By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I've read a lot in magazines and newspapers about the millennium bug, but Peter Garrison's article ["Y2K: A Complete Guide to the Coming Crisis in Computing," July 24-30] unnerved me the most. Imagine, I take all my cash out of my bank accounts, convert my stocks, make photocopies of all my critical documents . . . That's great, I'm safe. But then millions of other people do the same thing - everyone hordes their cash - no one trusts the banks - they crash - economic chaos! The computer chips make security systems fail . . . looters everywhere - armed maniacs defend their neighborhoods - riots! None of the appliances that we depend on work - Christian zealots find the passages in the Bible that describe the Y2K problem - the phone systems go down - no pagers, no cell phones, no e-mail - we're lost, we're hungry, we have no money, every company and government agency we've ever had contact with thinks we haven't been born yet. All of a sudden, everyone on Earth doesn't exist on paper . . .
My goodness, so this is Armageddon!
As one of Paramount Pictures' I.S. "Y2K awareness team," I found Peter Garrison's article on Y2K both fair and highly informative. He failed to mention, however, that there are a number of dates when the Y2K bug can/will bite us all in the butt.
September 9, 1998: Though this isn't a critical date, it refers to an important future date. A common programming device was to enter "9999" as a signal that a stack of data had reached its end. This signal may sometimes have been programmed on date fields in certain "one-year look-ahead" business plans, with the result that the date 9/9/99 will have a special - and unintended - meaning, and could cause a system to shut down.
January 1, 1999: Many computer programs process data by looking forward one year and counting dates back from that point. If such systems have two-digit date problems that are not corrected in time, they may begin to malfunction or fail at the start of 1999.
August 22, 1999: The Global Positioning System is a constellation of 24 low-orbiting satellites maintained by the U.S. Navy that continuously signal data that can be used to determine the exact location of any receiver on the surface of the Earth. The data are also used by some systems to establish the exact time of day for transaction logging. The clocks on this system report the time as the number of weeks since the launch of the system in 1980. On August 22, 1999, this counter will overflow and return to 000000 (as would happen on the odometer of a car that had traveled 100,000 miles). At that point some systems, or equipment, that use the GPS signals may malfunction, unless it has been replaced with Y2K-compliant hardware and software. Among the vulnerable devices are some cellular telephones, devices that track the location of freight shipments, and some navigational equipment. (Fortunately, many manufacturers of such devices have built their products to handle the rollover period correctly.)
September 9, 1999: See September 9, 1998.
January 1, 2000: The date when most embedded systems may fail.
February 29, 2000: The year 2000 is divisible by four and is a leap year. However, years divisible by 100 are not leap years (1900 was not) unless they are divisible by 400 (2400 will be another leap year). Some programmers did not know about the 100-year rule when they wrote their original codes, and those programs will run fine in 2000. Some programmers knew about the 100-year rule, but not about the 400-year rule, and their programs are likely to fail.
December 31, 2000: Some programs operate by counting the days in the year. If the writers of these programs were unaware of the uncommon-leap-year situation, their systems may not fail until December 31, 2000, the (unexpected) 366th day of the year.
As you can see, January 1, 2000, is not the only date that needs attention.
I used to count on L.A.'s alternative press to rescue me, even if just once a week, from the manipulative junk that passes for "news" in the corporate media. A good example of how my expectations have been disappointed is Peter Garrison's article "Y2K," about the "millennium bug," a subject you can waste your time reading about in virtually any mainstream publication and certainly don't need the Weekly for.
I worked as a computer programmer over a 20-year period for a variety of companies, including contract work for the Los Angeles Unified School District. If the LAUSD needs 48 full-time programmers on this project, it's because only half of them can be counted on to show up for work, and only half of those can be counted on to know what they're doing. The fact is, though, you'd have trouble finding a programmer who wasn't competent to identify and fix something as trivial as "Y2K." It just doesn't get much easier.
So why all the fuss? While Garrison does acknowledge the "debunkers" who ask that question and mentions the interest data-programming professionals would have in creating a scare in order to generate income, he quickly dismisses this point of view in favor of predicting a genuine catastrophe. One point of view he fails to discuss at all is the enormous potential Y2K represents in terms of creating enough chaos to enable the corporate entities that pull our strings to manipulate a confused public into acting against its own interests. We're already hearing claims that the current wave of bank mergers is a good thing because the fewer banking entities we have, the fewer places in the banking system the bugs will exist. Now, apply that "logic" to the "globalization" that's undermining our sovereignty and standard of living, and you may be looking at the real picture. One thing is certain: If the corporate world can't get this simple thing fixed in a year's time, it will be because they didn't want to.