As much as the world of technology has seen some incredible visionaries throughout time, some hindsight short-sightedness demonstrates just how difficult it is to plan for the future.
We are all familiar with the Y2k problem, of course, when early programmers deduced that two bytes of data could be saved when writing the date. To any human or computer, it was obvious that if the date man landed on the moon was written as 16071969 or 160769 they were both the same date.
At up to US$90 per kilobyte, programmers were encouraged to be more efficient. That was fine until the year 2000 approached and suddenly a date of 020210 could be referring to the year 1910 or 2010!
Despite US$500 billion being spent on solving that issue, we still had some date-related problems after 1 January 2000. Credit card failures; corrupted satellite data; nuclear reactor false alarms; rejection of food shipments; incorrect age-based screening tests for pregnant women and even a video rental late fee of over US$90K!
We don't seem to have too many Y2k problems any more as most systems now use a four-digit date but there are other systems with different date related issues.
GPS springs to mind.
Last week I spoke of the importance of accurate times for different devices across the world. GPS is one of those systems. Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity is used in the calculations for the clock ticks on satellites and reference systems on earth as the satellites must have an accuracy that is measured in billionths of a second - plus or minus twenty years!
What? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
GPS week zero started on 6 January 1980. With data at a premium, only ten binary digits were available to count the number of weeks for the date of satellite systems. That meant that 1024 weeks later the system date effectively reset itself to zero. At midnight on 21 August 1999 we had a small taste of what the Y2k problem may bring.
Luckily not a lot of consumer GPS devices existed that had been around for most of those twenty years and systems were generally updated to be aware of this problem.
Fast forward another twenty years and on 6 April earlier this year, some airlines had to ground flights while patches were applied. The New York City wireless network crashed and weather balloons and weather buoys were impacted. By this time, the number of consumer GPS devices had increased dramatically - including mobile phones.
Now it might seem as though this problem was all fixed over six months ago but the problem is about to appear again with older iPhones. Anyone using an iPhone older than an iPhone 6 needs to ensure it has the very latest iOS update.
Despite the fact that the GPS rollover date has already occurred, older iPhone models are dancing to a different tune. The same applies for earlier iPad models. There may be other devices as well that have a date offset that may impact the operation.
In short, it is always good advice to keep whatever system you are using patched with the very latest software.
Some of my clients over the years have been concerned about applying patches as updates sometimes cause strange behaviour or modify the look and feel of your device but I am firmly in the camp of taking the lower risk of applying the latest patch rather than exposing the possibilities of the problems that are being fixed by the patch.
Tell me if you prefer to patch or cross your fingers and hope at email@example.com.
- Mathew Dickerson is the founder of regional tech and communications company Axxis Technology.