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Monday, October 18, 2010

The Nightmare is Over... For Now

At last it's passed. The annual irritation; the month of bemusement when your humble blogger must constantly check the calendar to see if something he's reading about has yet to happen or if it's already passed. It's a pain in the hole, and it takes up about ten percent of every damn year.

By now, gentle reader, you'll have inferred that I'm talking about the date. Or, to be more specific, the format in which the date is written down. Those who do the writing broadly fall into three categories, depending on which format they do the writing...

Those Who Have Seen the Light
Blessed are those who adhere to ISO 8601, for they shall be understood.

These pricks just make it up as they go along. Either they think of themselves as creative or they've paid someone to make shit up and give us a random string of numbers and punctuation masquerading as a date. The only thing worse that doing it in a misguided attempt at seeming artistic is to do so in a misguided attempt at seeming scientific. Irrespective of motivation, it's nonsense.

It's a less egregious form of assholism, but it is one nonetheless. These poor fools write the date as they've been always taught; as far as they're concerned, that's how it's written. They give no consideration to the fact that they're addressing a global audience, and that some of the people they're addressing are used to a different format.

These latter assholes comprise a number of subcategories:

These assholes use the date format dd-mm-yy (or dd-mm-yyyy). This is the most forgiveable, as it's a logical sequence and one that's been adopted by most of the world. Nonetheless, with our US cousins generating a significant percentage of internet traffic (both as readers and writers), the potential for ambiguity is, shall we say, non-zero.

Americans: What the fuck? Seriously. First you try and take all the interesting bits out of spelling in a mania for simplicity, and then you adopt a date format that makes no fucking sense? I ask again: What the fuck? mm-dd-yyyy? Who's the dipshit who came up with that? Not only is it at variance with the system used by most of the world, but it's in no order whatsoever. Month then Day then Year? Someone really needs a kicking for letting that one through.

It is with heavy heart that I must relate a tale of cultural oppression and pathological fence-sitting. Yes, friends, in reading up in preparation for writing this I discovered a most appalling fact; Canada, it seems, has three date formats. If you're writing the date in Canada, you can use 'dd-mm-yyyy', 'mm-dd-yyyy' or 'yyyy-mm-dd'. Doubtless many organisations and individuals have seen the light and insist on the last one, but in theory one can use any of the three without ridicule. This is truly a sorry state of affairs. One can easily imagine how a country with Canada's flux of geographical and historical influences could arrive at such a situation, but... damn. The revolution is overdue. Rise up, Canucks! Rise up and throw off the shackles of archaisms that infest your lives! Realise the dream of an unambiguous assignation on the eleventh of October!

So there you have it. Because of all this ambiguity, when I read of something on 10/11/10 I have to figure out when the hell it's happening. I have to look at other dates in the email. If there aren't any, I have to look for another hint, such as the day of the week. This shit happens every year between about the first of October and the twelfth of November. It is, as I suggested above, a pain in the hole, and a wholly unnecessary one.

Of course, some are worse than others. The Science Gallery in Dublin, I regret to say, is fond of sending out emails promising events at dates like "17:10:10.18:00" which a few seconds parsing will tell you is the seventeenth of October at six in the evening. But no parsing should be necessary (it's such a shit format they can't even keep it straight themselves, and the format can vary even among paragraphs in the same newsletter). '2010-10-17 18:00' is instantly readable.

Oh, and I booked a seat at an upcoming talk in the Science Gallery, and got an email with a wholly different format. The email assures me it's on "19/10/2010 19:30:24". I commend their specificity, and will object strenuously if the event doesn't begin until 26 seconds past the minute.

Of course, it's important for other reasons, too. Take RTÉ Radio's discussion programme, The Late Debate. I download the podcast of this programme, and it comes in with a filename like pod-v-12101055m25sthelatedebate.mp3. To make matters worse, they're shit at updating the rss feed, so some days three episodes will come hurtling into my downloads directory. I then have to figure out the order in which to listen to them, as sorting by filename or by date is pointless. All hail the BBC, who give their podcasts names like iot_20101014-1031a.mp3.

This started as a tirade, but will end with a plea. A plea to you, kind reader, to do the right thing. Don't stand idly by when you see someone drag us back to the twentieth century with their outdated formats. Remember, the twentieth century gave us Hitler; if you don't stem the tide of antiquated dates, you're just begging him to return. By writing the date and time as "yyyy-mm-dd hh:mm", you're not just making yourself more easily understood. You're saving the Jews.

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