Sanity Pursuit


I submit that there can be no mistake that current varied formats of writing the date not only introduce chaos into the everyday affairs of all walks of life in this country; but, because time has increasingly become the base by which all, and increasingly more, things are measured, the format by which date and time are written really are a "threat" to this country's functioning. While some years ago, this threat may not have been pronounced, with the advent of computers, information transfer and relatively explosive use of the internet, it now is.

Indisputably, there is only one correct sequence of fields when writing dates. It is indisputable; because, given no a priori format, no child taught arithmetic and sorting, given a time specified as HH:MM:SS, would ever come up with an illogical date format not following YYMMDD or YYYY Mon DD or something very similar to that sequence. For all practical purposes, the time format HH:MM:SS is adopted worldwide.

The three formats commonly used in this country are:
    
  • logical       year mon day
  •     
  • civilian      month day, year
  •     
  • military      day-mon-year

  • Mention any form other than the illogical month day, year to a civilian and you will often raise their hackles. Presumably still the recommended form in English grade schools it no doubt stunts the logic faculties of all our children. Several centuries ago, this form was declared a standard. Perhaps numbering and accounting procedures only kept track of the months and days and each year's records were filed in a room by that name. The ", YYYY" was added as a afterthought unfortunately in the wrong place and since time was not usually recorded, the illogical placement was not offensive.

    Fond of our military, and having only one crisis there where truth went to my favor, I am not fond of day-mon- year hou:min:sec and I have made criticisms of their use of same. While learning to make html pages, the instructions used "military intelligence" as an example of an oxymoron. For the military's use of this format, I have borrowed the phrase a few times. Some say you can sort backwards with this method; however, if one notes the progression of the day from nine to ten, that proposal is immediately recognized as folly.

    While in the military, I had access to a large computer, purchased my own materials and did earthquake time sequence studies. Using much of my personal time teaching myself how to program and use the computer equipment, I received advice from expert personnel present at the time. Date formats became a real problem. Not only did I have to use a different format for the century spans I most frequently worked with; but also after conversion and processing, I had to convert back so I could better refer to the events I was looking at. It soon became apparent that all illogical forms of the date were just that, and to be abandoned because their use required longer sorts and more computer time reformatting. All my data was kept in logical form i.e. year-month-day. As I recall, the extra multiply required to place the year in front of the month-day sequence to sort illogical dates typically required 300 extra machine cycles, dividing it back out required 400. Sixteen bit hardware of that time required a double integer width to accommodate a full date. About 1969/70, I decided to adopt the logical form for all personal usage such as check and letter writing. I can produce letters to Derry Twp. Public School, Hershey, PA evidencing this fact. When checkout clerks would inquire about the form, I would simply say they should be writing the date that way. The checks were preformatted _________, 19___ so I tried to get the check printing company to change. About 1995, my checks started being preprinted Date______________.

    Sometime in the late 1970's, early 80's Science News published an article concerning our conversion to the metric system. I sent them a letter explaining and asking them to support logical dates by publishing the letter and changing their method of adorning their magazine with dates. Having no response, I discontinued my subscription. Our failure to adopt the metric system may explain our reduced student science and engineering pursuits.

    Formatting the LASA bulletin and NOAA bulletins for local use at the Seismic Data Analysis Center, I programmed them all to utilize logical dates. Those using these bulletins sometimes complained, but after using them awhile became quite fond of them.

    Having purchased a desktop computer, HP-87A, I was laid off from the oil patch industry in 1982 and went into business with the computer. One aspect of the business involved generation of amortization schedules for developers, real-estate agents, banks and other financial institutions. The deluxe schedule had dates on each payment formatted YYYY Mon DD.

    In 1994, after much ado about my survival as a scientist, I managed to find employment through SAIC's Roger Bowman, et al to work as a seismic analyst for their GSETT3 experiment. Shortly thereafter, Roger asked me to comment on their bulletin format and upon seeing the civilian format, I was at first immensely disheartened. In my humble opinion, this country owes a debt to Dr. Bowman and Dr. Richard Gustafson and perhaps others for choosing the logical format to represent the scientists participating in this endeavor. However, repeated requests to the legal staff at the CTBTO have failed, they going so far as to provide sort functions to get around the impossibility of pasting from their web pages and having sortable dates. I have requested that they switch to logical dates several times. Arrogance abounds when people try to defend their use of illogical dates and I am afraid the reasons are quite primitive. I have similar problems with NASA at many of their websites; but NASA in general has been very good about the issue and made many astute changes. Of course, tradition is the villain that obscures the obvious.

    In an effort to encourage others to consider logical dates, I recently changed my Virginia license plates to 4Y-MM-DD. The registration stickers are reversed however month on the upper left and year on the upper right. Perhaps, I will try switching them the next registration with hopes of not being ticketed. This provides quite widespread awareness, but most probably think the problem is a Y2K problem and not their concern. It is not a Y2K problem; but, it is related to the basis for Y2K problems - ie. using only the month and day because of past limitations of now primitive, eight or sixteen bit hardware.

    Six times I have been on NPR to discuss the problem, asking and pleading with people to use logical dates and once I appeared before a panel chaired by Ted Koppel at the 1999 Mar 24 Space 2000 Symposium. The first two pleas on NPR’s “Public Interest” program were broadcast locally and probably accomplished positive results with excellent discourse by Kojo Nnamde, the host mediator . The last two were not particularly successful as I was cut off by when I attempted to get "The Computer Guys" to support logical dates. Instead, by an ironic twist, they recommended the military method and that was the end of the conversation. I thus promoted that illogical form of the date. The fourth time, his program “Public Interest” was being broadcast nationwide and Kojo once again invited my comments about writing the date illogically. At the Space Symposium, I was able to say little being rushed for time with Mr. Koppel. I made one remark about our lack of progress getting converted to the metric system and another inquiring about why it is we do not write the date correctly. One of the panelists responded "Everyone should write the date however they like." This is a great liberal attitude; however, I do not believe all three common forms are taught in school. There are, of course, several other formats such as year-day-month which I recently first encountered in a document, month-year-day and day-year-month.

    An article in the 1999 Jan 06 Wall Street Journal alluded to the problems with dates, but did not sufficiently recommend nor describe the logic. Reference to the ISO-8601 standard was made. ANSI is now endorsing logical dates as of the fall of 1998..

    After trying to coax a friend who supervises the creation and maintenance of a great many web pages, he finally decided to to put the "Last revised" date in common-sense form. I told him that it was unlikely anyone would notice and if they did it would not affect their natural sensibilities. After a week, I asked him about complaints and he reported no queries whatsoever. He changed more of the pages until all of them used logical dates and he has recommended to his staff to also use them. When I last talked to him he told me he was a devout convert.

    From standing before large machines used for machining, one learns that when something starts going wrong, a rapid and effective response is mandated or significant accidents and/or damage could occur. This is evident with the use of illogical dates. Increasing use of bulk-material processing equipment with computer controls can cause great personal injury by programming mistakes that can be stimulated by software errors that are date related and totally unnecessary.

    Failure to use logical, standard measurement systems recently resulted in the loss of a $300 million project to place a climate mapping satellite in orbit around Mars. The Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the atmosphere because Lockheed Martin of Colorado was passing English measurement units to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where they naturally assumed the units were metric. Dr. Edward Stone of JPL was on the panel chaired by Ted Koppel at the Space 2000 symposium.

    I circulate a standard flyer to those using illogical dates to wit:
    ------------------------------Flyer------------------------------------
    If you can, please try and standardize your date & time presentations
    by writing them in their natural order.  It makes no sense to write:
    dd/mm/yy hh:mm:ss or mm/dd/yy hh:mm:ss   date backward, time f
             1996/02/05  \  Of these 3 dates only one is unambiguous and sortable.
             02/05/1996   > Time defines for anyone the order of the date field.
             05/02/1996  /    ANSI  Standards 3.30 (dates) and 3.310 (time).
    When one gets used to it, it even looks better. Appending time
    then becomes a natural extension to the day.  It is already used by
    quite a few.  Example: http://www.sel.noaa.gov/today.html
    1996 Aug 14 00:15:23 or 1996/08/14 00:15:23 EST Wed   etc.
    Be progressive and make it easier for our children to learn & compete.
    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/iso-time.html
    Mail header - my apologies.           Metric on highway signs, too.
    ----------------------------End-Flyer----------------------------------
    


    RECOMMENDATIONS This brief description of a malady permeating this country needs to be corrected and the sooner the better. To that end, I am proposing to contact, demonstrate and try to get implemented the use of logical dates on or by the following as necessary:
    ? e-mail dates on the internet.
    ? Microsoft - their human date interfaces should be logical.
    ? Businesses - the systems people who cause illogical dates to be printed by banks, supermarkets, retail 
    stores, etc.
    ? The Military - their interfaces should be logical.
    ? Government agencies - many use logical dates internally, but fail to publicly convey the same.  They 
    need to do that also.  The Superintendent of Documents - as evidenced in the RFP, may already be 
    effecting a change.
    ? USPO  I have a letter postmarked  twice from the SSA: 04 Aug 1999 and the other Aug 4'99.  Logical 
    dates here would quickly spread the word.
    ? Newspapers - The Wall Street Journal.  USA Today - they are nearby.
    ? Scientific Journals  I sent letters to AIP, SSA, Science News, AGU, Sky & Telescope, et al.  None have 
    thought this an issue, although __ at AGU at least responded and subsequently took it up with his staff.   
    Why these do not lead the way purely baffles me. As scientists they seek truth, do they not?
    ? Other media.
    

    The Good
    Please write dates logically: YYYY-MM-DD (HH:MM:SS)
    or variations thereof: YYYY Mon DD, YYYY/MM/DD
    Remember the MCO! Where is Moonbase 1?

    rwc@cowaro.com