Jo Anne [in] Effect [yo]

One of today’s posts from On This Day Pre-Y2K uses a term that most of you are probably unfamiliar with. What are “JA effects”?

Many of those who predicted Y2K-based doom did not believe the catastrophe would hold off until the year 2000. Computer systems were supposed to begin failing in 1999, leading to mass panic.

In April of 1998, one Jo Anne Slaven pointed out on the newsgroup that non-Y2K-compliant accounting sofware faced potential problems at the beginning of an organization’s fiscal year preceding calendar year 2000, because “when a new fiscal year starts, the system has to know what the last day of the fiscal year will be. For a fiscal year beginning on, say, April 1, 1999, there will be 12 monthly accounting periods it will have to recognize. April 30, 1999 up to March 31, 2000.”

This observation was hailed as a “technical breakthrough” and eventually dubbed the “Jo Anne Effect.” Especially from the last weeks of 1998 and the early months of 1999, you can find hundreds of online posts speculating about “JAE failures” and “Jo Anne problems.”

I really wish I were making this up.

The contention was not that such “lookahead” failures in and of themselves would prove calamitous, but that they might awaken the public to the severity of Y2K, triggering bank runs, hoarding, and possibly martial law.

In Andrew Sean Greer’s fine novel about astronomers, The Path of Minor Planets, the only thing the characters crave more than their own comet is their own “effect”:

False modesty, Eli knew, because, out of all of them, he was the one who had achieved Denise’s old dream: He had his name on something. He was famous, with his “Jorgeson effect,” and could afford these awkward efforts at humility.

I hope Jo Anne enjoyed, while it lasted, the fleeting moment of fame granted by her Effect.

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