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At Large Welcome to the front

At Large Welcome to the front

Riding the train to work one morning, Matthew JC. Powell looks to the east and has a revelation . . .

This may already have occurred to you, so forgive me if I'm not telling you anything new. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you've read it somewhere else. No, don't be embarrassed - I read other things too sometimes. Just for the articles, mind you - the pictures do nothing for me.

One paragraph in and already I'm off topic. Getting back to it, the eyes of the world (as they say in the hyperbolic press) will be looking to Sydney in the year 2000. Actually, Sydney and Melbourne. Well, I suppose, it's likely at least some eyes will be anxiously viewing events in New Zealand.

If you thought I was talking about the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, you're probably really confused by now.

It's occurred to me in the past few weeks (I'm a bit slow sometimes) that the Earth spins in a vaguely easterly direction. Add to that the fact that the international dateline has been arbitrarily placed in the middle of the Pacific somewhere (that's why you always feel really wasted when you fly back from LA and can't remember the last three days or where you left your pants. I'm off topic again).

What I'm getting at is that every day arrives in this part of the world before the rest of the planet gets a look at it.

That's every day, including the big one: January 1, 2000. The one we have all been taught to fear.

When midnight hits on December 31 next year in Wellington, it will still be 10pm here on Australia's sunny east coast (I don't anticipate it being sunny at the time). In Brisbane, where daylight saving time is not observed (something to do with cows I think), it will be 9pm, but just as dark.

Sleeping soundly

It will be 9ish in Tokyo, 8pm in Singapore, 6pm in New Delhi, 3pm in Moscow, 1pm in Berlin, 11am in London, a bright and chirpy 7am in New York and 4am in Silicon Valley - where Apple's employees will be sleeping soundly, in the knowledge that Macs don't have this problem.

Every IT-aware person in the world will be looking, in those few hours, towards the cities in the South Pacific region, looking to see what happens to businesses, airliners, traffic signals, medical equipment, "embedded" devices and all the other rigmarole that's supposed to be affected by the Y2K whatchamacallit.

Yes, they'll have been doing tests and simulations and resetting their system clocks and running software that goes "bing" and all the rest of it.

They will have an idea of what to expect. They will believe that they are ready.

Watching world

But here, in the South Pacific, is where it will happen first - for real this time. And the world, if it knows what's good for it, will be watching. (I just had to say that. This paper normally frowns on such hyperbole, but I'm allowed to be scary if I'm talking about Y2K.)Think about it: while we are struggling with the real-world consequences of decades-old software design flaws, the rest of the world can watch, learn and make amends.

By the time it's 6am on January 1, 2000 in the New Zealand countryside, and the first reports start emerging of non-compliant shearing combs causing unspeakable mutilations to unwary sheep, it will still be 10am the day before in Redmond, Washington. Plenty of time for Microsoft to draft a press release blaming the problems on hardware faults rather than its widely used Ovis 97 software.

Meanwhile, an update can be quietly posted to the Web site by close of business.

Even the few precious hours that Tokyo has to watch what happens here might be enough to know what machines to steer clear of when the clock ticks over and to warn the masses.

Europeans will use the time to know whether or not to cancel their airline tickets and head for the big bunker in Switzerland. Muscovites will know whether the safeties on all those ex-Soviet nuclear subs are likely to hold out or not.

There are probably good ways for you guys to make money out of this golden opportunity, but I can't think of them. Here's my advice: practise sitting in front of your computer looking frustrated and shaking your head at some imagined failure.

Rehearse some doomsday line like "we knew it would be bad, but this is beyond our expectations".

It'll look great when CNN comes knocking.


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