Y2K, the Crazy: Computer glitch or mind-blowing catastrophe?

IT was in control of Y2K issues by Millennium Eve, but users' fears were still running rampant.

Editor's note: This is part III of our series, "Y2K: The good, the bad, and the crazy." Read "Y2K, the good," and "Y2K, the bad," and then take a moment to share your own Millennium Eve tales.

While much of the IT activity leading up to the year 2000 was drudge work -- patching some systems, upgrading others -- sometimes things got crazy. Or management got crazy, or users.

Read on for a few stories from veterans in the trenches, starting with contributions from readers of Computerworld's popular Shark Bait forum.

Yes, Virginia, your hair dryer will still work

Among other odd behaviors, here are a few things Shark Bait readers found themselves doing in the the days and months leading up to New Year's Day, 2000.

  • Reassuring acquaintances that nuclear power plants weren't going to melt down and their wood-burning furnaces wouldn't cease to function.
  • Convincing officemates that they needn't stockpile dried fruits, water and fuel for a coming apocalypse.
  • Patching COBOL code at the last minute that had already been certified as Y2K-compliant -- to the tune of $100K -- by an outside firm.
  • Restraining over-enthusiastic co-workers from plastering every available surface in the office -- including shredders, scissors and urinals -- with "Y2K-compliant" stickers.

(Read the full account of Y2K goofs and gaffes, as well as readers' earlier Y2K recollections.)

Other CIOs and IT managers likewise found that non-techies' Y2K priorities didn't always match their own.

Forget Y2K; it's the furniture, stupid

On Dec. 29, 1999, as his team was buttoning up one of the last sites on its list for Y2K remediation at Continuum Health Partners, Michael Israel received an irate call from the CIO of one of the hospitals.

Apparently, a doctor's desk had been scratched.

At that point, Israel's team had literally touched every system used by Continuum Health Partners in New York City, which owned several large hospitals. "We were upgrading the system of one of the lead doctors in the hospital, and we scratched his mahogany desk. It was this crazy doctor who brought in millions of dollars a year to the hospital," says Israel, who was chief operating officer for AMC Computer Corp., which had been hired to do the work.

"After 37,000 system touches nothing else mattered. I was getting screamed at," says Israel, still incredulous. "We had to hire a wood refinisher."

Turn of a century, just not the right one

At Ace Hardware Corp., a team of 30 IT staff assembled in a conference room at 10:00 p.m. on Dec. 31, 1999 to wait for news of how its systems were faring around the globe. "The year 2000 came in first in the Pacific, and a dealer in Saipan [in the Northern Mariana Islands] reported in almost immediately," says Paul Ingevaldson, who was Ace's senior vice president of international and technology at the time.

Pole displays, mounted on the registers in every store, were supposed to show the correct date as well as the sale amount. "Once the [New Year] flipped, the date that came up was 1900," he says. Apparently, programmers had changed the point of sale software, but not the program that fed the pole itself.

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