Tuesday, July 17, 2012


At the dawn of the computer age during the 1960's, it was common practice for companies to abbreviate the dates, that were inputed into their computer's hard drives to be stored, by using only the digits that fall at the end of each year as it is written.  For example, December 5,1982 would be entered into the computer as "12-5-82" or "5-12-82." Not only did this save valuable time and money for companies who used computers, and even the government's computer systems as well, but it also saved a lot of space; literally. Here is a picture of a computer hard drive in the 1960's:

At the time, this was a brilliant plan.  It saved lots of money and space. The size of these machines, as well as the cost of the disks themselves, had businesses concerned.  So, a simple solution would almost triple the capacity of their hard disk drives.  In the 1980's, certain people began mentioning that it could be a problem.  At that time even, computers ruled the world.  Credit card machines, Airports, Military technology, and many more things located in the United States of America, and other thriving countries, were run by computer technology for the most part.  Scientists and Theorists began to wonder and speculate about whether or not computers would be confused and/or bugs would occur and ruin hard drives and deactivate computer systems across the globe when the new millennium changed in the year 2000.  It wasn't a serious issue at the time, around 1986, when articles pertaining to this nature began sprouting up in journals, magazines, and newspapers.  Articles were few and far between.

In the year 1999, after the topic lay mostly dormant for 15 years or so, concern of an even larger capacity began to form amongst the general public.  After all, 15 years in the computer business is a long time.  Technology moves fast in silicon valley.  By 1999, computers were so efficient, that everyone used them, even in their own homes.  Computers were even found in 2nd world countries.  I wouldn't say people were worried.  I knew I wasn't.  I had much more faith in mankind.  I didn't think we were about to let something we created and built destroy us that easily.  Rumors of planes and space satellites were doomed to come crashing to the Earth's surface.  Trains would run rampant off of their tracks at incredible speeds.  Traffic lights all over the world would cease to work any longer.

Naturally, mankind won.  New operating systems and software made it a simple task to convert files to a 4-digit date format.  Time and money were saved, as well as our lives, hypothetically.  Many companies waited until after January 1, 2000 to change over the formats on their hard drives, which were now much smaller, and could store unimaginable amounts of data compared to their 1960's counterparts.

1 comment:

  1. Having worked as a quality control manager for a mining company in the late 1990's Y2k was a real concern of upper level management. Their concerns caused the computer literates working at the company to snicker behind their backs and make a considerable amount of money working overtime. The media had fueled the curiosity of the public and instilled fear into the masses, including our high level managers. Our computer hard drive and tape backups contained our quality and production data for the entire operations from circa 1985 - but the real question was would the system operate after 1999? We spent countless hours in meetings discussing what we would do should the data be lost and our operating system not functional.

    To keep the upper level managers satisfied, we updated and created paper copies of the files because this was what management decided was the appropriate means to ensure that we would be able to save all the information. Thousands of pages were electronically saved with many of the more important data actually printed. We were expressly forbidden to experiment by making a force date change in the system because of the unfounded fear that this would cause should the computer cease operating when the date switched and we would not be able to continue to operate the quality system without the computers. We were to wait until the New Year and react to whatever happens.

    Of course we suspected that nothing negative would would happen - but of course we were curious and had a slight degree of doubt. We explained to management that all would be okay. Without telling management, we experimented with a smaller database and hard drive by switching the date to 00, saved the information and used the system for about an hour operating the system in the 00 year without any bugs. Thankfully, we had no problems saving the data nor was the operating system effected by the date change. In the last meeting on the last working afternoon before the end of 1999, we assured management there would be no problems, and someone need not be at the facility 1/1/00 at 12am to make sure all was well with the computers. We assured them that we had to taken measures to protect all the data and system.