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A Problem Not Seen In 101 Years. . .Safe For Another 101

January 14, 2020

You know those internet memes that say,

This year the month of May has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays in a month.

This only happens only ever 823 years. the Chinese call it “silver pockets full.”

This doesn’t just happen every eight centuries. It actually happens a lot more often than that. In fact, if you’re curious it will happen again in May 2026. Not as often as February 29th, which also happens this year.

Most things that have to do with calendars follow predictable patterns. Just like Christmas or your birthday is on Wednesday last year. And next year, it will be on Friday. (Due to the leap years.) The next year, 2021, Christmas and your birthday will be on Saturday. Then, Sunday and eventually, it will be back on Wednesday in 2024.

So, just about everything in a calendar is a pattern.

This year, 2020, has a unique pattern that has not occurred for over 100 years. And it won’t have this problem for another 100 years.

I worked for Microsoft in 1999. I can tell you with assurity that Y2K was a real problem. Your digital life didn’t blow up because computer people are really good at what we do. . .sometimes.

Y2K was a problem because early programmers, back in the 1960s and 1970s used two digits for the year. So, instead of recording 1964, they only recorded 64. You might think they were just being lazy, or stupid. But, in the early days of computers, memory was expensive. Like super expensive. Literally you would count the bytes. And no one would “waste” two bytes to keep track of the “19.” It was assumed.

Later, of course, memory got cheaper and those old systems stayed around. And programmers had to go back and fix it. And we did. . .sort of. We started using four digits to record the year.

But, we actually left a bug in the system. In the year 9999 they are going to have to go through the process all over again to fix the Y10K bug.

Computers use four digits for the year, but people don’t. We often are “too busy” to write those extra two letters. So, my twin sons were born in 02. Oh sure, it was really 2002, but you know what I mean.

It’s fine. Everyone understand it. And accepts it. But, this year, there’s an actual bug in the system. Our system. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s.

Never use a two digit year this year.

Like me, your probably write the date like 1/14/20. Unless you’re in Britain or the rest of the world where for some strange reason it’s 14/1/20.

You write that when you date a letter, or a sign a check, or sign a contract. (Actually, who am I kidding? No one uses checks any more.)

Anyway, the danger is that 1/14/20 isn’t a very exact date. You think it’s today? It might be. Of course, if it’s signed on a contract and I have a pen the same color as your pen then

1/14/20 == 1/14/2020 == 1/14/2000 or 1/14/2021

You might think it’s silly. So did the programmers who were told in 1970 that they were designing a bug that would show up in 30 years. That was silly.

But, dates, especially written dates in the internet age are vital.

And be aware, your great grandkids are going to have the same issue come up 101 years from now in 2121.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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