Z is for Zero

The Hindu concept of zero, the void, the circle. Graphic from pparihar.com.

A circle is an infinite number of points all equally distant from a single center. That definition came from Euclid, a Greek, although the Greek’s didn’t use zero. Aristotle was afraid to divide by the void because it wasn’t descriptive of the real world.

The Chinese and the Sumerians used placeholders in their counting, adopting different marks for the tens and the 60s digit, since Babylonians used base 60. But they didn’t have a zero.

The Mayans had a zero–they used base 20–which allowed them to produce large astronomical calculations that generated accurate solar and lunar calendars using only sticks. But their isolation prevented trade, which limited their civilization.

The Romans had zero, of course! Nulla. The Romans had sophisticated plumbing and developed roads that lasted for millenia. But Romans disdained to use nulla in their numbering systems, so even though their business records were hierarchical and detailed, they were limited. Growth is limited if a number like 397,654 is CCCXCVMMDCLIV.

The Arabs developed zero; they developed algebra. But the Arabs learned it from the Hindus.

https://i0.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/-Rn5ziNDI1kk/UN4HBQcfF8I/AAAAAAAAAII/j746CCLUC6E/s1600/indian_zero.gif?w=525
Graphic from Pparihar.com.
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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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W is for Wedgwood

Wedgwood “Jasperware.” Photo from House Beautiful.

There is something in me that loves a good chart. I can’t help it. Some people are stopped short by a pair of soulful eyes or a kitten sleeping, but give me a good table of figures, and I am hooked.

Josiah Wedgwood, manufacturer of pottery to English royalty, must have felt the same way because he was a pioneer in cost accounting. Not only that, but he designed beautiful dishes.

Wedgwood cost breakdown. Neil McKendrick, Josiah Wedgwood and Cost Accounting in the Industrial Revolution, 1970.

Bad Knee, Big Brain

Wedgwood was born in 1730, the 11th child of a potter who transformed his father’s small, midland English artisan studio into a manufacturing empire. He survived smallpox, though it left him with a knee too weak to run a potter’s wheel. As a result, he concentrated on design and gravitated towards glazes. He stumbled on to the latest science–chemistry–and that allowed him to transform the cheap, black bowls of the family shop into multi-colored, sophisticated figurines and dinnerware for aristocrats. He married someone who had money and found business partners with connections into high society. It paid off.

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