TEOTWAWKI Isn't What It Used To Be ... Or Is It? (Part Two)

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As I was saying in Part One, I expected lots of Y2K remediation to be performed in 1999. Oddly, while I assume such was the case, even that has had to be taken largely by faith. For instance ---

... NERC had already decided to report the "needed" 1999 progress in 1998!

... There was never a chance the banking industry would report problems even if it experienced them.

... Likewise .gov and .mil.

... It turns out that chemical, water, petroleum and other industry sectors simply weren't going to report anything meaningful, period!

None of this proves progress hasn't been made (I've already said I believe in progress), just that ascertaining its nature and extent is almost as impossible to do now as it was to predict such progress a year ago.

IOW, it turns out that obtaining meaningful progress wasn't in the cards, because it WAS NEVER IN THE CARDS that we would learn about FAILURE to progress. Read that over again very carefully.

We have to add to that the now long-forgotten promise that all of 1999 would be devoted to "testing", on the assumption that remediation itself would be complete by 12/31/98. Not.

Ironically, perhaps, we techies are certainly partly to blame for this. There has never been a standard in the industry for reporting progress across development phases (let alone by percentages). Heck, there hasn't been a standard for what constitutes a "development phase"! Nor, of course, are there standards for defining "mission-critical systems".

I suppose we had to come up with something for measuring progress. But when you take a situation without standards and then inject the most ferocious political, economic, PR and legal considerations, it is a priori impossible to produce reliable measures of progress.

About all we can say is this:

... Lots of money has been spent.

... Some amount of progress has doubtless been made.

Regrettably, as I partly covered in part one, we are also faced with these facts as well:

... A remarkable percentage of SMEs will FOF.

... Some entire countries seem to have done next to nothing.

... Embedded systems have received very uneven amounts of testing, fixing and replacement.

... The PR campaign has produced tremendous apathy worldwide, so that the number of prepared citizens, percentage-wise, is only marginally more than it was a year ago.

... Bare assertions are made that everything will be ok, yet when those who have worked on systems are pressed, they tend to admit that no one really knows.

As a small anecdotal confirmation of the last point, a local electric coop sent out their final Y2K communication, candidly acknowledging that while they have done everything they know how to do and are reasonably confident, they are genuinely uncertain as to what will happen. Since I know them, I know this isn't CYA but a simple, straightforward communication.

When I consider how or whether to update my concerns about TEOTWAWKI as we approach December, 1999 (when compared with, say, December, 1998), I have to weigh both the progress which has been made (progress I did anticipate a year ago anyway) as well as the "cloud of unknowing" which still permeates the entire subject.

This latter is pretty darn remarkable considering the date.

While I consider it logically possible, though barely, that the pollies are correct when they claim the worst of Y2K is behind us, this can only be so on the assumption that the vast majority of world computing entities replaced their Y2K exposed systems BEFORE now.

Yet, this is contradicted by numerous reports and statistics with respect to late remediation efforts (see countries and SMEs above). It is also contradicted, logically, by 40 years of software project history (cf Yourdon's Deja Vu). And, however critical Y2K REALLY is, it is the nastiest sort of project to budget and complete: tedious, unattractive to top programming talent, of no evident short-term business benefit (at least that was true until six months ago), etc.

While many TENS OF thousands of entities, some quite large, may well have replaced and remediated their systems and be ready, there are many millions of entities still flailing away, some large, some medium-sized, many small.

What this year has really exposed is the near impossibility of gaining useful intelligence about Y2K before the event.

.... And the embeddeds await all of us.

So, as I prepare to update my take on TEOTAWAKI in Part Three, the question I ask myself is, "has anything compelling taken place in the past twelve months to alter and reduce the chances of a massive, global, Y2K breakdown, beyond the sheer assertion that there will be no breakdown?"

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), November 15, 1999



-- LauraBeth (lbparks@ready4_00.com), November 15, 1999.

I have found several compelling arguments have changed my position on Y2K over the last year. The combined arguments of Hoffmeister, Dale Way - the argument that Y2K has already begun, and that it is better characterised as a chronic illness rather than a time-limited disease. My TEOTWAWKI scenario was always based on the notion that what we would experience would be a compressed and shocking disruption, taking place over a few weeks around the New Year. Too much happening too quickly to be managed, spiralling out of control - no power, collapse of government, collapse of public confidence etc.. It now seems like the 'event' will be long term and fix-on-failure may even be a viable strategy for many organisations who can work around the temporary disruptions that could occur, for a time at least. The point is, I no longer believe that we will see a simultaneous common-mode failure of the type most TEOTWAWKi scenarios were predicated on. What we are more likely to see is a long drawn out affair in which Y2K problems will for a time be an endemic risk to organisations. I'm sure it'll be a boom year for risk management consultants.

I know all the seriously bad stuff is still possible, but I'm a believer that Y2K was always really about probabilities rather than possibilities. The probability of a preppable event happening has diminished significantly in my estimation, though prepping for media- driven year-end public anxiety still seems reasonable.

-- Chris Byrne (cbyrne98@hotmail.com), November 16, 1999.

It was exactly a year ago that I was making hard decisions about what I should do, and tremendously resentful that I should have to do it (to spend the money and time) when the answers weren't in yet. At that time, I assumed there would be such a large push towards preparation in 1999 that key items wouldn't be available and I needed to get going. But I always thought by now the situation and the risks would be fairly clear.

At this point, I am equally amazed (perhaps because they are so intimitely related) that their has been neither significant public preparation nor development of a meaningful understanding of what is about to happen.

As to whether "anything compelling has taken place...", I recall that Bonnie Camp stated a few months ago that if the electric grid holds it will be largely out of sheer luck that the equipment wasn't inherently vulnerable, since the remediation did not start in time.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), November 16, 1999.

Chris --

No doubt, Y2K has already begun -- the question is, "is this the sniffles"? or the "illness"? We'll soon find out. I don't find Hoffy's arguments compelling technically, you do: hope you're right and I'm wrong.

My point is that I expected to KNOW a lot more about likely Y2K outcomes by this time this year and that has proven impossible.

I also don't agree that we can rule out common mode failures yet either, especially from embeddeds.

Putting it another way, and since I view a 1930s style depression as plenty TEOTWAWKI-enough for me, calculating Y2K impact odds seems about as irrelevant to me as the "percentage complete" silliness (that is, our ability determine whether FAA being 95% complete is the same as IBM being 95% complete is the same as ....).

The "odds" of TEOTWAWKI might be .01% or 50%, even now.

The DATA for determining which of those percentages is closer is fundamentally flawed, whether it comes from Gartner or anti-Gartners.

To take one small instance of, literally, thousands, we have no substantive idea as to whether Russky nuclear plants will make it, suffer one catastrophic incident or a dozen simultaneously. We don't know whether India's grid will be operational. We don't know whether Saudi Arabian oil will be flowing or shippable. We don't know whether SoCal's water link to Colorado will fail.

And that is NOT a "don't know" along the lines of aliens landing -- it is a "substantive" don't know.

As for "media-driven" public anxiety at the end of the year, I would submit that the anxiety will derive quite reasonably from the "don't know-ing" about Y2K itself. Anyone who isn't intelligently anxious and needs a push from the media doesn't understand the STILL present dangers.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), November 16, 1999.


I read both of these posts, thought awhile, and for some reason, this old Mark Twain anecdote keeps coming into my mind.

"There was an old California gold miner who died and went to his reward in Heaven. Well, he was mightily relieved, and glad to be there, but he couldn't help but notice that the place was mighty crowded......

So, after thinking about it for a few days, he started a rumour that there had been a major gold strike in Hell......

Heaven emptied out in a matter of hours. The gold miner had the place to himself. Plenty of room, no crowding.

After a few days, he got to thinking about the situation. Packed up and left for Hell himself, just in case there was something to the rumor..........

What does this have to do with TEOTWAWKI? I'm not sure. Maybe that the powers that be have bought into their own rumors. Maybe that we have lulled to many to sleep, who could or would have otherwise stepped into the gap, maybe being the tiny effort that tipped the balance.

Maybe it doesn't have a darn thing to do with it.

-- mushroom (mushroom_bs_too_long@yahoo.com), November 16, 1999.

Mushroom -- I think it's very relevant. For instance, when the bank president tonight tells our community that Y2K is fixed, he will probably "believe it", whether or not it really is and despite his own misgivings about glitches happening right now with banking.

And, yeah, maybe, just maybe, just pretty-please maybe, it IS fixed enough.

But if it is fixed, it ISN'T because of the PR circle-jerk that says we are (please forgive the locker-room talk but it is SO apt) that is going on world-wide. And like Brooks reports Bonnie saying, if we escape, it WON'T be because of the wonderfully responsible worldwide effort (not), but because we weren't as vulnerable as we feared.

And NO ONE knows on Nov. 16, 1999 whether we AREN'T just as vulnerable as has been feared, taking the entire world and all military and industrial sectors into consideration.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), November 16, 1999.

My goodness, it has indeed been a year in my life since I learned about y2k. Where has that time gone? So what have we learned?

I know no more than I did a year ago. I know more "facts" about various industries, financial and computer networks and government systems and how it all interacts. But I still can't predict what will happen 1/1/2000, and aside from blinded pollies, no one can. The rest of us are left speculating on what could happen.

The very assumption that "nothing will happen, just another day on 1/1/2000" is absurd. To assume "nothing will happen in my world" is reckless. To state "what happens in another's world will not effect me" is cold and ignorant.

In 45 short days, we will all know alot of truths. I don't see learning much new news between now and then.

-- Lilly (homesteader145@yahoo.com), November 16, 1999.

Great posts folks. BigDog, there was a niche for you in the public setting if you chose to go public. Brooks, bulls eye. Nothing has clarified despite countless (thousands?) of hours of reading. Chris, no flame intended: Mark Twains quote may apply to you. (It does to me sometimes.) Libby, well said. Shame this deep thread looks like it will drift without serious attention.

-- Dave (aaa@aaa.com), November 17, 1999.

When I first GI'd in 1998, I was expecting more of a potential catastrophe at the stroke of midnight or 4:00 pm on the west coast. Now as I read and observe, the long term effects are my bet. "Death by a 1000 cuts" is an apt way of characterizing my best guess for the turn of events.

I personally plan to live pretty damn carefully for at least three to four months into the new year to watch cumulative effects of gliches, viruses, jit issues, and our apparent forum favorite, petroleum. I have missed some market dollars by being conservative in my investments, but so what.

We will be living in interesting times.... Love these threads, Big Dog. Thanks

-- Nancy (wellsnl@hotmail.com), November 20, 1999.

Take it to the TOP, Nancy! Good morning.

Several thoughts:

The public discussion (as opposed to the Internet communitys discussions) never adequately probed the CONSEQUENCES leading from societal and economic connections  a society unable to examine its own structure  hmmm, not surprising.

It never got much past "airplanes falling from the sky" and "ATMs not working" ("hmmm  why not just go inside the bank? No problem here.")

So there was no comprehension of the possible MAGNITUDE. We who seriously considered Infomagic and TEOTWAWKI appeared ridiculous in that non-context. Outside the bounds of permissible discussion, as Noam Chomsky describes most of the current chatter about politics.

Then there was going to be, as you say BD, no usable reporting on PROGRESS, either its starting point, its rate of change, or its arrival point. We have been able to at least make the broadest of scales available here (with Ed Ys help, I think it was) and say things like "80% remediation will be a whopper of a depression and enough to threaten societal breakdown" and even "95% will be a recession that throws us headaches for a couple of years", without specifying which items count with what weight in those percentages. Its just to get the scale right for discussing possibilities. Hey, if the industries themselves wont discuss their internals, why should WE be obligated to have better information than whatever details they may be sitting on!

So to arrive at the kind of knowledge wed like, yet lack, about outcomes and probabilities going into December 1999, wed need to know as a society more about ourselves ("consequences") and more about the odds of that changing ("progress", "remediation"). As the scope of uncertainty of each of those factors narrowed, they would have interrelated (multiplied?) down to a lesser overall scale of uncertainty about our futures. Not our faults that society has avoided that self-exam AND that TPTB have avoided revealing what they know. Preparing in the dark here in the INFORMATION (Glut) Age  whoda thunk it?

But of course if its all about protecting a privileged constituency why then it makes perfect sense. We dont know if they dont know or if theyre just not telling, do we? Not much difference to us. Hey, they probably dont know very much more, either, but they DO likely know enough to protect themselves, better than we can protect ourselves. (Like the two hikers with the grizzly bear problem: "I don't have to outrun the *computer* bear. I just have to outrun YOU.") THATS what being at the levers of power is all about. Why go to all that trouble to climb the power pyramid otherwise?

Another thought is that weve sorted out the actual consequence mechanisms better here. First order survival threats vs. second order (longer-term consequences of other outcomes.) We dont lump in electric power and water system failures with Social Security checks being handwritten and Dominos pizza delivery database (or was it Supercuts?) being corrupted. Electric power is still a black box, but it seems more localized, and there has been (we hope) more serious testing of it (largely provoked by the likes of us with not easily quelled suspicious minds). (Or as Brooks cites Bonnie -- trying to confirm whether it was vulnerable in the first place.) Water will probably not go out everywhere at once (Navy report?)  the next town (or a different well in our town) may have drinkable to share if we dont.

We dont know quite yet know what to do with our mental separation of different systems, but at least we dont infuse ALL of them with life- threatening consequence anymore.

Chris made the point that our time horizons are stretching out more now. We simply could not look very far into 2000 except on a very steep arc of descent. We were as hypnotized as everyone else by the 1/1/00 date rollover. Now we have only a month or so on this side of the line, and we can begin to imagine June 00 as being very much like other Junes weve known (or not), only with a possible economic avalanche in progress, sweeping some away staples of modern life and leaving others.

In my imaginings as I buy that can of tuna at the store, I find myself thinking not "There wont be any tuna next June  I must buy NOW!", but, "This can is 69 cents now; it could be $2 next June." (Then the second problem becomes assuring that I have $2 then, but that seems a lot more familiar a problem.) That lowers the mental fervor quite a bit, making present life a lot less crazy-seeming. Have I just been lulled? Dunno.

If gasoline goes to $3, well, then, Ive just finished up my commuting job and stick close to home; my wife works 2 miles from home, and our 12 year old Toyota gets 30-something MPG. (Remember "MPG"? You will.)

Mushroom, you make me wanna dissect that parable, if no one minds. In Twains story, Heaven sure aint Prep-land, because its not very crowded here. (Unless everyone is hiding it very well. )

Heaven (this side of 00) must be Polly-land, then. Only, the miner (PR man) wont start the rumour to empty out Polly-land; it will happen on its own, from the self-preservation instinct pre-00, or from actual experiences post-00. The parable is about peoples perceptions (and consequent preparations) leading, or lagging, the world ("Hell") they may be experiencing, now or very soon to come.

(Not a very profound dissection, sorry, but best I could do at 5 AM.)

Weve just never been able very well to forecast the amount of compression between their perceptions and those experiences. It appears that they have chosen a very TIGHTLY compressed timeframe to work this all out in -- 45 days or less  if they choose to work it out at all. We had hoped they wouldnt make it so tight  but panics usually do  and we couldnt imagine them getting done what they needed to in that time  they wont  and we certainly wouldnt want to live under the same pressures during that time, standing on lines, getting less and less done while realizing more and more, etc.

This is probably because  as was mentioned on the other forum a few times  we here looked at the COMPUTER phenomenon early enough and sufficiently to have time to think in parallel about the PEOPLE phenomenon. The others have always assumed they could just make their decision about preparations and just go "buy it" in a world with no competing consumers. Just not part of their experience in a land of "overflowing" supermarket shelves. Hypnotic experience uncomprehending of JIT.

Gary North and we assumed that more people would see that curve of unavailability sooner, doing the extrapolations up to 1/1/00 and the feedback loop of being caught in a musical chairs game. But they have chosen (apparently) to wait for the music to stop, if it does, and not count the number of chairs and the numbers of others still circling them. With a choice like that, all Kosky & Co. have to do is keep the band playing on, as long as possible, till they see how the computers do. Then were all in the soup together, which is all they figured as the best outcome the could get as a .gov overall.

"Youre on your own." Wow. How alien that sounds in this mass hypnotized society! First thing we do is seek company in others of like mind (here on TB forum). Can we wonder much about others who find comfort in their company with 250 million others? Social beings. I hope we are able to remain so in large part.

-- jor-el (jor-el@krypton.uni), November 20, 1999.

Jor-el -- Thanks for a very profound post. Gee, reminds one of the old day on TB2K, eh?

I can't think of anything to add, but you're so right in pointing out the bizarre disconnect (one of dozens) that has .gov telling people they don't need to prepare, but if bad stuff happens, they're basically on their own.

Say what?

What I found particularly fascinating about your post is the way it so aptly describes the way some of us have broadened and extended our own "imagination" for disruption (and, I would hope, recovery as well) beyond the 1/1/2000 singularity.

Our tech culture is incredibly embryonic for all its magic. As Ed and others have pointed out (my own less illustrious IT career was also dedicated to this), we lack even the simplest, standardized, repeatable metrics for measuring the quality of what the pure hw/sw side of this culture is producing, let alone tools (heck, even mere "concepts") for understanding its impact upon human beings.

If TPTB deserve any excuse, it is that they were bound, in retrospect, to rely on manipulating control levers in the absence of knowledge and wisdom that we info-wizards were utterly unable to supply them anyway.

What remains scary is that we are no closer, and are perhaps farther, from understanding what "Y2K was/is all about" today than we were a year ago or two years ago. That doesn't build confidence in the likely reactions of TPTB if Y2K devolves technically .....

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), November 20, 1999.

"An undeveloped sense of consequence." That's the first standpoint I use for my own perspective on Y2K. It's a phrase I first heard a woman expound on years ago, prior to Clinton's first inauguration, when an economic conference was held at his bidding.

To illustrate the term, the speaker used the example of someone in a defense-related industry (at a time when tens of thousands were being laid off) being surprised to find a pink slip in his paycheck. Another example she gave was that of a smoker being surprised to hear he had lung cancer.

And so it is with Y2K. Despite having a plethora of information--more than at any other time in recorded history--a developed sense of consequence is needed for processing. It seems few people have it and many will be surprised (and unprepared and angry) to find problems after rollover.

Do I have incontrovertible evidence that there will be problems after rollover? Heavens no! If I did I'd be making a fortune on the talking heads circuit.

Do I have enough information and experience to suspect there will be problems at rollover? A resounding yes.

About five or six years ago, I read an article in Atlantic Monthly called The Coming Anarchy. The link is on my old, sick computer, but you can find it by going to AM's site and searching the archives. It's a compelling article and I beg you all to find it and read it. (Perhaps someone will provide a hotlink.) It's one of those things you read and exclaim, "Yes! That's exactly what I was thinking--how well put!" This article is my second standpoint for judging Y2K.

The third standpoint concerns my and my husband's work and personal experience with government and large bureaucratic organizations over many years. Such entities are rarely efficient; they rarely meeet deadlines; and more time is spent on creating "mission statements" and an agency/company "vision" than on more useful things. (These two activities followed the intense effort devoted to the companyagency logo and colors.) Everyone will no doubt have his or her pet opinions to contribute about bureaucracies, few of them flattering.

The fourth standpoint predates any of the above. It is my early experience in a country laid waste by bombs and the deaths of hundreds of millions of its citizens, making the eastern NC floods less than a drop in the bucket by comparison. I honestly do remember a time when an orange was an unattainable luxury. I think I ate my first orange when I was about 9 or 10--a merchant marine uncle brought one back for me. He also brought candy--from the US--a major treat.

Although I worked as a waitress at a restaurant, starting at age 15, I don't believe I actually ate a cafe or restaurant meal (not counting coffee and sticky buns) until I was around 17 years old. Food and other commodities were rationed until 1957. Families saved and pooled ration coupons to provide a couple with suitable clothing, a cake and modest refreshment for their wedding. There was minimum waste; a trash can in those days was no larger than a kitchen waste can today and filled mostly by ashes from the coal fires used to heat the house (heat--ha!).

Not surprisingly,with this background, my perspective on Y2K developed very quickly from rollover problems to long-term problems with the addition of problems unrelated to Y2K. I have long thought that society was becoming far too complicated, that a number of systems were getting ready to implode or explode. Y2k merely sharpened that impression.

I know I am not the only one to feel a disquiet, vague or otherwise, about the fragility of systems. However, doing something to cushion any blows from any disintegration was always something I would do "tomorrow." Y2k galvanized the need to prepare for emergencies or disruptions, and so I have prepared with the goal of limited self-sufficiency--such that can be obtained in an urban area. Solar panels, backyard and container gardening, great expansion of pantry foods, alternate methods of heating, cooking and lighting--all these supplies and activities have come into play.

Even if Y2K is simply a bump in the road, Sweetie and I shall be prepared for most emergencies except catastrophic. We shall increase the number of solar panels and batteries--because energy won't get any cheaper. Sweetie will look for another job closer to home or we shall attempt to sell the house next year and move closer to his present job. We shall simply continue the evolution of our lifestyle, without, I hpe, enduring a hardscrabble life.

I can't think about post-rollover what ifs, at the moment. It's not denial, there are simply too many wildly varying possibilities to decide on even a handful. But I am comfortable knowing we have knowledge, experience and resiliency to draw on and will do what we can for ourselves and our neighborhood. However, I am a firm believer in charity beginning at home.

Whatever happens after Januar 1, 2000, Y2K or not, Sweetie and I have done the best we can with what we have. No regrets, no recriminations. We have learned to roll with the considerable punches in our lives and no doubt will continue to roll after rollover. We have to--we have a fully developed sense of consequence about what could happen if we don't. C'est la vie [Gallic shrug].

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), November 20, 1999.

Here it is, "The Coming Anarchy"


Contrary to expectations, no matter how many times I say so, I am not pessimistic about the future. That said, it never hurts to be contrarian. We are living at a rare instant when everything except greed and expectations that tomorrow will be like today, only greedier still, are considered "doomist".

This article provides a very thoughtful contrarian view that predates Y2K entirely.

Postdates it too, I'm afraid.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), November 20, 1999.

Thanks, BD.

Glad I got my West Africa travels in my younger days, 1978. Experienced the bureaucratic delays, bribery, the incompetence (a train derailment outside Dakar), starvation, lunching with lepers, soccer with pickpockets and schoolkids, reading "Roots" to a Mandinka, experiencing the humor and openness and the bemused (now probably bitter) resignation of African people. It's sad to imagine them even worse off now.

With racism, and unfamiliarity, persists the delusion that "It can't happen here." I'm glad I got the chance to know them as people for a couple months. I don't have "answers" that apply to us, but I have fewer pre-conceptions applied to them.

They are even more forgotten now than then. They've been consigned to die of HIV or other disease, and starvation, revealing the West's true "humanitarian" spirit. They are their own worst enemies, and also the innocent victims of change they could not comprehend.

That, with a change of a few circumstances, is exactly what the "land of the free and home of the brave" could become as well. We probably won't sink as low, but we'll have our own brand(s) of "The Fall." I want to be here, not there, but I certainly want to be alert to "there" creeping into "here". And I probably wouldn't be able to do anything about it, except small protections on the self and family level.

-- jor-el (jor-el@krypton.uni), November 20, 1999.

I'm so glad you read the article, jor-el. What struck me immediately was the statement that the Sierra Leone airport is not approved by the FAA because public safety could not be guaranteed. A description followed of restaurants on the Ivory Coast where bodyguards escorted pastrons to their cars. And here were stories of youth gangs terrorizing neighborhoods. As I was reading the Atlantic article, there was a spate of tourist murders related to Miami airport. Restaurants in New Orleans had "rent-a-cops" at their doors to safeguard patrons. And 12-14 year olds were murdering and terrorizing people as part of gang inititiation.


-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), November 20, 1999.

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