speculations - the day after

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

JANONE REPORT Laurence J. Victor 1/1/2000

I am relieved that century rollover didn't result in disasters. I am genuinely puzzled over the almost total absence of problems in those areas of the world which were reported - up to the end - as glitch prone and unprepared. The lack of significant rollover effects in the USA was one of my probable scenarios, so not unexpected. What follows are a few thoughts this "morning after". Subsequent happenings may effect these speculations.

A) What do we know as to what happened and what didn't happen during rollover?

[1] There were no messages over The Internet from individuals, anywhere, reporting major disruptions that were not reported on the major media; which gives more credibility to the accuracy of major media reporting of the rollover. Granted there are many regions where individuals don't have Internet access, but had there been major disruptions in the hinterlands, some would have been reported. I don't believe that control over Internet use could eliminate all such reports.

[2] No significant glitches were reported for the major cities of the world, in electrical power, communication, transportation, hospital and building functioning, and fuel availability. Celebrations went on without difficulties. A few systems were shut down over rollover, but enough were operative to give a high probability that nothing of significance did indeed happen to the basic infrastructure.

[3] I believe this absence of a y2k rollover effect, worldwide, was a surprise to US authorities. Their systems in preparation for difficulties were extensive, indicating that they considered problems probable. Indeed, they are now on the defensive to justify their expenditures in the USA when other areas didn't experience a rollover effect with much less (reported) preparation. Granted, experts have long reported that rollover effects would only be a small fraction of overall y2k effects, and we may experience serious disruptions in the next few days, weeks and even months. However, the apparent absence of rollover effects, even in the unprepared regions, calls to question our scenarios for the y2k aftermath.

B) What were the assumptions I was using that caused me to not foresee this as a possible scenario?

[1] I assumed that date problems in software code and embedded systems could disable computer systems. I was never fully clear as to what computer systems might actually do at rollover, as distinct from what they would do during subsequent operations. In particular, I was never clear about the actual effects of those embedded systems that were not compliant. I took the word of the computer experts that non-compliant systems would malfunction and concentrated on human issues re y2k. US authorities claim that fixes were necessary, and that had they not been made, there would have been difficulty. Yet, the absence of rollover difficulties in (supposedly) unprepared systems opens the question.

[2] I assumed that many fixes in the US were not completed because of the deception and cover-up by authorities, and the nature of self reporting, legal issues, etc. It is possible that quality fixing went on even though all of the above was also happening. Maybe there were confidential channels to authorities to bypass public announcements that could lead to later legal problems. It may be that the fixing became more serious and accelerated, and some assumptions that were valid in 1998, and even early 1999 were not valid in late 1999. It may be that US coordinated fixes in most of the rest of the world went on unreported - this, in line with a global downplay of the y2k crisis to general publics everywhere.

[3] I assumed as valid the claims by computer experts that fixing all the systems was no longer possible, given the time frame and the complexity of the management problem. Might it be that these estimates were based on decade old practices, and that applications of newer technology, with focused funding discovered ways of fixing critical systems (if only temporarily, as by windowing) by rollover. We don't know what was accomplished in the last few weeks; nor how these new techniques might have been used at the last minute, worldwide, to prepare critical systems globally, once the leaders of these nations accepted y2k as a serious threat.

C) Why were there no major embedded chip failures?

The vulnerability of basic infrastructures (as distinct from economic systems), for me, has always been the embedded systems. Their seriousness was reported in a memo from the authorities on November 8, 1999 -- a bit late to get to all of them and test/replace them. As we went into rollover, I was most concerned about the oil refineries and the potentials of sudden critical shortage of fuel and lubricants. Why were there no reports of refinery problems? Some of the forecasts about refinery problems said that it could take a few days of operation before problems would emerge. Do we still have to worry about embedded systems, or are we somehow clear?

D) Was there an accelerated, competent push to fix critical systems globally - in the last few months - that was successful?

Early estimates of time-to-fix were based on past decade experience. For y2k fixes, especially of critical systems, there may have been an attempt to apply the best techniques and with so many doing it, there may have occurred a collaborative sharing among serious fixers. Late fixers had the advantage of using proven and polished techniques. Late pressure by governments and major corporations pushed crash programs on critical systems, worldwide. In the reports during the rollover from leaders who were in charge of major areas, I detected an acknowledgement of their having been changed by y2k. What I might have previously taken as cover-up in earlier presentations, now had a strong note of sincerity.

E) Sheldrake's Formative Causation effect?

A wildcard, speculative factor. Rupert Sheldrake in his hypotheses of morphogenetic fields proposes a process called "formative causation", where as organisms learn a process this effects the morphogenetic fields such that subsequent learners can learn that process more rapidly and with greater ease. Many people had to shift from a competitive/secretive practice/strategy to a collaborative/open practice/strategy, in order to coordinate y2k fixes. I once cited "embedded minds" as a primary barrier to y2k readiness - based on the ordinary difficulty of persons to change such basic practice/strategies. However, if formative causation was a real process - with the special pressures of y2k, we might have witnessed an extraordinary rapid spread of new attitudes towards interacting with others.

Even the spread of practical techniques in fixing the complex systems may have been accelerated, globally, via formative causation. Let us hope that a broader perspective on reality, and an appreciation of the complexities and dangers/opportunities of technology may have reached leaders in the economic sectors.

F) Was there a real risk in leaving the people out of the process?

I believe that the authorities decided early not to involve the population in readiness preparation for y2k. This was a risk, and if the sudden push at the end had not been successful, it would have been, in retrospect, a bad decision. The short term, disaster style preparations that were softly recommended - as by FEMA and the Red Cross, for example - may still be needed if there are economic problems unraveling in the next few months.

We will never know how the people would have responded had they been honestly informed. The fear that preparation for y2k by a "panicked" public would destabilize the economy (even stop the "growth") was a very real concern. Another concern of the authorities was a fear of democracy - an enlightened and organized public would probably not tolerate "business as usual", and the effect of public preparation for y2k would have concluded with a political earthquake.

-- Laurence J. Victor (nuu@azstarnet.com), January 01, 2000


It is far too soon to be definitive about what happened during the rollover. Most of what it was capable of checking (in that first 24 hours) had to do with utilities and their embedded chips, and there was never any certainty over exactly what would take place, even if they WERE date-sensitive.

But I think, too, that we at the grassroots level were particularly indiscriminate about what we chose to take seriously, in the warning and alarm phase of the past year. There was a lot of fear-mongering going on - as for example, the big to-do made over the 9/99/99 date situation, when anyone who has programmed at the commercial level knew it was a hyped-up concern. I'm not being critical, so much as pointing out that we, ourselves, were becoming "believers", just as those we were being critical of...and so we went into the turnover with equally skewed (and as it turned out, maybe much more skewed) anticipations.

But I am not ready to concede that, yet. The turnover hump was a big thing to get over, but not by any means the biggest. The first few days of this coming week may prove to be far more significant...and even these may pale against the accumulating effects of what will be initially inconspicuous data distortions, as they compound and corrupt more extensive systems. This, after all, has been one of the great unknowns that have had to be dealt with.

If it does finally all work out, I think your reference to Sheldrake's hypothesis could be as good an explanation as any...for it was certainly NOT in the cards, that this should have been any easy mark.

Irv Thomas

-- Irv Thomas (irvthom@u.washington.edu), January 02, 2000.

Perhaps this is a bit naive - I know nothing about Sheldrake's theories - but, maybe the initial Y2K hump has been cleared with relatively little difficulty because so many of us spoke out about the dangers of not being prepared. Thousands of citizens around the world spoke out about everything from home computers to nuclear missiles and somewhere, everywhere, authorities paid attention. Sheldrake's theory quoted above reminds me of the 100th Monkey although is not exactly the same. Maybe lots of people caught on and decided to help rather than remain chuckling with skepticism on the sidelines. Perhaps, collectively, we did something right for a change

-- Amy (ahm@snowcap.net), January 02, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ