Bugged By the Millennium

A computer glitch has some Dallasites predicting an apocalyptic meltdown. They may not be that crazy.

Karen says there is more to this Y2K thing than just making preparations for the palate. There's also a psychological and emotional side.

"We're gonna have to make adjustments, and we're not used to that. As Americans, there's always electricity. There's always clean water. If there's not, it gets fixed. We're spoiled. People don't realize how fragile we are," she says.

Even if all the electricity goes out and "changes my world," Anderson says, the Y2K collapse, if it happens, may not be all that bad for families who have grown distant from one another. There are sitcoms on TV and movies in VCRs. There are computer games and CDs, which are always spinning inside portable players plugged with headphones.

"How much time do families spend together? Not much," she says. "When there's a crisis, everybody reevaluates their priorities."

The message has taken hold even among the Andersons' teenage children.
"My older one, Kelly, she's supposed to graduate from high school in the year 2000. I knew she got the concept when she said to me, 'Mom, do you think I'll graduate?'" Anderson says.

The advice columnist pauses, dropping her head into the palm of her hands. It is a question she's thought about a lot lately.

"I said, I don't know."

It is hard to know what to think about Y2K.
The more you try to learn about Y2K, so you can finally rest assured that there's nothing to worry about, the more you realize that maybe there is something to think about. The problem is, whom do you believe?

There are all kinds of people like Gary North, the Weatherman, and Karen Anderson, who are surging through the wires of the Internet and into our homes and minds. And there are all sorts of people like Ed Yourdon, Edward Yardeni, and Leon Kappelman, who have similarly disturbing things to say. Their credible positions make their gloomy assessments of the situation much harder to ignore.

If you don't believe them, you can always look at the examples being set by an increasing number of computer programmers, the people who are being paid to fix the Y2K problem. The August issue of Wired magazine profiled several programmers who, after seeing the extent of the problem staring up at them from their computer screens, picked up their stakes and moved to the sticks, loads of dehydrated food and assault rifles in tow.

Perhaps you should turn your computer off and take a walk around the block. There's gotta be a computer programmer, a Y2K lawyer, or a business owner living in one of those houses that you've never been inside. It can't hurt to ask them what, if anything, they're doing to prepare for the year 2000 computer crisis. You never know--you just might be surprised by what they say.

Bob Thomas stabs at a house salad inside a TGIFriday's restaurant in North Dallas. He publishes a new, and what will probably be a short-lived, magazine called Year 2000 Journal. The glossy magazine is aimed at computer programmers, and it's filled with all sorts of technical articles that detail specific Y2K problems.

Thomas says he tries to keep the magazine focused on technical issues, but on occasion he'll throw in some wild statistic or horrifying quote just to scare his readers, hoping those who aren't taking the problem seriously will change their minds.

"If you have to motivate them by fear, let's do it. But if they're paralyzed with fear, they won't get anything done," Thomas says. "It's almost like a war-like mentality. You've got to be careful about what you say because you might cause a panic."

Thomas isn't scared. He is worried about the federal government because many of its agencies, most notably the IRS, are hopelessly behind and will never become Y2K compliant in time. But he isn't storing food or taking his money out of the bank.

On New Year's Eve 1999, Thomas says, he's going to sit back in his chair, flip on CNN, and watch as reports of Y2K failures from around the world begin pouring in and humanity stumbles and crashes into the next century. It's going to be quite a show.

Until then, he's going to continue to do his part in the war, publishing a magazine with the hopes of spreading awareness. And you should do your part too, he says, no matter how small or personal it may be.

"If we would have had a nation filled with cowards in 1941," he says, "we'd be speaking German right now."

At one o'clock, the attendees at the Denny's at LBJ and Midway begin to file out of the room. They have to get back to work, at least for the time being.

A tall, quiet woman with long brown hair and hazel eyes stays behind. She sat through the whole meeting and didn't say a word, but now she has a question for the guest speaker. She has decided to convert her house to solar power, a decision that will cost about $2,000. She wants to know what kind of panels to install.

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