Early glitches don't spell Teotwawki

The Australian/January 12, 1999
By Ian Grayson

There are just 353 days before the clocks roll forward to the year 2000, and governments and companies around the world are racing to minimise the impact this will have on their computer systems and infrastructure.

But while activity steadily increases, the impact of the millennium bug is already being felt. Anyone thinking they still have a year's grace is sadly mistaken.

Early problems were being reported even as new-year revellers celebrated the stroke of midnight around the world.

In Sweden, airport customs officials found themselves struggling with computers that refused to let them process passports. The computers couldn't cope with a year ending in 99.

In Singapore, computerised taxi meters refused to operate from midday on January 1 for about two hours. The cause has not yet been revealed.

Y2K experts point to two other dates during 1999 that could cause computer-related problems.

They will stem from the habit of many programmers of using use the number 99 to represent an end-of-field or end-of-run command.

The first, somewhat bizarrely, is April 9. That date will be the 99th day of the last year of the 1900s.

Some experts fear this could cause problems with applications that rely on that date to perform operations. The second, for similar reasons, is September 9, 1999.

Although Australia's largest companies are expected to be relatively well prepared for the millennium, it seems local councils are dragging their heels.

Research released last week revealed only 30 per cent of councils were fully prepared or considered themselves well advanced in their preparations for Y2K. More than 25 per cent said they were unsure, were in the early stages of preparation, or hadn't yet begun.

Predictably, the results prompted calls from the Federal Opposition for more funding to allow councils to address the problem.

Any disruption to council computer systems would have considerable impact. Every activity, from rates processing to the scheduling of garbage collection, could be hit.

Although the extent of the Y2K problem's impact is impossible to determine, a group of pessimists are eagerly embracing it as further evidence of the arrival of Teotwawki.

Pronounced tee-oh-ta-war-kee, the name means The End Of The World As We Know It.

Believers await this time, which they say will be an apocalypse that only the smartest and fittest will survive.

With computer experts around the world expressing fears that systems and equipment will grind to a halt, Teotwawki believers think their time has finally come.

The Internet has sprouted numerous Web sites and chat groups devoted to the subject, each filled with dire predictions about the end of civilisation.

While this scenario is highly unlikely, there remains a lot of work to be done.

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