Renaissance Column

JULY 1998 | VOLUME 2, NUMBER 2



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KEVIN RIDOLFI

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KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and HTML programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine. more

 

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(Gasp!) It's the Year 2000 crisis

KEVIN RIDOLFI

Coming to CBS in January 2000 -- the Y2K crisis: the destruction of a computer-reliant society. It's a darn good thing I have proof readers who read the papers. Until they recently slapped me over the head with the latest copy of Panic Monthly I thought the whole Millennium Bug thing was a cute -- albeit prematurely marketed -- CBS Sunday night movie.

I don't actually live in a cave, eating HoHos and avoiding all news sources. I just find it too difficult to believe that something so cleverly titled (and even fabulously abbreviated), with such careful saturation, could be anything but the next blockbuster movie. First Godzilla took over New York, now the Millennium Bug takes over the world. Clever.

This is, after all, the dynasty of disaster movies. It's a natural progression: "Twister," "Volcano," "Chance of Showers," "The Year 2000 Crisis." In the media in 1998 everything seems to be a crisis so forgive me if I'm slightly dubious about the whole affair. Reporters treated George Michael's solitary dirty dancing like an international tragedy. His albums alone could be classified as tragic. Though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised since we live in a society that iconized Jerry Springer -- now that's brilliant marketing.

Not as brilliant as Y2K, but close enough. A friendly reader from Silicon Valley wrote in to point out that in the year 2000, his desktop computer will be so confused by all the zeros that it won't be able to calculate how old he is. I'm pretty certain that if you need a computer to tell you you're 57 years old you have other problems to consider. "The zeros will cause a logical inconsistency because only the last two digits of the date are utilized." In other words, the computers will subtract from 00 rather than 2000. Why can't this be easily fixed without costing an arm and a leg -- after all it is just counting. We can teach our computers to launch nuclear missles when they can't do simple math. That's like giving a two-year-old a gun and acting surprised when he shoots Fluffy the cat.

It's interesting that as an innovative country with long-reaching goals and dreams computer developers in the 70's and 80's could be so short-sighted. There are people in this country already booking vacations to the moon when our best and brightest couldn't even visualize a computer future past 1999. Hollywood could, "Lost in Space" was obviously revolutionary thinking. I'll bet that robot could tell Dr. Smith his age -- and probably that he was a pompous dork too.

But here we stand on the brink of a new millennium and a couple of zeros are going to confuse the computers of the Social Security Administration, the Government Accounting office and the local video arcades (rumor has it that high scores from pre-2000 will be lost forever). How did accountants work before computers? If the government has run out of pens and paper, now there's a crisis. Microchip developers can solder little chunks of silicon onto the head of a pin, but they can't figure out how to reset a clock?

Once again, it all goes back to the fact that only kids under the age of 12 can set a VCR clock. So maybe we should get a room full of sixth graders to solve the Millennium Bug. They don't need manuals, programming know-how or flashy catch phrases: press some random buttons and Violá, problem solved. Uncle Sam can pay for the technology, but mark my words a 12-year-old will stop the clock from flashing "00."

Excited technology writers anticipate the IRS having difficulty collecting tax revenues. At least whomever is president in 2000 will make good on one guaranteed campaign promise: taxes will be lowered. They can make that promise now because we seem to live in a very pessimistic country. Experts just can't see the problem being solved. Why can't Bill Gates solve it? He has to be the most optimistic person alive. He got wedgies 200 times a day from kindergarten through graduation day and now he can easily steal the ex-football captain's girlfriend/wife/software company/whatever.

Fine, we have a crisis. But we have a huge warning. If General Custer had a two year warning I don't think he would have been going anywhere near Little Big Horn. There's a saying that time heals all wounds. Hopefully in this case, time (and a 12-year-old) kills all millennium bugs.

Unless of course the Year 2000 crisis is actually a made-for-tv movie, in which case CBS is going to pull off one tremendous rating coup.

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