The Navigator: Year After Next ...
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 1998
The Year 2000 Problem is brought to us by the same folks who developed some of the first mainframe computers. In those days, programmers tried to save memory space by abbreviating things whenever possible. (And they're still doing it. This, for example, is popularly known as the Y2K Problem.) As a result, years were written with two numbers 86, 87, 88. Eventually, somebody realized that the first day of the Year 2000 will appear as 00 and many, many, many computers in banks, airports, hospitals, government offices will assume that the date is Jan. 1, 1900. All hell will then break loose.
Computer programmers the world over are scrambling to remedy the situation. For them, the Y2K Problem means sleepless nights and huge consulting fees. But what does Y2K mean for the rest of us?
Where better to turn for answers, and attitude, than the Internet?
Maybe your first stop should be the Millennium Meltdown Clock, to get a sense of just how much time is left before the chaos KOs us. You can calculate the remaining time down to the very minute.
To grasp the gravity of the problem, you can peek over the shoulder of the Federal Reserve Board. That august body has dedicated part of its Web site to the Y2K bug."Time is critical," sayeth the Fed's overview page. "The year 2000 cannot be deferred ... "
Not even, apparently, by Alan Greenspan.
Many companies have posted self-serving pages about how they are dealing with the Y2K dragon. These sites are deadly serious, buttressed by flow charts and assurances that every executive will be held responsible for any disruption of service to the customers. An eye-glazing example is BellSouth's compliance page.
Other firms are taking advantage of the hysteria. A Florida company called Y2K Supplies has posted an online catalogue of survivalist stuff, including freeze-dried food, water filters, medical kits and Army surplus backpacks.
But some people are finding some fun in the furor. Westergaard Year 2000, an oversight site that keeps tabs on how the government is approaching the problem, also provides a few light moments. Here's a Y2K joke, for example: Why is getting an elephant pregnant like fixing the Y2K problem? Both require tremendous resources, are logistically very difficult, and you won't know for a couple of years if you got the job done.
And, from the same site, a song, sung to the tune of "Let It Snow": O the weather reports are frightful / But the pay is so delightful / I'm packing up and on my way / Y2K, Y2K, Y2K.
Linton Weeks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The index also includes sub-pages devoted to books, centers of study and funding sources for research. The alphabetical listing and the categorical organization help make up for the lack of a search engine that could hack through the nearly 500 Web pages. Sarantakes states that the site is developing and he plans to add more sites. Robert Thomason
Found something intriguing, improbable, insane or especially useful on the Net? Write it up and send it to Joel Garreau or Robert Thomason.
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