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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Bohandas's Avatar

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    Default Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    I recently found out that 2 decades ago, when they fixed the Y2K bug, they apparently only added enough extra bits to the clock to take us to 2036. Why is that? I understand why the original Y2K thing came about; it was a holdover from early 1980's computers that had to cut corners to conserve memory because they were only about two steps above the antikythera mechanism. By the late 1990's however, memory was far less scarce, so why only bump it up by such a meager amount.

    I've calculated that just twelve bytes should be enough to count down the microseconds until the last star in the universe burns out with room to spare

    log2(1000000*60*60*24*365.25*120000000000000)≈92

    They could have bumped it out to eight bytes and nobody would ever have to increase it again, so why didn't they?

    So why didn't they?
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Because the Y2K fixes generally worked with different representations of time than the ones that have the Year 2038 problem. Y2K was about representation of years using two digits; 2038 is representing time as seconds. Storing time as a signed 32-bit integer dates back a long ways, at least back to POSIX in 1988, and that was probably just standardizing existing behavior.
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    Colossus in the Playground
     
    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    I recently found out that 2 decades ago, when they fixed the Y2K bug, they apparently only added enough extra bits to the clock to take us to 2036. Why is that?
    I think you may have a misunderstanding there? You might be thinking of the Year 2038 Problem, because Unix-based operating systems have their time represented as the "UNIX Epoch", which is the number of seconds that have elapsed since January 1st 1970. On a computer which is storing this value as a 32-bit signed integer, it will overflow early in 2038, causing potential issues. A lot of more modern Unix-based systems store this value in a 64-bit integer in order to avoid this issue. This has nothing to do with Y2K, it's a separate issue that's been known about for a while.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Yeah the y2k problem wasn't quite because not enough bits were used (well not directly I mean not writing the full year is a way to save bits of course) it was because some date formats actually looked like the way humans would write dates with separate days month and years but only had the last two digits for years like 98. For timestamps (the 2038 problem) more bits should indeed solve most issues, but the problem is years away and there are lots of legacy systems so there will probably be some scrambling shortly before to update old systems.
    Last edited by Ibrinar; 2020-09-07 at 04:50 AM.

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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    ElfRangerGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    The 2036 referred to may be "Network Time Protocol timestamps". The Network Time Protocol (NTP) has a related overflow issue, which manifests itself in 2036. There are solutions. Future versions of NTP may extend the time representation to 128 bits.

    Wikipedia: The 64-bit timestamps used by NTP consist of a 32-bit part for seconds and a 32-bit part for fractional second, giving NTP a time scale that rolls over every 232 seconds (136 years) and a theoretical resolution of 2−32 seconds (233 picoseconds). NTP uses an epoch of 1 January 1900. The first rollover occurs in 2036.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    It also depends very much on the Operation system and software/programming language you are using.

    I cut my teeth on the Cyber 170/720 (University) and Vax/VMS when I started working. I can't remember what the Cyber used, but the Vax used quadwords (64bits IIRC) and went up to 31,086AD.

    The default date format used 4-digit years so we had very few Y2K issues in the code we wrote using native formats, but as soon as we used something like Oracle, we got locked into the much less precise Oracle datatypes.

    MacOS beats VMS' range that by a couple of orders of magnitude, but also has a much smaller precision.
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    Orc in the Playground
     
    SwashbucklerGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    It's worth nothing that while memory and storage is much cheaper than ever, it's still non-trivial on legacy and embedded systems. You want to track time with as little information as you can get away with.
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  8. - Top - End - #8
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by crayzz View Post
    It's worth nothing that while memory and storage is much cheaper than ever, it's still non-trivial on legacy and embedded systems. You want to track time with as little information as you can get away with.
    Yes, that, but the main issue is that there's a lot of systems out there that have been in place for decades, may well have these issues with time, run some fairly critical systems (in banking for example), and the time needed to thoroughly check through the proposed replacement systems to ensure there's no issues - both with the new system itself and with any systems you're not going to replace that interface with it - that may cause problems further down the line is itself non-trivial.

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    Titan in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Storm_Of_Snow View Post
    Yes, that, but the main issue is that there's a lot of systems out there that have been in place for decades, may well have these issues with time, run some fairly critical systems (in banking for example), and the time needed to thoroughly check through the proposed replacement systems to ensure there's no issues - both with the new system itself and with any systems you're not going to replace that interface with it - that may cause problems further down the line is itself non-trivial.
    Lots of things where the original developers were well aware of the potential issue but figured "There's no way they'll still be using this system in 30/40/50 years, right?" .. well, turns out yes, they will, even to the point of emulating the old software and inheriting its problems on new hardware if that means they don't have to spend time updating things that work mostly ok already.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by tyckspoon View Post
    Lots of things where the original developers were well aware of the potential issue but figured "There's no way they'll still be using this system in 30/40/50 years, right?" .. well, turns out yes, they will, even to the point of emulating the old software and inheriting its problems on new hardware if that means they don't have to spend time updating things that work mostly ok already.
    To an extent, but at the time we're talking about (although issues with things like operating system retirements potentially affecting long-lived devices like MRI scanners in hospitals etc are still present), the hardware components were insanely expensive, even assuming you could get someone who could make a chip with enough processing power, or provide sufficient memory. So the developers had to write within the limitations of the hardware, and if they could save 2 bytes by excluding the century on a date, that's going to be a significant amount.

    As for emulation to allow old software to run on new hardware, you can start running into problems where known problems with the old hardware have workarounds in the software, but because the hardware the emulator runs on doesn't have those problems (or have problems of their own), the workarounds can potentially go off in completely unexpected directions.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Another thing to remeber is that the developers may have been writing code for something completely different and then someone else realised it could be used for the long-lived use.
    That, or they don't even know what they are writing for as they are just writing a function they have been given a specification for.

    Back when I was at University I was taught that the British Computer Society advised that all programmers should seek to be fully informed on what they are writing code for - and it was pointed out that this is practically impossible.
    The linked example was to do with programming ethics rather than choice of clock size, but to give an idea:
    Consider you are writing the control system for an unmanned petrol (gasoline) pump - should you allow people to exceed their credit card limits?
    Spoiler: why the obvious answer may not be correct
    Show
    Does it change your answer if you know that the pump will be used at an unmanned filling station in Canada 20 miles from the next shelter?

    The problem is that unconsidered uses of the product can completely change the assumed requirements that define it.

    For reference, this is an 1990 or 91.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    SwashbucklerGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Khedrac View Post
    Another thing to remeber is that the developers may have been writing code for something completely different and then someone else realised it could be used for the long-lived use.
    That, or they don't even know what they are writing for as they are just writing a function they have been given a specification for.

    Back when I was at University I was taught that the British Computer Society advised that all programmers should seek to be fully informed on what they are writing code for - and it was pointed out that this is practically impossible.
    The linked example was to do with programming ethics rather than choice of clock size, but to give an idea:
    Consider you are writing the control system for an unmanned petrol (gasoline) pump - should you allow people to exceed their credit card limits?
    Spoiler: why the obvious answer may not be correct
    Show
    Does it change your answer if you know that the pump will be used at an unmanned filling station in Canada 20 miles from the next shelter?

    The problem is that unconsidered uses of the product can completely change the assumed requirements that define it.

    For reference, this is an 1990 or 91.
    Reminds me of that guy who deleted his online java library in protest and accidently crashed half the internet... because it turns out everyone was using a package that used a package that used a package that used his package containing an extremely basic string concatenation function.
    Quote Originally Posted by crayzz
    That a given person is known for his sex appeal does not mean that he is only known for his sex appeal.
    Quote Originally Posted by jere7my
    For instance, I am also known for my humility.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by crayzz View Post
    Reminds me of that guy who deleted his online java library in protest and accidently crashed half the internet... because it turns out everyone was using a package that used a package that used a package that used his package containing an extremely basic string concatenation function.
    Javascript, not Java, but yeah. The left-pad incident.
    Last edited by IthilanorStPete; 2020-09-15 at 11:22 AM.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Whoracle's Avatar

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by crayzz View Post
    Reminds me of that guy who deleted his online java library in protest and accidently crashed half the internet... because it turns out everyone was using a package that used a package that used a package that used his package containing an extremely basic string concatenation function.
    For anyone interested in the wider story, the package was leftpad on NPM, so JavaScript rather than Java. A fine tale of the dangers of centralization and dependency on, well, dependencies.

    Edit: Damn, ninja'd
    Last edited by Whoracle; 2020-09-15 at 11:35 AM.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    SwashbucklerGuy

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    Default Re: Why do they still use such a small number of bits to store the time on computers?

    Quote Originally Posted by IthilanorStPete View Post
    Javascript, not Java, but yeah. The left-pad incident.
    Quote Originally Posted by Whoracle View Post
    For anyone interested in the wider story, the package was leftpad on NPM, so JavaScript rather than Java. A fine tale of the dangers of centralization and dependency on, well, dependencies.

    Edit: Damn, ninja'd
    Mea Culpa, but yes, that incident.
    Quote Originally Posted by crayzz
    That a given person is known for his sex appeal does not mean that he is only known for his sex appeal.
    Quote Originally Posted by jere7my
    For instance, I am also known for my humility.

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