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Fewer than 400 days are left; are you Y2K compliant?

By James Hanback Jr.

DECEMBER 21, 1998:  And it came to pass in the days of computer punch cards that programmers needed to fit more instructions into one feed. So it was written that all year dates shall be stored on punch cards as two digits rather than four; and it was good.

Lo and behold, the years passed, and computer technology grew to accommodate larger amounts of input. And the Lord said unto programmers "Go now, and make your systems Y2K compliant, lest ye face the wrath of the Millennium Bug and roll thy magazine subscriptions back to 1900."

And the Lord said unto Bill Gates, "Thou shalt make a computer operating system and combine it with Internet Explorer. Thou shalt make this the most tested piece of software before ye release it unto the stores." So it happened that Microsoft Windows '98 was released to the public. But it came to pass that the Millennium Bug, thought vanquished, was merely hidden away.

If you don't know by now, Y2K, or the Millennium Bug, is the computer programming glitch that causes dates to roll over incorrectly from Dec. 31, 1999 to Jan. 1, 1900. It has been said that the bug will be no more than a technological burp, and it has also been said that it will be the apocalypse. Reality, as most see it, will be somewhere in the middle.

Most recently, Microsoft Corp. announced the discovery of a "minor" Y2K problem in its Windows '98 operating system. Although the company said the problem will not result in loss of data, it has posted a patch on its Web site (www.microsoft.com), available via the Windows Update feature of Windows '98.

Among other things, the bug could affect the Windows date rollover from 1999 to 2000 if the computer is booting at "a precise fraction of a second" during the date change. It could also pose problems for Microsoft's implementation of the Windows Java virtual machine and Wordpad. A full list of potential snafus is available at www.microsoft.com/windows98/highlights/Win98Y2K.asp. The company also provides a Year 2000 Resources page at www.microsoft.com/Year2000.

The Windows '98 glitch simply illustrates the need for consumers to stay aware and to update their software when such problems become known. These days, it seems, Y2K escapes few people's attention. And that's a good thing. It would have been better, however, had government officials and community leaders recognized and addressed the problem several years ago.

Perhaps we're a nation of procrastinators. Or perhaps we simply weren't expecting to become so dependent on computer chips and software packages. Whatever the case, the Y2K problem has become a top priority for many local businesses, individuals, and now government. It has attracted both the attention of Gov. Don Sundquist and the National Association of Counties.

In fact, representatives from state and local governments were scheduled to convene Dec. 15 in Nashville to discuss how Y2K could affect Tennessee government. "As government leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our systems are compliant and to educate the public about the situation," Gov. Don Sundquist said in an announcement about the event, which attempted to identify what hardware, software, and other equipment could be affected. Additionally, the summit sought to address contingency plans for services like water purity, disaster notification, power and gas distribution, and emergency services dispatch.

The governor's announcement came on the heels of a national report that many U.S. counties are completely unprepared for Y2K. According to a report at www.abcnews.com, the National Association of Counties claims that at least half of U.S. counties have no plans to deal with the problem, although a majority of them are aware of Y2K.

Meanwhile, there are some precautions that everyone can take:

  • Test your computer hardware There are a few free utilities available through the Internet that can perform Y2K testing on your hardware. In fact, visiting the manufacturer's Web site may be your best bet for such information. A good first test is to set your date and time to one minute or so before midnight, Dec. 31, 1999, and watch what happens when the date rolls over.

  • Test your software Even if your hardware is Y2K compliant, your software may not be. Try the rollover test above and then test your applications, particularly any accounting, spreadsheet, or database applications. Does everything work the way it's supposed to? If not, check with your software vendor for available patches or workarounds.

  • Stay informed The most important thing you can do is to keep abreast of current developments. Keep a constant watch on vendor Web sites, Y2K-specific newsgroups and mailing lists, or the news.

  • Check with your local service providers Contact your bank, your broker, your power company, your telephone company, your grocer, and anyone else with whom you deal on a regular basis. Ask them if they're Y2K compliant and, if not, when they will be. If you're not satisfied with their answers, consider forging new relationships with other, more informed, companies.

  • Don't panic Mass panic is one of the leading causes of fatal error among humans. Look at the Great Depression for an example. If everyone panics over a potential fall and pulls their money out of the stock market at the same time, the market falls for real.

In short, protect yourself and stay vigilant. But remember this: Even if the four horsemen of the apocalypse arrive soon, they will most likely not take the rather obvious form of Y2K.

A better connection

Officials with local Internet service provider Telalink and Brentwood-based ISDN-Net have teamed up to provide local businesses with better telephone and Internet services. According to a spokesman for Telalink, it's "the first-ever partnership of its kind between two Internet service providers in Middle Tennessee."

The cooperative operation, dubbed Nashville Regional Exchange Point, LLC, opened its new "collocation center" last Thursday. The center, housed atop One American Center, is intended to serve several purposes, including:

  • providing businesses with a single location where they can choose connections from a variety of telephone companies and Internet providers;

  • supplying space for companies requiring a server that is physically separate from their existing computer facility;

  • establishing an ideal location where ISPs can exchange traffic with each other.

"Peering," the exchange of network traffic between ISPs, "will take place at Ethernet and Fast Ethernet speeds--as fast as their equipment can go," according to NREP officials.

"What we've done, in effect, is create a new 'hub' for data transmissions," said Bill Butler, president and cofounder of Telalink, in a statement to the media. "Prior to the formation of NREP, transmissions to and from Nashville businesses often bounced around the country before they reached their destination. So many links in the chain increased the odds that one link might be slow or fail altogether."

"Although the current state of Internet access in Middle Tennessee is excellent," added Jerry Dunlap, president of ISDN-Net, "NREP will further improve its speed and reliability, reinforcing Nashville's image as a technologically savvy city."

Internet backbone providers with access available through NREP include AT&T, Cable & Wireless, Digex, Espire, PSINet, Sprint, and UUNet. Telephone companies with equipment located at NREP include AT&T Local Services, BellSouth, Hyperion, ICG, and NEXTLINK. A spokesman for Telalink indicated that consumers will get a competitive cost advantage as a result of so many telecommunications providers being housed in one location.

NREP will be equipped with battery and generator backup abilities, which are intended to provide continued service in the event of a power failure from Nashville Electric Service.

To reach James, e-mail him at jhanback@nashvillescene.com.

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