Starting over in 1900 (AK - Y2k computer glitches)greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Thursday, December 9, 1999 Starting over in 1900 State quickly fixes Y2K bug in child support, jury programs
By DOUG O'HARRA Daily News reporter
Call it a Y2K classic.
As a state computer began setting up files last week to track child support clients in January, the record-keeping program misinterpreted "00" in a date as 1900 and tried to create 1,188 separate monthly records per person.
"It wanted to build records for 99 years," said John Mallonee, assistant director for the Division of Child Support Enforcement.
The glitch was discovered on Dec. 2 when a fail-safe built into the program alerted officials that it was trying to build a file that was too large.
"One of my programmers just went in and changed the code for that particular program," said Mallonee. "It took less than half an hour."
In any event, the outcome wouldn't have been serious, he said. "All it would have really done is (created) this huge file out there."
During the final countdown to the new year, some computer systems have begun working with dates that fall in year 2000. It's a time when the remaining Y2K bugs in software and chips may start to show.
"Coming into the last month of the year, we're starting to see some things pop for systems that are looking a month ahead," said Bob Poe, the state's Y2K coordinator and commissioner of the Department of Administration. "People are watching these systems so closely that they when these mistakes happen they catch them."
One by one, those bugs are getting swatted.
Last week, a computer program that picks citizens for potential jury duty zipped through the state mainframe computer, misread 2000 as 1900 and tried to give about 375,000 Alaskans a 99-year reprieve from their civic duties in the courtroom.
"The people that it did pick were correctly picked, but it did not pick enough people," said Stephen Bouch, deputy director for the Alaska Court System. "There were no notices with wrong dates on them - all of the notices had the right dates on them."
The program, which reconciles Alaska Permanent Fund records with eligibility and past service, transferred only about 125,000 names into a pool of potential jurors, Bouch explained. It was supposed to move about 500,000.
Poe called that glitch a "classic" too. "Who wouldn't appreciate getting a jury notice that you don't have to show up until January 1900?" he joked. "I'd say, 'Well, I'm done.' "
Like many earlier Y2K computer glitches the state has been solving this year, these latest problems seem more focused on internal records than with dramatic breakdowns. For instance, the child enforcement computer bug didn't mean any parent was going to get a bill swelled by nine decades of nonsupport.
"It had nothing to do with calculation of any child support," Mallonee said. "We've tested those out pretty well, and they seem to work extremely well."
Over the past few years, the state has spent $15 million on computer fixes, according to Poe. That work included checking out 105 critical computer systems in the state executive branch and helping out with computer problems in other branches.
For instance, state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities tested computer systems controlling heat, light and security at 286 buildings. Systems in about 34 buildings would have mistaken 2000 for 1900 and malfunctioned in some way. Those systems were fixed, Poe said.
So far, 98 percent of the systems have been reported ready by programmers, and 89 percent have been checked over by the state's Y2K project office and certified as Y2K ready.
"By next week, we should be at 98 percent," Poe said.
Several Y2K fixes are still pending around the state, Poe said. They include a problem with a Pioneers' Home building, upgrading and recalibrating devices used to test water, food and soil by the Department of Environmental Conservation, a fish ticketing system that won't be needed by state Fish and Game until February and some local computer networks in rural state offices.
As the rollover date approaches and passes, other computer problems may occur. The state's Y2K people will jump on them, including bugs that have nothing to do with the calendar, Poe said.
"Any glitch is assumed to be Y2K unless it's proven otherwise," he said.
* Reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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