Sometimes, excitement can come because of the absence of two digits.

It was about 11 PM, and the mood was festive. I was in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. The city was hosting a New Year's Eve Party, for it was December 31, 1999. Already, more than half of the Earth was in the year A.D. 2000, and I would get to ring in the year 2000 here.

I had arrived here December 27. I learned the basics of this world. President Al Gore had served for one year now, after a perjury scandal led to his predecessor's resignation. King Charles of the Kingdom of Britain had just returned to his home country after a meeting with the President. The San Francisco 49ers were expected to go into the NFL playoffs and maybe the Super Bowl.

Most important of all, Quinn was unable to help me. I guess I had no choice but to wait until the next world. But at least this New Year's Celebration was a distraction.

There was a huge TV screen showing the countdown to the year 2000. Beer was being served-cheap. Hundreds of people had all these whistles and studd. And of course, the San Francisco Police Department was keeping a watchful eye over all things. Beyond the park, I couild see all the city lights frokm the lampposts and buildings.

Then the countdown began. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

"Happy New Year!" we all cheered. This was it. It was the year 2000. A new decade. I wondered if Quinn and Rembrandt and Maggie were celebrating right now. they must be thinking of me, as I think of them.

I spent the first minute of the year 2000 greeting those people around me a happy new year. I even kissed some of the pretty women.

And then I noticed something was terribly wrong.

The lights in the city buildings were out. The lampposts lighting the streets were unlit.

There was a blackout.

The TV screen that demonstrated the countdown was powered by a Honda electric generator, so it was not affected by the blackout from the city's power supply.

Apparently, some of the people in the park were getting worried as well. I could hear murmuring.

"Do not be alarmed!" a police officer shouted over a speaker. "This is a temporary situation. The power company is doing its best to restore power to the streets."

A band played rock music on the stage to calm any fears about the sudden blackout that occurred with the new year. The crowd's attentionw as tuned into the band.

But I did notice another problem. I noticed some people trying to dial their cell phones, but they can not seem to connect.

I asked a lady who was having trouble with her cell phone.

"I'm trying to call a friend about the blackout," she said, "But I can't get a connection."

"Perhaps the blackout knocked out the phones," I said.

"No, I'm calling the cell phone. The signal is not getting through to the satellite. It's not even calling."

"Hmmm," I said. "A blackout in the city, and cell phones are all down."

Anyway, the party was over at 2 AM. I decided to go back to my room at the Dominion.

The blackout stopped the cable car system, so I had to take the city bus. I then noticed some of the buikldings on fire. I looked out the window, and I saw people looting the stores and restaraunts, stealing stuff such as furniture and television sets. Above in the sky, helicopters flew.

The bus finally stopped on Van Ness Avenue, where the Dominion was. I got off and entered the hotel lobby. It was lit; apparently the hotel had an emergency generator. I went to my room and slid my plastic keycard through the card reader.

It didn't work.

I checked the door; it was my room. I slid it again.

This was insane. I couldn't get in. There was still power at the hotel. What was going on?

I went down to the hotel lobby where a desk clerk sat.

"I need to get into my room," I said.

"I'm sorry, sir," said the hotel clerk. "The computer's down; we can't access the database."

"Let me in. I'm in Room 310."

"i can not let anyone in unless they have a paper receipt."

I seasrched through my pockets for the receipt, and I found out I had none. That sucked.

"I misplaced my receipt. Can't you let me into my room?"

"I'm sorry," said the desk clerk. "Without any verification, I can't let you in."

So I decided to go to the hotel bar and get a drink. I noticed a hand-written sign claiming that credit cards were unavailable and that all purchases must be made by cash. That was okay with me, since I do not carry credit cards.

"Do you know anything about this blackout?" I asked.

"Nobody knows," said the bartender. "The power company is still trying to figure out what went wrong."

And then a bunch of people came in, some of whom I recognized from the New Year's Eve Party. Suddenly, they start causing a scene. They start taking everything noit nailed down to the floor and smashing stuff. I went out through a fire exit in the commotion. I walked through an alley and reached the sidewalk. It was chaos; people were looting stores and setting fire to buikdings and committing acts of vandalism! I was caught in a riot!

It never ceases to amaze me how immoral people could use a crisis as a cover to steal and to destroy. I couild see the glee on the faces of some of the looters. Even on the world I grew up in, I knew of reports of looters duringdisasters such as earthquakes and floods.

I wandered the streets of San Francisco amind all the chaos. Suddenly, I heard the click of a shotgun.

"Don't move!" shouted a bespectacled man carrying a Remington M1100.

"I'm not a looter," I said. I took a look at my surroundings, I was near a place called the Doppler Computer Superstore. "I'm just trying to find a safe place. I rented a room at the Dominion, but their computers are down and they won't let me into my room."

"Okay, you can get inside."

So I went inside the Doppler. The place was dark except for emergency lights. There were many personal computers for sale, as well as computer accessories such as printers and modems and scanners and all the rest. There was, of course, plenty of software available.

"So, do you have any news about this blackout?" I asked.

"There is more going on than just the blackout," said the shotgun-bearing man. "This whole thing was a result of a computer bug."

"So the power plant's computer crashed?"

"Not just the power plant, but almost every computer on Earth."

"Fill me in on the details."

"Let's see, a long time ago, computers used punchcards. To save memory space, the year only used two digits. That continued up to today."

"But how can that cause problems?" I asked.

"Almost every computer uses two digits for its date functions. The servers used by businesses and governments use two digits in their computers. a lot of data is date-sensitive, such as bank records and court records and so on."

"Continue."

"The computers read todays date as January 1, 00. They think it is the year 1900, not 2000. With many computer programs being date sensitive, it caused many computers to crash. The reason your hotel could not find you in their database is becuase the database thinks it is the year 1900. The blackout isn't that big of a problem; the power company can restore power before daybreak. But afterwards, when people find out their savings were wiped out because of a computer glitch, there is going to be chaos."

"Oh," I said.

"Our society relies heavily on computer networks; we are truly vulnerable. Well, I guess I should stand outside with the shotgun."

And then the man left. I saw another person approach me, a woman. I recognized her; she is an incarnation of Wade Welles.

"You trying to find a safe place?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"Mr. Hurley's now guarding the place," said Wade. "I've worked in this store for over five years now. I knew that something would happen if the computers did not have four digits in their date, but the manufacturers refused to listen. Now this happens."

"I think we should listen to the radio," I suggested.

Wade got a radio and tuned it into a news channel. "The nation, and indeed the world, has been struck with a massive system-wide failure today," said a news reporter. "We bring you to the White House, where President Gore will address the nation.

"Greetings, my fellow Americans," said President Gore. "We are now faced with a crisis. Something caused computer betowrks around the world to crash. Telephones, power grids, the Internet is down. Rest assured that we are doing whatever it takes to resolve this situation. If we pull together, we can endure any crisis."

"Maybe you should call the White House and tell the President what was going on," I said.

"All the phones are down," said Wade. "The Internet is down."

I guessed there was nothing else to do but wait. But after a few hours, I got tired of waiting inside the Doppler. I decided to go out; maybe the riots have stopped.

I walked out on to the street. I could see that the some of the buildings are still on fire. Some of the shops had already burned down. Other stores have been completely looted of their merchandise. I could see a fire truck with firefighters putting out the blazes. At least the water service is still running.

Finally, the whole riot was over, and power was restored. The police were out in full force. I heard on the radio that there were blackouts all over the country, and that there was looting in the blacked out cities. Technicians were working around the clock to restore the worldwide computer networks.

A news report finally confirmed what Mr. Hurley had said. "Computer analysts have determined that the Y2K incident was caused by a computer bug," said a news reporter. "When January 1, 2000 arrived, almost every computer acted as if it were 1900. This caused them to crash. While basic services such as electric power, the Internet, and telephone service were restored, there are long-term effects. Many databases need to be rebuilt in order to function properly. It will take months before everything is restored to working order."

Amazing how two digits can make such a difference, isn't it?