For Mr. Decker : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Mr. Decker,

Your statement, "Acknowledging that information systems is not my field, let me suggest the following points:", was most appropriate as it excuses your erroneous conclusions in several cases.

"1. Software remediation is not software development or even software engineering. Performance data on the development of a new operating system is not applicable to remediating a specific data element in an existing program. It is like comparing building a car to repairing a carburator."

Your comparison is inappropriate. "Remediation" is a Y2K generated buzzword that refers to the process of making software code designed to work only in the 20th century, work after that century ends. As such, the comparison, to be accurate should be that of building a car to re-designing a part of that car and re-building it, without the old part and incorporating the re-designed one.

"2. The process of remediation has been increasingly automated thanks to software tools developed in the private sector. Finding Y2K- related problems has become easier and faster (due to market forces). And there is no reason to believe the process will not accelerate as the year continues. Oh, and Y2K programmers are not making NBA salaries yet."

Although some automated software tools have been developed for some applications, and this process may accelerate, they have not and will not replace the human programmers to the extent that would be required to locate all the faulty code. In addition, such tools seldom do more than locate date related code. That code must still be re-written by a human programmer. As for the failure of programmers' salaries to skyrocket as predicted, you may look to the greed of the corporate stockholders as impetus (after all, greed by whatever name you choose to call it, drives capitalism) and the foolhardy dispatch of such projects to India by "horn-haired" managers and hastily altered immigration quotas by the federal government as the explanation.

"3. Fixing noncompliant systems is very high priority for most firms. As you know, many software projects are doomed from the start. They fade because they lack a clear vision, a well conceived functional analysis, appropriate staffing and resources, etc. It is incorrect to compare an organization's Y2K efforts to "just another software project." The level of attention is closer to a response to a virus infection or a systems 'hack.'"

You are undoubtedly correct here, but the conclusion that such attention and priority will affect success is not supported. The crew of a ocean going vessel that watches a spread of torpedoes unerringly seeking them as a target will certainly give the utmost attention to the "problem" and will no doubt respond in the extreme, but such will not ensure success in their case either.

"4. Not all firms rely on computers. Not all computers are "mission critical." Not all programs contain date sensitive data. Not all Y2K noncompliant programs will fail. We do not have data on the percentages, but it is misleading to suggest a single date field error will incapacitate an entire IS system.

Many small businesses use computers in a support role. It is possible for most firms to function, even when the compters are "down," although less efficently."

All firms do rely in computers! I suspect that you meant to say that not all firms rely on their own computers. That simply makes the problem worse from that firm's perspective since they have less control over any attempt to solve the problem.

It is quite correct that not all computers are "mission critical". Loss of such systems will (presumably) simply degrade the effectiveness of the operation of which they are a part.

It is also correct that not all programs contain date sensitive data. To be totally accurate, most programs do not contain data, they contain "code", but your meaning is clear and those programs that do not use dates will not fail and are thus "Y2K Irrelevant".

By definition however, a Y2K noncompliant program must fail. If it didn't, it would be "Y2K Compliant. Did you perhaps mean that such failures would not matter? That is one of the results that will occur.

And, while it is misleading to suggest a single date field error will incapacitate an entire IS system, it is not misleading to suggest a single date field error can or may incapacitate an entire IS system.

"5. How much of government is "mission critical?" If the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has a systems failure, can we expect angry mimes conducting street demonstrations? Most federal and state agencies could close tomorrow with very little impact aside from the dislocated workers. In fact, it might actually improve the business environment."

This is an excellent point of consideration and is demonstrated amply by the federal government's own classification of such a small percentage of its systems as "mission critical". Certainly "angry mimes" are not to be expected, nor are angry taxpayers when the IRS fails. Nevertheless, those few "mission critical" systems (IRS, Social Security, FMS, etc.) must function in order to prevent the fall of the government. The remainder should have been the subject when those of us who visit the ballot box have done so in the past. Most immediately, they seem irrelevant to Y2K.

"6. The U.S. financial system is a widely acknowledged leader in Y2K remediation. Even one-year CDs now mature in 2000. Most authorities in the the critical infrastructure systems--telecommunications, utilities and finance--have positive reports about Y2K remediation efforts. Please, Mr.Yourdon, I hope you are not suggesting, like some readers, a massive conspiracy of silence."

Conspiracy, by definition, requires interaction between the participants and an agreed upon scheme, to some unlawful end. I submit that such is not only highly unlikely (as you suggest), but unnecessary in order to observe the results that we do. What we are seeing in not conspiratorial behavior, it is normal, everyday, business-as-usual behavior.

"7. With your extensive experience, you know that systems lurch along with patches, work-arounds, quick fixes, manual adjustments, etc. Yes, some firms will fail because they have a complete systems failure, but it takes time to fail. If the network goes down, Mr. Yourdon, the employees do not begin cleaning the personal items out of their desk. Companies will exhaust cash reserves, hire additional staff; they will do everything possible to keep the business moving forward. And, as always, the IS staff will work long hours."

I agree with you here, but the description you provide is hardly cause for celebration. As has been discussed, that which has not been solved in a long period of time is unlikely to be solved in a short period of time. There will be exceptions (Oh! So that's what's wrong!) but in the main, the problem may be expected to get much worse before it gets better. In the meantime, events may well occur which will be greatly ameliorated by some simple forethought and preparation, at all levels.

"7. The rest of the world's problems (and they are quite extensive) have not slowed our domestic economy. Honestly, I do not think Kenya is a major trading partner... nor do I think many lesser-developed countries (LDCs) are as technology dependent as the advanced economies. Of course, if there is a global depression it will impact the United States... but read some of the posts here. Do you think we are headed for martial law? Do you think the Republic is so fragile that a computer systems problem will result in anarchy?"

I basically agree again, but you ask two questions. Martial law is simply not a viable option, for logistical reasons if no other. As for the fragility of the Republic, I do indeed perceive it to be that fragile. Whether or not anarchy results, the results will not be pretty and again, simple forethought and preparation at all levels is appropriate.

"8. There is no "the code." There are countless hardware platforms and software packages. There is no "broken." Some specific elements must be remediated to ensure Y2K compliance. In this case, Mr. Yourdon, we are looking for a "good enough" solution."

Here is one of the places where your ignorance of computer system internal workings has gotten you in trouble. There is indeed "the code", but you are right in that it is not "broken". "The code" consists of the simple assumption that whatever system is at issue is operating in the 20th century. As such, the code is not "broken"; it is doing exactly what it was designed to do. The problem is that soon it will not be the 20th century anymore and we will want "the code" to do something else. Your "good enough" solution is just what everyone has been madly scrambling to achieve and will largely fail at achieving. It has been apparent from the start (at least since 1996 or so) that a complete redesign of all code and restructuring of all data was not a possibility. Certainly some entities will achieve success. How many and who they are will determine the course of future events. The bottom line is still that no one can predict with any degree of accuracy who will fail and who will not (except that I believe governments above the county level are already largely doomed).

"9. Individual firms will fail. If we allow capitalism to work, they always will. Failure, within reason, is a good thing. In fact, we probably do not let enough firms perish. Our government "saves" some businesses that really ought to die. Our government also has many agencies of dubious value. If they do not function, it may prove that we can function as a society quite well without them."

Again, I largely agree. Your, "within reason" qualification is the obvious sticking point. Something will emerge from all this that we will call a society. I personally doubt that it will be much like the one we currently enjoy, but again, who knows? The secrecy and deception allow only speculation.

"10. You argue that Y2K is like every other software project we have faced during the last 30 years. It started late and will finish late. You also argue that Y2K is unlike anything we have faced before because it is "systemic." If it is "unlike" anything we have faced, isn't it reasaonble to expect a unique response (like the considerable increase in your public profile).

If you were arguing that one "ultra virus" could disable massive numbers of computers, corrupt data and cause serious economic disruptions... I'd agree. In fact, I think we'll see cyber terrorism in our lifetimes. If you think we ought to prepare for such contingencies, again, I agree.

To use a baseball analogy, Y2K is a slow pitch right down the middle of the plate. Everyone in the stadium knows it... and you are right, some firms will still strike out. The pitch I worry about is the wicked split-finger fastball that no one expects."

Y2K is not only like every other software project, it is like every other human endeavor in that if you start late, you finish late. And, although it may be quite reasonable to expect a unique response, nothing I've seen yet indicates such a response. The "movers and shakers" are simply "moving and shaking" with the same old tired subterfuges and techniques. The one guarantee in all this is that the results will be unique.

It's interesting that you suggest the virus analogy. I agree also. If I wanted to write the most effective virus possible; the one that would affect the most systems across all boundaries and divisions, the only one I can think of that would be more devastating than one which would cause date arithmetic to fail would be one which caused all arithmetic to fail. One which re-defined 2+2 as 3, for example. Y2K will have exactly the same effects as if such a virus had been maliciously planted in most of the world's computer systems. My experience in the computer world (and it has been borne out by countless others in print) has been that incompetence, carelessness and inattention to detail has caused far more grief than intentional damage. The origins of the Y2K problem are presently moot, the results remain to be seen.

And regardless of the type or style of "pitch", it is prudent for us all to remember that, "The mighty Casey has struck out". . .

-- Hardliner (, April 07, 1999


I can't stop myself - for the benefit of us non-Americans in the audience, I have to present the original work of literary art, created, amazingly enough, without support from the National Endowment for the Arts,
Casey at the Bat

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that--
We'd put up even money now with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat, For there seemed
but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occured,
There was Johnnie safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped--
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted some one on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville-- mighty Casey has struck out.

-- Blue Himalayan (bh@k2.y), April 07, 1999.

"...that which has not been solved in a long period of time is unlikely to be solved in a short period of time."

A wise caution. NATO should have realized its worth.

-- Tom Carey (, April 07, 1999.

Mr. "Hardliner,"

As I just explained to Mr. Yourdon, I do not have time to respond in detail. (I do have a "day job.")

I appreciate the civil tone of your post and was surprised by the amount of agreement. Perhaps reasonable men can achieve greater understanding through discourse.... Take care, though, if you are seen agreeing with me, you might find yourself tagged as "softliner,"

Trust everyone, but always cut the cards.

Warm regards,

-- Mr. Decker (, April 07, 1999.

Decker --- if you think this is Hardliner agreeing with you, you still don't understand the first thing about the subject matter.

-- BigDog (, April 07, 1999.

Big Dog,

When you are used to attacks with a machete, a fork seems a welcome change. I feel my interaction with both "Hardliner" and Mr. Yourdon has been productive. To some degree, we are both willing to acknowledge areas of agreement. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Mr. Yourdon suggest we are not headed back to the Stone Age.

My expertise is in economics, not computer programming. In my experience, the economy does not operate like a computer program. I would not presume to apply economic theory to a wicked programming task. Unfortunately, computer programmers do not have the same restraint when it comes to economic problems. In economics, like writing and love making, people often overestimate their abilities. Frankly, I have heard enough lectures about fractional reserve banking from individuals who cannot define M1. The gold standard is not returning, the Federal Reserve will not be dissolved and the country will never have a good five cent cigar.

Perhaps one positive result of Y2K will be an emerging field of macrocomputing... the study of complex, linked computer systems. To date, what we have are "microcomputing" experts extrapolating single systems to a universal. It will be helpful, particularly in light of cyberterrorist defense.


-- Mr. Decker (, April 07, 1999.

Decker --- I agree about the macrocomputing stuff and have made this comment myself off and on. Significantly, it is IT people who have experience with enterprise systems (Hamasaki, Yourdon and others, myself included) that are the most pessimistic about Y2K impacts.

Also, I haven't noticed any lack of non-IT people saying hilariously stupid things about computers. Since computers and economics touch all of us, there is no way to partition off discussion spaces ....

-- BigDog (, April 08, 1999.

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