He's been using a computer since he was eight, has always been a problem solver, according to his mum, and is being held up by the international media as the kid who solved the millennium bug. He's Nicholas Johnson from Christchurch and he's 14 years old.
Working on a 486 PC, or his 286 when someone else wants to use the family machine, Johnson has written a utility that works around the computer's BIOS, taking the operating system past 1999 without resetting itself to 1900 or 1980. It's written in Compile BASIC, but Johnson says it could easily be translated to C++. Now the Johnsons are looking for a company to help Nicholas market the program in the hopes of developing a solution to a small part of the Y2K bug.
Johnson stresses his program isn't a "magic bullet" solution to the Y2K problem, but this could be a first step on the pathway to an answer.
"It's a hardware solution, not a software solution," says an incredibly articulate Nicholas.
Andrew Siddall is the Christchurch-based computer analyst who has tested the program. "We've tested it on a 486 with great success" says Siddall.
"This isn't the final solution to the Year 2000 problem, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this is a great achievement for a 14-year-old schoolboy," he says.
Nicholas is the only one in his family with such a knack for computers, says his mum, Elise Doyer. "He's pretty much on his own when it come to that," she says. "It's hard for him because he's so enthusiastic about computers and so keen to talk about what he's discovering but it goes straight over our heads." She thinks it's wonderful that he has found something to be so passionate about.
This isn't the first program that Nicholas has written. He specialises in small-scale utility programs, like time management for kids, but this is the first to make headlines. In the future, Nicholas hopes to become a full time computer programmer, but first has to think about next year's School Certificate exams.
The story has made the mainstream news not only here in New Zealand, but also overseas, where it has attracted some criticism.
Karl Feilder, CEO of Greenwich Mean Time, the company that promotes year 2000 compliance, says, "I can state with authority that whatever this young chap has come up with cannot be a universal fix."
Nicholas is the first to agree with that statement, saying, "I'm worried about the way it's portrayed in the media myself." Both Nicholas and Feilder agree that the Year 2000 problem is not going to go away on its own. As Feilder says, "There are no silver bullets apart from hard work."