Y2K dangers can come in all shapes, sizes' candy-coated included

By John McCormick

My office has just survived its first year 2000 hiccup. Oddly enough, it didn't involve computers or software or my work for GCN.

We hear so much these days about year 2000 dangers that many people are getting turned off by the hype. The nightly news has caught what's called millennium fever in a serious way.

I thought I had long since anticipated all the possible ways Jan. 1, 2000, could turn around and bite me, but as it turned out, I wasn't prepared for the first real problem. I don't consider the claimed shortage of champagne on New Year's Eve a real problem.

Here's what happened. A public relations agency thought it would be cute to send out M&Ms'you know, the millennium candy'in lieu of a press release about a year 2000 product. The M&Ms arrived loose in an unmarked box.

Doggie snack

When I ripped it open, expecting to pull out CD-ROM software from a vendor, the candy scattered all over the office floor and my dog, for whom chocolate is poisonous, started eating it. Thankfully, she didn't get sick.

This year 2000-related incident caused some exciting moments. Work was disrupted while people crawled around on the shag carpet and poked behind computers and components to search out the last of the M&Ms. The candy might not melt in your hand, but it could inside a hot chassis.

The moral of this silly tale? No matter how well you think you have protected your office from year 2000 disruptions, something could come completely out of left field. Look out for incidents caused by the sheer level of hype.

In local emergency management, I suspect the worst potential headaches will be the ones caused by people worried about millennium-related computer problems, not those caused by the computers themselves.

About all any of us can do at work is make certain our hardware and software are fixed, then deal with the first Monday in January as if we were expecting the worst blizzard in 100 years. Perhaps nothing at all will happen, but I would not bet on it, and the American Red Cross is giving similar advice.

I'm as paranoid as every other computer security specialist. I live on a ranch with food on the hoof, three generators, and independent water and gas supplies. I stock a 30-day supply of regular food, too, but that's common sense for anyone who dwells on top of a mountain off a back road in snow country.

It's also common sense to run year 2000 test software. Although I cannot recommend a specific package because of possible legal and testing problems, I did test all my systems with IntelliFix 2000 from Intelliquis International Inc. of Draper, Utah, at www.intelliquis.com.

By the numbers

My accountant bought an expensive PC last spring to make certain she would have no year 2000 worries. But IntelliFix told her there is a probable real-time clock failure that cannot be repaired by the software's utility program, which intercepts and alters hardware date requests.

IntelliFix 2000 runs from a boot disk, checks the RTC and BIOS chips' ability to roll over to Jan. 1, then applies six leap year tests. As I pointed out in an earlier column [GCN, March 15, Page 57], you might be able to fix some older PCs by replacing the BIOS chip that hard-codes the 19 in front of the two-digit date it gets from the RTC and passes along to the software. But it isn't easy and could cause problems of other kinds. I don't recommend it.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at @mail.usa.com.


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