Monday, March 16, 2015

Since Y2K happened, Pi Day 2015 is no longer special

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

The whole Y2K brouhaha that took place fifteen years ago has taken all the fun out of Pi Day for me.

I’ll tell you why.

Nobody -- at least, no computer -- uses two digits to indicate the year any more.

Without going through all the gory details, computer programmers in the 20th century could get away with using a two-digit year in a date field (such as 3/14/15) , but as the 21st century loomed on the horizon computer programmers already had long-range plans and made adequate preparation suddenly panicked at the thought that extensive changes to many, many programs had to be made to be able henceforth to determine whether a date -- a date of birth or marriage or death, for example, or the difference between two dates -- involved a 20th-century date or a 21st-century date.

In the early days of computer programming (mid- to late-20th century) , computer programs routinely subtracted one year from another to determine which date was earlier and which was more recent. But crossing the millenium boundary* made it necessary to solve in another way the problem of, say, June 3, 2004, being a later date than November 9, 1997. Subtraction simply wasn’t going to work any more using a two-digit year. I mean, 04 is less than 97, but humans know that 2004 is not earlier than 1997. Computers do not. In this respect, human beings are very smart and computers are very stupid.

Where previously month, day, and year could be expressed in mmddyy format, beginning on January 1, 2000, the format had to be changed to mmddyyyy (alternately known as mmddccyy where cc meant century) . This caused no end of consternation among the computer programming portion of the populace for months on end.

But, as we all know, the conversion eventually took place and the world did not end at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 1999. However, one result of all the hand-wringing and head-scratching fifteen years ago is that the most recent Pi Day was not 3/14/15, it was 3/14/2015, and 9:26.53 a.m. on Pi Day could not possibly be expressed as 3.141592653 since, using the new yyyy format, it must be expressed as 3.14201592653. That is not what Pi meant at all. That is not it, at all.

The following passage of poetry suddenly leaps to mind:

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

Can you tell why?

*The millenium boundary was actually 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2001, not 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000. But that is probably a topic for another post.


  1. I think you should dare eat a peach ~ unless of course there is some hidden meaning in that line that I am unaware of. I remember all the brouhaha around Y2K ~ it provided me plenty of work at the time ~ and like you say it was all a bit of a fizzer ~ peach fizzer perhaps!

  2. Love that poem, and can only answer with another quote from it.
    'And would it have been worth it, after all,
    After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
    Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
    Would it have been worth while,
    To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
    To have squeezed the universe into a ball...'
    And I suspect the answer is yes.

  3. All I know is that we got pizzas from a local pizza place on Saturday for $3.14 apiece. Now *that's* a celebration!

  4. Flummoxed, I am waving my white flag for you have lost me - yet I bow to your numerical gymnastics oh Mighty Wizard of The Pork Pie! You have ventured into a land from which I am prohibited because in the kingdom of numbers I would be little more than an amoebic blob.