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Vol.26 No.4

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Volume 16, No.4

Editorial

by Stefano Lanzavecchia (stf@apl.it)

Mille mille anni meno uno
e la Terra scoppier (boom!)
A. Martelli La Regina dei Mille Anni

Three months in the feared year 2000 and the big boom does not seem to have happened yet. I have heard people saying that all the generous pouring of resources into the solution of what was deemed to be large-scale disaster was unjustified. In my opinion this is like saying why equip cars with brakes when it is so rare that people cannot stop their cars at traffic lights? Maybe its because they have brakes, but this would be too fine a point to see for a journalist blinded in search of fame.

There is one thing that the big press failed to realise in most cases, and that is that the so-called Y2K issue was actually a double issue: one part of it was the instantaneous failure of real-time devices which could have erroneously interpreted the two digit years 00 as a sudden regress of 99 years in the past, causing all sorts of calculations to go wrong (hence the fear for passenger carriers to miscalculate accelerations, speeds and similar); the other side of it was the long term problems caused by the misinterpretation of the 2 digits year causing old great-grandfathers to be invited to join primary schools, the sudden rise of fortunes because of little glitches in the calculation of bank interests, the disappearance of other fortunes due to the late payment of stock dividends and so on. Its because of this second aspect of the problem that we should be a bit careful in ruling out the expected doom. This kind of error will manifest itself in the next months and will catch many persons unaware.

There was another sneaky problem connected with the year 2000, namely the fact that it is a leap year. Amazingly enough many systems failed to recognise this, to my knowledge without causing any serious trouble. Still, one would have expected this to have been foreseen and fixed during the Y2K worldwide mania. But no, why should we part from the pleasure to be wrong once in a while, our creatures and ourselves?

Anyway, like after the end of a war, all the soldiers who fought bravely and earned their livings devoting all their skills in the pursuit of a glorious victory are now going home where they will have to find new occupations. It worries me a little bit that because of many legacy applications, quite a good number of APL programmers and expert consultants were busy heads down for the last 18 months or even more of their lives making sure that those applications would be Y2K compliant and now that the ordeal is over find themselves somewhat out of place in the world of computing that in the meantime has progressed quite a bit. One thing for sure is that APLers are hard to beat.

Exactly one year ago I compared the profession of the software developer to that of the professional soccer player and of the movie director. The only comment that any of my readers ever felt like sending prompted by one of my editorials was to complain about my feelings on soccer. Fair enough. The addition to that editorial is that Disney has already produced, much to my disbelief, Fantasia 2000. (http://disney.go.com/DisneyPictures/fantasia2000/index.html). Microsoft docet.


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