VIRGINIA PILOT: "...from a Virginian-Pilot internal memo, the planned response to the worst-case scenario: ``The company will supply a generator for electricity, cots for sleeping, food and portable sanitation facilities. You may not be able to go back and forth between your home and the plant; under martial law, you won't be allowed.'' ' : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Jan. 3, 2000

Now, prepare for a leap into Feb. 29

The Virginian-Pilot

Copyright 1999, Landmark Communications Inc.

SOMEWHERE IN THE HILLS -- We admit it. We believed the hype, succumbed to the insanity. We caved in, crept away last week and cowered in the shadow of everyone else's fevered Y2K preparations.

By the time you read this -- if you read this -- we'll be gone. Who could blame us, after receiving a barrage of ominous media alerts about various government bodies' ``emergency'' information centers? Or after reading about our own employer's plans to put out the paper in the event of martial law (never mind your families, your valuables, and those looters crawling in the windows, just get to work!).

We, like many journalists, took heat for failing to uncover the conspiracy among banks, power companies and governments to lie about their Y2K readiness. Our vigilant critics reasoned: ``They pull the wool over the public's eyes in so many other cases, so why not with Y2K?''

Never mind that globally, the technological toll of fixing it cost between $300 billion and $800 billion, depending on whom you ask. Lump in the cost of spin-doctoring campaigns to tell folks there's nothing to worry about, and the estimate hits around $1.5 trillion.

In a sudden flash of prudence, we decided to abandon our ``little-will-happen'' Y2K stance and wait it out in the woods. (Yes, we know that the no-Y2K-columns resolution lasted only a week, but there are casualties in every panic-worthy situation.)

Like we've been explaining to our friends here in the boonies, the Year 2000 computer problem began decades ago. Back then, the virtual space that computers had to remember information was vastly more expensive.

Programmers maximized available space by using the final two digits of the year instead of the whole date. Those computers will read Jan. 1, 2000 as 1-1-00 and may interpret the date as 1900, which could cause them to process incorrectly or fail.

Techies shortened the clunky phrase ``Year 2000 Computer Problem'' to ``Y2K,'' and it subsequently became a household word.

Y2K won't be over even when it's over. (Stick with us here.)

All those bugs and viruses that we chronicled don't bother us anymore, but for those of you who still care about computers and their maladies -- even after the Internet imploded Jan. 1 -- you've still got something to worry about at the dawn of 2-triple-0.

This year is a leap year. The Feb. 29, 2000, Bug could hit those mainframe computers used by big-daddy corporations and universities. Many computers are programmed to know that years divisible by 100 aren't leap years. But not all of them know that years divisible by 400 are leap years.

Got the foresight to plan for the future while you're under martial law in the present? What will you do in 2019 with that computer you're powering with a portable generator? The ``windowing'' used in 1999 to trick the computer into thinking 00 represented 1920 will work until 2019. Then computers will think the next year is 1920 and go through the same bothersome failure routine we faced this year.

That's just the 2000 bug. Maybe worse are the kooks who might see some perverted symbolism in doing their anti-social thing to ring in 2000.

Such worries prompted Seattle to cancel the city's official New Year celebration.

Nothing like a terrorist hopped-up on Starbucks to ruin a good party.

Chesapeake stands ready to take the wraps off of stop signs at more than 120 intersections in case traffic lights fail. It's a ``just in case'' measure even though the city says all its traffic signals have twice passed tests for Y2K readiness.

And, from a Virginian-Pilot internal memo, the planned response to the worst-case scenario: ``The company will supply a generator for electricity, cots for sleeping, food and portable sanitation facilities. You may not be able to go back and forth between your home and the plant; under martial law, you won't be allowed.''

All tongue-in-cheekiness aside (momentarily), we realize that having such extreme plans may be prudent, no matter how ludicrous they seem to most sensible, sentient beings at the time.

What if fate, as it often likes to do, were to burst the techno-bubble of human hubris surrounding Y2K? And what if no one had counted on there being darkness and confusion?

You could probably bet your trading shells that when the dust settled, those falsely confident Y2K planners would be the waste pit cleaners of the new civilization.

And so, even with attenuating words like ``highly unlikely,'' and ``contingency'' attached to such scenarios, the possibility is enough to send rational people into the woods to hide out.

And here we are.

News is hard to come by out here in the wilderness. We didn't bring a radio, portable TV, cell phones, or even a laptop. What would be the point? The power grid and the phone lines weren't going to work. Anarchy was going to keep you city dwellers busy, so we couldn't rely on you to forward any information -- given the fact you'd be scavenging for food and rioting in the streets in your spare time.

We joined a local militia, though. They gave us membership books (a few words on a few pages, lots of pictures). They also gave us copies of news sources they rely on, a.k.a. supermarket tabloids.

The latest edition of one particularly believable rag, the Weekly World News, delivered more bad news: A black hole will swallow the Earth on Aug. 11.

Such a shame. We'd made it so far.

You can't keep good columnists down. Maybe we'll hike to Florida by August and stow away on the space shuttle and blast out of that black hole. . . .

Reach Michael Clark at 446-2247 or Reach Akweli Parker at 446-2318 or Just don't try reaching them this week.


-- John Whitley (, January 09, 2000


As one of their readers, I demand to know why you VA Pilot did not advise me and my family to prepare likewise? What of future potential calamities? Are you going to continue to publically mock preparedness while you privately cower amongst your provisions?

-- Hokie (, January 09, 2000.

Dear Hokie:

Depends on the impact on the Market.


VEPCO's Boot Polishers

-- have tongue will polish (Tongue@boot.lick), January 10, 2000.

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