Go 1,000 years back to see checkered past of current code problem
We take you back to the Dark Ages, in the year CMXCVII. King Unred the
Unready was approached, obsequiously as usual, by the Duke of Oxnard, his esteemed yet
befuddled inspector specific.
Oxnard: Sire, we have a problem. The year M is approaching--or at
least we think it is, the calendar is such a mess what with the lunar and solar years
being so out of whack.
King: You're not sure M's approaching, or you're not sure when M will
arrive? Seems to me that in the course of things, it's bound to get here--what with the
customary way years are numbered--wouldn't you say? I mean, it does seem like the sort of
thing one would plan for absent strong indications of an apocalyptic event. Is that what
you're trying to tell me?
Oxnard: Yes, sire--I mean no, sire. We are reasonably certain M will
arrive. If any year actually does come three from now, it will, in all likelihood, be M.
There have been rumors, your grace, that the millennium will signal the end of time. That
may even explain why we have the problem we have.
King: What might explain what problem?
Oxnard: Well, sire, it all has to do with the size of the tablecloth.
Remember about 46 years ago when the royal treasurer got hooked on Italian food and set up
shop in Antonio's Pizza Parlorium?
Well, he devised a new way of keeping accounts that was smart and didn't require a lot
of redecorating. See, he used the checkered table cloths for organizing his accounts.
Unfortunately, the cloths only have 49 squares so that when M comes, no more squares and
no more accounts.
King: So what's your point?
Oxnard: Well, just suppose the royal treasurer knows something that we
don't know. Suppose M really does spell the end of the world?
King: That's a rather terse yet misleading abbreviation, wouldn't you
Oxnard: But that's not the point. The point is: One way or another, we
have the dreaded M problem. But I have a solution that, if I may say so myself, is fit for
What I suggest is a new policy to deal with the problem. We require the entire kingdom
to be M-compliant.
Oxnard: M compliance. Compliance with M. Emmish subjugation. In
accordance with M.
In short, all red-and-white checkered tablecloths will hereafter be required to have
MCMXCIX squares. That should solve the accounting problems for all time.
King: What happens at MM?
Oxnard: Well, I spoke to Merlin about that. By that time, the Arabs
will have invented the concept of zero and Arabic numerals, which will allow us to do long
division while keeping our shoes on.
Not only that, there will be mechanical counting devices run by lightning. They will be
infinitely more sophisticated than tally sticks and, among other things, will do
calculations necessary to place people on the moon and remotely controlled vehicles on the
planets. Literally Cs, if not Ms, of transactions will be executed in a single day.
King: Wow! They probably won't even need tablecloths to do accounts by
Oxnard: Merlin says he sees no one even using tabletops much less
tablecloths. People will do all of their accounting--can you believe it?--in their laps!
King: So no MM problem?
Oxnard: Oh, Merlin sees a problem, but its the two OhOhOh, problem.
Not to worry, though. They'll use our solution. They'll issue a two OhOhOh compliance
policy and that will take care of it.
Unless 2 OhOhOh spells the end of the world.
Bob Little, an attorney who has worked for the General Accounting Office and a
Washington law firm, teaches federal contract law.