First let's talk about what WON'T happen. Traffic lights will not fail on 1 Jan 2000. The people who make these systems have been making their systems compliant from day 1, for obvious reasons, at least in Australia. Even the ones that are not fully compliant can be reset using the trick mentioned in the VCR work around below. VCRs, Elevators, etc. will not explode, most won't even fail, however you may get some erratic behaviour in specific circumstances. In the case of VCRs, the specific circumstances involve a function which goes unused in 95 percent of units, timed recording. Fortunately for most units there is a simple work around that will allow you to record using timers on non-compliant VCRs indefinitely.
Now that this has been said, let's look at the areas that seem to have this matter well in hand. As usual, the engineers seem to be taking the embedded chip risk in their stride. They take a practical approach to determining what is likely to cause a problem and what is not. Is it completely foolproof? Of course not. In my experience, the problem with foolproof systems is you actually have to recruit fools to drive them. Nevertheless, I think if you look for yourself you will see that the approach is one that makes sense and should catch the vast majority of problems in this field.
Digital Watches? I don't know for sure, but I can tell you this; when systems like watches fail because of Y2k, they don't detonate. You are not going to have your left arm blown off, nor is it very likely that you will end up with a watch that does not work. In all likelihood a non-compliant watch may not represent 29 February 2000 correctly (Yes! This IS a valid date!) and if it has been built to calculate days of the week off the date it may therefore display the wrong day after that date. It should still give you the correct time, even if the date function fails completely.
Most professional client / server database and spreadsheet applications are Y2k compliant in their latest releases. Yes that means that some people will be dragged kicking and screaming down the upgrade path, but it makes sense from a support perspective for most of these people in any event. As for how these applications are used, well that is covered in The Down Side. That should give you an indication of what is wrong here. As always, it is the human factor that will create the bulk of the problems.
Let's now look at what concerns most people about the potential computer problems we will face: Money. The financial and insurance sectors are leading the Y2k remediation charge, they know the risk and they are doing everything to ensure that their data is safe. Even if the data is okay, I hear you say, that doesn't mean that the transactions after 1 January 2000 will be correct. Maybe not. If you are worried, get a statement in December 1999 to protect yourself. Do the same for your mortgage and any other financial records you have. If anything happens, at least you can show where you were before things started going wrong. Most people will still believe hard copy over the computer these days anyway.
Planning on flying 31 December 1999? Well, I must admit that I am not. Still, the airlines are ensuring the compliancy of their systems now, they have to. Okay, being in flight during the rollover period is betting your life that nothing will go wrong, so if you feel uneasy fly the day before. As for things going wrong, there is much more that can go wrong 30,000 ft in the air than Y2k, but that is another topic.
Now let's look at the Utilities. I don't have a lot of Australian facts available to me but I will recite what I have discovered about the United States. Is Y2k a risk in Electrical suppliers throughout USA? In a word, Yes. What is being done about it? Well for one thing all the stations are now running their systems on staggered dates. They won't realign their dates for nearly 18 months. This means that they each roll over to 1 Jan 2000 on different days. If one plant goes down, the others take up the slack. It sounds like a great idea, and I hope they are employing a similar strategy here. As for the problems encountered, so far around 30 percent have crossed the rollover date with only a few non-essential terminals giving trouble. It looks okay so far.
The point is, things are going wrong in the world every day. Some of those things are so severe that major business go under. Some of these things cause loss of life. Some cause records to be erased. Y2k is yet another risk in an already risky existence. Granted it's due to hit everywhere at once, but it is unlikely that anything will blow up. We can expect inconveniences, not threats to our survival. The real trick to Y2k is knowing that it exists and taking steps to minimise your exposure to this threat.
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