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Pressing On, Thankfully
By Charlie Register
January 6, 2000
As press stories about our uneventful rollover into the Year 2000 dwindle to a precious few, the time for critical review has come, and gone. Though some are beginning to question if this issue ever warranted serious coverage, even to the point of calling it a "myth," any conscientious student of the computer date recognition problem knows differently.
On the other hand, the success of this transition should not come as a complete surprise. Despite the vagueness of press releases, SEC filings and media reports, the outcome we are experiencing so far was certainly in the cards. After all the concern that has been raised over possible Y2K-related failures, it was still possible that enough embedded systems trouble spots had been tended to, enough mainframe code examined, and enough PC's updated, that rollover problems would be manageable.
The incredulity of the Y2K issue is that if you are intellectually honest, you could do a pretty fair job of being Devil's advocate to your firmly held beliefs. The problem with that is, either way it leaves enough doubt not to ignore the issue in its entirety. Thus enters the old football saying, "The science of winning is preparation."
But for those who took the time to better understand it, Y2K is a problem that we have to face on two fronts. First, there was the rollover and the embedded systems issues that the media fixated on as the primary event of Y2K. The second front takes place in information technology, located behind doors of government and corporations. Our safe passage through the rollover is a strong indication that our ability to produce goods remains intact. However, getting those goods to the right place, in the right amount, at the right time, and being properly paid for it...the rollover for that is just beginning.
Some in the media have arrived at the conclusion that Y2K might be what Westergaard's Lane Core calls "a chronic condition." A good illustration of this is the recent story by Frank Bajak of the AP where he wrote:"The Y2K bug's biggest risk was never to power grids, missile systems or telephone exchanges but rather to the complicated backroom systems on which the world's corporations and governments run.Citing the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers main spokesman Dale W. Way, Bajak calls the information systems responsible for accounting, inventory, billing and other financial matters a "crazy quilt of interconnected programs often cobbled together over decades," that are subject to additional errors once tampered with.
And that's why the vast majority of Year 2000 computer problems won't turn up for days, weeks or even months, information technology experts say."
Certainly this realization only echoes Peter de Jager's early message he penned in his seminal piece, "Doomsday 2000" in September of 1993, years before Y2K in embedded systems was even considered. That concern continues even today. Says de Jager in his most recent post-rollover article "Why no Chaos?":"What is ironic is that there are few Y2K managers who are willing, at this early date, to start calling the operation a success. Unlike the critics, we're very, very reluctant to signal an all clear. It's way too early.This is a point de Jager reiterated in a Reuters interview Tuesday when he said, "Have you received your paycheck? Have you received your Visa bill? Have you received your electrical bill?"
"Over the holiday weekend, especially this holiday weekend, only a tiny percentage of computer applications are active. The majority of these relate to infrastructure which received a tremendous amount of attention and which we predicted would run smoothly. The real test arrives when the engines of commerce are restarted and all the applications in the world see the new year for the first time. Let's agree to wait about a month or two before we attempt to detail either our success or failure.""None of these business processes have occurred yet. So, for anyone to suggest we're through Y2K is making the assumption that none of these business processes are going to be affected. That's an extremely naive assumption."If there are any doubts that Y2K related business and distribution problems are not forthcoming, consider the Associated Press report on Wednesday saying that the rail system in the African country of Mali experienced a Y2K computer failure.
"The computer systems used to track goods transported on Mali's railway system have been disrupted by Y2K," officials in the West African country said Wednesday, according to the AP story. "Railway officials have resorted to manual record-keeping while they try to fix the problem. No train delays or cancellations were reported as a result."
This is not meant to revive the notions of message systems problems leading to business failures and the collapse of financial markets. But it does point to a continued drag that will most likely reveal itself under the euphemistic phrase, "productivity slowdowns." In other words what Y2K is likely to bring us now is not anything we haven't experienced, and survived, in the past.
It's likely that many of the Y2K-related failures that occur in the coming months will go unreported by the press. That's a good thing. Because if the problems stay in the backroom and we don't see Sam Donaldson talking about Y2K on the evening news, then Y2K's impact will be minimal if at all. No offense to Sam Donaldson, but that would suit me just fine. It was the purpose of this column from the beginning to get the media to pay constructive attention to the story. Only significant problems will cause that to occur now. So with that, I've had my say.
There are many Y2K sojourners I would like to thank, but I will do that personally, since the list is numerous. However, to John Westergaard and John Yellig, a special mention of thanks is on order for providing a venue for serious dialogue on Y2K, and for recognizing that this is not an insurmountable problem.
I wish to leave with this one anecdote.
One of my early responsibilities working for a small twice-weekly newspaper in Georgia was covering sports at a small Christian school. The school's football coach was saddled with the task of putting together a team with less than two squads. He told me keeping them focused was a challenge.
"It's difficult with these players because you never really know what's going to ultimately motivate a teenager." he said. "Therefore, you've always got to keep watch."
I'm not sure it changes much when you get older. The routines of life tend to cloud one's perspective of what is really important, unless an event or situation occurs that causes them to take stock.
To me, Y2K was one of those events. Though the doom and gloom never consumed me, there was enough uncertainty to cause a reevaluation of what really matters. So as time goes by and folks ask if I think it was silly devoting nearly two years to a passing issue, I'll tell them no. Like the legendary Bob Hope, I'm thankful for the memories. Y2K was the car accident I walked away from.
Thank you and God bless. Life awaits, so press on.
-- John Whitley (email@example.com), January 06, 2000
-- Linkmeister (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 06, 2000.
Neat piece indeed. So far all the pieces from the Westergaard end that I've seen here have struck me as being very thoughtful and considerate. Good to see -- thanks to John for posting them.
-- Ned Raggett (email@example.com), January 06, 2000.
My paycheck, via automatic deposit, went in Monday night. My Visa bill came in today's mail, and looks accurate- anyway, the card still works and when I called to check on it on Sunday the balance was accurate and my last payment had been received properly. The power bill came Tuesday- that's also accurate.
-- I've gotten everything so far (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 06, 2000.
Yep, everything seems to be running soooth at my house too. I think the first quarter of this year will tell a lot.
-- (Iemail@example.com), January 06, 2000.