Take the chip challenge?

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Y2K - Embedded Chip Challenge Issued By Borderland Sciences Michael Theroux Borderlands Sciences Research Foundation www.borderlands.com 2-1-99

Y2K is rapidly approaching and still there are few answers as to what the outcome will really be. It is important that everyone IS prepared for anything that could happen - power outages, food shortages, bank runs, etc. Being prepared for ANY disaster that may strike is just a good idea these days. This doesn't mean that we are altering our viewpoint on Y2k - we're just stating that it is a good idea to be prepared. Gloom and doom are at the forefront of most Y2k discussions, and yet we still believe much of it to be a part of that "industry of hysteria". One example of our commitment to our position is that we are NOT going to pull ANY money out of our bank account. Several things could happen economically speaking, and if we are wrong, we might not be here after 01-01-2000. But, we don't want to add to the hysteria by becoming a part of the "bank run" scenario. We're not saying others should follow our lead, just that this is what we are going to do. Now, the "Y2K Challenge". When I was a guest on the Art Bell show on 01-06-1999, I stated that I would be welcome to ANY offering of a specific example of embedded system failure. What I mean by this is that I want to see an example of a device COMPLETELY malfunctioning because it is date sensitive - in other words - the device must CEASE TO FUNCTION period, and we at BSRF must be able to verify it for ourselves. No one has been able to specifically demonstrate this yet (please don't just cite stories you have heard). The way to present this to us is to give us the type of device, namebrand, and serial number (if possible). We will then check it out for ourselves (again, we must be able to do this physically). If it CEASES TO FUNCTION because of the embedded system not being able to properly interpret the date, we will then state publically that we were WRONG about our previous conclusions concerning Y2k. We will publicise this information as far and wide as is possible. It is our contention that no one will be able to produce such a device failure. We will keep everyone updated on this website of the results of this investigation. Time is short. Michael Theroux

-- Nikoli Krushev (doomsday@y2000.com), February 04, 1999


Please expand and describe "CEASES TO FUNCTION."

-- Reporter (foo@foo.bar), February 04, 1999.

The one thing that everyone seems to agree on with embedded chips (well, excepting of course for those who don't believe that such things exist, prefering to muddy the waters by insisting that there are only "embedded systems" for whatever reason) is that the actual percentage of the 50 billion or so that will fail is very small -- perhaps as little as 1%. Actually locating one and proving that it will fail would be nice, but not being able to does not really say a whole lot.

What does say a lot is that these chips are everywhere, in electrical utilities, water filtration plants, telecommunications, medical equipment, etc. And what is needed is to show that the chips in these life sustaining systems will not fail on or about January 1, 2000. That is the real "chip challenge".

-- Jack (jsprat@eld.net), February 04, 1999.

Yow! Where to start?

How 'bout these points:

1. What makes you think you can get an exact copy of the specific device in question? Many of these (it is reported) are out of date, out of manufacture and out of mind. Good luck Chuck.

2. If you can get the device, there is no guarantee that it uses the same chip set. Many devices with the same model number use chip sets from different manufacturers.

3. Why does the device need to completely malfunction in order to make you take notice. Partially functioning devices can be as damaging as a complete malfunction, and much more difficult to find.

4. Devices such as these do not work alone...they are part of a system (oil refinery system, natural gas pipeline system, etc.). For your challenge to mean anything, you must also reproduce the part of the system with which the embedded chip interacts. I guess this is easy for you to do if you have a spare oil refinery in your backyard. Most of us don't.

5. Reading between the (very thick) lines, I can only infer from your "challenge" that you feel the whole embedded chip (system, whatever) issue is a hoax, a scam, a bunch of crap, etc. I guess all those billions being spent on solving the problem by the likes of EPRI, etc is just because they've been bamboozled. Those silly engineers. They're so gullible.

6. We ARE not IDIOTS. I can UNDERSTAND what you are TRYING to SAY without you CAPITALIZING every OTHER word.

7. What you do with your money is not really relevant to the issue. You represent an opinion (one). Welcome aboard. We all represent one opinion too. Hope your opinion is correct. Guess time will tell.

8. I suspect that most of those on the front lines fighting this problem (God bless them) are too busy working to take notice of your "challenge", much less be motivated to submit proof that there is a problem. They already know the answer to that question.

My prediction is that you will get no answers, thereby allowing you to continue to claim victory. Let me remind you that a non-negative is not the same as positive.

-- abcdGoldfish (mnoGoldfish@osar.com), February 04, 1999.

Just to clarify things here, I cut and pasted this challenge from another website to give the more technical oriented posters an opportunity to blow this little gambit out of the water. There is not a doubt in my mind that the embedded systems issue is real and a monstrous threat. Nik.

-- Nikoli Krushev (doomsday@y2000.com), February 04, 1999.

Sir Nik of the Krushev,

I've gotta go with the "no negative news is not positive news" view on this one - the problem in discussing chips is that so very few are directly affected, but many are potentially affected but "hidden" by circuit design or "unused" threads in the circuit; few may fail outright, but many times that number may fail "as-is" and the user relying on the printing press paper sensor or the feed roll dispanser or whatever - has no warning until catastrophy or outright systems fail strikes.

Chips are difficult to test correctly - and can respond "okay" (if tested incorrectly) while still being a threat to fail. Gut feel - if people were not finding and replacing and still testing - thousands of times a day - then we would know about it. That is, the absense of credible information that "nothing has been found" indicates instead that "many not looked for" chips still lurk in the underbrush of businesses not testing and remediating.

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), February 04, 1999.

I've seen this before, and it's a sucker bet.

1) The definition of 'device' turns out to be uselessly narrow. What they're talking about here is an IC that stops and won't function any more. This doesn't happen, and they know it. If you find, say, a washing machine that will no longer respond to the controls, well, a washing machine isn't a device, it's a system containing many devices. Show me which DEVICE failed. You can't win.

2) Even if they accept the washing machine as a 'device', it hasn't ceased to function just because it won't respond to the controls. It still has power, oscillators are still oscillating, the ROM is still faithfully executing its infinite loop, it may have become useless, but it hasn't ceased to function. Just not correctly, that's different!

3) Indirect causes of 'cease' don't count either. Let's say the device, because of a date bug, sends the wrong message to a controlling system, which in turn does something illegal that causes an explosion, utterly destroying the device. Yes, the device was the ultimate cause of its own demise, but it didn't cease to function *directly* as a result of the date bug.

It would be nice to know that our exposure to embedded noncompliance problems is small, but games like this don't shed any light on the real issues. I'm not impressed.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), February 04, 1999.

From http://borderlands.com/journal/millenni.htm(links there indicated by underline):

Y2k Hysteria Borderland Sciences Research Foundation

Please, if you read any of the articles below, do refer to the linked references before emailing me. Thank you.

The Borderlands Y2k Challenge

The Millennium Bug and the New Industry of Hysteria by Michael Theroux

Y2k, Gary North, and Maybe Something Other than Gloom & Doom! by Michael Theroux

Y2k, Satellites, and Solar Activity by Michael Theroux

Responses to Y2k Hysteria Article: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

From our Headlines:

02-02-1999 Using Phoney Stories to Sell Y2k Products Now

02-02-1999 Borderlands' Y2k Challenge Can Cause Untold Hardships

01-28-1999 Another Y2k Hoax-- We're Sure to See More to Follow

01-25-1999 Y2k - Doomsday Machines

01-06-1999 The Danger of a Dumb Analogy

Theroux is bulletproof. Don't waste your time.

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), February 04, 1999.

Well, there's the well-known example of the aluminum smelters that were mis-programmed so that they couldn't cope with the 366th. day of a leap year. The central control systems went beserk as the 31st. December started, and by the time the operators had taken stock and what manual control they could, several electrolysis cells had frozen. This isn't repairable, except by demolition and reconstruction. Two timezones later, it happened again to a "sister" plant. Total cost: several million A$ (this was in Australia).

This isn't a Y2K bug at work, exactly, but the 1996 leap year was to be expected by the normal rules. 2000 IS a leap year, but as a consequence of a 1-in-400 year rule because most century years aren't. It's reasonable to think that leap year troubles will be commoner in 2000 than in any other year.

Then there's the EPRI-reported test on a UK power station. This was partly good news. After a scheduled shutdown and overhaul, they advanced the clocks before restarting it. At midnight, a control system thought it had detected an entire century's worth of heat in the smokestack and shut the plany down. Good news? Yes, because it was immediately restartable, ie a glitch not a permanent fail. However major cause for concern, in that the consequences of MANY power stations all going off at once are severe.

Finally - and probably a winner for the challenge if you trace the post and the VCR - there was a report in CSY2K of a video recorder which hard-failed when it clocked into 2000, ie it no longer worked at all, to the extent that you couldn't reset the clock either! Make and model was quoted. Personally I don't much care; I could live without a video recorder, and I've pre-empted trouble on mine by pushing its clock back to 1991 (it only knows the date not the day of week) rather than risking a test.

The challenge posted is meaningless; the first two examples are far more serious than the last, but the rules of the game say that they wouldn't be considered. Therefore someone's thinking is screwy.

-- Nigel Arnot (nra@maxwell.ph.kcl.ac.uk), February 05, 1999.

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