Y2K bug doesn't punch in at work

Office glitches kept to minimum

crisis centers end watch

January 04, 2000|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Governments and businesses around the world began closing down their Y2K crisis centers yesterday as the first work day of the year 2000 came and went with barely a hint of the digital catastrophe some had feared.

Office workers, bankers, brokers, hospital and school administrators and home PC users reported mostly minor and easily remedied glitches linked to the digital rollover from '99 to '00.

The happy ending to the Y2K melodrama drew reactions ranging from relief to a nagging feeling the whole thing had been a hoax.

The worried and the cautious who bought electrical generators, food stocks and other gear in anticipation of a computer calamity seemed to be holding on to them for now. But food banks across the country asked for the surplus groceries and paper goods.

"We'll take anything people thought they were going to need when they were stuck down in their bomb shelters. There are plenty of people who can use it," said Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank.

The post-Y2K campaign -- dubbed "Y Go 2 Waste" -- will focus on Central Maryland. Drop-off points were to be announced this week.

Still, there were plenty of reminders -- some serious, some comical -- that Y2K worries were not about nothing.

In the one Y2K glitch rated critical by the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, officials in the United Kingdom reported that some kidney dialysis machines made by the Swedish manufacturer Gambro were malfunctioning, posing a threat of infection.

The problem was first noted in Scotland. It was not immediately clear whether any of the Gambro machines are used in the United States. Company officials in Sweden could not be reached for comment.


Andy Kyte at the Gartner Group consulting firm said there was evidence of a software foul-up affecting some multinational corporations whose computers are synchronized using time signals. It was "causing quite a bit of a headache," he said.

A computer at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. malfunctioned for several hours Sunday, but did not affect operations or workers, Energy Department officials said. A ground station that processes information from military satellites was restored to normal operation yesterday after a date error shut it down on New Year's Eve.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported a problem with electronic licensing and registration of gun dealers. The ATF said it would license and register dealers by paper until the problem is repaired.

Despite the problems, Bruce McConnell, of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, said all the Y2K fuss, and all the hundreds of billions of dollars spent, paid off.

"Without this work, serious disruptions would have occurred," said McConnell, one of the federal government's top Y2K coordinators. "Unprecedented international cooperation, resilient infrastructure and the dedicated efforts of millions of Y2K workers have given us this exciting success."

McConnell's press conference was the last for the Y2K council. And Y2K command centers in Maryland and around the world began to shut down yesterday as civilization and its computers continued to hum.

Most of them, anyway.

A customer returning a movie to a rental shop in suburban Albany, N.Y., was presented with a $91,250 late fee after computers showed the tape was 100 years late. Employees at a video rental store in Florida used pen and paper because computers failed.

For a time yesterday, Vice President Al Gore's "Internet Town Hall" Web site touting his presidential candidacy carried the date "Monday, January 3, 19100."

Some computer screens flashed "1900" at four small airports around Chicago, and cash registers at Godiva Chocolate Co. in New York and 7-Eleven stores in Norway refused to work until a Y2K problem was fixed.

In Italy, Y2K bugs added a century to some Italian jail sentences and knocked 100 years off others. Court officials shut their offices while the problems were solved.

Japan's financial watchdog reported minor glitches at one foreign bank and 15 small domestic brokerages. Most were quickly fixed, and financial systems worldwide were running smoothly.

Police testing the sobriety of drivers in Hong Kong had to enter birth dates on breath-testing machines because of an apparent Y2K malfunction.

At the bottom of the computer pecking order, ordinary Marylanders were flicking on their aging pre-Pentium computers with some trepidation after being assured their machines were goners.

But most discovered that with a few keystrokes, they could correct confused machines that woke up in 1980, or 1994 or even 1910.

Sighs of relief like theirs were heard everywhere.

Baltimore County, which spent $9 million on Y2K-related computer technology in the past four years, shut down its emergency operations center at noon yesterday. The center opened at 6 a.m. to tackle any Y2K problems hindering the start of the work week.

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