Make money like it’s 1999

In Features /

By Tim Cook

The year 2000 is less than 100 days away — hope you’ve remembered to cash in on the event. If you haven’t, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time to whip up a batch of freeze-dried omelettes and sell them on the Internet. You could make a fortune.

Through all the uncertainty about what might happen when we make the shift from 1999 to 2000, one fact remains constant. The world is caught up in millennium mania and a ton of companies are making heaps of money from it.

Forbes Magazine estimates that by the end of 2000 more than $3-trillion will have been spent on millennium-related products and services — everything from fixing computer glitches to selling stuffed insects bearing the insignia “The Millennium Bug.”

A large chunk of money is going to computer nerds. After all, without the Y2K computer bug, the passing of the 20th century would simply be a reason to have another glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve.

But with the concern that computers around the world may misinterpret the date 2000 as it rolls around — because programs were scripted to read dates in two letter formats, so ’00 may be interpreted as 1900 — computer experts have been busy over the past few years ensuring systems around the world are Y2K compliant.

Leading this pack of computer gurus is Peter de Jager. A consultant in change, creativity and management, de Jager, who lives in Brampton, first brought the Y2K bug to the world’s attention. He has known about the year 2000 computer glitch since 1977, and in 1993 he wrote an article for Computer World Magazine, considered by many to be the first press coverage the Y2K bug ever received.

Since then de Jager has made a pretty penny trying to eliminate the bug. After that first article appeared, he’s been interviewed more than 3,000 times and has given more than 1,000 seminars around the world.

“I charge a tremendous amount of money to speak,” de Jager says — about $10,000 (U.S.) for a seminar.

“But all the information on my Web site is posted free of charge and all the articles I wrote are reprinted 3,000 times. I have put millions back on the table,” he says. “The only time I charge is when I have to fly to the four corners of the world.”

De Jager’s discovery of the Y2K glitch has paved the way for computer systems expert to step in and fix the problem. Now only three months away from the date, de Jager says doomsday talk from Y2K survivalists is nonsense. “It’s practically pornography,” he says. “Y2K has gotten mixed up with a whole bunch of other things like militias, cults and religious groups. All of them predict the end of the world but none of them are systems experts.”

That hasn’t stopped a host of companies from offering products and services designed to profit from people’s jitters about what might happen at the turn of the century.

A company called Planfor Y2K in Virginia sells “Just In Case” meal kits over the Internet at www.planfory2k.com. For $549 (U.S.) you’ll get 96 long-shelf-life meals and a propane stove to cook them. The meals, which include beef stew, beef enchiladas and chili with beans, should be enough to feed a family of four for seven days.

For the hardcore survivalist, www.dionarap.com out of Buffalo offers a “Y2K Major Upheaval Kit,” complete with portable toilet, tent and snare for trapping small game, all for $200 (U.S.).

On this side of the border, Home Hardware’s 1999 catalogue to be distributed later this fall, will include a Y2K insert, listing more than 300 items as must-haves for the Y2K-safe home.

Canadian Tire has had sales increase on millennium-related survival products such as generators and water purifiers. “We know it’s on people’s minds, but we are not expecting any widespread rush to the store as the new millennium approaches,” Scott Boniskowsky, senior director of corporate affairs, says. “We don’t think it benefits anyone to play on people’s fears about Y2K.”

If buying all these supplies isn’t enough to comfort you, you can take your survival plan one step further and convert your money into precious metals. If bank systems should happen to collapse on Jan. 1, metals like gold and platinum would hold their value.

“We have seen an incredible increase in sales of our gold bullion coins,” Pierre Morin, of the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa, says.

One coin is about 1.1 ounces of solid gold and will run you anywhere from $400 to $500, depending on market value. The mint sold 680,162 ounces of Maple Leaf gold coins last year, up from 1997 when they sold 556,254 ounces and 1996 when they sold 219,848 ounces.

Morin says the increase in sales of gold is related to the rising amounts of information about what might happen on Jan. 1, but the mint doesn’t recommend anyone change their money into gold because they’re nervous about Y2K. “All we do is offer a product.”

The arts and entertainment industry is also cashing in on year 2000 hype.

American pop stars the Backstreet Boys named their newest album Millennium, while British sensation Robbie Williams had a hit song named “Millennium.”

Even professional wrestler Chris Jerico made his debut this August in the World Wrestling Federation under the moniker Y2J (the J standing for Jerico).

And in 1998, Warner Bros. bought the rights to an action adventure movie about the collapse of society because of the Y2K computer bug. The movie was quashed because it could not be released in time for the turn of the millennium.

For bookworms, the Chapters Web site at www.chapters.ca lists more than 100 books about Y2K. Most are about debugging your home computer or surviving a disruption of social services, though there’s the occasional text about the year 2000 being your path to self-improvement.

It can also be a path to financial ruin, since all this hype is only a passing phenomenon. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce reports that while all the money being spent to fix the Y2K bug will boost the economy this year, it will slow it down in 2000 because the problem will have passed. Many businesses that relied on the year 2000 as a major source of income will have to look elsewhere to survive.

As for Peter de Jager, the man who started the Y2K craze six years ago, his plans for the year 2000 is upon us are simple. “First thing I’ll do is take a nap.”

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