Lucas van Vorsterman. Avarice
ATTENTION – QUESTION!
Even at the beginning of this millennium, home computer memory exceeded a billion bytes — that’s a lot.
Nevertheless, the ability to save two bytes seemed important to someone. And as a result, the forecast of the possible damage from the savings was about half a trillion dollars – it looks like it happened somewhere!
What could have caused such damage?
The answer is a little later.
The opinion was expressed that the well-known Motorola company is the root cause of all this evil. It was the company that, in some so dozen overdue years, developed the MC146818 hardware real-time clock microcircuit, in which, to save, the year was represented by only two digits.
Secondly, no less insidious villain was IBM, which used, such a bad, this very scheme when developing the IBM PC AT computer (in its predecessors like the PC HT, not to mention some earlier models, there were no non-volatile clocks at all) …
This microcircuit was produced by many under different names. Of course, it quickly became obsolete (everything quickly becomes obsolete in the computer world), but the new circuits used a similar architecture to avoid possible incompatibility with old software.
At first, no one noticed any contradictions with our habits. I still remember the Unified System of Design Documentation adopted during the years of my work at the Research Institute ESKD. It specifically said that dates are written in six digits: two for the day, month and year.
The American Bob Bemer was the first to notice the danger – while developing software related to genealogy back in 1958, he noticed that two digits for the year number may not be enough. But they did not pay attention to his warnings – there was enough time, they say!
And the real serious alarm was raised by IBM employee, Canadian programmer Peter de Jager. Back in 1978, he noticed that a computer, seeing a year number of two zeros, would decide that it was 1900, with all the consequences. The management told him that there was no need to worry for another 22 years.
But already in 1989, the same Peter de Jaeger, working for a company that developed a certain office system, noticed that on January 1, 1990, the whole system “was frozen” – its super-economical developers assigned only one digit to the year number! “What will happen in 2000?” he thought.
He set up an experiment on his computer – he set the time corresponding to a few minutes until midnight on December 31, 1999. These minutes passed – and the date changed to 1984 (I don’t understand why this is so, but it’s still quite dangerous!).
“What if this happens all over the world?” – thought de Jager and already in 1993 published an article in Computerworld magazine with the bright title “Doomsday 2000”. It was then that a rather serious panic began – everyone began to figure out what would actually happen.
The first thing to do for any new problem is to come up with a name. At first, they created a bunch of abbreviations that didn’t take root like CDC (Change Date jf Century) or FADL (False At Date Logic). They didn’t take root.
The author of the stuck version, most likely, was a programmer from Massachusetts, David Eddy. In an email dated June 12, 1995, he called this problem Y2K (from Year, and two prefixed with K, for programmers means 1000 (strictly speaking, 1024, but who counts it?).
As secondary, the names “Millennium Bug”, that is, “Millennium Error”, and the simple, unpretentious “Problem 2000” have stuck. Now there were enough names, even more than required – it was possible to deal with the problem itself, especially since it had already begun.
Back in the late 80s, the British grocery chain received a batch of canned food with a shelf life of January 1, 2000 – that is, 01.01.00. The computer system considered that the canned food should have deteriorated in January 1900, and demanded that the illiquid had to be disposed of immediately.
And in mid-1997, Chrysler decided to check what would happen and set the clock of its computers to December 31, 1999. A real nightmare began: it was impossible for anyone to pay a salary, all the checkpoints were closed, no one was allowed into the plant, and they were not allowed to go.
The dark prophecies intensified. After all, computers were already a very important part of the technological sphere of the whole world even then. What if they all fail at once? The mass of the people were terribly frightened. Especially strong are those who do not understand computers.
Many believed that on the first day of the new millennium, the computer systems of all banks would fail. It will not be possible not only to put money into the account (it is half the trouble), but also to get at least a trifle for beer. All credit cards will be invalid and no purchase will be paid for – who then will sell something?
Since it was impossible to imagine more or less advanced transport even then without computers, they expected collisions of trains, disappearance of buses from routes, massive hit of ships on rocks and shoals, crashes of planes and a lot of car accidents.
People especially sensitive to rumors prepared for such happiness as best they could. We stocked up with cash in case of ATM failure, bought food and Coca-Cola if payment systems suddenly barked, and some, without further ado, hid in the basements. You never know what …
CAUTION – CORRECT ANSWER!
You probably already understood everything – the immoderate craving of greedy programmers for insignificant savings brought the Y2K threat “Problems 2000” to the world.
The world was threatened with real troubles, so it was necessary to prepare for them in advance and, if possible, avoid them.
WHAT TO DO?
When the governments of large countries realized the reality of the problem, they began to solve it using the proven method of capital administration: if there is a problem – put a manager. More than 120 countries have formed Y2KCC – the International Y2K Cooperation Center with an office in Washington.
The US government has adopted a three-step approach: (1) advocacy, (2) monitoring and evaluation, and (3) contingency planning and management. They even adopted a special “Law of the Year 2000”.
The British government has divided all companies and institutions according to a traffic light scheme: from green “no problem” to red “serious doubts that the work can be completed on time.” Many organizations completed work much ahead of schedule.
A number of countries – Norway, Finland, Romania – have changed the identification numbers assigned to each person. The previous year of birth was displayed in two numbers, and this already led to confusion, since some managed to live more than a hundred years.
Ironically, the 1999 Y2KCC report indicated that Uganda is one of the best countries in the world in tackling this problem, better prepared than Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria. How they did it, I don’t know – maybe there were simply no computers there yet …
But to whom Y2K was like a balm for the soul, it is all sorts of conspiracy theorists, marginal groups, religious sects, lovers of conspiracy theories and other similar people. They really liked this situation, allowing them to do what they love – to frighten.
Some preachers directly stated through the newspapers that something terrible is coming, and this is good, because it will shake and humble the people, and it will ultimately lead to religious revival, the creation of the Kingdom of God on earth and the complete triumph of their particular church.
Many large meetinghouses of fundamentalists at the time turned into a kind of flea markets, where there was a lively trade in items that could be useful for survival in this situation – from gold coins to wood stoves.
Australian Col Stringer later said: “Fearful writers have sold over 45 million books, citing every imaginable civil war-related disaster, of planes falling from the sky, at the end of the civilized world as we know it.”
What are the results of this orgy? The same Col Stringer summed up: “Not a single bank went bankrupt, not a single plane crashed, not a single war or civil war began. Yet none of these fateful prophets ever apologized for their intimidation tactics”.
AND WHAT WAS?
Perhaps there was some benefit from the noise about Y2K – almost everyone managed to make the necessary changes to computer programs and databases, and nothing particularly significant happened. But to say that nothing happened at all would be wrong.
A customer of a video rental shop in New York returned the cassette and received a bill for $ 91,250 in fines for a 100-year delay. The error was immediately corrected and apologized.
Someone from Germany received a transfer from December 30, 1899 in the amount of more than $ 6,000,000 to the account of a certain resident of Germany. Probably, he was then very offended to return the money …
In two Australian states, bus ticket vending machines began to print the date of sale on them as 1900. Scanners on buses did not accept these tickets, although they were paid for with absolutely real money.
In the Japanese city of Ishikawa, radiation monitoring equipment went out of order at exactly midnight, and an alarm went off at the nuclear power plant in the city of Onagawa two minutes after midnight. To everyone’s delight,it was the false alarm.
Well, in the United States, computers at the ground control station stopped processing information from reconnaissance satellites. The military restored all normal functions in about two days. Then it turned out that not Y2K was to blame, but a patch to fix it.
Well, a little more on the little things. All planes landed, trains did not collide, ships did not sink, banks did not go bankrupt, ATMs regularly issued money. Everything worked out.
People like horror stories that aren’t really dangerous. Before the Millennium, articles about the possible dire consequences of Y2K appeared continuously, everyone read them, and few people did not worry at all. And when it passed and nothing happened, they forgot instantly.
The cost of preparing for Y2K came out about the same as projected – about $ 300 billion was enough, maybe there was even more left. So in a material sense, Y2K has really become a problem for humanity. It’s good that only in it.
When we looked at the actions of those who cried out the greatest disasters with an impartial look, it turned out that their activities brought them considerable profits – from the sale of survival kits to the huge circulation of panic books. When you don’t know what it’s about, it’s about money.
One academician said: “The activity on the Y2K issue is scandalous because it is understandable to anyone, even a layperson. There is budget money. You can create commissions, rallies, visiting sessions using it … Free money, why not grab it?”
Problem 2000 is not the last of its kind. On January 19, 2038, all 32-bit computers will overflow the time counter in Linux. November 20, 2286, to store time in seconds, you need 11 digits instead of 10. In 30828, the time will overflow in the format required for the NTFS file system. You can start to be afraid …
And one more thing, I almost forgot, but this is very important – don’t save too much! And it happens that you save some trifle, like two bytes for each date, and then you lose 300 billion, and absolutely not hryvnia! Miser pays twice.