Water cannons in Cambridge

Sabri Zain's Cambridge Diaries

Y2K: An Evil Foreign Plot?
December 31st, 2000

A devastating catastrophe is unfolding that will cause misery to millions, plunge Malaysia into wrack and ruin, and completely destroy civilisation as we know it. No, we are not talking about the next five years of Barisan Nasional rule, but about the dreaded Year 2000, or Y2K, Bug. In this exclusive interview, Dr Chin Ta'i Tee, a leading government expert on the notorious Millennium Bug, reveals all.

Dr Chin, what is the origin of the Y2K Bug?

Chin: There are still millions of Malaysians who think that the Y2K 'bug' was merely an oversight by computer programmers in the early days of information technology. Fiddlesticks. These guys make machines that do sixty trillion calculations per second - and they 'forgot' to add two extra digits in front of a date? Gimme a break. It is no coincidence that the 'bug' had its origin in the 1950s, when Malaysia just became independent. It's quite obvious that the Y2K bug was conceived by the West in the 1950s as part of an elaborate long-term plan to recolonise Malaysia.

Errr... excuse me?

Chin: The root of the Y2K problem is that older computers recognised years by two digits rather than four. For example, '99' is assumed by the computer to be the year 1999. However, in the Year 2000, computers would then think that '00' would mean 1900 - when we were still colonised by the British! The plot unfolds. With computers now running much of our lives, the implications would be devastating. Non-Y2K compliant television sets and video players would be continually screening 'Benny Hill' and 'Mr Bean' re-runs. Computerised microwave ovens would be churning out nothing but Cornish pasties and buttered scones. Coffee machines would only brew Earl Grey. It would be the end of Malaysian civilisation as we know it.

Ummmm ... right. Would this be the first time that Malaysia is struck by a computer bug of this kind?

Chin: Not really. Just this year, the Election Commission's computers were struck by the Y680K Bug which made 680,000 registered voters not eligible to vote in this year's polls. Fortunately, we intend to fix this computer problem by going to IBM.

"International Business Machines"?

Chin: No. "It's Better Manually"

What do you think would be the impact of the Y2K Bug on the economy?

Chin: On January 1st, Malaysia will wake up to the nightmare of a financial system that is on the brink of collapse, with billions of ringgit of public funds mysteriously lost, corporate giants tottering on the verge of bankruptcy and banks in the red to the tune of billions. In short, it will be business as usual.

We keep hearing about people recently withdrawing large amounts of cash to avoid a massive crash in the financial system. Would it still be safe to leave our money in banks?

Chin: One year ago we had over 50 banks. Soon there will be only six. You tell me if our money is safe!

What health problems do you think will emerge out of the Y2K problem?

Chin: Medical systems may fail and people will mysteriously die. But the Health Ministry will react with the same speed and urgency it showed when people mysteriously died from the Nipah virus.

Do you see any environmental problems occurring?

Chin: Well, aircraft with faulty navigation computers may crash, starting massive forest fires and haze. But we can rest assured that the Department of Environment will not release any pollution figures, so we don't scare away the tourists.

Will there be any power disruptions?

Chin: Absolutely not. The Prime Minister has categorically stated he intends to contest the UMNO Presidency next year. His power will continue undisrupted.

Errr ... riiight. There are some theories that the Y2K bug will seriously affect food production. How will the authorities tackle any riots and looting due to food shortages?

Chin: We already have an advertising blitz planned to address the problem of riots and looting - we'll just blame it on Reformasi supporters.

Talking about public order and security, can the Police still function effectively if the Y2K Bug crippled all its information retrieval systems?

Chin: Fortunately, the Police already have an efficient non-computer-based information retrieval system with on-line real-time access to stored data. It's called the Special Branch interrogation.

It is feared that the Y2K Bug may cause nuclear power plants around the globe to explode and nuclear missiles to be accidentally launched, plunging the world into utter destruction. Is the government ready to tackle such a disaster of global proportions?

Chin: We will tackle such a crisis in the same way we have tackled our recent economic and political crisis. We have a five-point crisis strategy: do nothing; then panic; muzzle the media; say it is an evil foreign plot; and blame it all on the Opposition traitors.

Has the Cabinet been fully briefed on the Y2K Bug?

Chin: Yes, but it has been extremely difficult. It is not easy trying to explain the two-digit problem to non-technical people, especially when many of them do not have IQs that exceed two digits.

What advice do you have for personal computer users?

Chin: Our top scientists in the Multimedia Super Corridor have spent millions and studied this problem for years. They have come up with this conclusion: don't stand close to your PC at midnight on New Year's Eve - it may emit showers of sparks and sing 'Auld Lang Syne' in a Stephen Hawking voice.

Once Y2K has come and gone, do you foresee any other similar problems occurring after that?

Chin: Well, next year we will have the Y75 Bug. That will be on December 20th, 2000, when Dr Mahathir turns 75 and is still Prime Minister and people will be wondering when he is reaaaaally stepping down. Then there's the Y2K4 problem in the year 2004. That will be the year of the next General Elections. Looking at the trend of results this year, trust me - that is going be one hell of a problem for us in the government.

Finally, Dr Chin, will the Millennium Bug herald the end of society as we know it?

Chin: Absolutely not. That already happened when you guys voted us into government last November.