Arnold's Year 2000 Checklist
A Guide for Individuals and Small Businesses
[Not much happened at midnight December 31, 1999. Even the parties
weren't all that great. A lot of hard work went into making sure
there would be few problems. Thinking about how to prepare for
wholesale failure of information infrastructure was a good thing.
We've just about use up our Y2K toilet paper and Cheerios. We've left
the rest of this paper unchanged as an historical document and as
preperation for the next monster date issue, which will be January
19, 2038 when Unix clocks roll over. See
for lesser problem dates. -- agr 2001-8-29]
The hoopla about the Year 2000
problem will continue to grow as the feared date gets closer and
closer. This problem, also known as the Millennium Bug or just Y2K,
results from the computer programmers' storing the year as a two
digit value, a practice that dates back to the time of punched card
systems. Many computer programs will exhibit faults when the Year
We think the most alarmist predictions will not come true. Here's
- While many critical systems will not be fixed by January 1,
2000, most critical infrastructure organizations will have some
- Many organizations, such as mortgage companies, have had to
deal with 21st century dates for some time now.
- Many of the billions of lines of computer code out there
simply produce reports that no one reads anyway.
- More and more companies are using personal computers that are
not as affected by the Year 2000 problem.
- The Internet is mostly based on computer systems that will
survive the Year 2000.
- December 31, 1999 is on a Friday so businesses will have a
weekend to catch up.
However no one can say for sure what will happen on January 1,
2000! Problems may occur in almost any sector of our economy. The
more resilient you can make your household and your organization, the
more ready you will be for anything that may happen.
There is a lot of Year 2000 advice out there, but most is oriented
to telling large organizations how to set up their Year 2000
committees, with statements like "Task the agency's quality assurance
staff to review the business continuity planning processes." Here is
a personal checklist of actions you can take to get ready for the big
day. If you think these recomendations are extreme, you should see
what the pessimists are saying!
For the most part, preparing for the Year 2000 involves common
sense steps. You should treat the Year 2000 as you would a major
weather situation, such as a hurricane or blizzard warning. Prepare
to survive for a few weeks in case essential services are
interrupted. Fortunately, you do not have to tape your Windows.
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Find Out How to Fight the
What kind of problems can you expect with your computers?
The problems you can expect depend on the type of computer your
are using, its age, whether it is networked and, most importantly the
application programs that you rely on.
Generally the older the computer and application program, the more
likely it will have Year 2000 problems. Also, specialized application
programs are more likely to have problems than those developed for
mass markets. Year 2000 problems are also more likely to impact
computers that are networked together. Here is a quick rundown:
According to Apple, all Macintosh computers and operating systems
will work properly in the Year 2000. See
You should still test any application programs you rely on.
IBM-PCs and compatibles
Besides the issue of application programs, the biggest cause of
Year 2000 problems on PCs is the real time clock chip on your
computer's mother board and the built in software, called BIOS, that
handles that clock. There are two common problems, called roll-over
and date retention. The roll over problem only applies to New Year's
Eve 2000. Many PCs will not automatically switch from 1999 to 2000.
There are software patches to fix this available on the Internet, or
you can just plan on resetting the date when you first turn your
computer on in January 2000.
The second problem, date retention, is far less common, but more
serious. Computers with this problem can be set to a year 2000 date
but will not remember the date properly when turned off and back on.
Generally a mother board fix or replacement is required to fix this
problem. Other solutions include setting the date to 1984 (see
Back to the Future, below), or just
remembering to set the date each time you turn the computer on.
Other parts of Winsows 3.1 and 95 may have problems. There are
fixes for most of these at Microsoft's Year 2000 web site,
Unix software generally handles date conversion properly, at least
through 2037. Some Unix systems may have problems and require
patches. Check with your manufacturer. For older Unix systems that
cannot be fixed, consider setting the system date to 1972 (see
Back to the Future, below).
Microcomputers are in everything these days: microwave ovens,
VCRs, automobiles, medical instruments, railroad locomotives, factory
machinery, power plants, etc. Many of these computers are not aware
of dates at all, but some are. The possibility that some of these
embedded systems will fail on January 1, 2000 is the source of much
of the alarm surrounding the Y2K issue.
Check with the manufacture of any critical embedded systems that
you own. This is especially important for medical instruments and
other life support devices. Develop manual backup plans where
If you are part of a network of computers that exchange data, you
have the added burden of worrying about what the other companies are
doing. Even if everyone makes their systems Year 2000 compliant, they
may use differing approaches, making interchanging data difficult.
Systems originally based on older mainframe or minicomputers
generally have multiple problems with the Year 2000. There are many
the Internet devoted to these issues. Unfortunately, many just
outline processes for assessing, prioritizing, repairing and testing
that are far too complex to be done in the time remaining. If you
can, replace legacy programs with Year-2000-compliant commercial
off-the-shelf solutions. If you haven't started repairs yet, you may
not have any other choice.
Testing your computer
Caution: Back up your computer before doing this
Date retention test
Set the date for January 1, 2000 and turn it off. Wait a few
minutes and make sure your computer boots up properly and the date is
still January 1, 2000.
While the year is set to 2000, try out each programs you rely on
to see if it is working properly. At the very least, create, save and
re-open a file in each application. Also set the date to February 29,
2000 and see if your computer accepts this date. Don't forget to set
the date back to the current date when you are done.
Set the date to December 31, 1999 and the time to a few minutes
before midnight (e.g. 23:58). Turn the computer off and wait a few
minutes. Then turn it back on see if the date has changed properly.
Many PCs fail this test and reset themselves to January 4,
1980,when they reboot. If your computer does not need to be running
on New Year's Eve, just plan on resetting the date when you first
turn it on in 2000. There are also software programs you can install
to fix the roll over problem. See, for example,
If your computer does fail the Year 2000 date retention or
application tests, check on the availability of firmware, operating
system and program upgrades. Most vendor Internet sites have a Year
If need be, plan to buy a new computer by the summer of 1999.
Don't wait until the last moment. New computers may get pricey in
late 1999 and getting help if you run into a problem upgrading
software will be just about impossible.
Back to the future
If you want to continue to use an older computer that chokes
completely on the Year 2000, consider setting its clock to an earlier
year. Note that there are just three leap years in the 20th century
that start on Saturday, as does the Year 2000. Those years are 1916,
1944 and 1972. If you set your computer's clock to one of those
years, the day of the week will match the day of the month on your
computer and will continue to do so for decades to come (until the
computer thinks the year 2000 has arrived or until the real year 2099
Unfortunately, IBM-compatible PCs cannot be set to dates before
1980. If you cannot get your PC to work properly in 2000, one
possibility is setting the year on those computers to 1984 when 2000
starts. The year 1984 is a leap year, just like 2000, and 1984/1/1 is
a Sunday, while 2000/1/1 is a Saturday, so the computer's day of the
week will always be one day ahead of reality.
Note: If you make this kind of year adjustment in 1999, remember
to set the computer a year earlier. For example, if you plan to use
1972 in lieu of 2000, then , say, on December 17, 1999 you set your
computer to December 17, 1971.
What you can do
Here is a checklist of Year 2000 precautions that you should take:
As soon as possible
- Review this entire list and make up your own Year 2000 plan.
Keep your plan in a safe place along with a printed copy of this
- Learn how to adjust the date on your computer. Some operating
systems may need special techniques to allow four digit year
entry. For example in Windows 3.x, you must go to the
International Control Panel and click the Date Format Change
button. In the date format screen that appears, click the check
box "Century (1990 vs. 90)."
- Test your computer for Year 2000 problems. See above for some
simple tests you can do.
- Learn how to back up your computer. Backing up your computer
on a regular basis and saving your backup tapes, rather than
reusing them, are your best protections against Year 2000 data
sources of advice on the Year 2000 problem.
- Think about the small non-profit organizations you belong to
and help them get ready.
- Get community groups you belong to interested in Y2K
preparedness. If you would like a speaker on this topic, contact
- If you have computer skills, you might want to prepare for the
employment opportunities that the Year 2000 problem will bring,
but be ready for long hours.
- Some older computer software may fail when the year changes to
1999. Start checking all credit card and bank statements.
- If you do not already do so, begin backing up your computer on
a regular basis.
- Review your personal budget and investments for 1999. Make
sure you will be able to withdraw a substantial amount of cash
toward the end of the year, even if there is a panic on Wall
- Beware of Year 2000 scams and hucksters who should start
coming out of the woodwork as the New Year approaches. We don't
know exactly how the con artists of the world will exploit Year
2000 fears, but we are sure that they will.
For small and not-so-small businesses
Here is a checklist for businesses:
- Take charge. You cannot assign the Year 2000 problem to
someone else -- subordinates, consultants or vendors -- and assume
all will be well. Ask questions and then ask them again and again
until you understand exactly how your business will get through
- Turn the Year 2000 problem into an opportunity to streamline
your operations and develop effective disaster recovery plans.
- Take the time to listen to the computer programmers that work
for you. Make sure they understand your business realities and
feel involved in the decision making.
- Ruthlessly review all your computer systems. Identify those
you absolutely need and make fixing or replacing them your
- Replacement of software is often cheaper, faster and more
predictable than repair.
- Consider converting your bookkeeping system to a modern, PC
based product like Quick
Books. If this is not feasible, set someone to work on a
back-up plan to run yore core business using Quick Books or a
- Make sure your payroll service is Year 2000 compliant. If you
do not use a payroll service, consider switching to one. Make sure
it is Year 2000 compliant, of course.
- Plan for a cash flow interruption in the first months of 2000.
Talk to your bank about a line of credit.
- Plan how you could run the core of your business if the
computers fail. Think paper.
- Ask data entry people to report potential problem areas.
- Implement incentives that will keep your computer staff
onboard for the duration.
- Don't sign anything regarding Year 2000 compliance -- surveys,
warantees, statements of compliance, etc. -- without checking with
- Year 2000 problems may be used to cover embezzlement. Sign all
checks and purchase orders manually, if possible, during 2000 and
verify all new vendors.
- Stock extra inventory for December 1999 and January 2000.
- Learn how to bypass your building environmental controls to
manually turn on heating ventillation and air conditioning
- Learn where incoming phone lines enter the telephone switch in
your building and install network interface devices that can
bypass the switch in case it fails.
- Arrange for someone to watch your facility on New Year's
- Keep your calendar clear in January 2000 and plan on being in
town for the month.
- Make sure key staff's winter vacation plans have them home by
- Train your staff to be alert for the problems you cannot
predict. Make sure they are comfortable asking questions about any
computer generated instructions they find odd, such as throwing
out all the frozen food or cutting an unusually large check to a
- There is an international standard, ISO 8601, which specifies
a yyyy-mm-dd numerical format for writing dates. For
example, 2000-5-4 is May 4, 2000. This method eliminate confusion
between European day-first and American month-first date formats,
but it does look geeky. Consider switching to this standard for
your international correspondence.
Here are month by month suggestions:
- Use this month as a dress rehearsal for January 2000.
Constantly think about what you would do if computers failed and
keep careful notes. Ask your staff to do the same. Save paper
records of what happened during this January so you can use them
as a baseline for computer-less decisions next January.
March - May 1999
- Be particularly careful to avoid pregnancy during these
months. You do not want to give birth, especially not prematurely,
in January 2000.
June, July, August 1999
- Invest in improvements that make you home more survivable in
the winter. These might include adding a wood stove, more
insulation, weather stripping, even solar hot water and
electricity. These are good investments even if nothing bad
happens in January 2000.
- Remember that most home heating systems, including oil-fueled
systems, will not work if you lose electrical power.
- If the life of someone in your household is dependent on
electricity, consider buying an emergency generator. But do not
connect a generator to your house wiring. Check with your fire
department about requirements for storing fuel safely.
- If you were planning to buy a new computer, now is the time to
- If you have a fireplace or wood stove, order a substantial
supply of wood. Store at least a few weeks' supply of wood in a
place where it cannot be easily stolen.
- Buy a couple of bags of charcoal at the end-of-season sales.
- Winterize your home. Have your heating system checked and your
- Start rinsing out used milk or beverage containers and filling
them with water. Accumulate 7-14 gallons (28 - 52 litres) per
person, more if it is warm in January where you live. Put the
containers someplace where they won't freeze in the winter.
- Continue backing up your computer every month. Do not re-use
the older backup tapes, but keep them in a safe place.
- Save all supermarket receipts during this month to get an idea
of what your household uses.
- Order a new supply of checks. (Make sure your bank no longer
prints "19___" on the checks.) Get at least twice the number you
usually request. If the credit card system crashes, you may be
writing a lot more checks than you normally do.
- Some older computer systems may have problems on September 9
(9/9/99). Be alert.
- Review the supermarket receipts you saved last month. Make a
list of staples that could keep your household going in a crisis
and start laying in a two weeks' to one month's supply. Don't wait
until the last weeks of 1999. Be sure to include batteries for
portable radios and flashlights, candles, matches, powdered milk,
canned food, diapers, formula and birth control. Try to buy stuff
that you will use anyway if nothing much happens on January 1.
- Make sure you have enough warm clothes and blankets for the
- If you need periodic medical checkups, make an appointment for
December. Do not schedule elective surgery for January.
- Winterize your car. Replace battery, tires, wipers, etc. if
they are marginal.
- If your finances are tight, go easy on the holiday shopping.
- If you can, plan a winter vacation someplace warm that goes
through at least January 3. Make sure you can stay extra days if
your travel arrangements fall through. Check with your employer
first, however. Some may need all hands on deck for New Year's
- Start accumulating a two month supply of cash.
- If you depend on medicines or special foods, buy a two month
- Continue buying staples.
- Buy extra stationary supplies and stamps.
- Buy a good first aid and home medicine book. Check your first
- Get a backup e-mail address at a free e-mail service.
- Find a safe, unheated place that you can use for cold storage
of food in case of a longlasting power failure.
- Pay critical bills (health insurance, mortgage, rent) one
month ahead. Get receipts, if possible.
- Get a copy of your credit report and put it in a safe place.
- Print out key computer files: addresses, phone numbers, fax
numbers, account numbers and critical correspondence and legal
papers. Print out your appointments for January and February.
- If you run a business, print out estimated invoices for
January for your largest customers.
- Print out an inventory report that includes detailed warehouse
shelf location information. If possible, transfer this database to
a personal computer.
- Put jewelry and other valuables in a safe deposit box. Alarm
systems may fail on Jan 1. But don't put anything away that you
might need in January.
- Balance your checkbook.
- Set up a cardboard box or filing system in which you will save
all paper receipts you get during 2000.
- Get your heating fuel tank topped off.
- Change your car's oil.
- Check your smoke alarms.
- If you are pregnant and will be close to term on January 1
(within two weeks), talk to your obstetrician about inducing labor
in the last week of December. Remember to allow for a few days
stay in the hospital in case there are medical problems.
- If you or an organization you belong to has property that is
particularly valuable, hire someone to guard your property over
New Year's weekend.
Last days of December 1999 (or before you go on vacation)
- Do a full back-up your computer's hard disk using a fresh
cartridge or tape. Plan to keep this backup forever. Make a second
copy of your most valuable files. Store an older backup in a
- Avoid electronic transactions during the last week of
December. Keep paper records of any transactions you do make,
particularly bank deposits.
- Buy extra perishables.
- Do laundry.
- Fill your car's gas tank.
- Test your battery powered radio and make sure your extra
batteries are ok.
Friday, December 31, 1999
- Avoid traveling anywhere today or tomorrow. Especially do not
fly. We do not expect dozens of planes to crash, but there may be
- Listen to the news throughout the day. The first reports of
Y2K problems will probably come from New Zeeland, where the local
New Years occurs at 1100 am GMT, or 6 am EST Friday. Eastern
Australia gets Y2K two hours later, Japan four hours later.
- Turn off all computers that do not need to be on. If possible,
do this before midnight GMT (7 pm EST, 6 pm CST, 5 pm MST, 4 pm
- Make sure you have a designated driver and stay off the roads
altogether if possible. Accidents are never fun, but you really
don't want to be in the ER tonight.
- Also, be especially careful with fireplaces, candles and
Christmas trees. You don't want a fire tonight, either.
- Fill a bathtub with clean water.
- Party big time.
Saturday, January 1, 2000
- If possible, leave your computer off for the weekend.
- Try to keep your usage of electricity and gas as low as
possible for the next few days. Turn off lights, set the
thermostat a little lower.
- Listen to the news on the radio. We expect you will hear
stories telling how the worst Year 2000 fears have proven
groundless (tho some problems may take months to show up). But if
all hell breaks loose, start rationing your supplies.
- Otherwise, party some more.
Sunday, January 2, 2000
Monday, January 3, 2000
- Turn on your computer and check the date. Correct it manually,
- Keep the kids home from school, if possible.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Check your computers at midnight to see if the date changes
properly. Alternately, turn them off when you leave work and check
them in the morning.
- Some computers may need to have their dates set each day from
now on, until they can be repaired or replaced.
- Avoid all electronic transactions for the first week or
longer, depending on how things develop. This includes credit card
purchases, ATM withdrawals, bank deposits, etc. Keep paper records
of any transactions you do make.
- Spot check all output from your computers, particularly the
first run of checks and invoices for January.
- Double check all prescriptions that are filled after January
1. This is particularly true for medicines dispensed in a
hospital. Know the shapes and colors of the medicines you take and
demand to speak to a pharmacist if they change in January.
Monday, February 28, 2000
- The year 2000 is a leap year. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is February
29. Some computers may not recognize this fact and their date may
show up as Tuesday, March 1. On such computers you can reset the
date to March 1 on Wednesday and go about your business. The day
of the week may not show up properly for the rest of the year,
- News reports will give you a pretty good idea of how things
are going and you can adjust your plans accordingly. But keep in
mind that some serious problems may not surface until the end of
the month, the end of the quarter or even the end of the year. IRS
problems may take years to show up.
- Get a receipt of mailing from the post office when sending in
tax payments and filings.
- Keep a paper record of all important transactions. Save all
credit card slips. Photocopy or log all checks before you deposit
them, at least until you receive and verify your February and
March bank statements.
- Carefully check each pay stub, credit card bill and bank
statement you receive. Report any problems you find promptly in
writing and save a copy. Be patient, some institutions may be
flooded with problems.
- Do not re-use computer back up tapes for the remainder of the
year 2000. Do full backups; do not rely on incremental backups.
- Put your final computer back-up tape from 1999 in a safe place
and never reuse it.
- Get a second opinion before acting on any unusual medical test
- If you are an investor, remember that corporate profits will
be unusually high in the last quarter of 1999 as people stock up,
and unusually low in the first quarter of 2000 because of Y2K
problems and reduced demand. Some companies will shift non-Y2K
losses to the first quarter of 2000, figuring the markets will
discount bad news for that quarter.
- Even if, as we expect, the Year 2000 problem turns out to have
been overblown, keep on making regular backups, file those
recovery plans and save the emergency supplies. Our society is
increasingly dependent on computers and technology. We had plenty
of time to prepare for Y2K. The next crisis may strike witout
- Pack up all your Y2K records and save them for at least 3
- Time to start working on the Unix 2038 date problem.
Our Year 2000 advice can be summarized in a simple slogan:
Cash-up, and Check-up
Warning: The Year 2000 problem is very complex and no one knows
all its ramifications. This checklist is not and cannot be complete.
You must follow your own best judgement as to what to do or not do.
Copyright © 1998
Arnold G. Reinhold,
Cambridge, MA "All Rights Reserved"
1998-8-2, rev 1999-1-16, 23, 11-26