|The Y2K (Year 2000) bug|
| With just weeks
to January 1, 2000, it seems the Y2K bug is on many people's minds the world
over, especially in highly computerized societies. The Year 2000 problem
is a 40-year old story of human fraility: greed, shortsightedness and a
tendency to rush into new technologies before thinking them through. Back
in the 1950s, data-storage on punch cards on bulky computers the size of
office cubicles was precious. To save space on the 80-column punch cards
used just two digits to represent the year in dates, for example 57, instead
of 1957. In the year 2000, many computers will crash when they encounter
double-zero dates, or simply register it as 1900, instead of 2000.
One-time IBM whiz programmer, Robert Bemer, first raised the alarm in 1971, then again in 1979, but was relatively unheeded. In 1991, computer operator Canadian Peter de Jager started drawing public attention to the problem, and by 1995, was giving 85 lectures a year on the topic, and posting regular updates to his website, www.year2000.com, the first of its kind. Y2K awareness grew only from 1995 onwards, with the media, Congress and the White House starting to take a serious view of the Y2K bug. In many cases, the original programming language in computers, COBOL (common business-oreinted language) has been so altered, the date locations have been lost. The amount of code to be checked manually has grown to a staggering 1.2 trillion lines, and programmers are not even sure which fixes will work. Estimates for the cost of the fix in the U.S. alone range from $50 billion to $600 billion. As for Y2K compliance in Asian economies still struggling with recession? Unlikely.
No one really knows what will happen when 01-01-00 rolls around. A major global crisis might occur with water and electricity supplies are disrupted, bank accounts wiped out, and airplane/ ship navigational systems failing, because of the computer glitch. On the other hand, the transition may be smoother than expected, with minor disruptions to the public. One thing is for sure, our folly which has spanned 40 years, will not be one of the 20th century's proud moments.
1890 Herman Hollerith develops an electrically driven census system that reads punch cards. Six years later, he founds the company that eventually becomes IBM.
1945 John Mauchley and Presper Eckert build ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer, and go on to make UNIVAC, the first computer sold commercially, running on Hollerith cards.
1957 Grace Murray Hopper creates Flow-matic, the first computer language written in plain English. Two years later, it forms the basis of COBOL - a compromise language of communications for business computers. To save precious room on the cards, years are abbreviated to two digits (e.g., 1957 is represented as 57).
1960 Foreseeing problems later on, Robert Bemer and 47 other computer scientists begin lobbying for the four-digit year.
1964 IBM introduces the spectacularly successful System/ 360 mainframe, which retains the two-digit year
1967 The White House orders the National Bureau of Standards to settle the digits debate. Under pressure from the Pentagon , the bureau sticks with the two-digit year.
1979 Robert Bemer makes the first widely publicized prediction of the Y2K crisis, in the journal Interface Age. There is little reaction; he retires three years later.
1993 Curious watchers at NORAD turn their computer clocks forward to Jan 1, 2000 - the ICBM alert system crashes.
1993 Peter de Jager's "Doomsday 2000" article appears in Computerworld. He starts giving lectures in the Y2K problem.
1995 IBM finally acknowledges the Y2K bug, announcing plans to help its customers make "timely year 2000 transitions".
1996 Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan gets the Congressional Research Service to write its first report on Y2K. He then warns President Clinton of the "Year 2000 time bomb".
1997 Trading starts on the "De Jager Year 2000" - a collection of stock operatios in 18 bug-fixing firms, It jumps 100% in its first year of operation. Y2K consultants, among them the Gartner Group, starts cashing in.
1997 At an industry summit, Bill Gates says Y2K fears are unfounded. A year later, Microsoft admits being "slow" on combating the problem.
1998 Y2K merchandize (mugs, clocks and caps) goes on sale. The White House appoints John Koskinen to tackle the problem. Most government agancies fail in Y2K readiness.
1999 Many of the world's computers are still not Y2K compliant.
2000 January 1: ???
Adapted from Time
Asia, January 18, 1999. © Time Inc.
For over half of 1999, Kosovo, Serbia, was the site of dramatic conflict between the Serbs and the Kosovar ethnic Albanians. In August 1998, after the Serbian forces started targeting Albanians, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) threatened to launch air strikes against Serbian military targets. President Milosevic (of Federation of Yugoslavia which is made of Serbia and Montenegro) agreed to withdraw Serbian troops from Kosovo.
In February 1999, Albanians and Serbs met in France for peace talks. However, a peace plan signed by the ethnic Albanians was rejected by the Serbs on March 18. Therefore, on March 24, NATO launched air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. NATO bombing campaign intensified in April and throughout May NATO forces heightened the pace of the air war.
By the end of May, NATO fleet had expanded to about 1,000 aircrafts—more than twice the number committed to the air campaign when it began in March 1999. One NATO airstrike hit the China's embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia's capital. While NATO said the bombing was an accident, angry protests against the United States and the NATO campaign erupted in China.
On June 3, after NATO
had dropped 28,000 bombs, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed
on to all of NATO's key demands for ending the 78-day air war. These demands
included the removal of all FRY and Serbian forces from Kosovo, a NATO-led
peacekeeping force in Kosovo, and the safe return of more than 800,000
Kosovar ethnic Albanians who had fled their homes.