The Y2K38 Problem

The things you learn from Wikipedia, eh?

What is the Y2K38 problem? Well, during the Y2K crisis, one set of computers was totally unaffected. Any computer running UNIX did not care about the switchover of the century, because rather than storing its years as a series of two-digit numbers (97 for 1997, et cetera), it instead clocked time in terms of the number of seconds that had passed from the start of time on January 1, 1970.

Just one problem: logging time in this fashion, as an integer within a 32 bit structure, gives you only room for four billion seconds before the number gets too high for the computer to count. And, sure enough, come 2038, four billion seconds will have passed since January 1, 1970.

From the Wikipedia article:

The latest time that can be represented in this format, following the POSIX standard, is 03:14:07 UTC on Tuesday, January 19, 2038. Times beyond this moment will “wrap around” and be represented internally as a negative number, and cause programs to fail, since they will see these times not as being in 2038 but rather in 1901. Erroneous calculations and decisions may therefore result.


The problem has already manifested itself on certain databases with super-lengthy time-out allowances. However, with the problem still 31 years away from becoming critical, it’s expected that the overwhelming majority of UNIX systems will be migrated to 64-bit architectures well before then, although there is fear that embedded computers — small machines controlling wider systems — might not be replaced in time without a concerted effort similar to the race to fix Y2K.

But what gets me thinking is this quote from the article:

Using a (signed) 64-bit value introduces a new wraparound date in about 290 billion years, on Sunday, December 4, 292,277,026,596. However, this problem is not widely regarded as a pressing issue.

Oh, really?

Flash forward to the year 292,277,026,596 AD…

“Well, Megathor, somewhere in this galaxy is a small UNIX computer that runs everything. You have to find it and upgrade it before it’s too late. And we think it may be guarded by dragons. You in?”

And Let’s Not Forget

The Year 10000 Problem

The severed head of Steve Jobs glared at the severed head of Bill Gates. “I told you, you were just putting off the inevitable!”

See Also

Scary Trip

I should probably pay more attention to the weather. Yesterday, Erin and I bundled Vivian up for a long drive as part of our writing routine. Vivian gets to sleep in her carseat, while Erin writes on her laptop, and I have fun exploring with the car. This time, I stayed on the main roads and headed down to Paris, then to Brantford (which, despite turning the corner, still has pockets of dilapidation in its downtown), and then to Ancaster, Hamilton and across the lift bridge (rather than the Burlington Skyway) to Burlington.

It was overcast, but the roads were dry. It was, however, quite windy. Lake Ontario was behaving in ways Erin hadn’t seen since she last visited the ocean, and I myself missed an opportunity to snap a picture of a breaker rising over the Burlington waterfront break wall, as somebody passed in front of the spray. This should have told us that something was coming, but we stopped off at the Burlington Indigo instead and had coffee, while Vivian romped around among the bookshelves and the Thomas the Tank Engine display.

About an hour and a half later, we look out the front windows and see something close to a whiteout. Oops.

The drive back was mostly good, though. We stayed on the main roads and all of the other drivers drove responsibly, so we made steady (if slow) progress back via Highway 5 and Highway 6 to the 401. But it was as we approached Kitchener that the weather got a lot worse. Our windshield wipers, which had mostly been able to deal with the wet snow, simply gave up the ghost. We lost visibility in the middle of the 401, which is rather nervewracking, let me tell you. Fortunately, I was able to get the car off the highway at the next exit and parked myself in the nearest service station, where I brushed away the snow and hacked away the built-up ice from the windshield wipers. Then we holed up in a nearby Eastside Marios for dinner while we waited for the storm to pass, which it did.

Amazingly, Vivian slept through most of the drive, and had fun during dinner, so the whole thing comes down to just an adventure. Though it goes to show that you need to treat old man winter with respect, no matter where you are in Canada.

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