Dick Mills, Phrenology and Preparation

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Dick Mills slammed Jim Lord's recent Westergaard column today on Westergaard (gee, almost sounds like our forum). Ignoring that for a moment, I want to comment on another piece of the column:


"I'll say it another way to be clear. Whether the grid goes down or not in 2000 is a matter of physics and the performace of our machines and our operators. It is a matter of engineering. Only engineering methods, if that, can predict what will happen. Lawyers, the communications directors, the politicians, the managers and survey takers, don't know what will happen, so phrenological examination of their skulls won't help anything.

But wait, isn't the NERC report itself nothing more than phrenology? Yes. The report itself, and the underlying idea that you can predict a physical outcome by asking a trade association to run a survey asking utilities what percent complete they are on Y2K projects, is nothing more than sanctioned phrenology. Jim Lord was dead right on that point.

So, for that matter, is the Senate Y2K report phrenology.

So are most press articles about Y2K based on phrenology. I get calls every week from journalists who want to read to me someone else's public statement and ask me to analyze it and comment on how that influences my feelings about Y2K. Isn't that nothing more than phrenology? If I duck the phrenology and tell the reporter what makes sense to prepare for regardless of the public statements, he usually says thank you and then never calls back."

(end snip)

While I have consistently lambasted compliance percentages as absurd and meaningless for much the same reason as above, I have also said, and again because the percentages are absurd, that we could be FARTHER ahead than we think with Y2K remediation.

I doubt it, because my 20-years of IT experience square exactly with Yourdon's Deja Vu article and Y2K does seem to be following the same track. Given my experience and the absurdity of the reported "data", what other conclusion could I draw? While I think it foolish in the extreme to make Y2K guesses on the basis of anything other than technical experience (ie, not based on the free market, human ingenuity, etc), I can understand, psychologically, why people are doing that (see Mills).

Given the lack of independent audits (whatever the reason and there are multiple ones, from lack of that practice historically in IT to PR spin to legal exposures, etc) and the historic ignorance of media about technology, it is largely fruitless to try to take the Y2K pulse at this time. This period will extend, IMO, to October at least, maybe till January 2000.

Nothing fundamental has changed with respect to preparation, however. Ed Yardeni rightly and trivially predicted last summer that 1999 would see a tremendous amount of legitimate good news about Y2K. How could it not, given the money spent and the energy invested? Far from being a pessimist, I am more in danger of giving the wrong kind of credence to much of the good news coming out of the media, given its lack of evidential foundation. I do take a lot of it at face value!

Yardeni's predictions were always based on the 20% or so of systems that would not, most likely, be fixed, given the simple reality of the calendar by mid-1998 (deja vu: the die was already cast, if you understand large, enterprise-wide IT projects and the then-status).

Our problem is that the obfuscation, misinformation and sheer "not knowing" make it impossible to tell whether we're looking at 10%, 20% or 30% not fixed by year-end. While I'm over-simplifying, those percentiles will make an enormous difference in the final result. The sheer lack of even reported good news around the rest of the world can be factored in as you wish.

Focusing on good news as a reason not to prepare or bad news as evidence of how terrible Y2K will be are, indeed, both based on phrenology.

That said, the facts about Y2K don't cancel each other out. Whatever the reasons, the near-total lack of independent verification by people who know whether the code has actually been fixed worldwide (see Mills and many others) is ample justification for this Dog to continue preparing at full-speed. In that sense, I consider our current position to be worse than I had expected it to be last year (ie, greater uncertainty and uncertainty locked in through the rest of this year).

I won't rehash all the threads on odds and stakes, though I obviously agree with Hardliner that the stakes of Y2K are far more germane than odds .... and, if you're followed my post, you understand that odds CANNOT be assigned in the absence of credible data. "Stakes" is, therefore, inevitably the name of the game.

Human nature being what it is, I suppose we will keep pursuing phrenology for a while (critical "dates" are now the latest fad). Personally, I'm preparing.

For my family, Y2K is a win-win situation. The simplest things remain the most relevant: 90% of my preparations will make our life more enjoyable and peaceful > 2000, whatever happens with Y2K. If Y2K goes Milne, I've been a responsible husband and father to my five children. My preps will also help my community. If Y2K is a bump, I've been a responsible husband and father to my five children.

"Yes, it's still Y2K, stupid." Prepare and let the rest of the marketplace noise fade around you.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), April 02, 1999


Nice piece BigDog. Now what you got do is arrange to have it automatically resubmitted to the list every 2 weeks. It will save on a lot of hyperlink msgs.

-- bdb (cb_rex99@hotmail.com), April 02, 1999.

Well said, BigDog. I think IT people understand how fragile systems are and how few people have even executed a disaster recovery plan for their systems. The numbers in the press are pie-in-the-sky PR fodder and are meaningless if, say, even a fraction of remediated systems can't recover from repeated power outages. There are way too many variables here and way too much risk to rely on any prediction.

Bottom line: it is prudent to make preparations for the unknown and no amount of PR, economist's optimism, or even legitimate good news can change that.

-- Codejockey (codejockey@geek.com), April 02, 1999.

From Websters Dictionary. phrenolegy-the study of the confirmation of the skull as indicative of mental facilities and character traits.

I have learned to keep my handy dandy little dictionary in front of me when coming to the forum.

-- Linda A. (adahi@muhlon.com), April 02, 1999.

bdb --- so true. I probably should repost. A lot of the reason people are ripping each other on the forum (I think it even relates to the trolls) is the lack of REAL data while we still have to wait for the actual event.

I have said once before that my 18-year old son commented about Y2K, "People stop thinking about it because nothing ever happened." ROFL, of course, because Y2K, even now, is obviously a future event. Exactly. Our culture is not primed to prepare for or keep a steady, quiet, stable focus on anything that is more than one week up ahead (maybe three months for those in the markets). Most people think that Y2K has been discounted precisely because it has been reported and "nothing" has happened.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), April 02, 1999.


-- provide links (ple@s.e), April 02, 1999.

No no, no, no, Big Dog.

Although your post makes logical sense, and wisdom may be found there, YOU sir are contributing to upsetting the hopes and dreams of the faithfully blind and you will start a panic.

Not to mention that most importantly, what it all boils down to is that if this Y2K thing happens, YOU SIR will have all the advantages of surviving comfortably while the community children around you starve and shiver.

And that's not fair.

How selfish of you.

Better to be equally miserable with the rest of the pollyannas than to create an advantage for yourself and family.

You...you....SEPERATIST You!

-- INVAR (gundark@aol.com), April 02, 1999.

"...Our culture is not primed to prepare for or keep a steady, quiet, stable focus on anything that is more than one week up ahead (maybe three months for those in the markets). Most people think that Y2K has been discounted precisely because it has been reported and "nothing" has happened. "

This is an excellent observation, Big Dog, one I have seen, too. In addition to the lack of focus, and short attention span, factor in a shakey sense of history, or no understanding at all. From a developmental psychology perspective that puts human 'civilization' at about a 6-year old cognitive level; unable to look either back or forward because the pathways don't exist. It will be more than interesting to me, for the time I have left of life, to watch for the growth of human beings, if they get that far.

Upon the hill, sighing and smiling...

-- Donna Barthuley (moment@pacbell.net), April 02, 1999.

Invar --- Gosh! I'm so grateful you've set me straight. I'm a bad dog, a bad dog, a BAD dog. There, I feel better.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), April 02, 1999.

For some of us out here the problem is almost too much information, and processing that information is the problem. The Polly's have taken the same stance as the 10'ers in the opposite direction. I think a lot depends on your personality and how you first perceived the Y2K problem. For me, I was issued a credit card with a 2000 expiration date. I tried using it (wouldn't go through) the same day that the credit card company sent me a new card with a 1999 expiration date and a statement to the effect that "some store registers could not process the 2000 expiration date so a new card was being issued".

Second, for some people, they simply cannot connect the dots. They cannot/will not force their minds to see the whole. I have a neighbor who does not want to see the whole. I have talked till I am blue in the face and no go. She works in financial programming for a large company that distributes fresh and frozen food products to restaurants. She isn't worried that there will be nothing to distrubute if the power goes out, and the product can't get to their warehouses and the refrigeration doesn't work, or if there is a huge drop in the gasoline supply so they can't distribute what they do have etc. Her biggest worry? That if there is gas rationing, she won't have enough gas to get to work!!If there is not enough gas for her to get to work, there isn't enough gas for her work to be there. This is a very bright, intelligent woman, but something just will not let her absorb and process the whole picture.

I think that this is part of the problem that Polly's have (would never admit it!) and is part of the DWGI mind block. Their raison d'etre is too centered on their job and the thought of no job sets them adrift so it is easier to rationalize (?) that all will be a 1.

-- Valkyrie (anon@please.net), April 02, 1999.


I was walking outside today near an elementary school. So nice to watch and hear the laughter of children playing together in the school yard. But if things turn for the worse that laughter may well disappear. I don't mean necessarily that they will surely die, but even a bad recession will lead to suffering of these innocents. I recalled your concern for your five kids and thought of the protection they are receiving. It will be a great shame and tragedy if these others are left vulnerable and suffer for it.

-- bdb (cb_rex99@hotmail.com), April 02, 1999.

Big Dog,

Well put. It is interesting that media 'reporting' of 'good news' has made Y2K a past event! We live in an autistic society that seems to live in the ever present.

I will slightly disagree though. We do know some things now that we didn't 6 months ago. We know the FAA is not fixed (or even tested). We know the DoD is not done or tested. We know HCFA is not done or tested. Remember, govt said they would be DONE NOW. We know they aren't. We know the calendar is relentless. I disagree that the fundamentals haven't changed. Its worse because there is less time. Remember how we were assured that virtually every business would be done 12/98 leaving all of 99 for testing? That is clearly NOT the case. We are headed for the biggest speed bump of all time.

-- RD. ->H (drherr@erols.com), April 02, 1999.

bold off (i hope).

-- Bruce Welker (bdw@ngdc.noaa.gov), April 02, 1999.

RD -

In Formula 1 racing, if you hit a "speed bump" (i.e., any debris or even just a decent gust of air under the front), you're airborne briefly, and then you make the evening news...

Y2K probably won't be anywhere near that spectacular, but the results may still resemble someone "going into the stands" at Indy...

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.com), April 02, 1999.

When I first got clued into Y2K, the statement that I recall making a big impact with me was "Nobody knows what is going to happen." That was nearly 14 months ago.

Since then, I have investigated diligently, trying to figure it all out. I have watched as Y2K deadlines slip, the "whole year for testing" turn out to not be, etc., etc. There is, as I type these words, no Y2K compliant anything worthwhile that I am aware of in the way of our life sustaining systems that we count on.

Still, all in all, I think the best statement that anyone can make concerning Y2K is "Nobody knows what is going to happen." Given that it is April 1999, I would think that that statement speaks for itself in volumes, and the need to prepare for what could in fact turn out to be a huge disaster should be obvious.

-- Jack (jsprat@eld.net), April 02, 1999.

Jack --- Yes, uncertainty in 1997 or 1998 is understandable but the level of uncertainty in April, 1999, speaks for itself, especially with respect to the wisdom of preparation.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), April 02, 1999.

Talk about short-term memory! This thread flashes through the forum on April 2 -- yesterday -- and already it's past history. It should be, as someone noted, re-posted, and available for our creative and in-depth elaboration for MONTHS to come.

We write in the sand, the tide washes it away, and tomorrow we write much the same again.

MY BUSINESS SOLD YESTERDAY! 7 MONTHS WAITING FOR SBA and BANK BUREAUCRACIES! GAWD THEY NEARLY KILLED ME! (Thank you to this forum for providing me a sane hang-out in the few off-hours.)

It's Spring -- I'm recuperating -- back to preps -- I've been so slow BUT -- THANK YOU WORLD FOR NOT PANICKING YET WHILE I WAS TRYING TO CASH OUT OF MY BUSINESS!!!!!!!!

Now where was that inverter catalog....

-- jor-el (jor-el@krypton.com), April 03, 1999.

Congratulations, Jor-El! Ya made it under the wire :)))

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), April 03, 1999.

Ah, PS F1 cars are a bit more stable than that. Now, CART and IRL cars, are a different story. I happen to enjoy the one weekend a year I get to chase CART cars with Santa's Helpers (Lon and the rest) on CART 1, 2, and 3.


-- Chuck, a night driver (reinzoo@en.com), April 03, 1999.

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