A New Year and a New Y2K Problem Averted

If you were born before the 90s, then you probably remember Y2K. The world was approaching the year 2000, and up until then, computers were saving precious memory space by only recording the last two digits of the year. The year 1999 was logged on a computer as 99. As the New Year fast approached, we all wondered: would the computers think 00 is actually 2000 and that we’d just move forward in time as usual, or would the computers think it's 1900 and that our current debt obligations don't exist yet and erase all our financial history…or…will the computers think it’s 2100 and we'll all accumulate 100 years of compounded interest instantaneously! Well, the reality is, the problem was fixed, and we'll never really know how disastrous it would have been if it wasn't addressed. Now that we have the luxury of living in the future, most people can look back and see nothing catastrophic happened. Most people are doubting that anything of consequence would have occurred if it wasn't addressed. But we'll never know that alternate reality, because a team of scientists, engineers, and computer nerds corrected it before finding out what could have happened.

In the 1980s, Dr. J.M. Duncan and R.H. Drawsky devised an equation for flexible buried pipes that was based on standard highway vehicles but did not consider larger construction vehicles that would have much different tire sizes than a highway vehicle. Construction vehicles sometimes don't even have tires, they have tracks! If we used their equations and said an excavator has an axle weight of 100,000 lbs, will the equation assume it's just a highway vehicle and result in a similar event like the Y2K Glitch? The reality is, nothing disastrous happened because a conservative amount of temporary cover was added for construction loading to assure the pipe could safely carry construction loads. To account for these larger construction vehicles, we now have a modified equation that considers how to more accurately represent vehicles with larger tire sizes (or even tracks). This was done by computing the pressure that is exerted on a buried pipe from a construction vehicle, and then back calculating what equivalent highway axle load would have generated that same pressure. Pretty clever, huh? Read more about it in this PDH article.