Many of us old timers remember the tiff over Y2K. Many person-centuries of work to bring our systems up to speed and handle the year change. I actually remember coding systems with 2 digit years, thinking “that’s so far out in the future, we won’t need to worry about it”. Then Y2K came. and went.
Many look back on Y2k as the biggest IT make-work project in our lifetime…much ado about nothing is the common perception. I beg to differ. Usually, most pundits will tell you “nothing happened”. Not true. I was involved in a situation where we (a large financial services firm) bought a subsidiary in 1999 where IT spending was starved, and project management was a dream. Y2k bit that company and bit them hard – their systems were out for over 2 months while they were repaired in that 1st quarter of 2000. Priority one was to keep it hush hush and not let the media find out so it wouldn’t affect investor confidence. I am sure I wasn’t in the only firm that had those issues. No one wanted to be a Y2K poster child.
Even more recently there was talk of a “leap second” biting an airline reservation system, and causing downtime.
So it became of interest to me when I started researching the history of my house and the land it was on, and suddenly came across land deeds that were dated with dates like “February 1, 1690/1”. At first I thought it was an error. Or maybe the pilgrims had lost track of time, something in a wacky weed they were eating that also led to the Salem witch hunt.
Further investigation led to another reason: Pope Gregory XIII. He was the instigator of the “Gregorian Calendar” – replacing the Julian calendar from Roman times. That was in 1582. Unfortunately, the protestant reformation led to many countries (including England) to hesitate following a Papal Bull. The British Empire didn’t convert to the Gregorian calendar until 1752 (24 years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence). But that only meant a difference of a few days between calendars when the switch occurred.
But there was another hitch: the English legal custom had the year begin on 25 March (now 5 April). We in the U.S. continue that custom today with our tax date of April 15. That signaled, at least in Great Britain, the year change. So between 1582 and 1752 (and especially later in that period as it became apparent that the Gregorian Calendar was becoming widespread), dates in January through March were written with two years – Julian and Gregorian. Hence: “February 1, 1690/1”.
Imagine programming our systems to accommodate that! Or changing them. So are we through our last major man made calendar change? Nothing on the horizon, but in the words of The Great Communicator “never say never”. Thank God that date is beyond my personal planning horizon – unless Ray Kurzweil is right and that horizon gets extended. Shucks, that’s so far out in the future, we won’t need to worry about it…