Monday, January 10, 2011

There was a small Y1C computer glitch in Taiwan in 2011 (Year 100 in ROC history)


Did Taiwan face its own immanent Y1C computer problems next year when
the ROC turned 100? Yes and no. Mostly, nothing happened. But a few minor
glitches were reported.

With a new year upon us in the Western faux-Gregorian faux-calendar, as well as
it being a century year in the official Republic of China calender, it
turns out that most of the anxieties about
the year ''100'' causing computer glitches on some computers in Taiwan
were unfounded. Nothing much happened in terms of the
anticipated "Y1C" (Year One Century) computer bug that several news
articles last year alluded to.

However, an expat friend of mine in Taipei told this blog of his own recent
experience with a minor Y1C problem, saying: "Sometime during the
first week of the new year, I tried to use the telephone appointment
system to arrange an outpatient visit at a large hospital in Taiwan.
After punching in all the required information, the computer voice
"confirmed" that I had made an appointment on 'day zero of month
zero'. My wife then put in a phone call to a real person the next day
to make a real appointment. This person told my wife that the apparent
problem I encountered had to do with '2-digit year becoming 3-digit
year' (or something to that effect), and that the hospital expected to
have it fixed by the end of the first week of January. If they could
'fix' it so quickly, I wonder now: Why didn't they do what they were
supposed to do before it caused inconvenience for countless people?"

When most of the Western world was getting ready for the year 2000 and
all the Y2K computer problems the change-over from year 1999 to year
2000 might create -- and lo and behold, nothing really happened and
the change-over went smoothly with almost no glitches at all -- Taiwan
was facing its own Y2K problem. Call it Taiwan's Y1C problem,
because Taiwan's government uses the year 1911 as its founding date as
a republic -- The Republic of China (or R.O.C.) -- and since this year
is year 99 in Taiwan using this calendar system, next year will mark
year 100. And the extra digit just might cause some headaches for
Taiwan's computer systems that handle bank transfers, university
tuition bills, insurance premiums, medical records and driver's
license applications.

According to a post on Wikipedia, not to worry. Or, as the case might be, worry.

"Since, generally speaking, only government offices use the official
1911 dating system, the impact on the private sector in Taiwan should
be minimal," the Wikipedia entry says. "However, the potential to
affect government systems is another matter. Then again, on the other
hand, looking at the bright side of things, a large number of
government computers are already using a three-digit system for dates,
with a zero being used as the first digit for years below 100 (Western
year 2010 A.D. or earlier). Some government documents such as driver’s
licenses already refer to years over 100; fortunately, nothing more
than minor glitches have so far been reported."

According to David Reid, an Australian post-graduate student in Taipei, the
blogosphere began discussing this issue four years ago.

"The problem has been labelled 'Y1C' for Taiwan, and there is even a
Wikipedia page about it at,"
he said in a recent email to this reporter. "A blog called Pinyin News
wrote about it in 2006, or the year 95 as some might prefer. I expect
the issue will cause some minor problems, but I doubt it will prove to
be a disaster.:

"However, what would be a good thing is if the entire date issue
promoted more debate in Taiwan about whether using the ROC calendar is
relevant or practical," Reid added. "This is unlikely as the KMT will
be obsessed with marking the centenary and unwilling to engage in
debate about the issue."

Roger Chen, a computer science graduate student at Chung Cheng
University in Chiayi, doesn't think the problem will become too big or

I think we can solve what problems come up," he told this reporter.
"However, it's true, many banks and hospitals will have to stay on top
of it. I don't think it going to be a big problem, but then again, you
never know."

An American expat in Taipei who works for a ROC government branch as
an editor, thinks this is all much ado about nothing.

"I don't think there will be any problem on January 1, 2011, which
will be Year 100 in Taiwan's calendar system," he said. "Every PC I've
ever seen -- and most
of them have parts or are completely made by Taiwanese-owned
companies -- run a BIOS and OS that works on the Western calendar. I've never
seen a BIOS set to the ROC calendar, and I've never seen a Taiwan-specific OS
for that matter, just localized versions of Mac, Windows and Ubuntu.
Then again, if I owned a PC software service company, I'd be spreading
fear of the Y1C bug and then offering expensive plans to 'cure' it."

For the expat blogger who runs Pinyin News in Taiwan, things could get
sticky, he said in looking into the future a few years ago.

"This [everything-begins-again-with-us] dating system -- which
reflects the habits of the imperial dynasties the ROC was supposed to
have eliminated -- isn’t just a quaint local custom," he wrote in
2006. "Its continued use is heading Taiwan toward its very own type of
Y2K problem. In just a few years, when the ROC reaches the age of 100
and has to jump to three-digit years, Taiwan will likely experience
what I like to call the Y1C problem. (Yes, I know: I’m mixing systems
in that C represents hundred in a system that uses M, not K, for
'thousand.' But that’s the best I could come up with. I’m open to
suggestions for catchy but correct names.)"

Pinyin News continued: "As far as I know, nothing is being done yet to
address this. Slow are the wheels of Taiwan’s bureaucracy. To give an
example of this, the Y2K problem certainly did not lack publicity,
outrageous hype even; yet in 2005 the high-profile English-language
website of the Office of the President gave the year as being 105.
About six weeks ago, when I gave a presentation to officials in charge
of various government agencies’ Internet departments, listing some of
the things wrong with the Taiwan government’s English-language
websites, I specifically brought up the example of the presidential
office’s howler."

He concluded: "Before the [ROC] year 100 comes in 2011, somebody
remind me to find a bank outside Taiwan for what little money I have."

This so-called Y1C computer problem was a local Taiwan issue. But did
overseas media like the New York Times or the Guardian newspaper in
London pay attention? No. Just the local media and a few blogs, and the AFP and Reuters wires.

This story had legs. Smell legs. Nothing much happened. Story is dead in the water.

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