decades of fun

Y2K Clarified

Y2K wasn’t any kind of scam or hysteria, I think it was actually one of our finest computing moments. We identified a possible disaster and avoided it with thousands of hours of coordinated hard work. Politics or stupidity didn’t get in our way of completing the task.

They do a good job here explaining the real story behind the Y2K bug:

Y2K shortcode: If the year 1900 comes after 1999 we will have problems. That’s over 36,000 days ago. Some systems will crash if they think it’s 36,000 days before the last.

I worked on the Y2K bug for almost 3 years, combing through code and running test cases on all kinds of data systems. It wasn’t until about 4 months prior that we started to feel confident that we had updated enough to avoid an actual disaster in our systems.

It does frustrate me when I hear people nowadays refer to it as a scam or a hoax, or mass hysteria for no reason.

I worked on avoiding the Y2K bug for a long time, earning months worth of wages preparing for it specifically. Yet on 12/1/99 even I pulled out $150 and bought enough canned stew, vegetables and bottled water to last my family a month.

On 2/1/00 I loaded up my car and donated that food to a local shelter. We drank the water but needed none of the canned food since no major systems went down on 1/1/00.

Finally by October ’98 the US Government forced companies to disclose their Y2K code reviews and preparation. This was cutting it close.

But believe me – the Y2K bug was real and it was in a lot of systems. It was simple but engrained everywhere. I think we were closer than you might want to believe to losing major infrastructure control such as the power grid, power plants, municipal water systems, security systems, communication systems, military systems, etc..

Any system that believes it just went backwards 36,135 days in 1 second is liable to crash, especially if it is monitoring time. Many systems that figure out elapsed times would treat a negative number as 0 and then divide by it, causing divide by zero crashes. Some software was so old programmers didn’t even exist to maintain it.

The issue was real, but IT people and programmers took years to prepare for, and ultimately, avoid it. The Y2K bug’s lack of fallout in the real world was the ultimate success.

And if you are wondering, I think the fix applied was good for 200-300 years on some of the old systems. If the people of 2200 are running any software written in the 20th century they will have to update again. I’m talking to you folks with Windows 60 & MacOS X 10.999876.2.

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