October 20, 1997

Technology bulletin

Late developments that shape engineering

by Michael Puttré, Associate Editor

For whom the bell tolls

"The Year 2000 problem will be a nuclear winter; data destruction of unforeseen proportions." So says Bob Bemer, the pioneer programmer who is credited with the invention of ASCII type and coining the term COBOL. Bemer, 77, has come out of retirement to take on an issue of Damaclesian proportions: the so-called "Y2K Problem." The turn of the century threatens every computer program that calculates years as two-digit numbers with chaos upon the stroke of midnight, January 1, 2000. At that moment, when the digits roll over to "00," many computers will think they have gone back in time to 1900 rather than forward into the new millennium (or into the last year of the current one, if you want to get technical). The result: locusts, frogs, rivers of blood, cats and dogs living together. Bemer charges the problem has been inevitable for decades, when neither industry nor the U.S. Government would standardize on a four digit methodology for recording dates in software. "The lawsuits resulting from all the data damage will be greater then from tobacco and asbestos combined," Bemer predicts. What to do? Well, Bemer has come up with a software fix, Vertex 2000, that searches for and replaces date sequences in the object code of programs. This "piggybacking" approach extends date fields from two digits to four, providing millennium compliance without altering the source code and with a minimal impact on system performance. Vertex 2000 will be distributed by Transformation Processing Inc., Mississauga, ON, Canada. Now, what about the Y10K Problem? For more information, call Peter Ross, TPI, at (905) 812-7907.

Design News   Oct 20, 1997
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