Dates

How can something so simple be so hard?

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I am attending IIW this week, so with limited time, I am continuing last week’s theme of data, this week focussing on ‘dates (not dates, nor dates - but dates) … as data’. The words were extracted from my recent ebook.

Samuel Morse died 04/02/72

If I were brought up in America, I would ‘know’ instantly that Samuel Morse died on the 2nd of April. If you are from the UK, based on that same data point, you would correct me and let me know that he actually died on the 4th of February.

The absolute truth of when he died, using only that single piece of data is at question because we do not even have an agreed understanding of how dates get abbreviated. Not only that – was that 1972? 1872? 1772? … If you know who Samuel Morse is, you could surmise that the year was 1872, but you still don’t absolutely know that he wasn’t an old school friend of my father who died February 4th, 1972 in the UK.

And we wonder how it is that basic world facts can get so convoluted!

To be absolutely accurate we also need to know where he died – and the time. After all, dying at 2 am on a Thursday in Germany means that you died sometime between late morning and early evening on Wednesday in the U.S.A. Morse actually died in New York City – a full five – if not six (it changes) – hours ahead of Hawaii Time.

It gets worse and I don’t intend to bore you with the many ways that this ‘gets complicated’ – as Facebook would have it, but as ‘Steve’ used to say …

… One More Thing

Global society has mostly agreed that the last two digits in the xx/yy/zz format are always ‘the year.’  Yet, we still can’t agree over day first or month first. Well, specifically most of us can. It is, once again, the Americans that are at odds with the world.

02/04/72 is the 4th of February, 1972 in the USA and the 2nd of April, 1972 in most of the world. According to The Guardian, the USA is the only country in the world that interprets this basic piece of data this way.

Personally, left to my own devices China is the only country that has the date formatted that makes sense to me … year – month – date …. but that is another story and happy to discuss in the comments if someone raises the question.

Back to that date

A birthdate is a data point, but only with the context of at least understanding whether the date format is d/m/y or m/d/y do you get to the information behind the date. Ideally even something like dd/mm/yyyy.

So even simple data – to have meaning – must have context – and oh so much more.

But maybe before then, and if you have a spare ten minutes, this is a fun video that really gets down to some specifics. Ten minutes – purely on Timezones. Funny and informative.


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