Happy Y2K. May the New Year bring you the joy of being Year 2000-compliant.
Of course, Jan. 1, 1999, is just the warm-up. The big ball will drop in another 365 days-and we're not talking about the Times Square sphere. We're talking the Big One. The feared Electronic Armageddon.
Having lived through the home bomb-shelter panic of four decades ago, I'm amused by the return of the Doomsday Denizens, once again stockpiling food and water and getting their power generators ready. Yet they may get the last laugh-or moan.
Whatever the outcome, GartnerGroup has it right: The horrendous global exercise to fix the Millennium Bug is the largest engineering endeavor by far in the history of the world.
Not a penny of the estimated trillion dollars being spent has direct economic value added. One wonders how much global poverty could have been obliterated, how many diseases could have been cured, and how high education could have ascended if the world had invested similar resources in productive efforts.
Some savants have proposed bankrolling positive programs at the same level in the new millennium-a "Y2K dividend." Ha. The Year 2000 Bug litigation fallout may eat up as much money as it took trying to fix the bugger. And if the elusive "peace dividend" that was supposed to have followed the Cold War finale is any example, don't bank any post-Y2K bucks either.
The really scary part is what's lurking inside the gajillions of embedded microcontrollers that are ubiquitous in the warp and woof of society. The Semiconductor Industry Association is correct in its judgment that the bulk of microcontrollers run no embedded software with a calendar function susceptible to a Y2K bug. But the SIA is also right in pointing out that other MCUs probably are at risk.
How many? No one knows. In fact, most people aren't even aware of what MCUs they're using-or where to look for them if they wanted to. And who knows what software those devices are running, how to detect any lurking Y2K time bombs, or how to fix any problems uncovered?
The SIA spent the last half of 1998 trying to find someone in government to lead a national Y2K MCU alert, but Washington was enmeshed in impeachment. Thus, the SIA last month issued a white paper as a Y2K microcontroller Paul Revere alert. If Paul had gotten the same anesthetized reception as the SIA, we'd still be saluting the Union Jack.
So get ready for the Big Event, when untold electronic calendars around the world may simply wipe out the 20th century. Then we can all do a real-life version of Back to the Future.