NEW YORK TIMES interviews Ed Yourdon: "A Cassandra With No Regrets, and Besides, It Is Not Over Yet" : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

January 3, 2000

A Cassandra With No Regrets, and Besides, It Is Not Over Yet


AOS, N.M. -- In the beige adobe house nestled against the snow-dusted Sangre de Cristo mountains, the lights are on, the phones have dial tones, the computer is online, and Edward Yourdon is reaching into a stack of cardboard boxes to hand a visitor a free copy of "Time Bomb 2000."

"Best wishes, Ed Yourdon 1/1/2000," he inscribes in the flyleaf of a 630-page tome that sold 250,000 copies over the last two years. But the back cover conjures up a darkly different New Year's Day: "Saturday, January 1, 2000: Suddenly, nothing works. Not your phones, not the cash machine, not even your fancy new VCR."

Mr. Yourdon, one of the nation's leading Y2K Cassandras, looks a bit sheepish, and admits: "I guess the book's sales prospects are about zero now."

For over a decade, Mr. Yourdon, a computer programmer and consultant with a gift for communicating, has warned the world of widespread chaos when computer odometers rolled over to 2000.

Friday morning, he staggered out of bed just before 5 a.m., expecting to watch a wave of televised failures roll around the planet. His younger son, David, a family prankster, was up before him. "My son said, 'New Zealand has disappeared -- they have gone dark,' " he recalled. "I said, 'Oh no, really?' "

But the breakdowns that were forecast never came.

"When we got to Indonesia, to China, all across Asia without any reports of problems -- that was surprising," said the M.I.T. graduate, who has lectured around the globe about the need to reprogram computers before the rollover date. Referring to the unbroken supply of electric power worldwide, he added: "By God, they did do a good job fixing things up."

But Mr. Yourdon, a bulky man in blue jeans and wire rim glasses, warned that it was far too early to say that the world's computer-dependent societies were out of the woods.

The smoothness following the arrival of the New Year, he said, is due partly to intensive work in such vital areas as power generation, air traffic control and missile stewardship. In addition, he said, many systems, such as ports, pipelines and refineries, were simply turned off, or run manually over the weekend.

"There is going to be another opportunity for bugs Monday morning -- everyone is going to come in to their office, and turn on their PC's," the 55-year-old computer programmer said. "It is possible that bugs will manifest themselves in coming days and weeks."

While many large companies may have invested in clearing up their Year 2000 defects, he warned that less work has been done by smaller companies, which often use older software.

"Surveys show that 30 to 50 percent of small businesses have done nothing," he said. Problems might not appear until later in the week, or later in the month, when companies try to print invoices or print payroll checks.

Even among larger companies, the impact of the problems may never be known, he said, because "the normal instinct of any company is to fix it, not to broadcast it."

"Over the last year, Y2K has become like a sexually transmitted disease -- no one wants to admit they have it," he continued from his office overlooking a horse pasture here. "Programmers have come under heavy legal pressure: 'don't you dare talk about it.' "

He dismissed the string of company "Y2K compliance" reports of recent months as "letting high school seniors grade all their exams," adding, "It was very difficult to get independent verification of what had happened."

In the hours after the date rollover, Mr. Yourdon was so fearful of computer viruses that he logged onto the Internet through a backup computer. Now, back on line with his MacIntosh G3 Powerbook, he said that his e-mail had been running "roughly 50-50, between 'thanks' and 'I hate you.' "

Looking back, Mr. Yourdon, who was the star of a 50-minute video, "Ed Yourdon's Year 2000 Home Preparation Guide," said he had few regrets about raising the Y2K alarm, prodding companies, individuals, and government agencies to make repairs to avoid future breakdowns or about urging people to prepare for shortages that have not occurred.

"My father has diabetes," he said, as a wood fire cracked in a corner fireplace. "If he doesn't get insulin he dies in three days. Now, the government says, 'Don't stockpile medicines.' Well, that's fine for them to say, but for me the stakes are pretty high."

He bought his house here two years ago, partly out of Y2K concerns, and has been dividing his time between Taos and a New York apartment.

With stocks of tuna fish and rice stored in his sunny kitchen here, he said he saw his home preparedness as an investment.

"In my case, rather than getting a generator, and then feeling foolish when nothing happened, I put in solar and wind power," he said on a house tour of a system that has cut his power bills in half. "Rather than getting thousands of gallons of water at the grocery store, I got a well."

But he admits -- and a visit to his Web site ( confirms -- that some resentment zings around the Internet this weekend.

Showing the yards of entries in the Time Bomb 2000 discussion group on Saturday, he said, "There is a lot of that today: 'Boy do I feel stupid, I wish I never listened to you guys, does anyone want to buy tuna fish?' "

Time will tell, he counseled, about the value of his prophecy.

"Either there will be a lot of Y2K problems, and I will make a tremendous living as an expert witness in the next year or two," Mr. Yourdon said. "Or, if it turns out, a month from now, that there never were any serious problems, I may have to eat my words, publicly and with great embarrassment."


-- John Whitley (, January 03, 2000


Bold Off

-- Uncle Bob (UNCLB0B@AOL.COM), January 03, 2000.

Fast work, Uncle Bob. Thanks! Happy 19100 :)

-- John Whitley (, January 03, 2000.

We're not out of the woods yet...but the woods would be deeper and more dangerous if Ed and Gary North and other hadn't sounded the alarm.

I loved the line, in a previous post, that these and other people "moved the middle." A very good thing.

Whatever happens...and it's just would have been worse without Ed. Thanks, Ed.

-- joe (, January 03, 2000.

Must be a Y2K glitch. There, now it's off...

-- John Whitley (, January 03, 2000.

Thanks John, That was a fine article, I think Ed is great no matter how it all turns out, I know I am a better and more aware person now then before I started studing up on Y2K, well maybe not a better person...but much more aware of my and our vunerabilities. And if nothing comes of Y2K I have lost nothing and gained much, and when I get some bucks I will buy Ed's book.

-- salene (, January 03, 2000.

What Salene said

-- Daryll (, January 03, 2000.

In case anyone hasn't yet seen Ed's recent comments (1/1): <:)= 2.html

-- Sysman (, January 03, 2000.

OK, a very classy thread. This forum at its best.

But as we grapple with reality, part of reality is that this forum has put up with some appalling shit in the past many months, and I'm not just talking about polly trolls.

-- Peter Errington (, January 03, 2000.

A chat with Ed Yourdon from Feb. 1999.


-- (For@the.record), January 03, 2000.

"It's far too early to declare victory. ... But I don't know of anyone who has spent any time on this problem at all who doubts that had the effort not been made, had the money not been spent, we would be in a very different situation here right now."
-- John Koskinen, the President's Year 2000 Council

quote from: <> FOCUS-U.S. already defending billions spent on Y2K
Updated 6:44 PM ET December 31, 1999
By Jim Wolf

-- (prepare@ornot.toprepare), January 03, 2000.

I thank Ed Yourdon, by raising the alarm and discussing the "un- popular" what-if scenarios he helped ME re-evaluate my lifestyle. Prepping is not a fad, it is a lifestyle. I am and will remain thankful to Mr. Yourdon and the wonderful support group here at TB2000.

Best wishes for the new millennium!!!

-- ;-) (, January 03, 2000.

Nice article. Ed, you did the right thing. More to come, either this time around, or at some unanticipated juncture. (As Barnett said at the US Naval War College.)

-- Mara (, January 03, 2000.

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