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 havoc.

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: vschmid@telus.net.

Copyright ©1995, 1997 Vernon R.J. Schmid. All rights reserved.
Created: 1997-04-12. Last Updated: 2005-01-28.