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

I have been asked by someone that read one of my previous posts, how I came to my present state of awareness with respect to Y2K. In thinking about the question I came to the realization that it might be a worthy subject for this forum. "Rear mirror" reflections are sometimes incredibly informative, not just for the source of the reflection, but for introspective observers as well. They may relate them to their own experience/awareness, and tend to better put into perspective their own judgments.

Before I describe the actual events that led to my "Y2K awakening," I think some background information that helps define the "lenses" through which I was "seeing" at the time, would be useful.

My final five years of employment with IBM, found me as a manager of a group of "financial analysts." Our collective responsibility was to keep financial score, as it were, on the development and maintenance of several classified software development programs for the Air Force. Even though the purpose served by my function was technically limited - in that we existed solely to assure that one portion of the Government's congressionally-driven bureaucracy, the portion with the money, was properly getting its money's worth from one or more of its other more "product focused" components. I nonetheless became familiar with some of the sobering "technical truths" surrounding software development.

The projects in which I was part a of the development team, involved the creation of code, counted in the million of lines, running on numerous hardware "suites", and employing both "old" and "new" languages/equipment. Having no technical background in software, and only the most limited experience in same, I was, and remain so today, largely ignorant of the workings of the "intergallactic-vortex" that is software development. Though my relationship to the technical skills and disciplines on these programs was a "peripheral" one, it nonetheless taught me two crucial aspects of the vagaries of these projects - both relating to my peripheral responsibilities and both relating directly to each other.

The first of these was that regardless of how seemingly strong the Engineering "foundation", no matter how finely detailed and designed, repeatedly reviewed, passionately pursued, no matter how thoroughly the project was planned and begun, invariably it would fall behind its scheduled milestones. This would produce one of two emergent facts. Either the immediate planned milestone would slip in time, and a plan would be adopted to prevent subsequent milestones from "slipping" as well, or the immediate milestone would morph into less functional content than planned, and in so doing become what I would term a "suspect" milestone. (Often they would do both!) These suspect milestones would then wear the badge of "functional doubt" until at some point toward the completion of the project, doubt was either confirmed, or the functional water was so muddied, the doubt could now be reasonably doubted. Reality, in this context, would often be "postponed" until the last minute, whereupon bad news that was understood by most members of the team, had to finally be acknowledged and faced. This would invariably produce a formal slip of the schedule with all milestones moving out in time, with the new schedule reflecting realism or continued fantasy, depending on other variables at play.

The second of these crucial aspects is that the estimated cost that was the initial guiding force behind the project, would invariably rise. Its rise would not only parallel schedule problems, but would also be reflected in the fact that the technical complexity would be discovered to have mysteriously been originally underestimated. With this new realization would come the grudging acceptance that many more man-hours grousing about in the intergallactic-vortex would be required than was previously thought. This would first occur at a stage when additional engineers and programmers would be feverishly added to the team, thereby increasing the "managerial complexity", and further stimulating the cost. It would also occur toward the completion of the project whereupon at this juncture, adding inexperienced (inexperience with respect to the project) people to the team seemingly did little to prevent further impacts to the schedule.

The above observations, cynically laced though they may be, represents my experience in large software development projects. I am not hurling any criticisms at the people with whom I worked. I evolved to conclude that the nature of the beast is such that those that plan the project are optimists (perhaps in order to be awarded the resources to begin the effort), while those that actually perform the work tend to be realistic pessimists, borne of the repeated wars between the optimists and the cold hard hand of software development.

The level of stress that seemingly accompanied these projects, in my judgment, was determined by the fundamental premises that the management team brought to the effort. If they believed for example, that the people on their team were generally lazy, incompetent, or lacking in motivation, then they (the management team) behaved as "cadence counters" on a Roman slave galley, and the working environment was truly debilitating. If on the other hand, the management team had confidence in their people and that confidence was mutually maintained well into the program, then the "atmosphere" was always stressful, but I would not describe it as debilitating. I cannot honestly say which management "style" (a certain misnomer) was more beneficial to the program, they both seemed to eventually produce a satisfactory product. However, I can say with a clarity of mind, which style produced more emotional, and on at least two occasion's actual physical, carnage.

In summary, the closest I came to contributing technically to the project was when my financial team properly (defined as meeting with approval) combined the objective clarity of math with the subjective fog of politics. At the age of forty-four after a career unrelated to software, it did provide me with the opportunity to become acquainted with at least one arena wherein large scale software development was practiced, and more importantly, it enabled me to meet the woman that I would eventually marry, three years later. She would become the key to many changes to occur in my life, not to mention inadvertently serving as the catalyst for the subject of this thread.

Her skills were "technical." She has since become an excellent manager as well. With a degree in Math, she has spent all of her years in the various aspects of software development projects. Though not a programmer herself, she has learned much of the shared values inherent in the programming "community" - values that invariably unite programmers when herded together in separate - though incestuously linked, complex projects. She has also become known for her skill in Integration and Test, which have become her "specialties."

Shortly following our marriage in 1991, I retired from IBM. A generous offer was made to a large number of IBM's employees that met certain criteria. In so doing I was motivated to leave and make room for younger and more technically oriented people (also less expensive ones!). Being the mature and responsible adult that I was, I did not take it personally I just took it. My wife has, on and off, during the years since my "retirement" (1992), remained in her field, and in her areas of discipline.

This then was the perspective I brought with me, based on a modest amount of personal experience, limited technically though it may be. Software seemed to be one level of abstraction beyond hardware. The fact that in software one deals with a series of logical abstractions, not things themselves, seemed to further complicate the process of "bringing the product into reality, " resulting in the product always being late and over budget.

With the above information serving as a reference point, I now fast forward the clock to approximately September, 1998.

The summer of 1998 found me involved with my small real estate business, as well as doing some consulting with a fledgling start-up company. Totally unrelated to "the intergallactic vortex" of software development, my new pursuits left me time to spend with our daughter as well as my other new interests. My wife was, as usual, immersed in what has been and remains her area of expertise - development of software used in classified systems for the Air Force.

Responsible for Integration and System Test of a 1.8M Lines of code project, she had begun to come home to both our daughter, and myself with ever-increasing nervousness and anxiety. At first I attributed this to normal stress associated with her work. When it not only persisted but also began to reach unusual proportions I began to try to get her to talk more about what was happening. At first she was reluctant and would just dismiss it as typical pressures that were mounting within the project.

The stress persisted and grew in severity. My curiosity persisted and grew in frequency. Eventually, in response to my nagging questions, she began to repsond.

At this juncture, it is important to note that until this point in time, I had only a vague and undefined awareness of "2YK". A friend had mentioned it in passing approximately one year earlier and I remember having flippantly dismissed it as unworthy of any serious concern.

It is also important to realize that the project she works on is a classified one. The amount of information that the holder of a security clearance such as hers should/may divulge must be carefully considered. In this environment, while you always have a good idea of what specific information you should not be casually discussing, if you are vigilant and wise, you will also be extremely cautious about unclassified information that someone may be able to thread together and gain insight into that which is, in fact, classified. (Conceptually, I imagine this is but one of the problems with which someone in the position of Kosinin must be grappling). Understanding this potential pitfall, my wife is always guarded in what she divulges to me concerning the details of her work.

Her responses to my inquiries were statements such as: "The Program Manager acts like he has never done one of these programs before." Or, "the Colonel is putting unbelievable pressure on us with respect to this schedule;" he thinks we can just put whatever people on it we need and get it done! "Surely these people understand that these problems must be worked through, and they require time to correct?"

To responses such as these, my past financially oriented "baggage" would emerge and I would utter some totally useless remark like, "Yes sweetheart, I understand. I am sure they are focusing on the anticipated increases in cost when they are told about any potential "slip" of the schedule." To which she would then become guarded, and "non-responsive."

This dialog continued until early in November, 1998. She was having a particularly difficult series of problems with not only the Integration of the code, but with "people problems" as well. She had just been in a meeting with one of the extremely capable and knowledgeable senior programmers, upon whom the program was woefully dependent, and apparently this person, in a fit of frustration, had indicated that he wished to leave the program. At the risk of committing a gross understatement, my wife was, in response to the possibility of loosing this valuable employee, emotionally "wired."

I asked, "will this situation result in problems for which there is no recovery?" She replied "very likely." I responded, "what problems?" She indicated, "it will almost certainly make it impossible to meet the upcoming schedule milestones." I replied, "well how much of an impact do you estimate it to be?" "It could be several months, she replied. Continuing with my "useless remark" routine, I remember saying something to the effect "is that all?" With her voice steady and with her now "cold" blue eyes riveted on me she said, "this schedule cannot slip." Keeping with my now well-established penchant for useless remarks, I said, "what do you mean it cannot slip, what makes this program "slip-resistant?," I said, injecting a little humor. She was now clearly irritated. (I remember thinking that I was helping her by providing her with an outlet to discuss the pressures of work.) She sternly replied, "this program must be operational by the end of next year, the customer has made this the single most important priority, we do not have a choice in this regard, the schedule cannot slip."

I am not sure what transpired at that moment. All I can remember is that something "clicked." I then said, "what is the estimated cost of this program?" She replied "around five billion." When was the RFP (Request For Proposal) issued and when was the ATP (Authorization To Proceed)?" "We began work in late 1996." As I stared at her she soon became aware that I was not "seeing" her. My mind was elsewhere. The chain of thought I traveled went something like this:

Bill Clinton and the Democrats that surround him came into office in 1992. Since that time there has been wholesale slashing of the military's funding - with particular focus on "new" weapons systems - new programs of any kind. What is/was the nature/need for this new program, begun in late 1996, carrying an estimated cost of five billion dollars, in an era of declining defense spending, mandating completion by the end of 1999, that warranted the decision to design it anew, rather than to upgrade or otherwise repair the old system which it is to replace? The answer now seemed rather simple. It was determined that this course was a wiser and more desirable (less risk?) one than trying to "upgrade" the existing system. My subconscious literally bombarded my conscious mind with instances of where I had heard of "Y2K."

In all fairness to my wife, she still does not believe the reason this program was begun is in any significant way related to Y2K. She believes there were/are other motivating factors. I on the other hand am not so convinced. I am aware that there was an existing need for a new system, going back to the time of my retirement. There is seemingly a relentless need to keep up with technology that is incessantly moving ahead at warp speed. There is also the potential for political and financial reasons necessitating the expenditure of five billion dollars that this system will apparently cost. Frequently, powerful military "brass" can exert their influence and in the face of what would otherwise be "politically incorrect" circumstances, still manage to obtain the necessary approvals and funding. What I have wrestled with then is this: In the face of bad timing, limited available funding, a politically hostile administration, and the vast usage by the military of Y2K "suspect" hardware, software, and imbedded chips - most (if not all) of which must be assessed, remedied, and tested (read $$$$$), this new 1.8 million LOC program, with all of the inherent risks a new program of this kind engenders, was nonetheless deemed to be prudent. Why

This discovery, the fact that something with which I was familiar had directly supported the notion that Y2K may indeed be something commanding attention, marked my awakening to the potential of Y2K.

After my "revelation" I quickly contacted several people with whom I previously worked and solicited their opinions. As you might expect the results I received were "mixed" - both "extremes," and the middle. This was puzzling. I respected the people that I contacted. They each made their case for their belief - and in my opinion, and much to my surprise, each did so as much out of ignorance as from a base of knowledge! That perception on my part was perhaps the most disturbing.

I then discovered Youden, Yardeni, DeJager, and read numerous articles written by them on Y2K. It soon became apparent that were it not for "alarmists" such as these, who published at a time when awareness of the problem and its potential implications was not "mainstream," the "mainstreaming" (to the extent that it has occurred) would not have occurred even at the late date that it did.

In my mind, the above discoveries, plus the lines of reasoning - when coupled with the simple fact that the world has now committed an astounding level of resources to deal with Y2K, is more than sufficient cause for belief that a) the problem exists largely as described by the "alarmists," and b) there is the possibility that given its enormity and the admitted unknowns, it is reasonable to believe it may not be successfully dealt with. I repeat, it should be obvious that the expenditures targeted at this problem have not been made out of irresponsible enthusiasm for spending money. They have been undertaken because large numbers of key people in positions of significant responsibility have deemed them to be necessary and without a satisfactory alternative.

After I brought up my concerns to my wife (late in November 1998), we then began to obtain information on the subject. My skeptical wife (a skeptic in most things - not just Y2K), quickly reached the conclusion (within 2 weeks) that it would be wise to "prepare." Her agreement was in a manner that could be said to be similar to why you buy insurance. You hope you will not need it, you may even believe you won't need it, but if you are mistaken and you do, it will serve to minimize the impact(s) to the "policy holder(s)."

For myself, I had already inadvertently begun preparations beginning in 1986, well before meeting and subsequently marrying my wife. I love the outdoors, particularly the mountains and forests of the Southeast. Except for the summer, with the oppressive heat and gnats, it is a wonderful place to live ones life. At the age of 42 I had purchased property there with the intention of beginning my retirement place. For one month each year I would travel to my little slice of heaven, and together with a couple of life long friends, we would each work on our respective properties that were within close proximity (< mile) of each other. Between 1986 and November of 1998, we had purchased the land, purchased all manner of farm equipment, several pieces of heavier equipment of various colors - yellow (Cat), green (Deere), blue (Ford), etc. We had installed water wells, put in underground power from a distant pole at the end of the utility company's line, built two buildings and was approximately half done with a 1200 sq. ft shop, for housing and working on our machinery/equipment. The structures are on my property. My friends have their projects as well. Among other valuable assets, one of them has a sawmill that will handle up to 30" logs.

My decision to prepare, was therefore, to simply complete my shop and speed up some of the purchases I had already intended to make with respect to my home, which I had not yet started. I immediately (December of 1998) ordered a 12KVA diesel generator, a propane fueled refrigerator/freezer, wood stove (suitable for our future home), installed propane, diesel, and gasoline tanks, equipped the shop with a septic system and bathroom, together with cabinets for storage of food, etc. This was essentially completed this spring, with only minor finishing touches to be completed later this year. From my perspective, 95% of what we have done to prepare are those things that I/we had already done or would have done - we simply speeded up the timetable upon which we were operating. I should point out that virtually all of the work done on our place has been done by ourselves and our friends. It has been and remains a labor of love - not one borne out of necessity. That is certainly one potentially significant difference from what I imagine most people that decide to prepare sees as their motivation.

Our plans for the remainder of the year are already in place. There will be two more trips to complete remaining "loose ends." For example there is a hardwood floor company located in the small mountain town near our property (~15 miles). They have a huge pile of scrap hardwood that they pile up at their mill, with the hope that the locals will come take it and save them the trouble of having it removed. We will take a loader and dump truck there in the late summer, before the first chill of fall is in the air, and haul away several loads for our wood stoves. When used in conjunction with split hardwood logs, it makes excellent material to manage and "tune" a fire in a wood stove. We will also haul wood for our neighbors if they desire us to do so.

Those of you that may have read one of my earlier posts know that I believe the remaining time between now and 01/01/00 will bring increasing signs of preparation with ultimately the Administration acting to protect us against ourselves. It is this "protection" that I most fear - not "Y2K"

I could obviously be wrong about these things. There are certainly reasons to be optimistic . You cannot escape the fact that initial predictions of problems occurring in early 1999 have not materialized to the degree cited by those thinking "worse case." However, I became convinced of the possibility of economic disruptions because of the enormity of the unknowns and my experiences with software development that I have previously cited. I remain convinced that preparation is prudent. Perhaps, in the final analysis, my/our decision to prepare was an easy one given what we already had begun with respect to our planned future lifestyle.

Before concluding this admittedly long post I think it might be worthwhile to offer what I see very little of on this forum. We have prepared for about 6 months worth of "renewable" (food, wood, etc.) commodities, and about 1 years worth of "technically produced," perhaps non-renewable commodities (fuels, medicines, toiletries, etc.) In order to put our level of preparations into their proper perspective, let me briefly describe what we have not done. We have not liquidated any of our long term assets. These are items such as IRA's, 401K's, insurance, stocks, and bonds. Neither have we liquidated any of our income producing real estate. While we have postponed some activities until such time during 2000 as it seems desirable to do so, we have not altered any long term plans with respect to our daughters education, our expectations 5+ years in the future, or our overall financial strategy. Should anything approaching worse case unfold, these kinds of items will be of questionable value. Should we liquidate them and TEOTWASKI does not occur, then we will have "wasted" a considerable amount of our assets.

We are fortunate in that Y2K is occurring after a considerable amount of our lives have been spent earning wealth so as to have the options we currently have. I only bring up this aspect of our planning so as to further define, for anyone who may be interested, what we are willing to plan for and where, if you will, we have drawn the line. Though it is likely drawn in specifically the wrong place, it is our judgment that it generally is in the right place. We all shall see

As for the coming holiday season, we shall spend Christmas and New Years with family and friends. On New Years eve, we shall be sitting around a warm fire, deep in the wooded hills of Northern Georgia, enjoying some of those many options this wonderful country, with all of its pressing problems, nonetheless offers to each of us. It is a time to be grateful, generous, and optimistic, but to do so with ones "powder dry."

While I was writing this post, I noticed Mr. Decker and Big Dog had both instituted posts with questions that asked about levels of preparation, and in Big Dog's case, an assessment within a specific timetable of "where each of us sees reality," on the 0 - 10 scale. Thoughtful questions such as they have posted provoke each of us to re-think our thinking.

I have lived long enough to know that the friends who I value the most are the ones that, for whatever the reason, cause me to re-think that which I profess to believe. They do it sometimes with a simple question that goes right to the heart of the matter (my wife has an uncanny knack for this!). Sometimes they do it with an insightful argument, expressed with compelling logic, or at other times with a candid personal disclosure wherein they cite some unique event or situation of their own experiences. It is almost never done with harsh criticism, condemnation, or personal attacks. While "friends" may not be the operative word for the relationships that have been established by many of those that contribute to this forum, thoughtful discourse between the respondents can/will always be the most effective and the most rewarding. For whatever the reasons, the level of vitriol between many of the authors of the points of view expressed here seems to have subsided.

That can never be a bad thing .

-- Dave Walden (wprop@concentric.net), May 14, 1999


Dave -- What a superb post, thanks! I have lots of IBM memories, since my father-in-law was the builder and first director of the Santa Teresa lab, my brother-in-law has been a programmer there for 25 years (working on Y2K all the past year) and I have consulted to IBM at times.

Many of us can confirm your experience with large software projects from our own experience. After all, it is the basis of Yourdon's Deja Vu prediction about Y2K.

One small comment, you say about your preparations:

"It has been and remains a labor of love - not one borne out of necessity. That is certainly one potentially significant difference from what I imagine most people that decide to prepare sees as their motivation."

You could be right, but I suspect that many if not most of the so-called doomers on this forum could write exactly the same sentence, at least in the sense that they/I do not view our preparations as though they have been torn out of our hide. Instead, they are an investment of love for our families, ourselves, our futures and, in many cases, with our neighbors or at least some of them (like your friends on the property) in mind.

We are still in the happy face "we're almost there" phase of tens of thousands of Y2K projects. Unfortunately, only five months to go before most of these projects need to be locked down, no matter what their status. Gulp, eh?

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), May 14, 1999.

Dave and BigDog, this thread has the potential to become a real wake up call to those who are on the fence so to speak. Many thanks for ALL of your efforts.


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), May 14, 1999.

I "got" Y2K during the Quebec Ice Storm. While not living there it didn't take much of a leap of imagination to figure the results of Y2K and an uncompliant grid. It was shocking the lack of preparations that people had and the simple things that could have made a differance in folks lives. Now I worry less about the grid but more about the other aspects. More comming.

Thanks Dave.

-- Brian (imager@home.com), May 14, 1999.

Thanks for sharing Dave.

The one quote that really hit home with me and succinctly explains why I began earnest preparations last year is "I believe the remaining time between now and 01/01/00 will bring increasing signs of preparation with ultimately the Administration acting to protect us against ourselves. It is this "protection" that I most fear - not "Y2K" That along with the reaction the American Dolts will have when the cable goes out for good is why I uprooted my family for the sticks and upped my timetable for the summer home that now is my residence.

It's a shame that those of us like yourself that gave up living in a prosperous urban/suburban setting for a rural country retreat, and are making prudent preparations will be the scapegoats for the blame.

There are lives at stake here, which is why many of us "doomers" have no patience for those encouraging everyone to go back to sleep.

I fear those that will be caught unprepared. I don't fear those that are.

All the best to you and the likeminded you will have the joy of really living life with.

BTW, even in the shadow of Y2K, moving to an isolated rural country area and becoming self-reliant is worth every moment. You'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

From a transplanted born and bred middle-class suburbanite.

-- INVAR (gundark@sw.net), May 14, 1999.


You said, I fear those that won't be prepared. Yes, that's it. With all the thinking I've done, and scenarios I've imagined, that idea was always coming (still is) but I never phrased it quite that way. I see family, friends, neighbors coming to the door for food and other basic items. I see more threatening people trying to steal things. I see even government folks confiscating things under martial law, and all because they weren't prepared. And all of them were told about the problem and chose not to prepare. Yes, I fear those people the most. If we had all tried our best to prepare we would have been trading and sharing different items, not begging and taking them from others. I don't like that thought, but there it is.

-- Gordon (gpconnolly@aol.com), May 14, 1999.

Dave, you have written a thoughtful and comprehensive post on how you "got it" and what you are doing about it. What is unique, at least to me, is your ability to speak directly to me in a quiet and rational manner. Sometimes a post will slightly alter the way I perceive things. This is such a post and I thank you.

-- Mike Lang (webflier@erols.com), May 14, 1999.


I enjoyed your essay very much. I think it is an outstanding answer to Mr. Decker and Big Dog's recent question-- though it was written for a different reason. If me and mine could not make it through the worst, I could have some satisfaction (though somewhat mixed with sadness for our own fates) that good people like you, Big Dog, and others may make it through the worst. Certainly, you do stand a better chance than I. And I can live and die with that. It may not seem like much of a compliment, but it is meant to be the highest compliment that I can imagine.

Sincerely, Stan Faryna

-- Stan Faryna (info@giglobal.com), May 15, 1999.

Dave --

Thanks for taking us on a thoughtful well-written ride into your life, and thank you for giving us as close to an "inside look" as you carefully could.

It reminds us all of our encounters with bureaucracy (or "management"), and why we must keep preparing during a year of "happy- face."

-- jor-el (jor-el@krypton.com), May 15, 1999.

Greetings and Salutations Dave!

Once again your humble manner entertwined with rational thinking drives the point home. You truly missed your calling,Dave. Sorry about not getting back to you sooner concerning a possible meeting in July or October. Had to bug-out for a while, the forum was getting a mite too angry! You know, too much hash-slinging and way too much verbal abuse! Besides, the fish have been biting and tom turkeys struttin' and gobbling during the springtime in North Ga. is a reminder that their truly is life while preparing!

Just to give you some back ground about me,I'm 41, born and reared here in the hills of Northeast Ga.,learned how to fish and hunt early in life. Served 6 years in the Marine Corps. While in the Corps I got a chance to see alot of this here ole world and I gotta tell ya, there ain't no place like home! I'm single,divorced 10 years,partial custody of a soon to be 16 year old son(nerves calm down)! Recently moved back closer to my mother and father to help them get ready. Dad's retired and health is not good,mom's a soon to be retired nurse. We all GI and pretty much have prepared for what may or may not happen. I totally agree with your outlook on not going way over your heads on this. My take is prepare within your means,it's not that hard. Alot of folks simply overlook this facet,prepare yourself Spiritually, Mentually and Physically!

If you're still interested in a get together,give me a holler. Maybe a lunch up at Amicalola Falls S.P.! BTW- check out another thread called Ga.OUTLOOK-Question For Robert A. Cook! Thanks again for your insight,feel free to call on us hillfolk,we're all really neighbors no matter what the distance.Take care and God bless Ya'll!


-- SEMPER FI (etl@stc.net), May 15, 1999.

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