Bug hits payroll with a blast from the past

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January 5, 2000

Bug hits payroll with blast from past

By Gerald Mizejewski and Clarence Williams THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A District of Columbia Fire Department payroll computer yesterday displayed the date Jan. 4, 1900, when a worker booted it up, one of several city government computers to skip back 100 years since the year rolled over. "They're saying everything is Y2K-compliant, then we saw this," said Capt. Richard Sterne of Engine Co. 18 on Capitol Hill. "What we're concerned about is . . . are the checks going to say 1900? Is it going to work?" City officials said they were aware of the error and insisted the foul-up would not affect when  or whether  employees get paid. Technicians are figuring out how to fix the problem, a city spokeswoman said. While Lucy Murray, spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Valerie Holt, said she had reports that other city computers also read 1900, she could not say how many. Few city officials were able yesterday to address how widespread the problem is. Capt. Sterne kept his sense of humor about the situation, saying of the new 1900 date: "We were wondering what time we feed the horses." The District has spent more than $140 million preparing for the year 2000 and overhauling computers to ensure they function properly. On Monday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams told The Washington Times that the city "tested 95 percent of our systems and found them to be running normally." Despite a smooth rollover into 2000 in most parts, reports of isolated computer glitches brought on by the so-called year-2000 bug are beginning to surface around the region. Over New Year's weekend, the date read 2036 on the computer system at the Sheetz gas station in Haymarket, though a worker said the error was not year-2000 related. Nevertheless, Sheetz could not transmit credit-card purchases and so many people drove off without paying that the gas station hired a special private security force with walkie-talkies to monitor the pump lines. Others have also had problems  albeit small compared to the predicted armageddon. "I just couldn't get into my e-mail account," said Joe Tangredi, a lawyer who could not log on to his Martindale-Hubbell database for lawyers yesterday. Mr. Tangredi, 35, was at a meeting last night in Arlington where people were encouraged to tell their tales of surviving the year-2000 bug or relate their horror stories. About 50 persons attended the gathering sponsored by the New Media Society of Washington. "I can't tell you, guaranteed, that it's Y2K-related," Mr. Tangredi said of the glitch in just one of his half-dozen e-mail accounts. "I imagine people all over the country [who share the same database] may be having problems." JJust about everyone else at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association conference center said they experienced no problems. Others who rely on computers to make a living said last night they are having a glitch-free year so far. "No, I personally haven't seen any problems," said Jeff Bobich, 29, a CPA in Arlington who has several federal agencies  including NASA  as clients. "We run a Web site with hundreds of thousands of users, and we had no problems," said Edward Neumann, president of Dailydrill.com in Arlington, Va. He added that he had spoken with more than a dozen banks, none of which had major glitches. The year-2000 computer problem stems from a cost-saving shortcut years ago in which software programmers devoted only two spaces in a date field to designate the year. That older software assumes the year always will begin with the digits "19." Technicians feared that if they didn't carefully reprogram and test affected systems  and replace calendar-sensitive computer chips embedded in some equipment the computers would shut down or malfunction when they "read" the digits "00" as meaning 1900 and not 2000.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), January 05, 2000

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