Contingency Planning: Geeks as heros, where are the artists? : LUSENET : Millennium Salons : One Thread

We all have a well founded sense that no one is in charge of fixing this problem. Because no one is in charge, it does *not* follow that we must look after our own and run away someplace.

There are many alternatives in the space of taking charge by working together in our communities. This strikes me as a solvable problem.

I am sure we have all had the experience of seeing something that must be done and stepping forward and doing it. That is the opportunity of y2k. There is an immense amount to be done to enable us to live successfully with the Millennium bug. Us geeks have advance knowledge of this problem because we know technology. That gives geeks the chance to start earlier to create neighborhood contingency plans.

Public awareness is increasing. Four months ago, when I contacted local officials, I was surprised to find I was the one informing them about the effects of the Millennium Bug.

Now when I call new people, people are familiar with the problem and its risks, but they don't know what to do. People know its not their job. But they do want to help if they just knew how. I get the feeling that there is a lot of collective energy waiting to emerge to help each other.

Why don't we know what to do? The situation is without historical precedent and no one knows what will happen. We have no models yet for success.

It is most challenging to warn before something unprecedented occurs. The truth is in the numbers and I wonder how to convey this to action. In the 70's I worked with fisheries officers who looked at catch data and predicted the collapse of the NE fisheries. They were scorned by their government bosses. In the 80's I heard projections of the Internet boom based on exponential growth data for new sites. Both these groups of people looked at data and believed the data to predict the future. That is the situation we are in now and our challenge is to make that data real.

One way to visualize success is to imagine the plot of the Sept 99 y2k disaster movie. (ignoring the irony) This movie will have heros. And the heros will not be folks who run off to their cabins and get in fire fights with their neighbors. Heros will be heros as they have always been, those who go beyond their self to help others. Myths will arise from actions of heros. So right now y2k presents immeasurable opportunities, each of the readers of this email right now has the chance to define what a y2k hero is. There will be heros. They could be you. How often does one get such a chance in their life?

And as soon as heros do appear, the press coverage that we need to increase awareness and concern will appear. Why should the press play up fear when readers want to hear about bravery and action that stretch beyond ourselves?

Actually a strange thing about y2k so far is that it is really a geek thing. I mean, I feel a little alone without artists around to help me feel the situation. There are no songs of heroics or songs of despair or of concern. There are not even any movies. This is part of the surrealness of the situation - we know there will be problems, but we have not communicated our feelings. And from feeling comes action. But life around us goes on.

What actions can we take? y2k is not any person's fault or even anyone's job to solve. It's a system thing. Similar to the environmental awareness/action change that occurred 20 years ago. We cannot wait for the government to take action. Because their computer systems are too slow to be converted, they may be part of the problem, not the solution. Change is most effective through grass roots organizing. I will assume we can not really run away from this. What I am counting on being most effective is grass roots organizing to understand the risks and then act on minimizing them as a community. Many people working together for the common good can be amazingly effective. We see this in many ways everyday.

My local neighborhood group, the Belvidere Neighborhood Association, was formed to drive drug traffickers out. They did it, not by calling the police in alarm , but by watching drug houses, keeping notes, and when they knew the pattern, telling the police where to go when. The neighborhood group was effective because they initiated locally something very important to them, and provided the information to others so they could do their job. Others would not initiate, the neighborhood group could not enact. An interesting model for y2k contingency planning.

I talk with many people in local government or doing y2k work. There is a lot of concern about what to do for their own families. A neighborhood y2k group can become a place to initiate action which is acted on by others who will not be told by their boss to do this. My city councillor is very pleased that we have formed a y2k committee because he cannot move pro-y2k legislation without a voice from citizens.

Grass roots organizing is not the only way that we will learn to live with the millennium bug. We are also in an amazingly entrepreneurial society. Exactly where can I buy a solar powered battery charger? How can I equip my house to be self sufficient in energy and food production? Demand will create supply.

The y2k problem spans many dimensions. To understand how to deal with it effectively, we will be figuring out how to work together in new ways. Perhaps the Internet has come along at the right time.

Finally, here are some easy actions to take, towards the goal of grass roots organizing.

1) Keep notes. Keep a diary.This is a historic time. Use your notes to help understand the changes.

2) rendezvous at a local diner, (7am Thursday at the Owl diner is what we do), informally share ideas with others who want to act on y2k. brainstorm.

3) investigate areas of risk, and focus on helping people do their jobs. For example, our local water department wants an emergency generator in case the power goes out; I am glad to lobby for them, once I knew the situation.

4) create a web page, of course (hmm, still have to do that) pass on what you know ASAP

5) create a y2k committee in your local neighborhood group, having a group name helps in all sorts of ways to talk to others

6) hold a block party, if times will be tough, its good to have met your neighbors under less trying situation. And if y2k is a bust, you had a nice party!

7) Work with the red cross to prepare emergency shelters at your school, church, etc. Great for ice storms too.

Besides, I wonder where you would run away to, given everyone else is doing the same thing. I am betting on preparation and depending on others.



-- Ian Wells (, June 06, 1998


I am an artist.Y2K Problem/Opportunity: a Call to Action By Tom Osher Einstein explained that as one approaches the speed of light, time slows down -- a concept hard to believe but fun to contemplate. Now, as we approach the year 2000, watch how the time will speed up, much as a river accelerates as it approaches a huge waterfall. The 20th century began with the tragedy of the Titanic with its inadequate contingency plans (i.e., not enough lifeboats). Now, at the end of the century -- all of humanity, because of the pervasive growth of computers, floats, as it were, together on one giant ark called Technology. At the end of the river is the year 2000 problem, Y2K, like a giant iceberg. 3 Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore.2 B. Dylan. The people on board are preoccupied with their existence, the problem is a year and a quarter away and few realize the potential of its severity. We are about to make the same mistake that occurred with the Titanic. We have had one century to learn the importance of adequate, appropriate and inclusive contingency planning when facing potential disaster -- the sinking of Technology. We must have lifeboats for everybody. Therein lies the challenge that faces all of humanity: prepare for the worst by making all communities autonomously self-sustainable, neighborhood by neighborhood, worldwide, by the year 2000, or face tidal waves of panic and the possibility of infrastructure meltdown, martial law/chaos, world-wide for an indefinite period of time. Cynics may scoff and say, 3Why bother? It9s impossible.2 But they don9t recognize that in the very fact of their existence they face the impossible every day of their lives. Besides, we may not have everything in place -- here and everywhere by the year 2000 -- but the more we do, the less reason for panic, the smoother the transition, the less possibility of martial law/chaos. This inevitable event is of a singular nature historically; it is one of a kind. We cannot expect aid from the usual disaster aid sources (FEMA, Red Cross, etc.): the problem will be too widespread and ongoing, and these organizations will be undermined as well. It is a once in a millennium opportunity to transform society, non-violently. We need to create task forces of volunteers and groups to start realizing the many areas of contingency implementation. We need to have large neighborhood meetings, where people can input their knowledge of sources, resources, ideas and means for each of the different areas of infrastructure: food, water, waste, transport, communications, health and safety, electricity, gas, fuel, etc. Information and solutions need to be shared on the Internet. The government needs to be audited, to know their readiness and their contingencies, and petitioned for land-use permission and for funds for labor and supplies.Now that time is short, we need to come up with a feasible (cheap and simple) model(s) as comprehensive as possible as quickly as we can to be made available for everyone.Not everyone need agree to these ideas, but those that do, lets move on this now! E-mail: Telephone:415-824-4214 *Although the year 2000 problem (date-referencing computers and embedded microchips that can only go up to the year 1999 and are unable to process 2000) sounds simple, countless computers will malfunction as they encounter dates in the year 2000. But the prevalence of computers in our lives means that if and when these computers fail, problems will range from mere inconveniences to life-threatening consequences. One thing is for sure and that is that the collapse of our infrastructure that sustains us is possible. It is the likelihood of this possibility that is unknown. Both the public and the private sector are working on the problem, but collectively they cannot eliminate every year 2000 bug. While the Y2K issue does not necessarily represent Armageddon, the threat to trade, transportation, health care, financial institutions, telecommunication, power sources and government functions is very real. About the author: Tom Osher has lived in San Francisco since 1967, has been a grass roots organizer and activist for many years, especially working with Food Not Bombs since 1988, is the father of two grown children. He currently lives in Bayview-Hunters Pt., where he will be making his home and garden a model for self-sustainability. This will include vertical horticulture, electricity-generating devices, pirate radio for the purpose of communicating locally when and if there are no telecommunications, compost-creating toilets, etc. Check these out. y2k affords us an opportunity to transform the world in one stroke, more or less.For years activists have followed in the footsteps of MLKing, Ghandi, etc. to the point where proactive activism is somewhat rare. Now, it happens that the most prudent response to the y2k situation, would be preparation for the worst-case scenerio - infra-structure breakdown for an indefinite period of time, martial law/ chaos- by implementing globally autonomous self-sustainable neigborhoods before 2000. A daunting challenge in itself, but until the challenge is fully assumed, no one can say that it is impossible. Anyway, this responds coincides very much with the anarchist vision of decentralization and autonomy, also, with those who cherish the vision of self-sustainable communities based on co-operation and non-violence. There is only a short time to implement. People like yourself could play an instrumental role in manifesting this vision by helping to put out the call for ideas and ways that are cheap, simple, and comprehensive that could provide a model(s) that could be quickly disseminated and implemented. What do you think? They say "When the entire Universe passes thru the hole of a bagel, THATS when the Transformation will begin." I think that time is now. Co-reliantly, Tom feasible alternative sustainables The above link may be helpful, but be aware it is not necessarily the best way to go. The generator does not produce a whole lot of energy and photovoltaics may be better (more power, cheaper-no gas cost or storage). Verticle growing: Make a column out of chicken wire about 3-4 feet high,14" diameter and tar paper ( there might be a better substance, that has no toxics in it). Just attach it by folding it over the bottom and the top of chicken wire. Put a 4"diameter pipe in middle and fill with sand and stones, fill the rest of the area with good soil, remove the pipe. Cut slits (about 3") in a spiral thru the wire and paper. Insert seedlings at a downward angle thru the slits. Melons and such at lower areas, plants like peas, beans , tomatoes in the higher areas, salads, and middle types in middle, some plants will get more sun depending on which side they are on. The dimensions are arbitrary and you can vary the size of everything any way you want. I got over 40 plants in this size. Can be place on sidewalks, balconies, roofs,etc. you don't need a yard. Create more columns and plant every 2 weeks to keep a continual harvest. Also, it is recommended that you contact your gov't. to get them moving on storing grains in easily accessible warehouses to augment everyone's diet. As you can see, this packet or model is woefully incomplete, am trying to solicite more and better ideas to make available to everyone as soon as possible. Please send any ideas you can share. Co-reliantly, Tom

-- Tom Osher (, November 23, 1998.

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