THE END of the first unix gigasecond IS NEAR

Martin Smoot msmoot at
Wed Aug 29 16:17:19 UTC 2001

Scott Harrington wrote:
> Is anyone concerned about the rollover of time_t from 9 digits to 10?
> This is happening at 2001-09-09 01:46:40 GMT, which is next Saturday
> night, or evening in the US.  Check your code for S1G bugs, such as
> ordering timestamps using textual rather than numeric comparisons, or
> assuming that time_t columns require no more than 9 characters.
> I have set an alarm but I plan to celebrate the dawn of the new gigasecond
> quietly.  I once made the mistake of alerting my (non-geek) friends that a
> leap second had just occurred ...

in late 1998, I received a message concerning a number of upcoming dates
that were likely to cause a problem.  I am including the message for
your amusement.

Some of the things that are suggested as problems seem to be rather
bizarre (the Jan 1, 1999 problem for example).  I can believe some of
the problems might have occurred or will occur but they just sound
strange.  I wonder where some of this information came from.

As for the gigasecond, there is a reference to use of 999,999,999 as an
end of file marker and the problems that it will cause.

And with all of the things that he included, he left out the 2100

Martin Smoot
Network Storage Solutions
msmoot at


As I'm sure you all heard, computer life as we know it will go a little
nuts on Jan. 1, 2000 (unless, of course, you use a Mac):


Jan. 1, 2000, isn't only 'doomsdate'

Steve Woodward / Newhouse News Service

Jan. 1, 2000, is The Big One, kids.

By now, you've heard that many of the world's computers will roll the
date clock forward from "99" to "00" with potentially disastrous
consequences.  Year 2000 authorities prophesy problems as minor as
erroneous overdue notices from the library and as major as a failure of
the nation's power grid.

But that isn't the only computer "doomsdate" looming. A slew of
lesser-known dates also could wreak technological havoc.

So brace yourself. The first date to dread -- Jan. 1, 1999 -- is fast

Jan. 1, 1999: The one-year-look-ahead problem

Not every computer counts forward like you and me. Some look down the
road one entire year and count backward to determine the date. (Please
don't ask why.) On Jan. 1, 1999, some will look forward one year and
see "00." Like humans, the computers may balk at having to count
backward from 00.

Jan. 1, 1999, to Dec. 31, 2002: The euro currency problem

We all know that the year 2000 problem is the biggest software project
in history. But many Americans are unaware that programmers throughout
the world are also at work on the second biggest software project in
history:  converting the currencies of 11 European nations into a
single currency called the euro.

Banks and financial institutions will begin transacting business in
euros on Jan. 1, 1999, although the actual bank notes won't be issued
until Jan.  1, 2001.  The introduction of the euro is to continue
through the year 2002.

There's no direct link between the euro project and the Y2K project,
but the massive size of the simultaneous projects will soon take most
of the world's available programmers.

Aug. 21, 1999: The GPS rollover problem

The world's 24 global positioning satellites record time by counting
the weeks that have passed since their launch in 1980. The weeks fill
up a counter much like the odometer on your car. But like your
odometer, the counter rolls over to 0000 when it's full. At midnight on
Aug. 21, 1999, the counter will be full. Equipment that uses the GPS
signals may malfunction.

Sept. 9, 1999: The 9999 end-of-file problem

Many computers have been programmed to recognize 9999 as an
"end-of-file" command. Perhaps some computers will conclude, quite
logically, that a date of 9/9/99 means it's the end of all time.

Oct. 1, 1999: The federal fiscal year 2000 problem

Big Daddy rolls its clock forward Oct. 1, 1999. As of that date, the
federal government officially enters its 2000 budget year. Every
federal function will be affected, from defense to Medicare to payments
on the federal debt.

Jan. 4, 2000: The first-working-day-of-the-year problem

Year 2000 begins on a Saturday. Corporate America will switch on most
of its desktop computers Tuesday, Jan. 4, after a long holiday weekend.
Boot up and hang on to your morning mochas.

Feb. 29, 2000: The Year 2000 leap year problem, Part I

Most programmers know the rules for calculating leap years: Any year
evenly divisible by four is a leap year, except years that also are
divisible by 100. So 1996 is a leap year, but 2000 isn't -- er, right?
Well, there's a third, lesser-known rule that cancels the first two:
Any year divisible by 400 is a leap year, including -- you guessed it
-- 2000. The question is:  How many programmers know that rule?

Dec. 31, 2000: The Year 2000 leap year problem, Part II

Some computers work by counting the number of days in the year. If they
aren't programmed to know that 2000 is a leap year, the machines will
be bewildered when they reach Dec. 31, 2000, the seemingly impossible
366th day of the year.

Sept. 8, 2001: The Unix end-of-file problem

Unix is the "other" major operating system, a set of instructions that,
like Windows, DOS and MacOS, run the basic functions of a computer.
Unix powers many commercial and Internet computers. Unix tells time
differently, which means that it does not have a year 2000 problem.
Unfortunately, it does have a Sept. 8, 2001, problem. In Unix language,
that date is represented by the number 999,999,999 -- the same number
that some Unix applications use to denote the end of a file.

Circa 2025: The U.S. telephone number problem

By the year 2025 or so, the United States will simply run out of
available seven-digit telephone numbers and area codes. Telephone
companies will have to add digits or revamp the numbering system. That,
in turn, will force software programmers to overhaul every piece of
software that uses phone numbers, plus all databases and archives that
store phone numbers.

Jan. 19, 2038: The other Unix problem

The Unix operating system tells time by counting the number of seconds
elapsed since Jan. 1, 1970. But like your odometer, there are only so
many places on its counter. At seven seconds past 3:14 a.m. on Jan. 19,
2038, the counters on every Unix computer in the world will be full and
will roll over to "0."  Many computers will assume it's either Jan. 1,
1970, all over again (who wants to relive the '70s?) or that it's the
end of the world (which may be a better alternative than the

Circa 2050 to 2075: The Social Security number problem

By 2075, the United States will have exhausted the 1 billion unique
Social Security numbers possible under its nine-digit numbering system.
Year 2000 expert Capers Jones suggests that the nation must be prepared
by 2050 to expand or replace the many software applications that depend
on those numbers.

Copyright 1998 Newhouse News Service. All rights reserved.

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