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About The


December 30, 1998
Column #905

(First of a three-part series)


The New York Times recently put a page 1 spotlight on a woman working as a programmer in the basement of a New Jersey power company, ''painstakingly sifting through a program consisting of seven million lines of code'' to fix one program. And the utility has 727 other programs with a total of 46 million lines, written in 27 programming languages.

''How well they get fixed or replaced could determine whether the lights and heat stay on in New Jersey come Jan.1, 2000,'' said the Times.

This is the Year 2000 problem or ''Y2K''.

At the heart of the Y2K issue is the fact that computer programs which refer to years, use two digits to represent years. Thus, 98 refers to 1998. So when 1999 ends, computers might not understand that 00 refers to the next year, 2000. It might believe it is 1000. Affected programs in utilities, manufacturing plants, one's automobile or personal computer might crash, or equally ominously, spew out erroneous data.

Since computers run everything from ATM bank machines to telephones and hospitals to airplanes, they are all vulnerable to embedded computer programs which may be inadvertently affected by the ''millennium bug.'' An estimated 25 to 70 billion microprocessors (computer ''chips'') make our lives more efficient, but also put us at very substantial risk of disruption.

''With such an immense volume, even a tiny percentage of chip malfunctions could have grave consequences. The task of resolving the Year 2000 problem is enormous, involving millions of man-hours, billions of lines of code and trillions of dollars worldwide,'' writes Shaunti Christine Feldhahn, in her landmark book, ''Y2K: The Millennium Bug.''

She quotes Sen. Robert Bennett, Chairman of a Senate Committee on the Year 2000 Problem, saying the problem can not be solved in the year of 1999: ''The public faces a high risk that critical services provided by the government and the private sector could be severely disrupted by the Year 2000 computing crisis.''

There are fringe Christian prophets of doom who are forecasting the end of the world, the rise of dictatorships and the return of Jesus Christ in 2000. The Rev. Jack Van Impe, a TV evangelist, is marketing a videotape saying a panic a year from now could easily lead to the rise of the Antichrist, one-world government and ''the mark of the beast.'' And a new poll reveals that 15 percent of Americans think the new millennium means ''that the world will come to an end.''

But Ms. Feldhahn, an active Christian, takes a more pragmatic, and I believe a more Biblical position on the threat. Jesus said, ''No one knows about that day or hour,'' when the world will end (Matt. 24:36). God tells us that ''a man of knowledge increases strength...Every prudent man acts out of knowledge (Prov. 24:5, 13:16). Therefore, a prudent person is one who foresees danger and takes obvious precautions. Also both Christians and Jews believe it is important to ''love your neighbor as yourself'' (Lev. 19:19).

She writes, ''What is distinctive in the Christian community is our charge to emulate the sacrificial love and servant leadership of Jesus. Thus, my threefold purpose is to call Christians to: (1) Personal preparation; (2) Immediate and dynamic Year 2000 leadership and service in our communities, ministries and businesses; (3) Personal reflection on God's message to us through this unique event in history.''

This column outlines practical steps Ms. Feldhahn suggests, on the assumption that there will be disruptions of power, food supply, and an inability to gain access to one's funds in a bank.

1. Every time you go shopping, buy extra cans of food and bottled water, thinking about how much you might need for your family and for several other families in your area. If nothing happens, you can eat the food or give it away to shelters and food banks.

2. Begin serious saving, and have perhaps several thousand dollars in cash Jan.1, 2000.

3. If a computer is important to you, backup your hard drive and be sure to have it tested for Millennial bugs. ''I have not tested my own computer,'' Ms. Feldhahn confessed to me! If your computer was bought in 1997-98, only 11 percent are infected, but 97 percent of older ones are.

4. Read such books as ''YK2.'' The book's last page also offers a $20 discount for a timely, practical, $59 monthly newsletter, ''Countdown Y2K''. Or call 800 500-0867.

Next week's column will explore what you can do to help your congregation and neighborhood.

Copyright 1998 Michael J. McManus

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