Search This Blog

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Millennium cockroach

Remember the panic at midnight on December 31, 1999?  Come now, it wasn't all that long ago. Are you sure you don't remember it?  Everyone was scared stiff that the computers would fail as they tried to turn 99 into 00, and planes would fall out of the sky. And it was all meant to start in New Zealand.

The DomPost carries a memory prod today, penned by Alex Fensome.

AT one minute to midnight on December 31, 1999, a group of media, techies and government personnel sat together in a bunker underneath the Beehive.
As the clock ticked round to launch the new millennium, they waited in readiness for a disaster.
Midnight came and nothing happened. The lights stayed on. ATMs did not spew out wads of cash. The toilets still flushed.
After 30 seconds, they celebrated with handshakes and New Year wishes. The Millennium Bug appeared to have come to nothing.
"There are fireworks over Wellington and the lights are still on," Y2K Readiness Commission chairman Basil Logan told reporters upstairs, as he was overshadowed by a dramatic display of pyrotechnics.
"I guess Wellington is in good shape."
Because New Zealand was the first developed country to see the millennium, it was seen as a global early-warning station or a guinea pig.
There were fears the change to the year 2000 would see mass malfunctions in critical systems across hospitals, air traffic control, sewerage, power, communications . . . the list was practically endless.
According to doomsayers, it would all be caused by the computer programs' inability to cope with the date change from 99 to 00. At the very worst there were fears that ageing missile launch systems in the United States and Russia would turn the world into a nuclear fireball.
The Readiness Commission, set up by the National government, tried to raise awareness of the problem and get organisations - particularly councils - to get themselves fixed up.
It spent $2.5 million warning the public to get ready to go without water, power and sewerage for three days after midnight on December 31.
They used "Ken", an animated cockroach, to spread the message. It worked. Throughout 1999, both The Evening Post and The Dominion ran dozens of articles about Y2K readiness.
Millions of dollars were spent on fixes and back-up plans by businesses - Telecom spent more than $100m on Y2K, while national grid operator Transpower had six helicopters on standby to fly technicians around the country if needed.
In December, there was a run on portable toilets in Wellington, as people worried the sewerage system would break down. The Readiness Commission and civil defence ministry set up a monitoring centre in the Beehive, staffed by more than 50 people, for Millennium Eve.
Of course it turned out nothing happened.
Globally, billions had been spent on Y2K readiness. There were some minor glitches, but nothing like the apocalypse some had predicted.
It is still not really clear whether the lack of incident was down to preparation, or if there had never been much to worry about at all.
"It is tempting to look back on the Y2K warnings and dismiss them as exaggeration or even conspiracy," The Dominion wrote on January 2, 2000.
"Perhaps the auspicious date encouraged some dark millennial fears. But a simple programming bug pushed the world into uncharted territory of risk and the minor faults that have emerged since January 1 tend to vindicate the work done."

No comments: