Local media almost gets Y2k right

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This article from the Flint Journal here in Michigan, makes a half-hearted effort to offer some balanced Y2k reporting. The reporter then pulls out the "trump card" and quotes a member of the militia. Am I wrong, or is the militia guy pretty much on target?

Ran on today's front page.....

Lack of Y2K worries bugs some Wednesday, December 1, 1999 By Tom Gromak JOURNAL STAFF WRITER ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Reading news releases and announcements from major utilities, businesses and government agencies, one might think the Y2K bug was squashed deader than the antiquated computer systems that spawned it. Yet talk to folks watching those utilities, businesses, and government agencies and some will offer promises of safety and security, while others share deep concerns.

"I am more concerned now than I ever was," said Franklin Frith, a Lapeer County man and Y2K expert who has spent much of the past year gathering documents and speaking to community organizations about the Y2K bug. "In my mind, things are not as good as they were three months ago."

Rick Brandt, general manager of Axxon, a Flint computer company, disagrees - so much so that he is not making any special New Year's Eve preparations aside from having a little extra food on hand. No drums filled with water. No generators.

"I'm a computer guy. My mission is to go out and fix it, not prepare for it," Brandt said. "I know that if you go into some of the secondary countries, there will be problems. Who knows? There may be some areas of the states that have problems, but not the large metropolitan areas."

Brandt gave passing grades to all the major players in the Y2K crisis: federal, state and local governments, utilities and big business. Small businesses are in the worst shape, getting a D from Brandt.

That grade is the result of procrastination, he said. Small-business owners are flooding Brandt's company with so many requests for assistance that some systems won't be fixed until early January.

"We're starting to get a lot of small-business owners coming back to us and saying, 'Hey, remember that quote you gave me before? We've got to talk,' " Brandt said.

Brandt said Y2K concerns lagged heavily in August, September and October, but picked up again in November and December.

The only segment of the population that appears to be unconcerned is the general public. Brandt said few have brought in home or home office computers for work.

"It's so easy to go out and sign up for a 3-year contract with an Internet service provider and get a free PC. Why bother fixing the old one?" he said.

Even the American Red Cross has not taken a stronger position than it took a year ago. The emergency relief agency's Web site still urges people to take the same precautions they might take for any winter storm or other disaster:

Keep food and water on-hand.

Provide for a source of heat.

Stock flashlights with batteries and have extra batteries on hand.

Have a radio available to hear communications about whatever happens.

Fill your car with gas.

Get a little spending money from the bank.

Joseph Pilchak, of Capac, commander of the Michigan Militia Wolverine Corps, has long endorsed the same kind of preparations, but for a different reason - in case of military attacks by foreign, United Nations, or even U.S. law enforcement agencies and troops.

Pilchak said he sees irony in the government fears that patriot groups or other far-right wingers might use Y2K as cover for creating chaos - because the militias are worried that the governments will create the chaos.

Pilchak and Frith believe the government already is lying about its Y2K preparations.

At one time, the federal government listed more than 1,500 systems as critical, yet bugged by Y2K. It eventually pared the list dramatically, not just by fixing systems, Frith said, but by also redefining the words critical systems.

"Even when they come back and say 'we're 99.4 percent compliant,' what about that other 0.6 percent?" Pilchak asked. "It only takes one bad system to bring the whole thing down."

Frith - a business expansion consultant who began lecturing full-time in June 1998 on potential year 2000 computer problems - said people are being misled.

"They're only being misled because they want to be. They want to believe everything is going to be OK" said Frith, who has advised business groups and local governments about developing contingency plans.

Like Brandt, Frith gave the general citizenry poor grades - in this case, an F.

"I'm not talking about building a bunker. I'm not talking about having $8,000 in food and a 20-kilowatt generator. Just be prepared," Frith said. "Many years ago, you were an idiot if you didn't have food and supplies put away. Now you're seen as an idiot if you do. That's wrong."

What can still go wrong?

Pilchak believes airlines, government computers and municipal water and sewer systems are most at-risk for immediate danger. But, he said, he most fears the long-range impact of the Y2K bug: That it will disrupt systems elsewhere in the world, curtailing the shipment of goods and oil to the United States.

"The whole key to this is going to be the oil," said Pilchak, already critical of OPEC cutbacks intended to curtail supplies, increase demand and - ultimately - increase prices.

Pilchak sees two paths OPEC might follow: It might use the Y2K bug as cover for artificially creating shortages, or actual computer bugs might hamper global positioning satellite systems, leaving tankers lost at sea and vulnerable to piracy. The second scenario, he said, could be incentive enough for OPEC to stop the tankers from running.

Frith sees numerous potential problems with technology. He said there are satellites in space that contain the same defective chips found in noncompliant weapons systems. Detroit Water and Sewerage, he said, invested $50 million in back-up generators, most of which have not been installed or tested.

Detroit Edison said initially that it was Y2K compliant, but Frith said, the company later reported that thorough end-to-end testing of its systems is not complete.

David W. Baker, Edison's Y2K spokesman, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said in a September meeting with Lapeer County officials that the company has completed widespread repairs and testing and expects few, if any, problems.

Likewise, spokesmen for Consumers Power and local water systems said their systems have been tested and are ready, in part because many rely more on physical laws like gravity and pressure than on computers.

All three utilities still have standby plans and armies of on-call employees who will spring into action if a problem occurs.

Frith remains skeptical.

"Companies are no longer saying they're Y2K compliant," Frith said. "They're now saying they're 'Y2K ready.' That doesn't mean their systems are fixed. It means they are ready with a plan if something breaks."


-- Brian Bretzke (bretzke@tir.com), December 01, 1999


Hi Brian. Got any sample source for the Rotterdam problem yet? I don't believe it exists. Feel free to prove me wrong.

-- Colin MacDonald (roborogerborg@yahoo.com), December 02, 1999.

Hey Colin- I doubt I can get you to apologize as you promised. You seem to be a guy who digs in his heels on an issue. Tom Sirovey offers a more technical perspective on your flames at: http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=001tkG

-- Brian Bretzke (bretzke@tir.com), December 02, 1999.


Do you have nothing better to do than dispute issues? Have you talked to the "Presidential Council"? I have. If you cannot comprehensively review documentation and facts that currently exist, then it really does not matter what you think.

Fact: 95% of all Maritime shipping occurs through 10 "international" ports (all of which have said that they are "not ready".

Fact: By all consensus (through determination via O/G industry consultants, and testing of the O/G leaders themselves) that we will have a reduction in supply of necessary fuels more than (at the most conservative estimate) twice that of the early 70's (which was only a 4-7% reduction in crude availability), up to (with the "doomsayers" statements) a 60% reduction.

Fact: This BB is absolutely ridiculous. If no one there can research and make an educated decision (as opposed to simply trying to "debate" the issues with people that have done that research and have tried to present possibly helpfull tools to accomplish some sort of prevention/recovery), then don't come to my house in Jan.

I have to do "real" work now - am done with this BS.

-- Tom Sirovey (tsirovey@blclinks.net), December 02, 1999.

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