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The Y2K Bug Is Upon Us

February 1999

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a year-long series of articles examining the Year 2000 problem as it applies to the commercial printing industry. The first installment is an introduction to the Y2K bug and its potential impact on the business community at large.)

It is February 1999. Do you know where your company's Year 2000 (Y2K) initiative stands?

Like a Nostradamus prediction, the business world has been hearing bits and pieces of a terrible day of reckoning. But the Y2K bug, the nasty little pest that is as obvious as the clock in the upper right hand corner of your computer or as subtle as a chip embedded deep within your most critical mechanism, doesn't come with the baggage of earthquake, fire, flood or any other natural or unnatural disaster stigma. It is not deadly in and of itself, incapable of producing anarchy and lawlessness. It is not a hydra of biblical proportions.

Ah, but the bad bug has a lot going in its favor. Its prophetic pronouncement strolls hand in hand with the coming of the new millennium unless, of course, you count the next millennium as starting with the year 2001. But that would ruin great theater. Prognosticators, from the staunchest religious sector to the immovable agnostic set, foresee great peril awaiting us all when the final seconds tick away on December 31, 1999. Some have gone as far as to construct bunkers in remote locales, fortified with ammunition and sustenance in preparation for this very day.

Is it the apocalypse? Consult your chosen deity for confirmation. But the Y2K bug, pardon the pun, could raise a lot of hell for those whose lives revolve around the digital age, including printers and trade shops.

The question on most minds is: Just what will happen at the stroke of midnight?

"The only thing we know for sure is that something will happen," says William M. Ulrich, president of Tactical Strategy Group and a strategic Y2K advisor to major corporations and government agencies. "There's been a lot of misinformation, and that misinformation continues to be thrust upon us. We hear, 'Don't worry, everything's fine,' and months later we find out that is not the case."

A formal introduction to the popular insect is in order. Many computer programs feature a date function using six digits for month, day and year (as in 02/20/99) rather than eight digit dates (02/20/1999). With the former, the year mode may read the subsequent year as 1900 instead of 2000. For example, in tracking a credit card debt, an account opened on 12/20/99 that is carried into 01/01/00 may cause the program application to calculate interest over a 99-year span instead of a 30-day period. COBOL, still a widely used programming language, can generate preprinted forms from programs written with four-digit dates. The year 1900 is subtracted from the date to produce the stock form, which begins with 19.


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