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4/4/19: GPS Y2K

Ron Patton | April 4, 2019
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A Ground Zero regular named Jack called in to inform us that the show we did about EMP and the Executive Order signed by the President to prepare our infrastructure for Electronic Pulse or CME was very informative and that it was the first time he heard about it. I was thinking that there had to be some mainstream news agency that reported about it. I agreed with him that the media is being tempted into picking at the scab of Russian collusion, rather than talking about something that is vital to the security of our country.

I am beginning to believe that regardless of what the majority thinks, politics are the distraction and the real news is now being delegated to radio shows that not only report from the margins but also report on the important details that are overlooked by the mainstream media.

With all of the distractions, I suppose the timing is perfect to somehow push away what is immediate in the mainstream and focus on what is buried in the areas of the margins that probably won’t be addressed on any talk show because the material is just too outrageous to make sense. However outrageous stories are often abandoned to avoid panic or possible credibility challenges but if you are confident in what you do then you won’t have to worry too much.

I am confident in what I do – I am confident in my staff and I am appreciative of those who appreciate hard work and due diligence in reporting important news.

We have been reporting over time that Earth’s magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called, Swarm.

Scientists who conducted the study are still unsure why the magnetic field is weakening, however, there is a possibility that the magnetic poles are about to flip. You may be saying to yourself: “But Clyde you keep saying this and I really don’t see any reason to worry – it is not affecting anything.” Well, you may not feel the earth and it’s filed ebbing and flowing but the magnetic field certainly is of interest to science.

Scientists are saying that the gradual flip at the poles sounds like some doomsday event, the reality is a lot less apocalyptic. During previous polarity flips, there were no mass extinctions or evidence of radiation damage, however, there is nothing that scientists can compare it too because there is no way to determine what happened to the people at the time –and there certainly wasn’t anything electric that would be affected.

This is relative of course because civilization on planet earth would be paralyzed if we lose power and our ability to communicate. Some people believe that this could eventually create a potential extinction level event as human lifestyles would have to adapt to a less electronic lifestyle.

We now rely heavily on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Most everything we do today is done because of our dependence on electric power and communication.

Last January, scientists were reporting that Magnetic North was plunging further south giving us more reason to believe that we are in the middle of a magnetic pole shift. Scientists claimed that magnetic north was plunging south at a rate of about 30 miles a year.

It is shifting at a faster rate than at any time in human history. It didn’t move much between 1900 and 1980 but it’s really accelerated in the past 40 years.

A five-year update of the World Magnetic Model was due in 2020, but the U.S. military requested an early review with the North Pole shifting Southwest at a rapid rate.

The changes are causing major problems for aviation, navigation and migratory animals that use the Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves. Some airports have had to change the names of their runways to better correspond to their current direction relative to magnetic north.

Ever since the magnetic north pole was first discovered in 1831, geologists have been tracking its progress. Unlike true north (which is marked by the Earth’s axis), magnetic north is constantly on the move due to changes in the planet’s molten core, which contains iron. Throughout most of recorded history, the pole has been positioned at or around Canada’s icy Ellesmere Island, but if it keeps moving at its current rate, it won’t be long before it sits above Russia instead.

The thing that really makes the pole’s current movement so unusual, however, is the speed at which it’s shifting. In the last decade alone, the movement has increased by a third, throwing off compasses by roughly 1 degree every five years.

Changes that fast have already caused major headaches for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. In 2011, Tampa International Airport in Florida renamed all of its runways, which are named after the degree at which they point on a compass. Similar changes were made to runways at Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

The shifting pole may also become a grave concern for migratory wildlife, such as birds, turtles and other sea creatures that use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate over great distances. It’s unclear if these animals are capable of recalibrating their navigational instincts to compensate for the changes.

The technocrats say that these adjustments won’t have much impact on our lives as we adapt to the changes. Smart Phones and GPS devices will not be affected all that much, however, there is a problem that may surface in the coming days if you do not have an updated smart phone or GPS system; in fact, it is being called a mini Y2K scenario where your GPS systems could roll over causing problems and confusion.

Looking back to 20 years ago, the whole Y2K bug panic seems like a forgotten memory to those of us old enough to remember it.

During the 1990s, the newspapers contained a growing number of stories and warnings about the Century Date Problem or “Millennium Bug” that would cause computers to fail at midnight on 1st of January 2000. There were fears that there would be a power blackout and failure of the water supply, and that computer records of bank accounts would disappear, simultaneously wiping out both savings and debts.

Governments worried about safety and security, auditors questioned whether they could approve company accounts if companies might collapse, airlines and passengers did not know whether planes would fail in flight or whether airports would be able to remain open and radars and air traffic control would continue to function.

Software errors were a familiar experience, of course. What made this one different is that it could potentially cause very many systems to fail at the same time. Committees were formed and issued reports and advice. Auditors insisted that companies obtained assurances about their essential systems, or replaced them.

New consultancy companies were created (and many existing firms created new service lines) to investigate systems and equipment, to advise on Y2K risks, and to manage Y2K projects. Old programmers were brought out of retirement to look again at the systems they and their colleagues had written years or decades before.

For a while, it seemed that the launch of the European common currency, the Euro, would have to be delayed from the planned date of January 1st 1999. As the new millennium approached there was growing anxiety in boardrooms, among technical staff and across many parts of society in the UK and other advanced economies. Despite the huge expenditure and efforts, it was difficult to be sure that nothing vital had been overlooked. Then nothing happened, or so it seemed, and the feeling grew that the whole thing had been a myth or a scam invented by greedy consultants and supported by manufacturers who wanted to compel their customers to throw away perfectly good equipment and buy the latest version.

The problem was number rollover compatibility with computer systems. The rollover to 2000 or year 000 was said to be a problem for computer systems because they would not differentiate between 2000 and 1900.

It was proposed that there would be two problems associated with the rollover.

First, the practice of representing the year with two digits became problematic with logical errors arising upon “rollover” from xx99 to xx00. This had caused some date-related processing to operate incorrectly for dates and times on and after 1 January 2000, and on other critical dates which were billed “event horizons”. Without corrective action, long-working systems would break down when the “… 97, 98, 99, 00 …” ascending numbering assumption suddenly became invalid.

Secondly, some programmers had misunderstood the Gregorian calendar rule that determines whether years that are exactly divisible by 100 are not leap years, and assumed that the year 2000 would not be a leap year. In reality, there is a rule in the Gregorian calendar system that states years divisible by 400 are leap years – thus making 2000 a leap year.

Companies and organizations worldwide checked, fixed, and upgraded their computer systems to address the anticipated problem. As a result, very few computer failures were reported when the clocks rolled over into 2000.

In fact, the only business that reaped the benefits of Y2K was the tombstone and memorial business industry that had to be summoned to correct prepaid memorials in cemeteries that were once paid for by couples who wished to be buried side by side. Usually, there was one spouse that has died and the other has yet to die –and so there is a date with 19xx etched on the grave – some outlived the 19XX and needed updated engravings.

Now, Y2K was billed as a possible electronic Armageddon but as far back as 1997 programmers were working to avoid problems with computer systems. While Y2K was not the apocalyptic event as was forecast, some computers did glitch with some people getting paychecks dated with 1900, and some timestamps becoming invalid.

Well, something like a mini GPS Y2K is coming on April 6th, 2019.

When the GPS software was being created in the 1970s and launched in 1980, computers had minimal processing power and memory, so to save a little room; the date counter was coded in 10 bits. What that means is that a finite number of dates can be shown before the system runs out of combinations and rolls over.

Specifically, there are 19 years’ worth of dates that the system can handle before a rollover, and that means that this isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with this problem, though GPS is much more common now than it was in 1999.

The only devices really at risk of malfunctioning are old or based on old designs. Even then, the part of GPS that lets you find where you’re going should be unaffected, but anything that relies on a specific date and time wouldn’t work correctly.

However, the glitch, known as the ‘week number rollover’, could trigger GPS receivers which enable devices used throughout research to keep highly accurate time to reset their clocks and spit out corrupted data.

Researchers worldwide are racing to get ahead of the bug in the system that could cause data loggers, including thousands of scientific instruments, to malfunction starting on April 6th.

The rollovers are a bigger issue for older systems uses to measure seismic activity and magnetic field movement.

Scientists in fields from seismology to particle physics are checking whether their instruments which might be portable or anchored in bedrock or polar ice are susceptible. For those that are, researchers are updating them to pre-empt the issue, using instructions from manufacturers.

The issue affects many scientific instruments, such as seismometers, that depend on GPS receivers to time-stamp their data, as well as global arrays of instruments such as radio-telescope that use GPS time to stay in sync. They do this by using time signals from GPS satellites’ ultra-precise atomic clocks.

Many consumer devices such as satnavs are immune to the issue because the rollover doesn’t affect positioning accuracy or because new devices have been built to deal with the problem; people can check and update their models on manufacturers’ websites.

The glitch arises because of how the satellites broadcast the timestamp. Their signals include a binary ten-digit ‘week number’ in GPS time, which began on the 6th of January 1980. Receivers use the number to calculate the exact date and time. But 10 digits cover only 1,024 weeks or 19.7 years. That limit will be reached for the second time at midnight on 6 April universal time, when the week number broadcast by the satellites will roll back to 0.

Susceptible devices risk reading the 0 as being in the past and could start generating incorrectly time-stamped data.

The upcoming glitch is likely to affect mostly older GPS receivers or those lacking recent updates to their ‘firmware’ software programmed into a device’s permanent memory that ensure devices are not confused by the rollover. Vulnerable GPS receivers won’t necessarily stop working at the stroke of midnight — some may fail in weeks, months or years depending on how they were configured.

There actually was a rollover around the time of the Y2K scare but we were less reliant on GPS then.

Contrary to those who believe Y2K was a hoax there were some high-end devices that failed, but a bunch of low-cost back-up receivers saved the day – the expensive ones started spitting out strange date numbers.

Because this it is the second time the GPS week rollover will occur, many receiver manufacturers have prepared for it, and newer receivers will continue to operate without issue.

You should be concerned, though, if either of the following applies:

Your receiver has been fielded for more than 10-15 years without firmware updates

Your receiver is a core component of a critical timing system – ask yourself: what is the impact to my system if the GPS receiver stopped operating or put out wrong GPS or UTC information?

Even though the majority of people may not be affected it may be wise to check systems in smartphones, cars, planes, banks, shipping, transportation, and utilities pretty much everything.

It is a big issue; so big in fact that the Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance about the event.

The effects of millions of GPS-enabled devices potentially resetting to a wrong date would cause them to be out of sync with each other and other devices and making them behave in a “bizarre” manner. How bizarre? If you’re driving your car and it was to suddenly say you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, be very suspicious, let that be a warning to Lyft and Uber drivers – you may have to rely on your inner compass.

Apparently, the 31 satellites owned and operated by the U.S. government rely on the old time stamp method.

Before you start stocking up on canned goods and bottled water just know that the rollover’s impact will mostly affect older devices that haven’t been upgraded and thankfully, most GPS manufacturers are aware of the issue and have been pushing out patches. Future GPS devices will support a 13-bit timestamp instead of the existing 10 bit so that the rollover event will only happen once every 157 years.

Written by Ron Patton

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