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Y2K Bug Strikes Down Linux Today

Jan 01, 2000, 04:02 (46 Talkback[s])

The Linux Today servers failed for five minutes precisely at 00:00 UTC on the new year, depriving Linux news readers worldwide of their accustomed headlines.

Investigation of the problem revealed a dirty little secret: dependence upon Microsoft non-Y2K-compliant software.

Budget Constraints and Lack of Y2K Preparation
We caught up with Dwight Johnson, co-founder of Linux Today, at his Sequim, Washington home. He agreed to speak to us even though he was in the midst of a New Year's Eve party. Johnson confessed, "Early on, we needed a way to report the banner statistics and put them into an Excel spreadsheet. I had this old 386 lying around that I was using to play solitaire, and I said 'Heck, this will do.' We were under some extreme budget constraints at the beginning and I figured that no one would ever find out. After all, it was set to automatically reboot when it crashed under the control of one of our Linux boxes. But this time it was Y2K -- it was down for the count."

When Johnson, who was at home posting stories at the time, realized that the site was down, he immediately phoned Paul Ferris, the Linux Today site administrator, in Louisville, Ohio.

Johnson further explained. "When Paul answered the phone, his speech was thick and slurred and he mumbled something about Budweiser as he logged into our servers in Dallas to correct the problem. Unfortunately, in his condition it took him all of five minutes to execute the simple cron script edit that was needed to correct the problem."

By that time the damage was done. For five entire minutes, news-addicted Linux community members were unable to read the news, resulting in panic, chaos, and hysteria.

The outage has been blamed for thousands of panic-induced incidents that have been reported worldwide. Mass hysteria, chaos on the World Wide Web, uncontrollable E-bay auction price reductions, email server overloads, failure of important beer delivery systems and several system administrator asylum commitments have all been blamed on the incident.

Paul Ferris, also in the midst of a New Year's Eve party, agreed to talk to us as well. Still in shock from the outage, he explained in more depth: "It's a dirty secret that the Linux Today admin server has been reporting its web statistics to a Windows 3.1 box."

"I tried to get Dwight to listen early on, but he kept bragging on how fast that old 386 played solitaire. I was ashamed for a site like Linux Today to be dependent on Microsoft software and even tried to get a few of my geek friends to speak to Dwight privately, but hardly anyone would listen. Those that did listen didn't seem to think that Windows 3.1 was that unstable. They'd say things like 'Hell, anything is better than 98 and NT'. They just didn't seem to understand!"

Over-Dependence Upon Technology?
But the unfortunate outage has unearthed something even more alarming: outages of this magnitude cannot be tolerated by the Linux news-addicted masses. We have received reports of riots and protests that have spanned the globe. One witness described it as "A crazy mass of non-tanned geeks that were mad as hell and weren't going to take it any more!"

The general feeling was one of incredible loss, followed by general foreboding of Y2K disaster and speculation that the world was going to Windows 2000 on a hand calculator.

"If you can't count on Linux Today, what's next?" Lamented one programmer.

A local newsstand operator in Dallas noticed the surge around 00:00 UTC. "It was crazy," he said. "We sold more Linux magazines in five minutes than we usually sell in five days.", he explained as he shakily lit a cigar with a rolled up sheet of FAX paper. "All these computer people were pulling up in their cars and climbing over each other! Three of 'em got in a fist fight over the last copy of Linux Magazine I had in the place. I thought I was gonna have to call the police or worse -- even register my copy of Windows 98".

The phenomenon of Linux Today newswire addiction is a hard one for most people to understand.

Thomas Knapp, well noted Linux news addict, explained his addiction to Linux Today news this way: "Well, I basically cannot drink a cup of coffee in the morning without the glow of my monitor and Linux Today headlines. I was working some Y2K overtime tonight and when the newswire went down for the five minutes right at 00:00 UTC, I got the DT's and began spouting random quotes from the awk man page. Fortunately, my boss came along and refreshed the browser with new headlines and I pulled out of it."

Bob Doomsday, a survivalist who maintains an automated Linux-based fallout shelter in southern Montana, reported that the outage not only caused his automated system to halt, but also caused his generators to go off-line.

"Add to the fact that I had just taken a couple of sips from a fresh can of beer, and the lights went out and all..." Doomsday explained, "I just sat there in the dark, terrified, thinking 'Oh my God! What if there's a new release of Mandrake and I miss it?! What if that beer gets warm?!'". Fortunately, the web site came back on-line fast enough for Doomsday to reach his beer (it was still cold, he assured us) and catch the next few headlines.

There were reports of panic stricken hackers being rushed into emergency rooms where nurses ran about with faxed copies of the newswire, frantically reading headlines to the stricken and administering sedatives and coffee in alternating doses.

"What!" yelled one Java programmer from Canton, Ohio. "Debian-Hurd #15 is out!!! -- This is Old news!", he screamed in indignation, "I read this 30 minutes ago!", as he promptly fell into a faint.

Others pointed to the disturbing effects of the outage as proof-positive that Linux and Internet addiction are signs of a fatal over-dependence upon technology and information overload. One out of work typewriter repairman opined, "People need to get back to simpler days -- days when people sat around the fire and used typewriters to compose simple letters to be mailed via the local post office."

Critical Warnings Went Unheeded
The Y2K was rapidly approaching and Paul Ferris let us know he needed to get back to his beer and guests, but not before he added this: "I've tried many times over the past months to warn Dwight and now look what has happened! Thousands of innocent Linux Today readers were deprived of their headlines for 300 whole seconds!".

It should be noted that Paul Ferris publishes a scurrilous column for Linux Today called 'Rant Mode Equals One' and, therefore, one should not put too much weight on his remarks, especially when '$beers >= 3;'.

Nevertheless, Ferris was not quite finished. "What's the world coming to! This is crazy! Dogs and cats living together, people dual-booting GNU/Hurd and Windows NT! God, I can't believe it. Now Linux Today, down, bam, like that.", he said, boldly. "I tried to warn em', but no, they wouldn't listen!" He underlined, for emphasis.

"Sound the alarm! Don't put up with it! We can't live our lives in the shadow of such uncaring terror as this! People have to rid themselves of dependence on proprietary software! Windows 3.1 is not an operating system! Don't believe the writing on the box, already. DOS stands for "Denial Of Service". It's not something to base your business on!"

He let us know there was more where that came from, but we thanked him for his time.

In contrast, Johnson remained unshaken throughout. He spent the five minutes of outage checking Linux Weekly News to see if it had any headlines Linux Today had missed. He assured us that people aren't too dependent upon Linux Today and that things were being blown way out of proportion.

"Of course, we should have replaced the Windows box long ago," he said. "But you know how it goes. You never seem to have time to do something until it goes out on you."

We thought we heard a disgusting belch as he was signing off to return to his guests, but it may just have been the legs of a chair scraping on the floor. We are sure about his last words, though. We distinctly heard "Happy New Year!" as Johnson hung up.