POWER USER

Was New Year's Day any different than any other user's day?

John McCormick

It was just as the pundits predicted. After driving two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to the airport, I had to wait another three hours sitting on the tarmac. All flights had been canceled, and passengers weren't told anything.

On the flight I eventually took, the food was terrible. The hotel at my destination had no record of my reservation, and I couldn't get my notebook PC to connect to the Internet through the hotel switchboard. The hotel fax machine wouldn't work, either.

When I did get online, my e-mail account was down and Microsoft Windows kept crashing. I went to an automated teller machine, which reported that I had no money in my account. In fact, the account didn't even exist.

What time is it?

I got stuck in an ice-cold elevator. When I finally reached home, my computer couldn't locate any of my recent work, and every digital clock was blinking an urgent demand to be reset.

My doctor's billing department mailed me three copies of a bill for $10. Several companies from which I regularly buy lost my most recent orders.

But none of this was caused by the year 2000 glitch. These problems happened in 1998 and 1999. That's just the way life is these days. I doubt that most year 2000 problems will exceed the general level of misery and incompetence we have come to expect.

Because this column was written before Jan. 1, I don't know whether you experienced any year 2000-related disasters. Did government buildings collapse? Did airplanes crash? Did the banking system self-destruct? Did cities lose electricity? Did my invoices get lost?

Probably not. I suspect the worst disaster was an incredibly bad movie televised in late November'so bad I just had to watch it, like a rubbernecker passing a highway accident.

The so-called experts in the movie knew a nuclear power plant was about to fail, but they didn't bother trying to shut it down. Instead, they flew in two computer geeks and a brooding, leather-jacketed hero type and let them take over the plant two minutes before midnight, watching the clock change. Then they played with computers for an hour before someone figured out how to open a cooling valve by hand.

In the real world, as you read this, I'm betting the government is still running, the mail was delivered and you received this issue, airlines are serving bad food and stranding passengers, and banks are making occasional math errors. We do, after all, have computer problems every day.

I'm hoping and betting that the predictions of year 2000 catastrophes were a complete fizzle. If they weren't, you probably don't have time to read this column even if the newspaper arrived.

I have resolved not to make any more New Year's resolutions, because I got tired of starting each year with a string of failures. But I do have a Top 10 wish list for the year. I wish I could:

10. Go two hours without having to delete spam.

9. Eat dinner without a telemarketer's phone call.

8. Have a day in which I am not denied access to one of my e-mail accounts because of an outage somewhere.

7. See Microsoft Windows run for four hours without crashing one of my PCs. People in my office mutter that the blue screen of death is just the wallpaper.

6. Push an online help button and find some mention of my problem in the index. I'm not asking for miracles or real help. Finding something about my problem on the list would give me a warm, fuzzy feeling, letting me know that I'm not alone and that Microsoft cares.

5. Hear from a public-relations firm about a product I might actually report on. With all the talk of databases holding our every secret, how come the PR types don't know what I write about before they send me giant press kits or 2M e-mail attachments?

4. Spend a full day without encountering a computer problem. One day, no more. If such bliss lasted any longer, I would be out of business.

3. Buy fast food once without someone trying to sell me something I didn't order.

2. Find a politician who really ought to be elected.

1. Most of all, I want to wish every GCN reader a very happy New Year. I would settle for just this last wish coming true.

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

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