Peter de Jager feels the worst is pastgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Canada's Y2K guru just wants it over
Battling the bug made him rich and famous but Peter de Jager feels the worst is past. Has he gone 'Pollyanna'?
Wednesday, April 28, 1999 MURRAY CAMPBELL The Globe and Mail
Toronto -- The watch alarm goes off, piercing the restaurant noise and the music from the overhead loudspeaker and reminding Peter de Jager that it's time to move along. "Without this, I couldn't run my life," he says as he gets up to go. Mr. de Jager is, as he readily admits, obsessive about time, which helps to explain why he has been on a crusade to tell us that we are running out of it. More than five years ago, he suggested in a U.S. magazine article that a problem in computer software would cause huge headaches when 1999 gave way to 2000. He wasn't the first to warn of the Y2K bug's damaging consequences, but he came along at the right time and explained things in a way people could understand. And so, about 18 months ago, the world decided that Mr. de Jager, 44, was worth listening to. Last year, he left his home in Brampton, Ont., for 80 speaking engagements (at $7,500 a pop). His Web site devoted to the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem gets more than a half-million visitors a month, he receives 200 E-mails a day, and has published dozens of articles and books. In short, he has become famous and wealthy. And now, he can't wait for it all to end. "This thing has become an obsession, and if someone uses that in the clinical sense, it doesn't bother me because I think it's true," he said. "This is a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day job. I never stop thinking about this, and getting away is very, very difficult." The pressure he feels as Jan. 1 approaches is compounded by controversy -- the fact that Y2K vigilantes now accuse him of letting down the side. Once branded a "dread merchant" (his words), he is now labelled a fraud for suggesting that the problem won't be as bad as some people think. Statistics Canada released a report yesterday that appears to confirm his sunnier prognosis, but Mr. de Jager now describes himself as "a walking human cinder." He complains that his weight is up and he is subject to mood swings. He says he is taking more and more time off. "I am burnt out in every definition of that word, every aspect of that word," he said. "I make it one day at a time." It was a lot more fun in the early days. Mr. de Jager had studied math and computer science at the University of Toronto, and when he signed on with IBM Canada Ltd. after graduation in 1977, he became aware that early programmers had taken shortcuts on standard date formats that would send computers into a tizzy in 2000. But he was always given the brushoff and assured that all would be taken care of by the turn of the century. But in the early 1990s, while establishing a reputation as an information-technology manager at clothing-store operator Dylex Ltd., he watched a television program about the North American power blackout of 1965 and saw the future. In 1993, he warned in a Canadian magazine that the clock was ticking. A few months later, he made the same argument in an article titled Doomsday 2000 that was published in a U.S. magazine, Computer World, and was on his way. He caught a wave and quit Dylex soon afterward to set up shop as a Y2K prophet. Mr. de Jager became a reporter's dream: a guy who knew what was going on and could express it in a generalist's way. He was funny and sarcastic. And because he wasn't promoting any products or services -- other than himself -- he was seen to be impartial. There are dozens of people worldwide who fancy themselves experts in the Y2K computer bug. Some play down its effects while others prophesy apocalyptic collapse. (U.S. analyst Gary North, for example, uses his well-trafficked Web site to muse about the computer "bomb" that "will wipe out every national government in the West.") Mr. de Jager is among a smaller group of about a dozen who command widespread respect for thoroughly investigating the phenomenon and for not ringing alarm bells unnecessarily. "Peter deserves a lot of credit for pioneering in the Y2K domain," said Capers Jones, who writes about the bug and is chairman of Software Productivity Research Inc. in Burlington, Mass. Few paid attention at first to his warning in 1993 that the world was "accelerating toward disaster." It is a measure of the primitive state of the discussion that Mr. de Jager had no trouble claiming year2000.com as the address when he started his Web site in 1995. Now, he feels that the corner was turned some time in 1997. By then the financial and telecommunications industries were well on their way to dealing with their software, and other organizations -- even governments -- were starting to move. By the end of last year, Mr. de Jager had concluded that the back of the problem had been broken. And that's when the trouble really started. A few weeks ago, he posted on his Web site an article, titled Doomsday Avoided, in which he said that catastrophy scenarios were no longer apt. He explained that he had long since stopped worrying about the financial industry -- "my money will remain in the bank" -- and that he expected no disruption of telecommunications service. He expressed concern about the power industry, but he concluded that although the problem had not been solved, "we have avoided the doomsday scenarios." There were, as he puts it, a few dissenting voices. Paul Barker, editor of Computing Canada magazine, was astounded. "Much of the content is questionable and the timing is all wrong," he wrote in an editorial. Fellow Y2K analysts were irritated. "Peter has swung all the way from a doomsday scenario, which probably didn't exist in the first place, to an everything-is-fine scenario, which certainly doesn't exist now," said William Ulrich, president of Tactical Strategy Group of Sequoia, Calif., another Y2K expert. "Of all people, Peter de Jager shouldn't be swinging on a pendulum. He should be balanced somewhere in the middle, giving credible information." Joe Boivin, Mr. de Jager's closest rival as a Y2K prophet in Canada, said the recent comments reflect a narrow Canadian perspective. "Peter may have done himself a big disservice because his credibility has been challenged," said the 20-year veteran of the computer industry who left the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to start a Web site devoted to the Y2K issue. Mr. Boivin (whom Mr. de Jager dismisses as a "minor player") agrees that there is nothing to support the looming-apocalypse notion for Canada. But he believes that problems overseas could cause riots and that the consequences of this turmoil could roll into Canada by April. Distressed at being cast as "a Pollyanna," Mr. de Jager responds, as he often does, with traces of sarcasm. He berates the media for sensationalizing his earlier messages and not mentioning his qualification that a catastrophe loomed only if no effort were made to ease the problem. (Reporters who have followed him say that, like other Y2K theorists, he sometimes forgets in the heat of debate to add the qualification.) Now, what's his bottom line? "I don't know what's going to happen. I know that we run a huge risk because we're dependent on computer systems and they were broke and we've done our best to fix them, but we don't know if we're going to get it all." He professes to be weary of the whole debate with "conspiracy theorists posing as computer consultants." He talks of the long weekends he has been stealing lately and even the occasional week when he has tried to leave the issue behind. He has bumped his lecture price up to $12,500 to try to price himself out of the market. "One of my goals," he said, glancing at the watch, "is that six months or a year after this is for someone to write 'Whatever happened to . . . ?' "I'll be speaking about this for the rest of my life and I'll never fade entirely for the simple reason that I'm not the type who can retire 100 per cent," he said. "I like being active, I just don't like being this active." But even as he wearily trudges toward self-imposed semi-retirement, he is dogged by controversy. Computing Canada's Mr. Barker, for one, can't get too excited about the strain Mr. de Jager is feeling. "He may be fed up, but he's made a pile of dough. The burnout comes with it." Y2K: WHAT TO EXPECT Peter de Jager, in a recent article entitled How Bad, How, How Likely? How bad: I don't buy the notion of Y2K disruptions lasting six months to 10 years. I can imagine no reasonable scenario where such lengthy disruptions are feasible. Are they possible? Sure! In the same way it's possible for you to get four flat tires at the same time. . . . How long: If you [can] cope with a two- to three-week disruption of services equivalent to what happened in Montreal during the  ice storm, then you have a sufficient level of preparation to cope with anything Y2K might throw at you in the proactive countries (such as Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Nordic countries, Israel, Belgium, Holland, Ireland, and even South America to a certain degree). In other parts of the world where less preparation has been done, I'd increase it to four to five weeks. . . . How likely: Note: I am not stating that Y2K is going to create two- to three-week disruptions in the United States or Canada. I'm stating, very clearly and precisely, that level of preparation is sufficient . . . to handle what Y2K might throw at you.
-- Norm (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 28, 1999
Life is tough when you set out to ride a tiger and succeed.
-- chuck, a Night Driver (email@example.com), April 28, 1999.
A snip from the article Norm posted:
Fellow Y2K analysts were irritated. "Peter has swung all the way from a doomsday scenario, which probably didn't exist in the first place, to an everything-is-fine scenario, which certainly doesn't exist now," said William Ulrich, president of Tactical Strategy Group of Sequoia, Calif., another Y2K expert. "Of all people, Peter de Jager shouldn't be swinging on a pendulum. He should be balanced somewhere in the middle, giving credible information."
-- Kevin (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 28, 1999.
Thank God the worst is passed! It has been awful these past few months!
Everybody start unloading your larders and selling your supplies.
-- a (email@example.com), April 28, 1999.
I cannot help but be reminded of the time I watched a woman drive over some bottles, flatten two tires, turn around and flatten the other two on the exact same broken glass...
-- Mr. Mike (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 28, 1999.
"sc033ws021.nosc.mil" (a.k.a. 'a')-- you are even dumber than you normally sound with statements like that.
-- (.`.`@.`.`), April 28, 1999.
Yep, THEY got to him. (Sarcasm here) THEY are going to come and haul you away and feed your stash to the EATERS. (More sarcasm) THEY are gonna GET you. BILL CLINTON planned Y2K. YOU KNOW he really went to ENGLAND to plant the bug in ENGLAND instead of leading anti-govt marches. After all, he is the ANTICHRIST. AND he has promised DE JAGER THE SEAT AT HIS RIGHT HAND SIDE.
Hmm - sounds about right. Since none of you doomers feel inclined to turn loose here, I just thought I would do the job for you.
-- Paul Davis (email@example.com), April 28, 1999.
Mr. de Jager now describes himself as "a walking human cinder." He complains that his weight is up and he is subject to mood swings. He says he is taking more and more time off. "I am burnt out in every definition of that word, every aspect of that word," he said. "I make it one day at a time."...
He has bumped his lecture price up to $12,500 to try to price himself out of the market...
-- 1dayatatime (deJ@g.rrr), April 28, 1999.
de Jager gets paid.
-- Get paid ($@$.com), April 28, 1999.
any consultant who still wants work this year must put on a moderate or happier face:"prepair now!!!but don't worry,we're not doomed but we must PREPAIR NOW!!!!don't be paralized,PREPAIR NOW!!!we'll get through this with american yadda,yadda,yadda,but START PREPAIRING NOW!!
-- zoobie (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 29, 1999.
It takes me about 4 months to make what de Jager makes in 2 hours.
OTOH, it takes de Jager 4 months to make what Oprah makes in 2 minutes.
His fee is outrageous. I hope he has indeed "priced himself out of the market".
-- regular (email@example.com), April 29, 1999.