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Monday, March 1, 1999
Big blue, blue white wash

According to Time Magazine, they’ve found out who caused the so-called ‘Millennium Bug’. It was started by ‘several scientists, including US Navy Officer Grace Murray Hopper who created the programming language called COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). To save space on the 80-column punch cards they used six, not eight digits for the day, month and year. This understandable expediency was inherited into the post-cardboard era by various companies, including IBM.
Robert Bemer was an IBM whiz kid who had written much of COBOL. He quickly redeemed himself by actually creating a Y2K fix in the late ‘50s. Unfortunately, he was promptly ignored, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ironically, Mr Bemer later issued two warnings, first in 1971, and then in 1979, but again he was ignored. In fact, Time says he was ridiculed.
If this wasn’t all alarming enough, it is reported that COBOL has been rejigged so often by so many different programmers over the years that the date locations have been lost. The amount of code that has to be checked has grown to 1,2 trillion lines. It’s one explanation of why programmers are also called ‘nerds’.
And if the world got it wrong for 40 years, it also got the name wrong — at least one of them. The current millennium ends 31st December 2000, yet the ‘bug’ starts its antics just after 31st December 1999, a year earlier. ‘Y2K’, standing for Year 2000, is a better term to use. At least some people got some of it right.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:12.2 1st March, 1999
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