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HomeBusinessMuch ado about nothing: Y2K was 20 years ago today

Much ado about nothing: Y2K was 20 years ago today

Bob Mackin

It was 20 years ago today, on Dec. 31, 1999, that KISS came to B.C. Place Stadium to rock the world (well, at least the Pacific time zone) out of 1999 and into the year 2000. 

I graciously declined tickets. After racing to finish and print the manuscript for my first book, Record-Breaking Baseball Trivia (Greystone), I drove to a party just across the border in Point Roberts, Wash. instead. There was plenty of beer, candles and a Coleman stove, in case the power went out. 

Why?

Like any 29 year-old, I really did want to rock and roll all day and party all night. But I also didn’t want to be under that inflatable roof if the power went out because of a global computer glitch.

Some experts were fearing data panic in the year zero and I bought what they were selling. What a mistake that was! 

“Depending who you ask, the potential impact of this gargantuan glitch ranges from the trivial to the apocalyptic – from the minor annoyance of malfunctioning VCRs to the complete collapse of information systems governing banks, stock markets, utilities, and government,” reported Quill and Quire.

During a July 1998 speech broadcast on C-SPAN2, U.S. Vice-President Al Gore explained the problem in layman’s language.

“Back in the 1960s and 1970s, managers and programmers tried to save money by saving on memory,” Gore said. “At that stage of the computer revolution, memory was at a premium and they were trying to avoid using any unnecessary space in the memory storage areas. So they came up with a notion of representing the date with only two digits instead of four, so 1965 became just 65 and it saved millions of dollars. But it also created one whale of a problem.”

Jerome and Marilyn Murray were among the first to warn the world in their 1984 book, Computers in Crisis: How to Avert the Coming Worldwide Computer Systems Collapse. Other books followed, including Y2K It’s Not Too Late, by Scott Marks, Karl Kaufman and Patrice Kaufman and Y2K It’s Already Too Late, by Jason Kelly. 

Governments and businesses spent millions upon millions of dollars to reprogram their computer systems or replace them altogether. BC Gas, the province’s natural gas utility, Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Springs water company issued notices to customers. Here they are below. 

As well as a clip of KISS counting down to midnight and the year 2000.  

The roof stayed aloft. KISS came and went.

The beer stayed cold in Point Roberts and life went on. Crisis averted.

Despite what Paul Stanley said, it wasn’t really the start of the new millennium at B.C. Place. Or anywhere, for that matter.

As the late, great Rafe Mair wrote in a 1996 Richmond News column: “If zero were a number, we would start the year with January 0 and Labour Day this year would have been September 1, with the day before being September 0… On December 31, 2000 (God willing) I shall celebrate my birthday and at 12:00 midnight will toast in the incoming new millennium. I will be all alone, of course, because the rest of you turkeys can’t count or are too stubborn to admit that you’ve been taken in by the international media who, rather than be right and miss the party, will insist that somehow the passage of 1999 years means that we should get excited.”

P.S. The B.C. Place roof did eventually fall down, but that was in January 2007 after managers refused to heat the roof and melt falling snow. It led to the $514 million renovation that included installation of a retractable roof in 2011. 

(BC Gas)

(BC Gas)

(Canadian Springs)

 

(BMO)

(BMO)

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