Y2K - Another perspective that will be put down...

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

March 15, 1999

Y2K is not an invitation to reenter the stone age

Forrest Preece Special To The Austin Business Journal

People are sleeping in airports around the country and there are pedestrians, not cars, on the JFK Expressway leading to the Kennedy airport near New York City. Tremendous multi-car pile-ups are happening and people are sick from scavenging a waste dump that happens to be toxic. Many people are without electric power.

The result of programmers failing to consider that year 2000 would ever arrive?

No, just bits of news from a few days in late 1998 and early 1999.

People were sleeping at O'Hare because of the snarl from a heavy snow; JFK Expressway was closed due to flooding; the traffic accidents occurred because of ice in Austin and snow in Chicago.

The waste dump sickened desperate Cambodians who thought the plastic bags wrapping the waste were a bonanza of building materials. The power outages occurred because of ice storms in Kentucky.

Catastrophes affect people around the globe every day. Infrastructure fails all the time. Natural disasters are often to blame. Sometimes computer failures trigger the events. There are times when a combination of factors causes an unexpected result.

Will certain dates -- 01/01/00, 02/29/00, 9/9/99 -- cause computer hardware and software failure and create widespread chaos? Will it be so pervasive that large numbers of people are affected? Will worldwide chaos ensue or will the problems be just blips in the media to most of us?

System won't self-destruct

According to people I talk to in the computer industry, potential problems abound with computers and their programs. This particular "Y2K" problem has been attacked with enormous amounts of money and effort and is the subject of large scale risk management. Glitches will happen, they say, but this planning and testing will doubtless limit the effects.

Indeed, after having several glasses of good wine with some of Austin's most loquacious and talented data processing professionals, I have come to the conclusion that I don't need to lay in too big a supply of chicpeas, jerky and bottle water for use on 01/01/00.

One version of the conventional wisdom avers that only a few units in our vast network of computers needs to fail to render all the rest virtually useless. The media says the computers will `lock up' or make a wrong and fatal decision triggering a cascade of problems in computers worldwide.

Since I'm told computers trip on hardware and software failures every day with limited pervasive effect; I'd have to guess this theory is fallacious.

Certainly if each and every power and utility provider fails, then it doesn't much matter how the rest of our computers function. The likelihood of long term power outages over widespread areas? It is about as likely to happen as a widespread outage from another cause. Such outages may be attributed to the date for the next few years -- even when they clearly have some other reason for happening.

So can computers, programs and devices with embedded computers and programs crash? Of course.

Will some fail because of a date-related bug? Of course.

Is it the end of the world, as we know it? Probably not.

For one thing, when the failures occur they can often be addressed by remedial programming.

Humans or programs detect the problems and new or revised programs are run to correct the problems and continue. We may simply replace old personal computers that fail.

This is similar to people having a hard disk crash and deciding to upgrade the whole machine.

Devices with imbedded chips may end up being replaced, at no small cost. If the results are simply that a wrong date appears on an email or document, it might be chaotic but not catastrophic.

Prophecy is self-fulfilling

One very real risk is panic.

It's all very well to say that you should withdraw all your money because "the bank will lose track of it and you will be broke." Everyone knows that all of us turning all our assets into cash would be a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. If banks cannot operate, money is useless.

Leave your assets alone and rely on the change on your dresser to see you through if you need cash.

As to other survival supplies, I wouldn't bother trying to be the last person standing unless that's your general approach to living in our society.

But regardless of the date, it's always a good idea to keep a few emergency items around. Who knows? There could be an ice storm on 12/31/99.

Finally, notice that I used two digit years throughout this column. You mentally added either `19' or `20' to the year, didn't you? You made a reasonable assumption based on the current date and the context of my comment.

And guess what? In cases where dates were stored or entered in this fashion -- and in many instances they were not -- programmers often made exactly the kinds of assumptions you did when they wrote their code.

Where and how a program gets the current date is another issue. For many computers, complications in obtaining the current date happen much later in the new century.

The typical IBM mainframe clock will wrap and reach its limit in 2042. (That means, as I understand it, that some number inside the computer that the programmers have been interpreting as time suddenly becomes zero.)

Anyway, assuming we (me and my tech friends) are wrong and the spaghetti really does hit the fan, you'll feel better knowing I also have a couple of blacksmith friends who promise we won't "return to the Stone Age" -- and they can still handle the "Iron Age" for you.

Forrest Preece is the president of Good Right Arm, an Austin advertising agency.

-- Norm (nwo@hotmail.com), March 16, 1999



We've heard all this before. We've seen the straw men, the dogs in the manger; each point you make has been addressed time and again, and answered time and again. While most of us respect your right to an opinion and the right to express it, you aren't posting anything new and you're wasting your time, our time and bandwidth.

-- Vic (Roadrunner@compliant.com), March 16, 1999.


How does this preclude the adviseability of advanced shopping to get the work done now and be better able to relax later?

Thanks for the post.

-- Watchful (seethesea@msn.com), March 16, 1999.

An advertising agency executive pontificating about Y2K?

Give me a break! I wouldn't trust any of them to tell me that the sky is blue!

-- Hardliner (searcher@internet.com), March 16, 1999.

Troll alert. (Hint: check Norm's offerings this month)

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), March 16, 1999.

"We may simply replace old personal computers that fail." - This does not fix the problem. IT'S A SOFTWARE PROBLEM!

"The typical IBM mainframe clock will wrap and reach its limit in 2042." - Same as above.

I could rip this article to shreds, but as Vic said, it's a waste of bandwidth.

Norm, please don't take our attitude personally. But again, Vic is right, we've seen it before. Keep trying if you wish, but until we see a mountain of evidence that says things will be OK, most of us will continue to prepare. I would suggest that you start looking at the mountain that we do have hear, and begin yourself. <:)=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), March 16, 1999.

I don't mean to be disrespectful Mr. Sysman, but I'm one of those fellows who has always (well, almost) been prepared for emergencies, loss of power, no food, etc. So, please don't lecture me. What saddens me is the level that so many of you will go to disrespect others here who have opinions that differ from yourselves. Your Y2K prognostications may be completely right OR they may be entirely and totally wrong. What's wrong with hearing from the other side? What are you afraid of?

-- Norm (nwo@hotmail.com), March 16, 1999.

Most people are *not* prepared for emergencies, loss of power and so forth, Norm.

This forum is valuable because most of the information presented is documented and verifiable. What saddens me is when the 'Gary North Is A Big Fat Idiot' crowd meme-ishly continue to report news that has been proven to be false. The story that Dr. Ed Yardeni lowered his recession prediction from 70% to 45% comes to mind.

You asked what's wrong with hearing the other side? Nothing except that we already have heard that side. We already know that 85% of the U.S. will be able to get their mission-critical systems fixed in time. The question on this news group isn't about the 85%; it's about the 15%.

What if your doctor told you that 85% of your body is in good shape? How would you feel if he told you 15% of your body like your heart and lungs was in iffy shape?

I saw another one of your threads with a story about utilities in Detroit. That's all well and good -- if you live in the Detroit area.

What are we afraid of? That you just might be able to convince a few people not to be prepared for emergencies, loss of power, no food, etc. that you say you are already prepared for.

-- Mabel Carter (usually@lurk.com), March 16, 1999.

"One very real risk is panic."

Those who are prepared are not going to panic! These people talk about panic and then point their finger at those of us who won't need to be rushing to the store when the trouble comes.

If you want to make a difference Norm, why not spread the word about FEMA's recommendations for preparation. If your worried about panic, start posting on the "Gary North is a ..." forum and tell them to do what you say you've already done.

-- d (d@usedtobedgi.old), March 16, 1999.

Hiya Norm,

Just wanted to point out a couple of things about the article you quoted that you may be unaware of. If things were so easy then most computer people would be out of a job, me included. GRIN

Quotes from the article are in italics.

For one thing, when the failures occur they can often be addressed by remedial programming.

Norm, this takes time. Too much time, and too much stress. It may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months (or even longer!) to fix such problems. Typically the ones I encounter take 3-4 days working around 20 hours a day to fix. I personally do not like working 20 hours a day and I can see the possibility that in the Year 2000 I could be working those hours for maybe weeks at a time including working weekends.

Humans or programs detect the problems and new or revised programs are run to correct the problems and continue.

As above it takes time, it is not as easy as o there's the problem, flick a switch and start it all back up again.

We may simply replace old personal computers that fail.

Yes people do this all the time, I've heard that there are now 100 million personal computers at least on this planet. If ten percent of them fail, where are they going to buy the new ones. We are talking about 10 million computers (along with their corresponding components) and software. There isn't enough, most people are going to have wait weeks or maybe even months before getting their computer.

Devices with imbedded chips may end up being replaced, at no small cost.

Depends on the device, depends if that manufacture is in business any more and also depends on availibility of components. If 100,000 companies suddenly screamed out for components I can guarantee there will be a massive shortage.

If the results are simply that a wrong date appears on an email or document, it might be chaotic but not catastrophic.

Granted, but what level of chaos?

Norm, you are entitled to your opinions. I respect that. However some of the comments that the reporter mentioned are just unrealistic. I've been in the computer industry now for 15 years and non-computing people just have no idea, not a faintest clue on how difficult it can be.

More amazing is that I get people all the time when I discuss something computers telling me that I have no idea what I am talking about. They no nothing about computers, they admit that to me and yet state that I am wrong.

We in the computer industry have been fighting that mentality for years and years. Norm, talk to the programmers ask their opinion and discuss the problem (if you can as many are working hard at trying to fix Y2K :-) When listening to someone who has minimal computing experience keep in mind that there statements could be incorrect.


-- Simon Richards (simon@wair.com.au), March 16, 1999.

Norm, My opinion only. We're not afraid of anything. Most of us really do hope this will be just a "bump in the road". I know you've been trying to bring us good news, but we have seen all of this many times before. We have a few people (Diane Kevin pshannon) that spend alot of their time trying to find ANY news on this issue. I've visited a dozen Y2K sites and believe me, we get it here first. Again, my opinion, the evidence is not good. Yes, we do have some time left, and I hope to see much more good news. I just don't think it will be enough.

This is a very emotional issue. While we do have a few that are extreme, most here don't mean any disrespect. They just get carried away. I know, I've done it myself.

I'm glad you are prepared. But Mabel brings up a good point - most people are not. So I must ask you a question. What's wrong with our trying to spread the word and get people ready? Even if "nothing" happens, isn't this a good way to live? You seem to think so. <:)=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), March 16, 1999.

PS - If you want to take Simon's advice, and talk to a programmer, I did a little survey here last week. We have at least 850 MAN-YEARS of programming experience hanging out on this forum. I have 31. <:)=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), March 16, 1999.

Ah..Norm, the code is broken. I have yet to meet an opinion that will fix it.

-- Mike Lang (webflier@erols.com), March 16, 1999.

Thanks, Norm. You've really opened my eyes. I just knew that the species which could create weapons of mass destruction surely could eradicate a docile two-digit glitch.

I just hope my wife will take me back, now that I've maxxed out the credit cards on dehydrated food & solar panels.

Norm, any advice on patchin' up my marriage?

-- Bingo1 (howe9@pop.shentel.net), March 17, 1999.

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