Opinions on an optimist?

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I became aware of "Y2K" a few months ago but have just very recently started to research it. I haven't yet formed a solid opinion but know I need to do so very soon. In searching for facts, I spoke with a friend who owns a medium sized software company figuring he must know something about it.

His opinion, in a few words, is that Y2K is absolutely nothing, not even a "bump in the road". I guess on the 0 to 10 scale I saw somewhere he projects a 0. He said his money is staying in the bank and the sum total of his new year supplies will be a bottle of champagne for midnight January 1. He told me he did his Y2K project last year. His clients range from small retail stores to one of the largest corporations in the world. His software and hardware resales involve of course the software, but also operating systems, computer chips and embedded chips in equipment outside the computers. He said during his Y2K project they went through every single line of code his company has ever generated, tested all the operating systems and software packages bought off the shelf from other companies, tested all the operating systems and chips in the computers he puts his software in and tested every single embedded chip his company used. They did this, corrected all errors in their own software, notified clients of exactly which chips need to be replaced, ordered all necessary new chips and had them delivered and replaced and replaced all necessary software at every single client where necessary ... and they did all of this in 5 days.

He has the advantage that through good planning, experienced gained from a previous company that went under, and probably a dose of good luck, he has had no programmer turnover. Every single programmer who generated all the company's code was there for the Y2K project. I asked him if he isn't a rare exception. He told me not really that rare, although possibly a minority. There are a lot of good programmers out there and more importantly companies who understand the importance of good programming technique, such as documentation, and allow the time and other resources for this. Quite a few software companies who have Y2K handled, himself included, are even gearing up to expand when others fail. He sees this all as just part of the weeding out process that occurs in a market economy, although in this case there will be a peak as a lot of it will happen at the same time. This doesn't concern him because the companies on the ball see it as an opportunity and are gearing up to quickly move in where others falter.

I then asked about utilities. Accounting and point of sales software is one thing; electricity is another. He said at one point he was worried himself. A while ago he checked with his gas and electric companies (he happens to have a well at his house for water). Both of them had the same response. They were completely upgraded, software and embedded chips, as far as they could test. In addition, each one of them has old backup equipment that is not computerized in any way. Both of them had tested this equipment to be sure it is functional, and it is. They said they can use it just in case. They told him there is absolutely no chance, zero, of a failure from Y2K, and he doesn't believe they would just say that as an outright lie. You never know, but he finds it unreasonable to believe they wouldn't at least hedge there words a bit if they were concerned.

As we talked, his overall assessment was, in summary, the following. Y2K is systemic, and this is why some people see catastrophe. What these people fail to realize is that when you take a systemic look at our economy you can always find potential catastrophe in a lot of places. If you dig deeper, you can convince yourself that catastrophe is looming around the corner. This is because no single person ever does know what is going on in total, and thus no one ever has a handle on what "the economy" as a whole is doing. The thing to remember is this is not only not a problem, this is what makes our economy so productive. It is state managed economies, where up through the chain of command there is at top someone who at least attempts to direct production at the national level, where things don't work. In our experience, each one of us knows a little corner of the world very well and takes care of it. Some of us do a better job at it than others, but this is always the case. As in his industry, he knows a lot are going to falter, but he and a lot more like him are just waiting to move in on their territory. For the bottom line, he says what the pessimists don't account for is that for every company that is going to fail, and it could be a large number of them, there is another that is quietly gearing up, "hoarding" resources if you will, to move in on their territory. For every fortune 500 that might go down, there are some small guys hoping for just that and not just hoping but positioning themselves for rapid growth. Not all small and medium sized businesses are sleeping through this. The ones who are prepared see possible opportunity to become one of the big boys on the block.

I asked why so many computer professionals are worried about this, don't these people know. He acknowledged the pessimists are often the most informed people on the matter, but he still thinks they are wrong. He said this is because the computer peoples' "own little corner of the economic world" directly relates to Y2K, and as they think about it systemically it looks like a disaster. They fail to realize, in his opinion, the diffuse nature of our economy and that systemic projections always rest on personal experience which in their own case may not look good. No matter how holistically anyone believes he or she is looking at things, only a tiny fraction of the economy is included, and this fraction won't include the companies gearing up to benefit from another's failure if this consideration isn't in his or her personal experience.

I thought about my own job. I work in medical transcription. This industry produces medical reports for hospitals and doctors, all on computers of course. My company is national and made its Y2K upgrades a couple of months ago. I talked with the computer guy in my local office a little, and he is taking him money out of the bank by end of June and stocking up on some food and water. When it was my turn to have my system upgraded, I had to stop working for a couple hours while he logged on (I work at home), upgraded the software and tested everything. Now that I have spoken with my friend, I was thinking: My company is in the medical industry, supposedly one of the worst. If other companies that do what mine does fail, my company easily has the resources to immediately move in on them. All they have to do is hire the people laid off from the other firms, sign the contracts with the effected hospitals, and go to work. This is on a national level and could involve disruption to hundreds of companies and many thousands of people. Nonetheless the whole thing could be 98% completed in a couple days. Really, it could happen that fast. This, again, is because of the diffuse nature of business/economy. Each local office hires, purchases new equipment, signs up new clients, etc. If the company is prepared to expand, and it sounds like it is, the national office can implement support procedures and just be sure the local offices are ready. Each local office, knowing its own local scene, can sign up new accounts (hey, they'll call us if their transcription company falters), hire new employees (freed up from a failure somewhere else), etc., which for each local office will involve small numbers and can be done quickly and easily.

If my company isn't ready, has bad fixes as it turns out, another one will have done it right. Then the direction is in reverse. I'm unemployed for a couple days. Or I freelance; my PC is compliant and if the hospitals really need someone to do the work ... I just have to make sure my local utility is as on the ball as my friend's, and move 30 miles up the road if necessary (I rent). Same with the phones; my job would be possible but a major pain in the fanny without reliable phone service.

I wanted to put this thought on the optimistic side up on this board for people to read and comment on. I hope you all respond to this, and criticize it where you feel it needs it, because I am really not sure about this issue and don't feel committed to any scenario from nothing to doomsday and all the ones in between. Thanks.

-- southflorida (whomever@somewhere.net), March 20, 1999


i believe that you have a few more possibilities to factor into your equation. even if the phone, electric, and your system is up and running you must not assume that this is doable.

the medical industry in this country is on it's collective knees.

this is due mainly to the advent of managed care and the poor reimbursement offered by the purveyors of same...the insurance companies.

i am a troubleshooter and i am currently working in an orthopedic practice in PA. the workers compensation in that state reimburses based on the medicare fee schedule...when this law was passed in august of 1993 reimbursement for surgeries dropped 80% in most cases, the no fault auto is also tied into the medicare fee schedule as are most hmo's and managed care plans.

where am i going with this? the reason healthcare is one of the least prepared for y2k...no money for remediation.

factor in the fact that medicare and hicfa are not going to be cutting checks, add medicaid to the mix, guestimate the percentage of hmo's and managed care organizations that might not make it and it gets very ugly.

do not depend on the medical industry to support you after y2k...it will be in a shambles.

no industry can take a hit like that to their bottom line and still function in an effective manner. the impact on the quality of care afforded to most americans has dropped dramatically in the past 5 years and will continue to do so.

as an aside, i worked for a service bureau in nyc in the late 60's we were refered to as the 'creme de la creme' of the service bureau industry, the systems analyst graduated princeton with an ma[this still meant something at that time] and was absolutely brilliant. i know the problems that we had upgrading and implementing systems changes.

i do not care what your friend tells you...we are in 'deep shit' and you have very little time left to prepare.

if i were you i would be on my way to costco's right now.

-- marianne (uranus@nbn.net), March 20, 1999.

Well, y2k is a big ugly beast. Remediation projects range from trivial to hopeless. Many are massive, and are having massive amounts of money thrown at them. The prognosis for any given project rests on too many variables to list here.

This is also a game where close counts. Remediation is like income - the more you have, the better off you are, even if you aren't rich. How rich we end up, how close we come, is purely conjecture at this point.

But it seems most likely that the impacts of y2k will be highly variable, and predicting the effects on an individual basis is more a matter of faith than facts. Best to retreat to a prepared position just in case some of those bullets have your name on them.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), March 20, 1999.


Thanks for your very decent and generous post. It sure took careful thought.

Could you please clarify what actions only took your computer friend 5 days?

-- Watchful (seethesea@msn.com), March 20, 1999.

Ever wonder how some really stinko movies ever get released?. Often they have big name actors, directors, producers, and maybe even had some positive test-marketing results. The answer, in my opinion, is that the producer was told what he wanted to hear since most of those doing the telling would continue to be paid only if the movie were completed. As far as test-marketing is concerned, the sample size is dictated by budget constraints, and is almost always too small to be significant. Therefore, ANYONE, who attempts to assess the importance of Y2k based on his direct, or even indirect experience, is fooling himself, and bound to get a distorted view.

With regard tio Y2k, you must do your homework by reaching around the globe through the Intenet, for example, to get as much assorted factual information as possible, and from a variety of viewpoints. Maybe after hundreds of hours of study, the real image of the disructive power of Y2k will come into focus.

Then there's always the bell-curve argument: With millions of companies and governments around the world working diligently on Y2k, how is it that with a mere 9 months left we haven't seen hundreds of thousands claiming that they are Y2k compliant with emphasis on the full meaning of the word "compliant"? Have we seen even a hundred recognizable companies or governments making such claims?

-- Dr. Roger Altman (rogaltman@aol.com), March 20, 1999.

I found myself wondering as I read this if your friend will TRULY leave his larder bare, & his money in the bank, come fall. My guess is not. My guess is that even the most pollyanna among us will prefer to "be on the safe side" as we get closer to the rollover.

If bank runs are inevitable because enough people, both optimists & pessimists alike, decide it's best to "be on the safe side," then the time to head for the bank is NOW, regardless of what y2k actually brings. Once "fire" has been yelled in a crowded theater, it doesn't matter if there's really a fire or not. All that matters is that you get to the exit before you're crushed to death.

I hope your friend is right about Y2k. He might be. But anyone who bets his & his family's life on it is a fool, pure & simple.

-- still in (the@planning.stages), March 20, 1999.

I haven't yet formed a solid opinion but know I need to do so very soon.

That's the only statement with the ring of truth in the whole post

-- disbeliver (in@trolls.com), March 20, 1999.

I suggest YOU do some real research on this issue. I don'nt think it's a good idea to base your conclusions on one person (your friend's) experience. There are literaly millions of Y2K projects going on all over the world. They range from relatively insignifent to collossal. CITI Corp expects to spend over 1 billion on Y2K. Do you really think they would spend this kind of money if they did'nt have to?

I suggest you ask your "friend" how much research he has done on Y2K, has he read the Senate report, have you? Has he read the Inspector General's report on the USPS, have you? I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift.

I don'nt mean to attack you personally but by the tone of your letter you strike me as a person that has trouble thinking for himself. If I'm wrong, forgive me, but if I'm right, suggest you make some immediate changes.

-- Watcher (anon@anon.com), March 20, 1999.

Wouldn't Y2k already be fixed if it's really that easy to fix? I think it was Peter de Jager who said it takes medium and large companies at least two years.

-- Connie (kayakfest2@aol.com), March 20, 1999.

Why don't you do as reasonable companies do?

1) Make a contigency plan for the things you can control.

2) Do the preparations necessary to execute it.

-- PNG (png@gol.com), March 20, 1999.

look on the other side of the fence. Look at the whole picture. Don't forget the NWO , the New World Order, and the cashless society, and the one world religion. This begins in 2000. The New World Order scares the jebbies out of me. With the one world leader, and one goverment. And the goverment will not be like ours.

-- (ludlow@bellsouth.net), March 20, 1999.

5 Days for code and embedded devices, what have they got, 1 PC and a microwave oven?

The site I'm at is a smallish mainframe shop, about 8 or 9 millions lines of code, more than 1000 neworked PC's. We've got more than 40 full time staff working on Y2K and have had for more than a year, and we've outsourced the actual mainframe COBOL code remediation! (but not the testing of the fixed code).

We're just working on the Assembler code, the SAS, the PC stuff and that sort of thing that the outsourcer can't handle. And of course the Testing!!, The Baseline test to establish how the System works now, the Regression Testing to establish that the fixed code works the same, the Age testing to prove that it works at various future dates (at leat 8 future dates if you're thorough) and the integration testing to prove that everything hangs together with everything else. Of cource then there's the External Interface testing with other organisations we exchange data with, that one's no joke, I assure you! Org A wants to test with you and you're not ready yet, you want to test with Org B, but they're not ready etc etc...

Let me tell you, it took much more than 5 days just to get our Y2K LPAR running (for the non-mainframers thats a kind of time machine where we can set the date ahead to after Y2K). You wouldn't believe the problems just to get the environment working. When you move to a future date you get things like expired licences, you have to contact the vendor, get a patch and install it, you don't do things like that in 5 days.

We need to upgrade several key Mainframe products (example IMS, a big mainframe database management system) to the latest version, even under normal circumstances an IMS upgrade takes weeks of careful planning, its central to everything! Also an operating system upgrade from MVS/ESA to OS/390 because many third party products are compliant only under OS/390.

5 days? Not at a mainframe site, NO WAY!

-- Ron Davis (rdavis@ozemail.com.au), March 20, 1999.


That's a really good description of the process. Just out of idle curiosity, what's your prognosis for your operation? Especially, where does the interfacing stand -- how many others are reaching the point where they can test with you? Do you have any hopeless cases you're considering replacing with more compliant companies?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), March 20, 1999.


Your friend's optimism seems to me to be a bit optimistic to me. Did those power people put their responses in writing? What about if power was urgently needed in an outside area, and a decision was made to brown-out or black-out your area in favor of that area (ie, controlled blackouts for triage purposes)?

It sounds to me as if your friend is suffering from the type of pride in technology that sank the Titanic; he sounds as if his opinions cause him to have potentially dangerous blind spots. He believes he knows the software industry; but does expertise in software translate into an ability to forecast the resilence of, say, the food industry to withstand Y2K? Software is a deceptive base to model an entire economy on; the shelf life of, say, bottled milk is vastly different from the shelf life of Office 97, especially without refrigeration power.

The only times I take an expert's advice is if the worst outcome will not hurt much, or if I can't duplicate his reasoning and poke holes in it. In the case of Y2K, for me, the worst outcome is considerably dangerous. I have talked with many people, and many, even some who are technically inclined, tell me they are not worried at all. When I dig into their reasoning, I often find out that I have a somewhat better handle on the facts of the situation than they do (in part, thanks to the Yourdon forum on the net). This in turn makes me wary of accepting their conclusions (and ditto for some doomsayers as well). When opinions are common but diverse, it may be best to do one's own homework.

The last socio-technological calamity in the world was the Depression. The things that separates a worst-case Y2K from the Depression are that in the '30s, people were much more self reliant, and the population density was a lot lower. Now, we are crowded and very interdependent on each other and machines. Society's exposure and our individual exposure to a socio-technological calamity is a lot greater than it was then. Society "buys in" to the premise that there will be no mass failures, because if there were, it would require significant lifestyle changes and examination of fundamental behavior and philosophy. What would you do, for example, for Y2K if you ran a catering business in New York City? Close down for 2 weeks and come back to find other catering businesses have captured your customers? It's a lot easier going into Y2K to expect that someone else will suffer adverse consequences and you will increase your business by mopping up your competitors'. I think your friend correctly pegs the dynamic nature of competition in society, but in his possibly over enlightened self-interest, may be underestimating the risks and disruptions to get everyone across the Y2K chasm unscathed.

-- Ann Y Body (annybody@nowhere.disorg), March 21, 1999.

Italics off?

-- Ann Y Body (annybody@nowhere.disorg), March 21, 1999.

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