Monday, June 1, 2009

Accounting and "Prelude" by Mark Helprin

The other day I posted some lines about accounting from The Bridge on The River Kwai and since I've also carried on about the beauty of Mark Helprin's prose, it seems only fair that I should post a paragraph by Helprin from his short story, "Prelude," about a task that, while not strictly having to do with accounting, seems an awful lot like it:

I work for United States Steel, at a steel desk. For the past six months I have been transferring data from tens of thousands of index cards to thick fifty-column ledgers. Someday they will have machines to do this, but now I am the machine that organizes the health records of a rolling mill in Ohio. For reasons that it did not share with me, the management has decreed that they be abstracted in a particular form. It is no secret that in tabularization and cross-tabularization many statistical operations are rendered possible, and although after my first day here in January I was bold enough to suggest that instead of using ledgers they put the data on punch cards for key-sorting, they, or rather, he Mr. herman Bleier, had not heard of key-sort, and Mr Herman Bleier said to me, "Ledgers will do."

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