2600 Magazine cover

The Global Date Format
Published in 2600 Magazine, 2004 Summer, Volume 21:2

Original Title:
Together, We Can Change America!
(The rest of the world
already works this way)

by Richard Cheshire

How The World "Does It".

There are many ways of writing the date. I got my "epiphany" back in the 1970's. It was during the period between the end of the Apollo program, and the begining of the Space Shuttle Era in 1981. I was watching a documentary about NASA, and noticed that the clock in the control center that usually showed MET (Mission Eleapsed Time, or the time since the spacecraft lifted off the launch pad) was showing the current date and time.

It was only one of those short 4-second "establishment shots" that a film director will use to "establish" where a scene is taking place. As they panned across the room, I couldn't help but notice that the clock was showing the year, month, day, hour, minute, and second in that order! "Wow!", I thought to myself, "That makes sense!", and I've been writting the date in that format ever since. Of course I still wrote it wrong for many years, not knowing any better.

You see, the beauty of writing the date in the format 1975.02.05 meant that there was no ambiguity as to wether I meant the Second of May, or the Fifth of February. You simply read it from highest to lowest (year, followed by month, followed by day). And the real charmer was the fact that this format is computer sortable! In the American convention of writing the date 02/05/75, files named with the year would have the files from February's of different years sorted all mixed together together, while 75.02.05 would alway sort ahead of 76.02.03.

When I found the World Wide Web in 1996, I had to change the habit of 20 years. Like most people, I rebel against change, and I didn't like it when I found out, but it seems that this format is an international standard - I had just been using the wrong character as a seperator. But instead of "dots" I had to change to "dashes" as in 75-02-05.

Back in the 70's I'd stop in the public library and read Aviation Week magazine (the "Magazine of Record" for the aerospace industry), just because I've always been a bit of a Space Cadet (which is why I now live in Florida where I can watch NASA launch rockets to Mars and send men and metal into Earth orbit). I noticed that the Europeans used the decimal point in their phone numbers, and it looked like an elegant way of denoting the fact that my date format was "different" from the way most people did things.

Shortly after I found the web, I found Markus Kuhn's web page at a university in Germany. His web page on ISO-8601 International Date And Time Format changed my life, and brought me a sense of self-vindication. This was the way the world does things. Now I've ben accused of being one of those "One World" creeps who think there should be a single world government. Absolutely not. But as a Science Fiction fan who thinks Star Trek is pretty neat, I think the world needs to pull together into a joint Space Program to reach the Moon as a stepping stone for Mars, the astroids & beyond. I'm not a "one worlder", I'm a multi worlder!

Markus Kuhn has moved his page to http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/iso-time.html at Cambridge University in England. Besides quoting the standard itself, it also points out some interesting things about this date format. For one thing, it is already in use by more than 3/4 of the world's population. China has more than 1/2 of that population, and China (usually considered a backward nation) is already using the format.

You can do it, too!

If you're a programmer, you instinctively reccognize that the format of YYMMDD (or YYYYMMDD if you want to avoid "The Century Problem") lends itself to sorting, and the beauty of the concept makes you want to use it in everyday life as well. But the rest of America hasn't reccognized this format yet. Over the years I've used the format, I've noticed that people look at it funny. That's simply because not many people use it.

And when bureaucrats hand me a form where they've already filled in the date, and told me "Sign there", I sign my name, and then put the date next to it in my format. If they ask (and they usually don't), I explain it's the international format that I always use, and should it become necessary, I will be able to quickly prove it's my signature if my date format is used. With all the "identity theft" issues going around now, this is making more sense to people.

Now YOU, dear reader, are just one person. You may be thinking, "What I do as just one person, can't be that significant". But it can be! If we each print out a copy of the Standard, and show it to the people in the Front Office where we work, we can help America join the rest of the world in one, seemingly small, insignificant area. Maybe you can help show that the hackers of the world want to foster global cooperation, and that those bullys of the world that write viruses are are not who the hackers really are.

This publication is available on the World Wide Web at http://CheshireCatalyst.Com/globaldate.html