The Year 2k And Our Birds

Probably more words have been written and said about this topic than any other computer related subject. This a serious subject, but it does have some ironic characteristics. First of all, it is not millenium related. The next millenium starts on January 1, 2001 (our current calander started with year one, not zero), while our computer problems start with the date January 1, 2000. So the new millenium starts a year after the computer problem date.And the second thing is that it is not, strickly speaking, a computer “bug”! A program bug usually refers to an error or oversight on the part of the programmer. The year 2000 problem was done by very deliberate design. We did it on purpose!

The beginning of computers in the commerical environment was the late 1950’s (the author wrote his first program for pay in May of 1959 on a first generation vacuum tube machine). And in the early days, everything about a computer was expernsive, while people to program them were not very expensive. So we looked for methods to save computer storage space. One of these methodologies was to drop the first two digits of the year because all the years involved were in the 1900’s. And in the 1960’s, the year 2000 was so far into the future that we thought we had forever to deal with it.

Why does the problem come due in the year 2000? Because, when one uses the last two digits of the year, one can subtract 69 from 70 to find that it is the next year. But, when the year 2000 becomes 00, substracting 99 from it gets one a minus 99. The entire year 1999 must be substracted from 2000 to find that it is the next year.

About 1981 (the year that IBM entered the PC market), computers started becoming less expensive while programmers started becoming more costly. So, using manpower (programming time) to save two digits in the year became quite cost ineffective. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s as technology improved, many computer chips were also developed for use in other devices, such as cars, microwaves, electrical meters, farm equipment and thousands of other products. The newest computers, chips and programs have been designed with the year 2000 in mind, but there is concern that millions of older ones are vulnerable to the Y2K problem.

In the past few years many companies have invested millions of dollars in correcting the problem in their older computer programs and computer chips. However, some have started very late and may not be finished in time. Errors may have been made in the work and even with heavy testing of the corrections, problems may occur. It is also thought that non-US countries are lagging behind the US in addressing the problem.

There is practically no facet of our lives which today are not somehow involved with computers or chips. These include our utilities, transportation, finance, the food industry, manufacturing plants, etc. So what will happen when the year 2000 arrives? Will there be major problems, minor inconveniences or perhaps even nothing?

As everyone knows, Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong and in the most embarassing manner at the worst possible time. We could have interruptions in our utilities, transportation, food supply and access to our money and credit cards. Hopefully, if such things happen, they will be corrected in a few days, but we need to be prepared.

That brings us to the point of this discussion. What are some of the things we can do to protect ourselves? We start with a plan and make a list of those things we must have to get by.

Stockpile extra canned goods and non-perishable foods so that if your supermarket has a bug, you will have some time while they fix their problem. Do the same for your bird’s foods and treats.

In as much as it will be January when the problem occurs, have an alternative heating and cooking ability (fireplace, wood stove, propane camp stove, etc). Many people are investing in small generators to provide emergency electricity. Be sure to have extra fuel for these devices. Keep extra blankets and warm clothes handy for you and the birds.

Flash lights with new batteries and candles can help you survive while the electric and gas companies get their acts together. There are now inexpensive battery operated lights, radios, and other appliances. Purchase a supply of extra batteries of different sizes.

There are also some heating pads and small units which can be recharged in a car. It might be a good idea not to be traveling or be away from home at that time

Ensure that you have a supply of water just in case there is a problem. Have at least 3 days worth of drinking and cooking water available for you and your birds. You may have to wait for water for bathing and washing. Buy bottled water from the supermarket. Save gallon milk jugs and fill them. If you put them in the freezer, they will help keep things cool. You can even fill a bathtub with water. If the tub water is a day or more old, then boil it or add a half capful of chlorox per gallon to kill any bacteria. Wash towels, linens and clothes in advance so there is a good supply.

Now may be the time to get a cell phone if you don’t have one. Assuming they continue to work, it will give you flexibility of movement and can be recharged in your car.

It would be good to have a couple of 5 gallon cans of gasoline on hand and make sure that you fill the tank in your car in late December of 1999.

Some cash on hand will make your life easier if it is your bank, ATM machine or credit card company that has the Y2K issue (the author refuses to call it a bug). Keep an extra sum of money available for emergency purchases.

If you have a security system, then check with the manufacturer. You wouldn’t want to have your doors locked closed and unable to be opened.

Check out your home pc software and expand dates in your personal database or spreadsheet to the full 4 digit format if you do any calculations with them.

And a fresh bottle of asprin. And your sense of humor. You may well be able to tell us that you knew that there would not be a big problem. Because, we sure do not know for sure that there will be.

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