A Millenium Bug's Life

By Pam Durian pdurian@hotmail.com


This, is not just your ordinary bug. This, could wreak havoc to all peoples of the world. Mostly to institutions who rely on computers. This, is the "Millenium Bug".

So what really is this much talked-about creature? This bug is not really a creature, but a "term used to refer to an impending date problem when year 2000 arrives and older computer systems register it, in effect, as 1900 because computers use only the last two digits to configure dates"(Computerworld Philippines, December 1998). What makes it so challenging is the scope of systems and business processes that will be affected. For the past years, humans have come to rely on computers and machines in almost all endeavors.

The first Y2K date problems emerged during the 70's when US mortgage companies had a difficult time calculating 30-year mortgages, and the US federal government calculating personnel benefits for the year 2000. This is because the Year 2000 problem actually stems from three main issues: two-digit date storage, leap year calculations, and special meanings for dates.

A cost-cutting measure during the time when memory was expensive, programmers arranged the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) to recognize only the last two digits of the year. COBOL (Common Business- Oriented Language) programming also used this two-digit scheme. Thus, at the turn of the century, non- compliant computers would interpret January 1, 1999 as 01/01/00, causing huge damage to stored data.

A full-scale article on the potential effects of the Y2K problem on public safety and health can be accessed at http://cassandraproject.org/home.htm/. This site also offers links to other related articles. There is also the danger this bug pose to the economic performance and activity of the world, which might lead to a recession (www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB19980428S0024). It is also feared to hit flight plans (www.theage.com.au/daily/980326/news/news20.html), and to create Titanic-like global disaster (www.businesstoday.com/techpages/y2k27.htm).



Before you panic, rest assured that, like other problems, this one has a solution. Though not as easily eradicated by insecticides as bugs, the millenium bug needs software like fieldex which adds two more digits for a more accurate representation of time, or services like installation of new software and conversion of date variables (Computerworld Philippines, December 1998).

In a survey conducted by Computerworld Research on 360 respondents from September to October 1998, 66% have a Year 2000 conversion project. Majority (88%) said that the company upgraded its system partly because it wanted to be Y2K-compliant. A lot (128 respondents) only started their Y2K project last year. Only 5 respondents started as early as before 1996. The respondents include representatives from sectors such as banking, financial intermediaries, and real estate, manufacturing, trading, and transportation, storage and communication.

Computer geeks have another option -- buy a Y2K compliant PC. Just remember to demand a bug- proof one, for a happier life in this computer world.


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