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Y2k... a Scam? Not Necessarily.

I don't think it is a scam. It is just that many programmers are not adequately trained to model "time" in the proper linear sequence.

The proper way to do it, in a numerical language like Fortran, is to store time as a huge double- or quad-precision number, e.g.

   19970921.125 etc.

This number represents the year 1997, ninth month, twenty-first day, 12.5% of 24 hours since midnight, and so on. Or, the programmer can use a base "day" and derive mm/dd/yy/hh:mm:ss using simple arithmetic.

In double-precision (64 bits), the mantissa can preserve 15 decimal digits of precision, so there are plenty of bits to maintain the correct time. Remember, the decimal place "floats", so it is the decimal precision in which we are interested here.

Thus, quad-precision (128 bits) is overkill, unless the programmer is trying to preserve microseconds and centuries precisely in the same number.

Clearly, there are quite a large number of variations which a programmer might choose to implement, all of them slightly different from the next.

E.g., another way to do it, if you are not interested in splitting seconds, is to store time in the same way that a digital clock stores time, in discrete intervals:


This number is a 64-bit integer which represents the year 1997, ninth month, twenty-first day, eighth hour, eleventh minute, thirty-fifth second.
You need a 64-bit integer, because 32-bit integers can only count up to 4 billion.

Now, here is the rub:  if a programmer chooses some variation on these last 2 methods, but fails to keep the century, the storage allocated to this number would appear like this:


This works fine, within the present century, but at midnight on the night of December 31, 1999, here is what happens:

    + 1
     00  because the programmer has not allocated space for the century.

This is particularly nasty with COBOL programs which are designed to compute formatted digits (not binary digits) as their primary results.

So, it is not a hoax; it is just that every program which attempts to compute and store dates, probably has its own unique way of doing it.  Some programs are going to work fine, while others are going to roll back to the year zero in this century, with more or less serious consequences.  If IRS is heavily invested in COBOL, which they have been for decades, their databases are going to melt down, as their slippers turn to glass, and their limousines turn to pumpkins.

There you have it, from a computer systems consultant for 26+ years.

/s/ Paul Mitchell

At 09:18 AM 9/21/97 +0000, you wrote:

*Jus Dare*
Y2k, a Scam

[I am pleased that Harold sends this post. It would not be an issue if everyone agreed... Like Harold, my personal understanding is built solely on the opinions of others, mix with what I hope is logic. Here's one for all the nay-sayers. It is not that I won't print the "other side." This is the first post submitted *from* the other side. Incidentally, XfreedomX is correct: there is economics involved on both sides, so the posts must be weighted accordingly. 
- Dave]

From: "Harold Thomas" <harold@halcyon.com>
Subject: Re: piml] Software Developers Relief Act of 2000


Many thanks for passing along this info. Personally I have about ZERO computer expertise, and there seem to be various people with seemingly considerable experience who are absolutely convinced there is a major disaster brewing -- a couple of whom are not offering any services or software for sale and whom I'm sure believe what they're saying is 100% true. 

Your input as one active in the profession at a very respectable and credible level is important. It is also good of you to put it on the line by offering your personal contact info.

I'll post widely. Thanks again.

Harold Thomas

From:         XFreedomsX@aol.com
Date:         Sat, 20 Sep 1997 18:10:47 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:      piml] Software Developers Relief Act of 2000

Thanks for your post on the forecasted meltdown of 1/1/2000.   Having spent ten years in software (most recently as an employee/consultant of Oracle),designing, developing and mananging projects, I can tell you that this whole Bug 2000 thing is a scam, designed to line the pockets of software companies and consultants. 

Though I'm truly disgusted with the idea of ripping off customers, the perpetrators are pulling off the perfect scam.  Once the customer buys the false premise of a ticking time bomb, in effect, the software company has a gun to their head. Sick but true. I will offer a chance to prove what foolishness this is.  My company will do the job for 25% of what any large systems house would charge. The algortithm is simple:

(1) simply identify every instance of "date", whether it be a database field or hard coded, and then,

(2) develop a translation routine (a.k.a. function or procedure) which is automatically called upon at each point in the program where date is encountered,

(3) ensure that mathmatical operations can be performed on dates, in the same fashion that they were before, by adding the "Julian" value of one century to the representation for 1900, in each instance of date computations.

Anybody want to save a few million bucks? Know any corporate execs who are holding their ankles these days? Before their blood spills, you might consider having them get a second opinion.  The biggest disaster of 1/1/ 2000 will be the invoices which corporate America is going to get slammed with, as the consultants go party.

Anybody can call me at Softel, Incorporated (847) 559-9600.

Steve Wallace

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Paul Andrew Mitchell                  : Counselor at Law, federal witness
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