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Y2K Breakdowns Which Have Already Happened

Important Note: The Y2K scene is constantly changing. I have chosen to focus on finding and creating materials to help people use Y2K for personal and social transformation. I have found that trying to keep general Y2K pages like this one updated takes a tremendous amount of time. Since there are dozens of sites that do that job better than I ever could, I've decided to refer you to them and to spend my time on what I do best -- collecting materials on transformation. Good sites to keep up with current genral Y2K information include: Wild2K, Douglass Carmichael's site (see especially his archived weekly newsletter), the Napa Valley, CA community group's site, Alan Lewis' Y2K Pages: Y2-KO or Y2-OK?, Larry Sanger's Daily links to and intelligent summaries of 6-10 top news stories about Y2K, Westergaard, Peter de Jager's site and the comprehensive news source Y2Ktoday. I wish you good luck in your explorations. -- Tom Atlee


Big 3 fight 2000 bug in forced upgrade:
Suppliers' computers a worry to car makers.

By Automotive writer, Rachel Konrad, Detroit Free Press, 4/23/98

American Automotive manufactures, Ford, Chrysler and GM all started fairly early to work on their Y2K issues and expressed great confidence about the effectiveness of their preparations. They also got an early start on requiring compliance from their suppliers.

Then, last year, Chrysler shut down it's Sterling Heights Assembly plant to test their fixes. They set all the clocks in the plant to 12/31/99. They expected to find some computer glitches ­p; but they were really unprepared by what happened.

Chrysler Chairman, Robert Eaton reported that nobody could get out of the plant because the security system absolutely shut down and wouldn't let anybody in or out of the plant. And they couldn't have paid people because the time clock systems didn't work.


CIO Szygenda Says: GM's Problems are Catastrophic Newsgroup, 4/17/98

General Motors conducted similar experiments and their CIO, Ralph Szygenda stated that "at each one of our factories there are catastrophic problems. Amazingly enough machines on the factory floor are far more sensitive to incorrect dates then we ever anticipated. When we tested robotic devices for transition into the year 2000, for example, they just froze and stopped operating."

Note from Dacia Reid: Virtually all of the problems Chrysler and GM discovered happened not because of problems in their newly corrected code. The problems happened because of embedded chips in nearly every piece of equipment in their factories. Chrysler as well as others doing "early" testing of Y2K fixes were shocked to discover such enormous, unexpected vulnerability.


How Y2K could kill a town: Tests Reveal Potential Catastrophe

Sun Herald of Australia, 4/26/98

In Australia, when engineers simulated tests of the water storage facility at Coff's Harbour, they discovered that the system that regulates purification of the water would have dumped all the purification chemicals into the water on 1/1/2000 causing a mix toxic enough to kill the entire population of it's supply area.

Please see Is the Coff's Harbor Y2K incident real?

Food Destroyed by Computer Bug

The computer system at Marks & Spencer department store in London recently destroyed tons of food during the process of doing a long term forecast. The computer read 2002 as 1902. Instead of four more years of shelf life, the computer calculated that this food was ninety-six years old. It ordered it thrown out.

United Airlines, Flight Talk Network, February 1998
cited in The Year 2000: Social Chaos or Social Transformation by John L. Petersen, Margaret Wheatley, and Myron Kellner-Rogers

This incident is also described by software management expert Edward Yourdon, co-author of Time Bomb 2000 in an interview sent to me in a 3/17 email. I'm not sure its original source. This is the quote given:

The classic is the disaster at Marks & Spencer. Some corned beef hash came in. It had a bar code on the side of the boxes with an expeiration date that happened to be 2002. So the clerk waved his bar-code reader on it and the computer rejected it, thinking it had expired in 1902. Well, the clerk thought, that's cool -- the computer said reject it, what do I care? And he can't read the bar-code anyway. So he puts it back in the loading dock and sends the stuff back. A day or two later it arrives back at the corned-beef hash company, and the clerk types in a transaction saying six cases of corned-beef hash rejected by our good client Marks & Spencer. Fine, no problem, what does he care? Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer wanted the corned-beef hash, so they put in another order. A week later, another six cases show up. Rejected the same way.

It went back and forth apparently four times before they ran out of inventory up at the store. Now the shelves are empty. Somebody comes down to the purchasing department and says, "What's going on? You guys can't manage your inventory!? Afer a lot of angry phone calls and finger-pointing, finally it percolated up to the point where somebody had his brain in the "on" position.

What the Y2K "rollover" might look like

from Routine that became a meltdown by Sue Ashton Davies

A Y2K remediation team working for one of Australia's largest manufacturers, rolled their computers forward to January 1, 2000.
"Within minutes, 750 programs had fallen over. One of the few programs to
continue running was invoicing, but it was producing invoices for the 43rd
day of the 14th month. As the job finally ground to a halt, a silence hung
over the room as everyone stared vacantly into the terminal...."

Expert Warns Computer World is Running Out of Time
to Meet 2000; Code is Broken and Needs to Be Fixed Fast, He Says

by Virginia Hick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 19, 1997, p. C8

[Y2K expert Peter] De Jager talked recently with an executive of a company that makes a volatile gas -- he would not identify the company more specifically -- who told de Jager how his plant discovered the seriousness of faulty embedded chips.

The plant found a chip that failed when the date was moved forward. When the chip failed, it shut off a valve that would have shut down the cooling system. A cooling system shutdown, the executive said, would have caused an explosion.

"That was great news," de Jager said. "Because they checked -- there will be no explosion. They're replacing the chips."

De Jager worries about the companies that are not checking.

[Note: "A recent Walls Fargo bank survey shows that of the small businesses that even know about the problem, roughly half intend to do nothing about it." -- President Bill Clinton, July 15,1998]

Y2K Billing Problem Jams DC phone system

Letter to Business Week, March 28, 1998 from John Gochenouer, Andreas School of Business, Miami Shores, Fla.

In 1972, the hospital I worked for mistakenly sent out more than 10,000 medical bills threatening immediate legal action if not paid. I was the accounts-receivable supervisor at the time and found the error was caused by a comuter program that thought the date was 01/01/1900. Two sitting Supreme Court Justices, one retired Justice, Attorney General John Mitchell's maid, Bobby Kennedy's daughter, members of Congress, and numerous other dignitaries were threatened with civil suits. Patients couldn't use the phones because of the crush of irate incoming calls. The phone company threatened to su te opital and claimed the phone system in one quadrant of the District of Columbia was severely affected.

One company's real life Y2K problems

Here is a real-world example of a Y2K failure. A buddy of mine (call him
"Jim") is the network administrator at a small (8 Mill/yr sales) company.
I can't say the company name, so if you are going to whine about how I am
making this up, don't bother reading on. But I am familiar enough with the
situation (I know some other people there) to know that he is not making
this up. It is a manufacturing company.

"Jim" warned the company management over a year ago that the company's
software would self-destruct in October of 1998 because of the year 2000
bug. It looks out 15 months into the future and although the software is
configurable, it can't be configured to look ahead for a shorter time
period. The software is an old DOS package, and it's not Y2K compliant.
It runs everything from manufacturing documentation to accounting, payroll
and accounts payable included.

The company management dragged its feet until March. Finally, after "Jim"
threatened to quit, they decided to shell out the $100K or so it cost for
new software. Months of work followed by both the software vendor and
"Jim" to make the switchover happen. Well, here it is the end of October, and
the new system isn't up yet. They started too late, so the old software is
still running, and is peeking over the Y2K boundary.

There have been problems. The database files get scrambled on a daily
basis. "Jim" has to edit these files manually with a hex editor to fix
them. The headers get screwed up, and he uses a hex editor to
compare the old (good) file with the new (screwed) file. Then he guesses
what to edit to make it limp along for another 4 hours. Sometimes the files
can't be repaired, and the lost data must be re-entered from paper copies
(if any exist).

The real kicker came the other day when they ran Accounts Payable. They
are a wee bit behind on their AP, so they paid out partial payments to many
of their vendors. A total of $150K worth of checks was printed, and
promptly mailed. Shortly thereafter, the system crashed yet again. The record of
the latest checks was lost. Since a large number of vendors were paid,
they now have no idea of what they owe to any vendor. It effectively
destroyed all records of their AP.

Y2K is serious. This little manufacturer is wasting lots of time fighting
Y2K problems (100 man-hours this month so far), and is losing money from
lost information. And they are in good shape - my friend "Jim" saw this
coming and insisted that the problem be fixed at great expense to the
company. He is a big asset to the company, so they listened when he
threatened to quit. If he were mediocre, they probably would have called
his bluff. They will be ready (supposedly) on November 1st. But there
are THOUSANDS of similar small companies that haven't shelled out big bucks
for a fix. They will start seeing problems soon. And the problems will get
worse and worse as more routines look past 1/1/00.

Although this company is experiencing lots of computer problems, the
customers have yet to find out. The customers can only interact with the
company via telephone with the sales or service departments (or www), so
nternal problems are easily concealed. But their efficiency and
effectiveness has been reduced significantly. And it has cost them
dearly both to fix the problem and to not have it fixed in time.

I hope this provides a small example of what Y2K can do. Computers are
boring and unimportant devices - until they quit working. There are very
few companies that can survive for long without their data.

Blake Leverett