American RadioWorks has an interesting investigation into the longer-term effects of the Y2K scare, especially its impact on the world’s IT infrastructure. Y2K was a real potential problem, which was first ignored, but then most likely over-reacted to. But it was probably responsible for the rise of the Indian offshore IT boom. It also resulted in big productivity gains as decades of cruft were removed from datacenters during the fixes. For example, when the NY Stock Exchange was able to reassmble its systems six days after 9/11, it was because of the Y2K-related work they’d done.
The Surprising Legacy of Y2K
2005-01-04 General Development 19 Comments
The Y2K thing was spread thru fear by companies that fix Y2K problems. They all wanted money. I remember seeing on CNN that some guys that fix Y2K problems were saying how your toaster may stop working or catch fire after 2000.
I never believed it at one second. If your PC goes back to 1800 is it such a big deal? I mean BIG DEAL it’s just a time change. OH, the world will end because it says 1800 instead of 2000.
The only thing I was concerned about was nuclear power plants, especially those in Japan…
It stimulated the economy and got a lot of evil people money. It generated a boom in IT spending and some of the work that was done cut down on annoyances and additional work proved to be helpful..
I get called in quite often to salvage hacked webservers. People, especially companies, don’t care about keeping their server software up to date and patched against security exploits. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is what I hear a lot. But often the software is actually broken, or at least has known exploitable bugs. Many companies I’ve worked for just won’t be bothered to spend time (=money) on an update policy. Only after I reanimate their overloaded server (mostly killing off rogue Sendmail processes that are relentlessly billowing out spam) do they see the importance of this. It’s a sad state of affairs when suits call the shots in tech, but it earns me a nice extra from time to time. 😉
“It’s a sad state of affairs when suits call the shots in tech, but it earns me a nice extra from time to time. ;-)”
Sounds like a good reason for techs to become suits.
actually, Y2K could have meant big problems for the Financial sector and the Medical sector.
Medical machines are built to turn off if they do not have maintenance done on them on certain intervals.. if the code in them switched to 1900 for its time but was not expecting that.. the machines would fail.
and in the financial sector… how do you feel about being wiped out of all assets you ever owned?
Why are credit card expiry dates still using 2 digit years!
Why are credit card expiry dates still using 2 digit years!
Just because the CC has a two-digit expiry year printed, it doesn’t mean that the computers at the CC company store it with only 2 digits as well.
Furthermore CC expiration dates are one of the cases where it is not absolutely necessary to store the full year information, as long as the verfication code handles comparisons across the century mark properly.
Look, I agree there were people who took advantage of the Y2k thing and made loads of money off of nothing, but there could have been and would have been many problems if things weren’t taken care of.
I for one know that within the company that I worked for at the time, several systems would have dropped dead if it hadn’t been for my work and several othere in preperation for Y2k. And since the company I worked for at the time were unwilling/unable to spend the money needed to replace some outdated machines they still ended up having to hire someone to use a rubber stamp on printouts to correct the date (it wasn’t a fatal computer error, but imagine the image you create when scientific reports you are sending to customers have the wrong date on them, and a black stamp mark over it with the correct date).
Anyways, just tired of people saying that Y2k was all hype. The reason you didn’t see the problems that were predicted is that we FIXED most of them. Thank you, this has been my rant for the day.
I must wonder though, how some of these programs operated on a two digit year with no function for century. I imagine a 8bit value would be used.
2^8 = 256
2^7 = 128
This gives us either years like:
The first method just adds the 16bit value 1900 to to the 8bit value we use for storage, that gets us past 2000 by quite a bit. And the second uses the string “19” and makes prints it then the 8bit value.
I really still can’t imagine that this saved that much speed on things, or that much space. Maybe someone on here knows how this is really seriously beneficial to program speeds.
I really don’t see how it would reset to 1900 unless the program was set to reset to 1900…
2038 on the other hand is a whole different story!
I doubt the world would have crashes around us, but I’m sure there would be a lot of lost money, plane schedule shuffles, people lost and idiots shooting themselves.
The problem lies within calculations. For example, if you owe money on a credit card, the insurance is calculated in a program. At the turn of the century a (simplified) calculation may contain this statement: CURYEAR – STARTYEAR, this would be 00 – 95 which equals -5, which is negative, which turn the outcome of the whole thing to a negative number. Thus starting in Januari, the credit card company would owe YOU the interest, instead of vice versa.
You could come up with a lot more examples, and fatal ones are when machine are programmed to calculate the amount of time passed since last maintenance. If this number is between 0 and 2 years, no problem, else, shutdown. Voila, there’s your Y2K problem.
a lot (most?) of these old programs were coded in cobol. to store a 2digit number, cobol uses 2 bytes, afaik. (it is probably implementation-dependent). so, when you define a variable you say how many digits it will be able to store. n digits, n bytes. the size of a variable is *not* expressed in terms of bits (16/32bit-value, short/long etc). so if a 2digit variable has the value 99 and you increment it, it will be 0.
> I really still can’t imagine that this saved that much speed on things, or that much space.
i don’t think programmers cared about speed that much, but they tried to save every byte of memory. keep in mind that in those days you had machines with a couple of KBs of memory.
Precicely, about Jan 19 03:14:07 2038 UTC.
All that Y2k work certainly helped the tech boom *but* it has also slowed down the recovery from the bust!!
Lots of companies spent serious $$ on there Y2k upgrade/prep plans (both on suits, techies, and replacement systems – whether they were required or not) and they spent these $ when everyone else was. Supply & Demand (and greed by some) meant that those $$ spent were higher than at other points in the cycle PLUS there was a lot of cowboys doing work out there.
The write-off period of those $$ is only now just coming to an end for many of those companies (which is good) *but* CEOs etc. are still feeling pretty burnt by the shoddy work of teh cowboys and the broken ROI promises that were used to justify some of the inflated $$ charged during Y2k.
Y2K was serious. It would not have ended our lives, but disasters were close.
I was one of the IT-guys working on Y2K for a major gas company in Belgium. Some, not most, of their software was potentially dangerous because of the storage of years in 2 digits, which would result in very strange calculations when 99 becomes 0 again.
That was not the fault of the … well, who’s fault was it anyway ? The original developers who wanted to save 2 bytes per date ? The managers who did not want to spend money on hardware but had to face the cost of developers later ? This is all talk afterwards. Those who were in it, knew what the problems were and know that in the end, no-one was to blame. The problem was just there, oooooops.
We corrected 99% of the problems, but, so few people saw the results. You do not want to know the consequences of not having updated the software within that gas company ….
But, I agree with some people too. A lot of money was made because of the problems. Now, that’s plain economics. Demand and offer. Sorry if you were not there to profit of it. After 2000, European IT markets fumbled. No-one out there who cared about those people who were driven into ICT and who were now sacked ? Demand and offer again …
What Y2K did, and this is certain, is that people started to think again about their systems and not take them for granted anymore.
Next disaster, which is indeed around 2028, which will be called the Integer-problem, I guess, is coming around, but at least we know about it now, and no way people will make big bucks out of that again ….
A lot of money was spent on planning, preparations and drills.
The entire Wall Street wouldn’t have re-openned so fast after 9/11 if they didn’t have their data back-up remotely offsite (somewhere in the desert) and back-up trading offices in the jersey side.
Most of the US economy wouldn’t have functioned in 2003 summer when the entire eastern side of north america went without powers for days.
All these people just grabbed their y2k emergency binder and followed the exact instructions that they have drilled on. Those 2 events alone — enough to pay for the billions spent on y2k.
Sorry if you were not there to profit of it. After 2000, European IT markets fumbled. No-one out there who cared about those people who were driven into ICT and who were now sacked ? Demand and offer again …
Actually, I did very well out of Y2k personally & professionally.
The company I founded was bought by a fortune 500 a couple of years ago and I now consult to a number of former clients. Their IT investment strategy has definetly been coloured by the Y2k experience .. particularly when looking at “big iron systems” (ERP, CSS etc.) or “innovation systems” offered by startups.
Some of this is good (ROI cases are much more rigorously reviewed … and the Darwinian effect on ideas means that those that survive are in better shapoe), but there is also the reverse (many bright-young-things are finding it hard to get a toe-hold in the IT sector, or are having their ideas quashed by over zealous accountants).
it’s just a time change.
You obviously aren’t familiar with time-stamps.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is what I hear a lot.
…And rightly so. I can’t count the number of times something broke because the system was “upgraded” or “repaired”. This is a lose-lose situation, really. On the one hand, your responsible IT department should install the upgrades on a separate machine, run regression tests, and then deploy. However, that may take a few days, and in those days you are vulnerable.
Also, there are still so many people who are confident that any “upgrade” means “only improvements”. This is definitely not the case. I have learned the hard way to stop blindly clicking “yes” to those pop-ups saying “A new version is available, download now?”. Unfortunately, many programs only offer two buttons: “Yes, upgrade now”, and “Remind me again in three seconds” 🙁
It has always annoyed me intensely that people say “y2k was a joke, nothing happened!”. Of course nothing happened; a lot of companies and governments spent a lot of money to try and ensure nothing happened.
It’s be akin to saying your mechanic ripped you off because your car didn’t break down after he had serviced it.
I worked in a large tech firm at the time and was involved in outsourced y2k remedial work for some big petrochemical companies and some of the things that *would* have gone wrong had they not been fixed were pretty bad news.
Unfortunately, the “we wuz ripped off” motif continues and that alignd with the dotcom crash in 2000 has lead to a large distrust of IT which it is only now I feel beginning to recover from.