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Apocalypse Not

2009-11-12 20:29:42.541001+00 by petronius 8 comments

Ah, remember those heady days of the late 90's, when we were assured that civilization would fall when the Y2K bug destroyed all our systems? Wired looks at whether or not it was effort wasted. The concensus, however, is that there would have been some trouble, but we caught it in time.

I think we can also look at some of the social fallout from the whole affair. It is interesting that Y2K caught the imagination of the truly paranoid, and we heard claims that at the stroke of midnight on 1/1/00 the prison doors would automatically unlock and the streets would be full of desparate criminals, while the telephone system and electrical grid were destroying themselves and nuclear reactors would merrily melt down. Hmm isn't there a movie being released this weekend that sounds like this?

The other issue is that Y2K ruined the right-wing militia movement. I've seen claims that they bankrupted themselves laying in k-rations and ammo while building bunkers against the starving hordes. When nothing happened they looked like idiots. Well, at least they had some textured vegetable protein to eat.

[ related topics: Movies Food Heinlein Conspiracy ]

comments in descending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-20 06:06:33.745219+00 by: concept14

Y2K was a great excuse to sunset some old systems we were tired of supporting.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-16 15:07:53.304049+00 by: markd

"Every well-designed architecture you create will be discarded without being exploited. Every quick & dirty hack you write will last for years." -- Greg Robbins

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-16 01:55:16.39968+00 by: m

We had OS 360/370 software written in the '60s and '70s that was so old that it had to be rewritten for then current COBOL compilers. Some macro assembler in the old 4K module sizes that still used BDAM fielsBDAM files which needed to be converted to ISAM, PL/I and other ancient languages and techniques. Two digit years were the least of our problems. It was touching the software at all that caused the chains of dominoes to topple one after another. Fortunately for me all I had to do was spec the changes for the main frame software. I felt sorry for the coders -- the original code was ghastly.

None of the mini and micro based software that I was personally responsible for will have problems until the end of 2011 (5 bit offset from 1980). I know some of it was still running in '05, but have lost touch since then.

It is absolutely amazing how long software can hang around, even stuff that was never meant to be more than a temporary stopgap.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-15 17:25:20.745698+00 by: ebradway

FoxPro had major issues with Y2K. I was at a Chattanooga-area Snack Cake manufacturer at the time and spent several months pouring over FoxPro code. I also had some doozies in the C code I had inherited that extracted data from their production Oracle system. Of course, that C code had other, more significant issues (lots of uninitialized pointers and buffer overruns - the person I got the code from obviously wasn't a C programmer).

My doctor (who several of us know, but I'll leave unnamed) had a propane tank buried in his yard to power his generator. Buried so it wouldn't be stolen. He said his father gave him grief because the tank was buried in broad daylight - unlike his that was buried under the cloak of night so the neighbors didn't even know he had it.

I did buy some extra water (really the amount Red Cross says you should have on hand anyway). For the night of Y2K, I built a giant bonfire and threw thousands of bottle rockets in it. I'm surprised the North Chatt fire department didn't come put it out. It was huge and noisy! I was having so much fun that I forgot that the world was supposed to end.

We still have almost 30 years before the Unix Epoch date failure. I'm looking forward to coming out of retirement as and auditing some ancient C code. I'm sure C programmer will be are rare in 2038 as COBOL programmers were in 1999.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-15 14:37:53.373165+00 by: Larry Burton

I've written a lot of industrial controls software starting in 1986. I've never written a thing that required an accurate date for controlling equipment. None of the controllers I have worked with ever cared what year it was. Still I made a lot of money doing audits and just proving to people that nothing bad would happen by running the controller clocks forward in test systems to prove that no meltdown would occur.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-13 17:11:17.510743+00 by: petronius

Yep, it was Slate. I guess it was a Y2K+8 bug.

I also suspect that we weren't as embedded in embedded systems as some thought. There are probably still a lot infrastructure systems out there where the digital control system is to use your fingers to turn the valve a quarter-turn widershins, until the pipe starts to clunk.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-13 11:53:34.015709+00 by: meuon

I spend that night (Y2K) hanging at HTS and at the MCI Worldcom colo across the street. All the telecom places across the country were manned that night, often with a cooler and a 6-pack or two. We all new that 'Y2K' wasn't a problem as everything mission critical did not run a MS-Product. We also knew there was a big bug to fix (or upgrade to true 64 bit systems) by the year 2038.

The fearprofit-mongers sold a lot of ammo, generators and water filters then, and the same crowd was active as Obama became President.

Whatever the next crisis is, I'm buying a Tactical Crossbow - Just because I can.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-11-12 23:17:13.338208+00 by: Dan Lyke

Isn't that Slate, not Wired?

My memory of Y2K paranoia run wild was someone in Marin bragging that the water district hadn't thought to check the pumps for Y2K compliance before they'd brought it to the water district's attention. Needless to say, the pumps didn't have anything in them which cared which year it was, but the person bragging was ever so proud that they'd managed to shine the light into a corner that the people who were running the things hadn't bothered to.

So, yeah, there were undoubtedly some bugs caught, but there was a hell of a lot of effort making sure the purple elephants couldn't get in the flower gardens.