SHCC WYSIWYG Article from April 1999

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This past article of the month, Rick Schummer's views (club secretary) on the Y2K problem, are presented.  This article appeared in the April 1999 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Opinions on the Y2k Problem

by Rick Schummer

Am I the only person who has seen a media blitz on the Y2K issue since our country's top leader was not found guilty during the Impeachment Trail?  I thought I would write a few thoughts down on my perspective of this situation and speak from a personal perspective on why the world will not end on January 1, 2000.

My Disclaimer
Please note that I'm not a lawyer and I can't control all the problems that can result because of the inaction of others.  Basically these are my personal opinions and feelings.  Each of us has this right and should look at this situation with an independent eye.  That's my disclaimer and I'm sticking to it!  Settlement happens during shipping and your mileage may vary.

So What is the Big Deal?
People have been listening to doomsayers for centuries that the world will come to an end when we rollover into the next millennium (which really starts in 2001).  This is not new; it has happened each and every time the century changes.  This time it just happens that we also are changing a millennium as well and to compound it we are throwing in new technology this time around!

Lets first discuss exactly what the Y2K problem really is and why we face it.  It all started many years ago when hardware and software developers saved space in memory and on disk drives by not including the "19" in the year.  They only used the last two digits of the year.  The real issue of Y2K is two pronged.  First is entering a date into the computer.  If the older software only allows 2 digits for the year it will likely default to the 1900s.  Therefore, the entering in "00" for the year will default to 1900 instead of 2000.  This causes problems for date math calculations.  Many issues arise like newborns being a hundred years old the moment they are first entered into a hospital's computer.  The second issue is sorting.  The "00" will sort before the "01" and the "99".  This will cause reports or screens to display information out of order.  This problem will cause trouble for people evaluating the information in date order.

In the early years of computing it did not matter.  Back in the 1970's and 1980's we saw software last a dozen years or more.  In many cases, 20 years or more was not unusual.  This was not planned, it just happened.  Business did not change at the pace we see today.  The average life span of computers and software is shorter and shorter as time goes on.  Currently, software changes are hitting us in annual installments.  Hardware is moving at the same pace.

Y2K "Bug", Not!
I have heard the Y2K problem referred to as the "millennium bug" on both radio and TV.  It is not a bug since the term "bug" refers to software that does not work as it is designed.  It should be noted that the software was designed intentionally to save space in files and in memory.  I will say that software that was written in the 1990's should not have this problem and I am appalled when I run into issues that frankly should not exist.  I write software for a living and can say that I have not written or designed code with the Y2K problem.  I have however fixed numerous problems written by other developers.

It is my personal opinion that there are a number of people out there hyping the fear of the of the computer world ending when the Year 2000 hits.  I have listened to a number of so called "experts" who claim that cars won't start, electrical grids will shut down, banks will close, stores will not sell food without cash, PCs will stop working, etc.  I personally think this is like an insurance salesperson saying "you could die tomorrow and leave nothing for your family, buy this policy".  If the insurance guy really believed you would die tomorrow, he surely would not sell you a policy that would protect your family.

Many people are saying that the banks will shut down.  This is bunk; they will still collect the mortgage payment and will still keep your money safe.  They are charged with this and there would be riots if they did not protect this.  Frankly there is not a car loan or home mortgage cut today that does not expire in the year 2000 and beyond.  They claim that credit cards will stop working, I have several that expire in August of 2000 and they work.  There is fear that the Edison power-grid will shut down.  I think that there are bigger problems in the world and I think this is more fear than reality (but the closest thing to a mass problem that could happen).  I have it a good source that indicates that Edison is well ahead of testing and are well on their way to protecting us from a mass blackout.  The IRS will not stop collecting taxes, Social Security will continue to struggle in Congress and the planet will continue to rotate.  Doctors will care for patients even if they have to write things down and look things up in a book.

I am not going to sit here and say that nothing will happen, I'm just skeptical on the fear mongers and the end of the world scenarios.  I probably would not fly the night of December 31, 1999 since the radar system is all software driven these days.  We may have to wait for some things to catch up, but there is still three-quarter of a year to get the important things fixed.

Make a To-Do List:
Here is what I am doing to protect my family and recommending to friends.  It should be noted that most of these items are things I practice in life and would be doing even if the Y2K issue was not being faced:
1)Have some cash handy in case the ATM machine at your bank does not work.  Remember the days when you worked through a teller, this is the worst case that I see on this.
2)Keep track of bank balances and investments (good practice anyway).  Ask them what their stand is on Year 2000 issues.  The banking and finance industry is probably the best prepared for all of this since they have been affected for years with long-term investments and loans.  Wall Street just tested the Y2K readiness and is doing well from the reports.  This testing is going on everywhere.
3)Fill up your gas tank the week before (good practice in the winter anyway) just in case their computer based pumps are not working.
4)Buy batteries for the flashlights and some candles.  Be ready as if you prepared for a storm outage with supplies like food and blankets and some firewood (again good practice with Michigan winters).
5)Back up your data on the PC (this should be regular anyway) and fortunately the SHCC will be having some future meetings to discuss this topic.
6)If there are software packages you use regularly, check out the companies web site for Y2K statements.  For instance Microsoft has a huge amount of information at www.microsoft.com/y2k.  There are issues with software like databases, spreadsheets, checkbook packages.  Check into them if you are worried.  Quicken has some problems with older versions, you may need to upgrade.
7)Test it out.  Move your computer's clock to December 31, 1999 at 11:55PM and shut it off.  Turn it on in 10 minutes and see if it works with the year 2000.  There are problems with older PCs (286s and 386s, even some newer ones).  Check out the manufacturer's website to see what they say.  http://www.gateway.com for instance has a statement on their website.
8)Ask anyone else who you feel is important with date related products what you can expect.

Don't fear the worse, mass perception could become reality or cause the breakdown of society in my opinion.  Be prepared for your own sake.

I have little control over this Y2K problem and I'm in the computer business.  I can only help a small segment of the population and I do my best to ease people's fear.  Frankly, I'll be enjoying the rollover to the Year 2000 with friends and family.  If the lights go out, I'll light a few candles and enjoy their company via candlelight.  Worse case is that the Rose Bowl will not be watched the next day, I'll survive.

There is a pretty good (long) article in a recent past issue of PC Magazine (last fall).  Frankly, most computer mags are running stories and it is in the mass media hourly.  Just try to discard the fear mongers and understand that some may be true, but much is urban legend or people hyping it to make a profit off of it.

Once again, the world has bigger issues facing it than the Y2K.

End of Article

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