Text to accompany the January
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
As the celebrations swept west with the new day, so to some
extent did vindication for those who said the Millennium bug
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
to the January 2000 Newsletter