KC Star: "Expect a trickle of Y2k trouble"

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

Don't worry...be happy...


-- Wilferd (WilferdW@aol.com), December 27, 1999


Thanks for posting this Wilferd. The contradictions in that article were giving me vertigo.

-- preparing (preparing@home.com), December 27, 1999.

Lots of predictions in this article. Let's see how many come true.


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Y2K doomsday predictions fade

By DAVID HAYES and FINN BULLERS - The Kansas City Star

Date: 12/26/99 22:15

Now is the week of our discontent.

As we tackle gift returns and deal with visiting relatives, there's a slight uneasiness not present in the ghosts of holidays past. With five days remaining, will the computers that form the fabric of our society let us down?

By most reasonable accounts, they won't.

The Y2K doomsday predictions that filled the air 18 months ago have been replaced by almost unbridled optimism. Warnings about lengthy power outages and survivalists heading for rural hideaways turned out to be more bunk than bunker.

"I'm afraid it may even be hard to notice if anything's happened at all," said John Gantz, chief researcher for Project Magellan, the Y2K research arm of International Data Corp., a research firm in Framingham, Mass.

True, it is likely that, beginning about 4 a.m. Central time Friday, some computer systems around the world will fail. Overseas, in fact, scattered power and other utility outages are probable.

And while those types of disruptions may not happen domestically in the United States, other problems -- ranging from cash register snags at small stores to billing glitches at large corporations -- will.

But those aren't the kinds of problems that will affect the way we live.

"It is naive to think we'll come through this without any hiccups at all," said Canadian Peter de Jager, the programmer widely recognized as being the first to bring the Y2K problem to the public eye nine years ago.

"Things will go wrong," de Jager said last week. "But they won't be the systemic kinds of problems that could cause widespread outages."

And why would they?

All told, American business and government spent $100 billion to inoculate computers against the Year 2000 computer bug -- $365 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

Did we get our money's worth?

A recent study by the Department of Commerce shows that Y2K computer problems should have no major effect on the U.S. economy.

"You don't care about isolated problems, they happen every day," said Robert Shapiro, undersecretary for economic affairs with the Department of Commerce.

"What you worry about are large, systemic effects -- disruptions in energy, transportation, finance and telecommunications -- and all of these are ready."

Where the imperfections will show up is anyone's guess. But potential trouble spots include the infrastructure of developing countries and small business in both the United States and overseas.

In mid-December, the United Nations Y2K working group issued its final assessment, which cited a "medium to high risk" that Y2K errors could harm public health and safety in developing countries.

The International Y2K Cooperation Center predicted many computer mistakes, but said businesses and governments will experience only limited damage in the early days of January.

It called the threat to human life small, but "not zero."

GartnerGroup, a Stamford, Conn., research firm considered to be a leading Y2K resource, agrees.

"On a scale of 10, we see this as a two or a three," said Matt Hotle, a GartnerGroup vice president.

"We are likely to see some disruptions that probably will last a week or two in some underdeveloped countries," Hotle said. However, he said, citizens in those countries are accustomed to infrastructure failures.

"We will be surprised by the things that go wrong," said de Jager. "Computer problems can cause any type of problem you can imagine. It sounds like hype and exaggeration to say a factory could explode. It could."

But de Jager believes governments themselves may be the biggest trouble spot. "The good thing is...most of the things that fail in government no one cares about and most are easily circumvented," he said.

White House officials are more concerned that Y2K problems overseas may spark fear in the United States as news begins to show up on television networks in advance of the bug's arrival in North America.

"It's going to be like watching election returns," Hotle said.

In fact, some believe that last-minute panic is the only serious Y2K problem that may occur in the United States.

It's common for "a smaller subset of people" to rush the stores in advance of a storm, said Lou Marcoccio, GartnerGroup's lead Y2K analyst. If people find long lines at gas stations, grocery stores and ATM machines, the panic could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said.

The White House doesn't believe a panic reaction, at this point, will cause systemic breakdowns in the supply lines that provide food, clothing and other basic needs.

But will problems overseas affect the United States?

Unlikely, said Shapiro at the Commerce Department. For that to happen, a trading partner would have to be a major player, a big technology user and totally unprepared for Y2K.

No country fits that profile. U.S. trading partners Canada and Mexico are generally in good shape, as are South Africa, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Shapiro said.

Project Magellan at IDC is projecting that the Y2K loss to the world economy will be only $23 billion -- on a global scale, an insignificant figure. To put that number in perspective, Hurricane Andrew did $30 billion in damage to Florida in 1993.

But where some experts like Gantz see order, other global Y2K watchers see the potential for chaos.

Dennis Grabow, CEO and founder of the Millennium Investment Corp. of Chicago, believes the United States won't be able to get the products and parts from overseas necessary to do business.

"The likelihood of foreign Y2K-related computer failures is very serious and troublesome," Grabow said.

Domestically, some recent reports have cast doubt on the preparedness of the nation's water supplies, emergency 911 response systems and the gasoline supply.

All three reports were later discredited.

For instance, the water study was based on outdated information, said John Koskinen, President Clinton's top Y2K expert.

Another hyped worry -- hidden computer chips -- turned out to be a dud.

"The embedded systems issue doesn't appear to be as broad as we once feared," said Michael Ashton, a chip consultant for Sprint Corp. For the most part, electronics will work, even if an incorrect date appears on a fax, he said.

Bruce McConnell, director of the International Year 2000 Cooperation Center in Washington, said gloomy reports will be flying for the next couple of weeks.

"This is exactly what we'll find, with a lot of confusing information, especially in the first couple days of 2000," McConnell said.

Small-business efforts to battle the bug also remain a concern.

White House officials were disheartened to learn last month that one in four small-business owners with 100 or fewer employees have done nothing to prepare for Y2K.

The National Federation of Independent Business survey showed that as many as 1.5 million small-business owners had decided to take a wait- and-see attitude toward Y2K, up from the 800,000 expected to do nothing several months earlier.

Some experts worry that will zap the vitality of an economy based heavily on small business, while others say those who choose to do nothing probably don't rely on computers anyway.

"It's not likely you will see small business impacted heavily at once," Marcoccio said. "Only 10 percent of the total failures will occur within the first two weeks of the year. There won't be a mad rush for replacement parts or massive supply-chain gaps that others predict."

For the record, New York economist Ed Yardeni with Deutsche Bank still is expecting a recession next year. "I'll be very happy if Y2K turns out to be a non-event," he said. "But I remain amazed by the confidence of all the optimists.

"Hey, we'll all find out together soon."

To reach David Hayes, technology writer, call (816) 234-4904 or send e-mail to


To reach Finn Bullers, call (816) 234-4335 or send e-mail to


All content ) 1999 The Kansas City Star


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), December 27, 1999.

Nothing like writing an epitath before someone is actually dead...

-- Ludi (ludi@rollin.com), December 27, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ