Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Happy Y2K

This happened in 1999, the year preceding the last year of the 20th Century. At that time, the date being mentioned in computers was like this: DDMMYY. The date, month and the year were all mentioned in 2 digits, e.g., the 11th May, 1998 was mentioned as 110598. This made the year 2000 indistinguishable from the year 1900. It was feared that there would be a lot of problems in computers after 31.12.1999. If the year 2000 would be marked as 00, computers would take it as 1900.

The perception all over the world was that flights during the night of December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000 would be affected in midair and on the ground. In India, computerised airline and railway ticketing would be affected. It would be difficult to disburse salaries and wages. Computerised Control Rooms in power plants would not function properly and this would hit power supply. Business and industries, Stock Exchanges, banks and other investment bodies would be seriously disturbed.  It was also feared that health records and patients’ treatment would go haywire. There were also worries about traffic lights becoming quizzical. It was apprehended that even televisions and microwaves would be seriously affected.

Image Source: Google

Even before the start of the year, it was feared that computers would malfunction after the 9th September 1999 (9/9/99) because the earlier programmers used a series of 9s to indicate the end a programme.

These apprehensions were called ‘Millennium Bug’, ‘Year 2000 Problem’ or in its abbreviated form, ‘Y2K Bug’ (K represents a thousand in the metric system). The then widespread scare of Y2K Bug can be imagined by the fact that the British Government went to the extent of making its armed forces ready to assist the local police in time if utilities, transportation systems or emergency services failed!

Banks in India made all-out efforts to meet the challenge of the possible crash and to comply with Y2K norms. I remember that new computer hardware items being purchased at that time had a label ‘Y2K COMPLIANT’ on them.

In 1999, i was working as Chief Manager of a Branch. We were advised to be in readiness to face any eventuality. There were ‘practice runs’ of doing everything manually in case computers fail. So, old-type registers were brought in and all transactions were first entered manually as was being done before computerisation. And then the work was done a second time by using computers. The idea was that in case computers fail at midnight of the 31st December, 1999, Banks would be conversant to put through the transactions in registers manually.

Then the D-Day (Dreaded or Deliverance) or D-Night came. 31.12.1999      

After doing the transactions normally (with computers), on 31.12.1999, we closed the transactions. We had earlier been advised by our Controlling Office that all Officers must stay in the Branch that night. Also as advised, we had intimated the local Police Station that we would stay in the Branch that night. Of course, we had locked the main entrance and the door next to it from inside.

Then the mid-night hour struck.

It was 01.01.2000!

We opened one computer; the data were intact and it worked normally! We opened a second and then a third computer. The data were intact!! Then we opened all the other computers; all the data were intact!!!  And all computers worked normally!                
“HAPPY Y2K!”, we all shouted and hugged each other.

The reference to striking of the midnight hour reminds me of the famous address of Jawahar Lal Nehru to the Constituent Assembly of India at the midnight of August 14-15, 1947, when India became independent.  He started his address with, "At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to new life and freedom."
At the midnight hour of December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000, computers the world over got free from the Y2K bug!
The feared Y2K problem at the striking of the midnight hour on the 31st December, 1999 also reminds me of the letters between my two daughters and my father-in-law. They were in regular correspondence. As was the practice then, my daughters would write the year in the dates in two digits. My father-in-law was a stickler of the rule that years should be written in full, i.e., in four digits. So, when my daughters would mention ‘89’ meaning 1989, he used to write back, “I received your letter of 19 hundred years ago.” taking ‘89’ as 89 AD.            

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