Y2K Chiefs Prepare For Dry Run On 9/9/99

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We're almost certain to get a lot of questions on this forum about 9/9/99 like we did about the GPS rollover. Just for the record, the 9/9/99 situation, like GPS, is not a subset of the Y2K problem. This article, though, does describe how those who will be monitoring Y2K problems will also be looking for any 9/9/99 problems that may or may not occur:


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), August 26, 1999


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Y2K Chiefs Prepare For Dry Run On 9/9/99

01:45 p.m Aug 26, 1999 Eastern

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A little-known computer glitch that could cause system failures on Sept. 9 -- 9/9/99 -- is about to get a lot of attention.

In a kind of dry run for the Year 2000 glitch, authorities and computer scientists worldwide will be scrutinizing networks on that Thursday for any fallout from the so-called ``Nines Problem.''

At issue is the impact of an old programming convention that used four nines in a row -- 9999 -- to tell computers to stop processing data or to perform a special task.

In the relatively unlikely case that systems misread Sept. 9 as 9999 -- without zeros as in 09/09 -- they might confuse the nines with what programmers call an ``end of file'' marker.

Four nines in the date field could also trigger a grand total or a sorting operation, said Jim Kelton, president of Software Unlimited, an Irvine, California, software consulting firm specialized in networks and Y2K.

``All nines could be interpreted as almost anything,'' he said. For instance, the nines might cause computers to disregard data received after Sept. 9, causing a cutoff in the updating of bank records.

The glitch, which the financial industry has been fixing as part of its $9 billion Y2K preparations, could figure in customized applications written in decades-old computer languages such as FORTRAN, COBOL and RPG, experts say.

Robert Banghart, director of development at Unisolve, a Costa Mesa, California, software firm working on the Y2K glitch, said a string of nines long had been used to tell computers to ''end a routine,'' or no longer execute certain instructions. In a worst-case scenario, four nines in a date field could spark problems not unlike Y2K, a coding glitch that threatens to keep ill-prepared computers from distinguishing the year 2000 from the year 1900.

The U.N.-backed International Y2K Cooperation Center, a global clearing house for millennium bug data, is using Sept. 9 to rehearse a plan aimed at keeping up-to-the-minute tabs on how the world is faring as it enters 2000.

``It's a dry run for the rollover date,'' said Lisa Pelegrin, spokeswoman for the Washington-based, World Bank-funded center. ``We will be testing our reporting system.''

That reporting system, to be updated in real time on the center's Web site, www.iy2kcc.org, ultimately will reflect the input of 170 or more national Y2K coordinators.

On the center's Sept. 9 shakeout run, about 15 countries are expected to take part. For the most part, they are members of its steering committee -- Britain, Bulgaria, Chile, Gambia, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Philippines, South Korea and the United States.

New Zealand and Australia, also active backers, are due to report in. Graeme Inchley, Australia's Y2K coordinator, told Reuters that he was ``absolutely convinced'' Sept. 9 would go by without a hitch.

Sept. 9 also will mark the first test of a $40 million-dollar U.S. inter-agency Y2K center meant to give U.S. decision makers a round- the-clock view of Y2K problems in their areas of responsibility.

Likewise, on Sept. 8 and 9, the North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry group, will rehearse an emergency scenario to test operating, communications and contingency responses for the Y2K transition.

``If all goes well in this drill, the electric utilities can pat themselves on the back; if not, they may be tempted to blame the 'nines','' said Janis Gogan, an information technology expert at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.

Mitch Ratcliffe, editorial director of publisher Ziff Davis's Y2K Web site, rated Sept. 9's chance of triggering problems as extremely low because the date would have to be misrepresented -- without zeros as in 09/09 -- ``in a way that defies logic.''

``The Nines Problem is almost totally a myth,'' he said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), August 26, 1999.

Does any program actually store 9/9/99 as "9999"??? I would think the date would be stored as "090999" or possibly "90999", but either way it shouldn't be a problem. What am I missing here???

-- David Bowerman (dbowerman@blazenet.net), August 26, 1999.

This is nothing more than a part of a carefully scripted scenario that goes something like this:

Crafty PR Guy 1: "I just got a call from K and it seems the public is beginning to get a little antsy over Y2K again, so we need some circumstance that we can spin into a sedative."

Sneaky PR Guy 2: "Hey! What about that 9/9/99 thing? A 9, after all, is a 6 turned upside down, and you know what three 6s means. Lotsa people think this 9 thing means Y2K will be bad, so let's publicize it as a possible bad thing and then when it turns out good, they'll go back to sleep. I mean, it worked with the GPS thing."

Crafty PR Guy 1: "Great idea. And be sure and alert Y2K Pro and Chicken Little and corrine and that Suck guy and the others so they can get on TB 2000 on Sept. 10 and make fun of those people."

-- Vic (Rdrunner@internetwork.net), August 26, 1999.

I don't have any code here at work that will have a 9/9/99 problem. I've used 999999 to indicate a "special condition." And as we know 090999 (mmddyy format) or 990909 (yymmdd format) isn't equal to 999999. I would think some really odd programming would have to take place to cause a problem on 9/9/99.

I'm not expecting problems until later on this year and first quarter of 2000.

-- Larry (cobol.programmer@usa.net), August 26, 1999.

On 9/9/99 North Korea is set to test a missle over Japan with the ability to hit Alaska and Hawaii and possibly the mainland US.

South Korea is trying to get China to talk them out of it.

-- Johnny (JLJTM@BELLSOUTH.NET), August 26, 1999.

Bowerman, you're not missing anything. The 9/9/99 myth came up out of a journalist misunderstanding what a programmer was probably saying poorly. We geeks are notoriously unable to talk to civilians. But (like "planes falling from the sky") a "stop processing message" is easy to turn into a newsbite. So 9/9/99 persists with no evidence and no justification. It's easy to swallow, that's all.

Unfortunately, when nothing computer-wise happens on 9/9/99, the pollies will use it to say "see, no problem", and the sheeple will doze off again, with slight smiles on their faces. That's a real shame. And when we say that 9/9/99 never WAS a problem, they'll tell us we're changing the rules again, silly doomers, just to milk a few more paychecks out of the hysteria. Jeez I'm sick of this.

-- bw (home@puget.sound), August 26, 1999.

I guess I'll have to go find the months-old thread where most, if not all of the IT doomers here debunk the 9s for when Y2K Pro tries to start crowing.

Maybe KOS can help me out.....

-- lisa (lisa@work.now), August 26, 1999.

It's clear that it's either a (1) lazy journalism, or (2) Red-Herring- based spin (see crafty PR guys mentioned above.)

Here's the interesting part. The new-and-improved de Jager -- pollyjager -- mentioned the "nines" problem in his interview with Yardeni. It seemed like hard evidence that, rather than simply inexplicably becoming a profound optimist with no warning, he had really gone over to the Dark Side headquartered at the Washington Death Star. (Sheesh -- now I'm writing kind in the native tongue of the forum.)

-- Dave (aaa@aaa.com), August 26, 1999.

Here's where the 9s are debunked by regulars. Regular non-pollies.

-- lisa (lisa@work.now), August 26, 1999.


Just for the record: I don't think we are going to see any problems on September 9th. 090999 obviously doesn't equal 9999. Cool.

But I would like to direct the forum's attention to an article written by E.L. Core back around December 18, 1998, on the Westergaard site, I believe, where he reported a discussion with a programmer named Bill Adsit who argued that some users actually used 090999 to indicate special processing of some sort.

The reason given for the use of 090999 was that it would pass validation tests. A snip of the article is attached below--it would be nice if E. L. Core could or would comment on his understanding of the situation at present. All other comments welcome as well.

Happy as always to send the whole article to interested parties, or if requested, post here for all.

As the dealers say in Vegas, "Good Luck!"

W in D

--------- More on The Dreaded Nines and Other Proverbial Dates By E.L. Core December 18, 1998 I am heartened by the feedback I have received to my article The Dreaded Nines: Will They Be So Bad? Most of it has been affirmative. But not all.

Fellow programmer and Westergaard columnist Ralph Daugherty noted, "Good examples from beginning to end". Susan Lorenz wrote, "I have been saying for months that 09/09/99 does not equal 9/9/99 and certainly not 99/99/99." And Gordon Connolly remarked, "That can go into the good news basket, and Lord knows that basket needs more good news files."

But an e-mail from Bill Adsit, a senior software engineer, has lead me to conclude that I should have written more forcefully that September 9, 1999 might very well cause date-processing problems. He wrote, "While you covered in great detail how 9/9/99 will not trigger any likely "9999" tests in a program, you left out one critical observation -- Many programs do use the actual date September 9, 1999 (however they represent it) to mean 'no expiration,' 'delay processing this record', etc." He continued, "This is a very common practice in older DP (data processing) apps (applications), and I have personally encountered several instances of this and I believe you should have included this in your otherwise very thorough article." Another correspondent said likewise: "I have been deeply involved in two Y2K projects at medium size IS shops and have hit this situation several times in both shops." I cannot verify this last report, however, because my several attempts to reply to that e-mail have bounced.

You may very well wonder why programmers would have done this. Why would they have programmed a valid date as an indicator of something other than the actual date? Two factors contributed: one technical, one psychological.

The technical factor is this: dates are typically passed through a validation routine, to make sure that the entry is, indeed, a real date on the calendar. For example, a validation routine would reject April 31 because April has only 30 days. It might also reject a date because it is unreasonable: the doctor's new patient, for instance, could not have been born in 1803. And the ending date of a project could not be earlier than its starting date. Those are but a few examples of date validation.

A date of all nines, you can see, would not pass a typical validation routine: "99" is neither a valid day in any month, nor is it the valid number of a month in the year.

So, a programmer had three choices if he wanted to give a special meaning to a certain value (such as all nines or all zeros or all ones) in a date field:

I.change the standard date-validation routine to allow all nines (or zeroes or ones) as a date

II.add special coding before the standard routine to handle such peculiar dates

III.use a valid but "unlikely" date as a special indicator, instead of using an invalid date

Choice (1) was often not available to the programmer, because date-validation routines are usually stored as "canned" routines; that way, they are available for use in a wide variety of applications in a consistent, efficient manner. The programmer simply may not have been able to change the canned routine. And even if he could, doing so would have required extensive testing to make sure that no bugs were introduced.

Choice (2) might have required special coding in numerous programs, which would have increased the work involved in maintaining the programs and ensuring the consistency of their handling of dates.

Therefore, choice (3) was sometimes the choice the programmer made--perhaps against his better judgement. (end snip)

Me again. There may be some problems, whether we hear about them or not. Why else would NERC have chosen the date for a "test" of their cellphone communication network.

Have a great day,

-- William in Dallas (bcheek@onramp.net), August 26, 1999.

Patience, William in Dallas. :-)

-- Lane Core Jr. (elcore@sgi.net), August 27, 1999.

Wow, Lisa, you surely have an interesting interpretation of that thread. Thanks for finding it, though.

The problem here, folks, is it hasn't been "smart PR guys" promoting this nonsense. It's been people like Michael Hyatt, with his over-exaggerations. Or Cory Hamasaki, keeping this stuff alive.

No, not all, umm, pessimists agreed. But this stuff is not some "polly strawman", much as you may like to now think it is.

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

Hoff, sorry, but it absolutely is a "polly strawman", whether you think so or not. The 9/9/99 problem has nothing to do with Y2K and you know it.

-- Fed Up (fedup@hadit.com), August 27, 1999.

The 9/9/99 problem doesn't exist. The powers that be are playing it up so that when it does become a non-event, everyone will associate that with Y2K and think that there is no problem.

Seems like they want to keep the sheeple grazing in piece.


-- Tim the Y2K nut (tmiley@yakko.cs.wmich.edu), August 27, 1999.

You're right. Absolutely.

Which makes Michael Hyatt a shill working for the pollies?

Same with Cory?

And of course, that pollyanna of pollyannas, Bob Mangus?

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

Fine. We'll start a new thread where all the doomers can vote on 09/09/1999.

Or we can do it here.

-- lisa (lisa@work.now), August 27, 1999.

Pretty funny, Lisa.

Ain't no denying that, following the passage of the other "trigger" dates, there's been alot of scrambling away from 9/9/99. Just check out BKS's thread on c.s.y2k.

Have no doubt a current poll would find few, if any, predictions of disaster (well, maybe Bob, I guess).

The point is the earlier statements. These were not pollyanna strawman arguments. They were advanced by some of the more notable "doomers".

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

Provide quotes on those who predicted major problems for Sept. 9. I don't believe anyone has predicted major problems for that date.

-- Sept. 9 (is@a.strawman), August 27, 1999.

Michael Hyatt:

Y2K: It's Closer Than You Think

Milestone #5: September 9, 1999. On this date, many computers will encounter the infamous "99" problem. For decades programmers designated the end of a file or the termination of a program by entering a series of four nines in a row (i.e., "9999") in a date field. Much like the Year 2000 Problem, programmers thought that the programs they were writing would surely be replaced before they actually encountered this problem. Unfortunately, they underestimated the longevity their programs would enjoy. This code, like the Millennium Bug, is embedded in millions of computer programs throughout the world. Unless it is tracked down and removed, these programs will abruptly terminate - often with unexpected results.

Cory Hamasaki:

from c.s.y2k

On Wed, 10 Feb 1999 00:33:21, Robert Egan wrote:

> In all my years of IT work, I never saw 9/9/99 used as a "sentinel"
> date. I never even heard of it, either as a real issue or as a gag,
> until I started reading the posts here. Frankly, I find it hard to
> believe there's more than a dozen cases in the entire world.

It was common in 2nd generation (before my time). Some systems and languages didn't have EOF sensing.

There is a huge inventory of code that pre-dates databases and a significant inventory that pre-dates EOF sensing......


Actually, the c.s.y2k thread is pretty interesting, as Cory goes on to try and construct an actual example.

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

In the early 70's I worked in customer support for a minicomputer manufacturer that used proprietary hardware and O/S for warehouse distribution applications. The programmers nearly always used a string of 9's to signify end of process and end of file. I never saw 9's used in any date fields. If any of these systems are still in operation, which I highly doubt, the 9's used in the code of these particular systems would not cause any computer malfunctions, as they are not date-aware.

-- RUOK (RUOK@yesiam.com), August 27, 1999.

Those comments don't come across as predictions of major problems, or to use your words, 'predictions of disaster,' Hoffmeister. Quit over- exaggerating.

-- Sept. 9 (is@a.strawman), August 27, 1999.

Well, strawman, interpret them as you will.

The fact is, it wasn't the pollies making any claims about 9/9/99.

Except to challenge "doomer" statements.

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

The facts are that the government is watching for problems on Sept. 9. This is either a strawman or the government is as much a 'doomer' as you make Michael Hyatt out to be.

-- Sept. 9 (is@a.strawman), August 27, 1999.

Doesn't seem to me Hyatt needs my help there...

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

Bait and switch, huh? Show me where Michael Hyatt made 'predictions of disaster' for Sept. 9.

-- Sept. 9 (is@a.strawman), August 27, 1999.

Watch there be insane, horrendous, catastrophic failures... since nobody's expecting them.

-- lisa (lisa@work.now), August 27, 1999.

Ahh, now just whom is practicing bait and switch?

"Predictions for disaster" was not a term used in conjunction with Michael Hyatt, at least in regard to Sept 9. "Major problems" was.

Tell me, strawman, just how do you interpret his statement that supposedly this problem is embedded in "millions of computer programs", if not that it will cause "major problems".

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

Michael Hyatt said this problem 'in millions of computer programs' would cause 'unexpected results.' The government is seemingly worried about major problems enough to monitor Sept. 9.

Sept. 9 also will mark the first test of a $40 million-dollar U.S. inter-agency Y2K center meant to give U.S. decision makers a round- the-clock view of Y2K problems in their areas of responsibility.

You implied that 'doomers' are on record as having in the past predicted disaster on 9/9/99, Hoffmeister.

Have no doubt a current poll would find few, if any, predictions of disaster (well, maybe Bob, I guess).

The real question here and the original point before your first post is whether the government is currently worried or whether a strawman is being erected. What's your opinion? I say.....

-- Sept. 9 (is@a.strawman), August 27, 1999.

Strawman, continuing with Hyatt, the quote was take from an article subtitled "Nine Millennial Milestones That Will Signal the Chaos to Come".

The last paragraph is:

The bottom line is that you have much less time to prepare than you think. As these dates come and go, the chaos will increase, increasing public awareness and, possibly, even public panic. Supplies will become more scarce and prices will escalate. You cannot afford to wait. You must begin making contingency plans now, before things start unraveling.

"Chaos" and "things unravelling" don't in my mind equate to minor problems. Hyatt was fear-mongering, plain and simple.

I've said this before. The "doomers" that complain of apathy are their own worst enemies. Hyatt is a prime example. He complains h ere about apathy. Yet never realizes that by his over-exaggeration of these pre-Y2k dates, and his fear-mongering, he has caused the apathy he laments.

-- Hoffmeister (hoff_meister@my-deja.com), August 27, 1999.

I see now. You think it's our obligation to accept some of the blame for the Y2k predictions of others. Each of us is individuals and each had his or her own opinion about these dates. Many of us didn't expect significant problems on April 1. Those that didn't are tired of hearing about July 1, Aug. 21 and Sept. 9.

It seems like a personal issue between you and Michael Hyatt, Hoff. Your points about it might be more appropriate on his forums.

-- 9-9-99 won't send crowds (to@the.supermarket), August 28, 1999.

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