Times Article 009
The Year 2000 (Y2K) Bug
Year 2000 Bug. Sounds
like the title of a science fiction novel, doesn't it?
But this seemingly innocuous bug will almost certainly cause
all of us to enjoy the new millennium a bit less for the first few
months of the year 2000. In
fact, if you're sleeping well, it means that you just don't understand
what's about to happen. So here's a wakeup call.
what is the Year 2000 Bug (Y2K)?
Well, it seems that the companies that created the very first
computer systems back in the late 1940s didn't have a whole lot of
room for memory-related storage and data processing.
The first computer memory was actually huge banks of thousands
of vacuum tubes, and the first installation of a 1 MB memory bank cost
over $4 million, and required an air-conditioning unit the size of
your house! So the
scientists that started creating application programs did their best
to minimize the amount of supposedly unnecessary data.
easy way of doing this was to use only two digits in data fields to
represent four-digit years. So
the year "1950" was truncated to "50", and this
standard continued to be used until well into the 1990s.
So what happens when all our computer clocks strike midnight on
December 31, 1999? When
the year switches over, all of these two-digit fields all around the
world will now see "00".
This will usually cause them to think that it's now the year
1900! Let's first look at
this dilemma from the standpoint of our home and business PCs.
PC applications get the system date from the operating system, whose
calendar is initialized at boot with the date from the BIOS
firmware, which gets the date from the internal real-time
clock, which is hardware. If
the BIOS date does not make the 1999‑2000 transition correctly
‑ or if the machine loses the correct date after rebooting
‑ it is not Year 2000 compliant and will become a problem if it
is not corrected or removed from service by the end of this decade.
is a simple test you can use to check your PC's or Mac's Y2K
compatibility. If you try this, you do so at your own risk.
Some date-sensitive software, such as programs with automatic
expiration dates, may cease to work if you try this test. You
have been warned! To
check your PC, simply set the time and date to 11:55 PM on December
31, 1999. Turn the
computer off and wait 10 minutes.
Turn the computer back on.
If it comes back up with a date of January 1, 2000, then you
should have no hardware problems. If it comes back up with a 1900 or 1980 date for the year (or
some other date), you will have to procure some type of fix.
Tests of mainframe and mini-computers often are far more
your software is the primary culprit for Y2K incompatibility.
According to The Year 2000 Information Center
<www.year2000.com>, over the next 50 years at least 60,000,000
software applications will need modification because of various date
problems. The total costs of these modifications can top $5 trillion
dollars. As of April
1998, Microsoft has eliminated or patched all Y2K glitches, with the
exception of three outdated applications, but nearly all other
software companies are "still working" on the fixes.
please don't think that these are your only problems.
Information professionals have largely stopped trying to hide
their sense of panic as the massive job of getting government and
business computers to properly function after the year 2000.
The industries and agencies that Americans depend upon are
still largely unprepared and, even if they began an all‑out
effort today, there simply isn't enough time to avoid serious
disruptions to the nation's commerce, industry, and government
recent government study says that it is all but impossible for the
world to change the massive amount of computer code needed to make
even government computers compliant with the new millennium. Thus, for
January 2000 in New York City, it predicts:
supply only 50% available January 1‑10
emergency‑only for four weeks
closed for four weeks
market and banks closed for eight days
‑ 50% availability January 1‑10
office ‑ 10 days disruption
(air/rail/bus) ‑ 30 days disruption
so we can live with a little disruption in our lives.
But there's more. On
August 27, 1997, in a General Motors car assembly plant in Canada,
engineers adjusted the programmed date on some assembly robots, moving
it ahead three years. And
the entire assembly line shut down.
GM did ease some concerns about individual vehicles and the
computerized system that most new models depend on for timing,
ignition, and basic operations. Because
the chips and controllers used in cars and trucks do not recognize or
perform time or date functions, the company said the Y2K should
pose no problems in new passenger vehicles.
This may not apply to aircraft, trucks, buses, satellites, and
and MasterCard have been feverishly working to upgrade their computer
systems to recognize expiration dates after the year 2000. They now
believe they have largely solved their own problems with balky old
software that could only handle years that began with the digits
"19". But whether the computer systems of the banks, retail
stores, and service outlets they hook up with will also be able to
recognize and process such transactions is another issue.
To minimize incompatibility problems with other systems, Visa
and MasterCard plan to gradually start issuing their new cards this
fall on a regional basis. That
way previously undetected glitches will not shut down the entire
card-issuing firms, however, are not as far along.
American Express still isn't issuing cards with expiration dates
later than December 1999, and a spokesperson said she has no ideas when
the company will be able to handle the Y2K problem.
A spokesman for Discover Card, the fourth of the nation's
so‑called "Big Four" of credit cards, said they will be
ready to test Year 2000 expiration dates on cards "hopefully by the
end of the year."
know of computer experts around the country who are planning to
stockpile food, are practicing home "power drills" to see what
it would be like without electricity, and are enrolling in basic
survival skills training like carpentry, first aid, meat processing and
butchering, and organic gardening.
There are predictions that the banks will be forced to close to
avoid a "run"; that government pension, Social Security, and
Veterans checks will not be mailed; that the Federal Aviation
Administration's already outdated and flawed computer system will
totally shut down the nation's air traffic.
these people alarmists? Maybe. Hopefully.
But the more I look into this problem, the more worried I've
become, and I'm looking from the eyes of an engineer with more than 30
years experience in these fields. You
may wish to consider doing what my wife and I plan to do:
Take out enough cash in early December 1999 to ensure you can pay
for groceries and other essentials for at least 30 days, and stockpile
enough non-perishable foods and drinks to last you for as much as 90
Be prepared to lose power, water, and other essentials for
extended periods of time during mid-winter; this isn't as much of a
problem in Hawaii as it will be in, say, North Dakota, thank goodness
Defer any non-essential air, rail, bus, and ship travel from at
least mid-December 1999 to early February 2000
may not be your standard computer column, but after 50 percent of my
in-house computers failed the Y2K tests, I decided that Hawaii computer
users may not want to stay in the dark much longer.
Log onto The Year 2000 Information Center and take a look around.
My thanks to Jon Toynton at On-Line Connection for
publishing an upcoming crisis that the mass media has ignored for too