If there is no "silver bullet" in software Mr. Bemers
approach, to solving the Year 2000 problem, comes closer than most (please see the
following article for a complete report on Mr. Bemers solution).
CR: Give us some of your background, if you would?
BB: I started out as a wartime mathematician for Douglas Aircraft. In 1949 I got my
first look at a computer working for the Rand Corporation and never looked back. In 1958 I
went to work at IBM. I was IBMs chief of programming standards.
CR: What led to the creation of COBOL?
BB: The Department of Defense wanted a standard business language. Charlie Phillips,
myself, and others started CODASYL (Conference on Data Systems Languages) to assist in the
effort. This was in 1959. Also, there was one improvement in hardware after another at
IBM. The opcode (operation code) structure changed every time. There was no way we could
build software for every machine going out. So COBOL was in IBMs interest too.
CR: Was Univacs Flow-Matic the driving force behind COBOL.
BB: Flow-Matic was part of it. IBM brought to the table a language called COMTRAN,
short for Commercial Translator, that contained many of the ideas found in COBOL. We had
been working since 1958 on COMTRAN. COMTRAN was a competitor to Flow-Matic.
CR: How did you arrive at the name COBOL?
BB: Cobol to me has a nice round sound - a lyrical quality (drawing an imaginary
hourglass in the air). The sound reminds me of a womens figure.
CR: Are you saying that Cobol, the language that is often considered the epitome of
design by committee and bureaucracy, was named with Venus de Milo musings in mind?
BB: Yes (laughing).
CR: I must say I've been programming for over 20 years in Cobol and never heard that
one. What did Grace Hopper have to say about your metaphorical naming?
BB: She just laughed and said okay.
CR: I hate to ask what some of the other names for Cobol could have been. What led to
the creation of ASCII?
BB: I surveyed the number of character sets and found 60. So I helped form BEMA
(Business Equipment Manufactures Association) which was the beginning of the X3 committee
which was tasked with the responsibility to define a standard character set.
CR: Here you are helping create the ASCII standard and IBM remains in the EBCDIC camp.
Whats that all about?
BB: Originally IBM was supposed to move to ASCII. We had something called a P-bit that
would allow machines to run either ASCII or EBCDIC. Learson was the CEO of IBM and he made
the decision to stay with EBCDIC. A terrible mistake.
CR: Tell us about the Year 2000 solution you have developed.
BB: Basically our solution derails date-field operations and data at the object code
level and puts a century with the date. The synthetic CPU examines every possible date
operation running through the object code. For new data the century will be included, for
old data a windowing technique is used. Because only some of the bits in a byte are used
to store meaningful information the other bits can be used to indicate a decade-century.
The binary representation we use handles packed as well as character data. The specially
encoded date-fields are called "Bigits". Comparisons and computations between
date-fields, with the included century, are then calculated in a subroutine correctly.
CR: Your solution therefore does not require changing any source code?
BB: Correct. Vertex can be included as a library at compilation time, or if the source
code is not available, can be linked as object code at run-time.
CR: What do you say to the naysayers, like Leon Kappelman, who contend your solution
will only take care of about 20-30% of the afflicted code?
BB: Our solution will solve 95-98% of the problem. We cant fix programming
errors. If your leap year calculation was flawed to begin with, it will stay flawed. The
time necessary to manually fix most code is wasted. We have an automated solution. In
addition, we save significant amounts of time in testing, and are substantially less
expensive, about a third of the cost of other fixes.