Does That Compute?

seminar on Y2KWhat’s the big deal about January 1, 2000? I plan to be able to switch on the lights and the coffee maker as usual and to have water pour from the spout when I turn the handle. The biggest challenge I anticipate is taking down the old calendar and putting up a new one.

So when it comes to talk of Y2K, I shrug and say I think we will all be fine. Ignorance is bliss. Anyway what can I do?

At YSI, like at many other small companies, when a message on a computer screen says to call the system administrator, a quick look around reveals there is a missing person. No sysop, no one to worry about the millennium. But, lest I become too complacent about this current year’s end, I have tried to pay some heed to what the hype is all about. Not being able to write computerized checks and paychecks or to use the valuable information stored in our database or spreadsheet files would be most inconvenient, even if not disastrous.

Fortunately there is a resource out there that is paying attention to organizations like YSI. CompuMentor is a nonprofit computerization assistance organization. Since 1987, it has used its consulting staff and volunteer mentors to provide training and support for more the 6,000 nonprofits and schools across the United States.

Hooking up with CompuMentor has put me in touch with a number of people who are much savvier than I about what could go wrong on Day 1 (or Day 3 when most of us go back to work) of the twenty-first century. I now know some precautions to take to prevent things from going awry. CompuMentor sent two volunteers, Scott from Microsoft and Ramesh from Hewlett Packard, to YSI to check out our system and show me how to upgrade the software if necessary.

And I learned a thing or two. Software upgrades appear far more often than spring rains these days. In many cases these upgrades are just that—new bells and whistles hung on the basic frame of an application designed a decade or more ago. The computer code of the original software may not have been altered in the upgrade. And therein dwells the problem. If the original code did not include four digit dates in order to save on once precious memory, that code may remain even in very recent versions. Most of the major software companies have fixes, or patches, for their programs that are non-compliant. These can usually be found on and downloaded from their web sites.

But more important than preparing for the end of the year is the lesson demonstrated by Microsoft, by HP, by CompuMentor. Companies-both big and small-are just people, people like Scott, Ramesh, Joan, Charles, Camilla willing to spend a Saturday sharing their expertise, hoping January 1 will dawn on life as usual for all of us, knowing we all can learn from each other.

Anyone want to know more about banana slugs?