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Year 2000

Steve Mathieson, Computing [05 Jan 2000]

Debug watch: Y2K plague or gnat bite?

Computing kept an eye on where the bug was biting - here's a full round-up.

On New Year's Day, the UK's reported millennium bug problems were trivial, with a PC in an Aberdeen weather centre and a tide gauge in Portsmouth harbour the only publicised failures. Other countries reported much more serious problems, although none were disastrous.

The biggest UK problem bit four days earlier, when 20,000 credit card readers made by Racal and largely distributed by HSBC failed to work properly. Some retailers fell back to using carbon copy machines, and Racal received 10,000 calls for help.

"There is a possibility of legal action against HSBC, if our lawyers think we have a case," said Stephen Alambritis, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses. He said the organisation will negotiate with the bank for compensation before suing.

HSBC said the problem machines had been supplied by other banks as well as itself. "It's an industry issue. We feel it has been inaccurately reported," said a spokesman.

A spokesman for Racal said the bug hit only two per cent of its installed card readers: "This didn't show up in testing," he said. "You can't cater for every eventuality."

He said the readers were able to work if a couple of extra keys were hit before a card was swiped. The error has now corrected itself.

Portman building society sent out several hundred statements dated 1900 for a specialised bond, although other information on the statements was correct. The problem was quickly corrected.

The Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority both reported only a few minor glitches at UK finance houses. Water and telecom watchdogs Ofwat and Oftel said there have been no problems in either of their industries.

A report from Europe-wide nuclear power trade body Foratom, saying that the UK had experienced two bug-related faults at its plants, was firmly denied by the British Nuclear Industry Forum.

"There were no Year 2000 problems notified by the three organisations, BNFL Magnox, British Energy or the UK Atomic Energy Authority," said a spokesman.

Hackers arguably caused more trouble than the bug, with websites belonging to Lloyds of London and Railtrack cracked. The rail infrastructure owner's site was altered to say that no trains were running on New Year's Day and 2 January.

Meanwhile, the Millennium Dome's website continues to count down - to the real start of the millennium on 1 January 2001, when the expensive Greenwich tourist attraction is scheduled to close.

Dome countdown:

Bug bites reported around the world

* The Pentagon lost the ability to process data from some military satellites at midnight GMT, a problem it admitted was "serious". A backup system was in place within three hours, but it took two days to restore systems.

* An undisclosed problem hit a computer at the US's main uranium storage site for its nuclear missiles, Oak Ridge, at midnight GMT. It was repaired in three and a half hours.

* Seven nuclear power stations had difficulties, although none serious.

* US bank Wells Fargo sent out certificates of deposit dated 1 January 1900, and the West Des Moines water utility mailed bills dated 3 January 1900.

* Among smaller problems, a man in New York City was charged $91,000 for returning a video a century late, and several hundred slot machines failed at racetracks in Delaware.

* Five nuclear power stations malfunctioned just after midnight GMT, although problems were minor, such as failing radiation monitors and temperature gauges.

* Problems were reported at one foreign bank and several domestic brokerages.

* Computerised prison records gave the wrong dates for birth, trial and release dates, including those for mafia killers.

* Ship to shore communications systems gave the date as 1980 on New Year's Eve.

* Telecom Italia sent out bills dated 1900.

* A man in Florence withdrew more than #3500 from his bank account on 28 December, fearing the bug might wipe his account. Andrea Scancarella was then promptly mugged by two men on a scooter.

* Six Turkish companies told the country's stock exchange that they had suffered bug-related problems, causing their shares to be suspended.

* A salesman from Bergheim near Cologne found Dm12,999,997 (#3.87 million) in his account after New Year, when checking his bank account online. With the account dated 30 December 1899, he may also have a lot of interest payments due.

* Heart monitoring equipment failed in three hospitals. The problem was fixed without endangering life.

* First baby born was registered as being 100 years old at birth.

Australia and New Zealand
* Some bus ticketing systems were reported to have failed in both countries.

France and elsewhere
* Weather reports from the French weather service displayed on the Web were dated '19100'. Similar bugs were found elsewhere on the Web worldwide, including on sites belonging to Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and the US Naval Observatory - the country's official timekeeper.


-- John Whitley (, January 07, 2000


Link off - nice colour, though :)

-- John Whitley (, January 07, 2000.

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