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Remember the Millennium Bug?

Updated on July 9, 2012

The Bug That Scared the World

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The Y2K Scare Was Real

The Year 2000 Problem, also known as the Millennium Bug, but referred to by most simply as Y2K was a disaster that never happened. The problem, for those who may have been too young to care, was that in order to save space on the old IBM computer punch cards, dates were shortened to two digits rather than four. Two digits on an 80 column card was actually a significant saving of bit space. This, however, created a problem with computer databases. How could a computer tell the difference between 1998 and 2008 once the year 2000 rolled around? Beginning in the mid 1980s, computer experts started to wave red flags. Not only would employment and financial records be screwed up, but our infrastructure may have been in danger. Experts were alarmed at a possible failure of the national electrical grid because ROM chips were often encased in cement near power stations, and a wrong date could mean disaster.

Governments worldwide took the Y2K scare very seriously. The United States Congress passed the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act. Everyone was asking if our military preparedness would be affected by the bug. If our military databases went down would we be vulnerable to attack?

Y2K Compliance, the Buzz Phrase of the 1990s

I owned a small publishing company in 2000. At the insistence of my auditors I embarked on a project to get our system up to Y2K speed. "Y2K Compliance" was actually an entry on all audits during the 1990s. If all hell broke loose, as many predicted, accountants didn't want to be accused of not warning the readers of financial statements. Very few business plans written in the 1990s did not have a section on Y2K complianceThe Y2K compliance project in my small company cost me $27,000.but that was chump change compared to what some organizations spent The worldwide cost of Y2K remediation was over $300 billion. As Vice President Biden would say, "This was a big f...ing deal."

A Millennium Bug Quiz

What Did You Do To Prepare for Y2K?

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Happy New Year! The Millennium Bug Rolled Over and Died

I will never forget New Year's Eve of 1999. We had some friends over for dinner and a party. As the clock struck 7 PM we had our eyes glued to a TV report of the festivities in London where it was midnight. Nothing happened. The lights stayed on, the partiers partied and at my house we all breathed a sigh of relief. The news reports in the subsequent days were replete with talking heads criticizing the Y2K alarmist crowd over the self-debunking scare. But was it a totally overblown alarm? No, it wasn't, at least not totally.

The Aftermath - Did the Millennium Bug Hurt Anybody?


The debate will never end whether the Y2K scare was warranted. Many contend that the vast and expensive remedial efforts avoided the problem. Had nothing been done, they claim, the Y2K scare would have been warranted. They also argue, with some persuasiveness, that because so many organizations created redundant networks in anticipation of the Millennium Bug, the terror attacks of 9/11 did not fatally disrupt the world financial systems.

Those who contend that the Y2K scare was overblown argue that because so few businesses or organizations reported problems, the Millennium Bug was as harmless as a ladybug. By September of 1999 only 28 percent of US schools had taken any Y2K remediation efforts, but nothing newsworthy happened. See White House: Schools lag in Y2K readiness: President's Council sounds alarm over K-12 districts' preparations so far, article by Jonathan Levine of eSchool News, 1 September 1999.

After all the money I spent on Y2K compliance with my business, I personally experienced only one problem that was clearly related to the Millennium Bug. I had an old DOS based mortgage amortization program that I used for a mortgage that I was holding. When I checked it, sure enough the January 1 payment was due—on January 1, 1900! It was no big deal because so many loan amortization programs were available then. It was the only piece of evidence that I saw that there really was a bug out there.

The Y2K scare was just that, a scare. It is now a part of world history. But since then, almost 12 years ago, I still write out the full year on checks.

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    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Blawger, it was an amazing non event. Thanks for stopping by

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Blawger, it was an amazing non event. Thanks for stopping by

    • Blawger profile image

      Bahin Ameri 4 years ago from California

      Wow, this totally takes me back. I was in college and I remember hoping and praying that by some miracle classes would be cancelled---even just for a few days. But of course, nothing happened. Stupid Y2K.

    • iTommyGuns profile image

      TommyGuns 5 years ago from Blakeslee, PA

      I remember this well. Many were worried more about third world countries having issues then the larger ones.

      Great hub! Gonna follow!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for taking us back to the Y2K crisis - wow that was such a big deal!

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 5 years ago from New York City

      No Probs Russ, I will be trying to stop by from time to time, if at all possible, chat with ya soon.

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks John. Those were weird days!

    • rfmoran profile image
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      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for commenting cloudexplorer. Russ Moran

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I still remember. I had just started working for a new company and the outlook was bleak. I recall my boss telling me "you may not be working here next month - none of us will." I started the beginning of 12-1999.

      Great article

      John

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 5 years ago from New York City

      This was a cool blast from the year 2000 past hub here, Nicely written.

      I like how you go into great detail as to how you handled your businesses issues in dealing with the Y2K scare, and yes that all that it was just a little lady bug, LOL.

      Voted up and getting shared, smooth style of writing here as well, Nice job bro! Oh almost forgot thanks for the recent visit, and comment on my hub that was cool of you to do for me.

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for stopping by Linda. A lot of luck helped!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      I enjoyed your Hub. Seems like it was only yesterday when everyone was in a state of panic over Y2K. I went on about my business and decided I would just pick up the pieces after the fact, if necessary. Happily, I didn't have to. And luckily, there were people in the shadows doing things that made the transition effortless!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks RF! I spent three years imagining it! That's why I worked as hard as I did. I'm still glad we weren't all living on emergency generators for weeks. Or - here was a scary concern - if the railway electronic controls hadn't been upgraded, cities would have run out of chlorine, and there would have been no drinkable water in major urban centers.

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Sid. Thank you so much for this valuable input. As I said in the Hub, the debate will go on, especially because so many who did nothing had no problem. But your experience was right on the front lines of the issue. Imagine if nobody did anything?!

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for your comment Cassy. I'm glad you dodged the bullet.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      I spent three years of my life doing very real work to prevent the Y2K problem - not a bug, but thousands of them - from doing very real harm. I was on several projects. The one I was most involved was a national network upgrade for all computers belonging to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). If the team I was on had not succeeded, all US nuclear power plants would have been shut down, and 20% of our electrical generation capacity would have disappeared, causing, at least, nationwide brown-outs. And I have that directly as a statement from the executive responsible for nuclear safety - who would have ordered the shutdown himself.

      I know of one grocery store chain that sold out to a bigger company because they knew, beyond a doubt, that there systems would not survive Y2K. I helped two small NYC businesses convert to Y2K compliant systems. And I connected with my Wall Street insider contact after 1/1/2000, and he told me that there were lots of problems, they just solved them and kept them out of the news. Also, there was a big spike in oil prices in 3/2000, probably due to temporary safety shutdowns of oil processing plants.

      Y2K was a very real danger. In fact, the successful effort to prevent a Y2K disaster was one of the greatest, most unified efforts of human society. It was certainly the greatest peacetime effort to prevent disaster since the Marshall Plan. But, like all successful efforts at preventing disaster, the bad news that didn't happen was no news at all.

      Because I was there, my beliefs won't change; though I won't try to convince anyone else. But, for me, saying that the Y2K problem was not real because nothing bad happened would be like saying the Naziism of Germany, Japan, and Italy wasn't really a problem because, after all, we won WWII.

    • CassyLu1981 profile image

      CassyLu1981 5 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      LOL I remember this "bug" all too well. Everyone freaking out and in a huge panic over nothing. I did nothing to prepare for it. If it was going to be the end then so be it. :) Excellent hub :) Voted up and shared!