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These stories by Barbara Fox and Peter J. Mladineo were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 19, 1998. All rights reserved.
Y2K and PCs: Start Worrying, Now
Some have advised the masses to stay in their rooms on the evening of December 31, 1999, when the millennial computer bug-out occurs. Premonitions could include anything from planes falling from the sky to satellites going thud in the night to elevators getting stuck in their shafts to ATMs spitting out scads of free cash.
But a completely unheralded universe of chaos could also be unleashed on the PC world. No, this won't have the magnitude or malice of the mainframe Millennium Bug, but it could cause small businesses serious problems. While Macintoshes seem immune to Y2K problems, experts are warning that many DOS and Windows-based personal computers are far from immune. Many PC clocks still use two-digit date fields. When the clock hits "00," it will be interpreted by older computers' basic input/output systems (BIOS) as 1900 or 1980, a potentially problematic scenario for many computers still in use.
Another problem is with leap years. There will be a February 29th in 2000, although there was not one in 1900. That poses another potential source of trouble for some systems.
Jim Scott, chief financial officer of STG International at 4365 Route 1 South, estimates that 90 percent of all PCs sold before 1997 are going to have a BIOS program. "Some of the BIOSs will be fixable with software fixes and some of the BIOSs themselves are going to have to be changed out. You'll have a situation where a lot of people are going to have to do something about it."
And in this regard, most PC users are in luck. Free PC Y2K diagnostic kits are floating around in cyberspace. The National Software Testing Laboratories' Ymark2000, a free program, can be downloaded from http://www.nstl.com.. This dandy little tool takes a few minutes to download and activate and runs on your computer's DOS.
U.S. 1 tried the software on four of its machines. Two of the systems -- a two-year-old with Windows 95 and a five-year-old running Windows 3.1 -- required a manual date change to enable the system to recognize the year 2000. Once that date change was made, however, the two systems would both be able to handle the leap year changes. Two new computers -- PCs with Windows 98 and a newer version of Windows 95 -- both passed all of the YMark2000 tests.
If your system is non-compliant, the NSTL reports, the fix can be as simple as a BIOS upgrade or as expensive as getting a whole new computer. Software programs can fix the problem, but they must be run every time the computer is booted. However, the NSTL feels that software patches are "not reliable."
Here's a couple more solutions: Manually set the date every time the system is turned on. Or have the date automatically retrieved from a network. However, the NSTL warns, "most networks seem to exhibit human traits too."
There's yet another host of Y2K software snags, and most won't be discovered until the cold winds of January, 2000 blow. "There are over 20,000 PC software programs on the market and that's not including all the versions and revisions and updates of software packages," says Scott. "Nobody knows the full extent of the Y2K compliance of those software programs."
STG feels that the software dilemma is best solved by the individual. Its package, PC-Aid 2000, is an "employee awareness training package for corporations with large PC networks," says Scott. This works at the desktop level.
So as the hour of Y2K reckoning creeps closer, doomsday enthusiasts are tweaking the intensity of their Y2K prognostications.
So far, the Millennium Bug for PCs is a dust mite compared to the mainframe's tse-tse fly. Gene Goroschko, senior systems engineer for Princeton Computer Support at Princeton Business Park in Rocky Hill, is relieved that most of that paranoia is staying within mainframe environs. "The average home user who's not using any type of accounting package, the only thing you're going to have is messed up dates, and that's not a very big deal," he says.
The biggest PC-based problems will affect small businesses that use PCs for accounting functions.
However, Goroschko reports, not much is being made of the potential problems that could be encountered by Windows 95 users who don't upgrade to Windows 98. Only the most-recent Windows 95 release is compliant, he says. "I think there should be a lot more said that most 95 versions are not compliant."
"We are going to survive no matter what the doom and gloom people are saying," says Mike Cervine, a Y2K project manager for Panasonic in Secaucus, who lectures on PC issues at the Technology New Jersey Y2K seminar for small and medium enterprises on Wednesday, August 26 (see accompanying story).
Cervine is also co-founder of the New Jersey Year 2000 User's Group, which meets at various locations around the state. (For more information, contact Cervine at E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.) "The most serious problems are going to occur in businesses that need to use dates a lot. For the rest of us, it's probably not a serious matter."
Ultimately, says Cervine, dysfunctional date fields are just a reflection of their architect: us. "The real problem is we ourselves and the way we use PCs," says Cervine. "For a number of years part of the problem was people like Bill Gates saying, `There's not a problem.'"
But Cervine does see a bright side: For once, he reports, MIS people have an absolutely fixed deadline. "It's a unique experience," he says. "We really won't know all of the pieces until that day happens, probably the next business day (that's a Monday). This one, if you miss it, you're out of business."
-- Peter Mladineo
Technology New Jersey will be hosting a series of Year 2000 breakfast seminars specific to certain industry groups starting on Tuesday, August 25. Each session costs $30 and begins at 8 a.m. at 212 Carnegie Center, Suite 110. Call 609-419-4444 for more information.
This first seminar handles the scientific, R&D, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries, The speakers are Dan Grant, president and CEO of Parallel Technologies Corp., who discusses "Accelerated Testing in a Y2K Environment," and Raymond Roy, a senior vice president of AITE, a wholly owned subsidiary of American International Group. He presents a Y2K case study from the pharmaceutical industry.
The next seminar, for small and medium enterprises, is on August 26. Christopher Mather, a vice president of Transformation Systems Inc., discusses "Awareness & Action." Mike Cervine, project manager of MECA Information Services' Year 2000 Project, a Panasonic undertaking and co-founder of Year 2000 New Jersey User's Group, speaks on "Year 2000 and Your PC: We have the enemy and it is us."
Marjorie F. Chertok, an attorney with Greenbaum, Rowe, ponders "Year 2000 and Small Business: Big Losses?" at this seminar. Her advice to small businesses: Band together and force the computer makers who sold buggy equipment to bear some of the Y2K responsibility. "Use your market power and your trade associations to convince large companies to provide you with free or low cost fixes," she says. Also, steer clear of small fly-by-night Y2K operations. But most of all, keep the discussion flowing. "Businesses are afraid to talk to each other because they are afraid to show a weakness," she says.
On Thursday, August 27, the seminar is for telecommunications, utilities, and water industries. The speakers are Rick Cowles, director of Industry Y2K Solutions, on "Watt's the Problem? Year 2000 and the Electric Utility Industry," Eugene Gorzelnik, director of communications for the North American Electric Reliability Council, on "What Electric Utilities Are Doing about Year 2000," and Henry J. Knitter, account manager for Tava Technologies, on "Y2K Impact on the Telecom Industry and Associated Manufacturing Issues."
Cowles is a founding member of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility's Y2k working group. He has been featured several times on National Public Radio and recently published a book, "Electric Utilities and Y2K."
Municipalities, counties, and schools are the focus on Friday, August 28. The speakers are Steve Davis, the senior executive of Montgomery County in Maryland; Irene Dec, the vice president of corporate information technology for Prudential; Kathy Tucker, vice president of Platinum Technology; Ed Lambert, director of data processing for the City of Newark; Morris Enyeart, a councilman for North Brunswick Township; and Bernard McCrory, vice president of Year 2000 education for Caliper Learning Network.
On Wednesday, September 2, the focus will be on financial institutions and banks. This seminar features a talk by Kathy Tucker, a vice president, on "Risk Based Testing for the Year 2000 and Present Case Studies." Also, James Kinder, vice president of information technology for ADP discusses "Critical Success Factors for Meeting the Year 2000 Challenge," and Robert Wahl, a PC support specialist for Trenton Savings Bank, discusses bank issues.
Health care, insurance, and the Millennium Bug get discussed on Thursday, September 3. This seminar features Tucker, Grant, and Chertok, who discusses "Current Year 2000 Developments in Health Care and Insurance Law." Also Raymond Roy will give another case study.
The seminar on Tuesday, September 8, will cover manufacturing.
These days, small business owners are learning to play many new roles -- human resources manager, information technologist, paralegal -- and as lawyer Jacqueline Tillman reports, it may behoove the business owner to learn how to play company sleuth as well.
"Usually when companies have notice of wrongdoing, they need to conduct an internal investigation," says Tillman, an expert in internal investigations who practices law with Smith Stratton at 600 College Road. "The fact of the matter is if an employer does not do it the employer could be hit with a lawsuit in the millions."
If the employer does do the investigation and either botches it or does an incomplete job, the employer is also vulnerable. And in a state as pro-employee as New Jersey this could spell a seven-digit lawsuit. "In New Jersey if an employer does a poor job -- didn't act quickly enough, never investigated, or did a sloppy or incomplete investigation -- then he could end up doing more harm to the company than good," she says.
Tillman will explain the art of conducting internal investigations at a seminar by the Council on Education in Management on Friday, August 21, at 8 a.m. at the Nassau Inn. Cost: $295. Call 925-934-8333. Tillman, 30, has worked both sides of the aisles in this field. With a law degree from the University of Maryland (Class of 1993), she was a plaintiff attorney in Milwaukee for two years before coming to Smith, Stratton's labor and employment department, where she represents management.
One of the biggest mistakes an employer can make is not sorting out the biases of the parties involved. "When they're interviewing people, the employers have to think, `Is this person saying this because this is their friend or they'd like to have this person's job?"
The impartiality of the investigator is paramount. "They have to be as removed from the parties as possible," she says. "They have to think that a trial could result from this. This person should have knowledge of the company's policies and they should get a grasp of the legal issues involved."
Along with maintaining impartiality, the employer needs to protect the accused's privacy. Leaks could be interpreted by courts as defamation. "As the investigation is being conducted they should only give information out on a need-to-know basis."
Tillman discourages tape recording witnesses. Firstly, she explains, the law defining legality varies widely from state to state. Secondly, people tend to "freeze up" when being tape recorded. "There's something about the click."
If you absolutely have to record someone, let them know, she advises. "People don't want to be used."
If the situation ends up in court, the courts will generally side with the employer if it's done a thorough investigation. "If they have done a complete and thorough investigation and they're wrong the courts will uphold their decision," says Tillman. "Your business decision will generally be upheld. They're looking at the quality of the process and not the accuracy of the conclusion. The key is reasonableness."
While a large corporation can afford to have its legal department conduct an entire investigation, small businesses can't. But Tillman recommends making minimal use of attorneys, by asking very pointed questions at either the beginning of the end of an investigation.
And while it might sound like an onerous task for a small business to tackle, Tillman offers this parting advice: Ultimately, all that matters is the truth. "An employer needs to keep in mind is what he needs to do is get to the truth. That's his job."
-- Peter J. Mladineo
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Friend of Business
Developing property in New Jersey can be a daunting process. "Not only are there local regulations but there are also regulations at the county and state level," says Tom Ogren, East Windsor's business ombudsman. "We felt there should be someone here not just to accept paperwork but to have an overall responsibility to assist business from beginning to end."
Ogren was assistant to the East Windsor township manager, Kenneth Daly for 5 1/2 years, and for the past year has been the business ombudsman. He has a master's degree in public administration from Northern Illinois and previously worked in economic development for the City of Trenton. He serves as the municipal employee on the planning board. Contact him at 609-443-4000, extension 246, or E-mail: email@example.com.
Janice S. Mironov, the township mayor, says that Ogren is to address any concern that a developer coming into the township would have in going through the application or building permit process, from when the developer first expresses an interest to getting a final certificate of occupancy.
She also recently announced an agreement under which First Union Bank and PNC Bank -- both with township branches -- will expedite loan applications from small businesses that are referred by Ogren. PNC Bank, moreover, has said it may be able to reduce rates and fees for loans it makes from these referrals. Both banks are "preferred" lenders for loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Ogren has a listing of developable sites that he makes available to brokers as well as to prospective buyers. Available in hard copy or on the township's website, it is organized by development corridor -- Route 130 for retail, Route 571 for corporate office, Exit 8 and Route 33 for mixed, though it is primarily industrial with limited hospitality areas. The township has 15.5 square miles of land with close to 1,000 acres available to be developed.
"I can give businesses a road map as to what steps they need to take in the development application process to save some time," says Ogren. "Once they get into the process, it is more a problem of coordination to get approvals from outside agencies in a timely manner. I work closely with the construction official to make sure that plans are reviewed in a timely fashion, so that the plans don't sit on someone's desk."
He can also spot possible zoning problems:
"We see having an ombudsman as a major advantage for a developer coming to East Windsor," says Ogren. "A company can be reassured that they don't have to be experts."
For the semester starting Monday, August 31, students at Mercer County Community College can enroll -- not just for an associate's degree -- but also for a bachelor's degree. MCCC has signed an agreement with the University of Delaware (UD) so that Mercer Students can take the university's distance learning courses, followed by a week-long residency at the campus in Newark, Delaware. The degree to be earned is a Bachelor of Science in hospitality management.
"This agreement ushers in a new and innovative way for Mercer County Community College to provide its students with an alternative method to earn a baccalaureate degree," says Thomas Sepe, MCCC president.
In-county residents pay $71 per credit, and students transfer up to 90 Mercer credits to UD's degree program. At least 30 of the remaining credits must come from UD, which costs Mercer students $205 per credit hour, compared to the university's standard nonresident tuition of $510 per credit.
Most distance learning courses from UD are available as videotapes of campus class lectures, but they are also available in print and on the Internet. Students follow a semester-based class schedule, have the same work load as those on campus, and mail their assignments to Newark; they take exams at Mercer.
"With the hospitality industry changing and becoming more professional, a bachelor's degree is a real plus for those who aspire to a management position or dream of one day running their own business," says Martin Goldman, director of Mercer's hospitality programs. "Employers are looking for people who understand the importance of expenditure, cost, tax law, and liability issues, just to name a few, because of the great amount of capital invested in operating a business. When employees are given responsibility for a multi-million dollar business, the employer expects them to posses a higher level management skills."
Call Goldman for information on the hospitality or culinary arts programs at 609-486-4800, extension 3476.
Workers exposed to secondhand smoke on the job are 34 percent more likely to get lung cancer. That's according to statistics released by the Environmental Protection Agency and distributed by Steven G. Liga, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) of Middlesex County. Liga offers help in designing corporate smoking policies.
"When a comprehensive smoking policy is put in place, there are benefits to all employees and to the company," says Liga. "The best method for controlling worker exposure to secondhand smoke is to eliminate tobacco use from the workplace and implement a smoking cessation program to support smokers who decide to quit." Call 732-246-1450 for free information about secondhand smoke in the workplace.
He cites these additional statistics:
Every smoker costs his or her company at least $1,000 annually, he says, because of decreased productivity and increased health care costs.
People who have never smoked, but live with a smoker, are 30 percent more likely to develop lung cancer, and 24 percent more likely to have a heart attack or die from coronary heart disease.
Environmental tobacco smoke caused 1,600 deaths of non-smokers in the state last year.
Tell that to the bartenders of New Jersey.
Can you help with photography? Entertainment? Publicity? Or serving food? Your assistance is needed as a volunteer for Mercer County Heart Walk, scheduled for Saturday, September 19, at Mercer County Park in West Windsor.
"We have a variety of volunteer needs, including photography, performers and entertainers, DJs, clowns, walksite set-up and take down, check-in support, as well as volunteers to help distribute food, beverages, and other items at checkpoints," says Peter C. Cary, director of communications of the New Jersey chapter.
Heart disease is the state's number one killer, and the number one killer of women age 35 and older. More than 25,000 people throughout the state are expected to participate in the walk, to be held at 14 sites. To volunteer or for more information call 800-242-8721 or 732-821-2610.
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com -- the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.