Year 2000: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact

"The Mad Scramble for the Elusive Silver Bullet . . . and the Clock Ticks Away."

Wayne Anderson
November 7, 1996

The year 2000 is practically around the corner, promising a new era of
greatness and wonder . . . as long as you don\'t own a computer or work with one.
The year 2000 is bringing a Pandora\'s Box of gifts to the computer world, and
the latch is slowly coming undone.
The year 2000 bug is not really a "bug" or "virus," but is more a computer
industry mistake. Many of the PC\'s, mainframes, and software out there are not
designed or programmed to compute a future year ending in double zeros. This
is going to be a costly "fix" for the industry to absorb. In fact, Mike Elgan
who is the editor of Windows Magazine, says " . . . the problem could cost
businesses a total of $600 billion to remedy." (p. 1) The fallacy that
mainframes were the only machines to be affected was short lived as industry
realized that 60 to 80 million home and small business users doing math or
accounting etc. on Windows 3.1 or older software, are just as susceptible to
this "bug." Can this be repaired in time? For some, it is already too late. A
system that is devised to cut an annual federal deficit to 0 by the year 2002 is
already in "hot water." Data will become erroneous as the numbers "just don\'t
add up" anymore. Some PC owners can upgrade their computer\'s BIOS (or complete
operating system) and upgrade the OS (operating system) to Windows 95, this
will set them up for another 99 years. Older software however, may very well
have to be replaced or at the very least, upgraded.
The year 2000 has become a two-fold problem. One is the inability of the
computer to adapt to the MM/DD/YY issue, while the second problem is the
reluctance to which we seem to be willing to address the impact it will have.
Most IS (information system) people are either unconcerned or unprepared.
Let me give you a "short take" on the problem we all are facing. To save
storage space -and perhaps reduce the amount of keystrokes necessary in order to
enter the year to date-most IS groups have allocated two digits to represent the
year. For example, "1996" is stored as "96" in data files and "2000" will be
stored as "00." These two-digit dates will be on millions of files used as
input for millions of applications. This two digit date affects data
manipulation, primarily subtractions and comparisons. (Jager, p. 1) For
instance, I was born in 1957. If I ask the computer to calculate how old I am
today, it subtracts 57 from 96 and announces that I\'m 39. So far so good. In
the year 2000 however, the computer will subtract 57 from 00 and say that I am -
57 years old. This error will affect any calculation that produces or uses time
spans, such as an interest calculation. Banker\'s beware!!!
Bringing the problem closer to the home-front, let\'s examine how the CAPS
system is going to be affected. As CAPS is a multifaceted system, I will focus
on one area in particular, ISIS. ISIS (Integrated Student Information System)
has the ability to admit students, register them, bill them, and maintain an
academic history of each student (grades, transcripts, transfer information,
etc.) inside of one system. This student information system has hundreds and
hundreds of references to dates within it\'s OS. This is a COBOL system
accessing a ADABAS database. ADABAS is the file and file access method used by
ISIS to store student records on and retrieve them from. (Shufelt, p.1) ADABAS
has a set of rules for setting up keys to specify which record to access and
what type of action (read, write, delete) is to be performed. The dates will
have to have centuries appended to them in order to remain correct. Their
(CAPS) "fix" is to change the code in the Procedure Division (using 30 as the
cutoff >30 century = "19" <30 century = "20"). In other words, if the year in
question is greater than 30 (>30) then it can be assumed that you are referring
to a year in the 20th century and a "19" will be moved to the century field. If
the year is less than 30 (<30) then it will move a "20" to the century field.
If absolutely necessary, ISIS will add a field