Title text: If only we'd chosen 1944-12-02 08:45:52 as the Unix epoch, we could've combined two doomsday scenarios into one and added a really boring scene to that Roland Emmerich movie.
The 2038 problem is a well-known problem with 32-bit Unix-based operating systems. Unix time is stored as a 32-bit signed integer on these systems, counting the number of seconds since 1970. In 2038, we overflow the highest number we can store in signed 32-bit integers, leading to unexpected behavior. The switch to 64-bit operating systems will most likely be complete by the year 2038, which is why Randall is relieved. The reference to Y2K is a throwback to the year 2000 problem, in which people were concerned that computers storing years as two digits (e.g.: 99 to represent 1999) would cause problems when the year 2000 began because 00 could have been interpreted as 1900 by error. That Y2K issue was covered widely — with only some small mishaps — but calculating dates beyond 2038 is still not solved on many 32-bit UNIX based systems today. The "even WORSE" is possibly referring to how our increased reliance on computers means the bug could affect many more vital systems, but with Y2K passing by relatively uneventfully especially in light of the hype that preceded it caused people to take this sort of problem less seriously.
The title text is a reference to the film 2012 which is about the world ending in December of 2012, at the end of the Mayan calendar. If the designers of the UNIX operating system had used 1944 as their epoch instead of 1970, then the UNIX crash due to a variable overflow would coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar. Thus, the implication is that there could have been a boring scene in the movie where the UNIX time rolls over and nothing happens and no one cares — because the world doesn't exist any more.
- I'm glad we're switching to 64-bit, because I wasn't looking forward to convincing people to care about the Unix 2038 problem.
- Friend: What's that?
- Cueball (arms raised high): Remember Y2K? This could be even worse!
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