But mathematicians were quick to point out that Jan. 1, 2001, actually begins the third millennium. Although the 21st century began last New Year's Day, the new millennium does not begin until Jan. 1, 2001.
The Roman calendar, used by much of the world, begins with the year 1 A.D., not the year zero. Because a millennium is a 1,000-year period, the third millennium should begin 2,000 years later in the year 2001.
But this technicality did not prevent television crews around the world from proclaiming New Year's 2000 as the beginning of the new millennium.
One year later, the "real" new millennium is about to begin, without the fanfare that characterized last year's celebrations.
Doug Kelly, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, said New Year's 2001 will not cause the same level of excitement, although more and more people are realizing the new millennium does in fact begin this January. Kelly said much of last year's excitement stemmed from the fact that 2000 brought the end of the 1900s.
UNC mathematics Professor Michael Schlessinger also said people were more likely to celebrate at the start of years that end in zero.
"It's because of the way our (numeric) system works," Schlessinger said. "It's people counting differently."
Kelly said fear that the Y2K computer bug would bring an end to modern civilization created part of the New Year's 2000 hysteria.The Y2K computer bug was a programming error that could have caused many computers not to recognize the changing of the year from 1999 to 2000 and instead roll back to 1900.
But Jeanne Smythe, UNC Academic Technology & Networks' director of computing policy, said other computer programming errors might cause problems this New Year's Eve.
Smythe said Dec. 31 could be a problematic date for database systems. Many systems operate on a 365-day calendar but because 2000 was a leap year, the extra day might throw off some systems. But Smythe emphasized that no special precautions are needed for the problems that might arise Dec. 31.
"I think people will check things carefully," she said. "But I don't think there will be any extra staff on hand."
Last year, computer technicians worldwide worked thousands of overtime hours to ensure a smooth transition to the year 2000. And the Y2K computer bug did not end society -- in fact, it caused few problems. "It's something of note because this is when the third millennium begins," he said. "But it doesn't seem so exciting. People aren't afraid of a computer glitch anymore."
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