Year 2000: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact

Year 2000: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact
“The Mad Scramble for the Elusive Silver Bullet . . . and the Clock Ticks Away.”
Wayne Anderson
November 7, 1996
The year 2000 is practically around the corner, promising a new era of
greatness and wonder . . . as long as you don’t own a computer or work with one.

The year 2000 is bringing a Pandora’s Box of gifts to the computer world, and
the latch is slowly coming undone.

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The year 2000 bug is not really a “bug” or “virus,” but is more a computer
industry mistake. Many of the PC’s, mainframes, and software out there are not
designed or programmed to compute a future year ending in double zeros. This
is going to be a costly “fix” for the industry to absorb. In fact, Mike Elgan
who is the editor of Windows Magazine, says ” . . . the problem could cost
businesses a total of $600 billion to remedy.” (p. 1) The fallacy that
mainframes were the only machines to be affected was short lived as industry
realized that 60 to 80 million home and small business users doing math or
accounting etc. on Windows 3.1 or older software, are just as susceptible to
this “bug.” Can this be repaired in time? For some, it is already too late. A
system that is devised to cut an annual federal deficit to 0 by the year 2002 is
already in “hot water.” Data will become erroneous as the numbers “just don’t
add up” anymore. Some PC owners can upgrade their computer’s BIOS (or complete
operating system) and upgrade the OS (operating system) to Windows 95, this
will set them up for another 99 years. Older software however, may very well
have to be replaced or at the very least, upgraded.

The year 2000 has become a two-fold problem. One is the inability of the
computer to adapt to the MM/DD/YY issue, while the second problem is the
reluctance to which we seem to be willing to address the impact it will have.

Most IS (information system) people are either unconcerned or unprepared.

Let me give you a “short take” on the problem we all are facing. To save
storage space -and perhaps reduce the amount of keystrokes necessary in order to
enter the year to date-most IS groups have allocated two digits to represent the
year. For example, “1996” is stored as “96” in data files and “2000” will be
stored as “00.” These two-digit dates will be on millions of files used as
input for millions of applications. This two digit date affects data
manipulation, primarily subtractions and comparisons. (Jager, p. 1) For
instance, I was born in 1957. If I ask the computer to calculate how old I am
today, it subtracts 57 from 96 and announces that I’m 39. So far so good. In
the year 2000 however, the computer will subtract 57 from 00 and say that I am –
57 years old. This error will affect any calculation that produces or uses time
spans, such as an interest calculation. Banker’s beware!!!
Bringing the problem closer to the home-front, let’s examine how the CAPS
system is going to be affected. As CAPS is a multifaceted system, I will focus
on one area in particular, ISIS. ISIS (Integrated Student Information System)
has the ability to admit students, register them, bill them, and maintain an
academic history of each student (grades, transcripts, transfer information,
etc.) inside of one system. This student information system has hundreds and
hundreds of references to dates within it’s OS. This is a COBOL system
accessing a ADABAS database. ADABAS is the file and file access method used by
ISIS to store student records on and retrieve them from. (Shufelt, p.1) ADABAS
has a set of rules for setting up keys to specify which record to access and
what type of action (read, write, delete) is to be performed. The dates will
have to have centuries appended to them in order to remain correct. Their
(CAPS) “fix” is to change the code in the Procedure Division (using 30 as the
cutoff >30 century = “19” <30 century = “20”).In other words, if the year in
question is greater than 30 (>30) then it can be assumed that you are referring
to a year in the 20th century and a “19” will be moved to the century field. If
the year is less than 30 (<30) then it will move a “20” to the century field.

If absolutely necessary, ISIS will add a field and a superdescriptor index in
order to keep record retrieval in the order that the program code expects. The
current compiler at CAPS will not work beyond the year 2000 and will have to be
replaced. The “temporary fix” (Kludge) just discussed (<30 or >30) will allow
ISIS to operate until the year 2030, when they hope to have replaced the current
system by then.

For those of you with your own home computers, let’s get up close and
personal. This problem will affect you as well! Up to 80% of all personal PCs
will fail when the year 2000 arrives. More than 80,000,000 PCs will be shut
down December 31, 1999 with no problems. On January 1, 2000, some 80,000,000 PCs
will go “belly up!” (Jager, p. 1) These computers will think the Berlin Wall
is still standing and that Nixon was just elected President! There is however,
a test that you can perform in order to see if you are on of the “lucky”
minority that do not have a problem with the year 2000 affecting their PC.

First, set the date on your computer to December 31, 1999. Next, set the
time to 23:58 hours (if you use a 24 hour clock (Zulu time)) or 11:58 p.m. for
12 hour clocks. Now, Power Off the computer for at least 3 to 5 minutes. Note:
( It is appropriate at this time to utter whatever mantras or religious chants
you feel may be beneficial to your psyche ). Next, Power On the computer, and
check your time and date. If it reads January 1, 2000 and about a minute or two
past midnight, breathe a sigh of relief, your OS is free from the year 2000
“bug.” If however, your computer gives you wrong information, such as my own PC
did (March 12, 1945 at 10:22 a.m.) welcome to the overwhelming majority of the
population that has been found “infected.”
All applications, from spreadsheets to e-mail, will be adversely affected.

What can you do? Maybe you can replace your computer with one that is Year 2000
compatible. Is the problem in the RTC (Real Time Clock), the BIOS, the OS?
Even if you fix the hardware problem, is all the software you use going to make
the “transition” safely or is it going to corrupt as well?!
The answers to these questions and others like them are not answerable with
a yes or a no. For one thing, the “leading experts” in the computer world
cannot agree that there is even a problem, let alone discuss the magnitude upon
which it will impact society and the business world. CNN correspondant Jed
Duvall illustrates another possible “problem” scenario. Suppose an individual
on the East Coast, at 2 minutes after midnight in New York City on January 1,
2000 decides to mark the year and the century by calling a friend in California,
where because of the time zone difference, it is still 1999. With the current
configurations in the phone company computers, the NewYorker will be billed from
00 to 99, a phone call some 99 years long!!! (p. 1)
What if you deposit $100 into a savings account that pays 5% interest
annually. The following year you decide to close your account. The bank
computer figures your $100 was there for one year at 5% interest, so you get
$105 back, simple enough. What happens though, if you don’t take your money out
before the year 2000? The computer will re-do the calculation exactly the same
way. Your money was in the bank from ’95 to ’00. That’s ’00 minus ’95, which
equals a negative 95 (-95). That’s -95 years at 5% interest. That’s a little
bit more than $10,000, and because of the minus sign, it’s going to subtract
that amount from your account. You now owe the bank $9,900. Do I have your
attention yet??!!
There is no industry that is immune to this problem, it is a cross-platform
problem. This is a problem that will affect PCs, minis, and mainframes. There
are no “quick fixes” or what everyone refers to as the “Silver Bullet.” The
Silver Bullet is the terminology used to represent the creation of an automatic
fix for the Yk2 problem. There are two major problems with this philosophy.

First, there are too many variables from hardware to software of different types
to think that a “cure-all” can be found that will create an “across-the-board”
type of fix. Secondly, the mentality of the general population that there is
such a “fix” or that one can be created rather quickly and easily, is creating
situations where people are putting off addressing the problem due to reliance
on the “cure-all.” The ” . . . sure someone will fix it.” type attitude
pervades the industry and the population, making this problem more serious than
it already is.(Jager, p. 1) People actually think that there is a program
that you can start running on Friday night . . . everybody goes home, and Monday
morning the problem has been fixed. Nobody has to do anything else, the Yk2
problem poses no more threat, it has been solved. To quote Peter de Jager,
“Such a tool, would be wonderful.

Such a tool, would be worth Billions of dollars.

Such a tool, is a na ve pipe dream.

Could someone come close? Not very . . .

Could something reduce this problem by 90%? I don’t believe so.

Could it reduce the problem by 50%? Possibly . . . but I still don’t
believe so.

Could it reduce the workload by 30%? Quite likely.”
(p. 2)
Tools are available, but are only tools, not cures or quick fixes.

How will this affect society and the industry in 2000? How stable will
software design companies be as more and more competitors offer huge
“incentives” for people to “jump ship” and come work for them on their
problems!? Cash flow problems will put people out of business. Computer
programmers will make big bucks from now until 2000, as demand increases for
their expertise. What about liability issues that arise because company “A”
reneged on a deal because of a computer glitch. Sue! Sue! Sue! What about ATM
lockups, or credit card failures, medical emergencies, downed phone systems.

This is a wide spread scenario because the Yk2 problem will affect all these
elements and more.

As is obvious, the dimensions to this challenge are apparent. Given
society’s reliance on computers, the failure of the systems to operate properly
can mean anything from minor inconveniences to major problems: Licenses and
permits not issued, payroll and social service checks not cut, personnel,
medical and academic records malfunctioning, errors in banking and finance,
accounts not paid or received, inventory not maintained, weapon systems
malfunctioning (shudder!), constituent services not provided, and so on, and so
on, and so on. Still think you’ll be unaffected . . . highly unlikely. This
problem will affect computations which calculate age, sort by date, compare
dates, or perform some other type of specialized task. The Gartner Group has
made the following approximations: At $450 to $600 per affected computer program,
it is estimated that a medium size company will spend from $3.6 to $4.2 million
to make the software conversion. The cost per line of code is estimated to be
$.80 to $1. VIASOFT has seen program conversion cost rise to $572 to $1,204.

ANDERSEN CONSULTING estimates that it will take them more than 12,000 working
days to correct its existing applications. YELLOW CORPORATION estimates it will
spend approximately 10,000 working days to make the change. Estimates for the
correction of this problem in the United States alone is upward of $50 to $75
Billion dollars.

(ITAA, p. 1)
Is it possible to eliminate the problem? Probably not, but we can make the
transition much smoother with cooperation and the right approach. Companies and
government agencies must understand the nature of the problem. Unfortunately,
the spending you find for new software development will not be found in Yk2
research. Ignoring the obvious is not the way to approach this problem. To
assume that the problem will be corrected when the system is replaced can be a
costly misjudgment. Priorities change, development schedules slip, and system
components will be reused, causing the problem to be even more widespread.

Correcting the situation may not be so difficult as it will be time
consuming. For instance, the Social Security Administration estimates that it
will spend 300 man-years finding and correcting these date references in their
information systems – systems representing a total of 30 million lines of code.

(ITAA, p. 3) Common sense dictates that a comprehensive conversion plan be
developed to address the more immediate functions of an organization (such as
invoices, pay benefits, collect taxes, or other critical organization functions),
and continue from there to finish addressing the less critical aspects of
operation. Some of the automated tools may help to promote the “repair” of the
systems, such as in:
* line by line impact analysis of all date references within a system, both
in terms of data and
* project cost estimating and modeling;
* identification and listing of affected locations;
* editing support to make the actual changes required;
* change management;
* and testing to verify and validate the changed system.

(ITAA, p. 3)
Clock simulators can run a system with a simulated clock date and can use
applications that append or produce errors when the year 2000 arrives while date
finders search across applications on specific date criteria, and browsers can
help users perform large volume code inspection. As good as all these
“automated tools” are, there are NO “Silver Bullets” out there. There are no
quick fixes. It will take old fashioned work-hours by personnel in order to
make this “rollover” smooth and efficient.

Another area to look at are the implications for public health information.

Public health information and surveillance at all levels of local, state,
federal, and international public health are especially sensitive to and
dependent upon dates for epidemiological (study of disease occurrence, location,
and duration) and health statistics reasons. The date of events, duration
between events, and other calculations such as age of people are core
epidemiologic and health statistic requirements. (Seligman, p. 1)Along with
this, public health authorities are usually dependent upon the primary data
providers such as physician practices, laboratories, hospitals, managed care
organizations, and out-patient centers etc., as the source for original data
upon which public health decisions are based. The CDC (Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention) for example, maintains over 100 public health
surveillance systems all of which are dependent upon external sources of data.

(Issa, p. 5) This basically means that it is not going to be sufficient to make
the internal systems compliant to the year 2000 in order to address all of the
ramifications of this issue. To illustrate this point, consider the following
scenario: in April 2000, a hospital sends an electronic surveillance record to
the local or state health department reporting the death of an individual who
was born in the year “00”; is this going to be a case of infant mortality or a
geriatric case??
Finally, let’s look at one of the largest software manufacturing
corporations and see what the implications of the year 2000 will be for
Microsoft products. Microsoft states that Windows 95 and Windows NT are capable
of supporting dates up until the year 2099. They also make the statement
however: “It is important to note that when short, assumed dates (mm/dd/yy) are
entered, it is impossible for the computer to tell the difference between a day
in 1905 and 2005. Microsoft’s products, that assume the year from these short
dates, will be updated in 1997 to make it easier to assume a 2000-based year.

As a result, Microsoft recommends that by the end of the century, all PC
software be upgraded to versions from 1997 or later.”
(Microsoft, p. 1)
Microsoft Access 95
assumed “yy” dates
Microsoft Access 95
long dates (“yyyy”)
Microsoft Access (next version)
assumed “yy” dates
Microsoft Excel 95
assumed “yy” dates
Microsoft Excel 95
long dates (“yyyy”)
Microsoft Excel (next version)
assumed “yy” dates
Microsoft Excel (next version)
long dates (“yyyy”)
Microsoft Project 95
32 bits
Microsoft SQL Server
MS-DOS(r) file system (FAT16)
16 bits
Visual C++(r) (4.x) runtime library
32 bits
Visual FoxPro
long dates (“yyyy”)
Windows 3.x file system (FAT16)
16 bits
Windows 95 file system (FAT16)
16 bits
Windows 95 file system (FAT32)
32 bits
Windows 95 runtime library (WIN32)
16 bits
Windows for Workgroups (FAT16)
16 bits
Windows NT file system (FAT16)
16 bits
Windows NT file system (NTFS)
future centuries
64 bits
Windows NT runtime library (WIN32)
16 bits
Microsoft further states that its development tools and database management
systems provide the flexibility for the user to represent dates in many
different ways. Proper training of developers to use date formats that
accommodate the transition to the year 2000 is of the utmost importance. For
informational purposes, I have included a chart that represents the more
popular Microsoft products, their date limits, and date formats. (Chart on
previous page) (Microsoft, p. 3)
So . . . is everyone affected? Apparently not. In speaking with the
owners of St. John Valley Communications, an Internet-Access provider based in
Fort Kent, they are eagerly awaiting the coming of 2000. They, Alan Susee and
Dawn Martin had enough foresight to make sure that when they purchased their
equipment and related software, that it would all be year 2000 compliant. It
can be done, as evidenced by this industrious couple of individuals. The key is
to get informed and to stay informed. Effect the changes you can now, and look
to remedy the one’s that you can’t. The year 2000 will be a shocker and
thriller for many businesses, but St. John Valley Communications seem to have it
under control and are holding their partry hats in one hand and the mouse in the

As is obviously clear from the information presented, Yk2 is a problem to
be reckoned with. The wide ranging systems (OS) and software on the market
lend credence to the idea that a “silver bullet” fix is a pipe dream in the
extreme. This is not however, an insurmountable problem. Efficient training
and design is needed, as well as a multitude of man-hours to effect the
“repairs” needed to quell the ramifications and repercussions that will
inevitably occur without intervention from within. The sit back and wait for a
cure-all approach will not work, nor is it even imaginable that some people (IS
people) with advanced knowledge to the contrary, would buy into this propaganda
of slow technological death. To misquote an old adage, “The time for action was
10 years ago.” Whatever may happen, January 1, 2000 will be a very interesting
time for some, a relief for others . . . and a cyanide capsule for the
“slackers.” What will you do now that you are better “informed?” Hopefully you
will effect the necessary “repairs and pass the word to the others who may be
taking this a little too lightly. It may not be a matter of life or death, but
it sure as heck could mean your job and financial future.

Elgan, Mike.”Experts bemoan the denial of “2000 bug”.”
Http:// ( 31 October 1996).

Jager, Peter de.”DOOMSDAY.” Http://
(2 November 1996).

* ” Believe me it’s real ! Early Warning.” Http://
(4 November 1996).

* ” Biting the Silver Bullet.” Http://
(2 November 1996).

Shufelt, Ursula.”Yk2.”[emailprotected] ( 7 November 1996).

Duvall, Jed.”The year 2000 does not compute.” Http://
(3 November 1996).

ITAA. “The Year 2000 Software Conversion: Issues and Observations.”
Http:// ( 7 November 1996).

Seligman, James & Issa, Nabil.”The Year 2000 Issue: Implications for Public
Health Information and Surveillance Systems.”
Http:// November 1996).

Microsoft.”Implications of the Year 2000 on Microsoft Products.”
Http:// November 1996).