Lane Core Special Report : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Programmer Lane Core has posted a penetrating look at current remediation progress and problems, on Westergaard today. This essay is especially directed at those who still wish to minimize the situation.

-- Gordon (, May 26, 1999


Excellent journalism! Thanks for pointing it out Gordon. I think its one of those must gives you faith in some journalists ability to think and say it like it is.

-- Cary Mc from Tx (, May 26, 1999.

Nice article, but Mr Core is forgetting that the "scoffers" are well within their rights to dismiss something as a lie or a mistake if it sounds implausible.

I'll reproduce the bit about the de-icer here, because it is quite interesting:

Let's say you're talking with the neighbors about what might go wrong at an airport because of Y2K failures. As soon as you would mention something like a plane de-icer, you would likely be greeted with guffaws and jeers from a Y2K Scoffer who would proceed to impugn your intelligence: "What kind of moron are you? A plane de-icer doesn't even know what day it is, let alone care what day it is. What a jerk! You've been taken in by fear-mongering money grubbers! Why don't you think for yourself instead of believing every cockamamie rumor?"

Here we have it in black and white, though, from experienced professionals at an airline that is spending tens of millions of dollars to get ready for Y2K: "systems that failed when tested for year 2000 difficulties: ... the machine that controlled the flow of antifreeze sprayed from de-icing trucks..." (I know that's not a direct quote from them; it's a direct quote from the article.)

When told of this, the more experienced Y2K Scoffer would likely reply, "Oh, I can imagine what they mean by 'failed'. It was probably just something simple, like an indicator light wouldn't come on." I called the reporter, John Gallagher, and asked him specifically about that. He told me that the regulator that controls the mixture of the chemicals would not work properly -- so the chemicals would get mixed incorrectly. Result: the de-icer would not de-ice.

I'd go for the "mistake" theory, pending access to more information. Stories of objects such as de-icers not working because of a Y2K bug belong to the same class as stories about coffee-makers and microwave ovens (and other apparently non-date-sensitive machines) not working because of a Y2K bug. That's not to say they aren't true stories, but I wouldn't believe them without a few more details to back them up.

Lane goes on to say:

Does the mechanism know what day it is? Apparently. How does it know? I don't know. Why does it know? I don't know that, either: microprocessors and chemical-mixture regulators and plane de-icers are quite beyond my ken. I think of it this way: since I don't really understand how such things work, why should I expect to be able to understand how they might not work?

Eh? He seems to be saying: "I am ignorant on this subject, which means I should not dare to use my common sense to identify what might or might not be true, so I'll just accept it." Accepting a story just because you don't have the knowledge to refute it is not the most sensible approach, is it?

-- Richard Dymond (, May 26, 1999.

Rich: here's the fallacy in your argument. Sure there are things that would probably work OK without being remediated. But the fact that clueless management is going ahead and remediating these also is another part of the problem. It will add to the amount of new code that will have to be debugged after the rollover, assuming the remediation is completed by then.

This is why contingency plans are so important. Companies and agencies should have made hard decisions on what to remediate and what to use as-is with a workaround. Unfortunately in many cases, the programmers are just receiving blanket "make it y2k complaint - or else!" demands from TPTB, without any realistic appreciation for what "or else" may entail.

-- a (a@a.a), May 26, 1999.


-- Sandmann (, May 26, 1999.

Well, that's pretty specific information from people directly involved in fixing it. Therefore unless I know more than them, I'm going to accept what they say about it. If someone without specific knowledge makes a claim, that's another matter.

From what I've read, embedded systems that don't care about date may care about time intervals. A mixing controller certainly would. Now, say the guy who programmed this generic chip wanted to give it the ability to read out a date. He can either use a simple counter to do the time, with a translation to read out the date...or he can combine them into one function. The timer is more complex, but the readout (in case you need it) is easier. I'm not one of the experts, but it certainly sounds plausible to me.

-- Shimrod (, May 26, 1999.


I think you are glossing over the whole matter. Lane has said he doesn't know about de-icing equipment, but he has accepted the word of the people who actually worked on the problem. What else can anyone do about information coming from within a specific area? Taken as a whole, the article seems to be trying to get you to *think.* There are so many valid stories coming from so many sectors that point to huge problems that are not being addressed. We have already been over the fire truck example, which indicates that there will be some fire fighting equipment (like the de-icer equipment) that will malfunction if not looked into. The weight of circumstancial evidence at this time is pointing to big problems. If you don't wish to accept that, well, it's your decision. Certainly, the majority of the general public doesn't have grave concerns yet. But let's not forget that those who do have good information, like FEMA or the military, are actively engaged in extensive contingency planning.

-- Gordon (, May 26, 1999.

Core called the author of another article to check on the de-icer story. Why didn't he get the original source from him?

Great journalism? Yeah, right.

-- fud (00@00.00), May 26, 1999.

Sounds to me like it may be part of the much-maligned embedded chip sort of problem. When I called my auto manufacturer about my new vehicle, I was told that it is Y2K compliant because in 1997 when they started manufacturing the 1998 models, they specifically started installing non-date sensitive generic chips. Anything before that had certain (he didn't specify) generic chips used of which some were and some were not date sensitive. He explained that a few of these generic chips could be used for anything from cars to lawnmowers to microwaves and whether they were date sensitive often was at the whim of the chip manufacturer. Therefore, if this is true, it could be that the chip governing the mix may have been a generic chip that was date sensitive even if it had no "need" to be.

-- Valkyrie (, May 26, 1999.

Just a thought....

Perhaps the de-icer has a timer/clock in it that records usage for periodic service intervals? And if the clock/timer cannot recognize the new year, it won't know any longer how long it was being used?

Not that I am refering to a beach clock! Heaven forfend! I mean a clock/timer along the lines of every blasted appliance having one these days, but this one on the de-icer has a purpose.

Just a thought....

-- J (, May 26, 1999.

The quote about the de-icers was from the representative of NorthWest Airlines, wasn't it?

-- J (, May 26, 1999.


You seem not to credit Lane Core with accurate portrayal of current information. Would it make any difference to you if the actual mechanic or IT specialist was reporting this matter on this very forum? Wouldn't you still find fault with the information and basically state that it really wasn't very important or relative? Do you personally have a list of *any* non-compliant equipment that would in any way cause us to be concerned about the coming rollover?

-- Gordon (, May 26, 1999.


Yes, it would make a difference if the mechanic or some other Northwest Airlines person was reporting this. Core's example was taken from another article, which makes it second-hand info. at best.

Core wrote: " I called the reporter, John Gallagher, and asked him specifically about that. He told me that the regulator that controls the mixture of the chemicals would not work properly -- so the chemicals would get mixed incorrectly. Result: the de-icer would not de-ice.

Does the mechanism know what day it is? Apparently. How does it know? I don't know. Why does it know? I don't know that, either: microprocessors and chemical-mixture regulators and plane de-icers are quite beyond my ken. I think of it this way: since I don't really understand how such things work, why should I expect to be able to understand how they might not work?"

No details. Nothing from the original source. No mention of possible work-arounds for a machine that fails when year=00. Is it possible that machine can continue to work correctly with the year set to another number? Of course it is.

Northwest is doing the right thing--check everything. Your favorite polly wouldn't even argue against that. Thanks to people who believe that the right response to this problem is to attack it, not run from it, they are getting the job done.

-- Fud (00@00.00), May 26, 1999.


OK, I take it that the de-icer truck example fell flat with you. Scratch that one off. Now, as to my other question, do you personally have a list of any equipment that you feel will be a threat to us?

-- Gordon (, May 26, 1999.


The main point of Lane Core's article seems to be that self-interest and shortsightedness, which are part of human nature, are leading to many reports on Y2K remediation progress that are more rosy than they really ought to be. This paragraph from the article sums it up:

Let's say, for another instance, that the month-end bonus of someone in mid-level management depends on being "on track" for Y2K: they might very well be reported as "on track," but then the report may have nothing to do with whether they're really "on track" or jumping track or have no idea where the track is. By the time a high- profile milestone comes and goes, the mid-level manager has already gotten his bonus money -- and, maybe, found a new job too, partly by telling his new employer how well his old Y2K project had gone. And the new job might come with a big raise that depended largely on demonstrating to his new employer that he had consistently received a monthly bonus from his previous employer.

Core refers to the fact that, in Colorado Springs, "A $5.4 million project to upgrade the city's payroll computers and exterminate the Y2K bug will cost at least $2.5 million more", and that City Manager Jim Mullen "said he was misled by project leaders and staffers who indicated the project was progressing". Core then supposes that the explanation for this is disingenuousness (motivated by self- interest) on the part of the project leaders, and says:

Do I think the same thing is happening, hidden from the light of day, in companies and governments all over the country -- all over the world? You bet. In every company and every government? Certainly not. That's not the question. The question is this: how prevalent is the Colorado Springs situation? I don't know the answer. Neither do you.

I just don't see how speculation about the integrity of Y2K project leaders (and how that leads to more-rosy-than-they-should-be reports from the PR types) is supposed to make us come to a better understanding of the Y2K problem. It looks to me as if Core just wants to throw another chunk of "uncertainty" into the FUD arena for us to gaze at. "I don't know the answer. Neither do you," he says. What kind of message is he trying to get across? That we should not trust any Y2K story which shows the smallest hint of rosiness? Looks very much like North-style "here's the problem, God knows what the solution is" writing to me. Permission to dismiss it? I've got more important things to think about.

-- Richard Dymond (, May 27, 1999.

The following snippet from clarifies how embedded systems may have problems, even if they don't use "dates," per se.

EMBEDDED SYSTEMS - Embedded Systems and the Year 2000 Problem (The OTHER Year 2000 Problem) by Mark A. Frautschi, Ph.D. excerpted from Draft of 24 February 1999: It is a matter of a timing function and not just functions of dates or years.

"...Devices that do not require dates (or absolute time) are conveniently built using chips that keep absolute time. This is because relative time (for example the time since an automobile ignition switch was engaged) may be synthesized from differences in absolute times. This arrangement works because the dates that are subtracted from one another are both 'wrong' by the same amount of time and this amount drops out when the subtraction is performed. There is no concern whether the date is properly set in this arrangement. Thus, both absolute time and relative time applications can be served with the same absolute time capable chip, making production of purely relative time capable chips redundant..."

"Thus, even when only relative time is required by the OEMs, this may often be derived from chips that keep absolute time internally. Those chips that represent absolute time using two digit dates are subject to Year-2000 failures just as with computers and software as has been more widely reported. The logic 'It does not need to keep dates, therefore it does not keep dates.' has no basis in the internal operation of the chip. This has resulted in a number of systems being declared Year-2000-compliant when in fact their firmware has not been tested. The question is not 'Does it need a date?' the question is 'Does it use time in any way?' Examples of systems containing unassessed code include remote control load management switches installed at consumer sites by electric utilities, automobile power train transmission control modules and major household appliances..."

My website has reference to an old "y2k Community survey" on which RTCs (Real Time Clocks) that do not have dates built into them. (There are very very few)

-- marsh (, May 27, 1999.

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