...The most important millennial event associated with the
technologically dependent world's reliance on computers. About 180 billion lines of COBOL
code worldwide will be affected by the date 1-1-2000. It's a programming problem
related to "00". It can be easily solved. Just put an additional
five or six hundred thousand COBOL programmers to work over the next few years. The
most conservative cost estimates necessary to correct our little "00" problem
begin at $200 Billion Dollars over the next 2.5 years. Just to
reprogram the software that we know about. It's really worse though. The source code
for many applications was lost long ago. "Fortunes will be made by companies
that specialize in fixing the millennium bug." C-NET Magazine
Much of the information on this page comes from Timebomb
2000 by Edward and Jennifer Yourdon. I am deeply indebted to their
work and have no intention of reproducing it here. I highly encourage anyone who is
serious about understanding the potential for problems purchase and read this book.
The Yourdons cover in detail the possible effects that non-compliant systems could have
on business, the government, banking, social services, public works, the exchange of
information, etc. I am going to list briefly some systems that you use daily, how
they involve computers, and how they might be effected if those computers do not operate
correctly because of the Year 2000 crisis. It is left to you to consider the long
term effects that the failure of these systems might have on you.
First of all, let's consider some of the places where we can find computers these days:
|the gas company
the cable company
the water department
the electric company
nuclear power plants
the grocery store
the post office
the parcel service
the traffic light system
the police department
the fire department
burglar alarm systems
your home PC
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Think for a moment about what these systems do and what might happen to you if they
didn't work for a day, a few days, or a week. (Although the Yourdons speculate about
month, year, and ten-year failures, I don't think that things will be that bad.)
For example, what would happen if your bank's records were corrupted? What if the
ATM was shut down for a day or two? What if your bank converted in time, but
connections between banks were spotty, and direct deposits or transfers were slow, or
checks paid to you cleared slowly? What if network failures meant you could not
pay-at-the-pump or pay for groceries with your ATM or debit card?
What if the electric company's computers fail? What if the power delivery system
works, but the billing computer decides you haven't paid a bill in 99 years and shuts off
your power anyway? What if your bill arrives and indicates you owe a billion dollars
for service since 1901?
Think about the same for your gas, water, telephone, and cable companies.
By the way, what if your electricity depends on a nuclear power plant? The FAA is
shutting down the airports on 1/1/2000, and the NRC might do the same, just to be on the
safe side. Depending on where you live, your power grid might be short by 40%.
Fortunately, it will be a weekend and a national holiday; we could handle a power
If the air traffic controller computers aren't operating, what will happen on 2
January? On 3 January? If the problem is resolved within even two days, the
airports will be pandemonium on the first day that planes are allowed to fly.
On 14 September 1998, BusinessToday.com
reported that the Department of Transportation may ban airlines from flying to countries
which have flight control systems that are not Year 2000 compliant. Do you do
business overseas? Were you planning on being in Edinburgh on 1 January 2000?
What would you do if you could not get home?
My recommendation: do not be any farther from your home
on 31 December 1999 than you could walk in whatever weather your region normally
experiences during that time of the year.
What happens if you have a modern pacemaker that records irregular heart beats with a
date and time for your doctor's retrieval? Is your pacemaker Y2K compliant?
What if a dialysis machine or defibrillator or other critical medical device requires
regular service? What if it is programmed to not respond if someone tries to operate
it when it hasn't been serviced? What if its computer chips indicate that it hasn't
been serviced in 99 years?
What if a diabetic has a Glucometer that stores results with dates? Will
the Glucometer function improperly? Additionally, how will he refrigerate his
insulin without electricity?
Does your car tell you when it needs servicing? How does it know? Is it
just a mileage thing, or does a chip store the date somewhere in your car? What if
that chip fails and renders your car inoperable? What if you are driving home early
from a New Year's Eve party at 11:59? If you are on the freeway, and your car is not
affected, you are still surrounded by hundreds or thousands of cars which may be affected.
If the car in front of you fails and comes to a dead stop, your car may not be
working for much longer.
Remember also that many newer systems are built with
off-the-shelf chips. These chips may be able to perform a variety of functions, only
a few of which are being used. For example, even if your less-expensive car doesn't
tell you when to visit the mechanic, it may have a chip monitoring engine temperature that
can also tell the date and time. Even if the date and time features are not accessed
by your car's engine temperature monitoring system, the failure of one unused segment of a
chip could cause problems in other portions of the chip that are being used.
|And you thought you were fighting year
After a tour of six
cities to hold year 2000 field hearings, U.S. Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) last week said
a troubling side of year 2000 testing is how hard it is to tell if workaday systems that
contain embedded chips will pass millennial muster. "Representatives from the city of
Baton Rouge, La., told us about testing the year 2000 status of equipment to their fire
trucks," he said. "To their great relief, the trucks' water pumps are year
2000-compliant. To their dismay, however, it turned out that the mechanisms operating
their ladders will not work without year 2000 repairs."
What if Wall Street can't open on 3 January 2000? What if Wall
Street opens, but the market in Tokyo didn't (European and Asian countries are behind us
in conversion)? The Russian government has stopped work on Year 2000 issues,
announcing that they will deal with problems as they arise after 1 January 2000.
|Robin Guenier, the man charged with solving the "single most
expensive problem in history," tells a story.
micro-chip controls when the bank vault can be opened and closed. It allows the
jackpot vault to be opened during the working week, but keeps it closed at weekends.
For security reasons, it has been buried inside the 20-ton-door of the vault, and
can only be inspected by removing the whole door.
"The big problem arises because the bank building has been built
around the vault, again for security reasons. So to inspect or change the micro-chip
requires half the building to be demolished and the door removed. The people who
built the chip, the vault and the bank never imagined that the chip would have to be
removed in the lifetime of the building," he added.
"But at midnight on December 31,1999, something they never foresaw
will happen. The chip has been programmed to read only the last two digits of the
year, and assumes the 19 prefix. So it believes that it is back in 1900. That
would make no difference, except that January 1, 2000, falls on a Saturday, while the same
date in 1900 was a Monday. The vault will open on Saturday and Sunday, but not on
later working days. So, to ensure depositors have access to their deposits, the bank
building has to be demolished. That sums up the millennium problem."
The Times of India,
May 18, 1997
What happens if, at the end of 1999, the IRS owes you
money, but their computers have not been satisfactorily converted? If the IRS owes you money at the end of 1998, adjust your 1999
Your grocery store probably uses a system called just-in-time ordering.
Using highly sophisticated purchasing information models, the store keeps hardly
more than the stock on the shelves. You've seen the FedEx commercials explaining how
FedEx supplies small merchandisers with their wares on a daily basis. The grocery
store does the same thing with large trucks running from a central warehouse. What
happens when the computer system fails? What, if anything, will get shipped?
Will there be bagels and lox in Biloxi and chitlins in Chicago? Or will there be no
food at all on the shelves for a week?
The Social Security Administration is one of the few government agencies
that is on top of the Year 2000 crisis. They began converting their computers in 1991!!
Huge programs like AFDC and the welfare system will not be compliant in time.
Although this probably does not affect you directly, it may end up affecting you
indirectly if you live in an urban area. There is a portion of society that will
loot and riot at any perceived loss of control by the police. This is not a race
issue; in Los Angeles in 1992, the African-Americans looted in Watts, the Hispanic
Americans looted in East Los Angeles, and the Whites looted in Hollywood and North
Hollywood. The only key concept is poverty. If things are bad, the poor will
riot first. But if things get very bad and stay very bad, almost anyone can turn to
violence as a method of survival.
Note that there were riots in New York City during the electrical outage
of 1977. What will happen if power goes out at midnight on 1/1/2000? How many
people will be in the city watching the ball drop in Times Square?
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