Millennium Bug Watch

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PREVIOUS BUG Watches have pointed out how there isn't enough food, money or petrol to cope if everyone suddenly decides to start hoarding things towards the end of December 1999. But we may get some early indications next year of how big the storm clouds will really be when the clocks hit the double-0. Margaret Joachim, Year 2000 co-ordinator at systems company EDS, points to a few key dates, beginning with 1 January 1999.

Some accounting systems operate a "rolling year" system to set renewal dates for insurance premiums or bank loans: they may crash trying to look beyond 31 December 1999. Other dates could also trigger computer failure. April 9 is the 99th day of the year; September 9 would show up as 9/9/99. Programmers (whose fault all this is, if you'd forgotten) often used a clump of 9s to indicate the end of a file or an invalid record - "like `don't do this any more'," Joachim explains.

But if some systems crashes do happen early (especially in January), it might be a blessing in disguise. "This will involve accounting, planning and budgeting systems rather, than operational executing systems which carry out day-to-day business," says Chris Webster, head of year 2000 services at the Cap Gemini consultancy. "It will give you some experience in spotting the errors and knowing how to deal with them."