Mitch Ratcliffe answers questions : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Get Y2K Ready Chat With Y2K Expert Mitch Ratcliffe Mar. 12  Y2K consultant and journalist Mitch Ratcliffe, author of's Y2K Ready column, joined us earlier today for a live chat to answer your questions about the millennium bug

Moderator at 11:59am ET Mitch Ratcliffe now joins us. Welcome.

Mel Marsa from at 12:06pm ET What is the easiest way the average person can test their home computer for Y2K compliance?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:12pm ET This gets to the heart of the problem for everyone who has specific questions about their PC and the software they run. First, you need to look at your hardware to find out if it can handle 2000 dates. To do this, you will need a testing application. We have a free one on, which I will be happy to send a URL for if you send me mail at

Having established your hardware is okay, then you need to move on to the operating system. Again, has a complete guide to Windows, Mac and Linux Y2K compliance. Most versions of Windows need some fixes, and there are links to these on the site. Mac and Linux are, from the operating system standpoint, compliant.

Finally, you need to look at the application software. Many programmers did not use four-digit year-date fields, so their applications need to be updated (in Linux, they generally do, since applications access the system clock for the date -- most of the time). Mac and Windows apps need to be tested, and I recommend Norton 2000 or ClickNet Y2K, which do a good job of finding date problems.

If everything checks out, you're fine. If not, then you will know exactly what you need to do based on the results of the hardware, OS, or application testing.

Dan from at 12:13pm ET What is the best method for a small business to determine if their network is Y2K ready? Can a non technical oriented staff perform the tests themselves or should they hire an outside consultant?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:16pm ET Yes, a non-technical staff can conduct many of these tests, following the same instructions laid out for PCs above.

But, if you use any custom software, you'll likely need a consultant to come in.

More important, though, is the need for contingency planning, a practice any business should master for all issues, not just Y2K. There are a number of methodologies available, but I've recently seen a new class of application that guides the business person through a self-assessment of risks, problems and remediation strategies.

Without having had the time to review them all, the most interesting and useful one I've come across is from Systemic Solutions Inc. It's called Trimaran, and it is very well thought out and not very expensive -- about $300. It won't eliminate the need for consultants and remediation, but it will help you make much better decisions about when and who to hire.

Chuck Phelan from [], at 12:17pm ET What would you advise an average person or household to do to get ready for Y2K?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:19pm ET I suggest you follow the Red Cross and FEMA guidelines, which say that you should prepare for Y2K like any other disaster. Put aside about a week's worth of food and water -- just buy a bit more long-shelf-life food the next four times you go shopping and you're set -- and be prepared to go without electricity for a couple days. This probably won't happen, but it prepares you for anything that may come along.

Janna Freytag from [] at 12:19pm ET What is the anticipated impact of the Y2K bug on local utilities? How do we know if ours are prepared?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:22pm ET Local impacts will vary considerably, based on the preparedness of the utility, the availability of reliable power generation, etc. The fact is, the utilities are quite well prepared, since they had a much smaller embedded systems problem than believed. Moreover, more than 40 utilities have tested or continue to run their facilities with post-2000 dates. This demonstrates that the systems work and, perhaps more importantly, that they can work with non-compliant systems without causing new problems related to conflicting date formats.

Lexusc from at 12:23pm ET What were the results of the Y2K testing on Wall St., last weekend?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:26pm ET The final results will take till the end of the month, according to the Securities Industry Association, but the early results look very good. There were few problems, and none that interfered with trading. This is, as well, the second test conducted by the markets, and the earlier one, last fall, also went quite well.

It's important to distinguish between errors and problems. There are errors in systems everyday -- but few problems that produce difficulties in clearing trades. I've heard that the Euro transition produced some errors that slowed transaction clearing, but this did not dampen the market for the new currency. So, so far, the market tests show that traders and investors will not likely see the impact of Y2K on their trades or portfolio-tracking systems.

Rex Poindexter from at 12:27pm ET Are stock market fluctuations expected during the weeks prior to and after the change of the century, due to consumer and investor scares?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:30pm ET Let's be sure we're talking about the same thing: fluctuations due to trading problems -- no; fluctuations due to fear and uncertainty about the performance of companies -- very probably.

The market does tend to price uncertainty into equities nine months or so in advance of an event. So, I wouldn't expect the few weeks around the New Year to be the problem, but the whole next year, when investors try to figure out the potential impacts. We should see this soon, if we're going to see it in a big way.

M King from at 12:31pm ET It "bugs" me when a spokesperson - say for the government - announces the agency has 90%, say, of the problem solved. How do they know?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:36pm ET They are guessing based on an assessment of the problem and the progress made against that assessment.

The thing is, you have understand and believe that people actually do know what they are doing most of the time. It is easy to assume the government or corporations are lying, but that's not the case all the time, which seems to be the implication of your question.

If you are walking down the street and come across some piano movers with a grand piano suspended by a rope over the sidewalk. Do you assume they are covering up their incompetence? Further, do you assume that they are not interested in protecting your safety -- even though they may get sued if they drop the piano on you?

Government people, just like everyone else, are trying their best. They may be exaggerating their progress, but they aren't lying outright about what will happen, because that carries consequences. The only way it wouldn't would be if society collapsed entirely -- which you may believe could happen -- but then you'd see a lot more of these people "in the know" who are lying about the disaster to come, preparing a lot more than they are.

Gary - Davenport Iowa from at 12:37pm ET Do you feel that the hype and concern generated by most of the Y2K consultants is the equivalent of someone shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater and then yelling "I'll show you the way out for $50.00?"

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:38pm ET Before I answer: Y2K *is* a serious problem. The fact that it is hyped mercilessly shouldn't distract us from that fact. But the short answer to your question is "Yes."

Wilson from [], at 12:38pm ET What Advice would you give regarding bank held finances. How are financial institutions preparing for y2k. If they are compliant how would a regional power outage effect transactions. Should I withdraw funds?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:43pm ET I would give the same advice as Jane Bryant Quinn: leave your money in the insured banks where it is.

Banks and financial institutions are doing all the necessary work on Y2K. The Fed and FDIC, which insures deposits, have said fewer than 1 percent of banks now face real problems due to Y2K -- and these represent far less than 1 percent of deposits. Wiess Ratings, a private firm, last week released a report that said the problem could be bad for 19 percent of banks, but this survey judged any bank that did not reply as facing serious problems. So, it overstated the problem based on banks' willingness to answer its questions, rather than the banks' actual progress.

A regional power outage would not likely affect a data center, which would have back-up power. It should have back-up power. In any case, the money in your account wouldn't disappear. It may be hard to get to for a few days -- that's not a disaster, if you plan for it.

Take out however much money you think you need to get by. But do so conservatively, and you will be making the right choice for yourself.

Jeffry McGee from at 12:44pm ET I was watching the Crier report earlier this week, and their "experts" were saying that America (and the rest of the world) should be ready for up to 30 days without power as well as riots and looting in big cities, etc. They said 2-3 weeks of food is necessary as well as having a month's worth of cash on hand. Can you substantiate any of these claims? How big will the problem be?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:50pm ET Actually, *I* was one of the people on that Crier Report broadcast. James Wesley-Rawles, who claimed there would be a month's worth of power outages, is totally uninformed about progress in the utilities industry, from what I can tell. His "proof" is that the power companies are lying, but he can't prove that. His book, "Patriots," seems to address a more general concern about the state of the nation and world, and his proscription for Y2K serves that agenda.

Victor Porlier, the other pessimist, and I probably agree more than we disagree, because we both advocate some level of preparedness. I don't agree that the power grid will have the problems he described -- weeks of brown-outs and rolling blackouts, because the power grid doesn't work that way. In the winter, we use about 45 percent power than at peak. So, with the normal five to six weeks' coal supplies at coal-fire plants, hydro and co-generation plants, the US can get along just fine without nuclear power -- which accounts for 30 percent of power generation. But, even more, the nukes aren't going to go offline en masse, maybe not even at all. So, the blackout scenario is not very realistic in my opinion.

Food, banking and other basic supplies will not experience major interruptions, either. The transportation system in the US will be fine, including trains and trucks.

Samantha from at 12:50pm ET What advice can you give on traveling overseas during that first week in January?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:54pm ET Travel will be a headache, regardless of Y2K problems, because this New Year will be one of the biggest travel events in history. So, expect delays. Long delays where Y2K problems in regional or foreign airports cause backups.

The FAA, if it experiences problems, could also cause delays by reducing traffic. This will be the case in Southeast Asia, where the air traffic control system has mandated a reduced travel schedule.

Planes, however, will be safe. Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, Airbus and other jet manufacturers and suppliers have tested extensively and found no Y2K safety problems in aircraft.

Patrick Reed from at 12:54pm ET We all know that Chairman Greenspan puts a happy face on this, but could the higher demand for cash towards the close of the year that would be the result of even moderate preparedness for Y2K bumps cause a liquidity crisis?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 12:58pm ET It's wrong to say Greenspan puts a happy face on Y2K. He says it is serious and the Fed is preparing with seriousness for the problem.

The Fed will have $50 billion extra in cash, for a total of about $190 billion, this summer. That would provide every household in the US about $2,000 in cash, if they wanted it. But, in fact, the typical bank balance is just $600. So, the likelihood that that cash reserve will be seriously taxed is low. Also, the Fed can relax monetary controls, making more money available through bank loans by lowering interest rates, and this should avert any business cash crunch.

Brian from [] at 12:58pm ET It is my understanding that the NRC issued a ruling that all nuclear power plants must test their systems by June or July (at the latest) to make sure they are Y2K compliant. Do you have any information as to the status of the nuclear plants. It is my understanding that the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Georgia just conducted their test and the entire system shut down.

Mitch Ratcliffe at 1:02pm ET Peach Bottom's monitoring systems failed, but the entire plant continued to operate just fine. The critical issue is whether such systems will be working right at the moment when a problem occurs in a plant. And the chances that this would come to pass can be lowered by taking the plant to a lower level of output, by shutting off some systems, etc.

Also, I believe the Peach Bottom failure was due to a bad fix, not a Y2K problem.

The NRC has polled 11 nuclear plants and found various systems "potentially" impacted by Y2K. If you read the audits carefully, these systems wouldn't produce problems, but they were replaced anyway. The entire process is being conducted with an engineer's attentiveness to the potential for problems, and I am confident that the systems will operate, and safely, in 2000. We can certainly shut down any that won't, without widespread power problems.

Jim Sumrall from [] at 1:03pm ET There is currently talk of legislation to protect businesses from the effects of Y2K. Is there any consideration being given to protection for average people who are unable to pay bills due to Y2K problems beyond their control?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 1:06pm ET Yes, this bill passed the Senate with considerable backing from industry lobbies. It's not a very good bill, since it does reduce the pressure on companies to comply with their obligations to provide safe and reliably products or services in 2000.

There is nothing under consideration that would protect individuals affected by Y2K. This is partly due to the perceived progress on the problem in banking and business - there is little expectation that funds will be out of reach or that many people will be thrown out of work, causing financial problems that would require special assistance. If this did happen, it would be treated the same way as any emergency situation -- FEMA would extend loans and emergency assistance.

Moderator at 1:06pm ET Thanks for joining us today. Any final thoughts or comments?

Mitch Ratcliffe at 1:08pm ET Well, Y2K is a serious and expensive problem. If you, your business or employer take appropriate steps to prepare, you will be fine. Take heart and recognize that others around you are working just as hard, even if they aren't alarmed.

I hope all of you will stop by for more information about Y2K, and I'll see you on in the Y2K Ready section.

Thanks for all the great questions!

Moderator at 1:15pm ET Mitch will be back to answer your questions on Friday, Mar. 26th at noon ET. See you then!

-- Norm (, March 14, 1999


Boy, will I sleep better tonight.

I'm not sure which is spinning more, my head or his interview. One question to Sysman or another programmer out there (I'm Not). What is the difference in a 'bad fix' answering a y2k problem and the problem itself. Isn't it interrelated? If you try to fix a problem in business and you do not succeed, the problem may have been addressed but it still isn't fixed. Doesn't the same logic apply to programming?

Got potatos? Got money?

-- Lobo (, March 14, 1999.

As usual, Mitch Ratcliffe, like the other spinmeisters, takes on a purely USA and Rollover-centric view of the problem. As usual, he (and apparently the people asking him questions) forget that we live in an interconnected global economy. One where big swaths are having '99 economic problems and are way behind Corporate America in remediation efforts. But, YOU already know this...

-- pshannon (, March 14, 1999.

"They may be exaggerating their progress, but they aren't lying outright about what will happen, because that carries consequences."

Umm...isn't "exaggerating their progress" lying? If they claim to be meeting deadlines and they aren't, is this exaggeration or lying? Aren't the consequences of exaggeration-now going to BECOME the consequences of lying later?

Could these people run this logic past their mothers?

-- Helen (, March 14, 1999.

John Koskinen said during an exchange with the press recently about preventing panic (RealPlayer required)...

...that Dr. Edward Yardeni is known for his pessimistic views on Y2K. I'd just like to add that Mitch Ratcliffe is known for his optimistic views about it.

-- Kevin (, March 14, 1999.

"Also, I believe the Peach Bottom failure was due to a bad fix, not a Y2K problem."

How does this bozo get away with this? Its a bald face lie for a Y2K "expert" who read the official description of this event to charachterize this as "not a Y2K problem"! The nuke operators were trying to test one thing when they inadvertently tripped over a Y2K problem in both the primary and secondary computer monitoring system. They weren't trying to test those systems so I guess it doesn't count in this clown's eyes. I hope he ends up in a 7-11 saying, "bbbbut it wasn't supposed to be this bbbad!" -tinkling glass, sound of incoming .223.

-- RD. ->H (, March 14, 1999.

When speaking of "spinmeisters", don't forget the biggest: Dr. Gary North

Here is an example:

"Canada's Ontario Hydro claims that it's systems are 98.8% ready. It is working on interoperability tests now. Some have been completed. All will be completed by June 30.

It plans to have its contingency plans in place by November 30, leaving a full 31 days for testing."

Gary is trying to imply that you cannot test until your contingency plans are complete. Except that the idiot already says that they are already working on testing in the previous paragaraph.

This is typical Gary North. Here's the link:

-- not engulfed by fear (, March 15, 1999.

Um, not engulfed -

I think you misread that. One has to test contingency plans as well; that's what "fire drills" are - tests of fire-related contingency plans. Testing of contingency plans is what is being left for those "full 31 days" (and I'm sure they'll be very full indeed.)

-- Mac (, March 15, 1999.

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