Y2K – Don't blame me!!

By Mary Marek
Posted 12/16/99

The end of the year is fast approaching. In normal years, most people look forward to New Year’s Eve. For some, it’s an excuse for the biggest party of the year. For others, it’s the …

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Y2K – Don't blame me!!

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The end of the year is fast approaching. In normal years, most people look forward to New Year’s Eve. For some, it’s an excuse for the biggest party of the year. For others, it’s the opportunity to reflect on the past year, examining it for areas of their lives that could be improved (such as, less partying on New Year’s Eve), changes that could make life better. New Year’s is traditionally a time for making resolutions. “This is the year I’ll lose weight.” “This year I’ll save more money.” “This is the year I’ll dye my hair blond.” “This year I’ll find the perfect person and get married.” (Not that that last resolution will necessarily make life better – there’s nothing wrong with being single, although being married has it’s good points, too, but if you’re single, you can live your life the way you want, but if you’re married you have someone to share things with. Whatever…)

Well, this year many people are viewing the coming New Year’s Day with dread and apprehension. Why? Because it’s the beginning of a new millennium. (Actually, that’s up for debate. A lot of people say the new millennium won’t actually start until January 1, 2001, but at this point, we don’t care.) Y2K (Year 2000 — for those of you who don’t speak metric, “K” stands for “kilo” which is metric for “thousand”) is upon us.

Why should the beginning of a new millennium be cause for alarm? Because of the computers.

“What computers?” you ask, “I don’t have a computer, and even if I did, it’s nobody’s business but mine.”

It’s not your computer the world is worried about. Or mine (which is Y2K compliant, I might add). It’s all the rest of them. The ones that run our banks. The ones that run our utility companies (telephone, water, sewer, electricity and gas). The ones that keep track of our prescription drugs. The ones that control our cars (yes – lots of cars have computers in them – even some of the newer tractors and combines). The ones that run the factories that make the cars and everything else we use. The ones that fly our airplanes. The ones that run our governments (including the military). The ones that add up your purchases at the grocery store. The ones our creditors use to schedule the mailing of our bills (it might not be a bad thing if those computers crashed). The ones that tell our VCRs what day it is. All of them.

And why should computers care what year it is? Because the idiots that programmed them way back when computers were born told them to read dates as a 2-digit number. 1979 is “79”. 1980 is “80”. 1999 is “99”. 1928 is “28”. And so on. So, what will the year 2000 be to a computer? “00” But the year 1900 is “00” to a computer.

See the problem? Evidently, the same people who had the vision to invent computers and their operating systems, didn’t have the confidence that they would be around this long.

What difference, you ask; does it make how a computer reads a date? Well, suppose you have worked very hard (or robbed a bank or something) and saved a bunch of money. Like any smart person, you put it in the bank in an interest-bearing account. The bank’s computer calculates your interest on a daily basis, so every day your account grows.

** DO NOT PANIC. WE ARE PLAYING PRETEND. THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN. **

(But if it does, don’t blame me.)

On December 31, 1999, the bank’s computer adds your daily $1,000 interest (since we’re playing pretend, we’ll pretend you saved a whole lot of money and your account pays a whole lot of interest – remember, this is just a fantasy) to your account. Then, the clock rolls past midnight and now the bank’s computer thinks it’s January 1, 1900. Not only don’t you get your daily interest; your account is empty. After all, you didn’t start your account until 1990, and as far as the computer is concerned, that won’t happen for 90 years.

** DO NOT PANIC. WE ARE PLAYING PRETEND. THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN. **

(But if it does, don’t blame me.)

Actually, I don’t think there will be a problem. I’m not withdrawing all my money (all $5.32 of it) from the bank or stockpiling bottled water or toilet paper (although what effect Y2K would have on toilet paper I can’t imagine, unless all the toilet paper factories are shut down by Y2K, but I don’t think that’s going to happen and I’ll deal with that when it does, if it does, which I don’t think it will).

I have faith that the idiots who caused the Y2K concern in the first place (or their descendents in the computer programming world) will have everything fixed and running smoothly by the end of the year. In fact, I’m confident that most of the world’s computers (at least the ones we need to worry about – I’m not too worried about the one sitting on the desk in your home office – if you haven’t dealt with Y2K, that’s not my problem) have already been fixed.

Banks are not going to lose our money (although I wouldn’t mind if their computers wiped out all my outstanding loans, but I have a feeling even if they lost my money, they’d keep track of what I owe them). Our lights are not going to go out (but if you’re worried about that, I might know where you can buy a generator, cheap).

Water will still run out of our faucets when we turn them on (if it runs out when the faucet is turned off, don’t blame Y2K, call a plumber).

Airplanes will not fall from the sky at midnight on New Year’s Eve and trains will not coast to a stop. Credit card companies will not lose your account information (so you better plan on making your payments in January).

There will be plenty of toilet paper in the stores (unless the Nervous Nellies out there buy it all, in which case it might not hurt to save the paper after you unwrap your Christmas presents). Stay calm.

So, if I’m not worried about Y2K, why am I talking about it? Well, I recently heard a co-worker talk about writing an article about Y2K and the Amish; how they will be affected by the advent of the year 2000.

When I heard this, I thought about it for a minute and realized this could be a very short article. In fact, it could be summed up in a few words. “For the most part, they won’t be.”

They won’t care if the electricity goes off. They don’t have any.

They won’t care if the natural gas pipelines shut down. They don’t use it for heat. (They do, however, use gasoline to power their pumps, LP for cooking and kerosene for their lamps. So, should suppliers of those commodities have problems, the Amish will care.)

They won’t care if a car’s computer causes it to stall. They don’t drive cars. Their horsepower is provided by actual horses.

They won’t care if the telephones don’t work. They don’t have any. They do their communicating the old-fashioned way — face-to-face or through the mail.

They won’t care if the Postal Service stops. It’ll start again sooner or later.

Most of them won’t care if municipal water service or sewer is disrupted. Most of them use wells and septic tanks.

They won’t care if airplanes can’t fly. They don’t fly anyway, so as long as a plane doesn’t fall on their house, it won’t affect them.

They won’t care if the clothing manufacturers shut down because all the sewing machines are computerized. They make their own clothes.

They won’t care if their credit-card company screws up their account. They don’t use credit cards.

They won’t care if the grocery store can’t add up a purchase on their computerized cash registers. The Amish grow most of their own food.

Of course, the Amish (like everybody else) rely on computers more than they probably realize. They use banks and drug stores just like the rest of us. But, for the most part, Y2K and its possible (but NOT probable) problems will have no affect on them whatsoever.

Besides, like I said, I don’t think Y2K is going to be a problem. I sincerely believe that the people in charge have things under control (at least as far as Y2K is concerned; if we’re talking about the folks in Washington, DC, I’m not sure they have anything under control).

So, when 12 a.m. (that’s midnight, not noon), January 1, 2000 rolls around, I plan on being sound asleep having gone to bed with the firm conviction that when I wake up, everything will be normal and nothing bad will have happened.

But, if it does, DON’T BLAME ME.

I want to take a few minutes here to apologize to my Aunt Helen Harden who lives in Pleasantview. A few weeks ago I ran a picture that was taken at my Aunt Char’s wedding. Pat and I were flowergirls in the wedding and the picture I ran showed us in our flowergirl dresses, as well as Aunt Char in her gown.

What I neglected to tell you was that Aunt Helen made the dresses, including Aunt Char’s gown. She sat up for hours hand-sewing the rhinestones, wanting it to be perfect for the occasion.

I’m sorry for the omission, Aunt Helen, and promise to try not to let it happen again.