Articles by Reesa Marchetti

Reesa Marchetti, Editor, Writer, Web DeveloperYear 2000 not as scary as 1998 [another classic: note the publication date]

©1999 Today's Sunbeam
by Reesa Marchetti

I think I'm catching a cold — or is it the Year 2000 bug?

The sky is not falling, but myths about the Year 2000 bug, also known as Y2K or the millennium bug, would have us believe that the end is near.

The problem is that the computers on which nearly all government, financial, manufacturing, transportation and utility company systems rely were designed on dates based in the 20th century.

Therefore, the myth of the millennium bug is that society will come to a halt on Jan. 1, 2000 when these computers will be ill-prepared to function in the 21st century.

Some of the myths are turning out to be true — already. A Michigan produce store owner recently sued the manufacturer of its computerized cash system because the registers froze whenever a customer used a credit card with an expiration date of 2000 to pay for a transaction.

But although software produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s usually could process only two-digit year dates such as "90,'' most companies have upgraded long since then to software that will read a four-digit date. Or they're currently in the process of upgrading as the problem has begun to surface.

Many people fear that Y2K will cause home electronic devices, such as microwave ovens and VCRs, and cars and medical equipment to cease functioning after midnight on Dec. 31, 1999 because they all use computer processor chips. But the reality is that these chips perform simple computing functions only, and most of them are not dependent on a date.

Also, critical systems such as mass transportation or elevators in buildings probably will not fail. The director of airway services for the Federal Aviation Administration has said he is so convinced that Y2K won't affect air traffic that he's planning to fly cross-country at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000.

Elevator manufacturers do not think people will be trapped between floors on that day, either. And most utility companies say their computers will be ready, so people won't be left in the dark.

So much for The Year 2000 — the Year 1998, in which I undertook the upgrading of not one, but two family computers, is even scarier for me.

It started out innocently enough. I gradually saved money, decided how big a hard drive I would need, how much memory, etc., and compared prices on the Internet.

Finally, I disconnected my daughter's computer and mine, and brought them into my local computer tech for the transformation.

That's when my Year 1998 nightmare began.

See, for the past two years, I've been handling most of my financial transactions by computer. So when I realized I couldn't access my account statements, I started to panic.

Then there was the address book thing. I've been keeping phone numbers — family, friends, doctors — on the PC. Suddenly they were out of reach.

Not to mention the e-mail habit that I had acquired. At the end of the day, when I'd become accustomed to checking my e-mail, there was no computer.

It only took two days, but it seemed longer until at last, the PCs were done.

After they came home, the real work began.

We carefully connected the speakers and all the cables to my daughter's computer, and eagerly fired it up. No sound came out.

I worked until late that night. "When are you coming to bed?" my husband asked, glancing at the pile of cables, disks and manuals scattered around me.

The next morning, I tried again. I was still in my pajamas when I looked up at the clock and saw that it was 12:30 p.m.

I stopped working at the computer long enough to get dressed.

Finally I decided to try unplugging the sound component of the system and plugging it back in again.

I had wanted to avoid opening up that brand new computer case, but I knew I had to get out my little screwdriver. In short order, I found the problem piece, took it out and plugged it back in.

Voila! Two days and much hair-pulling later, I heard sound, and my daughter's been playing it, really loud, ever since.

The rest of the week was spent tweaking my own computer, which is running just peachy now, thank you.

At week's end, though, as I was driving home from work, I got to see a little taste of what some think Y2K will be like. The sky wasn't falling, but as I neared my house, I saw a little fireball and heard it explode in the power lines above my street.

I found the house dark, my daughter scurrying around lighting candles and my husband coming out to meet me with a flashlight.

So my daughter and I were once again without technology.

I thought this might bring our family closer together. Instead, the husband went out to a karate class, the teen-aged daughter talked non-stop on the phone and I went to bed early.

Three hours later, I woke up to find the daughter asleep on the floor with the phone propped against her ear.

As I was herding her off to her own bed, my husband returned. And the lights came on again.

Hopefully, the sky will remain right where it is — and The Year 2000 will be even less trouble than this.