My first open letter to Ed Yourdon : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Dear Mr. Yourdon,

I read your response to Mr. Poole. I agree that you are not responsible for the actions of others. Nor are the so-called Y2K Pollyannas responsible for those who chose not to prepare. Given your statements about personal responsibility, I take it you agree.

On profit:

I fully support your right to engage in commerce. Whether you write 25 more books or sell solar panels in New Mexico, may you profit mightily. I imagine, though, you can see the apparent conflict of interest between reporting on Y2K and making money on Y2K. Its the same reason legislators and judges place personal investments in a blind trust. If you owned 1,000,000 shares of IBM, you might be tempted to act in your own interest rather than meet your professional obligations.

You have chosen to engage in Y2K commerce and I hope you have made a tidy sum. Your profits, after all, are the engine of capitalism. Once you cross into the realm of business, however, you leave behind the world of pure journalism. Please understand that I level the same criticism at the mass media that work and play well with advertisers.

This is why I think miss the point when you say people complain about the profit motive. You may be quite sincere and Id like to trust you. But if I am critical of the business journalist who is a consultant for IBM and then reports on the company why should I treat you differently?

As a side note, I have suggested on numerous occasions that you are a canny businessperson. Others, however, suggest that you havent made any money from your book, multi-level marketing, Y2K consulting, etc. While you have no obligation to share this information, I would be disappointed to learn you had lost money on your ventures.

On look ahead failures:

I was surprised to hear you admit to mistakes but less so as I read how you qualified them. As you know, fiscal systems are often the backbone of the modern business. This goes well beyond budgets and financial reports. A breezy glance includes payroll, benefits, pensions, accounts payable, accounts receivable, billing, collections, depreciation, maintenance, facilities, etc. All of these systems are date sensitive.

So, my first contention is simple. Fiscal-year computer logic may not be omnipresent, but it is significant.

If these budgets and financial reports have been blowing up, we would have heard about it. Why? Your argument about the systemic nature of the economy should ring a bell. For example, if JIT manufacturers had computer glitches related to the logistics of ordering, payment, etc., the problems had a good chance of disrupting the allegedly tight manufacturing process.

There are a few alternative answers. The system may have more flex than you realize. In short, it may be possible to have computer problems without a domino effect. Or we may not have had many significant problems thus far. Do you want the good news or the good news? Oh, I neglect a third option. We may have IT pros that kick backside and take names in a crisis. (Sorry, Ed, but I cant remember the order of your books. Are American programmers rising or falling?)

On the mysterious hidden failures:

This is a bit cryptic, Ed. With all due respect, knowledge of a number of non-trivial problems hardly constitutes proof of global omerta. I agree most companies do not want to advertise computer failures. On the other hand, show stoppers are tough to hide. Again, you may have underestimated the ability of organizations to fix on failure. We are also seeing positive test results from large systems. (See the recent DoD logistics systems test. And who ever expects government to get it right?) The news on Y2K is generally positive, particularly from the iron triangle. Admittedly, much of this is self-reported; however, can you acknowledge there at least seems to be significant progress? [And how about those lagging Y2K remediation stocks?]

On the mysterious trivial failures

Of course organizations want to appear perfect. Yes, they will spin information to their competitive advantage. If computer problems impact their ability to provide goods and services, however, they suffer in the marketplace. As a free market supporter, Ed, I think you must appreciate the forced honesty the market creates. In simple terms, its perform or die. New euphemisms hardly constitute proof of more sinister motives. It the usual public relations pap corporations use. The bottom line, however, is the bottom line. I cannot recall a single report of a firm failing (or even losing a major contract) due to Y2K problems.

On software metrics:

Given the reported progress of so many firms with respect to Y2K remediation, I suggest your next book revisit software metrics. We have argued before on the validity of applying development metrics to a remediation problem. I think there is enough data available on remediation work to revisit your original thesis. All software projects may not be created equally. Good theories require constant exercise. With all due respect, I am not sure you stumbled on an immutable law of the universe with software metrics.

Its all got be fixed!

I disagree. It doesnt function perfectly now. Here I suggest your background in IT may be a disadvantage. The economy is a large, messy, organic place. Businesses fail every day. Shipments are late, projects delayed and somehow we stumble forward. If we let the market work, things do get better. FedEx now gets our package there, overnight. Ben and Jerry add new flavors of ice cream. You buy solar panels for you New Mexico homestead.

How low can general economic efficiency drop? Its an interesting question, Ed. Most of our economy is focused on non-critical goods and services. In fact, I could live well without 98% of the stuff floating in the consumer universe. There would be friction in reallocating resources between non-critical services and critical services but it can be done. If you look at Americas production ramp-up into the Second World War you have an excellent example. While I do not wish to underestimate the Y2K problem, I also do not want to underestimate the resilience of the American economy.

On the ten-year depression and chemical plants:

We agree, Ed on the fact most Y2K impacts will be economic, just not the degree. If you are willing to wager on a 90% decline in the market, some strategic shorts can make you a very, very wealthy man.

I think we should look into the embedded chip issue, but based on what I have read, the vast majority of embedded chips are not in danger of failure due to rollover issues. I hope we do not have a chemical plant failure, but it is one of the risks of living in an industrial economy. We can eliminate the risks by choosing a simpler lifestyle, but the American consumer does not seem to want to go organic. By the way, if a chemical plant releases deadly toxins into the environment, what is the purpose of stored food?

Good news or bad news:

I think there has been a great deal of good news from the iron triangle in the U.S. At this point, Ed, do you think we will lose the grid and telecommunications? The news is not as good from the international perspective. If the U.S. economy stumbles (and I think it will), the rest of the world will be badly damaged. My concern here is the geo-political ramifications of severe global recession. Bad times seem to bring out the worst in nation-states.

DC and others

Having spent time in DC, I am amazed the city functions at all. It is one of the most poorly managed metropolitan areas in the U.S. I agree DC will have rollover problems. Other government entities will have trouble as well. Remember, Ed, we have no profit motive in the public sector. I do not want to dismiss government out of hand. On the other hand, many public agencies could stop functioning tomorrow with little real impact on the economy. Aside from a handful of critical services, if government isnt working, it isnt spending our money. (Pause for happy thought.)

On denouncing the radical fringe:

Please, Ed. A measure of intellectual courage is standing up to truly foolish ideas (like Y2K bugs coming from alien landings at Roswell). One of the problems of this forum is the soggy notion that all opinions are somehow equal. (And there are some bad ideas floating around.)

If you are concerned about your reputation, Ed, you might consider this. There are times when remaining silent is more damning than speaking out.

Finally, thank you for the civil tone of your letter. I appreciate the calm, thoughtful approach. In return, I hope you understand that there is no personal hostility in my comments. As a public figure in the Y2K debate, I feel obligated to question (and challenge) your ideas.

[Notice how Yourdon never stood up to the radical fringe?]

-- Ken Decker (, March 03, 2000


Ed was wrong, but he made a tidy profit, so that should take some of the sting out of the wrongness.

I was wrong for following those I thought might be right. I made my own stupid decision and lost quite a lot of money. This makes the sting of being wrong a bit worse.

Gary North was wrong, has always been wrong and is a religious nut to boot. Why do people believe nuts? They play into insecurities and hit the right buttons.

Hey Decker, I don't agree with everything you say, but you're on target on most of it. I've decided to do penance, hee hee, for the next year, and admit at least twice everyday, that I was a flaming nut, following flaming nuts.

-- gilda (, March 04, 2000.


The one thing different about Gary North is that (IMO) everyone agrees he's a *sincere* flaming nut. I'd kick myself less about falling for something someone said who truly believed it than I would if I felt later I was being scammed.

I can't say I'd mind the truth to whatever EY's motivations were. Living in California, we should have been more prepared than we were for natural disasters or interruptions of services.

I shouldn't get too personal on this, but in hindsight I kind of think the Y2K thing was the Lord's way of telling me to take better precations for my family. And now, thanks to EY, whatever disaster comes my way I'll probably be well equipped to deal with.

Keeping about 70% of my preps forever,


-- Someone (, March 05, 2000.

Please tell me Decker isn't going to dig all his old posts out of the archives and post them here again.

-- (Just, March 05, 2000.

Hear ye, hear ye, Just Another. Onward, I say, onward!

-- firefly (, March 05, 2000.

I don't think being a "sincere" flaming nut excuses a person at all - just because they totally believe their act, makes them all the more dangerous. Admire them if you want - as a laboratory specimen in the human laboratory of extremes. But know them.

Sociopaths are highly intelligent and most of all are sincere - that's why they're so good at it. To the extent that they think about it at all, they really believe they're helping you. If you have ever dealt with a sociopath there is a certain look that you will get to recognize right off the bat. Before the conversation begins there is an almost imperceptible beat. They will size you up as if "taking the temperature." Someone described Saddam Hussein this way. I have only known one other person who had this exact quality and it's chilling. This person was a consummate con artist, who endeared himself to everyone, it took years for the lies to unravel. The funny thing about this (it was a business relationship) is that the first week I knew him a little voice in me was telling me very strongly "stay away from this man." Then the voice went silent.

Am I saying Gary North is a sociopath? Maybe, maybe not. His persona through his writings (going back pre-Y2k) suggests it. Who knows. The label doesn't matter. What makes me think about this is, otherwise how can you reconcile how someone can be so smart and yet be so disconnected from what they are actually saying and doing and the effect they are actually having on real people? So destructive and harmful and manipulative *even if they sincerely mean it.* Not that this is anything new. Somehow the internet can magnify the credibility of such a person 100,000 times. I am sorry, I know that many simply don't agree with this and were grateful to embrace the hardship of preparing, etc. (which has nothing to do with Y2k). But that you happen to already believe what they believe, does not make such a person any less dangerous. Make this distinction.

Actually I am not sorry; it was my experience; Y2k fear was draining, period! I was at a down time in my life and I was taken in. I told myself I was "just being rational, taking a gamble based on the uncertain stakes" and I didn't want to "shoot the messengers" even if they were a little out there, etc. What can I say, it was not rational. I am over it, but the financial effects will persist for years. I'm with you on that one, Gilda.

I applaud people for wanting to move on. But you know what they say about those who don't examine history, etc.

-- Debbie (, March 05, 2000.


There are some who want to hold Gary and Ed responsible for their actions; others want to move forward; others want to do BOTH. Some feel that this should never be allowed to happen again. Personally, I don't see how it CAN'T. There will ALWAYS be sellers [of propaganda or goods] and there will ALWAYS be buyers. Evangelism is hardly a new concept.

In MY mind, it's more important to SEE what you learned from the experience. In some cases, folks learned that they were not prepared for situations of which they SHOULD have been prepared all along. In others, folks learned that they were too trusting in the words of others. If you feel you've learned ANYTHING from the Y2k experience, it seems to ME that you're now in a better position to learn more, and perhaps make better judgments in the future.

If I had killed all those who taught me something about myself I perhaps didn't want to know, I'd have run out of space to bury the bodies a LONG time ago. [grin]

-- Anita (notgiving@anymore.thingee), March 05, 2000.


I didn't mean to imply I felt GN was a sociopath, but rather that he had a zealous and REAL belief in his cause. That is, he doesn't "believe his ACT", he believes he's telling the TRUTH (incorrectly as it turned out). If someone is truly sincere in what they are saying, one tends to believe them more easily than if someone appears to have an ulterior motive or personality disorder.


-- Someone (, March 05, 2000.

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