How I Saved the Millennium

By Horacio Pugliese
LaserNet Engineer

If you are an adult, you certainly remember where you were when the clock struck midnight on December 31st, 1999. People all over the world had been planning their celebrations – from intimate gatherings with loved ones to epic displays of twenty-first century technology – such as the laser light extravaganza at the Doral Golf Club in Miami.

Lasernet Our company, LaserNet, had been hired by the country club to put on a laser show that would put our best rock concerts and college bowl games to shame.

In 1996, I was hired by Lasernet as an electronics engineer to design boards and projectors for productions of a much larger scale than the traditional club and theatre productions. LaserNet was already taking bids for various millennium parties, and I was assigned to the Doral gig for over 6,000 party-goers. I had to work taking the technology to the next level. I used a gazillion Jameco components, of course. Back then, ordered by fax or phone.

Over the next four years, the pressure leading up to the millennium show would build up – pressure to perform before a huge audience, pressure to prove my engineering talents, and pressure to uphold LaserNet’s reputation.

In the fall of 1999, we were proud of our designs, and our team had the utmost confidence after several successful tests such as some rock concerts and cultural shows that we would win another Laser Show of the Year award.

We thought we were braced for anything and had developed a thorough list of potential incidents that could threaten the outdoor production. We had backup power, computers, and projectors, but this show was not only different than any others, because of the sheer scale, it had to start exactly at midnight and not a second later. If an “incident” were to occur a minute before midnight, the contingency plan was based on the gear redundancy and … well, act as fast as possible and try not to panic. 

Lasernet At 11:59 p.m., I was in my spot, fifteen feet above ground on a scaffold, manning the projectors which had been turned on and were ready to project. It was a humid night and Tom H. Harman, my boss back then and actual partner (still the boss), decided to make one last wipe of the optics  – one for green and blue and one for red – to clean out the midnight condensation.  After that, a bug whizzed by my ear.

Instinctively, we swiped at the flying insect. Whether it was escaping our threat or was drawn to the light, the bug landed on the optic of the red mixer and immediately started to smoke. Before I could react, it burst into a tiny flame which, in an instant, cracked the optic. We didn’t have a duplicate: How can you possible need to replace that?  We hadn’t considered this “Millennium bug” scenario!

It was thirty seconds ‘till midnight. If we couldn’t fix this, the show would go on without the red laser on the mix, and there would be no warm colors – no red, pink, orange, purple, or magenta, and no white. Although I don’t remember climbing down the ladder, we were on the ground in an instant. We needed a clear piece of glass about 10 X 10mm.

I identified the most suitable piece and flew back up the ladder as Tom started the show, right on cue (grace under pressure at his best!). I positioned the glass chip over the mounting and held it firmly in place. As 6,000 people began counting down from ten, the projector began their sequence: green, blue then red. I looked up to the water screen and saw the perfect beam. It worked!

I could not move. I had to stay in the same position on scaffold for the entire twenty-five-minute show. I focused on pinching that small piece of glass and taking long breaths to counter the abundance of adrenalin running through my veins.

Finally, the show ended, and I slipped the glass in my pocket as a memory of where I was the second the new millennium began. With a stiff back, I ambled down the ladder to join the LaserNet team in a toast to the passing of a thousand years and the passing of the last twenty-five minutes that felt like an eternity.

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