Y2K: Should We Be Worried?


Some people wonder what Y2K is, and whether it is true or false. Should we be worried about Y2K? Some people are sure it is false, yet the news stresses that it is true. This has many people in fear for their life. Some have been preparing for over a year now because they think Y2K is going to hit and the power will go out and absolutely nothing will work. Should we believe this?

Many people ask, "What is Y2K?". It made me wonder one day, "What does Y2K really mean?". I went to the search engine Altavista and typed in "What does Y2K stand for?". I looked and looked and finally found a page that answered mine and many others' questions. Y2K stands for Year 2000. Why K though? Why not Y2T? It is K because the Greek for thousand is Kilo so we use K to stand for thousand.

Then comes another big question. What causes Y2K? There are two different factors in what causes Y2K. One factor being: Along time ago, approximately in the 70's different operating systems were being made for computers. The computer programmers decided to make the dates in these operating systems and programs with 2 digits(73) instead of 4(1973). That was all fine until about the early 90's when computer programmers noticed something. They saw that when the year 2000 rolled around the computers would read the date as 00 instead of 2000. The computer would think, "1900?", but I was made in 1973. This confuses the computer ,therefore, it resets it's self to 1980 and rearranges all of the settings in the BIOS (the programs that tells the computer which drive to load to, what kind of memory, what kind of CD-ROM the computer has, etc.). This could cause a problem, but nothing that could not be fixed in 5 minutes. One downfall to that is every time it got up to 2000 it would need to be fixed again. The upside being a program that reads the date with four digits is approximately ninety dollars depending on the kind of program wanted.

The other factor is a computer programming language called COBOL (common business oriented language). This computer programming language is used by many businesses' computers. COBOL handles numbers and text so that businesses can produce reports and keep track of all sorts of data. It has no idea what a date is. All "dates" are stored as numbers. COBOL can see December 15, 1996 as 121596. Notice 12/15/96 in there. If a date is stored this way COBOL (which doesn't know what dates are) can't tell if one date is later than another. In order for programmers to make COBOL see a date so that it can tell which date comes first they made the year come first (961215). This way if a program sees December 15, 1996 (961215) and November 19, 1986 (861119) it can tell that November 19, 1986 is before December 15, 1996 because the number 861119 is smaller than 961215. This is fine until it gets to dates like December 19, 2005. Using a COBOL date it would appear as 051219. Is it before or after November 12, 1986 (861112)? Obviously it is before. This confuses the computer so much that it quits.

With all of this talk about computers, some began to think, "Well, if that happens to PC's(personal computers), then why wouldn't it happen to the mainframes(the large computers that run the phone companies, electric companies, etc.)? And if it did, wouldn't everything shut down; the world would come to an end?". Many people think the "Y2K Crisis" is true. In some ways Y2K is true. All of the computers and main frames that do not have the four digit date are going to crash, but not to the point that they will never run again. Some of the old computers that this will happen to aren't even worth saving. They might as well be junked or used for parts.

There are very few people that believe this is all a big hoax. Most of the people that think this way are people that don't care or people that know pretty much about computers. This is in fact a big hoax. Perhaps if we hadn't thought about in the future and never caught this it