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Y2K - Other Problem Dates To Worry About


A friend says she has a terrible stomachache, and asks you to hit her in the arm, "really hard." "Why?" you ask. "Because," she replies, "then I won't be worrying about my stomach."

Need a similar distraction from your fears about the Millennium Bug? As it happens, Jan. 1, 2000, isn't the only risky date your computers have to contend with. In his article

The first problem date, says Jones, will be Aug. 22, 1999. On that day, a rollover in the Global Positioning System will reset the system to 0000. The GPS is a satellite system used by navigational devices to fix their precise location. It is used to direct most planes and ships as well as guided missiles. It's also used in many major banks and thousands of financial systems, to accurately record the time of day whenever the systems calculate a fund transfer. "The current network of 24 global positioning satellites keeps track of dates by recording the number of weeks from midnight on Jan. 5, 1980, using a modulo 1024 approach," Jones explained. "That is, the week counter will reset to zero after week 1023, which occurs at midnight on Aug. 21, 1999."

Although this date change has been clearly documented in the original standards (ICD-GPS-200) -- and although, according to Jones, "major GPS receivers and ground support units should have planned for the rollover and be ready to deal with the situation" -- it is very likely that the GPS rollover may be missed or not handled properly in some ground stations or in some software applications that use the GPS system.

John Murray, a Silicon Valley computer systems consultant, agrees with this assessment. His company, A second tricky date for computers will be Sept. 9, 1999. Computers interpret this date as the number 9999, a number that is also commonly used by software applications as a file termination code. The problem with this, Jones says, is that "although 9999 is not intended to be a normal date, it might well be misinterpreted by some software applications and be considered as the date Sept. 9, 1999."

Jones said that a similar problem has been noted in Unix applications where the number 999,999,999 has occasionally been used to indicate an "end of file." As it happens, the number string of 999,999,999 under Unix is actually a date, Sept. 8, 2001 -- but that's another article, to be written at another time.

Jones suggested that, although the normal expiration of the Unix clock is not until 2038, some applications in the C programming language that run under Unix may experience date problems in the fall of 2001, 37 years before the main Unix date problems occur. And Unix also has a major 2038 date problem that may be as troublesome as the Year 2000 problem is proving to be.

"Thus," said Jones, "the aphorism that 'Unix does not have a year 2000 problem' may be true, but Unix may well have some year 2001 problems in specific applications." And although the 9999 problem has been solved on many operating systems, it is not clear how many older applications are still using strings of nines with ambiguous meanings.

If all that is not enough to distract you from the Millennium Bug, consider this: A report by There. Enjoy your sleep.

-- Andy (, April 16, 1999


Hey Andy.. thanks for listing these dates, although IMO, they are fairly well publicized in the media.

I worked as a computer technician and progammer for the DoD at a phased array radar site and the experience I had with that has led me to believe that 9/9/99 will have little or no effect on computer systems. When the computer offers a date entry in the form of mmddyy, and you enter it in as 9999 or 090999, the program sees that date entry as 090999 or 09/09/99. In any event, that is not the same as the 9999 command that is oft used as a 'shutdown' command, and as most of us know, computers only do exactly what the program tells them to.

Don't get me wrong though; I'm no ostrich. I'm not trying to say that Y2K will be no big deal, because I believe that it could possibly be one of the most devastating things to happen to us in living memory. I just don't think that, based on my experience, that 9/9/99 will play much of a part in it.

-- A.P. (, April 16, 1999.

More on The Dreaded Nines and Other Proverbial Dates

-- Lane Core Jr. (, April 16, 1999.

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