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Text to accompany the January 2000 Newsletter

The bug that stayed under the rug

By Robert Uhlig

EARLY indications from the Far East and Australasia were that the Millennium bug did not trigger an electronic meltdown as some experts had predicted.

As much as 400 billion was spent around the world to eradicate the date-related computer glitch. However, when the lights stayed on in New Zealand, people asked if it had all been worthwhile. Nobody will ever know what would have happened if the huge sums had not been spent.

Computer experts said only 10 per cent of Millennium bug failures would have occurred last night. They claim that more than half of the potential damage could occur when people return to work on Tuesday. The experts say it will take months for many failures that occurred last night to become apparent.

In many cases, failures were averted because computer systems and machines containing microprocessor chips were switched off over the Millennium.

Even Disneyland's Matterhorn roller-coaster was to be shut down. However, the bug might crash thousands of machines when they are switched on in the next few days.

The Millennium began at the stroke of midnight on a tiny, normally uninhabited island in the South Pacific - the renamed Millennium Island in Kiribati. An hour later, New Zealand reported no problems other than congestion on phone lines. "The lights are still on," said Basil Logan, chairman of New Zealand's Y2K readiness commission. "The situation is normal."

Any failures were no more than sideshows. A Swiss clock website in New Zealand jumped 17 millennia at midnight, displaying the date as Jan 1, 19100.

By 1pm, when Sydney eased into the third millennium, the Australian government claimed its Y2K website had set a world record for the number of people accessing it, despite being one of the most "boring" offerings on the internet. The website took three million hits in the seven hours to 1am local time.

"It shows a phenomenal interest in Australia in relation to Y2K," Senator Ian Campbell said. "It's potentially one of the most boring websites in history as well, so that's some achievement."

As the celebrations swept west with the new day, so to some extent did vindication for those who said the Millennium bug was overhyped.

They said planes would fall out of the sky . . .
Any fears of flying were beginning to seem unfounded. In part this was because the major carriers cut their routes by 20 to 35 per cent as a normally quiet period had even fewer bookings than expected.
To some extent it was because international air traffic control operates on Greenwich Mean Time and was more likely to fail when Britain entered Jan 1.
British Airways planned to have only 15 flights in the air at midnight - less than half the number of last year. Virgin and Jersey European dismissed any charges that the Millennium bug had prompted them to cancel all flights. Egypt, Denmark, Bolivia and Thailand grounded all internal and international flights as a precaution.
Amsterdam's Schipol airport, one of the busiest in Europe, was transformed into an airliner parking lot. Only two of five runways were kept open.

They said bank accounts would be wiped clean and we would billed for 100 years' interest on mortgages . . .
No major banking problems had been reported by 6pm, when a quarter of the world had entered the Millennium. But several glitches indicated that some customers might receive unusual statements or bills over the coming months.
Already the American bank Wells Fargo has sent out certificate of deposit renewal notices dated Jan 1, 1900. And after the Millennium bug frazzled thousands of HSBC credit-card swipe machines in Britain, China hurriedly rechecked its banking systems and switched off money machines over the Millennium.
The financial sector will not be certain it has escaped the bug until every statement, insurance policy document and savings account has been updated for 2000. But it appeared that it would, at least, be a quiet Millennium night for the financial sector.
In Britain, banks were relieved at midday when it became apparent that computer systems at their sister companies in New Zealand were given the all-clear from the Millennium bug one hour after the country entered the new century. The Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority continued to work through the night to monitor any problems that might have been reported by their overseas counterparts and the potential effects they could have in Britain.

They said lifts would come to a grinding halt . . .
With most workplaces closed until Tuesday, many potential failures in automatic office systems were averted. Experts expect Thursday to be the crunch for the first sign of Millennium bug failures in automated electronic systems.

They said the internet would collapse . . .
Tonga, the first time zone to roll over into 2000, did not lose internet access as some had predicted. The internet comprises millions of routers, switches, name servers and other specialised computers that manage and carry internet traffic. A Y2K-related problem in any of these components could produce a cascading effect on internet performance.
Keynote Systems, an internet performance measurement firm, said response times were comparable to those before the New Year. Nevertheless, many leading websites and company e-mail servers shut up business as a precaution.
Ebay, the largest internet auction house, pulled the plug on its site yesterday. In Britain, Glaxo Wellcome, Vauxhall and Volkswagen shut off e-mail traffic.

They said telephone networks would crash . . .
As the Millennium passed through New Zealand, Australia, Japan and South-East Asia, the only problem telephone companies reported was coping with an inordinate number of people calling friends and relatives.
One report from Italy said Telecom Italia was having some difficulties. It was also reported that ship-to-shore calls to coastal stations in Italy were entering the system with dates of 20 years ago. The Foreign Office and Millennium bug experts had warned that Italy was the least preparedof all European nations.
Another report said the French weather forecasting organisation, Meteo France, was coming up with 19100 in its dates.

They said nuclear reactors could melt down . . .
The first Russian nuclear reactor to cross into the new Millennium survived the Y2K computer bug test, Russia's atomic power company said half an hour after the plant entered the New Year. However, an alarm sounded at a Japanese nuclear plant two minutes into the New Year.
No problem was found.

They said nuclear missiles would fire automatically . . .
Side by side, Russian and American military officers monitored the skies. It was a long way from decades of Cold War paranoia.
The former enemies created the joint unit at Peterson Air Base in Colorado to ensure there were no accidental missile launches. They were also on guard in case terrorists or hackers attempted to manipulate military computers.

They said hundreds of Millennium bug-infected ships would not be able to dock . . .
The American Coastguard said on Thursday that about two dozen of the world's 16,000 cargo ships were barred from American ports during the New Year weekend because officials were not convinced they could operate safely. Turkey closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to big ships to avoid any accidents.
In Britain, the Coastguard service reported no bug-related glitches.

They said banks would run out of cash as people raided money machines . . .
Central banks across the globe have printed tens of billions of pounds' worth of currency - from 10 to 40 per cent more than normal - to hedge against possible bank runs, although experts are fairly confident the financial sector is in good shape.
South Korean banks reported sharp increases in cash withdrawals this week. Elsewhere, the public appeared to ignore the threat, possibly because credit cards are widely used in most Western nations.

They said there would be a run on bottled water and dried food . . .
Shoppers swept supplies off the shelves yesterday from Australia to Arizona. But in Britain, supermarkets said takings were no larger than would be expected before a three-day holiday.
In New Zealand customers were taking no chances. They stocked up on water, batteries, flashlights and canned food. Australians also emptied store shelves of candles and canned food, although there were no signs of panic.
Jamaicans, moving quickly after a government warning, bought hundreds of thousands of flashlights and stocked up on water and canned goods. Long supermarket queues appeared in the Philippines too, but shoppers were buying food for New Year's parties, not because of Y2K worries. In Arizona, people bought lamps, kerosene and lamp oil in Tucson and Phoenix. Carol Gustafson, a hardware store supervisor, said: "Most people are saying this is so silly but some really have concerns."

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