Of Y2k and NASA (in Y2k circles, de Jager is de man)

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Oct. 25, 1999

Of Y2K and NASA

BY MICHAEL CLARK AND AKWELI PARKER, The Virginian-Pilot Copyright 1999, Landmark Communications Inc.

Siskel had Ebert. Abbott had Costello. And as with any creative duo, your TechWise writers at times have creative differences.

There was no pulling of hair or smashing of monitors this time, other than what normally goes on with our crashing workstations. No, we simply figured that instead of devoting an entire column to a topic faithful readers know well, one of us would devote maybe half that.

It seems that despite all our preachings that Y2K is a serious but highly treatable condition, some folks seem to want to trivialize it or exploit its apocalyptic fringe all the way up to 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31.

In the other half of the column, we take a look at the future in space, as seen through the eyes of the cost-cutting, controversial leader of NASA, Dan Goldin.

And now, the annoying news.

Welcome to the Y2K network: We're fed up and we're not going to take it anymore.

There are still 67 days until Jan. 1, 2000. Time enough to buy generators, store food and cower in fear of the Y2K computer problem that will instigate chaos, anarchy or maybe even polka music. Right?

If you trust the media. The most visible Y2K stories these days promote weird and wacky scenarios. Got Armageddon? Call the media.

Call a psychic if you want. Head for the hills and buy a trailer. Those are just some of the offbeat stories in this newspaper. This isn't a mea culpa, though. We didn't write those stories. Call it a theya culpa.

As we've noted before, Y2K fixers have been busy and effective. Did anything happen on any of this year's half-dozen key Y2K dates when failure loomed?

No. And no news from non-failures is, well, no news.

We have seen computer problems triggered by the programming of years as two-digit dates -- and there will be more. Some computers will malfunction when they misread ``00,'' a two-digit rendering of the year 2000 first used decades ago to save on memory, and interpret it as 1900.

But those problems aren't likely to affect the public -- not according to experts. And we hauled out the biggest of Y2K experts this week: Peter de Jager.

In Y2K circles, de Jager is de man. He's been a global town crier for the Year 2000 computer problem for eight years, and is perceived by many as the leading expert on the subject.

He says we'll have problems, maybe millions of them. But we've already had hundreds of thousands of problems and they've been fixed behind the scenes.

``How many have had an impact?'' he asked on the phone from Toronto. ``Five or six?''

Telecommunications companies have gone out and examined their networks and found nothing to disrupt phone service, he said. No utility company has found anything that will disrupt power, either.

There might be problems from other causes. Suppose GM shut down its assembly line near midnight Dec. 31, de Jager suggested. It could cause an overload at the power company, but it wouldn't be the first.

``They just reset the fuse, the same way we reset them today,'' he said. ``The most impact anyone would see is their alarm clock blinking'' in the morning.

He hasn't seen any technical problem that can take down the national power grid.

So it's a case of Y2K hysteria feeding on itself, right?

That assumes a passive situation, de Jager said. Someone is feeding the Y2K panic-zilla.

It could be people with political agendas, militia agendas, religious agendas or people who dislike the banking system or people who sell survival food.

``Part of the problem is that there are not enough background checks,'' de Jager said. ``The people saying we'll have some problems but we'll come through them OK are systems experts. The people saying the sky will fall don't have any technical background, don't have any skills.''

Experts say there will be no problems, and skeptics say otherwise. But if experts say there are no problems, why are skeptics even in the mix?

Ask the media.

``If you folks throw a dance party at the edge of a precipice,'' de Jager cautioned, ``you're responsible for the consequences.''

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 25, 1999


"Experts say there will be no problems, and skeptics say otherwise. But if experts say there are no problems, why are skeptics even in the mix?"

Because there are media experts (write articles) and technology experts (develop technology). A lot (most?) of the tedhnology experts are skeptics. Let's rewrite that paragraph.

Media experts say there will be no problems, and technology experts say otherwise. But if media experts say there are no problems, why are technology experts even in the mix?

-- ng (cantprovideemail@none.com), October 25, 1999.

Let's see.

After how many Titan, Atlas and Delta launch vehicle failures, Upper Insertion Stage and Agena orbital insertion booster failures and two Mars orbiter losses, these clowns start by citing NASA as being an example of positive technical expertise and then trash the technical expertise of those folks who see Y2K causing problems? The gang that can't write down instructions to make sure the numbers are metric and not english measurements are positive technical expertise?

That explains why we have Y2K! If the rocket scientists can't get their shit straight, what chance do a buncha computer geeks? I'll borrow this line from Milne: BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAHAHAHAHAAAA-HUACK! I laughed myself into a choughing fit!

Speaking of Milne, this article means problems for him, 'cause these clueless yo-yo's are within a tankful of gas of his farm. The Virginia Pilot-Dipshit, a paper that's gonna wish their words had nutritional value when the eat them in a few months.


-- Wildweasel (vtmldm@epix.net), October 25, 1999.

"Time enough to buy generators, store food and cower in fear of the Y2K computer problem that will instigate chaos, anarchy or maybe even polka music."


-- Faith Weaver (suzsolutions@yahoo.com), October 25, 1999.

"In Y2K circles, de Jager is de man." No, he isn't, at least among Y2K G.I.s. He once was very important in the Y2K awareness movement, but now is largely irrelevant, except as one more cog in the government/corporate pollyanna spin campaign. Appraise him as you do Mikhail Gorbachev; he once mattered very much, but for some time has mattered hardly at all.


-- MinnesotaSmith (y2ksafeminnesota@hotmail.com), October 25, 1999.

Polka music is how you keep warm in the winter -- in Minnesota, anyway. Then you appreciate spring all the more when it finally shows up.

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), October 26, 1999.

Disgusting, but thanks for posting, Homer Beanfang.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), October 26, 1999.

Just a reminder of what De Jager believed less than a year ago. I leave it to you to decide what has changed.

Open Letter to President Clinton by Peter de Jager

On Sept. 9, 1998, U.S. Rep. Stephen Horn released his latest summary of your government's Y2K activity. The summary, if accurate, should raise an outcry of concern. It hasn't. This document, and its implications, has received little if any serious coverage by the media. And, to the best of my knowledge, little attention by your office.

The report focuses on the progress made towards fixing the mission- critical computer applications at risk due to the well-documented Y2K problem.

"Mission-critical" is a term used to describe those systems which, if allowed to fail, would cause an organization to lose the ability to deliver services 'critical' to their stated 'mission.'

It is important to note that Rep. Horn did not receive the raw data from consultants or other third parties who we could accuse of having a bias towards delivering bad news. There are no vested interests being served here. His summary is based upon information provided to him directly by the administrations themselves.

Here are some of the items extracted from the report, which cause others and myself some serious concern:

The Department of Defense, by its own count, has some 2,965 mission- critical systems. All of these will not be fixed until sometime in 2001. This means that during the entire year of 2000, they will be incapable of performing all the functions described in their mission statement. I am sure there are many individuals who are eagerly anticipating the failure of the DOD to perform its duties. Department of Labor, 61 mission-critical systems, not 100% ready until 2001.

Department of Interior, 91 mission-critical systems, not 100% ready until 2001.

Department of Health and Human Services, 298 mission-critical systems, not 100% ready until 2002.

Department of Energy, 411 mission-critical systems, not 100% ready until 2002.

Department of State, 59 mission-critical systems, not 100% ready until 2027 (this is not a typographical error, The Department of State estimates they will not be able to provide you their full services for the next 27 years.)

Department of Justice, 207 systems, not 100% ready until 2030+ (the 'plus' sign indicates they have no idea when they will be ready.)

Department of Education, 14 systems, not 100% ready until 2030+.

Agency for International Development, 7 systems, not 100% ready until 2023.

If an agency's response to you is that the above summary is not an accurate statement, then its officials should remove from their list of mission-critical those applications which are not mission- critical, and/or they should provide more accurate delivery dates.

Agencies' predicted objections aside, these are the precise estimates they provided to Rep. Horn.

What exactly does this report mean? Nobody knows, because the mission- critical systems counted have not been identified. I think it would be useful to have some idea of which of the many services will not be available to the American people.

If this report is accurate, then action must be taken by you to correct it. It is not acceptable to anyone that the Department of Defense, who's mission is to defend the interests of the United States at home and abroad, knowingly, and apparently willingly, fails in that endeavor.

If they are short of resources, make those resources available, or announce publicly that the DOD is not really a critical service to the United States and shut it down.

The same goes for every other department listed above. Either they are fully operational on Jan. 1, 2000, or declare their contribution to the American people non-critical and shut them down and save your taxpayers the unnecessary expense.

If this report is not accurate, then action must be taken by you to correct it. It describes a totally unacceptable situation. As it is reported, it raises unnecessary concern, uncertainty and even fear. Three emotions no political party should be fostering as it heads into an election year.

Either way, action, real action, not soothing words and platitudes, is required at the highest levels either to correct an unacceptable situation or to correct the notion that your administrators are incapable of executing their mandated mission statements.

You might respond that you have taken action. That the Year 2000 office headed up by John Koskinen is charged with the responsibility of fixing this problem.

With respect, I suggest that more is called for, I suggest that the administrators who appear, by their own account, incapable of handling this problem be either replaced or supported by those who can get the job done.

We have about 13 months left; congressional hearings in year 2000 to figure out who dropped the ball will be too late.

We have 13 months left; the ball is in your court today, do something with it.

With respect, Peter de Jager Nov. 17, 1998

-- Cary Mc from Tx (Caretha@compuserve.com), October 26, 1999.

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