Elec. Telegraph: Y2K - hype or horror?

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As part of a week-long forum, the Connected segment of ET leads off with:


Y2K - hype or horror?

Global thermonuclear Armageddon, or just the usual New Year's Day hangover? Derek Bishton takes a tour around what people are saying on the Web

IT seems likely that a lot of traffic lights will fail, so some city centre chaos will be inevitable, at least for a few hours. But whether 1 Jan 2000 will see the start of a global financial meltdown, widespread civil emergencies and the death of hundreds of hospital patients as critical medical systems fail is still very much an open question.

Those who prefer to be forewarned - if not forearmed - might care to point their browser at Welcome To My Nightmare (www.y2knightmare.com) where a variety of apocalyptic scenarios are outlined.

Nuclear war seems to be about as bad as it could possibly get, but when allied to the complete collapse of the banking system, severe food shortages, power blackouts, the loss of essential information held on computers, and planes falling out of the sky, it's perhaps not surprising that so many people are heading for the hills.

American historian Gary North predicts that all major industries dependent on mainframe computers will collapse because a critical number of interlinked systems will not be compliant by New Year's day, 2000. His site - Gary North's Y2K Links and Forum (www.garynorth.com) - also outlines his reasons for thinking that there is a high probability, not possibility, of the complete breakdown of Western society.

On the other hand, perhaps the majority of us will wake up on 1 Jan 2000 having only to cure our hangovers. Y2K Computer Bug Hoax (www.angelfire.com/oh/justanumber/)puts forward the view that we are all being fooled, and that the millennium bug is really a scam created by programmers seeking a quick fix for their retirement pension plans.

Peter de Jager, whilst not espousing such a cynical view, is also less worried about the doomsday scenario than hitherto. "Until we started to fix our code and examine the embedded system problem, then practically any doomsday scenario was a legitimate possibility," he says.

"Here's where we are today. Most, not all companies are working on this issue. They are fixing, or have fixed, their systems. They have examined, or are examining, their embedded systems problems. We are, for the most part, no longer ignoring Y2K. My primary concern was with the three industries which must operate daily, or very quickly society begins to unravel at the seams: finance, telecommunications and power companies.

" I stopped worrying about the finance industry in 1997. The level of activity was high, the regulators were beginning to wake up, and attention was finally being paid to the problem at all levels. None of this is meant to suggest that the finance industry is not going to have problems . . . [but] my money will remain in the bank.

"Next, the telecommunications industry. They do have problems. Mainly in the administrative functions of the network - problems they can cope with by implementing workarounds. Bottom line? Dial tone is secure, but don't expect your bills on time.

"Finally? The big bugaboo, the power industry. I wish I was as confident here as I am with the other two The statements, reports and press releases from this industry are wishy-washy, confusing and misleading. " For a full version of this article - along with other comments and analysis, visit Year2000.com (www.year2000.com).

So, the jury is out. One thing, however, is clear: no-one can ignore Y2K. This forum has been designed to exchange information and views - we look forward to receiving your emails.


A simple form for sumitting your views follows the article. You may post anonymously. You may have to subscribe (easy and free) before you can enter the site.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), March 08, 1999


"the millennium bug is really a scam created by programmers seeking a quick fix for their retirement pension plans."

While I'm sure some are out there profiteering, I'll be happy if my pension survives, and I'll be happy to just have a job next year. And I'm neck deep in Y2K work. <:)=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), March 08, 1999.

Hi, Sysman, You're up too, huh? Remember this stuff was written to provoke opinions for the forum. If it's a scam for computer pros to make money, it sure hasn't hit Sweetie's paycheck yet! Sweetie isn't doing remediation but you'd think a shortage in one area would kick off a supply-demand increase in salaries across the board.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), March 08, 1999.

Wotta scam! They've tricked the banks into spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this thing, and they've entirely fooled the Senate, the House, the CIA, and the GAO. Ponzi and Foshay were amateurs by comparison. And think of the Byzantine intricacy of the plot! It all began with Hollerith before 1890 -- or (who knows) maybe with Jacquard in 1801.
...for the 1890 census Hollerith had perfected a system for encoding census returns onto punched cards and designed machinery which could process these to tally the totals corresponding to various statistics. He had earlier demonstrated the efficacy of his approach by reorganising record keeping systems in various large institutions. The success of Hollerith's systems led to his ideas being copied by other companies keen to make money from the lucrative contract for census automation.
The key idea behind Jacquard's loom was to control the action of the weaving process by interfacing the behaviour of the loom to an encoding of the pattern to be reproduced. In order to do this Jacquard arranged for the pattern to be depicted as a groups of holes `punched' into a sequence of pasteboard cards. Each card contained the same number of rows and columns, the presence or absence of a hole was detected mechanically and used to determine the actions of the loom. By combining a `tape' of cards together the Jacquard loom was able to weave (and reproduce) patterns of great complexity, e.g. a surviving example is a black and white silk portrait of Jacquard woven under the control of a 10,000 card `program'.
Ya gotta hand it to these guys. Of course they must have planted agents in the Department of Defense to influence the decision to use only 2 digits to represent the year. Was it really Napoleon who first said "Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by ignorance"? For a ground-level view of the competence of Microsoft programmers (and I assume they are representative of the genre) read through Jerry Pournelle's expert rant here.

Y2K a scam? No way, Barney. (Hey, Jerry Falwell missed a bet there, didn't he? Barney's purple as a plum too.... Whatever is this world coming to! Let me off. Let me off, I say!)

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), March 08, 1999.

Great stuff, Tom! Go post it on the ET forum!

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), March 08, 1999.

Tom -

Pournelle wrote a dismissive article on Y2K for "Intellectual Capital" months ago and got lit up in the Talkback area. He's a decent SF writer (though IMHO he's better when he teams up with Larry Niven, cf. "Lucifer's Hammer" or "Footfall"). When it comes to computing, however, he's really just another somewhat experienced PC guy and product reviewer - no major systems work, no design or deployment experience, no project management scars - and arrogant to boot (in this case, alligator skin). No real appreciation for the interrelationships and dependencies nor for the weird and wonderous ways in which major systems can (and do) go "four paws in the air". Met him many, many moons ago at a trade show when I was supporting a new RDBMS product. Dude (safari shirt and all) had not clue one about what the product could really do. I tried to explain how it blew the doors off dBase. His eyes glazed real quicklike and he wandered off to impress someone else. Maybe it was my delivery...

By the bye: that "malice and stupidity" quote is one of my faves, but as far as I can tell, Pournelle's one of the few who attributes it to Napoleon. One would think that, were it truly Napoleon's, it would have been cited as such long ago, but I suppose it's possible that no one's verified it yet. I've always seen the saying described as "Hanlon's Law" (with Hanlon "unknown"), or attributed to Robert A. Heinlein (with a theory that "Hanlon" is a corruption of "Heinlein"), or simply to "Anonymous". If you have a citation and support for the Bonaparte source (other than the redoubtable Mr. Pournelle), I'd love to see it.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.com), March 08, 1999.

Erm, at:


Pournelle quoted Napoleon as saying:

"Do not ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."

I like it even better.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), March 08, 1999.

If you go to the Pournelle link above, you will see his trials and tribulations with upgrading NT4 and other MicroSucks stuff.

Just one reason why "Microsoft...sucks" is part of my handle.

Remember, last week, Intel was caught trying to put an identifier in their new Pentium chip (which they have "promised" to remove?)

Well, Microsoft go caught with their hand in the "cookie" jar, also. Seems WIN98 attaches a unique machine/software identifier to Word, Excel and other documents. Allowing source monitoring and identification. U.S. Government ain't the only "Big Brother" -- seems like everyone wants to be a cop.

-- vbProg (vbProg@MicrsoftAndIntelSucks.com), March 08, 1999.

If you follow the 'work in progress' link at Pournelle's site, you see:



THE BURNING CITY, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle:

Niven and I have turned in THE BURNING CITY, a novel set 14,000 years ago just after Atlantis sank; in a time when magic runs big civilizations, but the magic is being used up, and the civilizations are doomed to utter collapse. Not many know this at the time. The story is set in a a city whose inhabitants set fire to it at intervals. It's a full novel, that begins with the protagonist at age seven and continues through growth to maturity.

The book was bought by Simon and Schuster, and editor John Ordover has had some excellent suggestions, and we're doing the work he wants; definite improvements. The book should be in print about this time next year.


At first I thought, 'a veiled parable for Y2K?', but then I saw the estimated publication date. Poor Nelle! This guy, like so many others, is completely caught up with his biz, and just doesn't have room in his schedule for things like Y2K.

In a sense, he's not 'really there'. But then, who is?


-- Phillip K. Dick (pdk@mirrordarkly.com), March 08, 1999.

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