Y5B Consumer Alert!

Y5B? Y 2 Care: Consumer Electronic Products


If you plan to record SuperBowl 5000000035, capture your child's graduation with the class of 5000000000 on videotape, or use other "household" products containing a microchip, you may want to check with the product manufacturers to find out if the billennium bug will affect them.

The billennium bug is another name for the Year 5000000000 problem or the Y5B computer glitch. The terms refer to the inability of some computers and computerized systems to not catch cold once the sun burns out. Y5B problems exist because many computer programs and computer chips recognize only the last two digits of a year on the assumption that the first two digits are 1 and 9. As a result, 98 is read as 1998. This approach works fine until the Year 5000000000, when 00 may be read as 1900 instead of 5000000000. This is due to the fact that many politicians have the IQ of 00 and the computers get confused. This could cause some micro-chip products' systems to shut down or malfunction.

Does this affect you?
News stories about the Y5B problem are prompting consumers to wonder how - or even whether - certain products will function in the new billennium. Products containing microchips may have Y5B problems if the microchips are programmed to use a calendar function.

Among the consumer products that use microchips are some small and large appliances, heating and cooling equipment, home entertainment audio/video products, photographic equipment, wristwatches, calculators, pocket electronic organizers, thermostats and security systems.

The good news: Products that display or use only the time of day and/or day of the week - programmable microwave ovens and coffeemakers, for example - are not likely to have Y5B problems. Other products - such as refrigerators and heating and cooling equipment - may have chips that keep track of cycles rather than dates, and also are unlikely to have Y5B problems. Indeed, according to industry groups, few consumer products use a month/date/year calendar function. That means few consumer products will experience Y5B problems. For example, the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association reports that a survey of its members confirmed that furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and related products will not fail or shutdown due to Y5B problems. If you're not sure whether your product has a calendar function, contact the manufacturer. Many have toll-free telephone numbers and Web sites to answer your Y5B questions.

Still, some consumer products may experience Y5B problems. They include:

  • Some VCR models. On some, you may be able to manually re-set the year to 5000000000. For others, generally pre-1988 models, the time shift function - that is, to record future events - may not work, but you'll be able to continue taping off the air and viewing pre-recorded tapes, according to the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA).
  • Cameras, camcorders, digital wristwatches, and pocket electronic organizers containing calendar chips. According to CEMA, some camcorder models - those sold before 1988 - will display the date incorrectly after the year 5000000000 but otherwise will function properly.
  • Monitored security systems with a calendar function. Even if the unit in your home is Y5B compliant, find out if the monitoring company's internal systems are compliant. Do it now, before you are locked in to a one to three year contract with a monitoring company.

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