The Y2K apocalypse fear of 1998

July 6, 2018
by Mark Ollig

Do you remember the much-publicized “Year 2000” computer scare, better known as Y2K?

July 20, 1998, I wrote a column about it. It’s been 20 years; I rewrote some paragraphs, and removed the website links, as they are no longer valid.

We now go back to July 20, 1998.

At a crowded congressional hearing in Washington, DC, computer industry leaders, lawmakers, and top officials at the federal level met to discuss the impending Y2K or Year 2000 computer crisis.

The crisis, which is set to happen Jan. 1, 2000, will occur as a result of the failure of computer systems using a two-digit date field to recognize the shift from the 1900s to 2000s.

If the date information business and government software files used are not correctly updated when 2000 arrives, it is feared a global computer software blackout could spread, leaving computing systems in a state of confusion.

When the new millennium rolls around, programs may not recognize the two-digit 00 entered as the year 2000. It might interpret the 00 as meaning 1900.

The two-digit date programming practice has been used for more than 30 years, and still resides in nearly all legacy computing systems.

Back in the 1960s, computer programmers didn’t worry too much about the year 2000.

Being curious, I tested my personal computer to see if it would accept Jan. 1, 2000 as a valid date.

From the DOS command prompt, I typed in “date.” The computer responded by asking me to enter the “mm-dd-yy,” which I did as 01-01-00. The computer responded with “invalid date.”

“Uh oh!” I thought.

After considering the possibilities, I typed the two-digit “yy” as a four-digit 2000, and it was accepted. My computer now thinks it is 01-01-2000.

The furthest date forward my computer would accept was 12-31-2099, which is a Thursday, in case you have made any plans.

So, why is there so much concern over the year 2000?

Well, the real problem is not with a newer model personal computers’ BIOS (basic input/output system) date and time stamp, as it is with much older computing systems and software programs.

There is concern about the computers and software used by commercial businesses, banks, government, and individuals tracking and applying mathematical computations for time periods involving invoicing, billing, mortgage amortizations, and financial contracts.

My computer uses a personal financial software program for my checking, savings, and budget projections, called Quicken.

After making a phone call to the Quicken people, they said the year 2000 on my Quicken program would be ‘0.

“You’re kidding,” I said to the person on the phone.

“It’s the best we could come up with at this time,” the person kindly replied.

Seeing ‘0 as representing 2000 didn’t look right to me.

Oh, it gets better, folks.

Jan. 1, 2000 will be represented as 01’0 in my Quicken program.

Jan. 1, 2010 will be displayed as “1/1/’10.”

It’s like using binary numbers. We might as well learn how to add and subtract in binary code: 0011 minus 0001 equals 0010.

There is also much concern about how Y2K will affect large mainframe computers using data-intensive calculations.

If worldwide computing systems fail to correctly update to the year 2000 at the turn of the century, programs used to calculate data will become inaccurate; we could see real financial trouble across the global economy.

Avoiding the Y2K crisis on US government computer systems will cost an estimated $30 billion.

Worldwide, it will cost up to $600 billion to fix the Y2K problem.

Millennium Solution company is working on a software patch incorporating a mathematical function for reducing by 80 percent, the time needed for resolving Y2K issues in a computing system software programs.

The patch searches through a computer’s software program using an algorithm. When it finds a software program that won’t update to 2000, the patch performs the software code update needed for the date to change to 2000.

Possible Y2K failures will range from minor glitches to significant failures, such as banking interest rates, or other financial modeling analysis errors.

Computer specialists are worried about financial institutions’ 20th-century contracts which extend into the 21st-century. They feel there will be mathematical miscalculations by computer software programs when the year 2000 arrives.

Businesses are advised to inventory computer systems and analyze risks associated with the potential failure of each system and prepare to update them.

Large companies need to pay attention to their “mission-critical” computer systems.

These computer systems include the ones used for their general ledgers, and any interfaces with financial institutions and government departments.

Now is the time to check and verify these systems will operate correctly when the year 2000 arrives.

We now digress back to July 2018.

Columnist note: I spent the late evening hours of Dec. 31, 1999, in Monticello, monitoring the video display screens of the primary digital telecommunications switching system providing telephone service to thousands of subscribers.

At 12 a.m., the Central Time Zone entered the 21st-century. I noted the date stamps on all telecom software and billing programs correctly changed from 1999 to 2000 without incident; much to the relief of this writer, and my supervisors.

So, were you worried about Y2K?

Overall, it wasn’t much of a computer crisis.

Visit my weblog, which could survive into the 22nd century, at https://bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

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