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Scientist offers last minute Y2K quick fix


November 29, 1999
Web posted at: 2:01 p.m. EST (1901 GMT)

In this story:

New numbering system developed

Former Berkeley academic


From Correspondent Don Knapp

CAMPBELL, California (CNN) -- With time running out before the dawn of the year 2000, a California company is offering what it calls a quick and easy way to prevent some IBM mainframe computers from experiencing Y2K-related problems.

Bill Wattenburg, a former Lawrence Livermore National Weapons Laboratory scientist who developed the software, says he has changed the way IBM S/390s and similar computers do math.

VideoCorrespondent Don Knapp reports on a man who says he has a solution for Y2K computer problems
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  Y2K-OK! Website

Many computers could suffer serious glitches when January 1 arrives because their operating systems or software can recognize only the last year digits for calendar years. Since they cannot distinguish 2000 from 1900, some systems and programs are expected to fail.

New numbering system developed

But Wattenburg has created a new numbering system for computers to calculate years that he says will dodge the Y2K bullet. Instead of two "0" digits, the year 2000 will be represented by a two-digit algebraic symbol, in this case, 9A.

"It allowed me to do a simple thing, change all the decimal arithmetic in the computer, and incidentally, along the way it changes all the year dates that were the problem of Y2K," Wattenburg said.

With support from Sun Microsystems, Wattenburg and a team of scientists and former IBM engineers formed Y2K-OK!, a small Silicon Valley-based company that developed the Y2K audit and remediation programs.

The company's Web site says Sun "recognized the potential value of the Wattenburg solution and gave Y2K-OK! substantial support to implement it with the hope that it would be of value to computer users everywhere who are facing the expense of Y2K.

The site goes on to say, "Sun Microsytems does not endorse or market the Y2K-OK! products, nor does it have any financial interest in or affiliation with, Y2K-OK! Sun requested only that the Y2K AUDIT tool be offered free to the public."

The Y2K-OK! site also says that an IBM subsidiary provided substantial computer time that facilitated the development of the products. "IBM has no affiliation with Y2K-OK!, nor does it endorse or support the Y2K-OK! products," the site says.

"You can download free of charge the (Y2K-OK!) audit program that tells them if they have a problem," said Y2K-OK! representative Al McBride. "If you contact us and come visit our site, we'll give them free of charge the program that fixes the Y2K problem." Y2K-OK! expects to charge fees for large projects.

There are skeptics. Reviewers selected by two major scientific journals concluded that Wattenburg's Y2K solution was not worth publishing, according to the Y2K-OK! site.

Former Berkeley academic

But Wattenburg, who began his career as a computer systems professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has other successful inventions on his resume.

The federal government, looking for a way to prevent terrorist vehicles from penetrating U.S. embassies, tested his cable-linked pipe protection system last year.

And after heavy rains in 1995 washed out bridges in California, the state Department of Highways used his instant bridge kit to reopen Interstate 5.

One of the most common temporary techniques to fix the Y2K bug -- known as "windowing" -- will work only some 30 years before expensive replacements are necessary, computer experts warn. Wattenburg figures his quick fix will give businesses 50 years before repairs are required.

Looking at the Y2K Bug

Year 2000 bug

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November 4, 1999
Russians, U.S. senators to meet on Y2K
October 27, 1999
Y2K: Remediation, Verification and. . . Public Relations?
October 29, 1999
FAA: International airports, airlines still have Y2K work to do
October 4, 1999
Cash-strapped D.C. races for Y2K finish line
September 28, 1999

President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion
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