Kludgers and Jury-riggers:

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

I found this on the de Jager site and though it worthy of posting.


By Jon Huntress According to the most recent survey, 21% of the population thinks that Y2K is going to cause serious problems for our society. Some envision a massive failure of our infrastructure and a return to those carefree days of the middles ages when the choices were much simpler. By the age of five, you pretty much knew what the rest of your life would be like. Government was almost nil. (Although, even without government, most of your output would go to taxes--survivalists take note.) And if the backbreaking work didn't get you, a disease would. By the way, did you know that the Bubonic Plague is endemic in New Mexico even today? But this is not going to happen. There are several reasons for being optimistic. The first and main reason that the infrastructure isn't going to go south is that the only thing that could destroy it would be a massive embedded chip infestation and failure, and the numbers just aren't there. Much of our infrastructure is more than twenty years old and, therefore, mostly immune to the embedded chip problem. Another good thing is that the engineers who did the programming for these things did a good job. With the great majority, there is no surprise in the way they fail, no matter what the cause of failure is. They don't bring down the system they are a part of, either. And there aren't millions of problems there, only thousands. As the failure modes of individual types of devices become known and listed, detection becomes much easier. Even if a company is late in starting, if they just do an inventory of their systems, they can find out from a number of companies and web sites if they have potential problems. Embedded systems will only be a serious situation for those companies that get a very late start, lack the money to upgrade, or are just unlucky to have bought the systems most prone to fail. This doesn't mean we are going to get off scott free. There will be enough mainframe, mid-range, PC, and legal problems to keep everyone going for a long time. But we have something else going for us that will help us get through the difficulties. It is the way we are; the type of people we have become. We used to be called a nation of tinkers several generations ago, and some people think that has changed because, with our higher level of technology, it is much harder to "tinker" today. (A tinker was a door-to-door fixer and seller of pots and pans, often itinerant.) Times have changed. We tinker now on a much higher level, but we still tinker and the basic philosophy of tinkering (if we mess with it, we can probably improve it) is still a big part of our culture. I had a teacher friend in Santa Fe who taught ancient history and loved Classical Greece. I was also a history teacher but felt that, as a people, we had more in common with the Romans. Our discussions about history were lively and he often didn't agree with me and never hesitated to tell me when he thought I was wrong. We were talking once about the inherent ingenuity of Americans. I told him of a story I read about a retired Detroit auto worker who took a trip to the Soviet Union in the early eighties I think, and happened to fall in love with a Russian woman who lived in Siberia. It turned out his pension wasn't big enough to import her to the US, but it would work very well if he moved to Siberia. This is what he did and, as soon as he got to her small Siberian town, he began improving his lot. There was no plumbing in the house but water and sewer were in the street (deep in the street- 11 feet down). Only the local party commissioner had a flush toilet. In a relatively short time, he had scrounged together enough surplus pipe and fixtures and plumbed his whole house. Can you imagine the effect this had on the rest of the town, especially the wives? It was my contention that the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the installation of that flush toilet in Siberia. My friend started to disagree with me, but then he stopped himself and thought about it for a minute. This man was a scholar. He lived alone in an apartment and he didn't have a tool drawer in the kitchen. If something broke, he would call someone to fix it or buy a new one. He wouldn't even consider trying to figure out what the problem was. He was the polar opposite of the handy man, and he had no apologies for the way he was. But after a few minutes of thought, he nodded and said, "When I go to Greece, I stay in a small house in a very small village in the mountains near Athens. I stay at the same place every year. I read and write, do research. And every summer, a week or two after I arrive, people will start coming by to ask me if I could come over to their house and fix something for them. You know I'm no good with tools, and I tell them I'm no good, but they ask me to just look and so I do. And in almost every case, it turns out to be something simple and I amaze myself by actually fixing it. They ask me, because I'm the American." I have two friends who live in different states and both have 15-year-old sons who are really into computer games. Luke regularly shares gaming design and strategy with the CEO of a major computer gaming company. Jordan corresponds with the people in another game company and several of his ideas have been incorporated into one of the company's products. These boys have earned the respect of some of the best professionals in their fields and they can't even legally work yet. They are two of the newer members of our fifth column of fixers and kludgers, who can jury-rig solutions out of thin air even when they only see half of the problem. They love what they do and actually enjoy it when something breaks because that's when things start to get interesting. By the way, "jury-rig" is originally a nautical expression. A "jury" is a temporary sail rigged when the main sails can't be set, such as during a storm or when the masts are down or have been damaged. It is a fitting expression for dealing with Year 2000 problems. And this is why the year 2000 isn't going to be so huge a problem. There are always five or six ways to do a task, and most of us know it. And if one of them doesn't work and we have some time to think about it, we will try another, and another after that. This is done from the marketing department on down to the factory floor. Secretaries and administrative assistants do it all the time. For the people in Information Technology all over the world, it is a description of their job. After all, it isn't as if these computers work all that well now. One of the big benefits of Y2K is that it has forced us to look at every aspect of our systems and make them simpler and stronger. If we look at contingency planning in the same way, considering what we do and all the ways we could continue doing it, we will be in the right mind set for handling the problems that arise. These are exciting times. Rather than being afraid or feeling despair, it helps if we have the same sense of excited tension and purpose felt before we play in a big game or go up on stage. There really isn't any question about whether we deserve to be there or not. We are good enough to do this because we are the best there is. Best Practices, Jon Huntress

-- Helen Wheels (
helen@****.com), March 17, 1999


What krapp. The events of 1929 thru 1932 did no damage to the infrastructure either. But a lot of people suffered terribly for the next fifteen years.

-- dave (wootendave@hotmail.com), March 17, 1999.

well,,, First, the numbers look to be about 2 orders of magnitude off. second, based on what has been said on this forum by embedded designers, the assertion that they do not fail in weird unpredictable ways and do not take down the process with them is so much swill. I have had a number of personal discussions with people who maintain process control equipment, and they have explained to me why process control equipment can be date dependent and just how fragile the handshaking is between a distributed process control unit and a mainframe. EACH of these folks, totally without knowledge of the others has said they were going to start a vacation somewhere warm in November and planned on being there through the spring. AT LEAST!


-- chuck, a night driver (rienzoo@en.com), March 17, 1999.

I packed up my fishing tackle , went down to the river, got in my boat and went trolling.

Please excuse me, Helen. I find it very difficult to accept the above. Nicely written article but way off base to my knowledge. 1929-38 wrecked a great number of families, businesses and individuals. I was raised in WVa in the late 40's and 50's. We HAD lights, TV, food, water and the other amenities. It was STILL rough as hell. I remember that I had work to do (yeah, work. You know, the stuff that puts muscle on and causes sweat). I threw many a bale of hay and helped butcher many a cow (as well as gtting kicked across the barn). No I don't want the 'good old days'. They weren't that good. But I'm ready if society as a whole decides to regress to whatever. Are you?

-- Lobo (Hiding@woods.com), March 18, 1999.

well, i guess i'm a jury-rigger. i have a pile of woodchips in my yard, to be spread out as mulch. instead, i think i will leave it where it is, so that next january, i can offer it as food to the neighbors. :)

-- jocelyne slough (jonslough@tln.net), March 19, 1999.

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