Magazine article Information Today

To Panic or Not to Panic about Y2K

Magazine article Information Today

To Panic or Not to Panic about Y2K

Article excerpt

Shin Kennedy is Webmasterfor the City of Clearwater, Florida, and the Clearwater Public Library System (http://www.clearwaterfl.com). Her e-mail address is skennedy@reporters.net.

What will the year 2000 problem mean, realistically, to you?

Russia's military said on Tuesday the country had less than $4 million to tackle the millennium computer bug in its vast strategic nuclear forces but vowed everything was under control.

-"Russian military upbeat on Y2K but not complacent," by Martin Nesirky, March 2 (Reuters)

Oy. As if we all didn't have enough to worry about ...

Undoubtedly, you've already been blitzed with. enough year 2000 (Y2K) hype to maybe wonder if those folks who are stashing freeze-dried foods, potable water, and portable generators might be onto something. The ideological tug of war in the mainstream media over this issue is mind-boggling. The alarmists warn that on midnight, January 1, 2000:

* Planes will drop out of the sky.

* The Power Grid will collapse.

* Municipal water purification plants will shut down.

* Bank ATMs will cease functioning.

* Elevators will stop dead in mid-ascent or descent.

* High-tech medical equipment will become dangerous or inoperable.

* The electronic security mechanisms in the nation's prisons will malfunction, allowing murderers and rapist to run rampant.

* There will be fires, looting, and rioting in the streets.

Prevailing cooler heads, however, predict "bumps in the road" rather than outright apocalypse:

* Car alarms will go off randomly(as if they never do that now).

* Your insurance company will foul up your medical claims (ditto).

* The dentist's office computer will foul up your appointment scheduling (ditto).

* It's probably smart to pay close attention to bank and credit card statements for awhile (as if this Were something you shouldn't already be doing).

Bumps in the Road

The most recent conventional thinking on the Y2K problem, as I write this column in early March, leans more toward the "bumps in the road" hypothesis-at least in the U.S. In lesser-developed countries, or in cash-strapped nations like the former Soviet Union, the situation could get a lot uglier.

The conventional definition of "The Y2K Problem" goes something like this:

The year 2000 problem started decades ago when early computers had very limited memory and storage space. Programmers saved space where they could by storing the absolute minimum amount of data necessary for business functions. One place they saved space was the date, in which years were represented by their last two digits. So, 1946 was represented and stored as 46, 1967 was stored as 67, and so forth.

Reducing years to two digits works well as long as the century does not change. As the next century approaches, however, computers that still maintain years as two digits may not recognize that the year 2000 is greater than the previous year. Although a computer may recognize that 99 is greater than 98 (as in 1999 and 1998), it may not recognize that 00 is greater than 99 (as in 2000 and 1999) and may consider it 1900.

-Small Business Administration: Help for the Year 2000

(http://www.sba.gov/y2k)

Some old-time programmers, however- aggravated at being portrayed collectively as the Y2K scapegoat-have tartly commented that no one ever expected that software written for old-time computers several decades ago would still be in use at the turn of the century.

Whatever ...

What It Means to Your PC

So what does all this mean to you and your humble desktop PC? Well, information-and reliable information, at that-is certainly not lacking on the WWW. A good place to start is the Year 2000 and Your PC section of IBM's Year 2000 Road Map site (http://www.ibm.com/ibm/year2000/pcs). …

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