Year 2000 report (alpha version- comments please!) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

What is the year 2000 bug?

The year 2000 bug, (or y2k, as it is often called) is a computing glitch that was started by programmers in the 1950s and 1960s, when to save precious memory (at that time, computers were a lot less powerful and two bytes was something worth counting), they abbreviated the "year" by putting down the last two digits (66, 72) and letting the computer assume that it meant the 20th century.

Everybody knew that when 2000 came around, this would cause problems. However, it was generally assumed that by then, the code would have been replaced completely, possibly more than once. This is an incorrect assumption. Instead of replacing the coding, future programmers simply built on it over the years, until they ended up with the systems that govern most computers today.

This would not be such a problem if it were only personal computers we were dealing with. Actually, personal computers are the simplest of all, containing relatively modern code that is generic enough to be fixed by a mass-produced program. The problem is that y2k-non compliant systems (a "compliant" system is one that will not be affected even slightly by the bug, either due to rare, farsighted coding or the problem having been fixed) govern such things as telecommunications. Factory machines. The power grid, and for that matter the generators and nuclear power plants that give us that power. The inventory control systems of most large stores, such as Wal-Mart and Sears. The machines that pump petrol from the tanks to your car at gas stations. Satellites, which are inaccessible and can't be fixed.

Then there are embedded chips, small chips found in all kinds of electric/electronic machinery such as digital watches, car alarms, more advanced toasters/ovens/microwaves. The electric distribution network is full of embedded chips; so is the telephone network. Embedded chips don't directly involve the date, but an estimated 5-10% will be affected anyway. Embedded chips cannot be reprogrammed; they must be replaced. There are an estimated XX1 embedded chips in XX2 machines around the US alone. Replacing even a significant number of them will be difficult and costly, and such an operation would have had to have started sometime in mid-1998. Except in the case of some limited vehicle recalls (XXExample1), this has not happened.

Consequences The problem here is that we live in a very complex, very interdependent society. If one component ceases functioning, then the things that depend on it will also stop functioning. And thus the things that depend on each of those things will stop functioning, and so on. As this happens, people -being people- will panic, which will in turn make things a lot harder. Also, some factors -such as power- are so essential to our society that if they alone went down for a significant period of time, serious chaos would erupt. A week-long blackout across the entire United States would not be an enjoyable proposition, given the record of "events" (massive increases in crime such as looting, robbery arson, even rape and violence) from previous urban blackouts. Couple this with a situation where the emergency services are unavailable (as they would be if the phone systems didn't work) or simply overstressed, and add to that factors such as errors in government computers (not sending out welfare cheques, for instance; far lesser things than this have caused major riots), and we have a situation in which to say urban life might be dangerous, would be an understatement.

The above does not even bring in the fact that the world economy runs on interlinked computers, most of which are uncompliant and a good proportion of which will not be compliant when the time rolls around. If these computers fail, billions of dollars will disintegrate into thin air. Asia and Europe (Asia is too concerned with their immediate economic problems to have time for this future problem; the computer people in European banks will be busy until YYY1 with the Euro) will be the most vulnerable. If Europe crashed at the same time as Asia's recovery abruptly halted, and given the current turmoil in Malaysia, Indonesia and much of Indochina, the result could very well be a world economic disaster even if every single banking computer in the United States was fully 100% compliant.

Remediation Needless to say, the various agencies of the United States government do not want this to happen. All of them have embarked on various remediation attempts, under the general control of "year 2000 czar" John Koskinen. However, the only agency expected to complete remediation by the deadline of 1/1/00 is the YYY3. The expected dates for the others range from June 2000 to 2032!

Corporations are also concerned about y2k, and are treating it as a serious problem. Boeing expects to spend $800,000,000 on it in 1999, for instance. Most of the major banks are spending equivalent sums (Chase Manhattan Corp is spending $363,000,000), and so are the telecommunications companies (AT&T is spending $900,000,000 -triple the estimate it gave earlier in 1998.) These costs, as AT&T has found out relatively early, can often be minimal estimates as more lines of code are found. One American welfare agency thought it was almost compliant..before finding another thirty million lines of code that had to be checked.

The problem is compounded when you realise that all of these compliant systems must also be tested. On average, even the most competent debugger will only flush out 90% of the bugs on his first "run". The times given to be "compliant" generally do not involve the time taken to test for more bugs, and to fix them. The testing, further debugging, then more testing and hopefully the final debugging, could double the remediation times. Testing itself will be difficult in the cases of the big corporations and essential-services-agencies (such as power or water), who will need to keep their primary computers running 24/7 and thus will have to rent powerful mainframes to carry out their testing on. With thousands of major companies carrying out such testing (and initial testing can take as long as four weeks), there will be a shortage of such mainframes, leaving some companies unable to carry out testing.

And to make remediation yet more difficult, the year 2000 bug exists, as has been discussed, in older languages, primarily and specifically COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language). COBOL is not something that the generation of programmers coming through colleges now learn a lot of. Neither is it something that can be learned easily or quickly; at least not to the extent of being able to effectively debug someone else's program without inadvertently writing more errors than you remove. In short, there is a finite number of skilled programmers, a finite pool that is getting smaller as many programmers realise the severity and the danger of the problems that y2k could cause, realise the odds against fixing them, and "bug out". Demand for skilled COBOL programmers is also going to go sky-high in 1999 (in the last few months, the hourly pay rate for experienced programmers has already doubled) and it is possible that companies have not anticipated this in their budgets. Programmer and y2k expert Ed Yourdon predicts that by September 1999, such programmers will be asking for -and getting-$600+ per hour (about ten times what they currently recieve).

Remediation of embedded chips is, of course, impossible. They must be replaced. Some embedded chips (in satellites or oil wells, for example) can not be replaced. Many others will be extremely difficult and costly to replace (for instance, taking apart an engine to remove a specific chip in an internal component, replacing it and putting the engine back together...five million times). Replacing these embedded chips will be a time-consuming, extremely-- cost-consuming (in some fields, such as kitchen electronics) procedure. Only one automobile company, as of December 7 1998, has done even a limited recall because of embedded chips.


The problem is large and widespread. The solutions are costly and difficult. Even the realistically optimistic estimates predict that 10% of key systems will fail (which would trigger an economic cascade effect that would in itself have dire consequences). Other people paint a direr picture. Ed Yardeni, respected computer guru and author of Time Bomb 2000, expects 50% or more of computers to crash if immediate and concerted action was not taken -a prediction he made in July 1998. "Infomagic", the anonymous programmer whose reports I have included here, has mathematically predicted what could be in effect a return to the Dark Ages. Infomagic's views, it must be added hastily, are seen as pessimistic by most- but it's hard to argue with the raw facts of his mathematics. The earthquake is coming. We know the exact date it will hit: 1/1/00. What we do not know are the consequences. Optimists predict a cost of around $1trillion and perhaps only a few dozen deaths due to it.

Lesser optimists give convincing evidence that the cost could be in the order of tens of trillions, and the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands. Pessimists talk about "The End Of The World As We Know It", incalculable damage to or destruction of property, and hundreds of millions of deaths.

What will in truth happen, nobody knows until it happens. There is little positive evidence. There is a lot of negative evidence. The only definite fact is that it would make sense to prepare.

If anything in here is incorrect, please tell me. Also, if anyone can fill in those big ugly XXXX gaps??

btw, this was written in Word 98. Some of the words are supposed to be underlined or italicised. My beautiful formatting has also probably been destroyed.

Comments desperately required :)


-- Leo (, December 07, 1998



Before we comment, may we please know:

Who is your intended audience?

What is the basic message you wish to convey?

What will be the context in which you display/publish/deliver this report?

(Just trying to dredge up my high school English and speech class lessons :-)

-- No Spam Please (, December 07, 1998.

>Ed Yardeni, respected computer guru and author of Time Bomb 2000

Yourdon, not Yardeni.

-- No Spam Please (, December 07, 1998.

Who is your intended audience?

People. I'm aiming specifically for the white-collar business class with money to spend on shelters. Specifically, I'm going for the top white collar people, the ones with LOTS of money to spend on shelters ;) What is the basic message you wish to convey?

It's a "from scratch" thing, assuming very little (OTOH, nobody earning six, let alone seven, figures, would be able to not know what y2k was by now.) The intro paragraph is a formality, no more.

The basic message I want to convey is that y2k COULD be serious, arguing both for and against TEOTWAWKI. I try to stay away from extremism and thus don't give my own (8-10) point of view. The hopeful purpose is to get them to buy from my company, but a man earning $250k+ is not going to make five-figure decisions without good information. This piece is NOT a sales thread, except that it advises to prepare. It would accompany sales detail, however.

What will be the context in which you display/publish/deliver this report?

I'd like to submit it to a newspaper or magazine and get it all across the media, if I can. Diane likes to write to papers; I'll do my bit and help her with this. Btw, Diane, if you want a copy of the completed version of this, send me an email. However, the primary aim of it is to be in a nice pamphlet, to be sent to corporate execs and given out to anyone who wants to know about y2k or my company. Such as potential investors, for instance ;)

I'd like to have it accompanied by some more "advanced" information, written by someone else of course. I think I mentioned Infomagic in there; I'd like to get his WRP sections and include them. I've already emailed him; if he doesn't respond I'll try Cory. I'd also like economic reports from Yardeni (what's his first name, btw?) and maybe stuff from the other reliable people. Reliable excludes Gary North; if he keeps gaining prominence, I'm going to add an official disclaimer distancing myself and all the people I refer to, from him. If I have to, I'll dismiss North as the radical extremist he is. He gives y2k a bad image, is bad for business (Mr popular high-achiever "normal" Exec VP is not going to want to put himself into the same category of "survivalist" as a bunch of right-wing nuts).

I'm even going to refer to pollyannas like DeJager. My target audience is going to be intelligent; the unintelligent masses don't earn big money. I'm estimating my average potential customer as being at least myself (149 IQ, 1400 SAT1) intelligence-wise. I know that I wouldn't put $50,000 into something (even if I *was* making 10-20 times that in a year) unless I had accurate information about it from all perspectives. I also know that someone making that kind of money could be too busy making that money to find the many hours they need to get that kind of info off the net. Therefore it makes sense (and displays integrity) to give balanced info ourselves. The fact is, that the facts are overwhelmingly in favor of preparation anyway.

Good questions. You remember your English classes well ;)


-- Leo (, December 07, 1998.

EXCELLENT!!! Just one tiny nit to pick (dam* pediculosis). On our side of the pond it's "gas" not "petrol" and many of the intended would have NO idea what you were refering to. If you lose one of them, even for a split second, they are gone (I cart 'em around, I know).


-- Chuck a night driver (, December 07, 1998.

Leo, just a gentle fact of life so you know --
You mentioned "the unintelligent masses don't earn big money" and I understand your motivations and target audience, and your desire to make big bucks off Y2K by selling shelters to the rich.

You may find as you travel through life that money does not always equal intelligence, nor intelligence lead to money. Money is simply the standard of a materialistic world. Intelligence without heart and soul is not an admirable thing.

Some people may be extremely intelligent and *because* they are also wise and far-seeing, may not have concentrated on making money. Not that money is bad by any means, but there are actually better things. One puts one's energy where one's heart is.

BTW, we have lived in the stunning mansions of the extremely rich, sometimes for long periods, to take care of those way-up intelligencios during their last years/months/weeks, and it has been an eye-opener in a variety of deeply impacting ways. One observation -- the *most* intelligent of all were also the most open, receptive, and kind near death. The others -- bitter, frightened, fussily demanding, completely petrified, difficult deaths, extraordinarily wealthy, and adult children like starving wolves fighting openly about the inheritance.

Good luck with your project. In our experience for 7 years now trying to help people prepare for natural disasters through FEMA and Fire Depts, we have found that even the rich put off all but the most superficial preparations. The motivation to get ready for what one does not want to happen does not bubble up easily. And the rich do not like parting with their money, no matter how much they have. Please keep updating us, even when you become successful. It will be a peek into another side of human nature!

Ashton & Leska in Cascadia, who encounter stubborn people frequently who will not even store away some extra tap water


-- Leska (, December 07, 1998.

Leska, it must be really tough being rich, obviously a lot of them will turn out bad. I'm willing to give it a try, if I turn out bad I'll still be rich! Yes oh to be a rich, intelligent, omnipotent, good-looking, talented, hardworking philanthropist. Wake up Walter! (Mitty) I'm more of a not quite convincing misanthropist, Le Misanthrope was always my favourite play at school, must have struck a bell.

-- Richard Dale (, December 07, 1998.

To repeat Leska, keep in mind the following:

Your fiscal target audience is not necessarily "intelligent," as you may hope to believe. There are a great many people out there (at least in the U.S., anyway) who have the kind of money to spend on your business venture.

Good article. May I suggest running a grammar check?

-- Christine A. Newbie (, December 07, 1998.

Again , good article, man...again, double and triple and quadruple check grammer and punctuation, a few minor things is all...

Are you planning on including sources? I would suggest you do that. My sister is a lawyer and drafted something like that for her firm. She included sources and links where those sources could be verified. Some of the people you are targeting may "get it" more from the sources than from your article.

Oh, and by the way, Leo, you don't suck...

-- pshannon (, December 07, 1998.

Hi Leo: Top level folks tend to like it short - 1 page, 2 max, from my experience. Actually, they prefer pictures to words (charts, graphs) so keep this in mind. They also don't usually have a lot of time. If they are interested they'll ask for much more. I agree with those who posted that you should not assume intelligence on their part. It may be a good idea to run your final draft by some FIs, DWGIs, or DGIs for a different perspective.

-- Rob Michaels (, December 07, 1998.

Short - good idea.

Add references (include links) in a separate page after the summary page (1 sheet) , analysis (1-2 sheets like what you have here, not more than 3). It "looks shorter" that way.

I strongly agree with the "watch out's" for turning off people by class or education distinctions.

Here - most millionaries are working class, business owners and business "runners" working 60-70 hours per week, who don't look like they're spending the money. Instread they're saving it, re-investing it into their business, or saving it elsewhere - outside investments, real estate, that kind of thing. The "glamorously" rich are less than 1% of the "actually" rich. Many of these working millionaires (there is a book out - don't recall the title!) are not college educated either. Don't turn them off.

Give them a solution - or have a solution ready.... you don't want to be trapped when your first potential client says "Good story. What do you want me to do next?" these people got where they are by working hard, evaluating the market correctly and quickly, and by making correct decisions - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but by making the correct decision.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, December 07, 1998.


My suggestion would be to think about that target audience and write a one line description or creative statement on what you what to accomplish with this text.

Stay away from heavy figures and numbers and go for high impact quotes or "testimonials" that reflect the sentiment you're trying to convey.

Hit emotions rather that technical discriptions and do it in a short and concise way. If you're writing an article think "who, what, when, where, why, and how." If you're writing "sales copy" then sell your message in the least amount of space possible. Quick read. The best thing you can do is hit those emotions. Make it personal on human terms.

You might consider moving your conclusion and start with that as your lead in.

"What is the Year 2000 bug and how could your life be drastically altered in less under 400 days.

There is a large and widespread glitch in the system and the solutions are costly and difficult...

Just my .02.

Mike ==========================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, December 07, 1998.

Reference Robert Cook's comment re millionaires: the book is "The Millionaire Next Door" by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. Absolutely agree with suggestions to keep it short and to the point. Successful people have very little time to spare and need their information summarized, with supporting data attached if detail is desired. You need to answer the question "Why should I read this?" in very short order or it gets circular-filed.

And quite frankly, much of that early "overview" simply echoes every newsmedia "Intro to Y2K" I've read thus far. So you need some real "punch" early in the piece or it just won't be read. Help your audience see why they should care about what you have to say.

-- Mac (, December 07, 1998.

Thanks, people, I *really* appreciate those comments.

It's an alpha draft, so I haven't worried about grammar on this one. I definitely *will* put it through a checker for the beta, though.

Mike, great idea on putting the last part first. Will do.

Chuck, thanks. Little cultural things like that mean a lot.

pshannon- sources are essential, I agree. What do you think of the idea of a short "bibliography", except that instead of book titles or dates or whatever, I give the name of the source, the title of the document it appeared in, and a link to where I found it. The problem is that finding what I already know -that is, going around to many sites and looking for hard info- will be a big time-consuming pain.

Rob- the graphs/charts idea makes a lot of good sense, but there's two problems: 1) I have no idea how to make them, and more importantly 2) How can I make them relevant? I don't think there's any graph-able information in my flyer..unless there is?

Robert- my company is (or will be) the solution. When they say, "what do you want me to do next", I pull out a brochure that does not yet exist, showing our "basic model" refuge; 30 days nice food, 360 days long-life food, well, small generator, etc. "This costs $X. Here's our list of upgrades; more food, better guns, a vehicle, bigger living quarters, solar power..."

Leska and others: Yes, I agree with you that wealth and intelligence do not always go together. Some highly intelligent people are not wealthy. Some highly wealthy people are not intelligent. But on a basic level, I think it's safe to assume that someone who is able to work at a $200,000 a year job will be a reasonably intelligent person- and therefore someone who will understand the danger of y2k.

When this idea gets off the ground, my initial profits will go straight into expansion. I want to borrow money. Buy lots and lots of bulk food, both because buying 100,000 MREs will probably get you a nice discount and because come September or so, MREs will be worth a fortune. Maybe go international; Japan imports 98% of its food and thus will be hit VERY hard by y2k. There has to be some possible customers there, even if the economy is in a state of collapse. England shouldn't be too different from the US, and since most of my friends are in Australia I'd of course want to set up a branch here.

Anyway, as awareness increases, people will probably be willing to spend proportionately more of their income on survival- and my company will thus be able to get more and more customers from increasingly lower income groups. By December of 99, I can confidently expect to see people earning $45,000 a year paying me $50,000 for a refuge. (If they can get it- by then I'll be selling to the highest bidder, and my own supply costs will probably have gone WAY up by then as well..)

By the way, I really appreciate any and all comments that I recieve here. You may be interested to know that I take most of them into serious account.


-- Leo (, December 08, 1998.

Mike-- forgot to address one other thing.

You advised to scare people; to express things in human terms.

That would be a good idea; I like it, except for the fact that I'm afraid of being seen as a crank who uses scare tactics. The existence and prominence of Gary North is bad for me, very bad in that he is visibly an extremist who has been heavily wrong in the past. If I started talking about TEOTWAWKI without saying exactly how, in technical terms, I fear that many executives will just think, "he's an idiot" and throw my material into the trash can.



-- Leo (, December 08, 1998.

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