The circle is now complete. When I met you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master.

Y2K Welcome to Y2K, The Register’s stagger through the events of two decades ago, some of which are perhaps a little closer to home than we’d thought.

Today’s Y2K shenanigans come from a reader we will call “Jim”, who had the thankless task of upgrading the Solaris servers for an Australian telco. More than 3,000 of the things required attention from the team, but since the upgrade procedure was well defined “it was more of a management process than anything too tricky,” remembered Jim.

As in so many organisations, Y2K paranoia was rampant. The bigwigs wanted tests run just after the fateful midnight milestone to confirm nothing bad had happened. “So,” said Jim, “I was running a group of admins who put together a series of tests that checked that the displayed date was in the year 2000 and similar idiocies, and scheduling these on each machine.”

The results of the tests were sent out by that reliable delivery mechanism – email. One email address was for OK results, the other was for Failures. While the Host Names themselves were not unique, the Host IDs were. So the emails were identified by that ID – an eight digit number.

Those lucky enough to be on-call were trained to keep an eye on that Fail mailbox for notifications. “As there were servers in New Zealand, they would have two hours warning of any problems,” recalled Jim.

“And then the devil tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear…”

Fast forward to 10pm, “as I enjoyed getting millenially plastered at a party, an email went to the Fail address, in the correct format, saying ‘Houston, we have a problem’.”

Misquote aside, the Host ID referenced was actually Jim’s telephone number.

The alert was followed two minutes later by another saying ‘Just kidding!’

“I am told that panic ensued, being unable to identify the relevant server, until someone recognised my phone number,” said Jim.

“I put the ensuing phone call on speaker at the party for everyone to enjoy.”

The story should end here, with the japery leaving the on call team reaching for fresh underwear if weren’t for the rest of Jim’s confession. Apparently, it is all the fault of El Reg and our BOFH columnist in particular.

You see, Jim was the BOFH’s boss back in the day.

“In the early 90s, I ran a team, in London, which included one Simon, well known to your readers.

“Yes, I have been, in real life, the boss of The Register’s very own BOFH. All these years, I have read of his opinions of such creatures, and wondered…”

“But I claim that it worked both ways, and that some of his ideas rubbed off on me, and that this is why I listened on 31/12/99…”

Happy New Year. ®

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Patched or not patched? You won’t know until the box marked “2000” is opened

Y2K Welcome to Y2K, The Register’s collection of ramblings from readers tasked with dealing with what almost happened – but didn’t – during those halcyon days of two decades past.

Today’s remembrance comes from a reader the Reg Y2K pseudoriser has elected to name “Clive”.

Clive had the thankless task of managing a software support team as the Y2K “event” hit.

“We were responsible for a large worldwide customer base,” recalled Clive. The product that the team was supporting had been on the market for almost a decade and was used by clients around the globe. These were the days before users were strong-armed into buying auto-updating subscriptions (we’re looking at you, Adobe) “so the amount of exposure was uncertain.”

Of course, the hardworking code gnomes had already spent a stressful year or so testing, fixing and updating the software since 1998. However, just because a patch is available doesn’t mean a user will actually install it (SMB1, anyone?)

“During 1999 we attempted to push our customers to do updates,” said Clive, “But we really had no idea how many people bothered with them, and how many older versions would be still running.”

As well as the subscriptions beloved by today’s vendors, the telemetry slurping seen in all too many modern products had also yet to raise its horned head, so Clive and co were in the dark with regard to how many customers might go TITSUP* when the great day arrived.

“The good news is that our product didn’t deal with money, but it WAS network based and therefore sensitive to updates happening on multiple machines.”

With a shudder, Clive recalled: “So our risk was a huge question mark.”

As the great turning-over-of-the-century-digit neared, the support team pondered what to do. Should they sit by the phones “based on the possibility of unknown risk for a problem which may never happen?” or just go home and take part in the festivities?

Naturally, they chose the latter. Although they swapped mobile telephone numbers and 31 December locations just in case, you know, everything caught fire metaphorically and/or physically.

While most of the team were US-based “we figured out that any excitement would happen on our December 31st, as our first customers in Japan, New Zealand and Australia might see failures.”

As Clive watched TV channels streaming New Year’s celebrations from around the world “it became apparent that we were going to get no support calls.” The engineers had done their job, and customers had done the updates.

Thanks to the work done behind the scenes, many in the media were able to decry the whole Y2K thing as a damp squib.

“About mid-afternoon, I sent the whole team a heartfelt thank-you email for a job well done. The likelihood of having to address any issues was clearly approaching zero.”

That said… “I do confess that I had pulled a few hundred dollars out of the ATM in advance, just in case.”

“It ended up not being necessary.” ®

* Try Installing The Software Under Pressure

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Donald Trump has announced he will sign a long-awaited trade agreement with China on 15 January.

The pact, a “phase one” deal, is expected to reduce tensions between the two economic giants.

The US president said the treaty would be signed in Washington in the presence of “high level representatives” from China.

“At a later date I will be going to Beijing where talks will begin on Phase Two!” the President wrote on Twitter.

Mr Trump recently called off plans for tariff increases on Chinese goods, citing progress on the deal.

The text has not been shared publicly but earlier this month the two sides said China had promised to increase purchases of US agricultural products and boost intellectual property protections, while the US rolled back some tariffs.

‘Comprehensive’ deal

Mr Trump previously said he wanted to see a wide-ranging deal, which he would sign with President Xi Jinping.

However, the US has left some of its biggest issues, such as China’s subsidies for certain firms, for further discussions. Nevertheless his tweet referred to a “comprehensive phase one deal”.

Since the start of the trade war, the two sides have raised import taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of exports, unnerving markets and hurting global economic growth.

In the US, the spat has particularly affected farmers, an important political constituency for Mr Trump, who is up for re-election in 2020.

Stock markets rose earlier this month on hopes the pact would resolve the uncertainties generated by the tensions. They were little moved on Tuesday, the final trading day of the year.

A lawyer for former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn says he is “dumbfounded” by the news that his client has fled to Lebanon after jumping bail in Japan.

“We were completely caught by surprise,” defence team head Junichiro Hironaka told reporters, adding that he had not spoken with Mr Ghosn.

On Tuesday, Nissan’s ex-CEO, who was awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges, confirmed he had left Japan.

He said he had not fled justice but escaped “political persecution”.

The 65-year-old was one of the most powerful figures in the global car industry until his arrest in November 2018.

He was born in Brazil to parents of Lebanese descent and was raised in Beirut, before travelling to France for further education.

The French and Lebanese foreign ministries say they have no knowledge of the circumstances of Mr Ghosn’s departure from Japan and subsequent arrival in Lebanon.

Lebanese media has said he flew in on a private jet in via Turkey.

What did his lawyer say?

“I am dumbfounded,” Mr Hironaka told reporters later on Tuesday. “I don’t even know if we can contact him. I don’t know how we will proceed beyond that.”

He added that his legal team was still in possession of his passports.

Mr Ghosn was released on $9m bail in April under strict conditions that barred him from travelling abroad.

How he could have left Japan remains unclear. It is not known whether he was holding duplicate passports – as some businesspeople are sometimes allowed to do.

There was video surveillance of his home, and he had restricted phone and computer usage.

What did Carlos Ghosn say?

Mr Ghosn released a statement after news agencies on Monday reported he had travelled to Lebanon.

Confirming he had gone to the Middle Eastern country, Mr Ghosn said he would “no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied.

“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution.”

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Mr Ghosn has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Big in Lebanon

Analysis by Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beirut

The former Nissan boss will have no trouble finding somewhere safe and luxurious to stay in Lebanon. Of Lebanese heritage, Mr Ghosn spent his early years here with family members. He’s much celebrated and even appears on one of the country’s postage stamps.

He is also the co-founder of the IXSIR vineyard here, which boasts wines that are rich and “of remarkable elegance”.

Escaping Japan would have been difficult given that his three passports were taken from him, but Lebanon has less than stringent border controls. Mr Ghosn is said to have arrived by private jet on Sunday evening and someone of his stature would have been able to breeze through immigration. When in town, he is often escorted by the security services.

He’s been held in Japan for more than a year and in that time Lebanon has changed dramatically. Months of protests against corruption and the political elite have ousted the prime minister, and there’s a full-blown economic crisis.

Japan gives millions in aid to Lebanon and will want Mr Ghosn returned. He may have successfully fled Japan, but he hasn’t escaped his troubles.

What charges does Carlos Ghosn face?

Once considered a hero in Japan for turning around Nissan – even becoming the subject of a Japanese comic book – Mr Ghosn spent 108 days in custody after his arrest in Tokyo in November 2018.

Nissan sacked him three days after his arrest.

Prosecutors allege that he underreported his salary and diverted money from the carmaker to cover potential personal trading losses.

He is also accused of transferring Nissan funds to a dealership in Oman, and skimming off $5m for his personal use. Mr Ghosn denies all the charges.

Stock markets overcame US-China trade tensions and Brexit uncertainty to post healthy gains in 2019.

In London, the FTSE 100’s traditional early New Year’s Eve close saw it end the year up 12% at 7,542.44 points.

Some big European and Asian markets saw even larger rises in 2019, while the main US indexes were all on track to end sharply higher on the year.

It was a welcome return to form after 2018, in which many global markets suffered their worst year in a decade.

FTSE 100

As the year ended, there were signs that the tit-for-tat trade battle between the US and China could be easing.

US President Donald Trump said he would sign a “very large and comprehensive” bilateral “Phase One” deal to avert a new round of tariffs on 15 January.

The Dow Jones added more than 20% during 2019, but the broader-based S&P 500 and the tech-focused Nasdaq did even better, both rising about 30%.

Dow Jones

China’s Shanghai Composite index rose 24% during the year.

Hong Kong had a rough time economically in 2019 as months of anti-government protests took their toll, pushing the territory into recession.

That led to a few ups and downs in the performance of the Hang Seng index, but it still managed a 12% rise year-on-year.

The European economy had a mixed year, but was cheered in November by news that the eurozone’s biggest economy, Germany, had narrowly avoided recession. Frankfurt’s Dax index notched up gains of 25% during 2019.

Dax

And in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s election victory earlier in December confirmed that the UK would leave the EU on 31 January.

However, worries persist that the timetable for negotiating a longer-term relationship by the end of 2020 may be too tight.

The FTSE 100 enjoyed its biggest annual gains since 2016, while the FTSE 250, seen as a better reflection of the UK economy, surged 25% for the year in its best performance since 2013.

Used cars have again topped the list of consumer complaints after millions of people sought help from a charity for a variety of problems.

Citizens Advice, which runs a national consumer helpline and website, said it was contacted regarding 57,000 cases of issues with used vehicles.

Second on the list were problems with home improvements, followed by gripes over household furniture.

The charity received 500,000 calls and 3.6 million website visits in 2019.

“We don’t want people to let their consumer issues follow them into 2020 as, more often than not, simple steps can be taken to avoid problems,” said Kate Hobson, of Citizens Advice.

The most common areas of complaint in 2019, according to the charity, were:

1. Used vehicles

Problems with second-hand cars regularly top the list of gripes in the Citizens Advice list of shame.

Eight in 10 of these complaints were about defective or broken vehicles, while 7% of customers said they had been misled.

The charity pointed out that buyers had different rights depending on where they bought the vehicle.

Buying a car through a trader provides more protection as the vehicle must be of satisfactory quality, meet its description during the sales process, and be fit for its purpose.

A private seller cannot lie about the vehicle, but they can omit information.

2. Home improvements disagreements

The charity received 46,182 appeals for help during the last 12 months from people who had faced problems with building work, decoration, and home improvements.

If work has not been completed with reasonable care and skill, then the trader should fix it without charge within a reasonable amount of time.

Citizens Advice said people should stay on top of the paperwork.

This includes putting the plan, price and timeframe in writing before any work begins, and taking photos before and after work is done, alongside a diary of progress.

3. Shoddy furniture

Three-quarters of the 20,000 calls received about furniture were about items that were not fit for their purpose.

If an item is broken, damaged, or unusable when bought then the customer will have substantial rights.

However if the consumer is seeking a refund or a replacement then the outcome will depend on the circumstances behind that request.

If the item is damaged due to wear and tear during use or a buyer simply changed their mind after seeing the product in their home they can’t claim a refund.

4. Tech devices

Most households are increasingly making use of media devices such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets.

Two-thirds of the 19,000 enquiries made about such products to Citizens Advice were from people whose devices were broken or faulty in some way when they bought them.

Buyers have a legal right to a refund if they contact the seller within 30 days of unknowingly buying something that doesn’t work properly.

5. Clothing and footwear

There were 14,500 calls for assistance from people who wanted to know their rights after buying clothes or shoes.

Different stores have different policies regarding the return of unused items when a customer has simply changed their mind about a purchase. These rights are stronger when a product is bought online, principally a 14-day cooling-off period.

It is also the responsibility of the seller to ensure the initial delivery of the merchandise is successful.

Slipping in the enhancements while everyone else is watching the calendar

Y2K Welcome to Y2K, a series of tales from Register readers who found themselves at the sharp, pointy end of the turn of the century IT panic of two decades ago.

Today’s tale comes from Stephen, a chap who modestly lays claim to nearly 40 years of commercial PC experience. He clearly must have been very naughty in a previous life.

His first dalliance in the PC world was in 1983 – the era of the IBM XT, replete with a mighty 128KB RAM, 360KB floppy removable storage and a colossal 10MB Seagate hard disk, all powered by a mighty Intel 8088 CPU. Graphics aficionados were catered for with either the Monochrome Display Adaptor (MDA) or Color Graphics Adaptor (CGA).

It would be another three years before Alan Sugar inflicted clones like the Amstrad PC1512 onto the world.

Skipping forward 16 years: “In 1999 I was called into a government department to Y2K certify their database application” said Stephen. Governments of the era were somewhat jumpy about the whole Y2K thing, and funds that might have been spent elsewhere were instead being spanked on an army of consultants to reassure nervous lawmakers.

Professional that he was, Stephen gave the application the scrutiny it deserved: “After examining the software for 10 minutes it became apparent that they did not actually record any dates.”

Er, right.

Naturally, Stephen pointed this out to the department concerned – if no dates were being stored then there wasn’t actually a Y2K problem to fix, ok?

“They wholeheartedly agreed,” explained Stephen, “The issue was they could not get a budget for software improvements but they could get a budget for Y2K compliance.” The clever mandarins had realised that pretty much anything could be quietly slipped under the radar if those magic three characters “Y”, “2” and “K” were attached.

So, working under the auspices of dealing with compliance problems, “I spent the rest of the day making minor tweaks to the software to make it work more like the users wanted it to.”

We can but hope he remembered to use a large enough field to store the date. ®

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The online publication of the addresses of more than 1,000 New Year Honours recipients was a “complete disaster”, a former cabinet minister has said.

Iain Duncan Smith, who was knighted, said ministers needed to ask “very serious questions” about how it had happened, while a former civil service chief called it a “serious failure”.

The Cabinet Office has apologised and says it is investigating.

Details of celebrities, senior police officers and politicians were released.

The list of 1,097 honours recipients – including high-profile names such as Sir Elton John, cricketer Ben Stokes, TV cook Nadiya Hussain and former director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders – was uploaded to an official website on Friday evening and removed on Saturday.

Most of the entries in the spreadsheet included full addresses – including house numbers and postcodes. The Cabinet Office said the document was visible for about an hour.

Former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake told the BBC the government could face legal action from those whose addresses were published, as well as from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

“At the point when people are most happy about having received the honour and most proud, to have the information released like this is is really bad news.

“So I can see why they (those honoured) might be very concerned.

“But even if individuals don’t take it forward the information commissioner has to investigate it and we know that in other instances where there’s been significant data breaches the potential fines are very large indeed.”

Lord Kerslake said those who handled the honours were “very good and effective” during his time but insisted his successor Sir Mark Sedwill “shouldn’t in my view think about resigning”.

And, in an interview on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme, he suggested “human error” could be to blame for the leak and called on investigators to look at whether staff were given training on data regulation.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain told the Sunday Times: “Ministers need to be asking some very serious questions of those involved about how this was allowed to happen and why no final checks were carried out before the document was published.”

As work and pensions secretary Sir Iain introduced controversial changes to the benefits system – Labour criticised his knighthood calling him the “primary architect of the cruel Universal Credit system, which has pushed thousands of people into poverty”.

Sir Iain said most of his details were already in the public domain.

“It’s much more concerning for private citizens, like those who have been involved in policing or counter-terrorism or other such sensitive cases, to have their addresses published,” he added.

‘Much depends on the attitude of those affected’

There is no doubt that this is a serious data breach and the government, of all organisations, should be better acquainted with the law on disclosing sensitive personal information.

But while some of the celebrities and the police officers awarded honours may be concerned about their privacy and security, it would have been far more serious if the home addresses of those on the list of gallantry awards had been leaked.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has so far only levied one fine under the new Data Protection Act which came into effect in 2018 – a London pharmacy was fined £275,000 for careless storage of the very sensitive medical data of half a million people.

Lawyers who specialise in data protection think the ICO will see this as a less serious case of human error and may let the Cabinet Office escape with a warning about improving its practices.

But they say much now depends on the attitude of those who have seen their data leaked – they could decide to bring civil claims against the government for putting in the public domain information many of them have been determined to keep private.

Taekwondo world champion Jade Jones, who became an OBE, told BBC News on Saturday evening that she had not been contacted about the breach.

“Obviously mistakes can be made and I know it is dangerous people’s addresses getting out but, you know, I’m sure they didn’t do it on purpose.

Asked whether she found the leak concerning, she replied: “It is scary but it’s a good job I do taekwondo.”

A government spokesman said: “A version of the New Year Honours 2020 list was published in error which contained recipients’ addresses.

“The information was removed as soon as possible.

“We have reported the matter to the ICO and are contacting all those affected directly.”

The ICO, which has the power to fine organisations for data breaches, said it would be “making enquiries”.

Data rights lawyer Ravi Naik warned that anyone who came across the information should tell the ICO and not pass it onto others – because they themselves might face legal action.

At Huawei, workers are either “tree growers” or “pit diggers” and the “heady scent of plums” comes only after the “bone-deep bite of winter”.

So says a poetic New Year’s message from the Chinese telecoms giant which sets out its “vision” for 2020.

But beneath the flowery language, Huawei admits life will be “difficult” after the Trump administration banned the firm from doing business in the US.

“Survival will be our first priority,” it said.

Huawei, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of 5G equipment, said sales growth for 2019 will be lower than it initially thought, rising by 18% to yuan 850bn (£92.7bn).

That compares to revenue growth of 21% in the previous year.

It forecasts that sales will stay under pressure in 2020 during which it expects to remain on the US Entity List.

The US has classified Huawei as a national security threat amid claims the company has “close ties to the Chinese government and military apparatus”.

Huawei said the decision was based on “innuendo, and mistaken assumptions”.

In its New Year’s statement, the company’s rotating chairman, Eric Xu, said: “The US government’s campaign against Huawei is strategic and long-term.”

The US has also put pressure on other countries not to allow Huawei technology to be used in 5G networks, citing concerns over national security, which the Chinese company rejects.

In January, the UK is expected to make a decision on whether to allow Huawei to provide equipment for the rollout of the next generation 5G telecoms networks across the country.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “On Huawei and 5G, I don’t want this country to be unnecessarily hostile to investment from overseas.

“On the other hand, we cannot prejudice our vital national security.”

‘Mediocre managers’

In its New Year’s statement, Mr Xu said: “It’s going to be a difficult year for us.”

But he urged Huawei’s employees to look beyond adversity: “If not for the bone-deep bite of winter, where would we get the heady scent of plums?”

In Huawai’s plans for the year, he warned that managers who do not perform will face the axe.

“We will remove mediocre managers more quickly,” he said. “Those who prioritise short-term gains and pass problems on to their successors. The pit-diggers among us.”

On the other hand, he said Hauwei will promote people “who help our customers succeed”.

“[Those] who put long-term success ahead of short-term gains by continuously contributing value to the company. The tree-growers among us.”

Mr Xu used the message to thank Huawei workers, especially “employees in the front lines who have been working day and night to patch up the holes in this embattled aircraft of ours and to their families who have stood by their side”.

While he admitted the situation in the US presented a major challenge for the company, Mr Xu said Huawei should use it “to motivate ourselves and build up some muscle”.

And in a final rallying cry, He told Huawei employees to remember: “We are the bamboo stalk that stands tall and proud against wind from all directions, whether north or south, east or west.”

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has reportedly travelled to Lebanon after leaving Japan, media outlets say.

One Lebanese official reportedly told AFP news agency that Mr Ghosn “reached Beirut, but it’s unclear how he left Japan”.

Mr Ghosn was arrested over allegations of financial misconduct in 2018 and faces several charges.

He was awaiting trial in Japan and barred from leaving Japan. He denies any wrongdoing.

Whether Mr Ghosn has struck a deal with prosecutors or fled is unknown. The businessman holds French and Lebanese passports.

Is Carlos Ghosn in Lebanon?

While there has yet to be an official announcement, either from Mr Ghosn or the governments involved, many news agencies are reporting that he has arrived in Beirut.

One of Mr Ghosn’s defence team told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK that he did not know about his client leaving Japan and was trying to confirm the story. Prosecutors are also trying to find out if he has left Japan, NHK said.

French newspaper Les Echos reports that he allegedly arrived in a private jet which flew to Lebanon from Turkey – although this is unconfirmed.

And the Wall Street Journal quotes a source who says Mr Ghosn fled Tokyo, amid reports he did not think he could get a fair trial in the country.

His wife Carole Ghosn told the BBC in June that authorities sought to “intimidate and humiliate” the couple.

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How he could have left Japan remains unclear. Mr Ghosn was under strict bail conditions as he awaited trial in Japan, such as video surveillance of his home and restricted phone and computer usage.

He had to surrender his passports to his lawyer, and had to ask for court permission to travel away from home for more than two nights.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Keisuke Suzuki visited Beirut on 20 December. But there is no indication he discussed Mr Ghosn’s case.

What charges does Carlos Ghosn face?

Once considered a hero in Japan for turning around Nissan – even becoming the subject of a Japanese comic book – Mr Ghosn spent 108 days in custody after his arrest in Tokyo in November 2018.

Nissan sacked him three days after his arrest.

Prosecutors allege that he made a multi-million-dollar payment to a Nissan distributor in Oman. Nissan meanwhile has filed its own criminal complaint against Mr Ghosn, accusing him of diverting money from the company for his own personal enrichment.

He is also accused of under-reporting his own salary.

But the former Nissan boss has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers have accused the Japanese government of conspiring against him, calling the prosecution’s case “politically motivated”.

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