Too many computer friends say y2k "no concern" ? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

After much intelligent and skeptical research, my husband and I are convinced that we need to do some planning with regards to Y2K. When we mention to close friends that they might be wise to consider at least looking at the current data available on the potential bug troubles, we are too often met with a response of "well, I have these two computer friends who work at such and such, and they say that there's nothing to worry about...and if they aren't concerned, neither am I..."

Many of you reading these forums have qualifications equal to or above and beyond the qualifications of those computer gurus advising our friends -- obviously many of you hold views other than "nothing to worry about." Would any of you in computers be willing to state your qualifications and a brief defense of why you believe in some measure of planning? This would be helpful in providing us with something more simple and direct than printing out all of these forum discussions for our friends.

-- Katherine M. (, May 10, 1998


Dear Katherine:

Boy did your posting ring a bell with me. It seems everyone with any kind of knowledge of computers deems be a blithering idiot. I didn't like being thought of like that, so I did a lot of investigation. I found a nesw group entitled All the participants are Engineers and computer types, many presently working on y2k remediation. Many are selling their homes, buying gold and shotguns. All think the effect will range from a great depression to the end of western civilization. Then consider what the Government is doing. $50 Billion to start to fix it. Wall street is spending anothe 11 Billion. Thats a lot of money for a Non Event. Finally I would urge you to check out Gary North's information page. I know Gary North is a little bit to the right of Atilla the Hun sometimes, but the url I am about to give you are quotes from main stream media.

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 10, 1998.

Dear Katherine,

I'll throw my hat in the ring. I'm the electronic engineering manager at a company that manufactures hydraulic valves and embedded electronic control systems. My own expertise is in software development; I have written a lot of code (all of it Y2K compliant, I'm happy to say). I first heard about Y2K on Ed Yourdon's site when he was publishing his book in electronic format.

My significant alarm at the problem is at least threefold:

1) I know firsthand just how difficult it is to work on somebody else's poorly documented, badly written, ancient, code--especially when you have management breathing down your neck and screaming that you better finish on time. It's an experience not unlike being crushed to death. (See Ed Yourdon's book Death March; Y2K programmers are going to begin to burn out around March of 1999).

2) I *never* get my group's software projects in on time. I suppose you could say that makes me a bad manager, but the industry statistics show that it simply makes me normal. The idea that all of these government agencies, banks, businesses, etc. are suddenly going to get brilliant and finish their work on time is ridiculous. They never have before; why should we believe they will now? (See Caper's Jones statistics on the statistical lateness of software projects; the engineer in me says that it is statistically impossible for these agencies and companies to finish in time, no matter how many nice press releases they issue).

3) You always, always, always put in a great number of bugs when you try to "fix" software. I have worked on programs that were so convoluted that I just had to look at them funny and they would break down. Any change I made, no matter how seemingly small or innocent would set up a wave of bugs that themselves needed to be fixed. So unless you've spent a LONG time understanding exactly what the program does and then make your fixes very carefully, you will have a fallout of bugs that you introduced. This leads to a round of testing, then a round of fixing, then another round of testing, ad nauseum. There is simply not time for this between now and 2000.

That is also why I'm highly skeptical of these automated, artificial intelligence tools that Y2K remediation company's are touting. Unless a *human being* understands just exactly how a program works it is dangerous to start monkeying with it. In any large program there are multiple levels of interrelationships that are just so hard to grasp.

Hope this helps.

Best regards,


-- David Palm (, May 11, 1998.


You have stated the problem, and your concerns beautifully and in my laymans opinion, when compared with other techies, very acurately. You have not however told us your conclusion. I for one am seeking confirmation from people exactly like yourself. Are you going to "Get out of Dodge"? Are you going to buy gold? I read, that when asked by the press, where he was going to have his money on 1/1/2000, Sen Benett said, "In my pocket" He is the Chairman of the Senate, "year 2000 committee.

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 11, 1998.

I am an electronics engineer with 15 years experience in the area of electronics and software development for embedded applications and process control systems. Most of my experience is in the automotive and transportation industries.

I am squarely "in the middle" with regard to this issue. I won't be so bold as to say that I think that the Y2K problem is "nothing to worry about". However, I am also not yet convinced that it will be horribly disasterous either. From what I know about embedded systems, both of these extremes seem unlikely.

Even the most optimistic assessments of the Y2K problem acknowledge that there will likely be numerous computer glitches with the coming of the year 2000, some of them with possibly serious consequences. Likewise, even the most pessimistic of forecasters will not go so far as to say that all computer systems everywhere will be affected.

The fact that there will be some surviving systems as well as some failing systems will, I think, combine with the ruthelssly competitive nature of our product development environment (indeed our business culture in general) to result in some very aggressive efforts to turn the Y2K problem into a competitive advantage. By this I mean that, the companies who do produce products that competantly handle the Y2K problem may have a major strategic advantage of the companies who do not. In other words, if Ford produces cars that run through the millenium with no ill effects but manufacturer "X" cars all stop dead on the freeway on 1/1/00, then Ford will have scored a major victory over one of its competitors. Now of course, if you are an "X" customer (or worse yet a stockholder!) your experience may be a disasterous one, but overall, in the scheme of things, there will be no widespread disaster.

I am not claiming that corporate America is morally virtuous, and that they would altruistically bail us out of a Y2K-type disaster. What I am claiming is that corporate America is exceptionally good at making money and pleasing stockholders, and stockholders are not pleased by faulty products especially when the competitor's products are performing to expectation. If the Y2K problem becomes a serious hardship for us (consumers) it would be a disaster for the developers of products. I believe that the product development industries will not allow this to happen on a wide scale; while there may be some product failures resulting in corporate casualties from a kind of "tecnological Darwinism" (i.e. survival of the fittest product developers) on the whole there is no reason to think that these industries will not, by and large, meet and resolve this technological challenge as they have countless others--because it is in their own best interest to do it.

David Auslander

-- David Auslander (, May 11, 1998.


Thanks for your note. You wrote:

Because of various "third parties" who might be listening in I will not be specific in our preparations (let the spooks work for their living ;-). Let me just say, in a nutshell, that my wife and I are indeed taking positive steps to get our family "out of Dodge" both financially and physically. Our #1 goal is to be 100% out of debt, which at this time is only our mortgage. Where to put one's money is perhaps the most challenging question; we might all want to cultivate the spiritual virtue of detachment from material things and get ready to lose a lot. I'm reading a very fine book right now called "We Had Everything But Money" about the Depression; alas, the moral fiber that the nation possessed at that time is gone and I think things could get a good deal uglier than they were in the 30s.

With respect to David A.'s comments, I agree that in the aggregate market this *should* be a self-correcting problem with one company's lemons being another company's lemonade. My biggest concern is that they seem all to have waited far too long to begin the changes and at this point it is simply impossible, no matter how much money one throws at the problem, to fix it on time. This too is from my professional experience; throwing additional resources at a project late in the game makes it later.

Best regards,


-- David Palm (, May 11, 1998.

I wish to extend my deepest apologies to all Gary Northians whom I may have offended by saying he was, "To the right of Atilla the Hun" It is a phrase often used, and I now know to be very inaccurate. Mea Culpa Mea Culpa.

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 11, 1998.

It seems that of the people I've run into who feel only a slim cause for concern (or none at all) most are less worried because it is fairly evident that some systems are going to be compliant in time. Not everything is going to have trouble, therefore we have much more hope for avoiding a worst case scenario, or even a bad scenario.

The doubt I have regarding this is that from what I've read it seems that many of the more troublesome things that could go wrong are, in fact, based on a very fractional percentage of non-compliance. I can't remember where I read this, but does it make sense from a balanced and technical standpoint that many of the speculations are based on a very small number of computers, companies and agencies not being ready? Perhaps it was on Yardeni's sight where I saw something like .5% (??)non-compliance causing enough trouble that we will wish we had prepared better. It sounds like "everybody isn't going to go down" and "only a small number of computers will fail" isn't solid enough to warrant a lack of concern.

-- Katherine M. (, May 11, 1998.

Even laboring under the assumption that the US gets all of it's computers "SPIT SPOT" What shall we do with them if we cannot trade with other Nations on a computer level. The rest of the world is incredibly behind in remediation. (see CIA report last week) If this country is reduced to selling hamburgers to each other, who will have the money to buy a Cadillac? With the Asians quickly going down the tubes and the Europeans preoccupied with the Euro, there will be no one left to play with. Hell, we may not even need y2k to screw it all up.

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 11, 1998.


You wrote:

It is very true that just a few select problems could cause major disruptions. For example, we get something like this from an industry rag, Oil World:

"An offshore platform may have 10,000 or more embedded silicon chips governing all automated and even some manual processes. Many of these systems are subsurface or underwater and physically difficult to access. . . . It is estimated that the average oil and gas firm, starting today, can expect to remediate less than 30% of the overall potential failure points in the production environment" (Scott M. Shemwell, Jerry Dake and Bruce Friedman, World Oil, April 1998 Vol. 219 No. 4).

If the men who wrote that paragraph did not gulp down a rising ball of fear as they typed the words then they are in major denial. What does it mean to say that only 30% of the failure points in the oil and gas production environments can be fixed if they start now (and make no mistake, many of them are only just now starting)? Our entire economy runs off of oil and gas! We just a few years ago killed hundreds of thousands of people and shattered an entire nation's economy to protect the flow of these commodities. But it is not just the oil/gas industry--a great many industries and most especially the government are in the same boat. I'm still wondering when the realization of all this is going to hit the general public. Probably not until there's some significant real-world failure--some major warning shot across the bow. It will be far too late by then.

I now step down off my soap box (isn't the Web wonderful?) ;-)

Best regards,


-- David Palm (, May 11, 1998.

So far, everyone seems to be forming a consensus that *some*, maybe *a lot* of the existing systems will make it through ok. That is probably true. My cause for concern is that there are four that I do not believe will make it through, and without them, *nothing* makes it. Specifically, I expect electricity generation and distribution, rail transport, air transport, and sewer and water to be severly disrupted, perhaps for a long time. If these don't work, I don't much care about the ones that do.

Please, someone, convince me that there will be electricity after 12/31/1999.

"Just because it's not likely doesn't mean it won't happen."

-- George Valentine (, May 11, 1998.

A note about It is not true that "All the participants are Engineers and computer types". There are many participants there (especially in terms of numbers of posts) who do not fit that bill.

While it is true that the alarmists there are in the majority, it is not true that "All think the effect will range from a great depression to the end of western civilization." For example, Arnold Trembly, one of the really good contributors, is not in that category. I'm not sure Rick Cowles, the utility expert, falls in that category either.

Plenty of other programmers with good qualifications chip in for a while on that newsgroup, but because they differ from the alarmist consensus, they are booed and hissed roundly, and often heaped with ridicule and scorn by Christian survivalist wackos like Paul Milne. They often give up (which is a shame).

I read that newsgroup all the time and have gotten a lot out of it, but it's pretty wild and woolly over there. So wear skepticism-tinted glasses while you read.


-- Wade Ramey (, May 11, 1998.

George: I expect the warning shot to be heard in the spring of 99 when many companies and states, especially NY state go to their fiscal year of 2000. By that time, indeed it will be too late. As to what value sounding the alarm would have, I am undecided. Sen Benett said that he was, "On the high wire, between ENERGIZING (what ever that really means) the American public and starting a panic" I think perhaps panic now, with all of the infrastructures still in place would save lives. Perhaps there will still be time for the panic to subside, and we would all feel foolish, before y2k. I hate to think that the American public has been relegated to being, "Good soldiers not leaving their posts" just so a few more millionairs make a few more bucks. By the way, are you one of those fools who, "Bought American" for the last few years so that Chrysler could get a better price from Mercedes Benz?

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 11, 1998.


To your list of four (electricity, rail transport, air transport, sewer and water), add oil, natural gas, and telephones.

And no, I don't think any heavily regulated industry (gas, electricity, telephone) will be ready. Too big, too bureaucratic. Didn't start early enough, not far enough advanced, still going far too slowly.


-- steve francis (, May 11, 1998.

A lot of people who think there will not be major disruptions tend to be looking narrowly at their own industry, which may be appear to be in relatively good shape. They then assume that is the case for the rest of our technological civilization. George Valentine has a very good point that if certain key services in our economy are not working, the rest won't work.

In only the last year or so we have had two great examples of how the whole system is interconnected: when UPS went on strike, causing disruption for a huge number of businesses; and a strike at a brake cylinder plant for General Motors, that quickly shut down the other assembly plants. The total revenues of UPS would be only a tiny fraction of GNP, yet the strike affected most businesses.

Beside the important services listed by George Valentine, there are services of the federal government that seem very likely to be disrupted - the IRS and the agencies paying out millions of checks - Social Security, disability, welfare, etc. We may not like these agencies a lot, and think we would be better off without them, but if these checks were missed for only one month, there would probably be great social unrest.

Social unrest (riots, widespread arson, looting) is quite common in the U.S.A., if you think about it, and has resulted from a number of causes. I recall cities burning in 1966, the shootings at Kent State, the Chicago Democratic convention, looting in New York City when the power failed, the more recent burning of south central Los Angeles. Any one of many possible service failures caused by the Y2K computer could generate social disruptions again like those that have happened in the last 30 to 40 years.

So taking steps to be ready for system failures is only prudent insurance. Some of the steps, such as storing food, aren't very costly - you can eat the food later in any case. Others, such as cashing out investments and storing in greenbacks or gold, could potentially cost you lost income or transaction fees, maybe capital gains taxes. We have to make the personal decision as to whether those potential costs are a reasonable insurance cost. Obviously, different folks will make different choices.

I consider that I have some responsibility to pass along a warning to friends and family. I don't think it is my responsibility whe

-- Dan Hunt (, May 11, 1998.


The ultimate problem in convincing you (or anyone else, for that matter) that there will be electricity after 12/31/1999 is that the only way to know for sure is to wait until 01/01/2000, then try out your lights. Frankly, it is much the same as "proving" that there will electricity in your house tomorrow. Lots of things can happen between now and then, some good and some bad.

Of course, I *could* take the opposite stance and say "prove to me that there will NOT be electricity after 12/31/1999." But I doubt that I would get any more concrete and meaningful proof than you, so I won't say that.

Too loudly, anyway. :-)

-- Paul Neuhardt (, May 11, 1998.


I was only asking for someone to convince me, not to prove it to me. :)


-- George Valentine (, May 11, 1998.


I stand corrected. ;-)


-- Paul Neuhardt (, May 11, 1998.

Check out recent postings by Fred Swiburl on Fred (an engineer from one of the major utility companies in the US) just got back from the EPRI Y2k conference in Dallas. His postings this week have been at least vaguely optimistic. However, whilst his reports are very interesting they have not totally allayed my fears. Also read the follow posts by Rick Cowles.

If you are having trouble getting or using newsreader software than go to Do a search on "Fred Swirbul" and look for the thread "Re: Electric Utilities - The power will be there".

-- Murray Spork (, May 14, 1998.


I am a local pastor. I called my friend who is in charge of Y2K at our local power utility (this is firsthand). He is a techie nerd type; he handles all the computer clitches at his utility. He fixes most of them himself. We're doing lunch this week for an interview for my web page, but I did get some answers to basic questions that might help you. (BTW...this guy is one of the most level headed people I know on planet earth):

1. He is convinced that no matter what anyone says, the nuclear guys won't be ready, therefore...

2. He is convinced that no matter what is done, the grid will go down.

3. He is convinced it will be a while before it goes up again.

4. He is convinced that the problem could be as serious as any scenario you wish to produce, especially overseas.

5. He is convinced that problems will arise that will beyond anyone's ability to even consider. In other words, problems that no one will be able to anticipate. (Without connecting the latest satellite snafu with Y2K, it's a good example.)

He is not a kook or a doomsdayer type. He's just being honest. Brutally honest. And he is storing food and preparing for long, quiet days reading Moby Dick.

Seriously, he's serious. And I would suggest every one else get serious as well. Keep smiling!

-- Pastor Chris (, May 21, 1998.

People inherently seek to disbelieve anything that might upset their worldview. That the majority of this country is indifferent to Y2K is not so much lack of info on the issue as inability to conceive the potential results. Big suprises are in store- be prepared.

-- Richard Dale Fitzgerald 2 (, June 04, 1998.

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