“Let the Countdown Begin”    

Issue 32

By:  Ron Brounes  

December 1999


A few years back, I had the opportunity to ring in the new year with Woody Allen.  I had long admired his work (personal life notwithstanding), and looked forward to an evening of wit and intellectual humor that only Woody could provide.  Of course, I did not personally meet Mr. Allen, but merely kicked back in the comfort of my Archie Bunker chair, watching the likes of “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” and “Play it Again, Sam” on TV.  Occasionally, I flipped over to see what “ol” (literally) Dick Clark was up to and to check out the score in that all-important Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (pre-BCS, when the Peach Bowl truly meant something).  Throw in a Dominos Pizza, a couple of Lite Beers, and I had myself quite a memorable New Years Eve.  In fact, if memory serves, I was “crashed” by 11:30 p.m.


Truth be told, I’ve never been a big fan of New Years Eve; somehow I sense that I am not alone.  The pressures that accompany the evening are enormous.  Months ahead of time, those annoying questions begin in earnest: “Where are you going?” “Who are you going with?” “What will you be doing?” “Where will you be at midnight?”  “Whose playing in the Peach Bowl?”  Then, in the days that follow, the same queries are repeated, though this time in the past tense.  Hotel and country club parties are loud, crowded, smoky, and filled with lots of drunk people who you’ve never before seen (and that’s just in the parking lot).  Trendy restaurants bump up their prices and offer all kinds of “wonderful” specials (for a fee, of course): special seating times, special menus, drink specials, special party favors.  The true hosts and hostesses among us invite others over for intimate dinners with a few dozen “close” friends, followed by hours of fun board (or is it, bored) games.  Occasionally, an amazing fireworks display may be within viewing distance.  Or, if you’re lucky, an intoxicated neighbor may initiate his own fireworks by shooting his unlicensed semi-automatic assault weapon into the sky right at the stroke of midnight. 


I can already tell that this Millennium New Years hype will be even worse than usual.  For many, the planning for the evening began well over a year ago.  Everyone wants to make sure they have a good response when they are surely asked where they were when “Y2K” kicked in (assuming the world does not come to a sudden end as some are predicting).  Just like when JFK was shot or the Space Shuttle exploded, people will be relaying their whereabouts at this historic moment for the rest of their lives.  (Not to put any added pressure on you.)  As of now, I have a wonderful evening planned and a great answer to that inevitable question.  I just hope the neighborhood Blockbuster is not out of “Deconstructing Harry” or “Antz.”




While everyone is busy planning for that infamous night and the discussions that are certain to follow, the true preparations should be in the workplace, where uncertainties about the dreaded “millennium bug” are still very real.  Imagine this scenario: You arrive at work on Monday January 3, 2000, and your magnetic parking card will not allow you access into the garage.  You walk into your freezing cold building (in Houston, that means 65 degrees), and learn that the heating system is not functioning.  You stop at the ATM in the lobby that claims to be out of cash.  The elevators are stuck so you are forced to climb 15 flights of stairs.  You check your voice mail and hear that crucial business transaction will be delayed indefinitely.  The time of that message as registered on the answer machine was 12:00 midnight on January 1, 1900.  You phone your bank to check on your available working capital, yet the manager claims that business account is overdrawn.  In fact, it appears that you have no funds in that institution at all. 


Welcome to the millennium.  Some claim it to be overstated hype, a reflection of the “Sky is Falling” mentality.  Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has commented over and over again that there is nothing to fear (but fear itself). “The evidence is becoming more persuasive that our electronic infrastructure will be ready for the century date change.  While it is easy to obsess about a few institutions in our society that may not be ready, let us not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of us are not only prepared but have contingency plans to deal with breakdowns.”  On the other hand, pessimists are recommending that we  pull out all available dollars and hide in the safe haven of a bomb shelter, stocked with all the basic necessities of life.  (For my money, I trust Big Al; that is, if I still have any money left on January 1st.)  Bear in mind, the country survived the first major test of the potential computer glitches as the date “9/9/99” (September 9, 1999) passed without a hitch.




While most prognosticators seem to downplay any true ill-effects of the millennium bug, individuals (and businesses) would be well advised to take some simple precautions.  Though it may be a tad late to start building a bomb shelter, there is still time to get organized as the new year approaches.  For starters, make hard copies of all pertinent financial documents that may get lost in the event of institutional computer failures.  Recent bank and brokerage statements that detail cash and investment positions should be obtained and filed nearby. 


Backup the network and/or computer hard drives as close to the end of the year as possible, and print hard copies of important files that may not accessible.  Keep handwritten records of pending business transactions: outstanding orders, shipments, payables, and receivables.  Likewise, manually track all transactions that had been completed on-line through e-commerce applications (credit card purchases, banking, etc.).  A little foresight can go a long way to protecting against any unforeseen problems; if nothing more, it will help provide some piece of mind knowing that you should be well prepared.  With a little planning, your biggest concern heading into Y2K will be the response to “Where were you when the clock struck midnight.”  As for me, perhaps this year, I’ll hang out with Mia Farrow instead. 


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