resources created unhappiness, merely gaining those resources didn’t lead to happiness. How can that be? Yet, we all know it’s true. Having money, food, or even love doesn’t guarantee perpetual happiness.

There was an offspring paradox, too. When they’re working, most people yearn to relax. But relaxing brings only brief enjoyment and rarely creates an “optimal experience.”

The paradox of happiness, discovered by Csikszentmihalyi. Graphic from Melinda Walker at Pinterest.
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X is for XBRL

I didn’t know anything at all about XBRL last week, but it’s making my Excel Ninja fingers twitch. For every blogger handling the “A to Z Challenge,” this is the one that really gives us nightmares–X. (They’re out there…Xena, Xolotl…) I briefly considered “X-axis,” but that’s not really accounting-related, or “eXpense,” but that’s not really an “X.” I came across this newfangled thing: XBRL. Y’all, it’s the bees knees!

XBRL: Waddizzit?

You know how financial reporting produces paper? Lots of paper? Lots and lots? The computer revolution gave companies the ability to do all their financial data collection and reporting online. Spreadsheets–primarily Excel, but also initially Lotus 1-2-3 and recently Google Sheets–revolutionized the way companies can keep track of and analyze everything.

Financial statements, thanks to GAAP (see Letters E, and G) are also fairly standardized. Assets are on the what? (See Letter “D”–left!) Even the account names on the balance sheet and income statement are pretty standardized–Current Assets, Fixed Assets, Accounts Payable, and so on. It makes it easy for accountants to find and read other people’s statements.

Yet the devil is in the details.

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D is for Double-Entry

Cosmic balance sheet, drawn by Ledger Light.

We are bipedal creatures. We are symmetrical by nature. Two eyes, two hands, back and front, left and right. Our fundamental concepts reflect this: good and evil, dark and light, the Jedi and the Sith. It should be no surprise that multiple cultures–the Chinese, Indian, and Renaissance Italians–created counting systems built around two entries.

One of my favorite authors wrote a series where the people on another planet organize everything around threes instead. Two is infelicitous; you need three to balance. The eighth birthday is unlucky, the ninth harmonious. Scientists have to build models factoring in three. Dinner parties are a nightmare. It is possible to conceive thinking systems not built around two.

Or, imagine, if sentient creatures had five limbs like starfish. Instead of left and right, you’d build your counting around pentagons.

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