A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....
A Mac Y2K Primer For The Novice April 7th, 1999
"We may not have got everything right, but at least we knew the century was going to end."
This quote from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe, designer of Starship Titanic, and a Mac Master, made me laugh out loud. He is referring to the "Y2K problem".
If you are like me you have been inundated with information about the Y2K Problem. In Austin, Texas where I live we have had newspaper articles about survivalist who think the entire world is going to shut down and airplanes are going to drop from the sky who are stocking their shelves and buying guns and making preparation to protect their families. We also get lots of policy statements from government agencies to reassure us that "everything is under control." Congress is monitoring federal agencies for compliance and most state legislatures are doing the same thing. Here in Texas an enormous amount of money has been set aside to make sure all state agencies and programs continue to operate. Most agencies have hired staff just to deal with the problem. Because I work in a human services field where many recipients of services are dependent on computer driven supports, we have already sent out numerous notices to consumers and providers to warn them about what and how they need to check systems to prevent disruptions. All state agencies have assured the legislative watchdogs that the situation is well under control. So what is the truth and why does it matter? Here is my simple English explanation.
In the early days of computer development data space was a big concern. People in the field took pride in saving increments of space where ever possible. In the DOS environment part of that saving was to eliminate the 19 from the year as related to the computer's recognition of dates. The inability of the computer system to read it's system clock accurately can cause all mission-critical applications and backups to fail. Now we are told by "experts" that when the year changes from 1999 to 2000 the computers will read the new year as 1900. This could result in a telephone call that started just before midnight on December 31st of 1999 and ended after midnight on January 1st to be billed as a call that lasted -99 years rather than a few minutes. Problems can be related to hardware as in the system clock circuit, the operating system which may not recognize or process dates, and software applications and utilities which may have limited date-processing capabilities. For whatever reason, the Apple design is different enough that that leaving out the 19 wasn't necessary (thus the quote from Mr. Adams). Truth be told, I don't know if it was blind luck or brilliant planning on the part of the Apple creators. All Macintosh computers created since their introduction in 1984 have the ability to make the transition to the year 2000 according to information from Apple. We don't have to worry until the year 29,940. The ability of Apple II computers to handle dates after the year 2000 vary by model and if you need to check on your machine you can link to www.apple.com/about/year2000. Also, several sites that I checked suggest that you can test your own system by resetting your computers clock to just prior to midnight 12/31/99, turning off the computer and waiting 10 or 15 minutes and turning it back on to see if everything works. According to Information Week (quoted at the Apple website) the cost for fixing the Y2K problem for software alone will run around 600 billion dollars in U.S. dollars. For $600 billion you could buy an iMac for every man, woman and child in the US, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, Greece and Guatemala with another 3,000,000 or so left over. Another source, www.y2ktoday, estimates the final cost will be over $1 trillion in U.S. dollars. A big part of this issue is spin control. Companies and government agencies have realized the panic and bad publicity (not to mention law suits) that can result from inaccurate fixes.
Just in case all of this isn't enough, the year 2000 is a leap year. Apple assures us that "a Year 2000 Compliant product from Apple will recognize the Year 2000 as a leap year." A Year 2000 Compliant product from Apple refers to all Apple-brand hardware and software products as originally delivered by Apple. This does not include all Mac 3rd party products, some of which (QuickBooks Pro from Intuit among the most prominent) are not Y2K compliant. If you have a question about a particlular Mac product, check the manufacturer's web site or contact them directly.
It is easy for those of us wise enough to use Macs to be complacent about this whole Y2K thing. Frankly, I get a big kick out of throwing out in conversations that I don't have to worry about my computer system. However, while it may or may not matter to you if your high tech coffee maker works correctly on January 1st, it may matter a great deal to you if your bank account is messed up or all your stock transactions disappear into a black hole, or the ventilator keeping a loved one breathing stops working. So enjoy the fact that you don't have to do anything about your computer system and check up on those other things that matter. You can check on a number of brands and products at www.consumer.gov/y2k/. This site will allow you to check on consumer electronics, elevators, household items, major appliances, general health, hospitals, medical devices, etc. As an example, the Hewlett Packard link lists products by their function and then by model numbers. HP also has a special link related to healthcare products and tells you exactly what to do as well as providing technical support phone numbers.
One thing is to watch out for scams. The latest being reported concerns scam artists preying on Y2K fears by urging people to transfer funds to accounts supposedly immune to the Y2K bug. It works like this: Someone claiming to be a bank official calls a customer and claims the bank is having trouble making all of its computers recognize the year 2000, jeopardizing accounts. The caller urges customers to transfer funds to an account designed to protect money until the computers are fully upgraded. If customers provide account numbers and authorization to transfer funds, they will probably find they have unwittingly transferred their money to a con artist's account. I expect that non computer users will be the most vulnerable to this kind of fraud so you may want to warn those you feel might be taken in.
Last week's column on faxing has generated lots of response. I have been gently and not-so-gently chided for not knowing that I should have saved my map as a GIF or JPG and then just attached it. One person was actually "amused" by the whole column. Others have said I should have saved it as a Tiff, Still others have said that I should have printed to PDF which would allow the receiver to use the free acrobat viewer to read it. Gentlemen, please. While I totally agree that all of your suggestions would be more efficient and probably easier for the general computer user it doesn't work for everyone. First of all the two people to whom I faxed have very little computer experience or expertise. Secondly, they both have older equipment that will only hold so much software. And thirdly, the Mac user uses the dreaded AOL and for whatever reason she has never been able to successfully open anything I have attached to an e-mail message, nor has she been able to successfully install and use Graphic Converter because of her limited hard drive space. If you are trying to correspond with someone who fits these categories then I still feel e-fax is the best option. It allows the sender to get the document and feel competent at the same time. If you or your correspondent are way past this level of expertise then you can try the more sophisticated methods. Those methods include Smith Micro's MacCommCenter Fax software which Neil Fiertel of the University of Alberta wrote about. He says it answers the phone, allows reception of faxes and with a scanner, allows him to send out documents that require signatures. Dr. Fiertel also told me that this program came bundled with a USB modem. Michael Gerhardt wrote about jfax which can be found at http://jfax.com. I am familiar with jfax but there is a minimum $12.50 a month charge for it and many people don't have that much need for receiving faxes. However, jfax does allow you to send faxes as well as receive them.
As always I appreciate your correspondence and the information you provide.
If you have any tips, hints, or thoughts on these topics, make sure you write me so that I can share your thoughts with other readers.
Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping. To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.
Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color,
covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.
Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.