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8 September 1999

Oooh, 9/9/99. For a while now I've been puzzled by the folks who say that 9/9/99 (September 9, tomorrow) will be a date that's potentially bad for computers, possibly giving us an advance mini-Y2K experience. The argument goes that an all-nines date has been used as a value with special meaning in some programs, and so computer behavior on the 9th of September will be quite unpredictable.

Truth be told, I've used an all-nines date myself in the past (in VAX BASIC ... don't ask), but by definition, that means "999999" if you're doing MMDDYY dates. September 9, on the other hand, is "090999" in the same format. Where's the problem? (Happily, no date corresponds with "999999", so it wasn't a bad way to write code. Other than causing Y2K date-sorting problems by using two-digit years, of course.)

If one used an MDYY format ("9999"), September 9 would perhaps cause a problem, but you'd have much bigger problems than that, given that dates could no longer be specified unambiguously -- would "12399" translate to 23 January 1999 or 3 December 1999? Hopefully no one's using code that bad in their products...

On NPR this morning I heard a Gartner Group guy explaining it, saying that in all their work reviewing code for Y2K problems, they haven't found any with a September 9 problem. The 99th day of the year might translate to 9999 and cause a problem, but that's already past (April 9th).

Now, if anybody used the actual date "090999" or 9/9/99 as a date with a specific meaning, then sure, there'll be trouble. We can only hope nobody was that short-sighted.

Seen on Eatonweb: It's no substitute for the seminar itself, but if you don't get to see Edward Tufte in person this serves as an OK discussion of his talk:

  • Getting Tufte by Marty Lucas [Mappa Mundi]
    Tufte likes elegance in information design, but he also likes to see lots and lots of content. High resolution information, he calls it. A telephone book is a high resolution information design, and he likes it. Similarly, he likes web site home page designs that offer many, even a multitude, of options to the user. Yahoo! and Wired are good examples.

I agree with some of the author's comments about how Tufte's principles are especially hard to apply with the crude, slow, low-resolution Web technologies currently available to us. But while I too would love to see how Tufte would deal with the Web's limitations on a site of his own, I was still plenty satisfied with learning the higher-level principles he has set down. They provide a useful marker out there on the horizon which web designers can use to orient themselves in the long run as devices improve.

I've avoided thinking much about the whole Kansas thing; I think it would wear me out very quickly without accomplishing anything useful in the process. This is an interesting addition to the debate, though:

  • Weird Science by Katha Pollitt [The Nation, seen on More Like This]
    As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in Time, in no other Western country is the teaching of evolution regarded as controversial. Throughout the world, one way or another, most Christian denominations have managed to reconcile belief in God with belief in the mechanisms of natural selection.

    ...if the creationists are right, not just biology must go but also geology, archeology, astrophysics, physics; so must radiometric and carbon-14 dating. Indeed, creationists should be protesting every natural history museum in the country that uses public funds to promulgate the "secular humanist" doctrine of geological time.

To any Yes fans in the audience: If you pre-order Yes' new album The Ladder from Tower Records, you'll also get a poster of Roger Dean's artwork for the album. I'm not sure when the offer ends, but the album comes out 28 September.

???: Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, creators of the one-of-a-kind grownup comic series Preacher and long-running creative team on Hellblazer, are going to be doing a 12-issue Punisher series for Marvel. Yeah, the Punisher -- you know, the guy whose claim to fame is that he wears a skull on his chest and shoots people. This is among the more bizarre creator-character matchups I can imagine.
Aaron Straup Cope wonders what Bill Watterson's been up to since he stopped making Calvin & Hobbes. I do too. Does anyone out there know?
  • Meet Bill Watterson []
    "This is not a recent or easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted, however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue."
    [Bill Watterson, late in 1995]

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