back to article Today's budget for application improvements is brought to you by the letters "Y", "K" and the number "2"

Welcome to Y2K, a series of tales from Register readers who found themselves at the sharp, pointy end of the turn of the century IT panic of two decades ago. Today's tale comes from Stephen, a chap who modestly lays claim to nearly 40 years of commercial PC experience. He clearly must have been very naughty in a previous life …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    At departmental level, that's almost unheard of

    1. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Creativity

      Trust me when it comes to getting money some departments can be quite creative.

    2. OptOut

      Re: Creativity

      I learned a valuable lesson early on in my career when I asked our Group Accountant what the actual cost of xxx was. His reply: "Well that depends on what you want the information for...."

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Creativity

        Corporate finance is weird. Especially, but not only, in public services.

        It's all about show, not reality. So all sorts of faintly surreal things happen to keep teh organisations working.

        Not allowed to spend more than £x00 in one purchase without authorisation from on high? OK break the cost into several components.

        Can't hold budget over until you're ready to buy an item in May? Buy some random item in March and return it for a credit note.

        And of course the oft repeated spending of the budget any way you can because otherwise the beancounters will reduce it for next year when, due to purchasing cycles that don't match financial years, demand will be higher.

        How much has been wasted in cash and staff time by all this is probably beyond human comprehension.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Creativity

      "that's almost unheard of"

      That's because people know better than to blab.

      1. 's water music

        Re: Creativity

        snitches get stitches

  2. LoPath
    Facepalm okay?

    Reminds me of when the US Dept of Defense when on their tizzy about getting everything Y2K compliant. Anything that plugged into an electrical outlet had to get a sticker. Anything found to be non-compliant got put on a spreadsheet for funding to replace it. I got to take a peek at that list for our base and saw that the medical squadron had a dozen VCR's on the list. Of course everyone got what they wanted... but I couldn't help but wonder if the clock on the VCR's would flash 13:00 instead of 12:00?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: okay?

      No, the clock flashed 88:88 ... and as any fule kno, that punts the problem 76:88 down the line and so is no longer our issue.

      1. EVP

        Re: okay?

        88:88... if 7-segment display had been invented before the clock, we would be living in a world of 88 hour days and 88 minute hours.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: okay?

          Probably not ... We'd be living in an octal world. Then again, you need a clock to tell an LED to do anything useful, so time had to be invented first regardless.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: okay?

      I had a VHS VCR (JVC I think) that was not Y2K-ish compliant, you couldn't set the internal clock past a certain date (not sure if it was 31/12/1999, or a later year, might have been 2004) and therefore couldn't set up timed recordings after that date.

      Each January 1st I had to find another year in the 1990-2003 range with the same date/day-of-week mapping & set the clock to that. Worked fine well into the 2000's

      1. Roger Lipscombe

        Re: okay?

        My father was renting a VCR (also JVC, I think) that was no longer "supported" past Y2K, so the rental company simply sent him a new one in late '99. They didn't ask for the old one back, so I did some Y2K checks -- can I set the clock to some time in 2000, does it deal with the leap year properly, can I schedule a few recordings, etc.?

        It all passed, so -- hey -- free VCR, I guess!

      2. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: okay?

        I just used some black tape to cover the clock of the VCR and put a clock near it.

        The only thing the VCR used the clock for was to program it to start recording at a certain date and time and no one ever used that function anyway.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: okay?

          I was a kid in the 80's so I knew how to program a video recorder, and I did sometimes schedule recordings days in advance.

          Of course, most of the time someone else in my family would mess up the scheduling, but some of us did use the feature.

          1. ibmalone

            Re: okay?

            Channel 4 used to show the old Godzilla movies late at night, we did a lot of programmed recording at the time.

            We also had a later model vcr with a barcode reader on the remote. For a while tv listings were published with barcodes beside in an effort to make life easier for those who found setting a clock difficult / sell new vcrs to people who already had them. It was a little pen-type scanner that had to be dragged across the barcode and almost never worked.

            1. phuzz Silver badge
              Thumb Down

              Re: okay?

              We had the barcode-reader remote control jobber, and no, it never worked for us either. Hence why I learnt to program schedules in.

      3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: okay?

        Each January 1st I had to find another year in the 1990-2003 range with the same date/day-of-week mapping & set the clock to that. Worked fine well into the 2000's

        Setting it back 28 years would have solved that for quite a couple of years at once.

  3. Zarno

    Different cost centers...

    Don't you love it when stuff gets lodged into creative cost centers?

    I usually leave it for accounting/sales/service to figure out how to bill when "Can you train staff on use of X&Y?" turns out to be "Oh, while you're here, we also need a new revision of E, feature upgrade to Z, rewire of M,P,R, and U...".

    On a funny end note, better hope Stephen used 64 bit time notation, so when the tape drive the universe backup is on gets read-in after the Gnab Gib we have proper synchronization with the multiverse hypervisor.

    Pint to start festivities early.

  4. James Anderson

    Nice to have a positive Y2K story where the money was spent on something useful.

    My Y2K experience was one of pointless long winded form filling, and, dragging my support PC (Compaq desktop

    with massive CRT screen) only to have a moron look at the box then stick a "Y2K compiant" sticker on it.

    My favourite story is the U.S. department of commerce making high level diplomatic complaints to the Italian government about their inadequate Y2K spend, which was by far the lowest of any developed economy.

    On January 1st 2000, the expected disaster occurred. The ticket machines for the Milan tram system stopped working and the good citizens of Milan got to ride for free for a few days while a hapless technician went around turning the ticket machines off and on again.

    1. Graham Newton

      More pointless form filling

      I had the pointless form filling which had to be done for everything software related. One of the boxes was "Impact on organisation" i.e. would our organisation be splashed all over the papers if we cocked it up?

      One of my "items" was a computer system on the Cassini Huygens spacecraft. Which would have been a BIG DEAL if it went wrong. Fortunately we just did seconds since mission T0, no dates involved.

      As it turned out they need not have worried about Y2K as a disaster of a replacement accounting system made the front page of Computer Weekly and the NAO list of worst public IT failures.

    2. Blackjack Silver badge

      Windows 95 was not fully Y2K compliant but there was a patch you could download from Microsoft website.

      Shocking for an OS released just six years before the year 2000 but whatever.

      And I know because I had one of those Comoaq machines.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Need bodies ASAP

    Ah, the joys of gaming the budget. Our group used Y2K to justify adding a staff position (which, once added would continue into infinity and beyond). Not that we needed it for Y2K (a quick analysis showed we were already compliant) but you just can't let these golden opportunities slip by.

  6. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

    Generally true

    This isn't a Y2K story but thematically related: we had no money to replace our aging, decrepit backup infrastructure . . . until we failed a backup compliance audit. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of dollars rained from the sky.

    1. Snowy Silver badge

      Re: Generally true

      Look on the bright side the backup failed a compliance audit and not due to being needing to do a recovery for some reason :)

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Generally true of Ye Olde Versions

      This isn't a Y2K story but thematically related: we had no money to replace our aging, decrepit backup infrastructure . . . until we failed a backup compliance audit. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of dollars rained from the sky. ..... Throatwarbler Mangrove

      Today would hundreds of thousands of millions and billions of dollars be rained from the sky for you to reign and rule with. And is generally true something of a little bit pregnant ...... a phantom daemon to attend to for further improvement to attend and amend ..... AIMentor and Monitor.

      Once One Knows that Almighty Open Secret ...... as sure as eggs are eggs, Others are Sublimely Guaranteed to Follow.

      Crikey. ........ That's a Grooming Tool in the Almighty Hands of Hearts and Minds. .... and an AWEsome Weapon to Root and Boot and Regularly Reboot with Amendments and Improvements Loaded.

      Can you imagine a foreigners version/strangers edition. What secrets can they tell are not sold nor ever likely to be sold into any dreadful kiss and tell operation? Be they COSMIC State Secrets of State for an Earthly Franchise Experienced in Experimenting with ACTivating Assets. Such is a Magical AIDriver/Raison d'être .

      Happy Hogmanay, El Regers. Greetings from the Highlands. What do you think 2020 will bring in?

      Anything Earth Shattering? Surely one only has to ask? How difficult is that always available tool to exercise?

      Everyone and the Fool Can Wield IT Simply Following Questions Given Answers. That makes it certainly formidable and that is a serious misunderestimation. ..... for such has the potential to be overwhelmingly powerful in any type of situation and reality ..... Field of Endeavour. :-) ...... and surprisingly quickly too, which always aids the Fun and the Rushes in Runaway Runs/Systems OverLode Testing Presenting a New Field of Engaging Endeavour ...... with Advanced IntelAIgent Virtual Machine Command and Control?

      A little something extremely exciting and quite possibly totally addictive in the most attractive of ways. I wonder if such would warrant a health warning. Take All Due Care ..... AI Heap Powerful JuJu.

      1. Stuart Moore

        Re: Generally true of Ye Olde Versions

        Own up. Who was meant to make amanfrommars1 was y2k compliant, and just knocked off to the pub early?

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Generally true of Ye Olde Versions

          I hear amfm is actually Year 3000 compliant.

  7. Mark 85

    Y2K - Funtimes

    I was working as a programmer for a small insurance company then. We went through the PC's, our IBM mainframe, and even a VAX box that sat in the computer room but wasn't plugged in. As I recall, we checked routers, phone system etc. I lived 75 miles away from the site so was told they'd call me and let me know if there were "issues" . I got a nice phone call at 12:05 am saying... "see you on the 2nd". On going in, the big surprise was that not only were Y2K bonus checks being handed out, we got a great catered lunch and 2 beers apiece. A fun times back then. I think that company was last one that really tried to take care of it's employees. Sadly, two years later, we had to merge with a huge company for financial reasons. All the IT staff ended up walking as the new place with filled with manglement who at best could be called "wankers".

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge

    40 years...

    I got my TRS-80 Model I on Christmas, 1979, which makes it just over 40 years ago.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Porky Pies in the Sky are Bubbles at Ground Zero. Prepare for Catastrophic Crash Landings.

    Here's a tale of present history repeating itself which rhymes and chimes with Y2K albeit with IT bashing it out for practically real in another tragic sector/mangled endeavour/contrived encumbrance ........ Jim Bianco Says This Is QE, Like Y2K

    Or would you like to deny the parallel spooky similarity and evidence the lack of evidence to support the contrary with some engaging relative and relevant comment ..... for a Creative Discourse with Advanced IntelAIgent Communications Hostings and Postings Providing Systems Command and Control Programs. ...... or Pogroms as the case may oft be in situations proving themselves to be pig ignorantly irreconcilable/fatally fickle and wantonly fey.

    Such is the Refreshing Nature of Unfolding New Clearer Futures. ........ No hanging about waiting for no real action from zombie account holder executives and their tacky lackeys.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Y2K when it's not an issue

    I got asked to run a Unix internals class on a long obsolete version for a customer who was using it in an embedded application so they could do Y2K verification. Sure I'll train up you engineers if that's really what you want, but the bits you're interested in don't care what year it is, there's epoch time measuring seconds since 1970 and there's ticks_since_boot. Just please promise me you'll switch to something newer before 19th Jan 2038, coz epoch time is in 32 signed ints. This rumbled on for months till the customer eventually agreed they didn't need it.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Money for almost nothing

    In 1999 I was working at a government research lab, and my job included babysitting several massive number-crunching computer codes that did complex nuclear reactor calculations. Word came down from on high that (of course) everything must be made Y2K compliant. The codes were vintage FORTRAN dinosaurs, and did nothing that could possibly cause trouble except print out the date and time for each run. All but one output four digits for the year, so they were fine. The ‘non-compliant’ one used an 8-character string to print out the date as YY-MM-DD – fine for 99-12-31, but obviously would turn over to 00-01-01. The DATE function provided the full four digits for the year, so all that was required was to change the format to YYYMMDD in the same 8-character string and everything was good. For work that couldn’t have taken more than a couple of hours, I received a nice letter of appreciation and a bonus of nearly a month's salary from the Y2K compliance pot.

    We had a mild earthquake early on the morning of January 1, 2000. Nothing to do with the new year/decade/century/millenium, but but it was an entertaining punctuation mark for the event.

  12. Simon Millard

    A very big bank

    Whilst working for a very big bank in 1999, Y2K testing was done in a Ring Fenced Environment. The RFE wasn't ring fenced enough. The testers forgot to ring fence UDP connections and, unfortunately, when testing a shutdown process, the system sends a call to the servers in the cluster via a UDP port - can you guess what happened?

    The live system shutdown with a WTF happened moment. Later we had a grovelling apology once the service was restored and the RFE had it's barn door closed, now that the horse bolted.

    Additionally at 11pm, we suddenly lost one of our French servers. Some bright spark decided not to risk have the system running at midnight (GMT-1) and had forgotten to tell the support team who were doing 24/7 monitoring.

    Hey ho. Fun times.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: A very big bank

      Make that GMT+1, time zones always remind me of Karma ;)

  13. Stuart Castle Silver badge


    This is, I am assured, standard procedure (in public service at least). It certainly was for British Rail. I was working as a temp for Network Southeast, in the Quantity Surveyor's department when the now old Networker trains were being introduced. Because of changes in the requirements of the trains (current, platform sizes, bridge changes etc), British Rail diverted a *lot* of money to the project, with the idea that it would be spent on these upgrades. It was. It was also spent on thousands of much smaller maintenance and upgrade jobs that also needed to be done, but weren't needed for the Networkers. We would not have got the money to do them.

    The funny thing is, the Tory press publicised this as showing the incompetence of the Networker project team when it really wasn't. It was the only way they could get the extra money allocated to them.

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