The Y2K Problem

Donald Shephard

Sam-Don Stour was a collector. He had enough flour stashed away to bake his daily bread 365 times. He had enough bottled water to float a battle ship and 100 pounds of tea to flavor Boston harbor. Much to his wife's chagrin, he had stowed toilet paper above every top shelf in every closet in the house. He had a cellar full of salami and wine and an attic bulging with dry goods. His garage contained 10 twenty five gallon drums of regular gasoline and another drum of 10-30 weight oil. He was ready for anything the Y2K problem could bring.

Sam-Don had planned everything for the disastrous change in millennia. As a cryptologist, he was consumed by ways to ensure electronic communications are kept private and secure. He was occasionally consulted on ways to crack other people's codes. He was on the fringe of conspiracy theorists, a pessimist by nature, and pragmatic to the core.

Sam-Don began collecting supplies on February 25, 1999, when he read this article in a newspaper.

Dateline Washington (AP)

Russian missiles, Chinese power systems, and

Mid-East shipping could all face breakdowns

because many foreign countries are failing to

face up to the seriousness of the Year 2000

computer problem, the CIA told Congress

on Wednesday.

Sam-Don pondered on the irony of the so-called "Y2K problem". It was this kind of short hand communication which had caused the problem in the first place. As a good conservative patriot, he read the article and, immediately planned his survival supplies. He developed a spread sheet to track his monthly expenditures on stores, quickly designed a database for all the provisions he needed, and even bought a second wall-sized television in case the first failed. Purchasing a generator to keep it supplied with electricity was only logical. He stored $17, 749 in mattresses throughout the house.

Mr. Stour searched the Internet for survival tips and cross-referenced them with his supply database. By December 1999 he was ready for the worst. He celebrated Christmas with his family with a sense of great satisfaction tinged with trepidation. He was ready, his intelligence had served him well once more, but he was afraid of the great unknown. How devastating would the Y2K disasters be? Would world economy grind to a halt? What else, besides breathalyzers, would cease to function?

Sam-Don's one claim to fame was his creation of the computer program which timed the descent of the ball in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve. Each year he invited his friends and family to watch as his program sent thousands of revelers into ecstasy. Once again, he sent e-mail invitations to all his friends and family. He gathered them all around him on New Year's Eve, New Century's Eve, no more - New Millennium's Eve. They met in what was referred to as Sam-Don's survival bunker. The lively party became hushed as the celebration in New York's Times Square flashed on the wall-sized TV screen. What was going to happen? Was this the end of the electronic world as we had come to know it? Was traffic on the Super-Highway about to come to a screeching halt? The tension in Times Square was palpable - the silence eerie. Dick Clark was interviewing Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, just as the giant hands of the clock came together.

All eyes in Times Square and most of them across America, were on the gigantic mirrored ball waiting for it to fall, triggered by an electronic mechanism, timed by a signal from Greenwich, England. The electrons raced from Greenwich to Big Ben in Westminster at the speed of light. They leapt up to a satellite in geocentric orbit above the Atlantic and swept down again to the receiver in the computerized mechanism which was to control the descent of the ball.

Still at the speed of light, the signal hit the timing mechanism at precisely 11:49.998, December 31, 1999 leaving exactly two nanoseconds for Sam-Don's program to perform its function before the count-down. The signal flashed into the microchip controlling the electromagnetic release valve. It ran through the steps of Sam's program.

Sam-Don and most of the rest of America and many others around the world watched as 750,000 New Yorkers peered up at the ball. The world listened as the celebrants counted down. 10 - 9 - 8. Sam smiled at his wife. 7 - 6- 5 He took a premature sip of champagne. 4 - 3 - 2 He took another sip. 1...Sam's jaw dropped... but the ball did not.

The only Y2K computer glitch in the whole world was the one that did not drop the ball in Times Square. Nothing else went wrong. Nothing.

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