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Businesses, government agencies facing pressure of Y2K bug


If there's any story that's sure to stay in the news for the rest of 1999, it's Y2k -- the Millennium Bug -- the Year 2000 computer problem.

The problem is simple: Computer programmers took shortcuts in years past by using two figures in dates to represent the year, rather than four figures (i.e., "98" instead of "1998").

The solutions aren't so simple.

Computer companies are making sure new computers handle the date correctly. Software companies are updating (or have already updated) their products.

The real problem lies with older computer systems, and the custom-created computer hardware and software systems used in a wide range of industries and applications, from programmable VCRs to nuclear reactors. Bad computer code is still housed in embedded systems all over the place.

My VCR's blinking display may not miss a beat due to any Y2K incompatibilities, and even if it did, it would be simple to replace the unit.

Critic's real concern is directed at the systems controlling critical functions -- and depending on who you listen to, Jan. 1, 2000, will pass with only a few minor glitches, or it will be TEOTWAWKI -- Net-speak for "The End Of The World As We Know It."

Debate continues hot and heavy regarding the severity of the problem. Faced with potential litigation, nearly every U.S. business is keeping a cheery face on their Y2K progress,

SSA Y2K READY? President Bill Clinton announced during a White House ceremony Monday that "the millennium bug will not delay the payment of Social Security checks by a single day."

The Social Security Administration computers (and the Treasury Dept. network used to disburse the checks) are Y2K ready, Clinton said, according a story by the Associated Press.

The agency had been working on its Y2K problems since 1989.

But Social Security's updates are no guarantee that recipients will receive their checks, as pointed out by CNet writer staff writer Erich Luening.

Social Security's computers may be ready, but there's no way of knowing if the other computers systems the agency must interact with will be ready in time.

And since about 75 percent of all benefit checks are electronically disbursed and directly deposited, it's critical that the banks that receive Social Security deposits be Y2K-ready.

Kenneth Apfel, commissioner of the Social Security Administration, said the agency is working with the banking community to make sure disbursements go smoothly.

Banks are ahead of most other businesses in taking care of the Y2K problem, he said in an interview, but work remains to be done.

How can you protect yourself if the Y2K bug actual decides to bite?

The Federal Trade Commission Web site offers the following tips in an online bulletin called "Y2K? Y 2 Care: Preparing Your Personal Finances for the Year 2000."

A partial list of tips includes:

Ask your financial services companies how they're coping with Y2K. Ask what sort of records they backup in case of an emergency.

Several months ahead of the date change, get statements from your creditors detailing your payments, and a schedule of your loans detailing how they'll decrease until paid off.

Keep a detailed six-month record of your own financial transaction, stocks, mortgages and insurance -- three months before and three months after the date change.

Make sure deposit receipts and statements are accurate.

For the complete listing, visit the FTC's Web site at www.ftc.gov.

Y2K NEWS SOURCES. There's a nearly endless number of sites dishing out fact and opinions about Y2K on the Web. And they run the gamut from straight news to those shouting in a near panic.

If you're looking for a steady stream of Y2K updates, you might sign up for the Y2K Newswire at www.y2knewswire.com.

Y2K Newswire provides you with Y2K-related news dispatches sent to your e-mail address.

Their sources include both government and private sources, and anonymous contributors from a variety of government agencies.

If you're interested in a printed product, the Y2K News offers both a magazine and a companion Web site.

The Web site includes archives and comprehensive links to the latest stories on Y2K problems and issues.

They don't spout doom and gloom, just the latest Y2K news. Visit the News at www.y2knews.com.

A chap by the moniker of Mr. Y2K offers his "non-exploitive Year 2000" Web site for news and information.

Mr Y2K, aka Steve Magruder, is a software developer who has taken on the task of pushing "doomsayers and blind idiots into understanding the realities of the Year 2000 Problem."

Now he may sound like a kook, but his content consists of links to Y2K-related stories from sources all over the Web.

His Y2K preparation tips are fairly solid, and DO NOT include the more extreme tips like withdrawing all your money from your bank or buying a year's supply of freeze-dried food.

Visit him online at www.blueangelgroup.com/mry2k/.

The ultimate doom-and-gloom Web site was one of the first ones to cover the topic, and that's a site by Gary North at www.garynorth.com.

North's view is apocalyptic, so be prepared to judge what you read with a critical eye.

One of the best level-headed sources for Y2K news is Countdown 2000, a Web site that looks at stories that cover both doomsday predictions and the less pessimistic views of what will happen next year.

You'll find sections covering all aspects of Y2K, including some lighthearted looks at the problem and readers surveys to voice your own views.

Point your Web browser to www.countdown2000.com.

HOT NET STOCKS. Internet-related stocks are the darling of Wall Street right now, soaring to incredible heights.

This meteoric ride will end this year, according to a report by IDC Corp, a market research company.

A major correction will make or break a number of Internet companies, and force a new round of consolidations and buy-outs, the IDC said.

A spokesman for IDC cited history as an example.

When the personal computer revolution began, a great many computer companies were started with huge expectations for the future.

Today, 20 years later, only a handful of those companies thrive. A similar shakedown will occur among Internet companies -- mostly likely this year.

Growth will continue among Internet stocks, and the IDC predicts that just over half of all U.S. households will have a personal computer by the end of this year, with more than 147 million people going online.

For more details, visit the IDC on the Web at www.idc.com.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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