This is a FAQ from New Zealand : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

News from down under;

I like the part about the "gullible super-optimist".

Y2K -- FAQs and fantasies

A picture of how individuals and businesses will be affected by the Y2K computer problem is coming into focus, but many uncertainties and differences of opinion remain. DAVID ARMSTRONG considers some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the millennium bug.


Chris believes computer companies let the Y2K bug happen so that they could extract a ransom from perplexed citizens. Beth is worried by everything she reads, and wishes she could go somewhere safe for a few weeks early next year.

Neil thinks that the issue is over-hyped, and that little will happen when computers and chip-based appliances roll over into 2000. Jenny has contingency plans in case power or other vital services are disrupted for a few days, and hopes that the event will pass like a bad storm. Dave doesn't understand the technical issues, and doesn't want to. He believes a new Bill Gates will come up with a silver-bullet solution in time.

Who's right?

There are no rights and wrongs in this issue, apart from the fact that no-one knows for certain what will happen. It is uncharted territory, waters which no-one has sailed.

Enough analysis and informed opinion has been aired, however, for there to be a majority view on most facets of the problem.

These answers generally reflect that consensus viewpoint, but inevitably some are tinged by the writer's personal opinion.

Is it mainly hype to boost computer companies' profits or excite journalists?

No, the problem is real. Enough faults have been found and fixed already to prove that a catastrophe would have occurred if warnings had been ignored and nothing had been done.

It is likely that many problems remain that have not yet been found. It is hoped that most of these will come to light in the seven months that remain, and if they cannot be fixed in time, that we will be able to manage the risks they will bring.

What if January 1 comes, and no problems occur? Will we have been victims of a giant hoax?

Conspiracy theorists will never be convinced that a problem-free rollover will largely be thanks to the work that has been done to prepare for the worst. If this happens, this writer for one will be thankful.

If there are problems, will they all happen soon after January 1?

It is now believed that only a small number of Y2K problems will occur within a week or so of the big day. A much larger number are expected before the end of this year, and well into 2000.

Many errors have already occurred, and some business accounting systems will strike snags as their planning advances into next year, such as renewing annual contracts or budgeting ahead.

Others, particularly in rarely used computer functions, will surface only after those functions are attempted, which could be months into 2000.

Even then, system faults may become manifest weeks or even months after the code hiccups.

The trouble with problems that occur directly after the rollover into January 1 is that they may have bigger effects, and technicians will not have the luxury of time to fix them.

Are there deeper problems that we are not being told about?

A conspiracy to deliberately withhold information is unlikely, but only a gullible super-optimist would believe that every Y2K assurance made by every company and public organisation was full, frank, and accurate. Some will prove to be wrong to some degree when finally tested.

Will a silver-bullet answer be found in time?

Every analyst with any credibility at all is convinced that this cannot happen.

The Y2K issue is not one big problem, but rather a huge number of small problems, each unique to its own situation or group of applications.

The only safe, but tedious, solution is for software experts to examine every line of computer code and every embedded chip to see if a reference to a two-digit year date is made. This is particularly important when checking one-off programs.

The Y2K problem was known about many years ago. Why did computer companies wait so long to do anything about it?

In retrospect, many software developers should feel sheepish at best and ashamed at worst.

The inability for computer programs to handle four-digit dates (1975 rather than just 75) grew from the days when computer resources such as data storage and program memory were limited, expensive, and simple. Most programmers of the time also believed that their products would be superseded well before the end of the century.

As their software was updated with new versions of the same product, such as Word 3 to Word 4, however, users demanded that the new version be compatible with the previous one so that they could keep using the old files.

So old deficiencies were carried on until about the mid-1990s, when suppliers began to bite the bullet and make big changes to underlying data structures to handle bigger date formats. Unfortunately, some systems remain in use which have never had new versions made, and they therefore need a date upgrade now.

Why the worry about chips in appliances?

Most mass-produced chips that control electronic equipment have some circuits devoted to timing functions. Even if the appliance seems to have no timing capability, its controller will still have timing circuits, probably unused.

This creates uncertainty. For example, did the equipment programmers deactivate the timing functions they did not need? Did they set the redundant "year" register to some arbitrary number, assuming that it would be irrelevant?

Are functions such as a microwave's cooking time set up to use the numbers in the "year" registers, or do they simply subtract the start time from the end time regardless of what is in the year field?

Is the controller chip in one toaster made and programmed in the same batch and using the same inner code as the chip in another toaster?

Unknowns such as these make it impossible to be certain that a particular appliance will not misbehave at the turn of the century. For most domestic appliances, however, suppliers can predict with a good degree of confidence.

Should Y2K preparation be a government responsibility, or should individuals look after themselves?

Some say the handling of such a serious, global problem is the role of decisive government, but others say that a market economy means it's every person for him or herself.

Consider this analogy. If it was known that a tsunami of uncertain severity was to hit Christchurch, we would expect the authorities to build what protection they could, but as individuals we would also take our own precautions against possible infrastructure failures and inevitable flooding.

While individual responsibility is important, Y2K is far more than an individual issue.

In today's society, no person or business is an island. We are so interdependent that almost any failure of firms, services, or utilities will affect chains of people, no matter how well prepared they are.

As an ordinary citizen and consumer, what should I do to prepare for potential Y2K problems?

Take precautions, but don't panic. Proceed as you would on a routine drive in the city: relaxed enough to go with the flow, but alert to dangers from bad drivers and malfunctioning equipment.

Or, following the tsunami analogy, prepare as if for a bad storm. Make sure the pantry is not bare and the petrol tank not almost empty. Take out a little cash from the bank, in case the eftpos system hiccups, and don't wait until the last minute!

For most people, the year 2000 will probably blow over with little disruption.

-- y2k dave (, May 27, 1999


I think that's probably what Monica thought too!

-- Will continue (, May 27, 1999.

Thanks for the "upsidedown" viewpoint.

"A conspiracy to deliberately withhold information is unlikely, but only a gullible super-optimist would believe that every Y2K assurance made by every company and public organisation was full, frank, and accurate. Some will prove to be wrong to some degree when finally tested."

Perhaps rather than "conspiracy" one may choose to identify those with "vested interests." Or, follow the money.


-- Diane J. Squire (, May 27, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ