Humor: They’re Baaaack …

How long have we known that the next millenium was approaching? Five years, 100 years or perhaps 2000 YEARS! Thus you may wonder why it is that computer programmers, whose profession is based on logic, could have been so utterly illogical in creating a problem technically referred to as Y2K, or more commonly known as YUR2LATE.

While this may appear a gross oversight, it actually is a clever case of planned obsolescence to counter planned obsolescence. In other words, while realizing that ROM wasn’t built in a day, upon its completion you may have to byte the hand that feeds your payroll form into the printer. If this is beginning to sound as esoteric, convoluted and threatening as the language of a software license agreement, perhaps it is simpler to explain this millenium bug situation with a brief review of the true reason it occurred.

In the early sixties, COBOL programmers were faced with the challenge of writing code for computers, which compared to today’s standards, were about as powerful and functional as the circuit board in a Tickle Me Elmo doll. Realizing the lack of technical prowess of their bosses, the programmers were surreptitiously able to claim that limitations of the mainframes necessitated omitting any reference to the century. Though this was wholly ludicrous, these "COBOLISTS" possessed great foresight in knowing it would take their employers over thirty years to realize they had a monumental problem on their hands, at which time they would beg them out of retirement for excessive money to fix it. As in inside joke, they named their programs "Legacy Systems" since their enviable legacy was to get away with creating a system based on such a folly with which they would escape blame and ensure future employment.

During the rest of the decade, the programmers were kept busy stringing together a spaghetti code for mainframes as a result of all the disconnected, irrational revisions demanded of them. As they had predicted, companies and government agencies eventually decided that COBOL programmers would greatly benefit from "leisure enhancement" by being set free from the shackles of MIS hallways.

They were replaced by a younger, cheaper breed of programmers who wrote operating systems with a far greater capacity to crash. These programmers did not focus on the Y2K problem. They were preoccupied with authoring error messages that absolved them of responsibility such as a "General Protection Fault" which, in order to protect themselves, generally claimed it was the user’s fault whenever something went wrong.

The COBOLISTS formed a militia called the "Technically Free Men" and, fully armed with the Y2K fix, settled down in Montana. During years of blissful retirement, they kept a weekly pool to guess when their former employers would finally catch on that the next millenium was rapidly approaching and utterly panic over the pending return to 1900. They had many a good laugh imagining the talk of doomsday scenarios by the media, who as usual, would declare a situation a "crises" with scant knowledge of the subject.

Finally by 1997, the pagers at the compound began chirping like crickets on a steamy night in the Bayou as the programmers were summoned out of retirement. They smartly feigned disinterest and held firm until the offers escalated to at least 10 times their usual hourly rates. They also demanded and received such perks as stretch limos, Palm Pilots and, the most desirable symbol of prestige, digital phones that are so slim and compact you need a tooth pick to dial.

The brilliance of this plan is their back up, which doesn’t even require an Exabyte drive. If they are unable to fully straighten out this mess, come January 1, 2000, no one will be able to frantically email, instant message, call or page them since all communication systems will be inoperable. They can return to their compound undisturbed by the collapse of the Digital Age, but certainly richer for it.


Bob Hirschfeld is the first "Cybersatirist" on the Internet with a popular Web site, Bob's Fridge Door ( that lampoons news and technology. His columns have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Washington Post. Bob also gives satirical speeches taking a humorous look at The Digital Age.