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Y2K: Hoax, Or Averted Disaster? 625

Allnighterking writes "Y2K -- remember the fear it generated? Cartoons were written about it. The dried food industry saw a boom. Doomsayers abounded. But in the end, no planes fell, no one died and the electric grid stayed up for three more years. Was it all a hoax? Or was it the result of careful and complete planning and upgrading. American RadioWorks has a series of articles talking about the disaster that never happened called Y2K You can either Listen in or read the Transcripts of each of the 3 broadcasts and decide for yourself. The over 100 Billion pumped into the US economy alone may well have fueled the boom and predicated the bust. Could the success at Y2K prevention have made the coming problem in 2038 something people will ignore?"
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Y2K: Hoax, Or Averted Disaster?

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  • Collective fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mirko ( 198274 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:45AM (#11262511) Journal
    I think it had a snowball effect : people inconsciously feared it and their fear grew while they heard even more about it. So it's not only the media, it's also people.
    • Re:Collective fear (Score:5, Informative)

      by blane.bramble ( 133160 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:50AM (#11262528) Homepage

      No, it was two things - firstly it was a genuine problem with many back-end financial (and other) systems that had a huge amount of effort and expense spent on them and were fixed, invisibly (to the general public) thanks to a great effort by many in the IT industry. Secondly it was an over-hyped problem that was never really going to affect desktop PC's and the like, which was over-sold to the public and never materialised.

      So, for most people's point of view it was a lot of fuss about nothing, because they never saw the real problem, which could have caused serious problems, and only saw the hyped, non problem.

      Disclaimer: I did technical support for a Y2K team for a large bank. I know what I'm talking about. I saw the systems that would fail, and what it would do. I saw them fixed.

      • Re:Collective fear (Score:5, Informative)

        by TRS80NT ( 695421 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:10AM (#11262643)
        Exactly, blaine. I became interested in the problem in the early 90's, explored a lot of cooperatively hyperlinked .mil and .edu sites discussing the situation. Solutions were being kicked around, discussed, discarded and fixes phased in. By the end of the decade the popular press had gotten wind of the situation and made it the anchor story for the end of the millennium. Then lawyers and quick profit businesses jumped on board and the panic bandwagon was rolling.
        All the while the fixes were slowly, calmly being instituted.

        • I worked at a major medical center at the time and began asking the IT director to appoint a Y2K coordinator around '96. You can imagine how many systems are running in a shop with tens of thousands of employees.

          Well, it was all a "hoax" or "overblown" according to the beancounters until around early 1999, when the press picked up the story for real. Then there was a realization, a sudden panic, and by March of '99 there was a Y2K coordinator in place. The rest of the year was spent in a mad panic to fi
      • Re:Collective fear (Score:3, Informative)

        by TykeClone ( 668449 ) *
        I did technical support for a Y2K team for a large bank. I know what I'm talking about. I saw the systems that would fail, and what it would do. I saw them fixed.

        Same here, but for a small bank. The one thing that royally sucked about it was that the regulators got their hands into it - and decided that the proper way to prepare for Y2K was to paper it over instead of getting work done. They made it a safety and soundness issue so everyone in the industry had to jump for them.

        • Re:Collective fear (Score:3, Informative)

          by johnalex ( 147270 )
          Same with credit unions. I spent more time doing paperwork than fixing computers. Part of our "process," as designated by our DP vendor, required me to make 2 overnight trips to Orlando for meetings that could have been conducted by conference call. I flew in at night, flew out the next afternoon (so no, no Disney World trips for me :-( ).

          BTW, our vendor found "one more bug" late in December 1999. We had to install a Y2K patch while we were doing year-end processing on 30 December. Fortunately, I had insis
          • Re:Collective fear (Score:5, Interesting)

            by TykeClone ( 668449 ) * <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:29AM (#11263166) Homepage Journal
            BTW, our vendor found "one more bug" late in December 1999. We had to install a Y2K patch while we were doing year-end processing on 30 December. Fortunately, I had insisted we close 31 December to give us time for just such emergencies.

            Good God! Are you still with that vendor? We chose to stay open on 12/31 (it was a FRB business day) because we are an ag bank and usually do a tremendous amount of business on 12/31.

            I think that at one point I figured that the amount of paperwork I had to do to "prove" that we were in good shape doubled the amount of work involved in preparations.

            I ran our core system's "test bank" in updates past 1/1/2001. For each "critical date" I calculated interest accruals and compared them to what the system calculated. I ran transactions and made sure that they posted properly.

            The people I really felt sorry for during the process was our Board of DIrectors. They had to listen to me for 1 or 2 hours at each meeting talk about Y2K preparedness.

            As a side note, I was home before midnight that night - and I was the last one out of the bank.

          • BTW, our vendor found "one more bug" late in December 1999.

            Where I work (air traffic control) we did extensive testing for two or three years prior to the big event. Most of our major systems were unaffected or easily corrected, although about 20% of the corporate desktops were red-flagged.

            We did have one legacy system that we couldn't replace that was known to be a problem. The short-term solution was to roll back the clock to 1972 (the last leap year that started on a Saturday). Everything was fine

      • What he said. (Score:4, Informative)

        by igorthefiend ( 831721 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:43AM (#11262836)
        I also worked for a bank in the UK doing admin work on their Y2K project and there was *huge* amounts of planning went into it and a surprising amount of non-compliant systems and software.
      • firstly it was a genuine problem with many back-end financial (and other) systems...

        So, for most people's point of view it was a lot of fuss about nothing, because they never saw the real problem, which could have caused serious problems, and only saw the hyped, non problem.

        It's true that Y2K problems on personal computers (at least home ones) probably wouldn't have been very severe, even without preventive fixes. But it is also true that there were some systems where Y2K and similar problems could hav

      • Re:Collective fear (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grantdh ( 72401 )
        Secondly it was an over-hyped problem that was never really going to affect desktop PC's and the like, which was over-sold to the public and never materialised.

        Agreed that it was overhyped, but there were desktop level systems that would have died without work. I saw a number of them during testing and prep during '98/'99 :)

        The classic was all those xBase systems that used Substr(Dtos([datevale]),3), effectively stripping off the "useless" first 2 digits (apologies if my syntax is incorrect - it's been a
        • Re:Collective fear (Score:4, Insightful)

          by arkanes ( 521690 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:05PM (#11264575) Homepage
          You touched on an important point there - one of the biggests costs of Y2K was not just fixing systems, but also the costs associated with GUARANTEES of correctness. There was so much hype about it that companies wanted a legal guarantee that it wasn't going to break. This resulted in higher costs and also wholesale replacement of a lot of systems at higher cost, because while they probably would have worked nobody was willing to sign off a legal contract saying so.
      • Re:Collective fear (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:57AM (#11263402) Homepage
        I'd second your experience. I kept the indexes of Y2K statements for common packages used on Linux and ended up giving statements for a court case involving Y2K failure or lack thereof. Stuff broke, most of it got fixed in time but not all of it. Eg - early 2000 lots of mailing lists emitted messages for the year 100.

        Closer to home I did Y2K testing on my fathers amateur radio contact database. Much to his suprise it comprehensively failed.

        Sure it was overhyped and the disaster-move division of the press got excited but it was most definitely real, 2038 will be just as big a deal.

        If Y2K should have done one thing it would be to teach customers the dangers of being tied to a software provider who could say "oh yes we know, tough shit, upgrade for $1M". I'm not sure it did 8(

      • by TangLiSha ( 737850 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:16AM (#11263558) Homepage
        I remember going into a store and seeing strang things marked as Y2K compliant.

        Examples include:
        • Chordless Phones
        • Batteries
        • Pencils (Hopefully this was a joke)

        And people were actually buying this stuff because it was Y2K compliant.
      • by obtuse ( 79208 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:41AM (#11263780) Journal
        I can't believe how many people here just don't get it. Nothing happened because of a huge effort, not because it wasn't a real problem. I'd have thought the ./ crowd would have a clue about this.

        This is the same promlem IT always faces. What we do is abstract enough that management can barely believe we do anything at all, but the fact that you are able to use your computer systems at work doesn't mean that you don't need any IT staff. Come on folks, just 'cause it's working doesn't mean we aren't doing something.

        Is your car running? Then I guess you don't need gas, much less oil.

        I know I averted a lot of problems for a lot of people. I was doing IT & POS Support, and spent a considerable amount of time dealing with Y2k issues, and my boss spent more time, including dealing with an unfixed Y2k bug in the most popular retail back-end system. But before the year end and after the bios updates & bug fixes, _our_ systems worked. I was on call that night, but I didn't get called. That certainly didn't convince me my Y2k work had been useless. Oh, and dates matter. Talk to anyone doing Sarbanes-Oxley work, or making sales projections, yadda-yadda.

        I expect this kind of nincompoopery from the mainstream media, and that's where much of the panic came from. I didn't tell anyone to buy a generator. I expect better of /. (I just realized how silly that sounds.)
      • Re:Collective fear (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MarkedMan ( 523274 )
        You said: ...Secondly it was an over-hyped problem that was never really going to affect desktop PC's and the like, which was over-sold to the public and never materialised...

        I understand what you are trying to say, but it doesn't reflect the whole story. For instance, we had pruchased 15 or so Dells sometime in 1999. We put them at a customer site in November and everything was fine. We shut down in December and didn't return until January 2000. It took us a few days, but we realized that the second t
  • Oh no (Score:5, Funny)

    by SpooForBrains ( 771537 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:46AM (#11262515)
    "the coming problem in 2038"

    Phil Collins is going to release another album?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:48AM (#11262520)
    2038 is years away - we'll all have new systems by then! No need to worry!
    • It's true though. It's VERY unusual to find someone who uses an Amiga. Well our current computers will be the equivalent in 2038. I'm sure by then, they would have worked out what would cause the problem (if they don't know already) and create a solution into computers and/or OS's.
      • Re:Don't be silly (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stween ( 322349 )
        His was a joke. The humour lies in the fact that nobody truly thought that the machines that were really affected by the Y2K bug would still be in regular use - those machines being the big machines running custom software written in old languages that banks and other big companies use.

        To state that there is no 2038 problem simply because it's a reasonable amount of time in the future and /therefore/ we won't be using any affected software/hardware anymore is foolish. While in an ideal world it would be sa
        • Going beyond the financial institutions topic that everyone has been bringing up, I worked on a team that did the Y2K evaluation and fixing for a steel mill here in the U.S. As you mention "big machines running custom software", that was definitely the case there. They had lots of dangerous equipment there--furnaces that went up to thousands of degrees and such that were largely controlled by computer programs mostly written in FORTRAN. That was the kind of stuff that never gets changed or upgraded. The
  • Combination (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dsginter ( 104154 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:49AM (#11262524)
    Was it all a hoax? Or was it the result of careful and complete planning and upgrading?

    How about the combination of the two? I remember seeing Y2K companies trading on the stock market with $10 billion market caps. But then I remember hearing legitimate stories about real world fixes.

    It is like the Tsunami. Lots of people are going to make money unethically but, ultimately, we can't stop them unless we just cut off all help.
  • mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by Esine ( 809139 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:50AM (#11262527) Homepage
    The site seems to be slashdotted already..
    mirror: 81bc488a392/index.html []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:50AM (#11262529)
    I'm an old-time mainframe guy, started coding back in the late 70's.

    Anyway, back in those days we had a problem every four years. guessed it, some programmer had forgotten to take leap year into account.

    And when that happened, programs broke. We fixed them in a few minutes and we were on our way. But companies didn't stop. Planes didn't fall out of the sky. Nothing bad happened, other than annoyed users and managers.

    My point is that programmers have been screwing up dates and date routines since the computer was invented. We had instances of all the programs breaking on one days. And yet, nothing bad happened.

    Hoax. Great for my career....I got a big house with a pool, and a BMW out of the whole Y2K thing, so I'm not complaining. But lets face it, it was a boondoggle.

    I personally blame Yourdon. But only because the man is a complete idiot.
    • by ab762 ( 138582 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:45PM (#11264960) Homepage
      In my mainframe experience, we had trouble at least every year, at the end of daylight savings time. Our procedural "fix" was to leave the @#$% down so it never saw the same timestamp twice. But we had 24 hour operations support.

      The AC is right that temporal logic is hard, calendars are nastily irregular, and there are inevitable errors. As late as 1999 I bought new books with incorrect leap-years examples. Really silly, as unless you need to process birthdates or the like, the % 4 is the correct answer from 1804 to 2096 - more than adequate if you're dealing with the current timestamp.

      The vast majority of real-world control systems are embedded systems, not running either mainframe or server or consumer OS -- both good and bad. Various tests of Y2K effects did trigger a few glitches, but the predictions of aircrashes, etc., were always overblown, and mocked at the time.

      But! around 1 March 1992 I started to try to get people interested in starting to fix the problems during routine maintainance - too early, no one listened until at least 1998. Similarly, 2038 isn't the only epoch date around - 2036 for those same mainframes is another. In 2009, a number of Y2K "repairs" will need re-patched. Know your epoch!

  • 2038 ? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Macka ( 9388 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:50AM (#11262532)

    Lets see, I'll be 73 about then.

    Providing it doesn't cause my VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) 200 mph Zimmer Frame to crash, I don't really think I'm going to care all that much.

    • Re:2038 ? (Score:2, Funny)

      by pklong ( 323451 )
      Don't worry, the health and safety people will have made zZimmer frames, going out of your front door and breathing illegal by then.
  • by ecalkin ( 468811 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:50AM (#11262537)
    that people don't believe in things they can't see. they can't 'see' spyware so it's an imaginary problem. same thing with viruses. they don't believe until something bad happens.

    it's the same mentality the apparently caused countries in the indian ocean region to decide that a tsunami warning system was not a high priority.

    there was a time in early/mid 2000 that i got so tired of people deciding that y2k was a hoax that i wished really bad things had happened.

  • It happened (Score:2, Interesting)

    Well Y2K stopped our overtime system from working - we had to enter dates in from 28 years ago. It also stopped a (time-limited) graphics editor that I wrote from working - it was due to stop at 31/12/1999 but the time-bomb code didn't handle further dates properly anyway! Dang DOS API calls...
    • And my P75 server (runs Debian) isn't Y2K compliant either at the BIOS level. Every time it reboots the year gets reset to some odd number. Thank goodness for the NTP packages! It's not running anything critical though except hosting my domain... and I'm not narcisstic enough to declare that a major issue.
  • Although some of the things that _could_ and probably would have happened (buildings refusing access, elevators sticking, water systems releasing sewage into tidal rivers at low tide rather than high tide, traffic light patterns out of sync, flow of funds being disrupted) were of themselves non-fatal, the cumulative effects could have been very severe. I only have to look at the effect on my commute if the next day is a public holiday; the disruption caused by the slight change in driving patterns is out of
    • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:02AM (#11262597) Homepage
      Elevators sticking? Traffic lights out of sync?

      Don't believe the hype. Traffic lights for example have failsafes in them to stop such things... anyway why does a traffic light care about the year? The day of the week/month maybe.

      Similarly, elevators don't give a hoot what year it is.

      Contrary to the press your washing machine will *not* think "ooh it's 1900 I haven't been invented yet.. better explode".
      • Traffic lights for example have failsafes in them to stop such things... anyway why does a traffic light care about the year? The day of the week/month maybe.

        If it cares about the day of the week, (and it's working this out from the date, rather than using a 0-6 counter and a clock) it's going to need to know the correct year to work that out correctly. I agree that a lot of this was hype - even if the traffic light *did* think it was Sunday when it was Monday, nothing terrible's going to happen.

      • Something tells me Tony Hoyle has never worked with real time systems. I have. A number of designers did not apparently know that 2000 was divisible by 400 and so was a Leap Year.
      • And even if they did fail, so what? People would quickly adjust and start using the lights as stop signs. Some people might have been stuck in a lift for a few hours and then forced to use the stairs for a few days, Whoopy-doo! In the latter case it would be good for their health. And in fact the big power outtage in NE N. America was far more problematic and no real disasters befell us. My most outstanding memory of that were the nutcases on rollerblades going against the traffic on the darkened Bloo
      • by io333 ( 574963 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:04AM (#11262973)
        Don't believe the hype. Traffic lights for example have failsafes in them to stop such things

        Twice in my life I've seen traffic lights stuck on green in both directions. I don't know how it can happen, because I don't know how traffic lights are switched. Nevertheless.

  • It wasn't a hoax. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dwalsh ( 87765 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:56AM (#11262567)
    Certain code would do the wrong thing on date rollovers and needed fixing - I'd seen it myself.

    The seriousness of the problem was exaggerated by the following misconceptions:
    1. Everything that held a date in it with 2 digit years was going to have a problem.
    2. Everything described in point 1 that was not fixed would fail in the most disastrous way - missiles being launched, planes falling from the sky.

    In reality there could be no problem, or the problem might only be cosmetic. For example, a system I was testing would show the wrong status colour (meaning you haven't done a diagnostic in so many months) but it would not do anything wrong. Still, it had to be fixed to be Y2K ready.

    Nonetheless, I was slightly under whelmed by what went wrong on the day. I knew society was not going to collapse, but I expected a few non-critical SNAFUs. I made sure I took out cash from the ATM before New Years, but I gave the water supplies and the bomb shelter a miss :-) Globally there were one or two, but nothing major.
  • Perl Script (Score:5, Informative)

    by derphilipp ( 745164 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:01AM (#11262588) Homepage
    A little perl script you can use on your server to check if you are already 2038 ready:

    use POSIX;
    $ENV{'TZ'} = "GMT";

    for ($clock = 2147483641; $clock < 2147483651; $clock++) {
    print ctime($clock);

    # Correct output is the following:
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:01 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:02 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:03 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:04 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:05 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:06 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038 <-- Last second in 32-bit Unix systems
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:08 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:09 2038
    # Tue Jan 19 03:14:10 2038

    (Shamelessly stolen from )
    • My Redhat server
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:01 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:02 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:03 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:04 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:05 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:06 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Fri Dec 13 20:45:52 1901
      Fri Dec 13 20:45:52 1901
      Fri Dec 13 20:45:52 1901
      is not....
    • Win XP:
      > Executing: "C:\Perl\bin\perl.exe" -w ""

      Tue Jan 19 04:14:01 2038
      Tue Jan 19 04:14:02 2038
      Tue Jan 19 04:14:03 2038
      Tue Jan 19 04:14:04 2038
      Tue Jan 19 04:14:05 2038
      Tue Jan 19 04:14:06 2038
      Tue Jan 19 04:14:07 2038
      > Execution finished.

      Looks buggy.
    • Mac OS X (10.3.7) works well:

      Tue Jan 19 03:14:01 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:02 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:03 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:04 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:05 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:06 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038

      Whew... one less thing to deal with. ;)
      • Re:Perl Script (Score:3, Interesting)

        by autocracy ( 192714 )
        ... no, it doesn't work.. It gets to 03:14:07, and just sticks there. the last four entries are 02:14:07. Just tested it on my powerbook... same thing. *shrug* like it'll last that long.
    • Re:Perl Script (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rjch ( 544288 )

      Tue Jan 19 03:14:01 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:02 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:03 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:04 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:05 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:06 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Fri Dec 13 20:45:52 1901
      Fri Dec 13 20:45:52 1901
      Fri Dec 13 20:45:52 1901

      I guess Gentoo isn't 2038 ready. Must be time to panic.
    • Wont this kinda depend on which Perl version and what version of C it was compiled against?
    • by caveat ( 26803 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:46AM (#11262851)
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:01 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:02 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:03 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:04 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:05 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:06 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038

      # Please try to keep posts on topic.
      # Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads.
      # Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said.
      # Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about.
      • by caveat ( 26803 )
        ooh, guess i should have looked at the seconds before i posted that...d'oh! eh well, at least it gets the year right.
    • Oh no! Debian Sarge isn't 2038 compliant! And I don't think they can release a new version in time!
    • Re:Perl Script (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Björn Stenberg ( 32494 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:39AM (#11263236) Homepage
      Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038 <-- Last second in 32-bit Unix systems

      Wrong, that's the last second in 31-bit unix systems!

      The 2038 limit is way overhyped. The only thing we have to do is change the definition of time_t from:

      typedef long time_t;


      typedef unsigned long time_t;

      And we can merrily keep using it on our 32-bit systems until 2106.

      POSIX disallows negative time_t anyway, so if you've used it you deserve to have your system break.

      (This rant is a dupe [] since I said the same thing here four years ago.)

  • not a hoax (Score:5, Interesting)

    by treebeard77 ( 68658 ) * <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:04AM (#11262608)
    I work for an international bank and we fixed 2-300 Y2K bugs. I know; I tested the changes & found more doing the testing. Obviously, some were more critical than others. We also upgraded release levels of system software. I also know that some were missed. The thing is, they were attributed to something else when they occurred. Noone would admit that they had missed a Y2K bug after all the $$$ thrown at the problem. I'm sure my situation is not unique.
    • by eeg3 ( 785382 )
      I work for an international bank and we fixed 2-300 Y2K bugs.

      You fixed somewhere from 2 to 300 bugs? That's kind of a broad range, isn't it?
  • by Wolfger ( 96957 ) <wolfger AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:05AM (#11262614) Homepage
    Y2K hasn't come yet. As any coder ought to know, 2K == 2048, not 2000.
  • by tjic ( 530860 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:06AM (#11262620) Homepage
    ...The over 100 Billion pumped into the US economy alone may have fueled the boom...

    No money was pumped "in" to the US economy. Money was merely moved from one use to another.

    While the economy gained from the new spending, it lost from the lack of the default spending.

    Without any hard data, one should assume that this was either a wash or - more likely - a net productivity hit.

    People make this mistake all the time: "ooh! hurricane! I bet all that spending on new windows helped the economy!". No, it didn't. It took money that would have otherwise been spent at restaurants, book stores, etc., (or left in banks and brokerage accounts, where it helps build other sectors of the economy) and moved that money into glass repair shops and plywood factories.

    Don't fall for the myth.

    • Don't fall for the myth.

      It isn't a myth. Yes, money is a closed system, but spending is not. The broken window fallacy is a fallacy. You can "pump money in" by having more money change hands more rapidly. There isn't actually more money, but everyone sees more money per unit time because it gets around faster.
  • Economics 101 (Score:3, Informative)

    by mjh ( 57755 ) <mark.hornclan@com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:08AM (#11262625) Homepage Journal
    The over 100 Billion pumped into the US economy alone
    Uhm... I don't mean to be nit picky, but the $100B that you're talking about should be considered to have been a loss to the economy. In economics this is called the broken window falacy. []
    • a loss to the economy

      Against that, a lot of software upgrades were forced all over the world, earning income for American companies -- my company in Hong Kong for instance had to upgrade its DacEasy accounting package in 1999, which we otherwise had no need to do (it just refused to accept dates in 2000 as due dates for invoices, so 12 month credits couldn't be given until we upgraded).

    • Economics 102... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Goonie ( 8651 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:26AM (#11262734) Homepage
      While you're at it, read the whole Wikipedia article, and the transcript of the radio series. Specifically, read the bit about Keynesian economics, and how stimulating aggregate demand can encourage more productive use of capacity where it is underutilized. This arguably happened with the development of low-cost Indian outsourcing services. Second, the radio feature suggests that the trigger of the Y2K issue caused businesses to think about their IT infrastructure and how to improve it in ways that made them more efficient in the long term, more so than they would have done without that pressure.
  • Because it's very very hard to predict the possible outcomes of events that have already not happened we tend to over compensate for future possible events. One could make the case that because of the paltry number of nuclear power plant accidents in the US since 1945 that entire country have been oversold on the need to manage those risks. So it is with Y2K, etc.
    • One could make the case that because of the paltry number of nuclear power plant accidents in the US since 1945

      You lie! I've seen The Simpsons.

      Seriously, I wonder if that show adversely affected the perception of the risks of nuclear power in the minds of the general public. I'll bet it did.
  • Y2k Over Rated (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:09AM (#11262632)
    For most program especially many of the end of the world if program fails programs. Are not that dependent on the time. Even a lot of the finanical programs. The Date was to just allow the person to get a reference and not much on how the computer did a lot of its processing. Sure there were some spots where it would go 99 to 00 but that was rather rare. Most of the y2k bugs I have seen (and I have seen a fiew after y2k) were just in silly small applications. Like I saw a 1900 in a hotel that had a terminal that displayed the date and time and what was happening today. And still on Milk bottles Ill see expires 1-4-105. For most of those Y2k bugs it was more of a display and user input issue then a rollover issue. During the late 90s I was was doing some fox pro development. And I just had to go to each program and set the year to 4 digit and then stretch the text boxes so it fixed. Fox Pro still internally held the year as 4 digit but just displayed the 2 digits. Besides why would a most people internally handle the year as 2 chars, that fills up 16 bits of storage. If they were using old computers where those bit count they would just use 1 char to store the number and still be able to get to the year 2155 as far in storage and calculations. But people were scared because it was a computer and computers are scary. So they called on all the people they made fun of in highschool to fix the problem.
  • 21 month delay (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sam Williams ( 94245 )

    IIRC, there was an event on Sept. 11, 2001 that all but shut down the U.S. economy for 96 hours. It wasn't software generated, of course, but many of the back up sites, redundant networking and contingency plans that kept the world's largest companies from going into an immediate air-stall owed their existence to the pre-Y2K fervor. Sometimes it takes a little fear to get the suits to pry open the pocketbook.

    Of course, now that the current security obsession is terrorism maybe we shouldn't be too surprise

  • Anecdotal ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the bluebrain ( 443451 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:11AM (#11262647)
    Working for a facility management company, contracted to a large client in Switzerland, three months prior to the Y2k bitflip. Checked dozens of devices, big and small: embedded controllers for climate control, UPS's, fire alarms, you name it. Found one item: a Compaq PC used for the lighting system had a non-Y2k-compliant BIOS. The result of doing nothing would have been that the weekend lighting profiles for all (several hundred) offices, meeting rooms, and so on would have been active during the week (you know - wrong offset when attempting to calculate whether "today" is a weekend).

    Replaced computer, had no problems.

    Moral of the story: this was a lighting system. Big deal. The client invested several tens of thousands in the project to check three large office buildings in my location, and avoided a minor pain in return. However: everything was checked, and it might have been anything. If it had been the UPS's or the fire alarms for instance, the result of not doing anything could have been a major pain. Point is - we found something, so it wasn't just a waste of time.

    ( /. is the right place for anecdotal evidence, right?)
    • Re:Anecdotal ... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ubergrendle ( 531719 )
      This is probably a good example of how the Y2k fever got out of control, and paranoia resulted in alot of unnecessary effort.

      Banks, government offices, airtraffic control, medical instrumentation ... large, multinational industries that were early adopters of IT systems(e.g. 1960s/70s) were most at risk. Their systems were old, mostly mainframe based (at least in the back-end), and had a heavy dependency upon date calculations. Also, the original coders were long since gone, resulting in extra effort to
  • by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <info&devinmoore,com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:14AM (#11262663) Homepage Journal
    The Y2K problem was largely just delayed by clever use of a 100-year window to account for which 2-digit year you're talking about. Once data is required on some system where we need a resolution of 101 or more years, bad stuff will happen. Of course, that's totally separate from a binary representation of "today" being equal to the binary representation of "end of file", but I guess it's easy to lump computer problems all under the same umbrella... and yes, I think the 2038/2029/etc. bugs are going to be a thousand times worse than Y2K, but again, we will come up with a kludge at the last minute that will keep it going for a while longer.
  • We got lucky. (Score:2, Insightful)

    The world's infrastructure wasn't, and isn't all hooked up to the internet yet. Fifty or a hundred years down the road, catastrophic failures may happen which we are powerless to stop, because some dickheads thought it was a good idea to have everything interconnected and running the same OS.

    Also, the Y2K "crisis" only occurred because humanity as a whole can't seem to plan very far ahead. Or remember its lessons, it seems. The SARS
    scare was something that happened a short while ago, and people are
    • The SARS scare was something that happened a short while ago, and people are already lapsing back to bad habits like coughing with their mouths open in public, in my country.

      Well, it would help if you mentioned the name of "your" country. I mean, if it was New Zealand or whatever, it might not be that big a deal.

      And bear in mind that SARS has died down for now. If it flares up again, people will immediately become paranoid about coughing in public. The question is whether the potential (*current*) ri
  • I was involved in fixes for a group of software for Y2K, up to the night before. The company I worked for at the time developed software for handling when medications are given to patients in hospitals, and charging the right amount to insurance. We covered very large facilities all over the US. Had we not updated the software, it would have never allowed patients to get their medication, and billing would have been screwed up out the ying yang.

    If you were in the hospital right after Y2K, be glad that a gr
  • by Fr05t ( 69968 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:17AM (#11262674)
    It was a hoax! I didn't upgrade my tinfoil and it still works just fine or maybe thats just what they want me to think. *PANIC*
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:17AM (#11262676)
    I'm sure anyone who helps support small businesses and their use of IT to run them knows this WAS an averted disaster. Most small companies, in 1999, were using accounting systems (and running them on platforms) that absolutely, positively, would have failed. There were untold thousands of businesses handling shipping, payroll, payables - core stay-in-business stuff - on older versions of FoxPro, or creaky older copies of Unix-based accounting software running on prehistoric Altos machines, and so on.

    These would all, everyone of them, puked big time without serious remediation. In many cases it was line-by-line code work, or the building of elaborate insulating layers between modules. In many cases, the cleanest and most rational fix really was a system upgrade. But I can tell you (from having simulated calendar rollovers on such systems), that on 1/1/2000, a lot of my customers (minus the serious work), would have been unable to buy, sell, pay their people, etc., for weeks into 2000 - at which point many would have been mortally wounded. This was no hoax, and the most important work I did at that time was educating the business owners who kept hearing the words "hoax" or "exagerated" on the news.

    I wasn't worrying myself about planes falling out of the sky, but I was worried about calamitous damage to a huge chunk of the economy: the $2-15M/year business. Of course, I like to hunt, so no harm buying a little extra freeze-dried food anyway, right?

  • 2038? If we live through 2029 []I'll totally just pay a tech to come over to my cave and fix my counting stones with the skins I earned cornering the market on wooly mammoth hides.

  • I think it was mostly hype by the media and by businesses that had an financial incentives to make companies worry.

    The media because hype and emotions garner eyeballs, which lead to more advertising revenue.

    Businesses because many of them were involved in Y2K solutions and services.

    This reminds me of the "shark attack" news tidbits that used to come out during the summer when there was nothing new to report. Studies later had found that shark attacks didn't in fact increase suddenly. It had always been
  • A bit of both (Score:4, Informative)

    by finkployd ( 12902 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:22AM (#11262704) Homepage
    At the time I was a mainframe operator with Penn State (I'm still with them, just in a much less annoying job), and I remember we had a ton of things that needed fixing. Even so, there were some fairly significant problems that popped up on new year's day that had not been caught. If I remember correctly, the program that validated rsa secureIDs failed amoung some other less serious snafus.

    I imagine most places when through something similar, a few years of hunting and fixing and then dealing with some small problems that they missed after the fact.

    However, I notice that civilization did not collapse. There was no "fight club" style destruction of everyone's credit rating or a total collapse of the money system, planes did not fall out of the sky, nukes did not sporatically go off, etc. Maybe that COULD have happened but remember people began seriously talking about this problem around 1996 (at least the media began picking it up then) so there was plenty of time to fix stuff.

    Many people found great deals on generators and survival gear (food, etc) the following year on ebay :) I know that was a great time for search and rescue teams to pick up cheap gear.

  • I saw a video being played in a prominent retailer's shop window (Dixons, owners of PC World) about the 'Y2K Threat'. In it, a guy gets up on 01/01/2000 and tries to make coffee. Oh no! His kettle won't boil! So he goes to work. Except his car won't start! He tries to cross the road, but the crossing is going crazy, so he can't get across! It never explains why the traffic was busy, especially as it was just demonstrated that cars wouldn't start...

    The whole thing was just ridiculous, and it was all to sell
  • It wasn't the new millennium


    it wasn't a bug!

  • by Xian97 ( 714198 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:23AM (#11262711)
    Look at what happened after Y1K - a few hundred years of Dark Ages.
  • I read an article (in The Economist???) in the late 90's that suggested that a bust might happen anyway based on historical evidence/patterns. IIRC, it stated that the British and Dutch stock markets (the only significant markets for a long time) showed downward trends at the turn of every century for the last 3 or 4 hundred years.
  • Not a hoax (Score:2, Informative)

    by blugeoned ( 677452 )

    A railroad I know of had to manually route trains for about two to three weeks because of a couple of missed Y2K parameters. Had it not been for a few old-timers who were still around from when that was done a couple of decades ago, all of the predictions about crashes and whatever would have come true for this particular company.

    The company covered up the problems in order to protect their stock price. I imagine a few other companies had similar results.

    I heard on the radio that in the city where I liv

  • Situation: Early 90s most businesses and people started to have computers. Knowing in 10 years there may be a Y2k Problem most larger companies started to hire some more programmers to fix the problem. After seeing the quote to fix the problem they decided to just upgrade their infrastructure. So they were tossing out their Mainframes (or at least having on special duty) and replacing them with brand new Pentium Computers which were y2k complient. After this upgraded they needed more software so program
  • Office Space would have had a slightly different story...
  • I remember. . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:13AM (#11263013)
    I remember being on a cruddy come-down subway ride around 1 AM, Jan 1st 2000, and asking one of the two cops who were riding the train with me,

    "So what's it been like for you this evening?"

    One of them turned to observe me. She glared with that particular flavor of ultra-tough female no-monkey-business copitude we have all seen.

    "It's going fine, sir. The Y2K Bug is just a myth."

    Okidoke, ma'am. Have a happy.


  • Hoax? Come on... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bokmann ( 323771 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:34AM (#11263193) Homepage
    Billions of dollars were spent to fix mission critical systems... if they still failed, people would be screaming "We spent billions! Why did we still have the problem?" So instead, they are saying, "We didn't see any problems, should we really have spent the money?"

    Maybe I understand Politics a little better after this - it is easier not to spend the money, wait for the disaster, then point fingers.

    Why not write this off as a success? Are people just that used to not succeeding?

    There WERE various y2k problems... just nothing in major industries like travel, banking, etc.

    What about the recent bug mentioned here on slashdot about the airline flight booking system, failing when there were more than 32767 transactions in a given month? That is an example of the same kind of problem the y2k propbem was... I bet the head of Information Technology at that airline was making a 6 figure salary - how could he have the airline so reliant on software that didn't have a backup system, nor one he knew the performance characteristics of?
  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:35AM (#11263204) Homepage Journal
    Think about all the web pages and applications that were displaying the odd five digit year. 11000 I think it was. So I wouldn't say it was a hoax as a whole. There were a lot of opportunistic assholes who saw it as a chance to charge people for upgrades that weren't necessary either though. Not to mention the fear mongers who relied on the natural human tendency to fear the unknown (dried food sales as an example). I will point out that I had a program written in 1993 from the Norton Desktop for Windows 3.1. It was the Norton Dayplanner. I stuck it on a floppy when I got it and carried it with me as a "PDA". I had batch files that I used to sync it with my desktops at home and work. It worked well. Just a few weeks ago I found one of my archival copies of it on CD and ran it under W.I.N.E. Still works, and the dates are correct as well as the year. Interestingly enough, when I ran it in Windows 95, it would skewer the dates past the year 2000. So the app is fine, it was the OS that had the problem. I think in many cases, this was true and it's where a lot of people got taken. They paid for upgrades to apps that relied on the OS for proper date calculation. The main problem is... how do you know this without hindsight? That is how people got taken.
  • by potus98 ( 741836 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:10PM (#11265259) Journal

    My logic in 1999 was this: Everything is always breaking anyways and we still seem to get by, why should 1/1/01 be any different? Servers die, applications crash, battery backups fail, power outages happen, cars crash, trains derail, planes wreck, secretaries with "temporary" admin permissions delete entire file servers. From my point of view, I'm amazed that we even make it from one day to the next!

    "Yea, but on 1/1/01, it's ALL gonna break at the same time!!!!" Dude, it's already all breaking at the same time. We'll be fine.

    And now I get to say: "See, I told you so."

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.