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Y2K was Twenty Years Ago? My Strange Year 2000 Story

The date was January 1, 1996 — four years before Y2K. My friend James and I, worked in IT together at a law firm. Something happened on that date that really rattled me. We had a business-class DSL communication line that connected our main office to a branch office. It suddenly went down shortly after the clock rolled over to January 1. We called the phone company but they confirmed that the circuit was fine. After exhausting all possible causes, we decided that the only factor of significance was the change in date/year. So we set the date back to 12/31/1995 on the DSL modem. The circuit quickly started working again.

“Holy crap! That’s crazy!”, we thought. We immediately tried to contact the DSL modem manufacturer, but their line was consistently busy. We eventually learned that there was a software defect with the modem that involved 1996 being a leap year which the programmers failed to consider. So their code stopped working when the date rolled over into 1996 – a leap year.

This was our introduction into how a software defect that involved a date rollover could cause something to stop working entirely.

It’s startling for me to realize it’s now been twenty years since Y2K. In 1999, many of us were at least anxious about 12/31/99. I was an IT Director at a law firm at the time. My team and I spent many months updating and testing systems in preparation for the rollover from ’99’ to ’00’.

When the issue started getting prominent media attention in late 1997 and early 1998, I was very skeptical about it being end-of-world caliber chaos. I knew it could definitely cause problems! But end-of-world stuff?

I had one IT friend with a very large family, who felt very differently. I’ll call him “Bob” (not his real name). He had become convinced that the banks would collapse, utilities would fail, and our modern infrastructures would stop working. He had embraced the writings from several online extremists who preached this apocalyptic Y2K gospel, and they often wove religious views into their perspectives.

He shared websites and articles with me, and I admit, some of it was compelling. I ended up reading quite a lot about our electric power grid, banking systems, gas utilities, automated inventory control, and more. So one of the positive side benefits to it all for me was a greater understanding of how things work. And for a while, I grew alarmed about the potential calamity that could happen.

In 1998, my family and I decided to buy a home in a rural area that sat on 6 acres of land. We needed a bigger house for our five kids, and the thought of raising some chickens or other animals was appealing. So I labored every night after dinner to improve our 3-bedroom home, sell it, and then buy our new home in the country. We made that move just before Thanksgiving in 1998. In 1999, we took some fairly reasonable precautions by acquiring some water storage containers and seeds for planting vegetables. We also stocked up on some canned foods, and we figured it would all get used regardless of any dire outcomes.

My friend, “Bob”, took things quite a bit further. He also bought a rural home in the country. But Bob dug a well that could be powered by hand to draw water, and he also purchased and buried food in the ground (yes, wow), and he bought a couple of AR-15 assault rifles with LOTS of ammo for the pending apocalypse. He also took the extra precaution of installing seismic ground sensors that could detect people who came onto his property.

(Not Bob’s pantry but you get the idea)

Bob was convinced that the banks and financial institutions were going to collapse, and with this mindset, he maxed out credit cards in his pursuit of gear and goods. Unfortunately for Bob, Y2K was all just a little blip and he was now in severe debt when the new year arrived.

Like everyone else, I was happy to see that nothing horrific or catastrophic happened when January 1, 2000 rolled around. And unlike Bob, I didn’t go into any significant debt to prepare. The one thing that does bother me though about Y2K is the sentiment that nothing was ever going to happen. On the contrary, software developers and technology professionals spent countless hours to update code and systems before 2000. Had they not done so, we would have faced some real dire consequences in our world, but I am grateful to my colleagues who worked hard before January 1 so that it turned out to be just another day on the calendar. And twenty years later, we can look back on it and say, “meh”.

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