John Harp Michelle Norton

Lisa M. Chmiola Jim Parsons

Why 2K?

Only 450 days until the year 2000, and many people are freaking out about "Y2K," the computer glitch. It seems that, when computer programmers were designing software in the 1970s and 1980s, they decided to save money and represent years by their last two digits. Thus, 1979 became 79, 1980 became 80, and so on.

But when 2000 hits, 00 makes things a bit trickier. Computers get confused when adding or subtracting years in which 2000 is involved. For example, a phone call beginning before midnight Dec. 31, 1999, and ending after midnight Jan. 1, 2000, could be mistaken for a 99-year conversation due to Y2K.

Many facets of life could be affected by Y2K - ATMs, traffic lights, even coffee makers. But rest assured, companies and the government are working to combat the problem in time, and an office has been set up at UH to supplement efforts to fight Y2K that were begun in the late 1980s.

Our question is: How could computer programmers make such a stupid mistake, to be so careless as to not think ahead? Maybe the programmers knew about Y2K all along. Imagine a conversation between two programmers in the '70s ... (enter Blondie music and platform shoes)

"It's going to be more expensive if we design programs with four-digit years. How about just using the last two digits? That'll cut the price 50 percent!"

"Yeah, but what about 2000? Won't that cause a glitch?"

"Of course it will, you idiot. That's the whole idea. We design the software with this glitch, and we'll have to fix it in the 1990s. Imagine what that will be like - people will panic en masse, and we, the computer nerds, will come to the rescue of the damsels in distress. We'll show those football players how tough they are then! And think of all the extra income we'll pull in ... vacations in Tahiti for everyone! Groovy!"

"But won't they wonder why we did it in the first place?"

"Yeah, but we'll just say we didn't expect the software to last that long or something. Besides, somebody will give the whole crisis a high-tech name, and soon they'll forget why the problem even exists, and we'll be filthy rich! Ha ha!"

So Y2K just has to be a conspiracy. No? Well, it makes about as much sense as the existence of the problem itself.


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