2676: Historical Dates

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Historical Dates
Evidence suggests the 1899 transactions occurred as part of a global event centered around a deity associated with the lotus flower.
Title text: Evidence suggests the 1899 transactions occurred as part of a global event centered around a deity associated with the lotus flower.


Many files and database entries contain a date. When it is not set, it often defaults to the first day in the system. The two dates listed below are mentioned as "significant" in the comic.

Dec 30th, 1899[edit]

Dec 30th, 1899 comes from a spreadsheet date compatibility issue between Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 (referenced in the title text.) Spreadsheets store dates as sequential numbers so that they can be used in calculations. In Excel, by default, January 1, 1900 is number 1 [1]. Based on that, Excel's integer date representation would be the number of days that have passed since December 31, 1899. However, because of a bug intentionally carried over from Lotus 1-2-3 where it counts February 29, 1900 as a day even though it actually was not [2], for any day since then, Excel's integer date representation is actually the number of days that have passed since December 30, 1899. Most other spreadsheet applications copied the behavior of Excel to maintain compatibility with it. This leads to the value of 0 in some applications (notably Open- and LibreOffice Calc and Google Spreadsheets) being interpreted as Dec 30th, 1899. Similarly, Microsoft Visual Basic and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) interpret 0.0 as Dec 30th, 1899.

The historian in the comic presents some research wrongly based only on the number of entries created on those dates. This confusion on the part of the future historian only grows in the title text, where they make the claim that Lotus 1-2-3 is, in fact, religious imagery related to some sort of deity, potentially a lotus god, around whom the '1899 event' took place. This may be poking fun at the trope that anthropologists attribute any behavior they can't explain to religious ritual.[actual citation needed] This historian's confusion may have been at least partially due to China's White Lotus Religion.

Jan 1st, 1970[edit]

Many operating systems and software store dates as Unix timestamps, which are defined as the number of seconds since Jan 1st, 1970, 0:00 UTC. When data entry neglects to provide a value, the system may be programmed to treat it as 0; consequently, an unprovided timestamp value is interpreted as Jan 1st, 1970 thereby creating the illusion of an "activity spike" on that date.


[Blondie is lecturing, pointing at a futuristic holographic display emanating upwards from a unit on the floor. It shows a presentation that features a timeline with two visible dates, 1899 and 1970. At the top of the hologram are two lines of text, above "1899" are three lines of text, above "1970" is one line of text, below "1899" are two lines of text, and below "1970" is one line of text; all of these lines of text are illegible.]
Blondie: Historical records show millions of business transactions occurred on Dec 30th, 1899.
Blondie: This economic activity sparked the digital age, culminating in a "data festival" on Jan 1st, 1970, when many early digital files were created.
[Caption under the panel:]
It's going to be weird when historians forget why some dates show up a lot.

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Source for the Excel/Lotus 123 relation with Dec 30th, 1899: https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/office/en-US/f1eef5fe-ef5e-4ab6-9d92-0998d3fa6e14/what-is-story-behind-december-30-1899-as-base-date?forum=accessdev Victor (talk) 08:14, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

I feel this one. My birthday happens to be within 24 hours of 1970-01-01, so I keep getting caught off guard for a moment whenever I see my birthday showing up in one of these contexts. -- KarMann (talk) 08:35, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

Oh no. What will happen to you on January 19, 2038? 04:07, 27 September 2022 (UTC)
Pressing F in advance. -- 10:31, 29 November 2023 (UTC)

We're going to need the date stamp format for 1890 ticker tape for this one. Anyone? 11:59, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

MM/DD/YY, with leading zeros omitted, and no I don't know why, but I suggest Google Books Ngrams might have a clue as to when that abomination started. 12:03, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
Not necessarily with pairs of the slash '/' _ . . _ . but also hyphens '-' _ . . . . _ and periods '.' . _ . _ . _ were used as delimiters in MM?DD?YY, which if I remember right dates to the 1500s when accounting ledgers were invented. 12:10, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
Are you with the NSA and have a data warehouse of all the ticker tapes ever sent or something? 12:45, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
No, but my great grandparents thought ticker tape parades were littering, because Great Grandma worked in an office and Great Grandpa worked for sanitation, so we have a bunch of boxes in the attic filled with what she was supposed to throw out her window. 12:54, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
That would be 1299. But I'm not sure how this is going to help us explain the comic, unless you perhaps are suggesting we enumerate date representation clusters somehow? 12:32, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
Someone should ask GPT-3 for a list of the top ten dates. 12:59, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

Just putting January 2, 2006 here: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/20530327/origin-of-mon-jan-2-150405-mst-2006-in-golang 12:28, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

Do we need a comment about how Pope Gregory XIII obliterated October 5th through 14th, 1582? 13:30, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

In Unix, January 1st, 1970 0h0 is 0. In Excel, December 31st, 1899 is 1. Either Randal forgot December has 31 days (hence December 30th) or he though Excel starts to count at 0 like Unix. For more information in the (probably) intentional bug in Excel https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2006/06/16/my-first-billg-review/ .

In Excel, January 1, 1900 is 1. However, December 30, 1899 is the "epoch" date that you should use if you want to convert a current date (anything on or after March 1, 1900) to a number by "subtracting" the current date minus the epoch date (counting the number of days since the epoch date). The reason it isn't December 31 is because of the above mentioned bug where Excel counts February 29, 1900 as a day even though it actually isn't.

I just checked it in different versions of Excel, you are right. Meanwhile LO Calc it is Dec 31th 1899... I'll try to edit the explaination to make it more universal. Asterisk (talk) 21:11, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
In Excel 2002 (XP) it actually interprets it as "1900-01-00" or "January 0, 1900", that's weird Asterisk (talk) 21:25, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

Speaking of dates, shouldn’t this one be in the category “Saturday comics”? Or was it still Friday in Hawaii when it came out? 17:57, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

While uploaded by the bot on 2022-09-24, the xkcd archive (and json data) states that this comic was published on 2022-09-23 —theusaf (talk) 18:44, 24 September 2022 (UTC)
The same thing happened on Monday. The comic didn't show up until Tuesday, but it was still dated Monday. Someone suggested that the book tour has been interfering with Randall's schedule. Barmar (talk) 21:25, 24 September 2022 (UTC)

I don't understand what the White Lotus Religion has to do with the comment in the title text. Nothing in the Wikipedia article linked mentions 1899 or December 30 in connection with that religion. -- 01:03, 25 September 2022 (UTC)

Yeah, I believe The White Lotus reference is a stretch, but it is possible, just based on the name "Lotus". This would have to be confirmed by Randall Munroe. On another matter; I'm sorry I don't have citations for Unix only becoming complete in mid-March. Dennis Ritchie himself wrote of it's birthing in 1969 in the 1978 paper,"The Evolution of the Unix Time-sharing System*" I'm quite sure of the Unix timestamp being a kind of "hack" used until a calendar app could be created. PS This Jan 1, 1970 problem was even in the first iPhones, which could be bricked by setting the date to Dec 31, 1969 or any date previous. Many an Apple Store had to put up with this nuisance. -- Cuvtixo (talk) 04:35, 25 September 2022 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
For a number of reasons, I thought it best to revert your addition, rather than vastly edit it to make it generally better (had some good intent behind it, don't get me wrong). I thought maybe you might want to try again rather than be mercilessly re-edited into saying something you didn't mean. Didn't see your comment down here until after, though, or I might have put my energy into just prompting you to do the changes already. (I can't create a Talk page for you, in my IP state, or I might have buzzed you upon that instead.) 11:47, 25 September 2022 (UTC)

It is truly astonishing how many records there are of financial transactions between around 60 CE and 99 CE. We also found some 30-year mortgages created in 70 CE whose final payment was due in "00", an early Y0K bug (there was no year 0). 13:59, 25 September 2022 (UTC)

There is also indisputable evidence of a previously unrecorded major recession in the late first century, evidenced by the steady reduction in the number of records throught the 90's. 14:29, 25 September 2022 (UTC)
Perhaps the poster meant the mortgages created in 71 CE instead of 70? :-) 04:07, 27 September 2022 (UTC)

Related topic: a lot of Scottish Whisky distilleries were "founded" in the 1830s, although they existed (long) before that. But a change in taxation laws made it easy to become a legal distillery.

Overdue What-If (blog article) notification.

I just added a new row to (one of the pages for) What-If? articles. Seen last week, thought someone else would have noticed it. Turns out to have ready been published a couple of weeks earlier, so jumped right in anyway. And, as per instructions, notifying on the "latest comic page". Note the complete lack of thumbnails in that list, since (with apparently broken links) around the Interplanetary Cessna article. Which is yonks ago. And I can't really correct that issue, so leaving it as a project for someone else to do, as with any other listing-pages. ...but that's all administratium, on top of the basic FYI that I'm trying to convey here. 01:22, 26 September 2022 (UTC)

My first thoughts when reading this comic was that 30 Dec 1899 was the last business day of the 19th century, and that thousands (or millions) of people were selling their worldy assets, in the mistaken belief that the world would come to an end (sort of like a Y2K scare, but without the tech). Beechmere (talk) 03:29, 26 September 2022 (UTC)Beechmere

I don't suppose a zero Julian date [January 1, 4713 BC] is very likely to appear except in astronomy data? 09:08, 26 September 2022 (UTC)

Does anyone here have access to GPT-3 at https://beta.openai.com/playground ? Everyone should; I used to but used up the maximum submissions to it. I think asking it for a list of the most common dates as suggested above is a great idea. 12:52, 26 September 2022 (UTC)

Maybe there should be another spike on January 1st, 1980. With PCs in the 1980s, before having a battery to power the BIOS and clock became a standard feature, every time you turned on the computer you had to enter the system date and time. It defaulted to 1/1/1980, and it was very easy just to hit enter and keep the default. Which most people I knew did. --Itub (talk) 12:53, 26 September 2022 (UTC)

Funny though: What if the researchers in future will only realize the reasons for those dates because of reading THIS WIKI? -- Hkmaly (talk) 20:21, 26 September 2022 (UTC)