Y2K- Hype or Fact
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Misconception: Y2K - It will affect you!

by Terry E. Mercer 1997-1999

Well, we all know the answer to the end of the world... at least regarding the Y2K issue. When I originally wrote the article below, it was to educate people that there wasn't really a problem, and the problems would be very easy to deal with. There was not only no reason to panic... but there was a big reason to be upset with the people trying to instill fear into the ignorant.

(Originally written June 1997 with only minor updates)
Media Hype or Fact? In the past two years people have progressively been asking about the Y2K (Year 2000) computer shut down the media, and many people are talking about, writing about, and scaring the general public. I was not planning to write or speak on the subject, until a couple radio preachers and a hand full of entrepreneur's started mis-informing the public and attempting to generate more tithing and business through fear. Sorry guys, that is the wrong way to go about things... the wrong reason, and in my humble opinion - it border-lines FRAUD!!! A hundred years ago breeders of fear and misinformation would either be hung or ran out of town for selling their useless "snake oil!" It's too bad that can't happen now days!

There are so many different pieces of information and mis-information... I am not sure if I can do this subject justice. I have spent a few weeks searching the Net for information - and getting mostly misinformation. It seems that there are a large number of people that believe fear is a great way to make a living. I haven't seen so much garbage - so many "test kits" and "be prepared" sales tactics. It's a joke... worth billions! 
I guess this misinformation is one of the curses of the Internet and fast communication through out the world. You know it is bad when you pick up your local news paper and start seeing generators listed as Y2K compatible. Hey, I have a Y2K compatible picnic table! I will do my best to inform you with facts, opinions based on knowledge, logic, and research.
If you, or someone you know, have facts and verifiable information that supports OR contradicts what I am saying here, please send it to me. If the "facts" are nothing more than someone's opinion that isn't specifically in the business or industry that KNOWS, then don't bother me with that garbage. I am interested in EXPERT and EDUCATED FACTS ONLY - not hearsay. I'd encourage any self-proclaimed Y2K expert, especially those lecturing at churches and to the public sector, to prove any of what I'm saying here wrong!

Rumor has it that the Y2K - "Millennium Bug" - also known as the "2000 bug" and a few other choice names is an easy means for people to make money. I have been approached by a slew of companies wanting me to help make, design, test, or otherwise endorse such products. Obviously I don't believe in either the fear tactics, hype, or general BS (and that's not a degree) that many of the self-proclaimed gurus & want-to-be computer people are claiming.
I don't know where the "rumors" began, fore sure. I'm told the military "started" the panic a few years ago in the midst of the budget cuts and base closures. It makes sense, and the timing is right... and the government was definitely behind a great deal of the media hype and coverage... bilking us taxpayers out of a few billion dollars more amongst budget cuts, and health care concerns. However, I have no factual evidence either supporting or contradicting that rumor.

I, personally, first experienced a problem with the concept of a two digit year around 1988, in a custom Lotus (Spreadsheet) I wrote for a customer for accounting needs. I explained to my customers, at that time, what would happen, why it would happen, and that it would NOT be a major difficulty, as upgrades to their hardware and software were definitely going to happen (and has since happened). Of course, the majority of the "customers" were small business owners - not corporate American or the government. Most relied on what I said, trusted my knowledge, logic, education, and experience. Those people didn't panic... and knew that the large majority of the media coverage & fear was just one big marketing scheme to increase sales, raise profits, and justify longer hours & more payment.
If I told you, "It is the end of the world - the Martians are coming!", would you believe me? That is the same thing that a lot of want-to-be technical journalists are doing with the Y2K stuff. The media hype, opportunists, and a bunch of generally ignorant slime-balls are crying wolf - they are raising the fear of the ignorant, and instilling distrust amongst the honest, hard working, people in the computer industry. Even in the church, some preachers are using the fear of the Y2K problem and world chaos, as justification for tithing. In the retail outlets, salespeople are using it to sell you new systems and software, and the government is using it to justify spending more taxes and raising the countries deficit. What a joke. That is all it is... all it will be. Can I prove it? Yes, a large portion of it - particularly in those areas relating to personal computers (desk tops & notebooks). The rest, well, it is just plain logic... and years of discussing the issues with other educated, intelligent people that believe in making money through work and accurate information, not hype - fear - ignorance - or lies!
I guess, if a panel from the American Medical Association said that they can prove staring at a computer screen is going to cost my eye sight, I would spend more time with voice activation - so I could still compute when my eyes were gone... but I would still question it. What proof do they have? What are the facts? How long does it take? What are the FACTS???
I began messing with computers in 1974 - and have spent 40 to 100+ hours a week in front of computers since 1986... it is my business, my way of life, and my primary focus. When people, especially ignorant people that can only spout what others tell them - because they have no real means of verification, training, education, or experience on the subject, use fear to make money from other people I feel dirty and ashamed of the low levels people stoop to make money. For the home user and most small businesses, the Y2K problem is an unethical way for slick talking - semi-intelligent - wanna be millionaires to pick your pockets! Beware! Very little will happen, and the problems will be quickly and easily dealt with.

This will NOT directly affect MOST home users or small businesses with a new computer purchased since 1995 running MS Windows 95 OSR2 or Windows 98.
Fact: The end-user can test how their computer - hardware and software - will react fairly easily, by setting the "clock" on their system to December 31st, 1999 and seeing if your computer will automatically turn past the year 2000 by itself. Also, restart the system and running some simple tests on their favorite and most commonly used programs. Next, set your system clock to 2006 (or some off-the-wall date after the year 2000) - shut down, and restart. Give it a shot, see what happens. 

This will NOT affect systems made prior to 1995 - running ANY operating system - if you don't rely on that system for accounting or date specific information requiring calculations.
You WILL need to manually set the date (and time) to  the current date & time. On some of the REALLY old systems (XT's & 286's) you will need to probably set the year to 1983 - so the system will work. You will be able to access your address book, write letters, track your family tree, manipulate graphics, print, and access the Internet! Wow! And, yes, I can prove it!!!

The FREE Manual Y2K Test

WARNING: DO NOT GO INTO ANY ACCOUNTING PACKAGE WITH YOUR PERSONAL OR COMPANY DATA WITH THE NEW DATE... entering REAL data (a check, payables or receivables) in your accounting program with a wrong date, and you will get WRONG DATA OUT!
If you aren't sure of your computer skills, get a professional to do the test (In most cases it can be done in 15 to 60 minutes). Backup your valuable data before you do this... and DO NOT chance overwriting or saving files you can't find or change later. Accounting software is the most likely to be affected, and MUST be backed up completely and verified before attempting what I am going to describe. 

Who will be affected?? Companies using OLD software & hardware! Wall Street, possibly, but highly unlikely (since they know about it)... and they have stated that their systems have past the Y2K tests their technicians ran. Banks are all passing or upgrading to systems that do pass the Y2K tests. Only those companies and businesses running old software (some of the accounting and database program upgrades in the past few years still use the two digit year abbreviation). Many companies that are affected, probably know they are affected. Some don't care - and they will change when they have to. Others have an ethical computer technician that is upgrading their motherboard - their operating system - their accounting software and/or date sensitive database(s) (converting their two digit dates to four digit dates) and source code changes, to allow the changes to take effect... and to avoid any problems.

Programs that do not calculate off of the two digit date will not be effected. Programs that are not date sensitive will not be effected (such as graphics programs, games, CAD software, writing software, and letters, etc.).

Their is a lot of time to deal with conversions of data for those companies which do have a problem... the only major difficulty is the number of records, and how far back a company needs to go to ensure complete compatibility and very few problems. With the speed of the new computers, most conversions (once written and working with a test sample of the data) the conversion can be ran over a weekend to completion, without problem. 
In many cases, making hardware Y2K compliant is as simple as upgrading the motherboard & operating system... and can take as little as 2 to 16 hours of a knowledgeable technicians time. However, most home users, unless they are doing accounting on their system, can simply set the date to January 1st, 2000 and everything will work fine. If you still have a problem, then set the year to 1983 (which has the SAME days, including leap year) - and the computer will never know the difference and all your hardware and software will continue to function just as it always did - just with the wrong date. 
How many things do you use the computer to "auto-date"?? Graphics don't require a date... address books usually don't care about a date - and when they do, it is usually only the month and day (for birthdays & anniversaries). Most people that write letters key in the current date - so what date the computer says is meaningless. IT WILL STILL WORK!
Most larger companies that MIGHT BE effected with a Y2K problem aren't open on the week end, so conversions began at the close of business Friday would be done before the start of business on Monday... factor a three or four day national holiday in, and there should be more than enough time for virtually any conversion, once the conversion routine software and program patches are ready and thoroughly tested ON ANOTHER COMPUTER. Wow!

If your system effectively shows a date beyond 2000 - like 2001 or 2013, then the hardware is probably (99.9% sure) OK! As the actual BIOS (controller chip that allows the components to communicate effectively with the CPU, RAM, Video Card, and peripherals) is the most likely problem on the older systems.
Next, is the operating system. I haven't tried all of them, nor will I. However, I do know that Windows 95 OSR2 ( Operating System Release 2 - which you can check by Start, Settings, Control Panel, System - "WIN95 4.00.950 B"  or you can look in the "c:\windows\command" folder for file dates... you want them to be dated 8/24/96 or later) has Y2K patches (for the file system management) for FREE on Microsoft's web site. This is NOT a reason to run out and upgrade to Windows 98, although 98 is "fully" Y2K compliant, as an OS (Operating System). And Windows NT v4 with service pack 4 is Y2K compatible. There, I have confirmed 95% of the operating systems currently in use.
Once you have verified your hardware and OS works beyond the year 2000, next is to consider what software you are running. Word-processing programs, graphics programs, games, and so forth DO NOT MATTER! The Y2K problem will have NO EFFECT on these type of programs 99.9999% of the time. The .0001% is for the program I haven't tested or the custom program that someone has hard-coded (written in the programs source code) a shut off date. Only accounting software,  databases, and some financial programs will be affected.
For instance, Quick Books and Quicken, can easily be tested... backup your data, then make a copy of the company or account information under a different file name. reset your system clock (BIOS &/or OS) to a 2001 date, and put in some fictitious information. Note: Intuit states that their Quicken 98 and Quick Books v6 are both Y2K compatible. However, some people are using other programs. Check Intuit's (or your accounting programs) web site for more information. Here is how you can check them:
Put in an AR, AP, and loan value (that is payment someone owes you, bill you owe, and loan amount on a loan started before 2000). See how the program deals with the results.
Does the software "age" the receivables correctly? For instance, if someone owed you $10,000 on December 30th, 1999 how long does the software say the person has owed you when you change the date to January 2nd 2000?? The correct answer is three days - 12/31/1999, 1/1/2000, and 1/2/2000 some programs may (also correctly) say four days - including 12/30/1999 as the fourth day. If the answer is anything else, then you have a problem.
Many of the older database programs, which includes quite a few accounting programs, especially DOS and UNIX based programs were set up to calculate with a two digit year 60=1960, 80=1980, 98=1998, and 00=1900, rather than 2000. In the last five years or so, most people with personal computers have upgraded their hardware to something that will work fine... and win95B & Windows 98 work fine... and Intuit has sold Y2K compatible software for a couple years (at least) so the Y2K issue isn't a problem for their customers.
It is the smaller software companies, the less common programs, DOS based programs, and older computers that will affect a few home users. Your local veterinarian (billing), mom & pop video store (late fees), and small companies that give YOU terms (loans), etc. Bottom line, the Y2K issue really isn't. It can be dealt with quickly and easily for & by most companies, and it will NOT have any where near the effect that the media or government wants you to believe.

The Moral: home users and small businesses running a new system and software built within the last three years are probably in great shape, and the test is pretty darn quick and easy. There is no need to panic. Besides, the solution (for those companies with the problem) doesn't lie in your hands anyway - so why stress out over it? Keep good records of your bank transactions, your IRS tax returns, and your stock trading and investments. Paper trails are a necessary evil any prudent person still maintains - if only in chaotic piles, boxes, or draws. Most of the reporters and media are not technically inclined and do not really understand the problem to begin with. Therefore, like any "good" reporter shooting for ratings and armed with rumor and innuendo, some will push the panic button.
Maybe a huge utility company is affected... I honestly don't think there is, or if there is I am confident they will fix the situation long before it becomes a problem. But for the sake of a grandiose example, which is one of the rumors I heard a few months ago, some billion dollar utility company is affected. Hum, how would the problem affect you - the user of their service? Well, first, all of the billing would be messed up... because you last paid on December xx, 1999 and now the January 1900 (or 1980, 1960, or 1980 - depending on the computer system and software for minimum date range) is now due. To begin with, that isn't you fault - and you would merely need to send a copy of the bill to the company circling the date. Your analog meter doesn't care about what the date is - it merely counts kilowatts or gallons. The company can NOT legally turn off the utility, and would have basically 30 days to fix it. It would still calculate your use, and you would still owe the money for what you used... but the service wouldn't shut off. There is not any single "switch" or button which can magically turn off all services from that company.
The telephone systems are the most likely to be affected, in the small rural areas - population 1,000 or less and more than 50 miles from a large city or switch. Your service wouldn't disappear - your billing might get messed up though. Consider the resent US West strike - new service was disrupted, but the old service that was working continued to function properly.
Let's save the company with the problem was a bank. Wow - the interest calculations would be screwed up for a day or two - or would have to be figured in an alternative means until the problem was fixed. Does that mean your deposits are gone? No - they are still there, you haven't lost money... and they haven't lost your money. You should be able to ask your bank if their system(s) have been tested for the Y2K situation, and most branches will know the answer to that question. The banks in our local area have been tested, and when a problem was found - it was fixed.
Unfortunately, as I write this, our local news station has a little blurb on TV relating to alleged Y2K problems... which prompted the writing of this.

If you are any experiences, questions, or comments specifically relating to the Y2K problems, please email me.

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