While 1100 came and went for most people without the slightest hitch, as a systems analyst I ran into fatal Y2K errors in a wide range of software and electronic devices. The Y2K bug was real. Here are some case studies:
APLUS Accounting Software
Accounting software was highly susceptible to Y2K bugs because of its reliance on calculations tied to future dates. My first Y2K-bug sighting occurred all the way back in March 1999, at the billing office of a small alarm company, GWBP. When GWBP’s APLUS software tried to calculate the “next billing date” for customers charged on an annual basis, the program came up with March 00 and sent out a payment demand for 99 years of service — approximately $36,000. This wouldn‘t have been so bad if the customers had just paid the bill, but after making this absurd calculation, APLUS froze up and wouldn’t print any further bills, calling attention to the situation.
Though the software had been purchased as recently as 1996, APLUS was very uncooperative about providing a fix or an upgrade, saying that technical support for the DOS-based program had been sold to another firm.
Resolution: After investigating other DOS accounting packages, GWBP decided to switch from DOS to Windows 98 — which required replacing all their computers with more powerful models — and purchased Quicken Pro software. This forced conversion of all customer accounting data, as well as retraining for all employees in the GWBP accounting office.
Generic Fax Machine
On Friday, December 31, 1999, a nondescript Japanese fax machine at a Santa Monica electronics store stopped working. It turned out the date had been set wrong, so this fax machine reached Y2K before the rest of us. But any attempt to move the year off “00” failed, and the fax machine wouldn‘t go into normal operating mode.
Resolution: The fax machine was placed in the nearest trash can, and a replacement purchased.
ETV Electronic TV Guide
This popular software package allows users to download and access TV schedules from their Windows-based computers. A week before January 1, 2000, ETV informed all users that they had to download a new version to access the year-2000 listings.
But the new version was full of bugs, including the infamous Y2K “daydate bug” — that’s where the day of week (e.g.: Thursday) doesn‘t match the calendar date (e.g.: May 11). Using ETV with the wrong day-of-week was confusing enough, but on February 29, 2000, the “leap-year bug” kicked in, and neither the day nor the date matched the correct listings. And this was in software specifically released to correct the Y2K bug!
Resolution: ETV employees provided a free download to correct their previous corrections.
Any VCR that calculates the day-of-week from the monthdayyear was susceptible to the daydate or leap-year bug, which would potentially put the timer-recording function in a tangle. While I didn’t actually experience any VCRs with this problem, several brands of satellite receivers built in the early ‘90s, with programmable timers similar to VCRs’, exhibited this failure.
Resolution: Some owners set their year to 1972, which has the same daydate relations as 2000. However, this fix didn‘t work on DOS computers and certain other devices that could be set back no earlier than 1980.
Miscellaneous Electronic Glitches
Some equipment that was powered down over the Y2K weekend wouldn’t power up in 2000, including, in my own home, a JVC VCR and a Samsung hard disk. Even odder, as midnight approached, a table lamp that hadn‘t worked in years suddenly produced a modest glow. I refer to this unexplained electrical oddity as “the miracle of the new millennium.”