I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray“1999” by Prince Nelson Rogers, written in 1982
But when I woke up this mornin’, could’ve sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin’ everywhere
Tryin’ to run from the destruction, you know I didn’t even care
Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time.
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine
Twenty years ago I held my as the clock ticked from 11:59 to midnight. There was a real fear that this might be The End of the World as We Know It™. To me, that was just yesterday, and those memories are fresh in my mind. It’s hard to fathom that the college students in Laura’s classes were either born AFTER the year 2000 or were too young to have any experience of experience of the Y2K scare.
It was a simple solution to an early technical problem, which caused a nightmare of problems later. Instead of using four digits for the year in dates, programmers used two digits. So instead of using “1965” you would use “65”. World Atlas describes it this way, along with the reasons for using only two digits for the year…
In the 1960s and 1970s, when computer engineers worked on complex computer programs, they used two-digit codes to represent the year. The first two digits were left out. For example, instead of coding “1960”, they just used “60”. The main reason for leaving out the first two digits was to save on storage space which was too costly. For instance, a kilobyte of storage went for as high as US$100. Additionally, the programmers did not expect the programs to last up to the turn of the century. When the new Millennium neared, computer experts realized that the software would recognize “00” as 1900 instead of the year 2000. This realization posed a risk to many institutions such as banks, insurance companies, hospitals, and government departments that relied on computers to provide accurate time and date.What was the Y2K Scare? – World Atlas
Even as late as the 1980s, the year 2000 was the stuff of science fiction – flying cars, space travel, robot maids, and evil sentient computers. It seemed so far into the future that no one was thinking about this simple programming issue. Heck, even our bank checks came pre-printed with “19” on the date line so that we only had to fill out the last two digits. As the 1990s came around, people started to pay attention. Even the authoritative voice of Leonard Nimoy was used to raise of the issue.
In 1999 I was right in the thick of the Y2K mess. I was the Director of Technology for District Five Schools of Spartanburg. Our administrators and school board all wanted to know if our computer systems would still be running after the Christmas holidays. It was a monumental job – making plans for upgrades while assuring people that we were doing everything we could to prevent problems.
There were any number of charlatans and opportunists offering their “Y2K Solutions.” I got phone calls and e-mails every day from companies with sales pitches. I remember one proposal a company sent me that said that for $98,000 they would audit our systems and tell us what we needed to fix. That 98K was just tell us what was wrong, not to fix anything. It would cost more for that.
Fortunately, we were in a good position. Our network infrastructure needed to be replaced, regardless of any Y2K issues. I used this as an opportunity to upgrade all of our network switches and server software, spending just a little more than that one company wanted just to audit our systems. Other companies with which we dealt were reputable and wanted to keep our business for years, and not just through the new year. They worked with us to upgrade their software and products. By the time the 1999 Christmas holidays rolled around I felt confident that our school district’s technology was ready.
But, there was still that nagging doubt. There were some who thought that no amount of preparation would get us ready. There were some that even welcomed the idea of a technological apocalypse.
There were the religious types looking for the Second Coming. In their world view it had only been 4000 years from the time of Adam and Eve to the birth of Christ. The year 2000 was a nice, logical way to end earthly existence – three sets of 2K.
My late friend Robert Ridgeway was not of the religious persuasion, but he had his own ideas about Y2K. I had lost track of him, but somehow he had gotten a job in nuclear energy. Robert feared that the nuclear industry, in particular, was not ready. He produced a video entitled “Nuclear Y2K Countdown” to raise awareness of the problems. Here’s a press release that he sent to several agencies and online forums:
Of all the global disturbances posed by the Y2K bug, the most ominous yet least well known are the dangers to nuclear power plants and arsenals. Threats to the proper functioning of information, operation, and security systems, as well as power supplies, risk catastrophe. All industrial nuclear accidents, including Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, have stemmed from remarkably minor malfunctions. More times than we would like to know, the world has been brought to within seconds of nuclear missile launches due to misinterpretations of common events. Y2K simply multiplies the likelihood of these failures – but for all systems at the same time, including those necessary to respond to any unfolding emergency.
I produced “Nuclear Y2K Countdown” to provide both clear explanations of the dangers we are facing, and the positive actions we can successfully implement to minimize or even eliminate those risks. With the documentary completed, all that remains is to get the word out. The target audience is everyone – no exaggeration, given the scope and gravity of the matter. The presence of over a hundred nuclear plants in the U.S. alone makes it “must know” information for our fellow citizens. Broad circulation of “Nuclear Y2K Countdown” will work to empower the public and government, industry, and military officials to work together toward timely protective action.
My intent is to distribute “Nuclear Y2K Countdown” to involved government, industry, and military officials; citizen action groups; NETA/PBS, and other educational networks; universities; independent theaters; film festivals; and interested individuals who have the personal ability to bring added attention to this urgent matter (i.e., Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner, and George Soros). I also encourage recipients to duplicate, distribute, and broadcast the program at will for non-profit educational purposes, thereby leveraging many times the power of the initial distribution.
Jake Barlow is the Director of Photography and Editor, the Graphics designer is Brandon Wolf, and I am the Producer and Director. The speakers were cosponsored by STAR (Standing for Truth About Radiation), the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Ed Markey. The project itself is non-profit, and made possible with funding by STAR, anonymous supporters, Jake Barlow, and myself.
My experience with the nuclear industry includes working in the Nuclear Emergency Planning Section of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and volunteering with SCOPE (Southern Coalition Opposing Plutonium Energy). My additional video production experience includes working with Turner Network Television on a tribute to the veterans of WWI, and winning a scholarship to the Ninth Southeastern Media Institute. I also have a background in photography, writing, editing, and political cartooning. Jake Barlow, a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, achieved the highest level of internship with South Carolina Educational Television as the President’s Assistant, and has already won professional news awards. He was a major factor in Columbia’s WIS receiving “Spot News Station of the Year” from the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, and is now Fox News Bureau Chief at Cape Canaveral. Brandon Wolf is a graphics student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and works in production at NBC’s Savannah affiliate WSAV. Both Jake Barlow and Brandon Wolf were selected for their obvious outstanding talents and creativity.
Copies of “Nuclear Y2K Countdown” [NTSC or PAL format VHS versions for European use] are available for just the cost of duplication and distribution: please mail a check for $20 (US dollars) per copy to the address below.
I’ve never seen this video and I don’t know if there are copies available. I might have to see if I can reach out to Jake Barlow to see if he has one. Sadly, Robert died in 2012, another apocalyptic year, according to the Mayan calendar.
On January 1, 2000, the world did not end. There was no nuclear meltdown or second coming. Laura and I watched the Byrnes High School Rebel Regiment march in the Rose Parade, then dismantled our Christmas decorations while watching the Rose Bowl Game, as we had in years past. Life went on. Folks like Robert and other doomsayers lost credibility. I was able to report to our school board that we hadn’t spent unnecessary money, but had taken prudent, timely precautions and done upgrades that would have been necessary, regardless.
So here we find ourselves 20 years later. Laura and I will once again watch the Rose Bowl activities while taking down our tree. I don’t anticipate any problems, but I’m not as wrapped in technology as I once was. At least, Alexa doesn’t think I am.
And on that note, I think I’ll just leave it to the immortal words of Prince, and tonight plan on partying like it’s 1999.