Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

A few months ago, columnist Mark Minasi and I were talking about Year 2000 (Y2K) issues. Mark said, "This whole thing is going to start on September 9, 1999. That's when all those programs that used

if date > 99999 then errors

are going to kick in."

That conversation started me thinking about my contribution to the Y2K problem. More than 10 years ago, I was an IBM System/38 and AS/400 programmer. I put six-digit dates into hundreds of files and programs. None of my programs will blow up the world or anything, but if my programs are still in production, they could mess up a bunch of orders and invoicing for a large distributor.

So last week, I called one of my friends, a senior programmer/analyst at my old company. I asked whether my programs were still in production. He told me that many programs I had written in 1985 were still in production, cranking out orders and verifying credit cards.

He is now in charge of fixing Y2K problems on the AS/400 and has hired seven contract programmers to help. They're using a program called Into2000 ( to diagnose and fix the problems. Into2000 appends eight-digit dates to all affected files and inserts code into all add and update programs to maintain both the six-digit and eight-digit equivalent dates. By appending the redundant date field, this program buys the programmers time for removing the old date field. My friend feels confident that he and the contract programmers will be able to fix the problems before the end of 1999.

Stop Y2K Panic
As I'm writing this editorial, the stock market is tumbling fast. Y2K is still a long way off, but people are already blaming Y2K panic for the tumble. Talk-radio shows are debating whether people should pull all their money out of the stock market now--buy food, and hunker down for the winter.

Panic is starting to set in, but time enough still remains for you and me to keep the panic under control. Are you responsible for fixing Y2K problems in your company? You must take the responsibility to assure your customers that Y2K is under control.

If we're Y2K compliant, let's reassure our customers. Let's post a statement of compliance on our Web sites, send letters to customers, and do whatever is necessary to inform customers that panic is unnecessary. Our efforts will make a difference.

I recently talked with a consultant who informed me that IBM has allocated 70 percent of its Y2K budget to legal fees for potential Y2K lawsuits. I've heard companies anticipate spending as much as $1 trillion worldwide on lawsuits. In response, some states have already declared Y2K an act of God, which puts a cap on the amount such lawsuits can demand. These lawsuits will negatively affect all of us in the long term.

Like you, I have money in 401Ks and other investments that a widespread panic will affect. We're smart enough to know the real issues behind Y2K and not to perpetuate the demon-under-every-rock mentality that is spreading. If we, the Y2K experts, don't work to prevent panic, we're letting the uneducated lead. And then, I guess, we'll get what we deserve.

Leading the Way
Let me take the first step. When I joined Duke Communications, Windows NT Magazine's parent company, I was asked to rewrite all of our subscription fulfillment systems. The IS department and I wrote all these systems with eight-digit Y2K-compliant dates (thank goodness).

I can assure you that Windows NT Magazine is Y2K compliant. All of your subscription records are safe, and Duke Communications will be doing business as usual come the millennium.

I'm urging you to help people stop worrying about Y2K. Do something about it. You can make a difference.

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