TO BE READ ON/BEFORE DECEMBER 31, 9995
Dear Future I.S. Colleague:
As I write this, a new millennium is approaching for my contemporaries and me. While I'm
thinking about it, I thought I'd pass on a reminder relevant to you, your contemporaries, and the
new millennium approaching you as you read this.
Time to increase the size of all your date fields. Otherwise, the year 10,000 will wreak all sorts of
Some of my contemporaries have been worrying about a similar problem for quite some time.
(For at least the last decade, I've considered taking that dishwashing job in 1996 I was offered in
Athens in 1980.) Our problem might be a bit easier to cope with, but it still means many billions
of dollars of effort (worldwide) to fix all the two-digit years we currently have.
It's likely you and your contemporaries will consider the millennium-related changes I and my
contemporaries will implement short-sighted: our planned four-digit year fields ignore the
inevitable much as the two-digit year fields did. However, I hope you can have some sympathy
for the realities of our times: Given the continuing North American focus on quarterly profits,
and given that the best Japanese firms have strategic plans for only the next 250 years, you can't
expect too many people to be planning for the next 8,005 years (repayment schedules of national
debt notwithstanding). Some of my contemporaries did try to solve the problem... well, okay,
maybe they tried to ensure their job security (especially at one place where the solution to the
two-digit-year problem was... to use three-digit-years).
Of course, the DBAs working on this year-2000 problem could have made your life a lot easier by
ensuring date fields had the capacity to accommodate the time scale of the age of the universe
(billions of years) rather than the time scale of the age of the average computer system (billions of
nanoseconds). However, the clients would not have appreciated it -- there are people who hate
having to type "two more digits for the century"; they would explode if they had to type in eleven
digits for the year. (Besides, your latest CPUs might not be able to handle some of the math
needed to calculate "elapsed years". Don't feel too embarrassed about it -- the calculator in our
commonly-used window interface can't even get "2.11 - 2.1" right.)
I'm not sure what to offer as advice. Your DBAs are probably bogged down enough as it is, such
that they're missing the twenty-six thousand four hundred ninety-seventh rerun of the original
Star Trek series. You could try using some hexadecimal number variant (e.g.: year 10,000 will
be recorded as A000), but that might reincarnate the horrible, dreaded Sock-Seven Decades.
(Your archeologist might not be able to tell you much about how terrifying the Sock-Seven
Decades were. Even those most familiar with them today have an "I don't know anything about
them..." mental block.)
Maybe you could convince everyone to change the meaning of "year" to be the period of time
necessary for Pluto to orbit the sun. (That would reduce the year 9995 to being part of year 40.)
Or maybe you could convince everyone that a new method of year reckoning is needed,
something to bring "year zero" a little closer to you. (Suggestion: Use AVT -- Anno Vacuus
Tubus -- instead of AD.)
I do wish you the best of the season and a Happy New Year. If you're a consultant, the next four
years will certainly be prosperous. If, however, you would rather not have anything to do with
the computer-related headaches the new millennium will bring, there's a quaint restaurant around
the corner from the Diana the Huntress Hotel in Athens you might want to visit....
Vernon R.J. Schmid
Your comments, suggestions, questions, or concerns would be very much appreciated. Please direct them to: email@example.com.
Created: 1997-04-12. Last Updated: 2005-01-28.