by Dan Bloom
The Wild East
Will Taiwan face massive Y1C computer problems next year when the Republic of China turns 100? Or will it turn out like the Western “Y2K” problem, all for “nought”?
You may remember when many feared the changeover to the year 2000 could lead to serious problems in the global financial system, because computers worldwide were not programmed to roll over into the digits “2000.” Yet lo and behold, nothing really happened.
Taiwan is currently facing its own Y2K problem — Call it Taiwan’s “Y1C” problem.
Taiwan’s government — and Taiwan only — bases its own, unique time- and record-keeping system on its foundation as a republic — the Republic of China, or ROC — in the year 1911. Using this calendar system, the current year is “99” in Taiwan, the next “100.” And that extra digit just might cause some headaches for Taiwan computer systems handling such services as bank transfers, university tuition bills, insurance premiums, medical records and driver’s license applications.
So get ready, Taiwan, for your own special Y2K problem — Y1C to be more exact!
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,” according to the Wikipedia entry for the issue. “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 labeled ‘Y1C’ for Taiwan, and there is even a Wikipedia page about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y1C_Problem,” 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 unmanageable. “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.”
Don Silver, 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 three 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 is a local Taiwan issue. But will overseas media like the New York Times or the Guardian newspaper in London pay attention?
Stay tuned. This story has legs. And the race to 2011 has already begun!