Fond memories of Y2K

    Spotlight 1/2020
    Peter Flynn vor verschwommener Australienfahne
    © cnythzl/
    Von Peter Flynn

    In New Year’s Eve 20 years ago, I was partying at a pub by the sea and ended up sleeping on the beach with a woman I hardly knew. But it was all in the line of in the line of dutyin Ausübung seiner/ihrer Pflichtduty for my work.

    You see, this was the closest beach to my office, where I had to report at dawnMorgendämmerungdawn to see if the much-feared Y2K (which stands for “year 2000”) computer bughier: Fehlerbug had made the world as we knew it collapse. For those who are too young, or too old, to remember, the Y2K bug was a problem caused by computer programmers trying to save on what was then really expensive storage space.

    One “trick” was to use only the last two digits of each year, so that 1999 was shortened to 99. But this meant that computers might interpret the rolloverhier: Übergangrollover to a new millennium as a leapSprung, Satzleap back to 1900 or even a jump forward to 19100.

    The developed world was taking all this very seriously because the correct date and time are a basis for many computer programs. Just think about regular bank transfers or time-sensitivezeitkritischtime-sensitive train tickets.

    To avoid a scenario known as “mutually assured destructiongesicherte gegenseitige Zerstörungmutually assured destruction” (MAD) — a long-held military strategy designed to prevent opposing nuclear powers with equal arsenals from launching a first strike — the Americans and the Russians shared intelligence about their nuclear missile early-warning systems.

    In the end, nothing really happened here other than minor ticketing problems with some bus systems

    The World Bank funded an international Y2K cooperation group involving IT experts from more than 100 countries. Australia had to embrace(bereitwillig) annehmenembraced digital technology on a massive scaleAusmaß, Größenordnungscale. Because our relatively small population was spread out across a large continent, there were Y2K committees and task forces at every level of business and government. A bit sadly, on New Year’s Eve, there were millions of hits on the government’s Y2K website. Perhaps only the British took it more seriously and openly reported the Y2K readiness of all business sectors. This led to hundreds of Australian IT specialists to flockin Scharen strömenflocking to London to earn the big the big bucks (N. Am., Aus. ifml.)das große Geldbucks by helping companies to become risk-compliantkonformcompliant. (Worldwide, more than $300 billionMilliarde(n)billion was spent on Y2K readiness in 1999.)  

    In the end, nothing really happened here other than minor ticketing problems with some bus systems. Globally, we can probably thank the fixes and upgrades that software companies sent to all users, even to those who did not believe in the Y2K bug.

    But if you want something to worry about, there’s a Y2K38 on the horizon — the year 2038 — when the Unix 32-bit systems will run out of time. If I live that long, I’ll be 84. While that might be too old for partying, I to reckon (ifml.)schätzen, vermutenreckon I’ll just go to the beach and sleep under the stars. By the way, on New Year’s Eve 20 years ago, to paraphrase then US president Bill Clinton, “I did not have sex with that woman”. I imagine she simply figured my camping swag (Aus.)etwa: packbare Schlafmatte mit ausklappbarer Zeltplaneswag was the safest of her bed options, and I never saw her again. 

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