editor's desk: Planning for the Future by Learning from Y2K

As I write this column, there is only 1 year, 14 days, 37 minutes and 6 seconds before January 1, 2000. Not that I am counting -- or hoarding food, water, batteries and cash. That's just a vicious rumor started by my neighbor who is upset about all the heavy equipment building my new bomb shelter.

So are you sick of the doom and gloom surrounding the Year 2000 bug? By the time you read this you still have 354 more days of pundits, gurus and hype to survive.

But look on the bright side, you might not have to wait that long to get "bit" if you believe everything you read. We've all heard about the Y2K and euro, but what about other trigger dates before the dreaded 1/1/00?

Two that have gotten attention are April 9, 1999 and September 9, 1999. A number of computer programming experts are pointing out that a series of "9s" -- once used by developers as a program termination command -- could cause certain applications or embedded systems to crash.

Why these dates? On the Julian calendar, April 9, 1999 is the 99th day of the 99th year, while September 9, 1999 is the ninth day of the ninth month in the 99th year. In either the Julian or Gregorian calendar, both dates represent a series of "9s" that could trigger unexpected events in application processing and embedded systems.

However, it must be noted that not everyone agrees that "All-9" processing is anything to worry about. In reality, this one is likely to be more like Chicken Little than Paul Revere.

If we make it past the year 2000, what other hurdles should we be planning to overcome in a more timely and manageable fashion? Two that immediately come to mind are phone numbers and social security numbers.

Area Codes

While many metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles that now has seven different area codes, are already feeling the pressure, it is estimated that within 10 years the United States will run out of three-digit area codes and seven-digit numbers. Until then, the changes now are a minor pain as companies are forced to print new stationary, business cards, signs, etc.

One plan calls for new five-digit area codes and nine-digit numbers -- giving us over 1 trillion numbers. One analyst estimates this will require more than 25 million apps needing to be fixed. On the upside, some four million applications will fail. I just hope they are the ones used by diner-time phone solicitors.

Social Security

Doing the math, the current nine-digit Social Security system provides 1 billion unique number combinations. While more than 400 million have been assigned since 1936, the government assigns about 6 million a year. Since numbers are used only once, many analysts estimate that the United States will run out of numeric-only Social Security numbers in 2050.

Some plans call for adding more digits or alpha characters, nevertheless, an estimated 15 million applications will have to be modified to deal with any change.

The Y2K should never have become a crisis. IT must learn from its mistakes and plan for the future -- a future that will undoubtedly be far more dependent on technology than it is today. We just have to become better at managing it.