Continuing yesterday’s comments

From Walt J: [In answer to someone who had said Y2K is mostly hype by overpaid consultants out to whip up hysteria to drum up business …]

“Blaming consultants for so-called Y2K hype is the intellectual equivalent of blaming doctors for disease, meteorologists for hurricanes, geologists for earthquakes. These are the folks who have worked with the problem the most — and they would make far more money if they shut up and just let things fail than by pointing out the magnitude of the problem.

“There will be failures, and a tiny number of them can have devastating consequences because the number of coded dates and embedded systems is so damn large. Anyone familiar with the software metrics literature (e.g. Capers Jones) knows how fragile most software is, and how difficult it is to fix.

“I’m almost out of the stock market, except for some serious hedging (LEAPS – both puts and calls) and some formerly out-of-the-money OEX LEAPS — puts — that have become very profitable in the last few weeks. In this market, the best offense is a good defense.”

[A.T.: LEAPS are long-term options. Pretty much like regular options, but extending out a year or two instead of just a few days or months.]

From David Eddy (some of whose work can be found at “A fundamental problem with computers/systems is that they’re really seen as an impediment to advancement thru the management ranks. Techies only go so far. And when the managers see themselves advancing without understanding even the basics of systems, the learned message is that systems & techies are just commodities to be swapped around like used cars.

“When I entered programming fresh out of college in 1970 at a Boston insurance company (though I am eternally grateful for the solid technical training & experience I gained) it was screamingly obvious that business management there had abdicated responsibility for the systems. And over the past 28 years things have really only gotten worse. So now the maintenance bill is coming due for this structure we’ve been building non-stop for 50+ years & there’s no sinking fund, no plans & no one really understands where the critical weak points are.

“Big problem. Bummer.

“No question that the hype surrounding the speculation about what will or will not happen come January 1, 2000 (personally, I’m thinking things will be very quiet) is out of control & will get MUCH worse.

“And this is not to deny the fact that Y2K is a major problem. Just ponder these numbers:

– 12,000 IBM MVS mainframes (‘big iron’)
– 40,000 IBM DOS/VSE midrange
– 400,000 IBM AS/400 midrange
– 500,000 DEC VAX midrange

“That’s just the hardware [that all needs to be checked out and fixed as needed] & ignores vendors such as Wang, Data General, Prime, Computervision, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Perkin-Elmer, Control Data, Bull, and dozens of others.

“One final item. Have you ever spoken with a software development person who’d actually worked on an on-time, on-budget project? Seen even MightySoft deliver products on time?”

From Roleigh Martin: “One of your letter writers is very ignorant in thinking embedded processors do not pose a problem. I’ve written widely on the problem. Please see my published articles, speeches, web pages, at my web site:

“Also, visit the G-8 Countries Y2K Virtual Conference on Y2K (link at my home page) — I’m one of the 30 some invited Y2K experts worldwide participating in this conference that resides on the internet on an ongoing basis.”

From Terri Reid: “One of things I like most about explaining Y2K is the fact that people can find out for themselves. When I first heard about Y2K, I was a little frightened — it seemed almost overwhelming — then I decided to do a little digging on my own. I e-mailed the public affairs office of my local electric company — a little company here in the midwest called Commonwealth Edison. The public affairs official e-mailed me back and asked me to call him later that week. (I’m a freelance writer in the area, so I had a little bit of clout.) I called him — he wasn’t in, so I left a message. He returned my call the following week and told me that he couldn’t talk to me about it over the phone — but the ‘gals in the Rockford office’ were typing up a letter for me. That really perked up my interest. I thought, if there was nothing to worry about — if they were Y2K compliant — he could talk.

“I finally received a letter from Comm Ed stating that they were aware of the Y2K problems in their system (Oh, goody!) and they were working to correct them. Their goal is to have the problems fixed by 3rd quarter 1999 (I suppose they couldn’t say 4th quarter because people might begin to panic). Then, as I was talking to the city reporter for our local paper — who happened to have interviewed this P.A. guy in person — he commented that he was told, sure we might have the problems fixed, but we won’t have done any testing yet. Comm Ed also announced last month that they are trying to sell all of their power plants by spring of 1999. Hmmmmmm, kind of convenient — don’t you think?

“Anyway, my New Year’s 1999 plan is to sit at home and watch Dick Clark’s smiling face as the ball slowly makes it way down in Times Square and then wait for the T.V. screen to go black. I’m making sure I have plenty of candles, wood for the fireplace and a generator full of gasoline. My best advice is — check it out for yourself — that’ll really make you jump into action.”

A.T.: Well, candles, firewood, tuna, a generator — I think these are sensible precautions. They make us all stronger — bought today, not in December 1999 — as households, neighborhoods and a nation, even though most of the stuff will likely go unused. (But they’re also good for hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, Homer Simpson-like industrial accidents — you name it.)

I don’t see a whole lot of reason for most of us to panic. I would like government agencies and businesses all to be quietly panicking, however … or whatever level of concern is the closest to panic that still allows you to think and act rationally. I hope every police department, every fire department, every phone company, every railroad, every power company (especially those!), and all the rest are quietly but fervently working their brains out right now to make Y2K as close as possible to a non-event. (And not just here: planetwide.)

From Richard Routh: “I enjoyed your article ‘How Real Is Y2K?’ published on September 03, 1998. I used to think about Y2K as does Krishna Kunchithapadam when I first heard about the problem. I used to think as you do when I had spent only about 100 hours studying the Y2K problem. The more I studied (about 1000 hours now), the more convinced I became that we are headed for an unavoidable and complete societal infrastructure meltdown. My background includes: (1) Ph.D. in computer science, (2) former adjunct advisor to Reagan’s Cabinet on Artificial Intelligence issues, (3) last six years spent as CEO of an advanced computer technologies company (The GINESYS Corporation). It is interesting to note that those who have studied the problem the most are either the most concerned, or they are greatest advocates of emotional, irrational, platitude-ridden arguments of euphoric hopefulness (denial). Kinda scary, isn’t it?

“If you spend time re-assuring people now that they do not need to take RADICAL steps to provide for their families’ survival, I predict you will spend the rest of your life regretting the misdiagnosis the way a physician does when he misdiagnosis cancer as something minor — only in your case, you have a much larger audience. Please proceed with caution.”

More tomorrow.



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