Cobol cognoscenti come out of their burrows and rake in all the lira -

Somehow the Rat wasn't surprised to see the year 2000 problem rear its ugly head in a
Page 1 story above the fold in his local newspaper. The buzz this time was about
Maryland's $100 million code crisis.


The state has had to commit to spending about $20 per taxpayer to straighten out its
discombobulated code. Now that's a figure the Rat really can sink his incisors into.


With the Federal Acquisition Regulation clause on year 2000 compliance finally out, the
Rat figures a buffer full of money will start draining out from his departmental coffers
into what he regards as the Ultimate Job Security Hack.


Yep, the wired one suspects that about 30 years ago, some farsighted code jockey
figured out how to save precious register space while at the same time preserving Cobol
career opportunities well into the next millennium: Use only two-digit dates.


That hacker ninja is probably pulling down at least $150 an hour somewhere right now,
straightening out his old code as he designs an addition to his villa in Tuscany.


It's enough to make the cyberrodent wish for a reduction in force. He's been mulling
over dusting off his Cobol notebooks and hanging out a consulting shingle: "Have
Code, Will Travel."


After all, the world is going to have to cough up billions of dollars to avoid waking
up on New Year's Day, 2000, and finding every computer blinking like a VCR clock after a
power outage.


As a consultant, the whiskered one probably could max out his IRA contributions pretty
easily.


And with half the office out on late-summer vacation, he's had lots of time to daydream
about it.


In his flights of fantasy, the Rat would suavely wax his whiskers into a neat mustache,
don a tie and sally forth to pass out his card to distressed-looking systems managers.
Then he could tour the country in a private Amtrak car dispensing his Code of Justice--in
exchange, of course, for a minority share in each business he saved.


Considering that it costs about a dollar per line of code to find and fix Cobol
misbehavior, the scenario doesn't stretch the imagination too far. And it applies only to
the lucky folks who have
high-level source code for applications. Others are having to trawl for bad data fields in
assembler code. Or worse.


Also, of course, there are plenty of computers with BIOS chips that will return their
clock settings to 1981 or so each morning after Jan. 1, 2000.


Naturally, these things could have been fixed a lot more cheaply 10 years ago. It's a
classic pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later situation. For some reason, nobody back in the 1980s
thought the code would still be running today.


As the Rat is fond of telling his minions, "Old code never dies. It just gets
patched."


He suspects his agency would still be functioning with punch card-driven Babbage engine
applications if it could find anyone to maintain the gears and pins.


Suddenly the phone buzzed, stirring the Rat from his ruminations. It was his department
head, who also had read the newspaper and just realized how many lines of Clipper code
with two-digit year fields the agency is still running.


The Rat reluctantly put aside his newspaper and coffee to go talk the boss down off the
ledge.


The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets
in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.


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