Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact: “The Mad Scramble for the Elusive Silver Bullet . . . and the Clock Ticks Away.”
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.
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.”
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.
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 procedures;
- 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.
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 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 other.
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.