Y2K Bugs That Have Already Hit
Computers that assume that the year starts with "19" will malfunction in the year 2000. Depending on how their software was written, the effect could be trivial or it could crash the system.
What effects might the Y2K bug have on your daily life? To answer that question, take a look at a few of the hundreds of Y2K-related bugs that have already occurred.
Problems Caused By Testing
The following real-world Y2K problems occurred when organizations tested their computers by setting the date ahead to 2000. These problems have all been fixed.
In a 1993 test, U.S. missile warning systems completely shut down.
In a March 1998 test, a computer controlling a German city's power grid flashed thousands of error messages before crashing. Electricity did not go out, but it took seven months to correct the problem.
In a 1998 test, a California utility accidentally dumped 4 million gallons of raw sewage into a park after a sewer gate failed.
In a February 1999 test, computers that monitor plant conditions at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Reactor completely shut down -- including the back-up computer.
Problems Caused By Fixes
In many cases, repairing old programs was so difficult that businesses simply wrote new ones. However, hastily-written new software tends to have other bugs:
In August 1999, 100,000 London residents were without power for several days when new (but faulty) Y2K-ready meters were installed.
In November 1999, a new Y2K-ready accounting system at the Philadelphia School District mailed out paychecks to some former employees -- including some who were deceased.
In December 1999, a Kentucky tobacco market ran into problems when upgrading to a new Y2K-ready system, causing some companies to be paid late.
Unexpected Y2K Bugs
The Y2K bug itself has reared its head many times in 1999. The following are all examples of Y2K bugs that weren't discovered until they were triggered:
In January 1999, an oil company's crane stopped working because it thought it was a century overdue for an inspection.
In January 1999, the Chinese government printed thousands of passports with expiration dates in 1904.
In spring 1999, Maine owners of year-2000 model cars received titles for "horseless carriages," the category used for cars built before 1916. The problem was quickly fixed.
In December 1999, the Bermuda Stock Exchange began listing dividend payout dates for two stocks as 1900.
In December 1999, residents in Bellevue, Washington, and West Des Moines, Iowa, received sewer-and-water bills with a due date in January 1900. The printing error did not have any serious effect.
In late December 1999, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida announced that it expected doctors to be unable to verify patients' insurance eligibility in January due to Y2K bugs. The insurer will allow doctors to accept ID cards as proof of eligibility, and told doctors to assume that no one met their deductible in January 2000.
As you can see, most of the problems will be trivial, but annoying. Someone once predicted that the Y2K bug will be like "walking into a cloud of mosquitos." Expect to see "1900" in a lot of places.
|Myth: Complete Shutdown|
When most people hear that a computer system has a Y2K problem, they assume the worst, but that's usually not the case. For example, nuclear power plants likely have Y2K problems somewhere -- but they won't cause a radiation-spewing meltdown. More likely, the bug would show up in a clock punching the wrong date on a worker's time card.
|Myth: Y2K Only Affects Older Computers|
The Y2K bug is often defined as "older computers" misreading the date. However, very recent programs have had Y2K bugs. For example, in December 1999, Microsoft announced changes in the Year 2000 compliance status of more than 500 of its products, including some as recent as Excel 2000. As of late December, Microsoft still has not released Y2K fixes for all its software.