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Remember that time we thought the world was ending? No, not in 1910 when we thought Halley’s Comet was on a straight shot to Earth. (It passed by peacefully … obviously.) And, no, not when we thought that the world would end with the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. (It didn’t … again, obviously.) We’re talking about Y2K, or the “year 2000 problem” for any Gen-Z readers. That’s right: we thought that, on January 1, 2000, a sweeping computer-code problem would lead to the fall of civilization. “Either the millennium will dawn, or it won’t. Either the world will be thrust into a computer-crashing, humanity-crushing chaos, or it won’t. Either life will go on, or it won’t,” wrote On Wisconsin magazine. Worldwide preparation started in 1997. President Clinton launched a National Y2K Action Week. People took their money out of the bank and stocked up on SPAM. And here at the UW, a team was assembled to “search and destroy” any computer codes that might be affected. “The ‘Y2K Bug’ is a programming glitch caused by years that are represented with two rather than four numbers (81, rather than 1981). When calendars turn 2000, some computers may not recognize the new year,” said a UW–Madison news release. Campus began its Y2K preparations in 1997 when Robert Irons, a Y2K consultant, assembled a team to comb through millions of lines of computer codes across campus. They started with the university’s accounting systems, then moved onto registration and payroll. Good news: the team identified few problems — and once again, the world carried on. (Bucky changing his colors? Now that’d be a true apocalypse.) Photo courtesy of UW Archives, S14995.

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