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The Y2K crisis that never happened: Part 2

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"Y2K" is a term meaning "Year 2000".

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This is a continuation of Part 1 of this topic

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More anticipated problems:

bullet

Maternity ward overload:

Many couples attempted to have a "millennium baby" by conceiving on or about 1999-APR-9. BabyCenter.com sold a Millennium Conception Kit to increase couple's chances of having a baby delivered on New Years Eve. 1 This probably caused overload of artificial insemination clinics in early April, and mass confusion in maternity wards during late December 1999 and early 2000 as the millennium babies start arriving in quantity. The chances of delivering a baby on the nominal delivery date is slim. The chances of expecting a Caesarean section or induced delivery on that date is also remote. 2000-JAN-1 was both a holiday and a Saturday. Physicians normally do not schedule Caesareans and inductions for either holidays or weekends because of reduced staffing at hospitals. On the other hand, some couples avoided conception in 1999-APR because they are concerned that there might be failure of hospital diagnostic and monitoring equipment on New years Day - perhaps even a failure of the hospital's entire electrical supply -- fears that never materialized. 

Some media outlets joined the race. Yorkshire Television in England  broadcasted Birth Race 2000; it followed couples trying to create millennium babies from conception to birth. A radio station in Auckland NZ searched for 100 "loving couples." They planned to pay for a hotel room for each of them on APR-9 to encourage them to conceive a millennial baby. 

The real millennium ends on 2000-DEC-31. However, there was little millennium madness as this date approached.


bullet

Computer program failures on specific dates:

There were some dates on which special problems were expected to occur. A technology consulting firm, the Gartner Group, 2 predicted that only 8% of the Y2K problems will actually happen on 2000-JAN-1. They further estimated that 58% of the potential millennium bugs would have been activated on dates prior to 1999-MAR. Some critical dates were:
bulletPrior to 1999: Credit card renewals prior to the year 2000 were prone to failure. This is because the cards' expiry dates were been in the year 2000 and beyond. This problem was presumably solved in time; we have not heard of any banks going out of business or not being able to issue credit cards to their customers.

bullet 1999-JAN-01: Some old computer programs reserved the number "99" for some special use -- for example as an error code. As expected, this caused problems in a number of computer programs in early 1999. However, they were apparently minor as we could find only three significant failures reported in the media:

bulletImmigration officers at three Swedish airports had failures in computer programs that issue immediate, temporary passports to last-minute or forgetful travelers. Technicians were able to fix the problem easily in a few hours.

bulletTaxi meters in Singapore allegedly failed for two hours in the middle of New Years Day.

bullet Two computer-operated medical devices partially failed. A defibrillator manufactured by Hewlett-Packard and a patient monitor sold by Invito Research Inc failed to display the correct date and time.  The device's other functions were unaffected.

bullet

1999-FEB-4 & 5: Many airline reservation systems can handle flights up to 330 or 331 days in advance. On these dates in 1999-FEB, people were able to make reservations for 2000-JAN-01 flights. The over 100,000 travel agencies worldwide book about 80% of their reservations through only a handful of computer reservation systems (CRS): Sabre, Galileo, Amadeus, WorldSpan are the largest. These systems passed the critical days relatively uneventfully. The small percentage of travel agencies which were not Y2K compliant had their reservation requests for the year 2000 rejected.

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bullet1999-MAR-01, JUL-01, OCT-01...: These are commonly used beginnings of fiscal years of many businesses. Since their fiscal year ended in the year 2000, there was some fear that program failures may occur. 46 state governments in the U.S. started fiscal years on JUL-1 without major problems. No problems were reported.

bullet1999-APR-9: This was the 99th day of 1999. Unfortunately, 99 is sometimes used inside computer programs as an "end of file" (EOF) marker. This date was chosen by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) to test the preparedness of all of the electrical utilities in the U.S. and Canada. Again, no failures seemed to have surfaced.

bullet1999-SEP-09: This day may be expressed as 9/9/99 or 99/9/9. In shorthand, a computer might represent it as 9999. This is another potential EOF (end of file) marker. NERC choose that date for its second test of the electrical power grid. Again, the day seems to have passed without any noticeable problems.

bullet2000-JAN-01: This was seen as the "biggie:" the first date with a year ending in "00." Some computer programs were expected to interpret this as the year 1900. Others might sense it as an error code. Others might give unpredictable results. Fortunately, this day fell on a Saturday, so many computer programmers had two days to solve the problems before the work week began on Monday. The downside is that many companies had to pay overtime to their employees to stand by in case problems develop. It is obvious from media reports that few problems were encountered.

bullet2000-JAN-03: This is the first working day in the New Year for some companies; JAN-04 was for others. Only then did some of the Y2K problems become apparent. They seem to have been quickly solved.

bullet2000-FEB-28: A few programmers believe that century years are not leap years. Thus, they wrote programs assuming that the year 2000 was not a leap year. But in the Gregorian calendar system, years which are evenly divisible by 400 are all leap years; this includes the year 1600, 2000, 2400, etc. Again, this produced minimal problems.

bullet2000-OCT-10: This is the first date in this year that requires 8 characters for a full notation (as in 2000 10 10) or 6 characters for an abbreviated notation (as in 00 10 10).

bullet2001-JAN-01: Since the first year in the Common Era (CE) was the year 1, then the first year of the second century CE was 101 CE. And the first year of the third millennium or 21st century will be 2001. Thus, 2001-JAN-01 will be the first day of the next millennium. Of course, many will have already celebrated the event one year earlier. A survey of readers to the Countdown 2000 web site in 1999-JAN-09 indicated that 36% regarded 2000-JAN-1 to be the beginning of the new millennium; 45% picked 2001-JAN-1; 20% don't care. 3 It might be possible for a computer program to contain programming that would bomb out on this day. However, it is unlikely.

bullet2038-JAN-19: Many computer program written in C++ will fail on this date at 3:14:07 GMT. Those programs that use the "signed 32 bit long integer" time keeping functions of C/C++ keep time by computing the number of seconds since 1970-JAN-1 at 00:00 GMT. In 2038-JAN-19, they will reach 2,147,483,647 which is the largest number that the program can store. Later dates/times will be expressed in negative integers which are reserved for error codes. The results are unpredictable.

bulletOther dates: Many specialty programs have their own system of time keeping. They typically measure the number of seconds, or milliseconds or deciseconds after a specific date and time. Eventually, these systems will reach their limit in the same way as the C++ programs will. Each system has its own unique termination date.

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Fear of the millennium: from business sources:

There are many indicators that North Americans were concerned about the Y2K problem:

bulletThe Information Technology Association of America (ITTA) commissioned a public opinion poll in mid-1998. 23% Americans believed that the Y2K problem could adversely affect them directly. 4 54% were worried that they could lose their jobs.

bulletAbout 75% of the attendees at the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology said that their governments were not doing enough to address the Y2K problem.

bulletSome market analysts expected a major downturn in the stock market as the end of 1999 approached. Although the market has traditionally been more sensitive to uncertainty than it is to bad news, and although the effects of the Y2K problem were uncertain as the end of 1999-DEC approached, the markets did not appear to be adversely effected.

bullet In early 1999, rumors spread that disaster would happen to the stock markets when the Dow Jones index reached 10,000. Some predicted that, for example, when the index reached 10,001, that automatic selling programs would accept only the first 4 digits, and interpret the value as 1000; others said that they would only accept the last 4 digits and believe that the index had sunk to 1. Either bug would trigger massive selling. In reality, the Dow Jones oscillated above and below 10,000 in early 1999, without any problems.

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Continue with Part 3 of this topic

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today. In fact, many date from the infancy of the Internet and have probably disappeared long ago.

  1. "Millennium Conception Kit," at: http://store.babycenter.com/
  2. "Nearing Midnight, Current events that are fast moving and supportive of Bible prophecy<" at: http://www.novia.net/
  3. "Countdown 2000" at: http://www.countdown2000.com./
  4. P. Thibodeau & M. Hamblen, "Study finds Americans fear millennium bug," at: http://www.idg.net/

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Copyright 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-AUG-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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