Agent ThinkTank1 recently asked for my opinion about Maya 2012. This is when the Maya Long Count calendar ends, and some people have predicted the end of the world. It is important to note the facts, so I set out to find some. Turns out, facts about Mayan culture are pretty easy to come by. They are also brutally boring. This is because scholars of Maya have completely left out the part about the world ending when the calendar ends. Only the astute new age weirdos have uncovered this. Fortunately for us, the mainstream press regards both equally, and has a very broad definition of scholar.
But Maya civilization lost steam in the 10th century, so as far as they’re concerned, the world ended when the Spanish finally beat them into submission in the late 17th century.
Here is my explanation as a computer scientist. The calendar was invented around 6th century BC. There are two forms, and the first (short count) can handle 52 years. Through The Crack Team’s extensive global network, I have obtained and translated a text that documents the creation of the long count calendar. It is a conversation between Tikal, a royal historian, and Oaxaca, a royal
pain computer scientist.
Tikal: Our calendar only covers 52 years, but the king is planning on living longer than that through the magic of human sacrifice. Got any ideas?
Oaxaca: Hmm. How long is he planning on living?
Tikal: Long. He’s planning on sacrificing, like, a shitload of people. I’m guessing at least a couple hundred years.
Oaxaca: Geez. We better plan an escape route after this… But OK, I think I got something. Our society has been around for how long?
Tikal: About 1300 years. It’s hard to say when your calendar only goes to 52 years.
Oaxaca: Right. So the new calendar has to go back that far.
Tikal: Mmm, maybe farther. The king has been thinking about telling people that he’s a couple thousand years old. And that he’s a god. Then everyone will have to say, “Seriously??? You look so young!” And if they don’t say that, he’ll sacrifice them. You might want to remember that.
Oaxaca: OK. Well, I came up with a system that will cover the last 2,500 years, and go 2,500 years into the future.
Tikal: Ooh, he’ll like that. What happens after that?
Oaxaca: I don’t know. It resets, I guess.
Tikal: Huh. Won’t that fuck things up when that happens?
Oaxaca: Who gives a shit? That’s 2,500 years from now! We’re in our 20s, so we got, what? Five more years before we die of old age? I don’t see anybody sacrificing people to keep us alive. It’ll be somebody else’s problem.
Tikal: True dat.
Think about it. 20th century programmers used a date format that would only last to the end of the century, less than 40 years. Who would question 2,500 years?
It’s around this time that you’re thinking, “I thought he was going to tell us the exact date of the apocalypse, instead he’s talking about computer dating.” Don’t worry, I am, and the computer preceding transcript factors in.
Now, some of you read “Maya 2012 apocalypse” and didn’t blink an eye. “According to my calculations,” you thought, “Jesus isn’t Mayan. We’re safe!” And you would be right.
What, you expected an argument from a guy named Archangel?
Before I continue, to borrow a saying from ThinkTank1, what I know about the Bible could fit on the head of a pin and still leave room for the angels to dance. But if you’re as ignorant as me this will sound very plausible, so I’m going to say it.
People worried that Y2K might mark the end of days because it was a significant date – 2,000 years after the birth of Christ (or our best guess) – and because of the looming computer date problem.
But if you’re going pick important dates or anniversaries, the resurrection is far more significant than the birth. Despite what retailers would have you believe, Easter is the holiest holiday, not Christmas. Wouldn’t two millennia after the resurrection be more significant?
Now our best guess for that date is sometime between 2030 and 2040. We don’t know the exact date of the first Easter, but we can search for significant events that will occur in that decade.
This is the point in the movie where everybody is in the library, searching through old texts and manuscripts, microfiche, and the Internet.
Uh, guys? I found one. It’s… it’s big.
January 19, 2038 03:14:07 UTC
It’s known as the Year 2038 Problem. On that day, certain computer clocks will flip and they’ll think it’s 12/13/1901. It affects computer systems that internally represent dates as the number of seconds since (or before) January 1, 1970 (the epoch), and stores that number in a signed 32-bit integer. This is the standard (POSIX) in an incredible number of computer systems, and fixing it is way tricker than fixing the Y2K problem. And the Y2K problem cost us about 300 billion dollars.
We basically have to upgrade everything to use 64-bit operating systems. Many systems are already using 64-bit dates, but that still leaves many millions, including embedded systems that don’t upgrade without a fight. Yeah, we got 30 years to do it, but we had that long for the Y2K problem and we left it to the last minute and freaked everyone out.
I suspect, at best, a repeat performance in 2038. End of the world? You decide.