The New Millennium,
The Y2K Bug and other
Calendar-Related Computer Bugs

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Text of talk presented by Mike Krochmal at
Eastern and Mountain District Radio Club

on 1999 August 06, with corrections and additions made on 2002 May 01

Please see also our Millennium Links Page


This presentation started as a talk about the imminent and infamous "Millennium Bug" or, as it is often referred to, the "Y2K Bug". Research into this issue soon reveals that a much broader set of issues is involved, which includes topics such as calendars and time.

You might ask : "Who is this Mike Krochmal to be holding forth on this topic ?". Well, I run a small manufacturing business which needs to consider the impact of the Y2K bug, among other things. We manufacture scientific instruments which are used in conjunction with laboratory microscopes, and which we have exported to 20 countries at this time. Although our instruments do not incorporate a real time clock, and so are not subject to the Y2K bug themselves, they make use of computers, which potentially *are* affected by this problem. And there are wider impacts of the Y2K bug, as will be discussed below.

What is the Millennium ?

Let's start at the beginning. The whole excitement, which few people on Earth will have failed to notice by now, is about the fact that we are about to go from the year 1999 to the year 2000. There is a certain excitement about this, especially for the sort of people that like to throw a party when the odometer in their car rolls around to 100 000, and the media have certainly had a field-day with it. The term Y2K has been bandied about by the press with the same abandon as the words "shock" and "horror" usually are when there is nothing else to report. Actually, Y2K (which is supposed to stand for Year 2 Thousand) is not quite accurate if applied to computers. In computer terms, 1 K denotes the quantity 1024. This stems from the binary, or base 2, counting that a computer does. So 2 of those would be 2048, which means we should have some breathing space before we are in trouble. But maybe I'm quibbling again.

The current concern about what will happen when the calendar shows up a bunch of zeros is not new. At the turn of the first Millennium, there were plenty of people who warned that the end of the world was nigh. Obviously, that event turned out to be a fizzer. But perhaps the simple reality is that we all like a good scare. That's probably why horror movies are so popular.

What Is It About The Year 2000 ?

So what is the significance of the year 2000 ? Well, actually, not much, when you consider it as a major calendar date rollover, because there are many calendar systems in existence. Some of these other systems, many of which are older than ours, are as follows :


* The Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese calendar

* 208 according to the calendar of the French Revolution

* 1378 according to the Persian calendar

* 1420 according to the Moslem calendar

* 1716 according to the Coptic calendar

* 1997 according to Christ's actual birth circa BC 4

* 2543 according to the Thai calendar

* 2544 according to the Buddhist calendar

* 2749 according to the ancient Babylonian calendar

* 2753 according to the old Roman calendar

* 5119 according to the Maya great cycle

* 5760 according to the Jewish calendar

* 6236 according to the first Egyptian calendar

Why 2000 will not be the end of the world :

I'd like to list here the reasons why I'm questioning that midnight of 31 December 1999 will be the moment of the Apocalypse :

The New Millennium does not actually start until midnight of 31 December in the year 2000. As Arthur C. Clark recently pointed out, if your grocer's scale started at 1 instead of 0, would you be happy when he claimed he'd sold you 10 kg of tea ?

Our calendar is based on the supposed date of birth of a man called Jesus Christ. But it now appears that he was born approximately 6 January in the year BC 4, which actually makes the year 2000 into the year 1997 (since there was no year 0).

There are actually several types of year, depending on what is being measured :

* A solar (tropical) year is the year which our current calendars are based on. It is the period of time that it takes the sun to return to the vernal equinox, the point where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator (a sidereal year differs from a solar year by 20 minutes, 24 seconds because of the Earth's precession). Solar years are growing shorter by about one second per century. The year 2000 will be 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds long, or 365.242199 days long.

* A sidereal year is the interval of time that it takes for the earth to return to a given position with respect to the stars, as seen from the sun. The sidereal year is 365. 25636 days long.

* The anomalistic year is the time interval between successive passages of the earth through perihelion or aphelion, and is 365.25964 days long.

* The eclipse year is the interval between successive returns of the sun to the same node in the Moon's orbit, and is 346.6203 days long.

* The lunar year consists of 12 lunar months of 29.5306 days each, or a total of 354.3672 days.

The Roman calendars, which had different numbers of days in a year at different time, eventually drifted out of synchronisation with the seasons (which follow the solar or tropical year).

Julius Caesar revised the Roman calendars in BC 46. At that time, the Roman calendar was misaligned with the solar calendar by 80 days. So Caesar decreed that BC 46 would be a 445 day year in order to catch up the seasons, and defined the more accurate Julian calendar. This calendar had years that were normally 365 days in length, with an extra day inserted every fourth year in order to bring the average year to 365.25 days in length. The fourth years were, and are, called leap years.

Our current calendar system is called the Gregorian system, after Pope Gregory XIII, who revised the Julian calendar in the year 1582 (around the time of the Spanish Armada). By that time, the calendar was again about 10 days out of phase with the date at which Easter had occurred at the time of the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Pope Gregory issued a proclamation to correct this by dropping 10 days from 1582. The dropped days were 5 - 14 October 1582. The British and the American colonies did not actually adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1753, by which time, Cook was already on his early voyages. At that stage, 11 days needed to be dropped (2 - 14 September), and this set off widespread protests, especially from London bankers who did not want to pay taxes on days they had missed out on. The catch cry was : "Give us back our 11 days". The Gregorian calendar is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 20 seconds long.

No calendar yet devised keeps perfect track of the Earth's year, because it is a slowly changing number of days containing an irrational fraction. However, thanks to the complicated leap year rules (to be covered shortly), it will be over 3000 years before the Gregorian calendar is as much as one day out of step with the seasons, in AD 4 909. The error is 1 day, 4 hours and 55 minutes in 4000 years, or 25.96768 seconds per year. So, by 2002, the Gregorian calendar was out by approximately 3 hours, 1 minute.

The earliest calendar possibly dates back to about BC 28 000, being a Cro-Magnon calendar, and possibly a lunar-based one. Some bone carvings suggesting this have been found in France.

Currently, we use atomic clocks based on Caesium, and these were first officially introduced in 1972 (UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time), although their invention dates back to 1948.

Geographically, the New Millennium is deemed to start at the Chatham Islands, which belong to New Zealand. But there is considerable controversy going on between the Chatham Islands, Tonga, Kiribati and Fiji about which of them will have the privilege of being the first to see in the dawn of 2000 January 01. Both Chatham and Tonga are actually situated East of the 180th meridian, but at the 1884 International Meridian Conference in Washington it was decided to bend the International Date Line in several locations (this being one of them) in an attempt to avoid difficulties with two different dates in the one country or island group, and to take in the maximum amount of uninhabited ocean.

According to an article in The Geographical Journal, sunrise on 2000 January 01 will actually first be visible on the summit of Hakepa Hill on Pitt Island, one of the Chatham Islands, at 04:03:45 local time.

The New Millennium will actually happen in Melbourne four times :

* The first time will be at midnight on 1999 December 31. Because we will be on daylight saving time, the actual time at that moment will only be 11:00 pm.

* The second time will be one hour later, when midnight really arrives.

* The third time will be at midnight on 2000 December 31. But because of daylight savings, the same thing will happen as this year.

* The final and real time for the start of the New Millennium will actually be at the real midnight on 2000 December 31, which by our watches and clocks will be 1:00 am, 2001 January 01.

That's a serious lot of partying !

There is also the approach of people like Vladislav Petrov of Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry, who is quoted as saying (apparently seriously) : "We'll deal with the problem in the year 2000".

Please see also our Millennium Links Page

Entomology (Y2K and other bugs) :

The Y2K bug is also not the *only* problem which will beset our society in the near future. There are actually a number of other problems which are about to affect computers. Some of these are every bit as serious as the Y2K problem. (Which is *not* a virus, even though some elements of the media have tried to hype up the story on occasion by calling it a virus. It is a bunch of problems, and maybe a bunch of bugs, but not a virus). Let's look at what the Y2K problem is, and at what some of these other problems are :

On 1999 January 01, the European Monetary Union (EMU) started moving toward a unified currency - the euro. EMU countries (which are currently Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) will switch over to it by mid-year 2002, and accounting in today's European currencies is scheduled to cease in 2004. One of the immediate problems which has already surfaced is that many computer operating environments and application software packages do not incorporate the symbol for the euro currency. The timing of this project could not be worse, as it further depletes the number of programmers able to cope with the Y2K problem. (Reader Ian Galpin has, quite rightly, pointed out the existing convention of three-letter codes for world currencies. See The code for the Euro which is specified by this standard is "EUR", thus actually removing the need for a computer symbol).

1999 January 01 was also a key date for travel booking systems, which generally allow data entry up to a year in advance. Few problems have been reported to date but, of course, no-one has actually used one of these advance-booked flights yet, either !

1999 July 01 was the beginning of the current financial year. Many companies started preparing basic financial data for the entire year at this time (such as entering sales projections and budgets into spreadsheets). This does not appear to have invoked Armageddon.

At midnight on 1999 August 21, the Global Positioning System (GPS) will reset to week 0 after 1023 weeks of operation. (The start date and time for the GPS network of 24 satellites was midnight, 1980 January 05). This rollover was clearly documented in the original standard (ICD-GPS-200). Navigational applications will probably not be greatly affected, but GPS dates, for example, synchronise large international transfers of funds, so that interest payments can be calculated to the second. The timing of this rollover is particularly bad, as it occurs right between the start of the euro introduction and the ominous Y2K bug. There is also another problem further down the line for the GPS system, which is that its atomic clock time-keeping system differs from the system which generates UTC (Co-ordinated Universal Time), the highly accurate solar time system maintained by national laboratories around the globe. UTC inserts a so-called leap-second at intervals of a little more than a year. Eventually the GPS system, which does not insert leap-seconds, will need to deal with these differences.

On 1999 September 09, Unix systems which used the number 9999 to indicate the end of a file may come to grief, because the number can be interpreted as that date, which is just 2 weeks after the GPS rollover.

On 1999 December 31, computers will encounter the Y2K problem. It revolves around the fact that computers record time and dates as just another number. As time progresses the number gets bigger, so a future date is always bigger than a past date. Some programmers interfered with this nice progression by deleting the century digits from dates. This results in 99 being followed by 00, which is smaller, not larger. Y2K compliance means that a particular computer will not be affected by this problem, but compliance comes in varying degrees, defined as 5 levels in British Standard BSI PD2000-1, and as 3 levels in Australian Standard SAA HB121-1998 "Year 2000 Compliance Measures for Personal Computers".

2000 January 03 : As 2000 January 1 is a Saturday, many small businesses won't switch on their computers until Monday 2000 January 03. This should be an interesting day.

On 2000 February 29 problems may occur on some computers. In the 1970's and 1980's software programmers were not always as informed about the complicated leap-year rules as they are today. As a result, some of the older software contains leap-year errors. The rule is that every fourth year is a leap year, EXCEPT if it can also be divided by 100, in which case it is NOT a leap-year, EXCEPT if it can also be divided by 400, in which case it IS a leap-year. So the year 2000 IS a leap-year, and 2000 February 29 is a real day. Strangely, programs which simply divide the year by 4 will actually make the right decision here, but will be wrong in 2100.

On 2001 September 08, some other Unix systems which used the number 999999999 (9 lots of 9) to indicate the end of a file may come to grief, because the number can be interpreted as that date.

Around 2015, it is predicted that the number of US telephone numbers required will exceed the capacity of the number of digits currently assigned. Local phone numbers in the US currently contain 7 digits. At the time when these numbers are next expanded, the bulk of phone numbers are expected to be stored in computers and databases. In many cases, the new numbers may no longer fit into the space allocated by the programs used. It is expected that to stably accommodate growth, it may be necessary to have 5 digits for area codes and perhaps 9 for local numbers - a trillion number system that would allow everyone on earth to have several global numbers. The UK is currently struggling with exactly the same problem, and similarly here in Australia we have all had experience with prefix changes, going from 6 digits in the '60s, to 7 digits in the 70's and 80's, to the current system of 8 digits.

On 2038 January 19, at 03:14:07 am, Unix and some C systems will roll over, because it will be 231 seconds (or 2 147 483 647 seconds) after their start date of 1970 January 01. Some applications written in the C programming language may then revert to 1970 January 01 as the current date, while others based on different implementation logic may revert to 1901 December 13, which is 1970 January 01 less 231 seconds. Unix and C are very widely used programming languages, but as this problem is still nearly 40 years away, it has not been given much attention. Going by the record for the Y2K problem, watch the daily news in about 2033, and expect major repairs to begin in about 2036, when it will be almost too late !

Older Macintosh computers run out at 6:28:15 am on 2040 Feb 06, losing 232 seconds. The current Mac operating system date and time utilities correctly handle dates between BC 30 081 and AD 29 940.

Approx. 2075 : US Social Security Numbers will run into problems. These do not currently affect us in Australia (but might if a global personal identity code is ever implemented !). The US social security number system uses nine digits in the form nnn-nnn-nnn. The system's capacity is about 1 billion unique numbers. Once they are used, they are "retired", and even social security numbers assigned to people who have died cannot be reassigned. To date, about 383 million numbers have been assigned, and about 6 million more are being added each year. In theory, the supply of digits should last another 75 years. This problem will need to be addressed by the US soon, as this system has profound effects at all levels of US financial and government applications, and it will affect millions of software applications and billions of dollars in expenses. The cost of its remediation will rival that for the Y2K problem.

Projected number of worldwide software applications with date problems

Date problem Applications with problems Repaired in time Unrepaired format errors Years of main impact
Year 2000 36 000 000 80% 7 200 000 1999-2001
Telephone numbers 25 000 000 85% 3 750 000 2000-2025
Euro-currency 10 000 000 75% 2 500 000 1999-2005
Social security numbers 15 000 000 90% 1 500 000 2050-2099
Unix rollover 12 000 000 90% 1 200 000 2036-2038
End of file 4 000 000 90% 400 000 1999-2001
Leap year 2000 2 000 000 90% 200 000 1999-2000
GPS rollover 250 000 98% 5000 1999-2000
TOTAL 104 250 000 87.25% 16 755 000 1999-2099

Severity estimates

The following are some possible scenarios :

No impact - large companies will be annoyed at unnecessary spending on Y2K fixes.

Low impact - localised power failures, some economic repercussions, but pretty much business as usual.

Severe impact - major systems failures, riots, deaths, economic slumps, possible global depression, eventual recovery but associated with major damage.

Disaster - TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) - the sky turns black, the oceans are poisoned, only the strong and prepared survive, and mutated cockroaches take over the world until the few remaining survivors once again rise above caveman level.

THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO IS - a mix of low impact and severe impact, with probably a strong lean in the direction of low impact. However, that does not mean we can sit back and ignore the problem. It will not go away.

What type of equipment or service can (but won't necessarily) be affected ?

* Computer-based equipment, with problems occurring in 3 places : hardware / operating systems / application software

* Computers (although Mac OS 7.x onwards is compliant. If you have an older Mac - upgrade. Even the oldest Mac can handle OS7).

* Embedded chips - these are everywhere, and there are estimates that there are now about 40 billion embedded systems in the world. Examples :

* Telephone Answering Machines with date stamp

* Cameras with date stamp

* Video cameras and VCRs

* Calendar clocks

* Personal electronic organisers

* Fax machines

* Mobile phones

* Printers

* Microwave ovens

* Alarm systems

* GPSs

* Air conditioners

* Traffic lights

* Street lights

* Parking meters

* Children's toys

* Automatic water pumps

* Car engines

* Hospital equipment

* Elevators

* Factories

* Office buildings

* Nuclear power plants

* Water and sewage systems

* Homes

* Product supplies, especially food and pharmaceuticals

* Supermarkets and other retailers

* Services, including :

* Financial services

* Telecommunications

* Electricity

* Water

* Gas

* Transport

* Government services

* Problems with air space over neighbouring countries

* Import/export

* Suppliers experiencing difficulty (Coles Myer Ltd has contacted 10 000 suppliers in Australia and New Zealand re y2K issues).

* Run on banks

What is Y2K compliance ?

According to the Standards Australia Miscellaneous Publication MP77:1998, "A Definition of Year 2000 Conformity Requirements", the following applies :

"Year 2000 conformity shall mean that neither performance nor functionality is affected by dates prior to, during and after the year 2000. In particular :

* Rule 1 : No value for current date will cause any interruption in operation

* Rule 2 : Date-based functionality must behave consistently for dates prior to, during and after the year 2000

* Rule 3 : In all interfaces and data storage, the century in any date must be specified either explicitly or by unambiguous algorithms or inferencing rules

* Rule 4 : Year 2000 must be recognised as a leap year in terms of handling both 29 February and day 366"

Amateur Radio and the Y2K problem (report from Germany in CQDL)

Alinco GmbH has stated that its products are not affected by the Y2K bug

Icom (Europe) GmbH says that Icom products are not affected in any manner by the impending change of millennium. At least not immediately. But Icom points out that Icom equipment is subject to such problems when driven by PCs or other control gear which is not Y2K compatible (logging software, control programs, etc. come to mind), but that these problems are not actually caused by the Icom equipment.

Kenwood Electronics Deutschland GmbH advises that the products in the Communications Equipment range are year 2000 capable without hardware or software modifications

stabo Elektronik GmbH & Co KG is also able to rule out the year 2000 problem for its products. The year 2000 problem can also be ruled out for amateur radio products from Marantz Japan Inc. - better known as Standard - and Japan Radio Co. Ltd. (JRC), for which stabo is the exclusive German distributor.

Yaesu Germany GmbH has ruled out the year 2000 problem for its equipment.

Failures, close shaves and non-events :

* The Dow Jones Industrial Average is an aggregate figure which tracks the performance of the US stock market. Many systems which processed the Dow were programmed to expect a 4-digit figure. It was widely feared that total fiscal panic and chaos would ensue if the Dow, which has been steadily rising, hit 10 000 (a 5-digit figure). This, in fact, finally happened in mid-March 1999, but few problems were reported at the time.

* Programs which use Australian postcodes have often rejected special series postcodes starting with 1000, 8000 or 9000 (which are used by some large businesses).

* Most PABX systems had to be adjusted to deal with 8-digit phone numbers when these were introduced. These events caused some irritation, but no wide-spread disasters.

* Unum Life Insurance Company deleted 700 records from a database that tracks the licensing status of brokers because a computer mistook 00 for 1900

* Mary Bandar, 104, received an invitation to attend kindergarten in Winona, Minnesota, USA

* In 1993, Boeing experienced errors in a system that used seven-year lead times for orders

* Swedish passport control systems were disrupted on New Year's Day 1999.

* In the US, a 101 year old man's car insurance premium was automatically tripled because a computer decided that he was a high-risk driver at the age of one.

* Several airlines around the world, such as British Airways and China's state airlines will require their top executives to be in the air on New Year's Eve this year.

* A PC-based mixing system at Amway Corporation rejected a batch of chemicals because it mistakenly believed the expiration date to be in 1900

* After computerised cash registers at Produce Palace in Warren, Michigan, USA, repeatedly crashed when customers tried to use credit cards expiring in 00, the grocer sued TEC America, the manufacturer of the system

* On June 17, an accident at a Van Nuys, California, sewage treatment plant, caused 3 million gallons of sewage to spill into a park. City officials were testing an emergency generator for the Y2K bug when a computer glitch mistakenly closed the gate on a large sewage pipe.

* In March and April of this year, a group of stock exchanges, clearing houses and almost 400 brokerages carried out the biggest test ever undertaken on Wall Street. They performed 260 000 mock trades, of which only 4 were affected by Y2K problems. In contrast, about 6500 errors occurred as a result of data entry mistakes, miscommunication between traders or other system problems that had nothing to do with Y2K.

Costs :

* The cost of Y2K problem remediation is already said to be over USD 1 trillion and rising.

* Over USD 2 trillion is expected to be spent on damages, recovery costs and litigation in the wake of the Y2K problem. Some have said that the total could top USD 5 trillion.

* Euro-currency updates are expected to cost over USD 400 billion.

* More than USD 600 billion is expected to be spent on damages, recovery costs and litigation in the wake of the euro-currency problem.

* Changes of area codes in US alone are costing more than USD 1 billion per annum.

* Several billion US dollars' worth of hand-held personal information managers (PIMs) will need to be junked prematurely when they can no longer handle the expanded phone numbers.

* No software cost estimates have yet been published for remediation of :

* Social security number problem

* GPS rollover

* the "nines" end of file problem

* year 2000 leap year

* windowing expiration

* Unix and C library date rollover, but

* Each is likely to be in the multi-billion dollar range, except possibly the GPS date rollover. Together, these other date problems might cost a further USD 1 trillion or more.

Please see also our Millennium Links Page

Is Australia prepared ? (ABS survey, February 1999) :

All Australian businesses : 93 % are aware of problem, but only 58% are addressing it. 42% of all businesses in Australia are either unaware of the Y2K problem or do not intend to spend any money to tackle it. The overwhelming portion of these are businesses with fewer than 19 employees. Estimated cost to domestic business of fixing Y2K problem : approx. $19 billion.

Large Australian businesses : 99% are aware of, and intend to do something about the bug, with 97% expecting to finish by December 99.

Australian utilities : 86% taking action. The remaining 14% of utilities are "non-critical to the continuous provisions of Australia's essential services". Of the utilities that relate to electricity, gas and water, 84% aiming to finish their work by December 99.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority : 57% of its mission critical systems are compliant, a further 23% are under assessment, and 20% under repair and/or testing. Contingency planning score : 0.

Department of Health and Aged Care : 89% compliance rate, 11% being repaired or tested, nothing awaiting assessment. Contingence plan score : 18%.

Australian Taxation Office : 24% compliance, 75% of systems being repaired or tested. 1% awaiting assessment.

Department of Family and Community Services : 0% compliance, 100% of its systems under test or repair. Good luck !

Victorian water providers : preparations 96.75% complete, with 74.28 % of contingency plans in place (how did they get so precise ?)

How ready are Australian businesses ?

Business size (employees) 1-4 5-19 20-199 200+ All*
Aware of Y2K problem 91 96 99 100 93
Unaware / no plan to take action 46 26 8 1 42
Intend to take action 54 74 92 99 58
Yet to start Y2K work 29 34 28 10 30
Commenced Y2K work 12 26 46 62 16
Testing/completed Y2K work 13 15 17 27 13

Source : ABS *Note : Agricultural industry excluded from size comparison, but included in "All".

Is the World prepared ?

An October 1998 report by the US-based Gartner Group ("Year 2000 Global State of Readiness) divides countries into 4 categories, according to the degree of preparedness. At that time :

* Category 1 contained the US, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden.

* Category 2 included Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Portugal and Spain.

* Category 3 contained Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Colombia, Peru, Egypt, India, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, North Korea, South Africa, Turkey, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.

* Category 4, the least prepared countries, comprised China, Costa Rica, Lithuania, Morocco, Rumania, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and many African states.

At the current time, the US is considered the leader of the pack, with Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Israel running closely behind. While there may be a high level of awareness in the US, the number of PCs used (almost half of world total) may magnify the problem there. (Amusing aside : the US Federal Reserve Bank is stockpiling old banknotes which would normally have been discarded, in case there is a run on money).

Japan is a concern with its efforts, in the wake of its current economic problems, roughly equivalent to Mexico and Thailand.

Only 55 of 139 developing countries have appointed a Y2K coordinator and have an action plan

Australia : generally well prepared; small business is behind

Europe : varies widely by country. Italy widely viewed as problem area. Many countries have already spent large amounts on euro conversion.

Asia : varies widely by country. High-tech centres (such as Singapore) have made major preparation efforts, but widespread use of pirate software and hardware may make problems worse

Africa : Like many third-world countries, it lacks funding to cover Y2K costs; World Bank offers interest-free Y2K loans.

Russia : Status uncertain but dubious; lack of government funding to fix problems, even if identified

Cambodia : will feel little impact because most of its business, including generating bank statements and clearing cheques is done manually, and the nation's air traffic control system does not even use radar.

Legal issues

If equipment runs over the year 2000 and it fails due to Y2K, it should normally be covered by insurance, but get it in writing, especially the fact that the equipment is Y2K compliant.

On 1999 February 27, the Federal Government enacted the "Year 2000 Information Disclosure Bill (1999)", also known as the "Good Samaritan Act". It was designed to encourage companies to disclose information about their Y2K readiness by offering some legal protection relating to these disclosures. The Act will :

* protect a person making a Y2K disclosure statement from civil liability arising from the making of the statement - for example, for negligent misstatement, defamation, or liability under trade practices and fair trading legislation, subject to the following exemptions:

* render a Y2K disclosure statement inadmissible in court against the person who made it

* prevent exchange of Y2K information from leading to liability under Section 45 of Trade Practices Act

* offer above protection between 1999 February 27 and 2001 June 30

To gain protection under the Act, a statement must :

* be clearly identified

* be in writing

* relate solely to Y2K processing issues

* identify the authoriser

(but will also apply to republished statements, which include republications, retransmission, reproductions, broadcasts, or oral communications by telephone, etc.)

The Act will not provide protection if the statement :

* is known by the maker to be materially false or misleading

* is made recklessly

* is made in connection with the formation of a contract

* is made in fulfilment of an obligation under a contract or law

* is made for the purpose of inducing customers to acquire goods

* relates to restraining injunctions or applications for declaratory relief

* relates to civil actions undertaken by regulatory bodies such as the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission)

* relates to civil actions based solely on the infringement of intellectual property

Some possible flow-on effects to consider :

* Motor accidents resulting from traffic signal failures

* Alarms going off accidentally due to non-compliant security system failures

* Domestic and industrial accidents becoming widespread due to power blackouts

* People trapped in lifts and buildings as a result of electronic systems and equipment failures

* Possible civil unrest

* Empty supermarket shelves, long petrol queues

* Telephone and electricity overloads due to excessive peak loading

* Possible disruption in gas and water supplies

Personal preparedness / other issues

* On 1999 December 31, it will be Summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but Winter in the Northern Hemisphere. This is bound to make the impact worse in the Northern Hemisphere.

* It may be useful to compare the effect of Y2K with the effects of cyclone Tracy, the Granville train disaster, the recent Sydney hailstorm, the Sydney water pollution crisis, the Victorian gas crisis, the Galaxy IV communications satellite which had a problem in early 1998 and put millions of US pagers off the air, or the Auckland power cable problem which caused loss of power to the city for 6 weeks. Each of these crises caused (sometimes widespread and sometimes profound) problems, but none of them signalled the end of the world as we know it.

It is important, for any emergency event, not just the Y2K problem, to consider the following issues :

* Find out where and how to turn off power, gas and water supplies

* Store important documents in a fire/waterproof container. These might include :

Family records (birth, marriage and death certificates)
Medicare cards and/or numbers
Family member medical histories
Will / insurance policies / contracts
Property deeds
Stocks and bonds / bank account numbers / credit card account numbers

* Food - at a minimum, store a 3-day supply of non-perishable food. Choose foods that don't need a fridge, preparation or cooking, and little or no water. If you must heat food, include a small kerosene-based camp cooker. Include dried fruits and nuts. Store pet food if required.

* Drinking water in sealed containers - at least 10 litres per person, which is 3 days supply at 2 litres per person per day. More for kids, nursing mothers, ill and elderly people. Extra water for washing and food preparation.

* Other items for an emergency kit :

Eating utensils
Battery-operated radio with spare batteries, or windup radio (Baygen)
Torch, spare batteries, candles and waterproof matches
Strong shoes or boots, leather gloves, hat, goggles, raincoat and overalls
First aid kit and manual, combination pocket knife, sunglasses
Medication, toiletries and sanitary supplies, change of clothes and footwear
Non-electric can opener, pliers, compass
Tent or tarpaulin and blankets
Aluminium foil, plastic storage containers
Paper, pencil, needles, thread, medicine dropper, whistle
Toilet paper, towelettes
Soap, liquid detergent, disinfectant, household chlorine bleach
Plastic garbage bags with ties, plastic bucket with tight lid
Bedding (sleeping bags are best)
Money, including change for phone calls (2 weeks salary in cash recommended)
Strong plastic bags for protecting clothes, valuables and documents
Special items for infants, ill people, aged and people with disabilities
HT and spare batteries, of course

Please see also our Millennium Links Page

How to avoid Y3K, and what can be done now

* 2000 January 1 : One quick and dirty fix is to add in a routine that replaces the "19" in front of a date with "20". Although crude, this might work in a fashion, but will go wrong again at the end of the next century. Hopefully, the program will be replaced by then, but that's the sort of thinking that got us into the current mess.

* There is a relatively simple stopgap remedy to the Y2K problem. It is called "windowing", and involves an outboard software tool. This tool creates a "window" of a fixed period of years, say 100. Within such a period, a pivot year is selected and each two-digit year date only occurs once in the period, so that dates in the new century are excluded from the old. If 1930 was selected as the pivot year, then any incoming date larger than 30 (say 40) would be assigned to the 20 century and treated as 1940, but incoming dates smaller than 30 (say 10) would be regarded as 2010. This is obviously only a stopgap at best, as it has its own expiry date, but may be useful as an interim measure for software which is expected to be retired soon.


* It may be possible to change the way dates are represented by computers, in order to avoid future problems. Several schemes have been put forward to achieve this. Currently, there are several ways in which dates are represented in everyday life :

* In the US, people normally use a format of "month, day, year", such as 10/6/98 for 1998 October 6.

* In Australia and much of Europe, the above date would be printed using the format "day, month, year", or 6/10/98. Thus the above notation would be misread in Australia and Europe as 1998 June 10, and the same would happen in the US to the Australian and European notation.

* Another type of date coding found very frequently in computing is the Julian date code, which records the number of days from the beginning of a year, starting with 1 and ending in 365 or 366 as appropriate. Strictly speaking, the Julian period started at noon on BC 4 713 January 01, and the Julian Day is given in decimal form, reckoned from Greenwich noon. So 9pm on 1971 January 01 is J.D. 2440953.375. A date that counts the number of days from the beginning of the Year is known as the "Ordinal Day of the Year", or simply "Ordinal Date" in ISO 8601.

* Japan uses a date which starts with the reign of the current Emperor, which began in 1988. Thus the year 1999 is the Imperial year (or Heisei) 11.

* The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in Geneva, Switzerland, has accepted a standard date format that expands a calendar year representation from two digits to four. This format, ISO standard 8601:1988(E), is also supported by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), who run WWV and WWVH, the atomic clocks. The ISO date order is year, month and day using either the format YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD for a Full Gregorian Year Date; so 1998 October 06 would be represented as 1998-10-06. There are also other dates possible (in Ordinal Day of the Year, and in Week of Year and Day of Week format), as well as the possibility of having Left-Truncated and/or Reduced-Precision (Right-Truncated) formats for each of the above. This format is in fact widely used in Japan as an alternative to the Imperial date system, and also in China, Korea, Thailand, and some Scandinavian countries. It has been used by astronomers world-wide for centuries in their "Ephemerides", or tables which detail the positions of the Sun, the planets and stars. Many new Internet Standards (such as XML Schemas) are now also using this format.

(For a list of ISO standards, see,
and an update at:
Note also that ISO 8601:1988 has since been revised to form the new ISO 8601:2000 standard, which also covers Ordinal dates, and date formats which count the Weeks of the Year and the Days of the Week.

* Unfortunately, all of the above representations have one major failing : they do not identify the actual type of formatting. The addition of just one extra digit would overcome this weakness, and uniquely identify the date code as belonging to one of the above systems. The proposed format code would thus result in an ISO-encoded date reading : "x-yyyy-mm-dd" (Reader Ian Galpin has pointed out that "I agree that 12-01-2002 does not show you whether dd-mm-yyyy or mm-dd-yyyy is in use, but the whole idea of the ISO format is that 2002-03-04 is ALWAYS YYYY-MM-DD. No-one on the planet ever uses yyyy-dd-mm, so the ISO format IS self identifying. That is why it is so popular, and has replaced older national standards just about everywhere.")

The table shows a number of widely used date formats, with a possible number for the code format key :

Possible date format key using one extra digit

Key Definition Format
1 International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) date format with four digits for years 1-yyyy-mm-dd
2 US default date format with four year digits 2-mm-dd-yyyy
3 Normal Australian / European date format with two year digits 3-dd-mm-yy
4 Normal Australian / European date format with four year digits 4-dd-mm-yyyy
5 Normal US date format with two year digits 5-mm-dd-yy
6 Ordinal date with two year digits 6-yy-ddd
7 Ordinal date with four year digits 7-yyyy-ddd
8 Astronomical time starting from BCE 4713 January 01 (called the Julian Day count) 8-dddddddd
Note about item 8 "Astronomical time", from reader Ian Galpin :
"This is called the Julian Day count, and again, this format is self identifying. It could be mixed up with a YYYYMMDD ISO date that has had the hyphens removed, but that format is rarely used in printed material, more in computer to computer data interchange. In printed material a Julian Day reference is usually also prefixed by the letters JD. So, in reality there is little danger in confusing JD 24235378 with a date like 20020428 (2002-04-28)".
Further note about the above formats from reader Ian Galpin :
"Only the formats numbered as 1, 7, 8 above are required. All of the others should be consigned to history. Anything with a two-digit year is completely useless post-2000. Additionally, anything with an ambiguity as to the Month and Day is also to be avoided. Although the idea of putting an identifier with the date to show what type of date it is, is quite neat, it is now redundant with nearly all countries of the world already having accepted the ISO 8601 formats which are all self-identifying (unique and unambiguous, is the correct term here, I believe)".

* It is instructive to note that even the ISO date format will overflow in the year 10 000 (the "Y10K problem") and so cannot handle geological time periods (which span millions of years) or astronomical time periods (which must embrace billions of years). Also, the calendars of other solar system objects such as the Moon and Mars may eventually need to be incorporated.
Note from reader Ian Galpin :
"There is an RFC document about this, which can be found in all the usual places (try a "Google" search [MSK]). The reference is RFC 2550. However, the newer ISO 8601:2000 version now allows the Year data to be expanded beyond four digits. It also allows for BC dates by using a minus symbol as a prefix. For dates beyond AD 9999, a mandatory plus sign must be used as a prefix."

* The best action at this time is to set up a contingency plan. This is defined as "an alternative way to the way a business is usually run; a backup to normal methods so that a business can keep running, whatever the problem it is facing". This might include setting up a manual accounting system which can be used if the PC-based system fails.

* It may be possible to effect a quick fix on some equipment by setting it back to 1972 - that year shares two crucial features with 2000 : it's a leap year, and it started on a Saturday. Sadly, this is NOT possible on IBM-compatible PCs ! (Earliest possible date on these is 1980 January 1).

* By the way : most Y2K software expenditures are immediately tax-deductible for business.

What are the lessons learned from the current situation ?

Current compliance activities have immense value for businesses because they :

* clarify operations by forcing inventories

* pinpoint vulnerabilities through assessment of critical functions

* institute definitive problem-solving codes and safety nets

* get businesses thinking about risk

* force businesses to think about how they actually function

* point out weaknesses in current business practices

The Y2K problem may foster a new ethical direction for society by :

* providing a convincing demonstration of how transparency and the open exchange of information can make business work better

* unifying disparate and isolated organisations or departments behind a common goal

* forcing international co-operation, such as the US and Russian defence "shared early warning centre" to preclude any Y2K glitches in their respective nuclear networks, and Telstra's international taskforce, whose mission it is to co-ordinate inter-carrier service continuity testing.

If we are all still here on 2000 January 02 (or on Tuesday 2000 January 04), then it should be business as usual for most people !

Have a Happy New Year !

Many thanks to reader Ian Galpin, who is the new Editor for the ISO 8601 Standard section of the Open Directory Project (ODP) located at:, and who contributed many important suggestions, additions and corrections.


This material is a guide to help to identify Y2K and related issues, but is not expected to be complete or authoritative. The author makes no express or implied warranties that this material will help its audience to identify or fix Y2K problems. The information contained here is accurate to the best of the author's knowledge. The author cannot and does not accept liability for any loss (including any financial loss) arising out of actions based on this information. The author is not a Y2K consultant, and is not able to assist with specific Y2K problems.

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