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A decade has passed

31 December 2009

Ten years ago today I was sitting in front of my computer, like many others, wondering which software would still be working the next morning.

There had been lots of programmers who took shortcuts, by representing years with two digits, or even if they represented them as having four digits, failed to account for the year beginnning with 20 rather than 19.

It was the dreaded Y2K bug.

It affected some of my favourite programs, but not as many as I had feared.


One that was hit was askSam, the free-form database manager.

It had the useful feature that you could press Alt-W for the day of the week, and Alt-D for the date. But it is now not useful, because one has to go back and edit it. What it gives me for today’s date is:

Friday 31 December 1109

But I’ve continued to use it, because in spite of that particular Y2K bug, once you have edited and corrected it, it still does calculations on the corrected date, so it was a minor annoyance rather than a major bug.

I’ve now bought the Windows version of the program, which has corrected the bug, but in some ways it’s not as powerful as the DOS version, which I continue to use for some purposes.

Personal Ancestral File

Version 2.x of Personal Ancestral File (PAF), a genealogy program, has a similar bug. If you enter anyone born or died or married after 1 Jan 2000, it warns of an invalid date. That’s a bit more annoying, because genealogists tend to use a wide range of dates, and so the authors of the program ought to have been aware of the the problem.

As with askSam, I now use the Windows version of the program, in which the bug has been fixed, but the DOS version had many useful add-on and accessory and utility ptograms that are not available in the Windows versions, including the ability to print on 3×5″ and 6×4″ cards.

Blue Wave Mail Reader

That was a program for reading mail from dial-up BBSs, of which there are none left, or at least none that I know of in Sout5h Africa. A pity, because in many ways their messaging software, including BlueWave, was much more sophisticated than anything you could find on the Internet. You could set it to select only messages containing certain names and keywords, and only download those, or to read the messages by combinations of keywords.

BlueWave message reading screen

As you can see, it got the current date, when the message was being read, correct, but the problem was the date of the message itself, and the 2-digit year. At the end of 1999 it incremented it by 1, and so 99 was followed by 100, and all years displayed as the year 100.

But lots of other programs took the year change in their stride, and carried on working as before. So Y2K, which many people had thought would be a major problem, turned out to be a minor inconvenience.

The next big problem, I believe, will be in 2038, when the Unix Calendar ends.

If the world doesn’t end when the Mayan Calendar ends in 2012 (as some people apparently believe it will), then it will surely end in 2038.

But that won’t be my problem, because I have no ambition to live beyond 13 April 2031. That’s a significant date for me, as it is both Easter and Wester, and it will be the first time since I was 11 years old that my birthday will fall on Western Easter, so Bright Week 2031 seems like a good time to snuff it.

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