Thursday, February 28, 2008

A MyFax Leap Year

I was reading about leap years on Wikipedia and I realized that February 29 could be the world’s most famous bug fix.

Okay I’ll start at the beginning and so we’re all in the same place. Before the Gregorian Calendar (what we use now) there was the Julian calendar, think of this as Version 1.0. Before that there were a couple of Beta tests like the Roman calendar, but the Julian was really the first full release. It was okay, it helped people plan lunch dates and setup a workout schedule but it had this huge flaw which caused an ever expanding gap to grow between it, the civil calendar and the seasons. So Pope Gregory called in new developer Aloysius Lilius to revamp the program.

This new version was designed with the goal of keeping the vernal equinox on or close to March 21. Aloysius set to work on his specifications and his calculations were almost perfect. Things were going great. A media blitz was planned, the Pope was already conducting interviews on how this new calendar was going to change every person’s life on a day to day basis, people were clearing spots on their desks, and flipping a head to see if their birthdays fell on a weekend. It was a done deal, except for one small thing.

No matter how he ran the numbers, Aloysius could not reconcile the fact that the solar year was about 6 hours longer than the 365 day magic number he had come up with. This wouldn’t cause problems right away but it would down the road as those 6 hours added up. The fix? Add an additional day once every four years to correct the drift. Sure it was a little cumbersome but it fixed the problem. It’s interesting that the Gregorian calendar was released in 1582 but the first leap year wasn’t until 1600. Makes you wonder if it was in place when the calendar was unveiled to the public. So what do you think? Did I prove my theory, February 29 – the ultimate bug fix?

Of course, you may just be wondering what any of this has to do with MyFax… Don’t worry, I have a connection. The Julian calendar was serving an important purpose, just like the traditional fax machine, but it had problems that kept piling up and becoming more of an issue as time went by. A better, more practical solution that fit the needs of the people, like the Gregorian calendar, had to be developed. It’s just like the fax machine, when it was first introduced it served it’s purpose, but as privacy concerns and the mobile workforce became more predominant the problems associated with it become more and more predominant until the tool itself becomes more of a hindrance than a solution. Aloysius cut ten days off the Julian calendar, revised the calculations, and added Feb 29 and created a calendar system we still use today. Online fax solves the problems of mobility and privacy and modernized a technology that was no longer working for the people who needed to use it and to top it off it saves you a ton of money. Seems like a pretty clear connection to me!

2 comments:

TLS said...

Interesting analogy! Great read!

Tara said...

Thanks so much for your comment TLS! I'm glad you enjoyed it.