International Dating

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

It is a strange aspect of human social interaction that often two people will become embroiled in an argument, part ways, go home, continue to fume, and then be unable to recall what the subject was that  precipitated the argument.

I have had an opposite situation occur when talking with my friend Sven. I find myself involved in a conversation, Sven brings up a point I’m only slightly absorbing. I tend to dismiss the information from my mind as not that important, pay little attention to it, and then go home. When home I suddenly become highly agitated as I recall what he said, think it over, and then violently agree with his point.

This has happened twice that I recall. One instance was my initial half-hearted entertainment of the idea forwarded by Sven that perhaps centimeters might not be a good idea. I only vaguely recall what that conversation was about. In the second instance, my mind cannot recall what initiated Sven’s comments at all. What I do recall, was what he said in response: “You know, you should consider using the International Dating method.” No, this is not a suggestion for a method I might use in order to meet and date attractive women from overseas. What he was suggesting is writing dates as YYYY-MM-DD or year first with a dash hyphen, month next with a dash hyphen and then the day. So the founding of the US would be on 1776-07-04. The Gettysburg Address was given on 1863-11-19. Pearl Harbor was attacked on 1941-12-07. The Day The Music Died was 1959-02-03. Strangely, by coincidence, my father called  for the ambulance that day.

My mind showed about as much interest in the information Sven offered as it might have when shown the losing numbers printed on a year old lottery ticket. I went home, my mind started thinking about what Sven had suggested. It first it struck me that this dating method was a bit odd and perhaps unworkable. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how useful it would be, and then began violently agreeing with him. I realized that International Dating (ID) could solve many problems I had with my business data, engineering data, my outside work—well—it would help with a lot of things.

It is common in the US to write a date like July 4, 1776 as 7/4/76. Of course this leads to a problem that without some prose to provide context, that the date could be interpreted as July 4, 1976, which was the bicentennial of the US. A person in say Britain could look at the 7/4/76 as April 7, 1976. Other countries use day first, month second and year third. These ambiguities are eliminated when International dating is used. It is important to understand that leading zeros must be included when using ID. So 1776-07-04 is the correct way to write July 4, 1776. 1776-7-4 is not a valid representation, there must be leading zeros as shown previously. The date 1976-07-04 is unambiguous as the date of the US Bicentennial.

Our Hindu-Arabic number system always has the largest digit first and the smallest last from left to right. So 1234 has the one-thousand digit first (1), the one-hundred digit second (2), the tens digit next (3) and the final digit is the ones (4). This of course continues if a decimal point is added: 1234.567. It only makes logical sense to have the year first, month second and day third like we do for all other numerical representations.

When dates are written using the international standard (ISO 8601) computers automatically sort files and folders by date. This may seem like a small and inconsequential thing, but it is not. It completely changed how I did my work as an Engineer and non-professionally. The first thing I realized was that I could use it to name engineering drawings and their revisions with greater utility. The file naming form is something like this for most of my files and folders.

Name or Title which is constant YYYY-MM-DD Changeable Title or Description.


Des Moines Register 1975-08-23 Islands in a Metric World.pdf

This allowed me to have a common method of naming technical papers, newspaper articles and other files so they would automatically sort into the name of the journal, the date and the title of the article. I create folders for my consulting projects with a Project Number-YYYY-MM-DD Client Name and Project Description. Here is a screenshot of my backup folders for this blog:

click to enlarge image

A UK website has a great explanation of the ways international dating can be implemented. It turns out that one can also uniquely add on the time of day using a 24 hour clock. For instance The Apollo 13 spacecraft was launched on  1970-04-11 13:13 CST. Yes, people forget, Apollo 13 was launched on the thirteenth hour and thirteenth minute that day–well in central standard time anyway. There are a number of useful variants allowed by the ISO 8601 standard.

Somewhere during my adventure with International Dating I realized that Pat Naughtin was a promoter of its use. I was sold. When people fly to visit me, I track them on a website that has the departure dates in international format. My father volunteers for a small town historical society. One of their projects was to scan all the old newspapers into electronic format. When I looked at the resulting files, the newspaper files were all named with international dating, and sorted themselves automatically. This provided confidence that the company that scanned them probably knew what they were doing. I don’t recall exactly when I discovered that my computer (PC) could be set for the international date standard—but set it I did. It can also be set for 24 hour time if one wishes. The USMA Website has a nice discussion of how to set your computer to display the international date. I have changed all my computers to display ID. The more I used the ID notation the more I liked it. My computer backup folders are always sorted, and I can erase the oldest with ease.

PC Display when set to International Date Scheme

It is after I used ID for about three to four years that I could really see how nicely it allows one to organize folders and files on a computer. This is yet one more important international standard, which we probably do not teach in our public schools.  Which like the lack of the metric system in our country, hinders our society, and keeps it mired in the past. The time for measurement and standards reform in this country has long passed. We need more than just a new metric board with Congressional authority behind it in this country, we need a US Standards Modernization Board which would implement the latest most efficient international standards into our country, teach them in our schools, use them in our government, and use them in our places of business. We can stand still and refuse to change, but the world will continue to progress forward, and we will suffer for it—even if we are not aware why.

31 thoughts on “International Dating

  1. Randy, your title “International Dating” made me think that this piece would be about reading an post from Crimea and being metrically literate enough to decide quickly that a 1.9 m Ukrainian woman would probably be too long for this 1.73 m guy. But, instead, you wrote an article that, while interesting, and having to do with international standards, was outside the topic of MEASUREMENT standards. Darn.

  2. Yep! Been using ISO 8601 for some time now. Love it! Much easier when the computer sorts dates when entered in the right order.
    When I was in the military and before I knew of ISO 8601, I was a radio communications systems maintenance specialist. Our work orders were done in Julian date format. YYDDD (DDD=the three digit day of the year) then the 4 digit job number sequence of the day. The first job of today would be 140790001. Also lends itself to computer friendly sorting. Apparently, other parts of the government use the Julian dating system, too. Here is a link to a Julian calendar from the US forest service. The only thing is, if you want to know the calendar date of an event/job/whatever, you need the Julian calendar to decipher it to YYYY-MM-DD.

    Happy Equinox.

    • Julian Day number as used by astronomers is completely different, it is a continuous day count from January 1, 4713 BC. ISO8601 calls what you described “ordinal date” although it requires four digit year, today being 2014-080. (it does distinguish between leap and non-leap years, it does not ignore Feb. 29).

      • Ordinal is correct. In the military it was referred as Julian. Still trying to shake 20 years of some of the misguided military habits.

  3. BTW, in YYYY-MM-DD, the punctuation marks are hyphens, not dashes, which, for example, you use in your sentence “I realized that International Dating (ID) could solve many problems I had with my business data, engineering data, my outside work—well—it would help with a lot of things.”

    Wrt hyphens, try a few elsewhere, such as in “24 hour time”, which without one would have to be “24 hours’ time”, which, although correct, is silly. (I refer to something like “24 hour time” as “Chinese English”, because in Chinese (mainly Mandarin) there are only singulars (no “hours”, for example), with plurals understood from the context.)

    Anyway, another good essay, one that fooled me at the start too. As someone who almost always writes a date in the style 20 March 2014, I still appreciate the ID style, and do so some more after reading your good essay. (One thing that really bothers me are those that write “20 March, 2014”, which defeats the purpose of such style because in this country such is the alternative to “March 20, 2014”.)

    Finally, wrt the other type of international dating, perhaps you should survey various online dating sites from other countries in order to see whether the sites give heights in meters or centimeters…

  4. While we’re at it:
    It seems to me that most people think in terms of days of the week rather than dates. “See me on Monday” seems much more common than “See me on the 24th”.
    If I had my druthers, months would be abolished, and dates would be given as “Thursday of week 12” or “Monday of week 13”. (Such a system was actually standard in ancient Iceland: IIRC, their parliament met on Thursday of week 10 of their summer.)
    I know that the week contains 7 days, which is not a “metric” number, but the 7-day week is just too important to ignore or abandon.

    • By the way, why was my comment time-stamped 1:25 PM, rather than 13:25?

      • I have to agree with you on this. In Metric Maven’s two examples, ISO-8601 time/date standard was incorrectly used. ISO-8601 is a coherent and consistent system and the use of the inconsistent and incoherent, not to mention, ugly and ignorant, 12 h am/pm gibberish is completely unacceptable.

        The orderliness of the ISO 8601 format is distorted with the use of am/pm. ISO-8601 does not even permit the use of the 12 h clock, so why does he insist on using it?

        His claim may that he is comfortable with it. So, without sounding hypocritical when others claim they are comfortable using imperial or USC, how can he justify his wish to be comfortable with 12-h time when others are equally comfortable with non-metric usage of units?

        We all have to sacrifice some comforts in order to move forward. Metric Maven is no exception.

        • The 12-hour clock is good for the chimes of a striking clock, in order to keep the numbers low. That’s about it.

          • The problem with a chiming clock is it makes 12 dings at midnight. If that doesn’t wake you out of a sound sleep nothing will.

            On a 24 h clock, there would be no dings at midnight.

            I’m sure with a 24 h clock, a different “ring tone” can be applied to the hours past noon, or better yet, there can be 4 ring tones every 6 h, reducing the number of annoying dings in half.

        • It may be that the software for the blog was developed in America where the default is to use the 12-hour clock. I have used software developed in America which would only accept entries in that format when setting appointments.

          I have often seen the 24-hour clock referred to as “military time” by Americans, which may be one reason for its avoidance by the general population. Where an organisation operates 24 hours a day, such as broadcasting, manufacturing or transport, for internal purposes they often use the 24-hour clock and use the 12-hour clock for communicating with the public.

          Even where the 24-hour clock is in widespread use for information such as TV schedules and public transport timetables, eg the UK, people still say “seven o’clock tonight” instead of “nineteen hours.”

          A friend from Chile told me that they also use the 12-hour clock in speaking even though the 24-hour time format is standard there.

          • The two pictures shown in the article are a screen shot of his computers file and desktop clock. Both can be set for the 24 h clock. Mine is along with the ISO-8601 date. This tells me he chooses the 12 h clock as a preference.

            When I view the comments on the webpage, it does show 24 h time. Here is the example:

            Peter G on 2014/03/22 at 16:57 said:

            The only thing wrong here is ISO-8601 requires dashes and not slashes to separate date elements.

        • …inconsistent and incoherent…ugly and ignorant, 12 h am/pm gibberish…

          We’ve probably lost the moment, but would everyone still listening take a quick second look at the title of this blog: Metric Dating — not Metric Dating and Timing. Note that with only brief (favorable) nods to 24-hour time formats, it is concerned solely with dates. Why? Pure pragmatism: the adoption of the ISO date format requires no arithmetic. The same cannot be said when we are learning to tell 24-hour time. Some addition and subtraction are required. We have actually found Americans who are pleasantly surprised by the painlessness with with which one can adopt the ISO date format, but we’re not expecting them to switch their digital watches to 24-hour mode anytime soon, any more than we expect to see bathroom scales calibrated in newtons. Or the word Imperial remanded to its 1824 definition.

          The Maven’s computers reflect this. They are first for his engineering consulting, and only second for this blog. Clients may tolerate ISO dates, yet still hyperventilate when confronted by 24-hour time. This is not something one wants clients to do. And while it’s sometimes possible to perform time conversions mentally, on-the-fly, the point is to simplify life rather than complicate it. WordPress doesn’t encourage 24-hour formats, but the latest version does seem to have a 12/24-hour switch. Unfortunately, the slash in the date formats, as opposed to “hyphens,” is another WordPress artifact, which we’re stuck with for the moment.

          Why should we — or anyone else — impugn the intelligence, education, or aesthetic sensibilities of anyone willing to try the ISO date format, just because they don’t yet wish to commit to the effort to learn a new time system? Our preference is for 24-hour time, but I personally would be surprised to learn that the 12- and 24-hour systems do not cohabit in curious ways in other countries.

          His claim may that he is comfortable with it….

          No, the Maven’s claim is that a few Americans seem to be just cosmopolitain enough to entertain the ISO date format, even if they don’t feel up to learning 24-hour time. Ametrica is now implicitly speaking for the Maven. This, I’m pretty sure, is a new low. Also, from this point on, his post is a concatenation of straw men. This seems to be much more familiar ground.

      • Mine shows 13:25

        Robert on 2014/03/20 at 13:25 said:

        Robert on 2014/03/20 at 13:26 said:

        Is you operating date/time preference set to 24 h?

        • Mine is now showing 24 h time whereas it wasn’t a couple of days ago. I haven’t changed anytthing, I think the blog (or WordPress?) changed. However, it still shows (forward) slashes as date element separator, not the hyphen which is the correct symbol.

    • ISO8601 allows alternate forms of expressing day count
      2014-03-21 is also
      2014-080 (ordinal day count or day of year)
      2014-W12-5 (week number, day number)

      The first is most common, the others tend to be used in specialized fields, but they are part of the standard.

  5. MM,

    With regard to “For instance The Apollo 13 spacecraft was launched on 1970-04-11 13:13 CST,” technically ISO8601 does not allow alpha description of time zone (except “Z” for Zulu or UTC). It must be written as an offset to UTC in either whole hours or hours and minutes,
    13:13-06 or 13:13-06:00 (or 19:13Z).

    You may also treat date and time as separate fields or a single date/time field written as
    1970-04-11T13:13-06:00 (the “T” is required and no spaces allowed, space terminates a field).

  6. Reminds me of something that happened my last year of high-school. We had a German exchange student that stayed with us. Back then we could buy booze at 18 – and he, being already 18, went in to buy some wine with his German passport as ID. The problem is the month and day being reversed they thought he was still 17.

    I use KDE’s gwenview_importer to rename photo files from my cameras to YYYY-MM-DD_HH-MM-SS

    This can be important as many of the cameras use the same numbered naming system and you can have two files with the same name. ( I also use digikam to tag the photos inside the file – where it won’t get separated. ) .

    Not all files need such renaming as at least in the Linux world we have POSIX file standard with three times (last access, Creation, modification )that are stored. There are competing Epoch time standards –
    and there are even debates about which year was ‘1’.

    There was also a standard problem where Windoze would set the computer clock to the local time-zone making problems for dual boot computers.

    All computers and camera’s should ideally use zulu time and the system can offset for the current time-zone. This becomes quite necessary if two computers share a file system or data base over time zones.

    Then there is the ‘daylight savings time’ insanity. If ever there was an over-stepping of the role of government that should go away – this is it. It would be one thing for the government to promote summer hours etc – it is quite officious to make everyone waste their time resetting clocks twice a year.

    Call me an April fool – but I still think of the year starting with spring despite what some pope said. The names of the months reflect the officious action that shifted things – October is obviously not the 8th month but the 10th… etc.

    “(Whether it’s true or not, when France formally changed its calendar to the modern Gregorian version, and thereby moved the celebration of the New Year from the last week of March to 1 January. In this version of events, those who continued to celebrate the end of New Year’s Week on 1 April were derided as fools – or, as they are known in France, poissons d’Avril. )”

    • I agree that the beginning of the year and the months should be aligned with the seasonal changes. Spring is the rebirth of the earth and the first day of spring should be the first day of the new year, or March 1st. June 1st would be the first of summer, September first would be the first of autumn and December 1st the first day of winter. January and February would be the 11-th and 12-th months of the year.

      By doing this September, October, November and December would retain their original meanings. But for some reason the modern world doesn’t seem to be confused by these anomalies just as the US isn’t confused (or maybe they are) by the use of the wrong names for numbers.

      A billion is correctly a bi-million, or a one followed by 12 zeros (bi = 2, so a million followed by 6 zeros would see a billion followed by 12 zeros. The prefix “bi” tells you how many times to multiply a million on itself). Thus a trillion would be tri-million of a 1 followed by 18 zeros.

      This creates a bigger gap in the names of numbers, thus each name represents a number 1 000 000 times bigger instead of 1000. But, this is not a problem as the gaps are filled with names like milliard, billiard, trilliard, etc, where they represent a thousand plus the number preceding. A trilliard would be a trillion plus 1000 or 1 followed by 21 zeros.

      If you want to know what an octillion means, you have no idea unless you look it up. The right way of naming the numbers allows you to calculate it mentally. Octo means 8, so octillion means a 1 followed by 48 zeros. A million is one followed by 6 zeros, and 6 x8 = 48. The harmony of this is beyond praise.

      Part of the problem is Americans don’t speak foreign languages and have no idea what the Latin words mean. In addition the calendar I described would only work in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, the calendar would be 6 months off. So, in this case, it doesn’t matter if the present system is incoherent and inconsistent.

      But the numbering system I described is used in Germany and Germans are a numerate people unlike those that use the American way of counting.

      • Well, good old captain Haddock “docet’ (here in Danish, one of the best translations of Tintin in the ’70s): “For ti trilliarder ulykker, ti trillioner tons trotyl, salmiak og sjakaler og sytten skæpper stryknin!” Or also, similarly: “For syv trillioner, trilliarder kølhalede søpindsvin!” 🙂

        In English, just Google for “captain Haddock curses”, especially in images: absolutely formidable… 🙂

      • ..l BTW, a ‘fantastilliard”:

        (in Italian, but also other languages; some of the best Walt Disney illustrators are Italians, BTW…).

        More seriously, on all this, from date formats to big numbers:
        … And, BTW, why do the English, American and even the French (!) write, for example, “123 Metrication Street”, instead of “Metrication Street 123″…?

        And, for example, should the first floor of buildings be considered as the first “level” (0, +1, -1, …, à la EU), or as the first “ambient” (+1, -1, …, à la US)? Etc. etc.

        Another argument of (potentially endless) discussions, perhaps… 😉 🙂

      • The UK switched to American billions, etc in the 70’s and most of the Commonwealth followed. I would argue English uses short scale. The related words in foreign languages may use long or short scale.

          • Here’s another scale, which I’ll call the “long-long scale” as it used in China: 10^4, 10^8, 10^12, …

            Thus, 10^5, 10^6, 10^7 are ten ten-thousand, one hundred ten-thousand, one thousand ten-thousand.

            One possible reason for this is that ten thousand (“wan4” in Mandarin) is an important number in Chinese culture. For example, the expression for “all the best” is “wan4 shi4 ru1-yi4”. [The digits 1-4 are used to approximate the tones, with 1 being a constant quick high tone and 4 being a quick high-to-low tone (like a parent saying “No!” to a child.)]

            Literally, the expression means something like “numerous affairs as you desire”, and so it looks like “numerous” in Chinese is ten thousand.

            • BTW, 10^4 is myria- (my), in the metric system (not a current SI prefix, but interesting anyway…): for example, 10 km (coincidentally, also one Swedish, or metric mile) is a 1 mym (myriameter, or 10 000 m).

              Of course, in our “western” culture, the concept of a thousand is now so radicated that the SI prefixes are in the form of 10^+-3n (n = 1, 2, 3, …); while, being that the base of the numbering system is 10 (or X, for the ancient Romans), one could maybe also expect something like 10^+-2n or 10^+-5n (for which no prefix names exist), for the preferred prefixes.

              Anyway, thousands, millions (or “big thousands”), billions/milliards, etc. etc are here to stay, of course…

      • Not sure if you know, but some people, especially in the US, consider the beginning of spring to be astronomical kind – that’s around 20 March in the northern hemisphere. I actually prefer this way over what just about everyone else does, including US meteorologists. If the season absolutely had to start at the beginning of a month, I’d go with April for Spring here & October for Autumn. There are also quarters one can use, like 1st quarter, 2nd quarter…

    • Re: your German friend having difficulty buying booze because of the date format on his ID: I’m sure I’ve read of an American motor racing team that was disqualified from entering a race because the European officials misinterpreted the American-style dates on the paperwork they submitted.

      It’s quite likely that other readers have similar anecdotes.

    • Not eversione knows that Sweden is one of the few countries in the world where the ISO (big-endian, YYYY-MM-DD) date format is actually used in everyday life: very good, indeed!

      But then suddenly there come some bureaucrats from the EU, requesting that the new European driving license have the date in the German format (little-endian, DD.MM.YYYY): so, also in Sweden they have gone from the ISO to the “German” date format for the driving license – which isn’t exactly progress.

      More here, in the last section (of course, translatable on the web; sadly, this isn’t mentioned in the English Wikipedia page on the same argument):

      Also, they say that the “best before” date on foods in the EU is in the format DDMMYY, which yet again isn’t coherent with the ISO format.

      Beware of bureaucrats that only choose the “easy” way, thus…

      • Sorry: it should of course be “not *everyone*” – damned iPad typing…

        BTW, here is a German Wikipedia page on the “fantastilliard” term:

        (see Uncle Scrooge, etc. etc.).

        Regarding the long or short scale in big numbers, it is if course a difficult matter to adopt a common standard; the same can be said also for the decimal comma or point, and many other things that aren’t yet standardized throughout the world.

        Will we eventually have common, worldwide standards on all this? Who knows, perhaps when the US will gave gone metric…

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