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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Y2K Tale

In commemoration of the new years observance.

Thirteen years ago I was on duty at my first power company gig, and although there was a lot of hoopla leading up to the rollover from 1999 to 2000, tensions were not really that high.

Some of my readers may not be old enough to remember this night and the lead up to it the way public safety and software people do.  Being at the power company was almost as close to merging all concerns as you could get save perhaps flight controllers.

For the uninitiated, this was the problem:  For the prior half-decade or so, software had largely been written to handle date information with a two-digit year ("87" instead of "1987").  Try to remember that until the 90's, data storage capabilities were far less advanced.  I remember when we got our first computer with a hard drive in 1989, and it was a HUGE one, with a whole 2MB! 

No one writing software in those early days gave much thought to the technology being asked to deal with a centennial rollover, let alone a millennial one.  But people found ways to stretch the life of software through upgrades and such, and these two-digit year legacy systems were everywhere.  The race was on, beginning in the mid 90's when people starting figuring out there was a problem, to update any and all critical software systems to handle the change to the year 2000, so they wouldn't simply roll from 12/31/99 to 01/01/100 and explode in multicolored flames.

People were making riches selling survival gear for the coming Armageddon of massive infrastructure failures (sound familiar?).

And so here it was, December 31, 1999, approaching midnight.  We were pretty confident things would be OK and not really buying into the hype, but just the same we were staffed heavy at the power company.

We watched the seconds count away, and at midnight on the nose eastern time, when the first of the failures would theoretically hit the fan, sure as hell ....our lights went out.

All of the monitoring displays of course continued to function, as they were all on UPS systems, and we spent the next few anxious seconds of stunned disbelief trying to figure out if we had just experienced a large regional blackout or maybe if we're lucky just a local one.  But there were no alarms coming in, all readings were nominal and fluctuating (not static/frozen), no open breakers, no nothing.

Then we heard the snickering.  The dispatch manager had come back without telling any of us, and threw the lights at the appointed time.

Well played.  And with that, Y2K came and went with nary a blip.

Be safe out there, my friends.


  1. Real programmers code their dates in ANSI format!

    CCYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS They're a thing of beauty, Sorting is simplicity itself, and you're NEVER confused by day/date order issues.

    Also, if you want to see Y2K bugs on the net, do a search for '19100' that some web systems clicked over to.


  2. well, I cant't address the computer stuff 'cause electricity is magic (an electrician told me so) & I don't believe in magic. So....
    But I can report that due to the Y2K scares, a couple dozen local residents came to meetings about "what do we do IF--?" & began learning about being proactive - i.e., preppers. So it did some good, tho not in the expected way perhaps. (Among other things, in investigating just how well prepared our community was, we discovered our radio stations didn't have a backup generator! not even one of them did!)
    We also discovered that one of the differences between [most] Men and [most] Women, is: the Men will (usually) wait until the problem arrives and bonks them over the head; THEN they will deal with it -- whereas the Women will usually try to see the problem approaching and head it off before it bonks anyone. Thus the source of many a cohabitational argument.
    A side note: on the 99th day of the year (which as I recall was in April 2000), there was a small computer glitch. Credit cards could not be processed by machine; they had to be called in by a human talking on a phone & the card's numbers spoken aloud. I dunno if that was local, regional or what.