"Y2K glitch likely will disrupt life in many ways"greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
for you Diane - ================
Y2K glitch likely will disrupt life in many ways, experts say By George Avalos Knight Ridder Newspapers
CONTRA COSTA, Calif. -- For computers, midnight is a little more than a year away and time is running out fast.
The arrival of 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000, could unleash the millennium computer bug on electronic devices all over the world. Computer systems and other gizmos with the glitch literally won't know what year it is. And they may stop working or execute the wrong instructions.
These potential malfunctions portend far more than the annoyance of a computer crash. That's because the same Silicon Age that has unleashed an array of technological marvels also has woven a potpourri of computerized devices into the fabric of our lives.
Here's the problem: An unknown number of computerized products may mistake January 2000 for January 1900. This quandary came about because programmers over the years have used two-digit numbers to save memory in a computer system. Computers recognize '59 as 1959, '98 as 1998, and so on.
The glitches may cripple many more devices than the computers that sit on a desk. Industry insiders are alarmed about the possible failure of embedded chips and embedded software. These components are installed inside many machines. Among them: cars, communications satellites, elevators, pacemakers, phones, televisions, traffic signals, and power plants.
If too many of these systems conk out, a digital Armageddon could result.
Widespread malfunctions could interrupt the flow of Social Security checks. Power failures could hobble entire communities. Telephone service may falter. Companies might not issue paychecks. Records affecting banking, insurance, credit and property transactions could vanish. Traffic signals could malfunction. IRS records could become inaccurate.
Concerns over crime and safety are likely to be heightened. Police and fire communications could turn sporadic. In the worst case, some prisoners could be released accidentally.
To be sure, squadrons of high-tech experts have fanned out to businesses, hospitals and other organizations. The experts are feverishly attempting to rewrite every line of affected programming code or replace defective systems.
But more than a few industry leaders are warning it's too late. They say there isn't enough time to remedy the Y2K-related problems in every computer, every device, every system in the United States that needs to know the correct date.
"It's not possible anymore to fix this in time," said Peter de Jager, a Canada-based consultant who has been warning of the pending problem for years. "The end of 1997 was the last possible date when you could start this thing and expect to get it all done."
About 35 percent of the nation's large companies will be able to completely replace and test their affected computer systems, estimates Waverly Deutsch, a group director with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. About 50 percent of the big companies will fix their major systems but still suffer some disruptions, and about 15 percent won't even be able to fix their major systems, Deutsch said.
Not everyone believes the millennium bug will unleash a meltdown, though. GartnerGroup, a Stamford, Conn.-based market researcher, is now cautiously optimistic about the prospects of avoiding a catastrophe. Last year, the company's assessments ranged from gloomy to pessimistic.
"We now see that here in the U.S., the risks have been significantly reduced," said Lou Marcoccio, GartnerGroup's 2000 research director.
The company believes the nation's big corporations have made significant progress in fixing the problem.
"We believe power and telecommunications interruptions will be isolated and minor," Marcoccio said. "The most severe problems in the U.S. will be at government agencies. There will be some isolated and moderated impacts on oil prices and some disruptions of oil imports."
Estimates of the worldwide cost to cure the problem could range from $600 billion to $1 trillion. Companies would normally devote these financial resources to improving profits, developing new products, hiring or sweetening paychecks.
In some cases, upgrades have been going on for several years. Big corporations, utilities and financial institutions got an early start. Many government agencies and small businesses have lagged behind, however. Numerous organizations have hired outside help or are relying on inside systems managers to cure their ills.
The improvements, though, might not be completed for months or years after 2000 begins, warns Richard Bergeon, a consultant with Systemic Solutions in Seattle.
"Private industry is looking at getting its year 2000 problem fixed in 2005," Bergeon said. "The federal government is even further behind. The Department of Defense is looking at 2020."
"This is the biggest technology project the state of California has ever taken on," said John Thomas Flynn, director of the state's Department of Information Technology. "And that's true of every other government agency."
The state may spend $1 billion on its Y2K upgrades, estimates the Legislative Analyst's Office. Flynn's agency won't do any projections, but says it has spent $250 million.
Contra Costa County, which has expended $1.8 million, could spend a total of $4 million, county officials say.
Interruptions in services of one kind or another may be unavoidable. Individuals, businesses and government agencies should start planning now for the aftermath of at least scattered breakdowns in early 2000, said Aaron Silva, president of Concord, Calif.-based Oasys Inc., a software company that is helping companies assess and repair their Y2K difficulties.
"What people have to do is come up with a contingency plan," Silva said. "No one can guarantee that everything will work. There is no precedent for this problem. People need to figure out how they can continue to operate in 2000, until the failures can be remedied." Silva also is an official with an East Bay group that is coordinating solutions to the Y2K glitch locally.
The experts, though, say people shouldn't stampede out of town to some survivalist commune.
"I don't say head for the hills," consultant de Jager said. "But we have gone from denial to desperation in one fell swoop."
Rather than panic, consultants recommend that consumers take some elementary precautions. Think of preparing for a natural disaster: Keep hard copies of all important documents and records. Stockpile food and water. Buy candles. Evaluate your location and personal security. Keep a supply of basic tools on hand.
Such steps seem prudent, when one ponders Y2K disaster scenarios that have been readied by experts such as Capers Jones, chief scientist with Artemis Management Systems in Burlington, Mass.
Even the best-case scenario, in which 95 percent of the Y2K defects are successfully repaired, significant disruptions could occur, Jones says.
"Rebuilding the economy," Jones wrote in a study released this year, "would require only a few months."
In the 95 percent scenario, power failures, water supplies, transportation disruptions and shipments of goods would last about three days. Roughly 333,000 people could be laid off, at least temporarily. The cost to repair and replace systems and deal with lawsuits would be about $90.4 billion in the United States.
The aftermath of a scenario in which 5 percent of the defects remain may seem disruptive enough. But Jones expects the most likely outcome will be that 15 percent of the Y2K bugs will continue to lurk inside the nation's electronic systems.
Here are some of the problems that Jones believes could be unleashed with an 85 percent fix:
--About 2.2 million people could lose their jobs, as computer breakdowns disrupt the ability to buy or deliver goods or services.
--The unemployment rate could rise 2.2 percentage points.
--Some 2,500 businesses and 275,000 individuals could declare bankruptcy.
--About 15 percent of the nation's homes could be out of power for five days and without phone service for three.
--Air, road, sea and rail transportation could be interrupted for days or even weeks.
--Stocks would lose 10 percent of their value in early 2000.
--The cost of repairing and replacing software and systems and coping with expected lawsuits could total $497 billion.
"Under the expected-case scenario, the U.S. economy would be in some distress for at least a six-month period," Jones wrote in his study. "The year 2000 problems would begin to have a domino effect that would probably trigger a mild recession." The downturn effects, if widespread enough, could last for a few years, he said.
Consultant de Jager believes some bugs will be overlooked, no matter how diligent the efforts to find every line of code that contains a two-digit reference.
One reason for the pessimistic utterances from a number of consultants is that the high-tech industry habitually delivers flawed products.
"In the industry, the norm is that things are delivered late and that when they are delivered they don't work properly," de Jager said. "When have you seen the industry ship a major software program that was completely free of glitches?"
To try to keep essential services running, engineers intend to first upgrade "mission-critical systems." Call it triage for the Information Age.
At Pacific Gas & Electric, the big focus is repairs to power plants, outage information systems, customer service, billing and payrolls, said John Greer, PG&E's 2000 program manager.
PG&E believes it will finish its upgrades by March. Then will come months of testing and tweaking to ensure everything has been done properly.
The telephone company might not be finished as quickly. Pacific Bell has notified the state Public Utilities Commission that it expects to wrap up its work by September 1999, according to commission records.
The East Bay Municipal Utilities District is working to fix not only its own systems, but also those of crucial vendors. These include suppliers of chemicals, pipes and transportation services, said Brian McCrea, an EBMUD spokesman.
The embedded components inside devices that control a variety of everyday functions may prove to be the most stubborn problem.
"We use embedded systems just about everywhere," Greer said. "We are spending a lot of time, effort and money to identify the affected systems in a plant."
Embedded systems have surfaced in plenty of other cases. In Alameda County, officials are attempting to uncover these devices.
"There are all kinds of things, elevators, traffic lights, sprinkler systems, some of the medical equipment, anything that has some sort of digital clock," said Dave Macdonald, Alameda County's director of information technology.
The Y2K problem is complex enough that Contra Costa County officials are resigned to the possibility that some bugs may elude the engineers, despite their best efforts.
"Somewhere, somehow, we will miss one of those two-digit dates," said Steven Steinbrecher, Contra Costa's chief information officer. "We're going to have problems. Just so it's not a life-threatening emergency." The county estimates it will be finished fixing its crucial systems by the end of this year.
Still, government bureaucracies, especially state and federal agencies, have failed to actively guard against a Y2K catastrophe, said Anthony Peeters, chairman of the Bay Area Year 2000 Users Group.
"The public agencies have a very lackadaisical view about this," Peeters said. "I understand it's pretty dismal."
Consultants fear that the Y2K aftermath could worsen if people fail to take the problem seriously enough.
"Most people are aware of it," said Jason Yi, president of San Ramon, Calif.-based Blackhawk Information Services, which provides Y2K upgrades. "But they are blase about it."
Consumers and businesses may figure that some big technology company will come up with an easy solution to patch the glitches.
"There is no silver bullet, and we don't expect one," said Flynn, the state technology officer. "I get a letter every week from senior executives and the man and woman in the street who say they have developed the silver bullet. But we don't think there's a quick fix."
No matter how tough times get after Jan. 1, 2000, people should be confident that the nation will pull through, one expert says.
"While it will be a very exciting period and a difficult period, America will survive," said Peter Harris, president of Adpac Corp., a San Francisco-based software consultant firm. "There isn't going to be a tragic accident." =========================== "There isn't going to be a tragic accid
-- Michael Taylor (email@example.com), December 02, 1998
Do you think we might cautiously "call" a trend over the last week's newsmedia offerings? Think the alarm bells are getting louder, and quite a bit more accurate. Not all just showing "happy" faces out there. Now if we can just train them to show "how" individuals and communities are and can prepare other than just fixing the computers, then we might all create something workable beyond 2000.
-- Diane J. Squire (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 02, 1998.
SOMEBODY PLEASE let these people know we appreciate their balance!!!
-- Chuck a night driver (email@example.com), December 02, 1998.
time : 409 A.D.
you are a citizen of Rome; you are literate, educated, self-confident, sophisticated, well read and well-bred; all the higher degrees, up on the latest; - you own the latest SUV chariot and all that... [all the qualities of a Y2K Yourdon-forum poster...]
you stay informed by hanging out at the local Starbucks just around the corner from the Coliseum Baths.
one morning one of your fellow Starbuckians suggests to you that within a year or so, (410 AD), under the Visigoth Chief, Alaric, the Germans will sack Rome for three days. Your friend then says that in 453 AD, Rome will be saved from utter destruction only because Attila the Hun will die and the Hun confederacy will break up.
You are about to go zonkers with his craziness when he then suggests to you that in 455AD, the Vandals of North Africa will sack Rome for fourteen days and carry off the roof of the Capitol!
Before you can say "yo, - make it a Bud - - light", he tells you that in 476AD, the seat of power for the entire world will move from Rome to Constantinople; that Rome will be nothing more than a paper tiger; and in fact, the empire in the west will now be entirely in barbarian hands. What you are to understand is that even though you may live through some of this, you will not live through this "as a Roman".
how would you respond? "not possible; this is Rome; we are the mightiest nation on earth; we are the conquerors, not the conquered", etc. etc. etc. ?
now, reverse roles: how are you going to convince your favorite SUV-driving yuppie of the reality of Y2K? We even have a firm date.
This is our task! Have fun!
-- Perry Arnett (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 02, 1998.
The decline of the Roman empire has absolutely nothing to do with Y2K!
Rome was one example of an oft-observed historical pattern: the decline into decadence and chaos of a once well-managed empire. Romans living in that era would have been well-aware of the politics of the times. Those choosing to take a long-term gloomy view would probably have moved to Constantinople where things were better-run. It has modern relevance if you worry about creeping corruption in our governments, but no similarity to Y2K.
AFAIK, Y2K has no precedent. Has any society ever before become dependant on a technology that has an accidental built-in flaw related to an exact fixed date on the calendar?
-- Nigel Arnot (email@example.com), December 03, 1998.