New Year’s Eve is sometimes a stressful occasion

Today is New Year's Eve, another opportunity for to mark that an approximately-integral number of revolutions of the earth have occurred since some point in time that wasn't even calculated correctly in the first place. (We retain it for backward compatibility.)

December 31, 1999 was a particularly anxious day in the technology sector. Microsoft's Director of Y2K Readiness and vice president of Product Support Services described some of the steps that were being taken to prepare for any timekeeping-related issues that would arise as the calendar ticked over to 2000.

We've analyzed phone capacity, IT systems backup for both data and power, and additional lab environments for enhanced product support capabilities. We have redundant power systems, including back-up generators, at key locations in the unlikely event we lose power.

I got to see one of those key locations, or at least I saw it from a distance.

Parked outside Building 26, the home of the Core Operating Systems Division, were semi-trailers filled with computers and back-up generators, ready to spring into action in case of a disaster of biblical proportions and somebody needed to develop a hotfix to Windows on the spot as civilized society collapsed into anarchy all around. (Personally, I would think that if civilization were collapsing, you would have more important things to worry about than patching an operating system.)

At least to make things more pleasant for the people who had to remain at work that night, Microsoft threw "a New Year's Eve party with a disc jockey, dinner, and a champagne toast at midnight. Our employees can bring their spouses and children, and we'll even host a separate children's party."

Actually, it sounds like they had more fun than I did that night. I think I stayed at home and watched television.

It turns out that civilization did not collapse into anarchy. There were minor glitches, but nothing serious. "No problems were seen in Angola, Uganda and Kenya, where the telephone system was said to be functioning as erratically as usual. Italy, one of the worst-prepared countries in the West, also appeared to cross into the new century without any major trouble." Nice to know you can be snarky in a newspaper article.

(Nitpicker's corner: January 1, 2000 was not the first day of a new century.)

Depending on how you look at it, Y2K was either an overhyped event created to generate revenue for the technology industry, or was a demonstration of how people can solve a major problem if they just worked hard and coöperated.

Reality is probably a mix of the two.

Happy new year, everybody. See you on the other side.

Comments (18)
  1. Pierre Lebeaupin says:

    Hey Raymond, as a common courtesy I'd like to inform you that I parodied you on my blog at…/9917052 . I wish I could have sent this to you privately in order to avoid ostensibly plugging my blog, but I failed to find a way to contact you privately (which may be intentional, as far as I can tell).

    (I thought this was as good a day as any to mention this…)

    [Nicely done. -Raymond]
  2. Anon says:

    Y2K was an example of what can happen when you use the Power of Pessimism: The problem was fixed.

    Good thing that was before the Age of Optimism in software; today, people just sprinkle some faerie dust on their software and say that nothing will go wrong.

    See Also: Every single story about a security flaw in the past half-dozen or more years.

  3. AsmGuru62 says:

    Isn't it true that Y2K is the source of a thing called: "Software QA"?


  4. j b says:

    > (Nitpicker's corner: January 1, 2000 was not the first day of a new century.)

    OK, so you are not a digital guy, but a discontinous-time-line church guy where -1 is immediately followed by +1 on the time line.

    I am curious: Do you also count the centuries the same way? Base 1, that is. So that the first century is the years from 100 (or is that 101?) to year 199 (or is that year 200)? In base 1 philosphy, this is the second, not the third millenium, isn't it?

    Actually, I have never met anyone consistently being base-1 based – with the possible exceptions of deeply religious persons who push even 1 + 1 = 2 aside if it conflicts with their religious ideas. Even those Christian mathmaticians I know are less than eager to develop a mathmatics based on +1 – -1 being 1, as the religious leaders claim, rather than 2. At least when it has to do with years around the birth of Christ.

    Unless you subscribe to the religious "+1 minus -1 is one" belief, and accept that the first century didn't start at year 100 (or 101), then year 2000 was the start of the new millenium.

    (Here in Norway, we saw lot of very agitated people fighting against the year 2000 newyear celebration as the start of the new millienum. The year after, we noticed nothing. Noone was out to celebrate any "real" turn of the millenium; it was a quiete ordinary new years eve. Why? We should have seen a lot of celebration way above the average from those base-1 people. But we didn't.)

  5. Mr Cranky says:

    @j b: There's eternal misunderstanding of the difference between counting years and measuring them.  Years are traditionally "named" with ordinal numbers.  E.g. Christmas 1776 was December 25th of the 1st year of the USA; not the "0th year".  When we celebrated the bicentennial on 7/4/1976, it was the first day of the 201st year, but the celebration was about completing 200 years.

    So, 12/31/2000 was the last day of the 2nd millennium, the 20th century, the 200th decade, and the 2000th year.

    1/1/2000 was only significant in that it was the beginning of the 2000th year.

    If you don't like it, complain to Julius Caesar.  And you should start numbering months and days from 0 too.  Not that this wouldn't make sense… it's just not what we do.

  6. Karellen says:

    @jb: You seem to be under the assumption that calendars can in some way make sense, if we just look at them right.

    They don't.

    There is the problem that 4 + 1 = 15, where 1582-10-04 was followed by 1582-10-15 in Spain and Italy (followed by similar discontinutities in other countries) with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. There is the problem that years are of uneven length (due to leap years), that days are of uneven length (due to timezone changes), that minutes are of uneven length (due to leap seconds), and others. Heck, just go read "Falsehoods programmers believe about time"[0] for more information and examples. Going from year -1 to +1 is only a tiny part of the endless weirdness that is the way we measure time.

    Noting that the Gregorian calendar and the "Common Era" calendar both go from -1 to +1 without an intervening 0 is a plain acknowledgement of history, and a well-worn understanding of the futility of trying and impose order and logic on calendars. It can't be done, and it probably won't accomplish much except frustrate you beyond all belief if you persist in trying.

    Accept the things you cannot change, and just work around the annoying quirks of history as best you can. (If you can package that up into a library for the rest of us to use, that'd be great too!)


  7. j b says:

    Mr Crancy and Karellen,

    In your part of the world, was there a huge celebration of the new millenium when we entered 2001, far greater than when we from 1999 to 2000? In my part of the world, there wasn't. At I never got the impression from the newspapers that around the world, there was any great "new millennium" celebration at the end of year 2000 – that was a year earlier.

    So if you want to appeal to "the common way of counting years" and "the way we do", in its various formulations, wby don't you do exactly that? There was a small minority insisting on everybody being wrong. It appears as "besserwissen", pretending to be smarter than everybody around you.

    Most of those people never related to the question of year 0, and in which year Jesus is claimed to be born – was it on Christmas Day year zero, year 1 BC or year 1 AD? They don't even know that year zero isn't a valid answer, because that year never existed (according to the church). Yet they insist on "knowing" when we have had 2000 years after the birth of Christ!

    If these protesters had created a really big celebration one year later, I would have respected them for their insistence. But they didn't – neither here nor worldwide. So it ended up as a pure protest for the sake of protesting. And for displaying one's besserwissen.

  8. hooray hooray says:

    Why not look forward to the century which is about to begin every 5 minutes?

  9. Yuhong Bao says:

    It was also an era where MS mostly had no formal support lifecycle for their products.

  10. Since a century is simply a period of 100 consecutive years, *every* January 1st begins a century (just as every January 1st begins a millennium, too).  So let's look forward to the century about to begin – 2014 to 2113 inclusive.

  11. Yuhong Bao says:

    As an example, I found out that Word 7.0a never got the MS09-002 fix even though it has the macro warning and is affected by this bug but did get a Y2K fix that was released after the bulletin was issued.

  12. Yuhong Bao says:

    Sorry, MS09-002 is actually MS99-002.

  13. Neil says:

    Decades do work on a zero basis. Not sure what we do about the decade before the 10-19 decade though.

  14. Karellen says:

    @jb: No, there was a big celebration when all the zeros rolled around, because that's the sort of thing most people focus on.

    It doesn't really matter when Jesus was actually born (I'd heard that the best estimate was 4BCE, and Wikipedia puts his birth at between 7BCE – 2BCE[0].) or when the Anno Domini[1] year numbering was actually invented (525CE) or when it started to be widely used. The point is that the start of the epoch was, by definition, 1AD. And 2001-01-01 was the 2000th anniversary of that date.

    So what if there weren't spectacularly big celebrations by most people on that new year? Some of us still raised an extra glass to mark the occasion, just as we did again at 2001-09-09 01:46:40 UTC, and again at 2004-01-10 13:37:04 UTC. (Can you guess why?)



  15. kme says:

    Another way of looking at New Year's Eve is a celebration of the impending carry from the 'Months' place to the 'Years' place in that strange positional number system we use for denoting the passage of local time.  Humans like to mark seldom-occuring carries in positional number systems – I am sure that I am not the only one to be strangely satisfied by observing my car odometer carry from the fourth to the fifth place.

  16. Danny says:

    @jb "… Jesus is claimed to be born – was it on Christmas Day…"

    Jesus was not born on 25th Dec dude. Read the Bible, says right there, no matter what translation you use (King version or other). Xmas is just another Persian pagan celebration that was absorbed by Christianity in order to get more followers in the beginning of Christian religion. Don't forget Jesus was a Jew and the Jewish calendar is more then 2000 years old (even more then double of that period :P).

  17. voo says:

    @j b: Many people in my world also believe that the right answer to the Monty Hall problem is "There's no advantage switching to the other door". In my world people are generally ignorant of facts and go with their gut feeling even if it's factually wrong.

    Is your argument really "The majority thinks X, hence X must be true"? There's no critical mass of idiots where they suddenly become right.

  18. Boris says:

    And once again, I couldn't help but read /koʊˈøː.pə.reɪt/.

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