Tech Tales From Hell presents..

Y2K

Andys Tech Tales It was 1998 and the world had been getting increasingly paranoid about the possibility of, well, lots of stuff really. The threat of all things computerised falling over at the turn of the year 2000 hung above the world like some great Sword of Damocles.

Naturally the media milked the whole thing and I swear some people actually believed there was a real Y2K Bug, crawling around like some clandestine computer saboteur. It didn't matter that it wouldn't be until 2001 that we technically reached the end of the century; the Millennium Bug was everywhere and the world was coming to an end.

Much of the concern centred around the ability of a computer's clock to cope with the 1999/2000 changeover. In particular, hardware and software systems which used only two digits to record the year. Would somebody born in 2000 become a hundred years old as the system registered '00' as 1900!? Certainly some programmers had been a bit blasé about incorporating Y2K compliance, but really nobody knew. Everything had to be individually tested.

On top of an already hideously busy schedule, I had to go around and test every PC in our department, of which there were approximately 200. Basic BIOS Y2K compliance included changing the system time to something like 11:58 on 31.12.1999, rebooting and seeing if the system copes with the changeover. Most did. Other tests included using third party utilities to test the various software apps installed. A lot of work indeed.

The fun really started when the powers-that-be decided that the tech boys, being tech boys, could take on not just the IT systems but everything with an embedded chip (and sometimes not). And so it was, "Can you take a look at the photocopier, Andy?" and "I'm not sure about my paper shredder." The real clincher for me was when the Director of Nursing asked me to check the hospital fire alarm system for Y2K compliance.

The moral: When you're the computer tech, some people will assume that you can handle anything mildly electronic or electrical in nature. Beware.

- AndyM

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