let's get to the meat of the coconut

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

I started "lurking" here recently but have been using the Year 2000 press clippings and y2k today as a primary resource for solid y2k info. Also, I am a cobol programmer at a state educational facility and I successfully installed compliant versions of two major systems used here on an as/400 just this past weekend. I am constantly looking for validation in the news about year 2000 predictions and find little "meat" from either "side".

I would like to lend some credibility to my view of the upcoming events, but only have logic and gut feelings about it (other than what we've all read on the abovementioned). Both tell me that the situation is a huge unknown, that Murphry's Law will be firmly in place, that business and accounting systems in the US are not the problem and can, in time, be reconciled, that ignorance of embedded systems, and ignorance, in general are a huge problem and that there will be accidents and other fatal and/or life changing events.

I am particularly interested in how our national govenment is REALLY preparing for the inevitable. I find it difficult to understand the federal government's silence about this. Negligence at its worst.

Even though I offer only opinion, I am seeking the meat of the coconut... I live an hour away from my local city where I work... of course I am supposed to be here New Year's.... do I need to worry that if I come to town, that I will get trapped here... especially knowing of my programming skills?? Have I gone too far?? Am I over the edge?

One last note: I love my fresh, clean, hot, running water.... really!!

ps... I'm not a troll, doomer, boomer, polly, dolly, or goof-ball... I'm a real cobol programmer, with real fears and doubts... no name calling please...

pps... I cannot use my email address... strictly for business.. really!

-- booann (cantsay@lovemyjob.edu), July 13, 1999


Booann stated:

"I am particularly interested in how our national govenment is REALLY preparing for the inevitable. I find it difficult to understand the federal government's silence about this. Negligence at its worst. "

Not much to add here!!


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), July 13, 1999.

you said it yourself there will be "fatal and/or life changing events". you want to risk being one of them? get the new years' eve flu this year. take a wait and see until you decide if you are feeling better.

-- corrine l (corrine@iwaynet.net), July 13, 1999.

I too am a COBOL programmer (among other things) at a state educational facility and we recently (early June) installed our Y2K version of software. Although we haven't totally finished yet (who has?) things are going fair so far. We have our share of date problems (packed decimal ARRRGHH!!), but things are still fairly transparent to the end users (except Financial Aid). The worst part is the online systems -- they're placing a space in the high order byte of every date that is updated online - like a cancer spreading through the data. This world situation is a HUGE unkonwn and probably always will be, even after the fact. I feel embedded systems are the hugest part of the unknown, hence so few public failures up to this point. Best to prepare for the worst - you will use the majority of your preparations regardless of the outcome. Unfortunately, the "meat of the coconut" is, well, soybean. There is no meat - only gut feelings, so go with it. P.S. I love my fresh, clean, hot, running water too - and hopefully will have it for the short/medium term at the "Retreat," outfitted with generator and propane water heater (Need to limit to 5 min showers though :-(

-- Jim (x@x.x), July 13, 1999.

Jim, Are you from Rochester?


The same at the educational institution where I work part time. Everything but the internet works fair.

-- Rickjohn (rickjohn1@yahoo.com), July 13, 1999.

Tough question without knowing more details, which I'm sure you're reluctant to share. How safe do you think your city will be at rollover? How helpful will your presence be to your business?

I can't imagine anyone putting a gun to your head and forcing you to stay. Just slip out if you think it's wise. I don't think even the most pessimistic of us here think that civilization will collapse at midnight, even if the power goes off. Cops will be everywhere, and even in the early stages of what might be TSHTF, they would probably be helpful in getting out of the city to your home.

-- Dog Gone (layinglow@rollover.now), July 13, 1999.

As a former programmer for one state university, and a former EDP auditor for a large state's university system, I could see a university or college campus as a reasonable short term place to be come January 1. The campus will not be full (most students home for vacation). You'll be able to analyze whether or not there is power... and whether or not most of the rest of the infrastructure is working in your area. Unlikely target of first riots (if any). If things look dicey, there will likely be a lot of the year 2000 flu going around.

And, yep, we're storing coconuts...we feed coconut meat to the chickens, as well has using them for our own earing occasionally.

Personally, I would consider reporting for work...in a car which is topped off with gas, and with a bug-out bag in the trunk. I usually keep a few goodies in my desk drawer...a 72 hour supply could be established there, too. But I'd look closely at the neighborhood... working class or slums? History of problems? University vs. community problems in the past? If ngs look dicey,

-- Mad Monk (madmonk@hawaiian.net), July 13, 1999.

Booann and Jim --

Thank you for your posts from the Cobol "front lines". If you truly are who you say, I am grateful for any insight you may have to offer in that area. Please post more often, and ignore the flamers, should they decide to appear...

-- ariZONEa (dsw@usa.com), July 13, 1999.

Trapped in town because an enraged mob is looking for programmers? Or trapped in town because your boss, the head of the state national guard, considers you irreplaceable and is willing to protect your family in return for your services? Ok, maybe something in between, but you get the drift.

Is your town on hydro power or something less reliable? Speaking of empty college campuses, will your town (in January 2000) have any large crowd of young nonresidents (who have nothing to gain by being real good citizens ...)? Is the town (and immediate environs) a net exporter of a range of foods or a net importer? Is the town leading Y2k awareness or is it in denial?

If you feel you have to leave town fairly quickly, are there bottlenecks that might slow you down (e.g., bridges, causeways)? To leave town, do you have to traverse parts of town that you don't like to be in?

Can you set up an alternative to being in town, such as going halfsies with your employer to get home links set up, to work from home? Does your employer have a field office with terminals that you could work from, a field office closer to home?

This is all about minimizing REAL risks, to keep you safe, and minimizing PERCEIVED risks so you don't go nuts between now and then.

-- bw (home@puget.sound), July 13, 1999.

I don't think that things are going to fall apart on 1 Jan, even if power goes off. More likely is that things will fall apart before then, when panic and malfunctions have created chaos, or a few days after the rollover, if power is still out and/or more serious problems have materialized.

My advice is to play it by ear. Don't commit to anything, as conditions may change quickly.

-- a (a@a.a), July 13, 1999.

I've read some reasonable suggestions on this thread. But I've also often read suggestions here and elsewhere for IT techs to - "get the new years' eve flu this year." I always have to wonder about people who make those kind of statements at this time. First, unless they are absolutely convinced there will be TEOTWAWKI they, like the rest of us, just don't know how bad things will get. Let's assume some person actually take this advice and just "call-offs" on the big night. Let's also assume for the sake of argument that things get bad, but not so bad as to shut down this person's company. How do you think their failure to report to work on what perhaps is the most critical day in the history of their department will be viewed by their manager? Now then, what do you think their future in this company or the IT industry will look like? When consideration of the well-being of their families is paramount, I hope those who are considering getting the "new years eve flu" are also considering the ramification$ of doing so. Like I said at the beginning of these comments, people who suggest this at this stage of the game always make me wonder.

-- CD (not@here.com), July 13, 1999.

Oh come on CD! I've read your posts on other threads. Why are you even here? The people that you would call "doomers" are what I call "carefull." I'm not going to be in the metropolitan area during the rollover. I can get another job, I can't get another life. People riot after their team loses a basketball game! Even if nothing goes wrong, the rollover will most likely be a mess anyway.

If things go wrong, the National Guard is going to be on the alert. Odds are that will shorten the time it would normally take them to seal off "disaster areas." From what I gather it normally takes them about 36 hours. Well, as near as I can tell, every state is going to be on alert during the rollover. So, unless you want to stay in large cities get the hell out before you're stuck there.

-- Idiocy (comeOn@cd.duh), July 14, 1999.

"People riot after their team loses a basketball game!"


What really freaks me out is when people riot after their teams win!!!

I say play it by ear. There are a whole lot of reasons for people to panic before any serious disruptions caused by computer glitches occur and who knows exactly when things will tank...if they tank at all?

Mike ==================================================================

-- Michael Taylor (mtdesign3@aol.com), July 14, 1999.

Idiocy indeed Michael!

-- CD (not@here.com), July 14, 1999.

I'm still wondering about this space in an on-line date field. On- line systems are my FORTE. What's this all about?

-- Anita (spoonera@msn.com), July 14, 1999.

thanks, guys for your input... very nice... no time for real response this morning... have to contact another dept we download from and find out why their file definition isn't working with my newly installed and completely tested year 2000 compliant code... first run since install... yes, really!!

-- booann (cantsay@lovemyjob.edu), July 14, 1999.


I think you will see the extent of nervousness in your area well before rollover. Oct - Dec 1999 will set the stage of the social situation. Watch this carefully. Look at your routes in/out. Civil unrest doesn't last very long because it is tiring to be angery and violent. If you are trapped on campus then wait until things simmer down and then head out at full speed in the dead of night (3AM). I doubt anyone will be 'defending' the campus so you may want to think about that.

How exactly would someone prevent you from leaving your post? Would they physically restrain you or simply threaten you (loss of job, etc)? One thing to remember is that the folks in managemenmt over you will be just as affected by the events around them as you will be. If there is aught to fear then they will be just as affected by that as you will be. At a certain point if management requires you to be in a place which is dangerous they are liable and they know that so will ask you to leave for their own butt's sake.

There is alot of board room level planning going on right now which will not work in the situation we are heading into because the plan and the people have never been in the fire before. The initial shock of it all will really stress out the whole organization and it is very possible that things will fall apart at that time. Also after this type of failure of nerve people have a tremendous level of self doubt and lack of confidence because they do not understand why they failed in the situation. Leadership will be very weak for a time after this.

-- ..- (dit@dot.dash), July 14, 1999.

Well, this will probably give away my identity, but ....

It's not really an online problem per se, it just happens to have manifested itself there. Our date fields, like I'm sure most others, were in the format:

05 DATE PIC X(06).

In their infinite wisdom, our "provider" decided to change the dates to packed decimal (COMP-3), so that the relative positions in the record layout wouldn't change:

05 DATE PIC 9(11) COMP-3.

What they didn't consider were *non-traditional* date fields, fields that contain date data in them and, even when packed, take up more space than before. An easy example of this is a Fiscal Year (or any individual year field). It would have been PIC X(02). Well to make it Y2K it needs four digits (e.g. 99 to 1999). PIC (04) COMP-3 still takes 3 bytes, which requires the record layout to be expanded. There are many such examples of this floating through the system. As you dig in is gets even worse. You can't split up a date into 3 (or 4) elementary items (CC,YY,MM,DD), because it is COMP-3. You can't move a PIC X date to it --> invalid decimal data. Right vs. left justification, tons of REDEFINES - the list goes on - and for nothing, because most record layouts had to change anyway.

Now about the space. A PIC 9(11) COMP-3 definition holds, well..., 11 digits of data. A Y2K date holds eight (e.g. 19990714) That leaves 3 high order digits that could *not necessarily* hold zeros. (We joke that they're going to try to claim they're "Y1M"(illion) Compliant). This is the way ALL of the COBOL file layouts are. Now the online stuff is controlled by a "master data definition" area and that says, O.K., if you want to hold 8 digits of data in packed decimal field - that requires 5 bytes of space. It defaults that way and can't be overridden. Fine. They add a byte of FILLER at the beginning to keep it as 6 bytes (old date style) of space. This is the CORRECT way to do it - yet they never changed the COBOL file layouts like that. Now they won't admit the discrepancy and are modifying program logic on a program by program basis (!) (for sorts, compares, etc.) to unpack and repack or whatever they're doing to kluge it instead of fixing the root problem. Any, I'll end this rant so as not to bore you - another year-end "disaster" (Accumulator totals) - I'll write more late if anyone's interested.

-- Jim (x@x.x), July 14, 1999.

Thanks for the clarification, Jim. I really haven't taken much time to decipher what you've said. You know how contractors are...if you PAY me to look into it I will, but otherwise, I just don't care. [grin]

So your problem doesn't include data-entry from an online system, obviously, which would have either a BMS map that wouldn't ALLOW a space to be entered, or some other form of mapping that wouldn't ALLOW a space to be entered. I've really never seen a COBOL system, BTW, that had a pure date defined with an alphanumeric picture. The alphanumeric picture would be reserved for a display field for a date which would include - or / in the result: 01/01/2000 or 01-01-2000.

Are you working with Cobol II or Cobol? If I understand correctly from my glimpse into your problem AND you're using COBOL II, reference modification should be able to help resolve these difficulties.

-- Anita (spoonera@msn.com), July 14, 1999.

Jim, I'm highly interested.

It's stuff like this - aside from embeddeds - that's gonna git us.

I really feel your pain, man.........

-- Lisa (lisa@work.now), July 14, 1999.

Ooooh, Jim, you're in a bad place. Sorry. The faster you dig, the more crud is going to pile up in undocumented quick fixes.

Hearing you tell the details is like hearing someone say that they have cancer. Jeez, hope the chemo helps, what can I do? Nothing, nothing at all.

-- bw (home@puget.sound), July 14, 1999.

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