What is Y2K Bug? Read Here!
Y2K bug: This was a bug which rose due to the inability of the computer to differentiate between the years– 1900 and 2000. The 1900 and 2000 both were represented as 00 and not 1900 and 2000.
Supposedly, on January 1, 2000, the “Millennium Bug” was going to destroy the world . This bug involved numerous computer systems misinterpreting the year 2000 as 1900, resulting in planes falling out of the sky, satellites going wrong and all the calculators going to silicon heaven; the most extreme fears involved an accidental nuclear war, or even machines coming to life and attacking humans like something out of The Terminator.
Most of the actual problems were just cosmetic, such as programs displaying the year after “1999” as “19100,” or desktop internal clocks resetting to 1981 as a crash-preventing exception.
What had happened was, computer memory and disk space was extremely expensive. By comparison, today a gigabyte of RAM (roughly 1.4 million kilobytes) for your computer is maybe $15, and a two-terabyte (about 20,000 times 100 megabytes) hard drive (about the size of two packs of playing cards) might be $100 or less.
But go back to 1970, and one kilobyte of RAM is about a thousand dollars, a 100-megabyte hard drive (about the size of a dishwasher) might cost $12,000.
The replacement disk packs (a foot high and the circumference of a dinner plate) were around $800 (for comparison, a brand-new VW Beetle was just under $2,000). So they needed to find ways to use less internal RAM and less disk space in storing information on a computer.
One way to save money was to store dates in a short form. So, typically six digits stored internally as (and punctuation added at display time), so November 27, 1960 coded as 112760. Now, a month later you can get by adding 1 to the second digit.
The new date is later than the original one. Now, however, say you have a date of November 15, 1992 (111592), and you add eight years to it, you get 111500 or 111600, depending on how it’s stored, which, if the program wasn’t prepare for it, would consider it not 2000, but 1900.
Either the difference between the two is a negative amount, or instead of eight years’ difference computed, 92 year compute. The issue here is, if you have bought something and charge it to your credit card on the last week of 1999, and your bill will come in a month later. You might get bill for 99 years of compound interest at 21%! It’d be like the Evil Counterpart of the Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit.
This considered most serious in the case of process software. Say you’re cooking chemicals in a plant that runs 24/7, where you have to heat a batch for exactly 37 hours at 1200 degrees, then move to the next process, when the calendar turns over.
The batch get kick out too soon, or it sits in too long and potentially explosions could occur, or perhaps a batch of something that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to make ruined. Or a system checks the date, realizes it’s been running for 99 years with no maintenance, and shuts itself down for safety.
If it happens to be the equipment that runs the electricity for your grid, you’ve got no power in the middle of winter (or summer in the Southern Hemisphere: which is just as bad, if not worse, since at least you can heat your house without power; air conditioning pretty much needs electricity, and in many places, no AC means heatstroke). T
here were also other potential scenarios, all bad. Of course, planes, satellites and calculators didn’t do that, much to the joy of aviators, astronomers, and calculus students. But the bug was an opportunity for writers to come up with doomsday stories, and a few of them even wrote of actual insects (groan-worthy though that may sound).
Some newspapers even had a weekly column in their tech section throughout 1999, detailing how things were going in the battle against the bug.
At The End:
Finally, January 1, 2000 arrived, and aside from a few glitches here and there, not much happened. Certainly nothing that could be called “apocalyptic.”
Thus, there is now a retrospective debate as to whether people blow out of proportion Y2K looking for an excuse to panic, by the computer industry who were looking to sell people upgrades to their hardware and software with the promise of Y2K Bug compatibility. By people looking for an excuse to damn the demon computer.
If the disaster was indeed a possibility and was only averte by thousands of man-hours of programmers working tirelessly to avoid a technological apocalypse.
For the sequel to the Bug itself, watch for the Year 2038 problem (when the UNIX system time integer exhausts its 32 bits). Fortunately, by that point, we’ll certainly be using 64-bit time.
However, many embedded systems still use 32-bit time as of now. However due to increasingly rapid change of digital technology, especially on embedded systems.
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