Beyond 3000's summit, will it keep running?
On the Inclusive Nature of Modern Paper

MPE's dates stay at home on their range

2028 is considered the afterlife for MPE/iX, and MPE in general, based on misunderstanding of the CALENDAR intrinsic. The operating system was created in 1971 and its builders at the time used 16 bits, very state of the art design. Vladimir Volokh of VESOFT called to remind us that the choice of the number of bits for date representation probably seemed more than generous to a '71 programmer.

"What could anyone want with a computer from today, more than 50 years from now?" he imagined the designers saying in a meeting. "Everything will only last five years anyway." The same kind of choices led everybody in the computer industry to represent the year in applications with only two digits. And so the entire industry worked to overcome that limitation before Y2K appeared on calendars.

YogiberraThis is the same kind of thinking that added eight games to the Major League Baseball schedule more than 50 years ago. Now these games can be played on snowy baseball fields, because March 29th weather can be nothing like the weather of, say, April 8 in northern ballparks.

Testing the MPE/iX system (whether on HP's iron, or an emulator like CHARON) will be a quick failure if you simply SETCLOCK to January 1, 2028. MPE replies, "OUT OF RANGE" and won't set your 3000 into that afterlife. However, you can still experience and experiment with the afterlife by coming just to the brink of 2028. Vladimir says you can SETCLOCK to 11:59 PM on December 31, 2027, then just watch the system roll into that afterlife.

It goes on living, and MPE doesn't say that it's out of range, out of dates, or anything else. It rolls itself back to 1900, the base-year those '71 designers chose for the system's calendar. And while 1900 isn't an accurate date to use in 2028, 1900 has something in common with Y2K -- the last year that computers and their users pushed through a date barrier.

The days of the week are exactly the same for dates in 1900 as for the year 2000, Vladimir says. "It's ironic that we'll be back to Y2K, no?" he asked. VESOFT's MPEX has a calendar function to check such similarities, he added.

The MPE/iX system will continue to run in 2028, but reports which rely on dates will print incorrectly. That's probably a euphemism, that printing, 14 years from now. But it's hard to say what will survive, and for how long. Or as Vladimir reminded us, using a quote from Yankee baseball great Yogi Berra, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

The year 2028 was 67 years into the future when the initial MPE designers chose the number of bits to represent CALENDAR dates. Who'd believe it might matter to anyone? "Will Stromasys continue to run after 2028?" asked one ERP expert a few years back during a demo. "Just as well as MPE will run," came the reply, because CHARON is just a hardware virtualization. The operating system remains the same, regardless of its hosting.

And as we pointed out yesterday, one key element of futuristic computing will be having its own date crisis 10 years after MPE's. Linux has a 2038 deadline (about mid-January) for its dates to stop being accurate. Linux-based systems, such as the Intel servers that cradle CHARON, will continue to run past that afterlife deadline. And like the Y2K days of the week that'll seem familiar in MPE's 2028, an extension for Linux date-handling is likely to appear in time to push the afterlife forward.

Perhaps in time we can say about that push-it-forward moment, "You could look it up." Another quote often misunderstood, like the 2028 MPE date, because people think Berra said that one, too. It's not him, or the other famous king of malapropisms Casey Stengel. You Could Look It Up was a James Thurber short story, about a midget who batted in a major league game. Fiction that became fact years later, when a team owner used the stunt in a St. Louis Browns ballgame by batting Eddie Gaedel. You never know what part of a fantasy could come true, given enough time. Thurber's story only preceded the real major-league stunt by 10 years. We've still got more than 13 years left before MPE's CALENDAR tries to go Out of Range.