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Fiendish numerology of the day

It's quite an old saw, and it's probably rather blunt by now … . But it's late (and I suppose that's the point).

Computer geeks often get a bad press. Some of it is deserved – we've all been on the receiving end of Dilbert-esque (or even pointy-haired) software from time to time – but not always.

Today's the day to set the record straight. One of the more common indictments of our field is that this computer system and that software update are now way behind their schedule. I did some analysis – I had a used-on-one-side envelope somewhere – and by my reckoning the figures clearly show that it really isn't our fault.

Blame the Romans – and all the folks who've perpetuated their calendar (albeit offset by a couple of months). Blame the clerics who set us up when they dealt their feasts out just so. Blame the mathematicians for their intransigent laws of arithmetic that give us no way out. [Hang on a minute … where there's a law, there must be lawyers. Blame them too.] Blame all the spaced-out cosmologists who assert that what's going on isn't actually possible (I smell more pesky laws ).

Being vaguely familiar with the 50% smarter than a two-bit boxer α-geek who thought laterally and came to the conclusion that simply by counting in (four-plus-four)s instead of tens he could free himself forever from the risk of becoming all fingers and thumbs, we get frustrated when superstitious fundamentalists persist in questioning our religious persuasions. (If these idiots just stopped to think things through properly, we think, they'd realize how common it is for things that appear quite different nevertheless to compare equal.) Like yin and yang and all that, however, both parties are right … and both wrong.

Like all good tricksters, the zealots have actually shown us the truth – just in a way that ensures we won't see its true significance. That 31 oct = 25 dec isn't just a basic numerical truth; there really is an insidious connection between the dates concerned. The trick is that it's not about good and evil, but rather now and then. Here's how it works: We get to All Hallow's Eve, and then before we know it it's the Festival of the Nativity. Since the dates are the same to us computer folk, and outward appearances (ridiculous levels of tat in the shops, for example) are seamlessly similar, we simply don't notice that someone's stealing a whole 15 per cent of every year! No wonder large-scale software systems take longer than we expect.

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