Decades ago, programmers trying to conserve valuable storage space shortened year values to two digits. This shortcut created what became known as the "Y2K" problem or "millennium bug" at the turn of the century. Programmers needed to review billions of lines of code to ensure important programs would continue to operate correctly. The Y2K problem merged with the dot-com boom and created a tremendous demand for information technology employees. Information system users spent billions of dollars fixing or replacing old software. The IT industry is only now beginning to recover from the post boom slump. Could such hysteria happen again? It can and, very likely, it will.
Today, most programs use several different schemes to record dates. One scheme, POSIX time, widely employed on UNIX-based systems, requires a signed 32-bit integer to store a number representing the number of seconds since January 1, 1970. "0" represents midnight on January 1, "10" represents 10 seconds after midnight, and "-10" represents 10 seconds before midnight. A simple program then converts these data into any number of international date formats for display. This scheme works well because it allows programmers to subtract one date/time from another date/time and directly determine the interval between them. It also requires only 4 bytes of storage space. But 32 bits still calculates to a finite number, whereas time is infinite. As a business manager, you will need to be aware of this new threat and steer your organization away from repeating history. The following questions will help you evaluate the situation and learn from history.
a. If 1 represents 1 second and 2 represents 2 seconds, how many seconds can be represented in a binary number 32 bits long? Use a spreadsheet to show your calculations.
b. Given that POSIX time starts at midnight, January 1, 1970, in what year will time "run out"? Remember that half the available numbers represent dates before 1970. Use a spreadsheet to show your calculations.
c. As a business manager, what can you do to minimize this problem for your organization?

  • CreatedDecember 31, 2012
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