A Y2K Fairy Tale

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Whether you choose to visit the Web Site mentioned or not, this piece gives a newcomer a clear picture of the scope of the problem.


A Simply Way to Grasp the Nature of the Problem by JL Foreman July 27, 1998

The computer dating problem is no fairy tale. There are more than enough facts and figures to support the concern that is now felt at every level of government and business.

On the other hand, you may believe that the Y2K problem is a fairy tale. If it was it would sound like this:


Once upon a time there was a kingdom of incredible comfort, wealth, opportunity and prosperity that woke up one morning to discover that in 3 years all the nails in the kingdom would disappear. And wouldn't you know it, the witching hour would be the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve.

Well the folks who discovered this dastardly curse began to raise the alarm. But of course no one believed them. It is as impossible as . . . as . . . as . . . as a fairy tale.

But bit by bit folks began to believe and look at the problem and discovered that it was true. It looked as if many of the nails were going to vanish. And so about half of them got to work on it while the rest continued to debate it.

At first experts confidently told them that we really didn't need nails, there were many other factors that went into houses not falling down. Besides their nails were fine as were most nails. But in time they discovered that those nails which no one ever paid a bit of attention to are the only reason their houses were standing.

Six months later they began to admit that we did need nails, but that they could replace all of them -- "Three years is a long time. We have power tools today that we never had before to work with. After all, we put a man on the moon, and don't forget Rosie the Rivetter!" they said.

Nine months into the project they began to revise their predictions. They said they could replace the crucial nails on the main joints before the deadline -- enough to hold the buildings up through the storms of winter while the rest were replaced after the deadline. The problem was getting enough help. Everyone needed help because every home business and government building in the world that had nails was facing the same predicament.

One year after the warning was sounded enough people began to take the problem seriously so that there was a great bustle of work but more and more could see that it might not be enough. So they began to advise everyone to make contingency plans just in case their houses fell in for lack of nails.

Then with eighteen months to go they discovered that it was even worse than they thought. A messenger on a horse rode up to the main square and told them that all of those buildings down town faced the same thing only for them it's a rivet problem in addition to the nails. Could the replacement take place? It had to the alternative was unthinkable.

When midnight was fifteen months away the wildest rumors that were dismissed a year earlier began to surface again -- Only they were no longer being bandied about in the pubs over a pint. Every day messengers were bringing up-dates into the town square to the effect that at the same time on New Years Eve 3% of the sheathing on all electrical wires would burn away leaving them exposed. To keep this from happening everyone had to find and replace the bad spots in their wires which meant checking every inch of every wire to find that 3%. Only you couldn't tell just by looking at it which spot in the wires were bad, you had to run test after test.

As this rumor was being confirmed, another rider rode up to the town square with more bad news. The curse extended to the water and sewer pipes as well. 2% - 5% of all the pipes in the kingdom would vanish unless they were replaced as well.

Think of it, all the nails, 3% of the electrical wiring, 2% of the pipes were going to go poof at the stroke of midnight in just 15 months.

Could they fix all this in time? Of course they could fix everything, the houses and the utility lines and piping could be built in the first place, so they could all be fixed.

Are 15 months sufficient time even with power tools?

In the articles folks read concerning this fairy tale problem they heard a lot of talk about contingency plans -- what to do if you can't get all your nails replaced to shore things up; what to do if the you missed wires and a short started you house on fire, how to get water when the pipes would probably not bring it to you and so forth.

After all, that's what contingency plans are, plans for what to do when all else fails and it looked in their little kingdom as if all else was failing. But no one wanted to admit that. Most spokesmen were telling everyone not to panic, it would be fixed, we would make it. And above all, don't do foolish things like store food and water or find places in the countryside to live. Have some faith, this is a community thing. We need to stick together in the big cities.

Most people just quit going to the town square for news. Most were more than willing to comfort themselves with the words of the official spokesmen. So they cursed, mocked and derided those fools who made personal plans to survive.

They put their faith in a fairy godmother with a silver bullet who would end this curse. Indeed as time wore on it became clear, that she was their only real hope of fixing the problem.

After all it was just a fairy tale.


And so today we face a very real problem of the nails that holds modern society together turning into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight. Along with the nails, the things that make water sewer and electricity possible will come unglued unless key elements are found and replaced -- hundreds of thousands, even millions and billions of key elements. More and more people are working on the problem and finding that it extends farther than anyone could imagine even 6 months ago when everyone thought they knew something about it.

You cannot read any material on the computer dating problem without at some point running across the advice (and command) given to all business, government agencies and utilities that they must come up with contingency plans to deliver their services in the event that their computers fail.

If you have any grasp of the interactive nature of our economy you know that computers are the nails the rivets, the electrical sheathing and water/sewer pipes that hold it all together. Forget the metaphor, computers are what keeps the literal electricity, water, sewage, telecommunication, banking, military and government rolling -- along with all business and industry.

It did not have to be this way, but it is. We no longer have even 1/1000 of the work force that would be necessary to push enough papers or flip the switches to even begin to match the job now being done by computers crunching numbers, by computers routing electricity, pumping water, directing sewage treatment, routing telephone calls, data transmission, and railroad shipping, oil refinement from well head to gas station pump, transferring credit and calculating interest and payments in the banks and stock exchanges. (Did I mention government welfare checks?)

They are what makes it possible for each one of us to do our teeny tiny part in the economic and social fabric of life, get paid for it and then with that pay go and buy everything else we need to sustain life as we now know it.

Is there a problem? y2kchaos.com will direct link you to the literature to draw your own conclusions.

If you think there's a problem, then you may want to look at the questions which are the questions you must answer correctly if you plan to survive in the event that the infrastructure and the supply/demand system of our society breaks down for more than 1 month.

These are the questions that all experts and public spokesmen are telling you that you are foolish silly, dangerous, militia like and un-American if you try to answer.

But . . .

If they are developing contingency plans, shouldn't you?

Joseph Foreman

-- Hardliner (searcher@internet.com), October 29, 1998


Good story. Thanks.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), October 29, 1998.

Cute. I do presume you exaggerated for effect.

-- Paul Davis (davisp1953@yahoo.com), October 29, 1998.

Actually, it was pretty tame. That's a 5 year old's fairy tale. I wanted to hear the grown-up scary Halloween version.

-- Chris (Catsy@pond.com), October 29, 1998.

Miss Catsy, try this version of a scary tale.

Middle of winter, in a freezing ocean, you are on a sight-seeing trip to Alaska looking at glaciers. But you have gotten too close, and are now under the very edge of the glacier - looking up at the towering, shifting masses of ice looming above. Periodically, massive icebergs crack away from other glaciers, falling to the ocean and creating huge waves. Surely the damage would sink anything below. But nobody knows.

You are surrounded by desolate Canadian wastelands, there is nothing but darkness, ice, and blizzards until spring. Even then, you don't know whether there are wolves and bears on shore, or just barren rocks. Surely nothing could live there.

The ship could have changed course two years ago, but the captain speeded up so the executive officer could go water skiing, entertain the guests and become captain later. So they didn't change course.

Other ships are around, several of them have been struck by falling ice and are damaged. All of the other ships, though, are still steaming at full speed towards the same glacier you are below. They will not be able to help, but instead are likely to throw even more people into the waters if they sink.

The ship is has already hit several icebergs underwater, and has started to settle at the bows. It may be going down, or it may be okay, but the captain has said nothing. He has gone below decks where it is warm and is at another party. Groaning, tearing sounds are still coming from the dark holds below, but there is no light strong enough to tell what lies below the water - visibly rising in the decks below.

How stable is the glacier looming above? Nobody knows, but several ice experts are predicting the ice itself will collapse on the ship in 11 months. The massive ice mountain has never gone this far into the bay before, but the pressure of tens of billions of tons of ice in the mountains keep sending it on its way further towards you and your family.

It looks stable, it is certainly hard as granite, and it has not failed yet. That is all you know. Small pieces fall from the glacier. You pick one or two of them up, they seem innocent enough, laying in your hand. Casually, you sweep other flakes and chips aside with your foot. But even something that small chills your hand, and you are glad you have warm, dry clothes on as you walk aft. Another ice chip has melted ahead of you, and you have to grab the handrail to keep from slipping.

Another passenger behind also slips on the slivers of ice, but it is only a sprained ankle. They won't be able to walk for two weeks, and will be confined to bed below decks where it is warm.

Your ship has been damaged. Will it sink? Maybe. Or it may stay afloat.

Yes, it is taking on water right now, and some people are working heroically below decks to fix the cracks in the hull. But they haven't found all of the holes yet, and we don't know if they find all of them. The worst cracks are below the engine room, in the fuel tanks, and in the propeller. You can't go into drydock, and divers can only swim slowly in the freezing water feeling for cracks in the propeller shaft they can't see. Feeling for cracks they hope are not present, and may not be able to repair if they find them.

If you can keep power up, if you can keep electricity flowing from deep in the lower regions of the ship, if the engine and the rudder and the hull are strong enough, maybe you can get home and go into drydock. But you can't run the engines, nor repair the power plant, you have to stay on deck and trust the workers below. They are closest to the problem, they are living and working in the middle of the on-rushing water as they try to stop the leaks.

(Many of these workers have joined you on deck, building lifeboats in their spare time. A few have stopped working on their own boat, and have offered to show you how to make your own. Some ar ebuilding lifeboats, some are building rowboats. None of the workers is making a deck chair.)

There is enough time, wood and equipment (saws, nails, and hammers) on the deck to build a dry covered lifeboat complete with a motor and lights, or a rowboat, or a simple open raft, or a deck chair.

You can put on lifejacket, or you can sew up a survival suit, or you can buy a dinner gown and join the party below decks.

On shore, there is nothing but the slow, hoarse panting of an unseen bear, and in the distance, the howl of a pack of wolves.

What will you do? Where will you go? Will you trust the captain? Or will listen to the workers?

The water is still rising, .......

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), October 31, 1998.

Just asking a small question from the lowly trenches. Why does this Y2K thing have to be a Titanic scene?

Why isnt there enough time to add lots of extra lifeboats? Seems to me a President once said, The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. Our government is a great one for protecting people with non-truths, and certain sectors are notorious for it, then we all pay for their helping us. Tell the truth! Give em solutions, not icebergs. Has anyone contacted Stephen Hawkings? Hes interested in time-related topics. He thinks outside a box too. Maybe he has some ideas. Or others like him.

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), November 02, 1998.

Yes I expect Stephen Hawking will have the silver bullet answer, strange I haven't heard people mention the silver bullet for ages, welcome back! When I read "computer dating problem" thought it had something to do with those poor nerds who have to resort to a lonely heart agency.

-- Richard Dale (rdale@figroup.co.uk), November 02, 1998.

Yes I like that voice box thing Stephen has.

-- Richard Dale (rdale@figroup.co.uk), November 02, 1998.

>a President once said, The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.<

Let's revise this to: The only thing we have to fear, is people themselves.

-- Creature (animal@zoo.net), November 02, 1998.

Well, how about this one.

It appears you are on the Titanic. A message comes in ... Icebergs ahead.

The lesson is, stop the engines. Reverse, change directions. Move ahead slowly. Place more crew and guests in the ships bow, watching (even the young ones with sharp eyesight). Have others in the banquet rooms preparing for all the passengers. Have the ones in the hold who know how to do it, fixing things. Give the navigators the job of charting new courses. Give the crew a job constructing additional life rafts.

Get a good captain on deck, not ones stuck in their egos trying to look good and hit a new speed record. Recruit the one/ones who are good at keeping people focused, because they are the ones people focus on. Create your own election rather than the one you thought you voted in.

If the worst happens, the berg may only graze you, not sink you, and not hit you smack on -- at top speed. If the best happens, well have a global party at Y2K.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), November 03, 1998.

Problem is that the one that sunk them did only "graze" them.

-- Uncle Deedah (oncebitten@twiceshy.com), November 03, 1998.

However they ignored the messages that could have helped them course change. So have we. It still doesn't mean we have to sink.

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), November 04, 1998.

I disagree. You are imaging we have not yet collided.

We did not change course. We did not slow down and "watch out" or "Approached with caution." We (collectively, and from most especially from DC) stayed on an impact course, if anything, speeding up.

We have already struck the hidden "iceberg" - the computer failures - and are already sinking. We are now under the threat of another impact - the societal failures - when the glacier looming above calves off a second iceberg on top of us. (This is the main point, the threat, in the story above.) The only solution is to fix the leaks, and build enough lifeboats if unknown extra leaks condemn that first effort to failure. At the same time, we must either prevent (or be able to withstand) a potential second-order crisis from the breakdown of law and order. Those unsung workers srtiving to fix things must be helped - so that the impact of first failures will be reduced.

Then, if things can be kept stable, the second disaster might be averted - or at least postponed.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 04, 1998.

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