THE most important debate of 1999

Hey everyone. I poked around a bit and noticed that no one seems to be talking about Y2K…

Is it just hype? Just a way for freaks and fundamentatlists to get attention? A plot by programmers to take the money and run?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Are YOU ready for Y2K? Take my advice: Panic early and avoid the rush.

I vote for hype. People with a lot more money than you or I could lose it all on the Y2K bug, so I imagine they take such things very seriously, and they have the resources to correct it. We won’t know until after Jan 1, but I don’t expect worse than a few messed up bills.

I have a friend who warned me in all seriousness not to be within 50 miles of a major city on New Year’s. I don’t plan to be, but that’s because there’s going to be 5 billion people attempting to have the party of the millenium.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

I’ve been a programmer for over 10 years, and I think it’s mostly hype. If people hadn’t started talking about it a couple of years ago and only discovered the potential problems last week, I’d be worried. But at this point, most major systems have been upgraded and fixed and whatnot.

I think there’ll be a lot of major systems that have no problems at all, a lot of minor systems that have little problems, and a few major systems that have major problems. The corporations with those major problems will fix them quickly (before February) or will risk going out of business. If the system with the problem belongs to the government, it could be 2001 before it gets fixed, but in that case we’ll do what we always do: grumble and trudge forward.


We’re all gonna die, so there’s not much point in talking about it. The only thing you can do is to follow ARG’s word and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior so you’ll go to heaven when the clock strikes 12:00.

< Closed Captioned for the sarcasm impaired >

I expect major problems, and from two independent causes:

(1) The small problems which VegForLife forsees will snowball. A small supplier cannot supply a critical thing to a large company, for example, and then all the large company’s customers will suffer, causing a disaster to consumers. (Let’s not forget how many other countries are much less prepared than the USA is!)

(2) Expect a run on the banks in late December, fueled by fear alone. This will cause a run on the banks in early December, fueled by fear of that fear. Don’t be surprised if suspicion of fear of panic causes problems in November or even October.

I expect the stock market will drop around then, fron noodniks who sell their stocks to put it into gold or 500 cans of baked beans and a bomb shelter. But not a huge drop.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

#1) Non-economically, hyped up the wazoo except for the fear of the fear as already mentioned.

#2) Will be a serious problem to the export/import business. Many nations other than US, Canada & those in Western Europe are hopelessly unprepared for Y2K especially since they tend to have older systems. This will have a tremendous impact on the economy but especially to those countries.

#3) I predict we will see at least a few major companies will get hit hard. Impossible to say which ones, which is where all the fun will be … watching the (albeit limited) Y2K fallout.

Keeves (in #2) and Gaudere do make valid points – I don’t think we have anything to fear but fear itself. (Hey, that’s a good line – I should write that down.) I’m not worried about the computers; I’m worried about the idiots who may believe these moronic end-of-the-world books and cause the very problem they seek to avoid.

Immagin the cost to utilities should their meters stop counting on 1/1/00! Think of the loses to banks & other financial orgs. if their computers crash . Are the airlines prepaired for their planes to fall from the sky? If Y2K is as the doomsayers predict, big (& small) business stand to loose countless $$$! Not likely. A promo for tonites local news said that they will tell us why everything that we own, containing a comp. chip will fail! My car, microwave, coffee maker, TV, sterio. etc. all have chips. None of them knows, nor cares what year it is! Somehow, I’m sure well make it into next year, ok. Besides, we just survived Nostradomus’ 7th month of 1999 prediction!



My sister’s business, a small beauty shop in a tiny town in New Mexico, received a notice in their most recent bank statment informing them that in December, withdrawals will be limited to $50 per day.


Here’s my take on it:

Logic dictates that some shit will hit some fans. No way to know which ones. Could be minor, could be really ugly. People (and businesses are, in the end, merely collections of people) are really good at denial, so I don’t buy the idea that corporations have their Y2k thing all worked out for fear of losing money. I think they are afraid of spending money and finding out they didn’t have to, so they are crossing their fingers and praying.

I’ve been staying on top of this VERY closely for a year now. I put off my wedding to wait and see if I could afford a big one or a quick one after Y2k. I have no axe to graind either way except that I hope like hell it turns out to be nothing.

But anyway, here’s what I have concluded:

We have two basic choices: dismiss it as hype and do little or nothing to prepare for it, or buy into it and plan to cover our asses. The degree to which you do that is up to you. And here’s the bottom line:

If the doomsayers are wrong, the people who prepared lose almost nothing (assuming they didn’t sell everything they have and moved to Montana to live off Tang and other spacefood) - they are prepared for an emergency (an especially good idea in disaster -prone neighborhoods; I live in LA, aka “Shake and Bake”) and they can use what they have prepared. They might take a bit of a hit financially if they made decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have made.

If the doomsayers are right, the people who didn’t prepare are seriously, badly screwed. Perhaps even dead, depending.

Personally, I plan to cover my ass and hope it’s all hype.

Are YOU ready for Y2K? Take my advice: Panic early and avoid the rush.

Mostly hype, with large helpings of paranoia and ignorance on the part of some of those who think that they might be affected, tempered by severe cluelessness on the part of many of the rest.
I have been an IT consultant for over 20 years (that per se is meaningless, of course). One of the principal reasons for the hysteria is that we seldom hold a press conference or put up a web page to announce, “We checked another million embedded processors or lines of COBOL-74 code, and, guess what, they were clean!” Like most things, it’s the abnormal event that gets the media coverage. Dog bites man isn’t news, man bites dog is, regardless of which species is actually threatened by extinction.
On the other face of the coin are those who say (I paraphrase), “I have no alternative sources of light (like candles), an empty pantry, and routinely spend the last nickel on my person before bothering to visit an ATM; should I do something to prepare?” I used to routinely rdicule these people, until I realized, rather to my horror, that they were serious; if a car struck a utility pole outside their apartment and took out the power line (to say nothing of the cable TV), they have no alternative to curling up in a little ball and dying; random chance forbid that a blizzard or a hurricane should blow in. If anyone really knows a place that’s so free of natural disasters that buying a flashlight would be a waste of money, let me know where it is; I’d like to move there. Otherwise, don’t prepare for Y2K; prepare for a bad storm, and the Y2K preparations will take care of themselves.
Both schools of thought will contribute to the problem. The hysteriacs will be sure that nothing can be done, the Pollyannas are sure that nothing will be done, and both elements will sit like deer in the oncoming headlights, one in the hills, the other on Ventura Boulevard. Both will be proven, more or less benignly, wrong.
Incidentally, on a (non-Y2K) mailing list that I am part of, one other participant has, as his sig, the slogan “n days to 9/9/99”. I don’t know if he’s serious or not; anyone who seriously offers this as a problem, however, may find the shaft of my cane blockling their lower digestive tract (and, let me tell you, that that flashlight can cause pain).

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

Stoidela wrote

This is absolutely incredible!

I’ve been sitting bored through a couple of years of “We have verified X% of our systems to be okay” and “We don’t expect any problems”, and various contradictory Urban Legends about whether or not the airlines have cancelled their flights for New Year’s Weekend.

Out of left field, a bank has actually announced that they are taking measures to prevent losing all their greenbacks. I would love to forward this info to everyone on my Panic List, but some of them may dismiss it as an Urban Legend. I would love it if you could tell us the name of the bank, and their website and/or phone number so we can verify this.


I’m waiting for Adam to reply. Thought he would have jumped on this one by now.

Carl Berry wrote:

Which of Nostradamus’ Centuries made such a precise prediction?

My guess is, one of his quatrains predicts the End of the World said something vague about “thousands” or “odometers about to turn over” (or the equivalent of odometers in the 1500s), and some entrepreneurial doomsayer out there decided Nostradamus meant July 1999 so that he could sell “I was there at the end of the world and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” T-shirts.

Actually, this is a potential problem. Apparently, once upon a time, some (lame, IMO) programmers decided to code dates that were far in the future as the largest four-digit number there is, 9999. When the systems were converted to using actual dates, the (lame, IMO) conversion programmers just left in the 9s, and it turned into 9/9/99.

I seriously doubt that there are more than a handful of little systems out there that will be adversely affected, but I’m sure at least one will make the news somewhere.

Or did I miss your point?


I recently saw a comedian who said something like:
“Well, I don’t see why everyone is so worried about all the computers crashing with Y2K…with my credit being so bad, I’m praying for it!”
Cracked me up…and gave me new hope :slight_smile:

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I’m going to go with hype. I think that ignorance from all levels of society has pushed a few crackpots (including the ones that wrote the Senate report) to the brink of doomsday predictions. It shocks me, as a computer science major, that people don’t understand the machines they use every day. I even heard my dad say something to the effect of “It’s not going to be good when the Russian nukes get launched because their computers get shut down.” I think the next level of Y2K preparation should be on the Teeming Millions that wouldn’t know a BIOS chip from a RAM SIMM.

VegForLife writes:

Veg, think about it. If you’re coding dates in four digits, how do you represent Hallowe’en 1999?

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

I think he explained the 9/9/99 problem poorly. It has nothing to do with the number “9999”. Rather, when a programmer writes a program, and the program needs you to enter a date, then your only choice is to enter some kind of date, or maybe leave it blank. Unless he programmer is willing and able to put extra work into the project, you can’t put words in there.

This causes a problem if the situation is one where words would be really helpful. For example, suppose the program wants to know when a certain event is scheduled. It wants a specific date, but you want to say something like “as soon as possible” or “never”. In many systems, you can fudge “asap” by putting today’s date in, but how do you tell it “never”?

So the computer operators found a simple solution: Enter a genuine date which is so far in the future that no one has to worry about it. Some used “12/31/99” for this purpose, but “9/9/99” is just as good, and a lot quicker to type in. It became something of a de fecto standard, and eventually, the programmers who blessed us with this problem even incorporated it into the program, with things like “IF DATE=9/9/99 THEN DO SUCHANDSUCH”.

So the problem now is, what’s gonna happen if those systems are still in use - WHICH THEY ARE - and we really want to schedule our event for Sept 9, but the program thinks it doesn’t need to worry about it?

No, Keeves, the alleged “9/9/99” problem has nothing to do with dates indefinitely far in the future; it has to do with alleged EOF (end-of-file) markers.
Now, EOF exception handling has been in place for at least 30 years (very likely longer, but that’s as far back as my own knowledge goes). It’s possible that some programmer way back in the Stone Age (i.e., the 1950’s) didn’t have that exception handling available to him, and decided to make “9999” an EOF marker, and somehow decided to make an initial date field variable-length, so that he could save a byte or two, thus allowing the date field to potentially read “9999”, and never bothered to test that piece of code before putting it in production (that, I’m sorry to have to admit, happens too often), and no one in 40+ years has noticed that the program doesn’t work unless someone stands over the data entry clerks with a whip and makes them enter “9999” in the last record of every file. Maybe that programmer was carried off by space aliens, too; it’s no more improbable than anything else I’ve hypothesized here.
Incidentally, one will never see the code “IF DATE = 9/9/99 THEN DO” in a program. The code “IF DATE = ‘09/09/99’ THEN DO” is possible, but, unlike sloppy human beings who assume that they can differentiate between numeric and character data in the blink of an eye, computers want these things made explicit so that there is no confusion.

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”