Y2K fear becomes footnote in history

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Isn't it interesting that the mainstream media keeps trivializing an attempting to bury this story?

Y2K fear becomes footnote in history 01/24/00 By Kevin Coughlin STAFF WRITER The President's Council on Y2K Conversion is mighty lonesome duty for a press spokesman these days. Call Jack Gribben the Maytag Repairman of the New Millennium. Heck, just call him. "It's a lot quieter," he said, remembering that halcyon weekend three weeks ago when hundreds of reporters hung on his every word, inside a $50 million Y2K center where government officials teemed like protozoans in a petri dish. Now, as the Millennium Bug assumes its rightful place beside the Pet Rock, skeleton staffs in Washington are left to tidy up after the greatest noncalamity of the 21st century. Sure, Y2K had some big losers. Boris Yeltsin. Wall Street's Ed ("70 Percent Chance of World Recession") Yardeni. IBM, which blamed the bug for lousy earnings. Starving lawyers with no disasters to litigate. And some surprises still may await companies that process payments at month's end. Likewise, next month's leap year day could throw some computers for a loop. But computer hackers behaved, and the most dire predictions of catastrophe linked to machines unable to interpret "00" now sound almost quaint. For the few troubleshooters still on the case, these waning days of the Y2K watch are spent sifting a dwindling trickle of glitch reports that provoke more amusement than anxiety. Take those century-old babies in England. Registry office computers insisted on printing 1900 on birth certificates, instead of 2000. A North Carolina man who would be 118 -- if he weren't dead -- got a draft notice based on motor vehicle computers that mistook him for 18. The Internal Revenue Service ordered dozens of taxpayers to pay up by 1900, or else. Over at the General Services Administration, meanwhile, some computer screens think the nation just entered the year 100. In Portland, Ore., a restaurant owner was paid more than $38,000 in overcharges from 126 customers, whose credit cards were bitten by outdated verification software from CyberCash Inc. (The Reston, Va., company contends merchants failed to download free software fixes last year. A MasterCard spokeswoman said Friday her company was resolving multiple billings affecting patrons of 7,500 establishments.) Although Y2K fears spurred the State Department to authorize removal of nonessential personnel from Russia, the worst gremlin in the Kremlin appears to have been an e-mail crash in that country's press service. For their part, Russian military officers have gone home after a hunker in the bunker with U.S. Air Force honchos in Colorado. No nukes were launched, accidentally or otherwise. But the foreigners were subjected to after-dinner theater, shopping malls and college hockey. Lest anyone gloat, there was the little matter of those blinded U.S. spy satellites. No problem, the Pentagon insisted. Ditto for a Swedish hospital, which reported its computers lost access to patient information. Still, things could have been a lot worse. "We squashed the bug, and we're just seeing a variety of small glitches throughout the world," said Bruce McConnell, point man for the United Nations-sponsored International Y2K Cooperation Center. The center gathered information from 171 nations over the Internet; a small staff will soldier on through the leap year, perhaps filing one more report before committing its Web site to history. Then, McConnell, who was on loan from the White House budget office, will strike off on his own to consult on -- what else? -- technology risks. Predictably, the relatively smooth date rollover has sparked debate. Was the U.S. snookered into spending more than $100 billion on Y2K fixes? The Gartner Group estimates the rest of the world shelled out another $300 billion. Yet countries such as Italy, criticized for lax Y2K efforts, emerged unscathed. The U.S. overspent by as much as $41 billion, according to the International Data Corp., a Massachusetts consulting firm that contends the world may have overshot on Y2K by up to $76 billion. But McConnell contends that, without billions spent on Y2K, today's smattering of minor glitches might well have been a devastating avalanche. "I don't think it was overblown. It was a serious problem," added Gribben, another Beltway veteran who will be seeking greener pastures come March. The leap year period is the last hurrah for the President's Council on Y2K Conversion; the federal Office of Management and Budget will absorb most of the gear in the $50 million Y2K center, a short stroll from the White House. A collection of activists and consultants called Coalition 2000 set up an "unfiltered" Web site, where people could report any Y2K problems that slipped under government radar screens. But coalition co-founder Steve Davis said the blips have been small, and they're fading fast. Despite all the monitoring efforts, the true scope of Y2K may remain a mystery. "No one will ever admit to most Year 2000 problems," said Hunter College professor Howard Rubin, who admitted being a Y2K casualty himself. Driving home from MSNBC's Secaucus studios, where he delivered 30 hours of on-air Y2K analysis over the New Year's weekend, Rubin swerved his car around a deer, hitting a tree and cracking his ribs. Rubin also steered clear of the hospital -- "I figured that was the worst place to be on Jan. 1" -- and waited 12 days for his insurance company to process his claim. "I had a Year 2000 vehicle, and it was a Year 2000 claim," said Rubin. He rang up Gribben's boss, John Koskinen, at the White House "and told him we have an insurance company with a problem." The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), January 24, 2000

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