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December 30,1999
Y2K notes from Gilligan's Isle
Our correspondent reports on the Y2K non-event from the Republic of Kiribati, on the edge of the dateline.

by Jeff Wildgen

Just one day to go before the end of the world so I thought I'd drop you a line while I can. If that nasty Y2K bug lives up to its reputation, I might not be able to send you an update on January 1. But then again, if worse comes to worst, you'll be too busy fending off those errant Russian ICBMs and won't have much time to be browsing the CJ Online site anyway.

I've flown from Tokyo to Honolulu, then to Christmas Island in the mid-Pacific, where I boarded a boat that took five days to land me here on Millennium Island in the Republic of Kiribati. This tiny coral atoll, which is as close to the International Dateline as you can get without tripping over it, is literally about to become Ground Zero for the dawn of the new millennium. It's also the first place on earth where the dreaded Y2K bug might possibly rear its ugly head.

Allow me to explain. In 1995 the Republic of Kiribati extended the International Dateline thousands of kilometers eastward in order to encompass all of its tiny islands within the same time zone and within the same day. Previously, this nation of thinly scattered coral atolls had been bisected pretty much down the middle by the International Dateline. So Monday in Tarawa, the capital, was still Sunday on the outer islands on the other side of the Dateline. In practical terms, this meant that there were only three days of the work week in which the whole country could be found in the office. A severe handicap for an already laid-back developing nation.

When President Teburoro Tito moved the International Dateline to the east, it had the added benefit of also making his country the first to see the dawn of each new day--including January 1, 2000. And so, after some debate with other Pacific nations that hug the International Dateline much further to the west, Millennium Island is generally recognized as the speck of land that will be first to witness the dawn of the new millennium.

Measuring a scant nine kilometers long by two kilometers wide, this island outpost just south of the equator is home to millions of seabirds, hundreds of thousands of giant clams, and hundreds of rare coconut crabs, but not a single human. It is so uniquely pristine that it may very well become a UNESCO World Heritage Site by this time next year. Millennium Island is not the sort of place where you'd expect to find a computer chip unless it had been washed up onshore.

But of course, with the millennium comes the millennium watchers. Within the past two weeks this mini-Galapagos has found itself bristling with the very latest in high tech satellite communications gear, all compliments of the international media. A crew from Associated Press Television News (APTN) made a beach landing here ten days ago armed with no less than three INMARSAT-B satellite dishes, seven power generators, a dizzying array of high-speed digital transmission equipment, and of course a laptop for each crew member. And this was just in preparation for the NHK and BBC news crews that arrived today carrying their own state-of-the-art gear to record, edit, and transmit live the first millennium sunrise celebrations.

Just about everyone has a laptop except for the 60-member team of native dancers and myself. I arrived with a Mitsubishi SA-G ballpoint pen and a "Everyone Can Do This! Ring Note" pad of paper that sports a handsome Mickey Mouse figure on the cover. I figure I'm Y2K compliant.

The problem, as you may have guessed, is that I'm utterly dependent upon the goodwill and camaraderie of my fellow journalists if I want to file this story before January 1, as promised. They are the ones who had the foresight (and budget) to bring along a few satellite dishes with them. My hat is off to them. In fact, my hat is held out to them with pleading eyes.

I've just been lent a floppy disk by the NHK cameraman, and a BBC reporter has kindly lent me his laptop so that I can type this out. By tomorrow, December 31, I hope to have wheedled my way into the hearts and satellite uplinks of the APNT crew, as well. It's all very wacky.

Assuming that the BBC, NHK, and APTN equipment is all Y2K compliant, and also assuming that the BBC, NHK, and APTN crew members continue to have pity upon me, I will file a follow up story on January 1. But if you don't hear from me again, then you'll know that the bug got to me first. In any case, I hope y'all have a happy New Year!

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