Throughout 1999, the media latched onto the Year 2000 bug and got all kinds of computer illiterate people paranoid about it.
The other day I passed by a cashier at a department store whose telephone, for some reason, wasn't working. He was trying to convince a customer that the problem wasn't caused by "the Year 2000 virus that's going to ruin all our computers."
The media has blown the Y2K problem way too far out of proportion. A few days ago (February 1999), I took my car to the car wash. This is a manual car wash -- I stand in a glassed area while the workers clean the car. The car behind me belonged to an old man who joined me in the glassed area and struck up and conversation.
Him: "This car's yours son?"
Him: "It's got one of them electronic ignitions, right?"
Him: "Think it's gonna start next year?"
Me: "Of course, why wouldn't it?"
Him: "Well they say that all computers and stuff are gonna die next year."
Me: "Well how will my car know that it's the year 2000?"
Him: "...How will what...?"
Me: "If my car is gonna die in the year 2000, how will it know that it's the year 2000? There is nowhere in a car's electronics that you'll find reference to a date. The only thing it needs to know is the time of day to display on the radio."
Him: (pause) "You sure?"
I have a friend who is convinced that the Y2K bug is going to kill cars dead in their tracks. No matter how many times I explain to him that there are no date-related systems running the engine, he remains unconvinced.
Him: "Yeah, but the engine uses timing, and that has a clock in it, and all computer clocks use a date, so it's gonna be affected by the Y2K bug."
All attempts to let him know that the clock in the engine only measures from one millisecond to the next and isn't concerned about the date have no effect.
I recently wrote an article about Y2K. A frustrated engineer from an oil company wrote to tell me about his company's Y2K committee and some of the precautions/actions they had taken. Apparently, the committee members were impressed with their "brilliance," because they had discovered an even bigger danger than Y2K: if the computers couldn't tell what century it was, how would they know whether it was 2000 BC or AD? They immediately set the engineers to work on this new peril.
I was in a Walmart store last night and noticed a modem on the shelf labeled "Y2K and MP3" compatible. I laughed that a modem would be labeled "MP3 compatible." A passing customer asked what was so funny, and I pointed to the sign.
"MP3!" the customer bellowed. "They're worried about the year 3000? What the heck do I care if this crap works 1000 years from now!?"
When told about Netscape 3.0's email not working past the year 2000, a co-worker angerly responded, "That's stupid. You know, it's been running just fine for about two years now."
Tech Support: "No, ma'am. If your computer is six years old, it will need a serial mouse, not a PS2."
Customer: "PS2? Oh! Like Y2K. So this other mouse isn't Y2K-compatible?"
Some friends of mine were bored and wandering around in some big chain store when they saw what was labeled as a Y2K-compliant flashlight.
The only thing I can't figure out is whether this was just stupidity or clever marketing aimed at stupid people.
At a hospital, I spotted an electronic scale that had a red tag hanging from it saying, "Y2K Compliant." Nice to know we won't suddenly all weigh thousands of pounds, or nothing at all, come 2000.
I was about to move, and I was holding a yard sale to get rid of the excess junk I had collected during four years in my old apartment. Among these was an old sewing machine. It wasn't a fancy electronic machine, but one of those old green ones made in the 70s. A lady walked up to me to ask about it. With a very stern look, she said, "Is this sewing machine Y2K compliant?"
Recently we had an order for a bunch cabling work. The customer specified that the cables must be Y2K compliant.
In 1999, I saw an advertisement for "special" automobile jumper cables that would make your car Y2K-compliant. The ad said you just needed jump-start your car with them using a Y2K-compliant car as the booster, and your car would become Y2K compliant! Of course, they cost twice what "regular" jumper cables cost.
I was looking for something on the web once and happened across the web site of a major electronics manufacturer. I noticed a graphic at the bottom of one of their product description pages that said that the product was Y2K compliant. Exploring further, I discovered that all their product description pages had the Y2K compliant graphic, including the pages for bread slicers and can openers. What next? Y2K compliant salt and pepper shakers?
I work in a Adminstration Office in Holland and one customer called me, very concerned:
Me: "What's your problem?"
Her: "I just renamed my password within Windows NT. It's now 'december99'."
Me: "Ok. What is your problem with that?"
Her: "Shouldn't it be 'december1999'?"
Me: "Ehh? Why?
Her: "I think you better change it for me to 'december1999'."
Me: "Is there a problem to keep it like it is?"
Her: "I don't know -- you're the expert. I just want to make sure it is millennium-proof."
Our organization wanted all users to test for Y2K errors by having the systems set to one minute before midnight, Dec 31, 1999, and verify that there was a correct roll-over.
User: "Something is not right here. I have been testing for Y2K roll-over, after 4 hours, I have not had one successful roll-over yet!"
Me: "Are all the systems identical?"
User: "No, that's what puzzles me."
Me: "Ok, let's go through it together." (we step through the test) "Ok, now double click on the hours and change them to 11."
User: "Eleven?? Why eleven? Aren't we supposed to set it to twelve hours, fifty nine minutes?"
Me: "Well...midnight does come just after 11:59...."
User: "Man, no wonder they were all failing!"
In the latter part of 1998, one of my friends became interested in the Y2K bug. I decided to print out some information to give to him. When I dropped off the copies on the way home, my friend's neighbor was also paying a visit. Eyeing the stack of papers, he asked what they were about. I quickly launched into what I thought was a brief but accurate explanation of the problem. The neighbor seemed to understand and even asked a few intelligent questions -- but then he gave me a thoughtful/worried expression and asked, "But shouldn't they be fixing the '99 bug first?"
Me: "So what do you think of the Y2K problem?"
My Coach: "The what?"
Me: "The Y-2-K problem. What do you think about it?"
My Coach: "What is Y2K?"
Me: "Y2K, you know, the year 2000 problem?"
My Coach: "Oh yeah, I know something about that."
Me: "So do you think that this is going to be a big problem?"
My Coach: "Of course not! If Bill Gates can write Windows 98 all by himself, then he's going to be able to fix the problem on time."
Customer: "What's going to happen to my computer when the year 2000 hits? Will it just not work anymore, or what?"
Tech Support: "Actually, the year 2000 problem is this: it seems most of the computer code up until recently had been written assuming that the first two digits in the year of any date were "19." So basically, some of these applications, when the year 2000 rolls around, will reflect "1900," rather than "2000." Of course, there weren't any computers around in the year 1900, and so your computer will simply disappear."
After looking very concerned for a few seconds and saying nothing, I reassured him I was joking.
The Year 2000 Problem as described by WXIA-TV, Atlanta, July 10, 1998:
"You open your eyes, slowly waking up. It's Saturday, January 1st, 2000. What time is it? You look at your bedside clock, but it's blank. Is the power off? You check your digital watch. It's blank, too. The coffee maker, which runs on computer microchips just like your wristwatch, doesn't work. The same for the microwave oven and the stove. Your three-year-old computer-controlled car won't start."
These were the exact words, transcribed from videotape.
Our employer asked us to unplug all non-essential electrical equipment including computers before December 31, 1999, just in case. Since I was going to be out of town on December 30, I asked one of the more computer literate faculty members to unplug the servers for me. When I came back in on January 2, 2000, I noticed that he had been extra safe. Not only had he unplugged the surge suppressors from the wall, but he also unplugged all items from the surge suppressor itself.
When I was still in the military, back in 1999, I was on the Y2K compliance committee that the base formed. As part of my job, I was told to send a letter to every department on the base and receive a reply back from them on their preparation and readiness for Y2K. If they failed to respond, I was to follow up with another letter. If that didn't work, it would go to the Base Commander and he would get involved. Some fun right?
Well, the base had just had some new contracting work done. And I was told to include the people who'd done the work on the list.
This was the letter I got back from the contractors.
With regard to your letter concerning the effects of the "Y2K" phenomenon, it is our belief that the sewer lines we installed at your facility will continue to function in spite of any chronological tracking system's arbitrary recognition of any particular day, including but not limited to January 1, 2000, albeit, the Gregorian, ecclesiastical, or even the obscure Stonehenge-based Druidic Calendar.
However, should the sun's rise or setting on any day affect the Newtonian laws of physics with regards to the gravitational fields, then not only will we all either fly off into space, or be crushed into the Earth with unimaginable pressure, but the contents of the sewer main and the mains themselves will also be subjected to the same fate, or maybe not.
Please contact this office at extension XXXX if you require any additional information.
Our company's website has a section for press releases that's automatically updated. On January 2, 2000, it proudly presented the following:
29.12.99 (...some headline...)
29.12.99 (...some headline...)
30.12.99 (...some headline...)
02.01.100 Success! No Y2K bugs!