How helpful were the "foghorns"? : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Truth seeker writes:

[What do you all think about John Koskinen's comment in late January of 2000 that it would have been the end of the world as we know it had there been no one sounding the alarm two years ago? Consider how Y2K would have unfolded and would be unfolding now if Ed Yourdon, Peter de Jager, and Ed Yardeni had said and done nothing. Would remediation and contingency planning and implementation have occurred on anywhere near the scale that they did? Indeed, would the lights be on right now?]

Fascinating issue, but when I try to come to grips with it, I keep sliding off. Kind of like counting angels on pinheads. The general question of "what would things have been like if they'd been different" is a game of assumptions, one set as good as another. But what the hell, it's fun...

We're allowed to use all the hindsight we want for this exercise, right? So OK, one thing we learned was that the effort and expense that went into a given remediation project wasn't directly proportional to the actual remediation accomplished. Especially with respect to embedded systems, big expensive projects ended up telling us that there really wasn't any date bug exposure there to speak of in the first place. Granted, we wouldn't have *known* this without all that effort and expense, and surely just crossing our fingers and doing nothing but *hoping* things would be OK was an unacceptable risk. But in all embedded cases I'm familiar with, it would have been OK. The lights would have stayed on.

Business systems are more problematical. On the one hand, we know remediators found and fixed a great many problems, sometimes reformatting whole databases. On the other hand, we also "know" that in some places, minimal effort was made yet minimal problems were encountered. Somehow, I doubt that even hindsight can tell us very well just how much of this effort was overkill. The "controls" to this experiment (I've called them "Italy" as a general category) suggest that much of the effort *was* overkill, but such controls are not necessarily directly comparable, for many reasons. I'm not willing to guess whether an "Italy" level of effort would have been sufficient for, say, Citibank to muddle through. But I think the business-as-usual experience of those whose efforts were (apparently) superficial, *must* be borne in mind here.

My point is that it's to some degree an *assumption* that the massive remediation efforts expended by major US corporations and government were entirely necessary (in the sense that the world as we know it would have ended otherwise). Experience elsewhere in the world provide a case against this that's a bit too solid to be ignored.

But for now, let's presume that it was necessary, and the world as we know it *would* have ended without that effort -- that Koskinen is right. This in turn leads us to the question of *why* the effort got started when it did, and taken as seriously (in dollars) as it was. Just how much did foghorns like deJager, Yourdon et. al. accelerate the remediation process?

And here, my reading is that opinions differ significantly. Most of the IT crowd (at least from reading the COBOL newsgroups) were nearly unaware of these people. They'd known about the century change issue for years, and regarded the start of remediation as a matter of timing. The timing issues were (1) You don't want to divert development budget to remediation before the competition does, lest you lose competitive advantage; (2) Cheaper to let *others* develop the automated tools at *their* expense, wring out the bugs, and then use them when they're mature; (3) The sooner before rollover you "finish", the sooner you reach a code freeze date. The period of frozen code should be kept to an absolute minimum.

I'm sure there were shops where the date change issue didn't cross their minds, or who heard about it and dismissed it as trivial. And maybe these shops were brought around (if at all) by a combination of the compliance questionnaires everyone else was sending them, the PR advantages of declaring compliance, and the general y2k hoopla.

So the "foghorn hero" argument becomes more subtle. We must presume that these people were largely responsible for getting the ball rolling initially, and the vast "remediation movement" would have started too late, in some sense, if they had not done so. We need to consider whether shops dealing with timing issues accelerated their schedules as a result of the ball rolling earlier (and tools available sooner), and owed this fortuitous circumstance indirectly to the foghorns whether or not they'd ever heard of these specific individuals.

Everything I've considered suggests that the influence of such people fell far short of being decisive. The original "awareness battle" seemed largely a figment of PR by deJager and company. The large corporations facing significant problems (and projects) were aware of these problems, but in many cases not as concerned about them as perhaps they should have been. My reading is that the most important awareness builder was actual experience once the remediation project began -- that "oops, hey, this is a LOT bigger than we thought".

So while there was indeed a snowball effect, I doubt the foghorn people contributed to that effect nearly as much as Koskinen implies. The big guys started (in hindsight) when they needed to, usually when lookaheads started biting, they had the budgets to develop the tools, they initiated the "great questionnaire crusade", and things continued on from there.

[If we are now in the midst of slow motion version of a much, much lower impact scenario, surely it would be better to acknowledge it, rather than ignore it, wouldn't it?]

This cuts both ways. I have yet to see ANY indication that we're in the midst of any such thing, and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So absolutely, IF this is happening we should acknowledge it. But if it's NOT happening, shouldn't we acknowledge that too? Incidents of known date bugs are not being kept secret, there's a whole database of them. They have a clear signature. Their incidence has been dropping rapidly since rollover as they're being fixed. Nobody is writing new ones yet. Claims that ALL perceived problems unrelated to y2k are *actually* y2k bugs being covered up are, uh, unpersuasive. We should acknowledge what's real to be sure. We should NOT fabricate a congenial reality to fit preconceptions, and claim (like something out of Alice in Wonderland) that the very LACK of evidence is "sufficient evidence" in and of itself.

-- Flint (, March 16, 2000


I'm not sure we can ever assess if Yourdon, Yardeni, de Jager or the rest made any significant difference. It seems to me the IT world was aware and working on Y2K... without any prompting. Certainly Koskinen and others raised the general level of public awareness... but how much of this actually impacted significant Y2K systems? Did the average home computer user really need to know ANYTHING about Y2K? Personally, I think the massive public outreach was grossly inefficient. Only a small percentage of the population actually solved the Y2K problem. The rest of us trusted the 'techs' were getting the job done right. (Except for those who thought the 'techs' were in league with the NWO.)

This is one of my criticisms of TB 2000 (the book). It was essentially a "puff piece" written for the general public. I imagine the people fixing Y2K were too busy to for light reading... and the book simply speculated what MIGHT happen if they botched the job. IF Yourdon had written a technical tome supporting the need for Y2K remediation "early and often," you might be able to make a case he helped IT folks better secure needed resources.

As it happened, the public awareness of Y2K may have made it easier for IT shops to increase budgets. As I witnessed, it created a convenient excuse for upgraded equipment. Y2K was used a lever to fix problems... not exactly Y2K related. (chuckle)

-- Ken Decker (, March 16, 2000.

Insofar as I can see, the majority of the "foghorns" were directed at the general populace who had no control over remediation efforts. To some extent, Peter de Jager directed his alarms more conciously toward the IT community. Ed Yourdon directed his more toward a mass market of computer users.

In every case where the alarm was directed primarilly toward people who had no IT involvement, the only possible rationale was to warn them that Y2K was a personal threat to them and their famililes. However sincere this conviction was, it could not possibly be credited with contributing to the remediation effort, since the stream of information and warnings were not directed at those who could make a difference.

The entire emphasis of the major "foghorns" was to get *ordinary* people to prepare for a loss of goods and services due to Y2K failures. This effort did nothing to soften the effects of Y2K, since the success of the remediation ensured that such preparations were not needed.

So, I it seems disingenuous to credit the efforts Yourdon, Lord, Hyatt, North or any similar figures with contributing to the successful outcome of Y2K, since it was the remediation that led to the success and they did not contribute to the remediation. Their efforts would be creditworthy ONLY if the preparations they recommended had saved someone from a measure of discomfort or inconvenience due to Y2K.

In the end, their assumptions proved false, so that their conclusions were wrong. At best, their influence was neutral to the outcome. They should be satisfied with that claim.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, March 16, 2000.

Let's not forget that, according to at least one of the "foghorns, Gary North, the remediation had already failed. His entire premise was that it was, in fact, "too late" to fix the problems, and that we must resolve to prepare for the effects.

I don't know whether this premise was carried over by Yourdon since I never read his book, but if he emphasizes "preparation" over "remediation," then, as Brian mentions, it indicates that failure on some level is a forgone conclusion. This would not assist remediators in any way, only those wishing to be "prepared" for the outcome.

Indeed, many have thanked Yourdon, North, et. al. NOT for helping to fix the problem, but for making them aware of "the interconnectedness of society" or "the vulnerabilities of JIT" or "corruption and lies in business and government" or whatever.

To deJager's credit, he at least appeared to focus on the IT community and remediation efforts. Whether his words had any effect is hard to judge, but he was clearly willing to change his position to a far more optimistic one as time passed and remediation efforts continued. His "foghorn" may or may not have helped, but at least he knew when it was time to turn it off.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), March 16, 2000.

Interesting post, Flint.

I also do not think the "foghorns" made a big difference in the remediation process. If there were any effect, it was at the SOHO level-small business owners and home business owners-I know this segment of the market was slow to acknowledge the perceived problem, and was a big concern to the "foghorns"-but I do believe the ordinary "joe" who happened to come across North's website or Yourdon's et al was given an opportunity he or she might not have had if they were relying on the mainstream press.

I believe people like myself, who learned of the problem from the foghorns, did benefit as long as we did not buy into the excess of the hype. I prepped for a month, and learned that indeed I like to be prepped for whatever may arise. When the hurricane passed through last year, and an order was issued to boil water in my town, I did not have to worry about clean water as water was already stockpiled.

In conclusion, I would give these foghorns virtually no credit in the world of businesses over 100 people and some credit in the u nder 100 employee marketplace.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), March 16, 2000.


I don't think that the "foghorns" has one bit of effect on embedded systems. Before the rollover I wasn't aware that people like Yourdon and North existed and don't know any of my colleagues that were either. We worked on embedded systems because 1) If we didn't fix things it would have an immediate affect on the bottom line if the systems failed and 2) We had a sense that failure could cause big problems for society as a whole.

As it turned out, a lot of our efforts were "overkill". We didn't know this two years ago because we didn't even have an inventory of our embedded systems. Once we had an inventory, we still had to assess and test the systems. With 6500 systems, it was going to be a lot of work so we could say for sure we were compliant. As it turned out, we could have done nothing and lost about 20 megawatts of generation from one plant - hardly enough for the system operators to have noticed. That may be part of the reason that "Italy" didn't have massive failures.

What the "foghorns" were really good at was convincing people that there was no way we could actually be compliant and that any statements to the contrary were either lies or the work of morons. The biggest problem we faced in the last six months of 1999 was a small group of people who showed up at public Y2K meetings and hooted us down whenever we made any optimistic statements. After seeing TB2000 after the rollover, I understand where some of those folks were being fed.

-- Jim Cooke (, March 16, 2000.

As far as I was concerned, the 'foghorns' did very little that I considered positive. Anyone who kept on after the middle of 99 was either ignorant of the real situation or wanted to whip the public into a panic.

Sure, there were some uncertainities in EXACTLY what would play out over the rollover. But they had been cut down to the point of minor inconvience at most. What kind of person encourages you to buy supplies for a minor thundershower that MIGHT (but probably won't) knock your power out for ten minutes?

-- Paul Davis (, March 17, 2000.

Interesting debate. I think the foghorns like de Jager who made a big shift in spring 1999 did have a strong effect on calming public fears. In some ways de Jagers reassurances meant more than those coming from the government because he had started earlier and was a credible expert with the media. I would have liked to see him shift earlier, and go further, but I understand why he didnt.

On the IT side, how much de Jager helped is open to question. Strong organizations were probably ahead of the curve and didnt need his alarm to notice the fog. But a lot of corporate executives tend to tune out their own in-house IT experts, assuming that geeks always have their panties in a tizzy about something. Getting the same message loud and clear from both the outside and the inside probably convinced them to spend some resources and get the job done.

-- Computer Pro (, March 17, 2000.

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