Feature Article
Y2K - How bad is it, and what you need to do

November 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

Note: I originally planed on comparing FrontPage 98 to the new FrontPage 2000. I finally received my shipping version, and wanted to show some of the bigger differences. However, with Y2K only a couple of months away, I thought I better get this out now. So next month: FrontPage 2000 vs. FrontPage 98.

I could spend hours spewing statistics at you that state how many companies aren’t prepared for Y2K, or how many haven’t even started thinking about it yet. Yikes! But that would be a big waste of time. Mostly mine.

Let’s start with defining the Y2K "problem." First off, it is not a bug. A bug, in computer terms, is a piece of code that does something wrong. The fact that programmers for decades have been storing only the last two digits of the year is not a bug. It is shortsightedness. However, it is a problem that needs adjusting.

So what is effected? Everything with a clock in it is going to be effected when the calendar changes from December 31, 99 to January 1, 00. (In fact, the only thing not effected is the calendar itself.) This means that we will all be living in one of two times. It will be 1900 or 0. Take your pick. If a programmer hard coded the "19" in his code then we will be living in 1900. If he didn’t even do that we will all have the opportunity to meet Christ while living in the year 0.

Since everyone reading this has a computer, let’s take a look at them first. Every computer (mainframe, server, minicomputer, microcomputer, personal computer, PC, workstation, laptop, desktop, NC, notebook, handheld, blah, blah, blah... can we think of some more names for these things) has a clock of some kind in it. This is crucial for the computer to recognize that one second has gone by. Also it is necessary for the computer to update the time in the lower right corner of Windows XX.

If the clock in a computer should fail the person using it would never know if seconds went by. It would be like time stood still and they were staring into space. This is a phenomena know to science as surfing the web.

But all the computers on the web have clocks in them, too. So if all the clocks stopped working the entire web would just stare back at us. This was predicted in the classic book 1984, and is know as Big Brother is watching. Up until a couple of years ago people didn’t have to worry about Big Brother. They did because they were paranoid. Then, one day, Al Gore invented the Internet, and the imminent self-destruction of society became a reality that we all must face.

That isn’t the real problem with Y2K. People have been surfing the Web wasting time for months, some even years. In the work force this is called "getting ahead in business by looking like you know what you’re doing in front of a PC." It is staggering how many people get away with doing this.

The real problem with Y2K is clocks. Yes, clocks. How the hell am I supposed to wake up if my alarm clock never goes off? You won’t be able to get food at the grocery store because the owner’s alarm clock won’t wake him up, and he won’t open the store. Everyone’s clock will blink 12:00 forever.

All the cars with clocks in them will stop running. All the coffee machines will not make coffee, all the microwave ovens will not work, all the pagers and cell phones will not work, etc. etc. etc. Like the song says, "It’s the end of the world as we know it."

What about coffee machines? Starbucks is going to be the first company to go out of business when none of its coffee makers works. All their customers will not be able to survive without the caffeine they so desperately need. Businesses around the world will crumble from people trying to stay awake without coffee.

Next to go will be the electricity. Look at all those houses that have their lights on timers. They will all start blinking the lights on and off until the electric company shuts down due to the overload.

So what can we do? Nothing. O.K., you can do something. Try this... hoard food and supplies for years. Wait until there is some kind of world wide panic about a worthless, insignificant piece of technology threatening mankind. Take all your supplies into an underground bunker and lock yourself in. Wait until it is safe to come out.

Everyone else should go to a hardware store and buy the best locks you can. Now lock all the bunkers from the outside. This will keep the extremists where they belong.

I am glad you read this in time. If you hadn’t, who knows where you would have been when the end of the world happened. God forbid you should be at a party watching the ball drop in Times Square on a television. By the way... when is this TV fad going to end?

The real problem is still coming. No one, and I do mean NO ONE, is storing dates with 5 digits. So the real problem is going to be Y10K. When the calendar changes from Dec. 31, 9999 to Jan. 1, 10000 we will all be in real trouble. And no one even thinks this is a problem. Wake up people, we are running out of time.

I hope you have enjoyed this humorous look into the Y2K problem.

Seriously... what should you do to prepare for Y2K? Just keep paper copies of all your November and December bills. Make sure you have the phone number to call for each company. Hold on to your bank statements for November and December. Photocopy (unless you use carbon copy checks) the checks you send out to key places (i.e., utility, phone, cable, etc.) Take out $500 in cash. Sit back, and watch the panic.

Most places are prepared. If you live in a very rural area you might want to think about a generator. Small electric companies will have some troubles that can’t be predicted, and you might want to plan for that.

Remember... hardware is designed by engineers and has fail-safes in place. Programmers write software, and they don’t care if it works. Just look at Windows.

It is time to... party like it’s 1999.

See you in the last year of the millennium. You do know it is not the new millennium, right?!?