"Nobody Knows." Disturbing words! True or false?

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Apologies if this seems long, but a lot of Y2K stories I see in both local and national media do not quite make sense. Please read on and tell me if this bothers you as much as it does me:

The most frightening thing about Y2K is that almost every popular article on the subject includes the statement that nobody knows what will happen on January 1, 2000. The reason it is disturbing is that the statement is both completely true and completely false. It is false because the technology at question is not something akin to the pyramids, handed down from an ancient civilization and no longer understandable by modern man. Most of the programmers are still alive, and most of the hardware manufacturers are still in business. I can find a lot of the data books at a local used bookstore. Plenty of people know what will happen with their technology.

The disturbing truth in the statement is that public reaction is a real unknown. A new year, decade or century each carry great symbolic importance in increasing orders of magnitude. It was widely believed that the world would end at the last millennium. I don't know how people will react this time, but I expect the worst. The fact that so many people are predicting disaster assures me that there will be disaster.

Unfortunately, many people do not think about how things work. Anecdotal stories spread like wildfire on the Internet, but many reports of Y2K problems don't jibe. Everyday, thousands of PCs boot with the wrong date because the CMOS clock battery has run out of juice, and yet the world does not come to an end (I once spent a whole year thinking it was 1-4-1980, but tonight's 6:00 news recommended that everyone buy a new PC). Programs look ahead, so banking problems should have surfaced the first time a 30-year mortgage was issued in 1970. Water treatment plants mainly use flow meters and dissolved gas sensors, not real-time clocks. Elevators don't use dates at all (although the NC state inspector's card does say "19__" on the line for next year). Most load-switching equipment on the electric grid watches power usage, not the clock, unless idiots designed it (but if you get a bill for 99 years of service, dont pay it!). Real time clocks are frequently wrong. Why would they be incorporated into systems that dont need them?

People react in strange ways to a new century, not to mention a new millennium. A few random accidents or actual Y2K failures could cascade into wide spread panic. Perhaps my personal experiences have colored my view of people, but I am truly afraid.

Thanks, Robert

Biographical Note: I work as a research technician in the biological sciences. Computers are one of many tools I routinely use, but I am not considered to be an IT professional. My job does depend upon understanding how things work. The few programs that I have written are either Y2K compliant or Y2K "tolerant."

-- Robert Neely (robert_neely@ncsu.edu), February 02, 1999



A few comments about your post.

You said, "It was widely believed that the world would end at the last millennium." Not true. Do some research before you spread that new Urban Legend any further.

Also, you made reference to the idea that public reaction to Y2K will cause problems. I won't disagree with you, but I would also like to point out that whatever happens to banks and the financial world in 1999 is a fait accompli based on how much remediation was done in 1996 and 1997, when there was still time to fix the problem.

Public reaction to Y2K would have been minimal if the government had finished its Y2K remediation by the orginal September 30, 1998 deadline, and if the corporate world had finished its Y2K remediation by the December 31, 1998 deadline that most had promised.

And lastly, don't underestimate the problems connected with water treatment plants. This article from the Chicago Tribune is a good reference on the subject:

http://chicagotribune.com/version1/article/0,1575,SAV- 9901010066,00.html

-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), February 02, 1999.

Additionally, Banking problems DID surface in 1970, and the banks fixed the mortgage calculators to accept a 2000 in the END date of the calculation. Beginning date? We gots 30 years to worry about THAT!!

Flow meters and disolved gas sensors report to the mainframe on a schedule. Either they count oscillations of a clocking chip and report every so many thousands of oscillations, or they maintain a callendar clock to govern the reportage. The meters also contribute to the control of valves etc, through the mainframe. If their report is bad, the valve fails, open or closed, depends on the firmware in teh valve controler.


Older elevators don't know and don't care what time or day it is. Newer elevators are fairly sophisticatedly programmed so that the car is in what would be an optimum position at any given point in the day, so that, based on historic load patterns (gathered by teh elevator) the car will not have to go as far for teh next call button summons. Elevatros change their run patterns based on date/day of the week. They are VERY aware of what the date and day are. they also file the inspector's inspection data.

Power load switching equipment is aware as to when the demand SHOULD be and switches based on teh time of day and day of teh week. The computer keeps an eye on actual usage and tunes the grid based on usage, but time and day are used here, too. (Robert Cook or a power jock, if I'm a bit wet, feel free to educate us).

Real time clocks are easier to use than counting an oscilator to trigger an event, since the software is SO much easier::::


Counting the oscilations of a clocking chip is MUCH harder for the software/firmware community.


PS GEEKS: it's PSEUDOCODE!!! No flames allowed! c

-- Chuck, night driver (rienzoo@en.com), February 02, 1999.

Not only is it pseudocode, it didn't format correctly. try again

IF R3 >= 3 MINUTES, EXEC nnnnn
that might look more intelligible. cr

-- Chuck, night driver (rienzoo@en.com), February 02, 1999.

My worst fears will not be realized with a world wide computer breakdown. Nor will yours, or anyone elses. The event will mark the beginning of new opportunities, lend a lot to talk about, and serve to be an opportunity of a lifetime for those who are looking for gain monetarily...i personally am not. The perception that Teotwawki is an inevitable result is largely from feelings within. No one can back up that kind of perception with hard evidence. Can't most systems can be bypassed, or fixed quickly? What do I think will happen? You will love this answer....I don't know..but one thing for sure....panic will ensue long before the date arrives. For me, I will not be in the market...and my money will be out of the bank by June......

-- Richard R Shade (Rickoshade@aol.com), February 03, 1999.

Troll-divertor alert! (Mod 2, non-attacker approach.)

Thank you for your comments - but again - you're falsely focusing on the "public reaction's to Y2K" as the threat. You fear the public reactions (probably stemming from the banking industry's fear of insolvancy - caused by the government refusing to address the issue openly - and so refusing to allow people adequate time to prepare - thus increasing their skepticism and their induement to panic.

The threat from Y2K is the extreme economic loss of jobs and industries as suppliers and services potentially fail worldwide. the threat is the very real potential loss of utiltities and services and government agencies as they cannot do their jobs and provide life-assuring water, power, heat, light, 911, and sewage systems. The "public reaction" you so fear is caused by the public's knowledge that these things may fail - and that if they do fail - YOU CAN"T PROVIDE THEM. There is absolutely nothing a person in an apartment in Manhatten, freezing, hungry and thirsty, cowering from mobs as they burn and riot ouside, can do to get utilities restored. Without power, even if banks are compliant, and all stores are compliant, and all registers are compliant, they still cannot use their credit cards not debit cards, nor ATM's. So what do they use for money? Do you know they will absolutely always have power?

So would you rather they "trust" your opinion and not lay aside few gallons of water, not get one can of soup a week per preson, not get a kerosene heater? Would you prefer they have nothing in the wallet but plastic? What would you prefer them to do?

Unless you personally will stand in Central Park now and explicity promise the citizens of NYC uninterupted utility services through next May, and then next Jan 15 also stand in Central Park and publicly repeat your promise, I want toknow what you would prefer people to do.

Tell me what specific preparations you want the government to officially and publicly begin using to train the public. Or accept publicly the responsibility for those people who choose to listen to you and fail to prepare.

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), February 03, 1999.


I beleive the goverment knows exactly what will happen to systems before, during the roll over, and after January 1, 2000. What scares the devil out of me is why they are not forthright with the facts. My common sense tells me that if they know theres not going to be major disruptions then they would either number one let the public know in order not to induce panic or number two they are using Y2K for some other sinister reason and panic is part of the equation. I beleive if the latter is the case, the evil powers within are using this once in a lifetime chance to bring about One World MONARCHY Rule.

If the goverment knows there is going to be major catastrophy due to world wide computer software breakdown then it also makes since to keep it under raps in order to keep the masses calm for as long as possible. The results of doing it this way is controlled panic. (panic a few at a time) If this is the case, the goverment is handling the situation correctly in my opinion. Beleive it or not, I hope, if these are the choices I have, the goverment beleives it to be a catastrophy in the making. I sure am not hopeful for one individual leading the world, because I do beleive in GOD and his message concerning this individual.


-- flierdude (mkessler0101@sprynet.com), February 03, 1999.


Nah.......you believe in what you think is God's message regarding a certain individual. Actually God's message clearly stated that this unnamed individual (Children, can you spell antichrist......that's very good) was already in the world 2000 years ago. If you're still looking for an individual to fit the bill, you are scripturally confused. No offense please, it is a very common mistake that unfortunately provides a place for strange conspiracy theorists to multiply.

-- Craig (craig@ccinet.ab.ca), February 03, 1999.

Craig, and just who was that individual? The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters for his name have to add up to 666. Name please?

-- Would like to know (not@important.here), February 03, 1999.

People get paranoid when they are repeatedly lied to.

People panic when they are not prepared for sudden changes.

Blame the liars and the polyannas in government and media, not the people.


-- E. Coli (nunayo@beeswax.com), February 03, 1999.

People get paranoid when they are repeatedly lied to.

People panic when they are not prepared for sudden changes.

Blame the liars, and the polyannas in government and media, not the people.


-- E. Coli (nunayo@beeswax.com), February 03, 1999.

Troll alert? This sure as hell looks like a serious post to me.

-- now y'all think everyone's a troll if they don't "get it" ??? (troll@bridge.crossing), February 03, 1999.

//// Unless you personally will stand in Central Park now and explicity promise the citizens of NYC uninterupted utility services through next May, and then next Jan 15 also stand in Central Park and publicly repeat your promise, I want toknow what you would prefer people to do. ////

You couldn't do that today!!!

-- troll714 (troll@bridge.crossing), February 03, 1999.

Sir troll714 -

Regardless of whether one can do it today or not - the original question did not focus on the real threat, nor accept personal responsibility for his opinion that the "threat" is from people who are using their current after-tax money to get supplies and perhaps arrage alternative water, heat and light sources.

This "fear" of those who are trying to prepare is symptomatic of the massive disinformation and propaganda effort made by ????? on behalf of ?????. (They won't say, and we don't know. Those who hold this view refuse to acknowlege the reason for their fears, nor why they are worried about people who try to save their families discomfort.)

My challenge to him, and to you, as well - WHY do you fear a person who is preparing? What would you - personally prefer that he do?

And, if you - personally - are afraid of him preparing, are you - personally - going to remind him that you - personally - through your anonyminity of the web and and hidden email address - had told him not to prepare?

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), February 03, 1999.

From the originator of this thread: Here are my replies to those kind enough to answer my original post. My responses to each of them (in the order I recieved them)are posted below for the record:


To Kevin,

Thanks for you response to my post. I appreciated your comments.

OK, I admit to some hyperbole regarding people's reaction the first millennium. After a quick search, I have only a reference mentioning a few Christian sects that expected the Second Coming. Come to think of it, 1,000 A.D. wasn't a millennium for most of the world anyway.

I agree that the progress of Y2K remediation in most areas has been pitifully slow. What I have seen is a lot of talk, but little actual activity to correct the problem. It almost looks intentional, but Im sure that its just corporate and governmental politics. It is not something to inspire public confidence. But public reaction is my secondary concern.

The main point that I was trying to make is that a lot of what is said about technology and infrastructure does not make sense. The Chicago Trib article that you recommended, while interesting, illustrates my point. The second paragraph reads:

Water purification plants and pumping stations in Chicago and the suburbs have not yet been checked to make sure their electronic controls will operate on Jan. 1, 2000.

This is another case of Nobody Knows that just doesnt make sense. A member of the general public, the journalist who wrote the article or even the U.S. Governments Y2K Czar might not know if Chicagos plants will function on 1-1-00. But civil engineers that work with this specific equipment on a daily basis should know and so should the equipment manufacturers (RTFM!). Tell me it WILL work or tell me it WONT work; Im beginning not to care. Just dont tell me that nobody knows.


To Chuck night driver,

Thanks for the response. I recognized the pseudocode right off the bat. Do I rate as a geek? Oddly enough, it was the first of the two versions that arrived properly formatted via email. If software can't even agree how to handle NEWLINE, getting this date thing right is hopeless. Doomed I, say!

Actually, in the few programs (way too small to be called apps) that Ive written to augment my research projects, I generally find it more efficient to use countdown timers that generated interrupts instead of polling TOD for scheduled events. Also, it is a lot easier to do arithmetic on simple oscillator ticks than date and time strings. If I do use time based on an RTC, I generally count elapsed seconds. I really prefer low level programming, but in a high level language I will use something like GETTIME, not GETDATE unless an actual date is required. This eliminates the need for setting the actual date (as I implied in my original post, I once worked in a lab where nobody else considered it worthwhile to set the date on the XT. It was always January 1980).

I do not argue that the Y2K bug is real. My *main point* (and this really bothers me) is that saying nobody knows is a misstatement. I use a lot electronic instruments in biological research. As an honorary geek, I know which are non-compliant, compliant or compliant with issues. IEEEs and CEs working for utilities should know what is going to happen with the equipment they work with every day. This shouldnt need extensive testing, just RTFM.

I also dont claim to be expert with all modern technological marvels, just that RTCs and date functions are often described in applications where they seem inappropriate. I definitely would like to see a list of microcontrollers that absolutely will fail. The idea of the state elevator inspector plugging in a keypad to check the date on our elevator seems a little bizarre. And programming the local water treatment plant to anticipate the rush of toilet flushes during halftime on Superbowl Sunday seems like overkill. Maybe Y2K remediation should include remedial courses in process control.

As for those programmers that patched the banking applications in 1970, would it have killed them to rewrite that line of code correctly the first time? Couldn't they at least correct the variable declarations at the top of the code? Sure they were busy reading through billions of lines of code one line at a time to fix the problem, just as we are told they are doing now (just now heard that phrase again on NBC Y2K story), because apparently their program editors don't have a find text function. Do YOU debug code that way? Smart guys though; they fit all that code into just a few kilobytes of RAM.

***** To Richard Shade,

Thanks for the response and for putting a positive spin on the subject for a change. My wife agrees that a worldwide computer breakdown would not be the worst thing in the world, although her reasons are a little different. As much as she enjoys the Internet, she would prefer a simpler 18th century-style existence (only with running water). I suppose that since change is inevitable, we would do well to embrace it.

I hope that you are right about opportunities, but Im not sure. I thought there would be enormous demand for extra programmers as Y2K approached, but this has not materialized. Ive never worked as a programmer, but I have written a few programs. Debugging old COBOL code would not be too difficult for me. It seems like there should be plenty of junior level jobs, working second or third with a Y2K remediation project leader fixing the billions of lines of code. The only demand I see in the area where I live is for graduate degrees and 6+ years experience building and managing databases. Of course I have no entrepreneurial skills; your luck may be much better. BTW, I like your AOL ID.

***** To Robert Cook,

Thanks for your responses, but you misunderstood my point. My focus is not on public reaction, but on one simple phrase included in the title of the post. We are repeatedly told that nobody knows what will happen with all of the technology that we depend upon, and that nobody knows is simply not true. I am not saying that technology will not fail , but the technology is not that hard to understand either. The people who design, manufacture, supervise and repair specific equipment should know if it will continue to work or not. As you say in your response, public has knowledge that things MAY fail. Tell them it WILL or tell them it WONT.

I do not know where you came up with the idea that I do not think people should prepare for Y2K. Look at all of the natural disasters last year. People who prepare for disasters are NOT the ones panicking if disasters happen. It is the possible reactions of unprepared people that worry me. I wish I had been better prepared when Hurricane Fran struck in 1996, and we had to do without all of the basic services threatened by Y2K.

My comments about the uncertainty of public reaction are meant as a contrast to the certainty of what will happen with technology. Its not theoretical physics. There are people who know how these things work. I have no intention of telling people what they should do with their own lives. But the public deserves accurate, specific information and not a lot of nebulous potential scenarios.

***** Mike (flierdude),

Thanks for the response. You got my point that it is possible to know what will happen with technology in Y2K, but that people are being given inaccurate information. I guess it follows that the government does know what will happen. You present some interesting scenarios, but I really cant speak to their motives. As a liberal youth and a conservative adult, I have always had some suspicions about government. But I have to believe that our leaders want to insure domestic tranquility. I think it is in their best interest as well as the publics. Whether anybody drawn to politics actually has the wherewithal to do anything is another matter.

I am not very well versed in One World theory, although I do see some similarities to what is written in Revelations regarding the last days. I hope that is not the explanation. That is about as close to a religious discussion as I want to have in a public forum, lest this thread deteriorate into a Bill Clinton-Bill Gates-Ken Starr-Janet Reno-is the Antichrist flame and spam war. I can back up statements about technology in writing, but faith does not show up well in posts.


Again, my thanks to everyone for the discussion,


-- Robert Neely (robert_neely@ncsu.edu), February 04, 1999.

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