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[Archive: 1998 October 10]

In this week's letters

  • Can't pay, won't pay
  • Saving energy
  • Wind power
  • AIDS in Africa
  • Fish quotas
  • French first
  • Fizzy analogy
  • Wellcome fund
  • Spuds' cousins
  • Nasty foreign words
  • Vertical water
  • Martian day
  • Bond backwards
  • A load of oysters
  • Keeping up standards
  • BT bared

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    keeping up standards

    elliott manley tells us (Letters, 1998 August 22, p 49) that for each of the world's currencies, there are often different and sometimes conflicting TLAs (three-letter acronyms). He points out that using acronyms rather than symbols such as "" or "$" can work only if everyone agrees on one standard. The International Organization for Standardization, as Kevin Luff states (Letters, 1998 September 05, p 56), has produced "ISO 4217: Representation of Currencies and Funds". This is the one that everyone should now be using. The others will gradually, quietly, fall into disuse.

    The advantage of using TLAs is that many currencies do not have a symbol, while other symbols are used for more than one currency. As are names. The pound is used in Egypt and Sudan as well as in Britain and Ireland. The franc is used in France, Belgium and Switzerland, and each has wildly differing values. In addition, the French franc has 100 "minor" units (the centime), while the Belgian franc has none. These definitions are also included in ISO 4217, in which the three-letter codes are generally derived from the two-letter country code defined in ISO 3166 followed by the first letter of the local currency unit.

    Simon Bowring explains the different character sets used on computers (Letters, 1998 September 05, p 56). In fact, 7-bit ASCII is defined in ISO 646 and 8-bit ASCII in ISO 4873, while ISO 2022 defines extension techniques and ISO 8859 outlines 10 regional variations for various languages. ISO 10646 implements Unicode, a 32-bit character set (with 16-bit subset) to give a unique code for every character and symbol used on the planet. There is a symbol reserved for the euro in ISO 10646, but any support in 8-bit ASCII is currently ad hoc and not as per the International Standards.

    Paul Hewson (Letters, 1998 August 22, p 50) points us towards British Standard EN 28601 for solving problems with dates. The other BS standards that he mentions are now obsolete. BS EN 28601 replaced them and BS 7151 in 1992. BS EN 28601 specifies a 4-digit year be used. Quite rightly, Hewson observes that following the standard since 1971 would mean that the millennium bug would not have arisen.

    The standard also finds favour with those who wish to avoid the date ambiguity in which 1/12/98 means 1 December in Britain, but 12 January in the US. BS EN 28601 uses the order YYYY-MM-DD to represent calendar dates. A date such as 2004-07-11 always means 2004 July 11 and cannot be confused with any other. Astronomers have used this format for over 200 years, and it is now recommended as a part of the year 2000 fix. It has been adopted in the US as ANSI X3.30, in Europe as EN 28601, and in most of the rest of the world as ISO 8601.

    The standard renders "DD/MM/YY" and "MM/DD/YY" obsolete. The standard also defines "HH:MM:SS" be used for times.

    There are many other standards of use to computer users. Some links are provided here or new site, here. There is also a much longer discussion of these topics in the 1998 November issue of the British magazine Computer Shopper.

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    First appeared on New Scientist Planet Science, 1998 October 07

    © Copyright New Scientist, RBI Limited 1998

    Year 2000 and ISO 8601.