Panic Button Glows as 2000 Approaches

Letters to the Editor
Copyright 1998 Dow Jones & Co., Inc.
Wall Street Journal (May 21, 1998)

I was disappointed to see you feeding an ill-informed public hysteria over the year-2000 problem ("Y2K--An Alarmist View" by Edward Yardeni, editorial page, May 4). This problem has been greatly exaggerated by consultants with a vested interest in scaring their clients into spending as much time and money as possible by implying that this date-processing issue will somehow affect all aspects of all computer systems. They raise the specter of airplane crashes, loss of phone service, traffic lights going out, banks losing all records of accounts, etc., without ever pretending to suggest how any of these catastrophes might have anything to do with the year 2000.

Before succumbing to this well-merchandised panic, let's apply a little common sense. A "zero date" can cause problems only in programs that rely on dates for calculating duration or in making before-and-after decisions. These are a small fraction of all computer programs, there are fairly straightforward procedures for identifying them, and there is a simple method of fixing the program code to cross that bridge into the 21st century. There is no believable scenario whereby a 21st-century date or a zero-date could crash a program. Yes, there are many old-fashioned date-comparison routines that would produce incorrect results if not revised, but in most cases they are readily apparent to, and can be fixed by, even an outside programmer with no idea of the software's actual function.

The truth is that many of these programs have already "failed" and were fixed as needed as the problems arose. For instance, almost every program that tests credit-card expiration dates has already passed through at least one day, or one hour, when cards expiring beyond the year 1999 were rejected--until the program was quickly fixed and the rejected credit cards reprocessed. A momentary embarrassment perhaps, but hardly the end of the world.

The problem area is identifiable, the procedure for fixing it is well understood, there's time to do it, and if a few outmoded calculations slip through the net and have to be fixed in December 1999 and January 2000, it will be a minor nuisance, not a catastrophe. As the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy advises, "Don't panic!"

Jeff Carlock
Berkeley, Calif.

(The author is a circulation systems analyst and programmer for the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner newspapers.)


While the year 2000 computer problem is real and demands a response, there can be no doubt this issue has also been adopted by professional doomsayers as yet another junk-science end-of-the-world scenario to justify their political agenda. Witness Mr. Yardeni's Y2K call to arms: "Preventing disaster will depend on launching a centralized international effort. . . . " Initially, he says, let's pony up $100 billion.

Golly. Where have I heard this before?

Michael Kubacki

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