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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I read the letter from "Father Time," I had to write. Please consider the text of the enclosed e-mail that was sent to my daughter, who was a math major in college.

"Who am I to disagree with the eggheads, but it seems to me that computer types have the same disadvantage the ancient Romans had -- no zero! Some say the next century doesn't start until the year 2001. I say that's like saying there's nothing between zero and one!

"From flat broke to $1 is 99 cents in my book. If you have one penny (1/100 dollar), you're on your way to $1. From zero to 10 is 10. From 10 to 11 is one. From 10 to 20 is 10. From zero to one is an infinite number of fractions, and these fractions are something to be considered. Or did I miss something in the first grade? Doesn't midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, equal year 2000 plus 1/365th year?"

Abby, I'll bet you're sorry you agreed with "Father Time" about the start of the new millennium. -- FLOYD IN VICTORVILLE, CALIF.

DEAR FLOYD: Let me put it this way: When I printed that letter, I had no idea I'd wind up in the middle of a hot controversy. I have been deluged with letters arguing both sides of this question, and now I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't just a matter of perspective. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Father Time," who reminded us that the new millennium will start Jan. 1, 2001 (and not 2000), is right, of course, but your response raises another "timely" point concerning the century. A century being defined as any period of 100 years, we can talk about the 1900s as a century (1900 to 1999) OR we can interest ourselves with the 20th century (1901 to 2000, which does not coincide with the 1900s), which will end the instant that the 21st century begins -- that is, Jan. 1, 2001. -- CLOCK WATCHER, ONTARIO, CALIF.

DEAR CLOCK WATCHER: My head is spinning! Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Father Time" is correct -- there are 100 years in a century. However, the first century doesn't encompass the years 1 through 100; it encompasses the years 0 through 99. Babies are not 1 year old when they're born. They TURN 1 after a year has passed. All measuring sticks start at 0 -- not 1. So don't be embarrassed, Abby. It's "Father Time" who needs to reset his clock, not you. -- RUTH IN PHOENIX (SOON TO CELEBRATE THE NEW MILLENNIUM)

DEAR RUTH: Thank you for the kind words. I'll print just one more letter on this subject, because at this point my entire office staff are at each other's throats. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: If Matthew 2:1 is correct, we may have already passed the year 2001. When Dionysius Exiguus looked back more than 500 years and calculated when Jesus was born, he chose a time that secular historians say was four years after the death of King Herod! Not knowing exactly the age of Jesus when the "wise men" entered the "house" (verse 11), we can estimate that Jesus was born between 2 B.C. and 7 B.C., which means that we are now between 2001 and 2006 A.D. or C.E. (Common Era).

Whether we celebrate in 2000 or 2001 has no real significance, but those who wait a year will have 366 days of frustration (don't forget it's leap year). -- THE REV. W. CARROLL TINSLEY, DECATUR, GA.

DEAR MR. TINSLEY: That depends on how you look at it. At least those who observe 2001 as the beginning of the new millennium won't have any trouble getting a reservation for their celebration.

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