The Millennium bug: I have the sol*\!@^$|xxx

`The computer thinks that this piece was written 60 years ago, before the Second World War'
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
I DON'T want to boast, but I think I may have something to contribute to the Great Millennium Bug Debate.

A solution, perhaps.

Perhaps not.

But I do have a startling revelation to make, which an expert will be more capable of evaluating than I am. I only hope that this article will be read by such an expert, who knows what I am talking about even if I don't.

Now, the Millennium bug, as I understand it, is not a Millennium bug at all. It is a Century bug, because it is a problem that is going to arise every hundred years.

In fact, it's not even a bug. It is a glitch in-built by the people who first started doing computer programming, because they could not conceive that the present century would ever end, and therefore failed to incorporate any facilities for the date turning to the next century.

After 31 December 1999 (as I understand it) the machines will all say to themselves, "Hey, we've come to the end of time as we know it! We aren't programmed to do anything about this! This, in our terms, is the end of the world! Let's explode! No - hold on, why don't we just go back to 1900 and start all over again? At least that will give the human beings another hundred years to sort it all out..."

That is it, as I understand it.

(Have you noticed that I keep using the phrase "as I understand it"? I realise that's a dead giveaway. Only people who don't understand things ever use it. It's just the same with people who say "if you ask me". People who say "if you ask me" are people nobody is ever going to ask, whose opinion nobody ever wants to hear, just as people who are about to utter a lie first say, "If you really want to know...")

The one thing we have established is that computers can't handle the turnaround to 2000. They would all rather go mad, or explode, or apply for a government grant to help with things, than change to 2000.

Right. We now come to the machine on which I am writing this article. It is called an Apple PowerBook 150. It's a lap-top, which is the name we give to machines we use on a table or a desk but never on a lap. When I bought it, it was top of the range. About six months later, people who came to mend it would suck in their breath and say, "This is a bit out of date now - I'd get a new one if I were you", but I haven't yet.

Every time I write a piece on it, I save it and store it on the hard drive, and the machine gives it a date. So if I want to refer back to a piece, I can look it up alphabetically on the hard drive and there it will be, along with a record of the date. This piece, for instance, is listed in my Independent folder on my PowerBook as having been written on Friday 11 March 1938.

That's right. The computer thinks that this piece was written 60 years ago, before the Second World War, on Friday 11 March 1938. (Was 11 March 1938 a Friday? I don't know.) The dates it gives to other pieces are equally random, with no pattern at all. For instance, there was another piece I wrote called "Millennium Prayers", which the computer has dated as having been inputted on Tuesday 29 March 1904, whereas it was in fact written on 28 February 1999.

Running my eyes down all the other pieces, I can see that the computer has a few favourite years. For some reason, 1904 is popular, 1922 also, 1938 very popular indeed and 1998 quite popular. But - and this is where the plot really thickens - quite a lot of my pieces have been dated 2006.

AD2006 is supposedly a year that computers cannot handle, yet there it is, as clear as anything. For instance, earlier this year I wrote a piece that I called "Tales of the London Marathon". It is now stored on the computer's hard drive as having been written on 25 June 2006, at 1.08 am.

Now, it is some years since I was sober enough at 1.08 in the morning to write anything, and there are still seven years to go until 2006, so there is absolutely no rhyme or reason whatsoever in this dating.

But at least it proves one thing: a computer is perfectly capable of handling a year in the next century, as long as it is supposed to be handling something quite different at the time.

I leave it to the experts to decide what this all means.