I have a shallow drawer in my dresser that contains various treasures, including my collection of pocket knives, the slide rule my grandfather gave me, and the crane folded from the paper I made.

Sorting through this stuff, trying to decide if anything was really worth saving, I came across a Keuffel & Esser folding ruler. It is at least seventy years old, but the inches on it are the same length as today, so I put it on my desk.

I am an unabashed measurer. My desk has, in addition to the K & E rule, an architect’s rule for taking measurements from drawings and a carpenter’s rule for measurements greater than the twelve inches on the K & E.

It is, after all, what accountants do. We’re called bean counters for a reason: only an accountant would worry about how many beans there are. Why the farmer who owns the beans and expects to sell them isn’t worried is beyond me. But I do know that beans are not counted; they’re weighed. [Nor does it matter how many beans are in that hundredweight.-KD]

That’s something else accountants are good at: selecting the right measure. One of the projects I’m working on is compiling a vacancy rate for an apartment complex. Everyone knows vacancies are too high, but no one compiles the list on a regular basis and so no one asks why unit 110 has been empty for six months. The complex uses a general accounting system that does not produce the vacancy rate or a rent roll. Grrrrrrr.

I’ve started compiling both by hand from the tenant statements just to force myself to think about how to extract this information from the available reports. It all adds up to an example of the types of measurements accountants make above and beyond your tax liability and the checkbook balance. It also exemplifies how one must consider what the company requires from its accounting system and from its accountant.

Compiling things by hand is always tedious. It requires proving your work as you go and testing its accuracy with reality checks.

So I must return to this grindstone.

My K & E rule is a beautiful thing, which is the other reason it’s on my desk. Even my 68-year-old eyes can still make out the sixteenths of an inch.

It won’t help with the vacancies, though.

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