During the Y2K lead-up, I had the privilege of testing my company's distribution center systems for Y2K compliance. These distribution centers ran a variety of automation software and controls that routed containers throughout the warehouses, where automatic dispensing units and human pickers loaded them up with goods to be shipped to the customers. It was (and still is) a very sophisticated system that enables the business to claim a very high service ratio of getting goods to customers as ordered and on time.
Naturally, the company did not want to be caught in a Y2K fiasco, so they assembled a few workers to travel throughout the country running a series of tests on the equipment.
[ Do you know your geek IQ? Take our quiz and find out ]
Since I had written much of the software and it did not deal with dates at all, I knew that this would be nothing more than an act of due-diligence. Nevertheless, I understood the need for this process and gladly lent my hand to the effort.
So, the procedure was like this: You'd arrive at the DC mid-day while the system was not being used. If you didn't know the DC manager, you'd introduce yourself and told him or her that the system would be back online well before the start of the production cycle, which began at 7:00 p.m. and ran until the last container shipped, sometime around 5:00 a.m. the next morning. You then would shut down the computers, set the BIOS dates to 15 minutes before the turn of the millennium, reboot, and run some functional tests. After that was done, you'd shut down the computers again, set the BIOS dates back to the current date and time, and restart the systems. Finally, you would run some additional functional tests. The entire process would usually take about 2 hours.
One of these warehouses happened to be located near New Orleans, a place near and dear to my heart: I went to high school and college in southern Louisiana, and started my career there. I planned out my itinerary that took me to three other cities before my last stop in New Orleans, then a few days of R&R. Planning ahead, I called my good friend -- we'll call him Jack -- and planned to meet him at 6 p.m after I'd be done at the DC.
Everything went as expected in all the other tests I ran, so I didn't anticipate anything different in New Orleans. I did my thing and when I rebooted the computers with the Y2K date, the system failed. The DC Manager looked upset.
"Don't worry, I'll reset everything and we'll resolve the issue offline and have a fix in place well before the end of the year," I told him. (Secretly, I was ecstatic. I had never encountered, nor expected to encounter, a real Y2K bug, and thought I had a live one.)