Y2K Retrospectives From Power Industry Insiders: Chapter 1greenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread
Hello everyone. A few of us Power Industry Insiders have decided to develop a series called "Y2k Retrospectives From Power Industry Insiders". Malcolm Taylor, Factfinder and I will start things off; feel free to jump into the discussion. The later chapters I envision include topics such as:
Early Y2k test results
Experiences with the media
Experiences with Y2k message boards
Pre Y2k dates: 1/1/1999, 4/9/1999, 8/21/1999, and 9/9/99
Y2k Power Industry Heroes (and of course, Villains!)
Confessions: A few things you never knew about, including what the lawyers advised us NOT to talk about
CHAPTER 1: Our First Experiences with Y2k (circa 1997)
================================================= Dan's comments:
I first heard about Y2k when I was "invited" to go to a company-wide meeting on The Year 2000 Bug. Whenever our boss needs a warm body to attend a meeting he doesn't want to attend, he begins wandering the halls and grabs the first person he can find. Alas, I was that person.
At the meeting, in August 1997, most of the discussion was on software only; I don't recall any discussion about embedded systems just yet. The focus then was on customer information systems (energy usage, billing) and on widely-used software programs (Word, Excel, etc.)
Come October 1997 and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) began assembling a team to work on "The Year 2000 Problem". It was not yet referred to as "Y2k".
An e-mail began circulating about a power plant in England that, when its control system computer clock rolled over to 2000, a timing miscalculation occurred and the plant shut down. This story, which never seemed to be verified definitively, started many power companies on the road to solve the "embedded system" problem.
A job bid came out for a Year 2000 Project Manager. I didn't pay any attention to it until I got a visit from a supervisor, encouraging me to bid on the job. There was a significant pay increase, a promotion, and a job waiting for me at the other end, so I was persuaded to bid. So, in December of 1997, I started working full time on "The Year 2000 Problem." Little did I know of the roller coaster I was about to board, that would not come to a stop more than 2 years later.
================================================= Malcolm's comments:
Our company started its Y2K work late in 1997, but the initial team was made up of purely IT staff. Early in 1998 they realised that there were many issues related to Y2K that involved other sectors as well,so a meeting was called with a representitive from each section present. These included IT, Business Developement, Finance, Engineering, Operations & Maintenance, and my group Trading & Dispatch. As I happened to be rostered on the Planning desk that month I was the lucky one to be assigned to attend, and therefore had Y2K added to list of resposibilities.
At that initial meeting the nature of Y2K was explained to us as our IT section saw it, and while they believed that all systems were fixable, they really had no idea just what systems were at risk, or even what systems were being used. They could point to the obvious (eg. the Wide Area Network and all the company wide applications), but they did not know what proprietry or specialist software may have been installed or even developed inhouse within each section.
Some examples of potential failures were actually explained in detail. The one that I remember most vivdly was with our security system which would remove everyones' access authority on the rollover.
Each representitive at that meeting was given the task of identifying every single item of electronic hardware whether computerised or not, and every single item of software in use within their particular section. In addition, to identify every piece of potentially computerised equipment used indirectly by each section.
So, by default I became a member of the Y2K team. it wasn't my sole job like many others, and I had to fit all Y2K work in among my other duties. But little did I know at that stage just how involved I would become.
================================================= David's (Factfinder's) comments: My first exposure to y2k was while working on a contract assignment as a system engineer in late 1997 and early 1998. The power company I was working for at the time was one of the "leaders" in the industry, and had started at least by late 1995/early 1996 on the IT portion of the project. It wasn't until 1997 that embedded systems really began getting hard attention. It was also about 1997 that the whole process began getting a bit bureaucratic, with formal "programs" and "processes" put into place, conduct electronic equipment inventory, fill out forms, revised the "process", fill out NEW forms, over and over. I think I gave my inventory at least 4 times, on the same equipment.
For the electronic systems I had responsibility for at the time, there were several types of equipment that had problems, mainly date stamping issues, but they covered several hundred like devices (radiation monitoring and digital chart recorders for example). No showstoppers that would have caused big problems.
I jumped into y2k in a big way with my next project with another power company, one that didn't really get started good with embedded systems until 1998. By early 1998, y2k was getting a reputation with engineers as being a bit overblown and exaggerated, but like Dan, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Discussion Question: When and what was your first encounter with Y2k? Was it positive or negative?
Next Chapter: Our first hypothesis about how Y2k might affect power systems
-- Dan the Power Man (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 16, 2000
My first contact with the possible problem; don't remember, 92, 93 or so. With my power provider, I know the date. Feb 99. Talked with the CEO of the company. He was more than willing to provide information [evidently no one else had asked] and give access. I talked to engineers and software folks and they told me what they were doing. Their answers all checked-out. After that I forgot about power problems [although Malcom's pessimism was disconcerting :o); you know, though, that you can't trust people from NZ; Palmy forever].
Perhaps, I'm not the bloke to be answering this question.
-- Z1X4Y7 (Z1X4Y7@aol.com), April 16, 2000.
Will we have power on Jan. 1, 2000? (June 1998)
-- (Y2K@power.retrospectives), April 16, 2000.
Dan, Malcolm, David,
This is a terrific idea and I hope it meets with a lot of interest. It *is* nice to go back now and see where we were, how we got involved, came to conclusions, and what our own personalities had to do with the positions we took. Maybe if this thread turns out rich enough, we can all collect some royalties.... From the closing line in the movie The Sixth Sense, "Wouldn't that be nice."
-- Gordon (email@example.com), April 16, 2000.
Gordon, Glad you dropped by, being one of the regulars at Rick Cowles EUY2K forum, I hope you will add your perspective. I also invited Rick to offer his perspective here and to invite other old forum members to stop by. EUY2K closed down before we really had a chance to reflect, but maybe this could be the place to do it. If enough people contribute, I believe there could be far more of "the real story of y2k" here than we've found in the media or on the y2k sites.
I plan to provide information here that I haven't elsewhere, what it was like working inside, my first experiences with looking for y2k information on the Internet, finding the vendor information on y2k, the "fringe" sites, finding EUY2K, TB2000, Poole's site and debunkers, etc.
-- FactFinder (FactFinder@bzn.com), April 16, 2000.
[I am assuming that the invitation to contribute is open to all? 'Scuse me if it was meant primarily for the power insiders.]
This should be an interesting series. I'm particularly interested in hearing how people on this forum first learned of, and reacted to, Y2k. I suspect that many had a similar experience to mine...
I started seriously researching Y2k in October of '98. A friend had asked me if I had heard of Y2k, and wanted my opinion. Although I had been vaguely aware of a "date related computer problem", I really had no idea what it was all about. It was at that point that I decided to research the issue. I did a web-search for Y2k and was soon taken to Gary North's site. I poured over every word of it. It quickly dawned on me that I had been informed by an apparent "expert" on the subject that we were on a train w/out brakes and were heading full steam towards the end of the world as we knew it. I'm not ashamed to admit that, like most non-techie Y2k newbies, I was totally sucked in, hook, line and sinker. Any doubts I may have had were erased when I continued searching out other Y2k sites only to find that every one of them repeated the mantra. By the end of that night I was totally convinced a major disaster was inevitable. But most of all... I was scared! (Thank God I eventually stumbled across Biffy!)
Interesting topic, guys. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
-- CD (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 16, 2000.
I am glad to see the discussion get rolling :).
Z: You mentioned that you might not be the bloke to answer the question. It is directed to *anyone* who wants to comment, not just power folks. You said your first exposure was in 1992. That seems quite early...could you elaborate? Are you a software person?
Regarding the link to Senator Bennett's June, 1998 comments, I'll respond in a later chapter. I'm trying to make the chapters generally chronological in nature, and the first chapter was for the very beginning, circa late 1997. Thanks for the link, though.
Gordon: Good to hear from you again. I'd particularly like some comments from those who were quite pessimistic about the power industry, to help us all see what led to such pessimism. So, jump on in!
CD: As I said above, the intent of the discussion questions is for ALL to comment, not just insiders. Your first experience with Y2k was definitely a negative one; sometimes it's easy to forget how bad a picture that Gary North painted, and its effects on someone new to the topic.
Regarding future chapters, they should come out once per week, sooner if the three of us can get our comments put together. Chapter 2 should come out Wednesday of this week (4/19).
-- Dan the Power Man (email@example.com), April 17, 2000.
I'm glad to see you post this. I've had a chance to read a lot of your old TB2000 messages from the archives and you and I would have agreed. Luckily for my blood pressure, I didn't find out about any of these Y2K web sites until January 1 because I was just too busy working.
I got corraled into Y2K when the utility I was doing consulting work with announced they needed some project management help in late 1997. Just a small thing, they said, shouldn't take more than 10-15 hours a week. If I only knew! In my case, I started out as a project manager on the embedded side of the house and only got involved in the IT side when it affected our embedded systems. I worked on ES from October 1997 until the rollover. Our utility has a combination of fossil, hydro, and nuclear.
The e-mail's real so if you think I can contribute anything let me know.
-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), April 17, 2000.
Regarding first exposure to Y2k in the power industry, I can only address the software (IT) end. I did a short stint at TU Electric [now TXU Electric] the last 3 months of 1996. Their Y2k team was already established and every team working on a software project met with them regularly. Since my previous client created a software product that TXU was evaluating for purchase, I was asked to confirm Y2k compatibility of that product.
Moving backward chronologically, the software product mentioned above was developed in the March, 1996 through October, 1996 timeframe. The product was already available and in use in various forms by other clients; There was a VSAM version, an IMS version, and we created a DB2 version. The client interested in the DB2 version had particularly strict requirements for Y2k compliance. While creating the DB2 version, we passed along any possible Y2k failure information to the teams handling the VSAM and IMS versions so those products could be updated as well.
Moving back chronologically again, MOST [but not all] software systems on which I worked that involved significant changes included Y2k remediation as part of the process. I saw this done from perhaps 1992 onward. I would have preferred that ALL software reworks took this approach, but SOME clients still didn't have Y2k included as part of the budget, and I DID ask if the work may be included.
Regarding Y2k on the internet, I followed discussions with techs on the newsgroups, but didn't get involved until the summer of 1998 when some folks began discussing Y2k on the MSNBC Technology Forum. A few folks asked MSNBC if a new forum could be established to discuss remediation. MSNBC created the Year 2000 Issues Forum. It began with folks providing information for people working on remediation on various platforms. Topics included VB considerations, Java considerations, Unix considerations, IBM, SUN, etc. Before the end of the year, non-technicals had found the forum and were bringing up philosophies extended by Gary North and others. We researched the messengers and provided what we felt to be correct facts. By April of 1999, a few extreme pessimists engaged in basically an overthrow of the forum, discounting any positive news. I withdrew from Y2k on the internet at that time and didn't return until June of 1999, at which time I checked out TB2000, learned of Debunkers, etc.
-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), April 17, 2000.
To clear up a few things:
I also heard the story about the power plant in England. I also heard it from a reputable source so I believed it. Later on I read Cowles book and because some of the things he mentioned were at a variance with what I knew I did some checking. Fortunately I knew an engineer at one of the power companies he mentioned and I was able to call him. He in turn put me in touch with the head of their Y2K project who then told me the true story. I then made some more phone calls to check other things I heard such as the English plant. A call to EPRI got the information that it was based on a simulation. I couldnt get any more information as to what type of simulation, i.e., computer, lab, shop floor, plant test, etc. Interestingly enough I did hear a story at the same meeting that I first thought to be rather speculative and later on turned out to very true.
I also started to hear other stories about power plants but in slightly different guises. This was on Amys list, Norths links, TB, etc. This is a clear indication that something is probably an urban myth. Though in this case it would be more accurate to call it an Internet myth.
I also started to look through all of Norths links. Need I say more?
-- The Engineer (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 17, 2000.
I always liked Dan and FactFinder, even if they were pollys!
One bad thing about the forum split, now I've got to follow this in both places...
-- Sysman (email@example.com), April 17, 2000.
Again folks, I'm very pleased with the great input by everyone. I hope this continues with future chapters.
Jim: I'd love to continue to hear your perspective on things. Yes, many people started out with "10 hours per week" on Y2k until it consumed them. Whenever a new team member came on board, I'd say "Welcome to the black hole project...once you are sucked in, you'll never get out".
Anita: Glad to hear about TXU...I remember being impressed with how far they were along in Y2k work back in early 1998, now I know why. I'm curious, because of your extensive work early on (1996), were you optimistic or pessimistic about Y2k at that time?
The Engineer: Thanks for clarifying the end to the England power plant story. We too found it to be unverifiable. What was the "speculative" story that turned out to be true?
Sysman: Don't sweat it, my man, I'm posting the chapters on both boards, so you can pick either one.
-- Dan the Power Man (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 18, 2000.
I'd seen enough software [IT] projects completed to be extremely optimistic in that regard. I fought with Hamasaki a few times on csy2k over that one. On the other hand, I was TOTALLY ignorant regarding embedded systems. I had to rely on the "experts", and until I ran across Cherri, the only expert I trusted was Harlan Smith. He'd been out of the field for quite some time, but he did a great job at debunking the more outlandish claims.
-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), April 18, 2000.
Z, Wow, you would be the first person to ever accuse me of being pessimistic. I must have mis worded something somewhere. ;-)
Y2K, The link that you have provided is probably THE major reason that so many people believed that power would be disrupted. We will be dealing with that report later in the series.
Gordon, Great to see you here. I hope that you will continue to contribute.
-- Malcolm Taylor (email@example.com), April 18, 2000.
CD, As Dan said, of course the topic is open to all, it would be pretty boring without everyone's experiences with y2k. Perhaps discussing y2k from inside/outside y2k projects will help us to better understand why the end results were far from what was predicted by some of the early y2k experts, and why quite a number of people didn't believe the postive news coming from the industry or the government toward the end of 1999. And CD, you were a "doomer"??? ;) I only know you from your "poly" optomistic postings here and over at the old debunkers boards (and of course our email exchanges on the topic). I was also suprised when I learned that cpr was also once pessimistic about y2k, but I think that was more from an IT perspective, it certainly wasn't North, Charle's knew early on that North was exploiting y2k for his own political and pseudo-religious purposes. I think I was luck in the beginning, I saw some bad information regarding Y2K on the web, but I didn't visit North's site until I heard about it from Stephen Poole's site or debunkers (I also stumbled on Biffy about this time, but rarely posted there). Back in 1998, most of my Internet research for y2k was job related searching for vendor information, so I skipped most of the y2k fringe sites (which almost ALL sites dedicated to y2k were, IMHO). I did run into Rick Cowles EUY2K forum early on, and of course found that an interesting site with several industry insiders and a lot of others interested in y2k in electric power. Some pretty spirited discussion there, with a dash of civility for the most part.. Rick's other forum, the industry only password site, could have served a much more important function, IF it had been used by insiders. It was not, except rarely. Why? Rick would be the best to answer that, but I would suggest that the muzzle on the free exchange of industry information is the same muzzle that exists today - the great American Legal System. Maybe in the later Chapters of Dan's posts we'll really address this - it's the most significant reason you never got a look at the detailed inside Y2K information from industry you SHOULD have been able to see.
Jim, I will look forward to the details of your experiences in y2k in the power industry. Great fun, wasn't it? lol. Fossil, hydro, nuclear -- - hmmmm...sounds like the company I'm currently working for ;) As far as your work as a project manager on embedded systems, what is your background (IT, engineering, etc.) and how did it affect your outlook/approach to y2k in embedded systems? Did you create your own program and procedures specifically taylored to embedded systems, or were much of the program dictated by corporate IT Project Managers (as mine was)?
Anita, My condolences to you, you were on y2k far longer than I had to be! ;) I've of course read many of your posts, but never got a summary of your background, so I appreciate the information. Your information on the MSNBC forum being overthrown is something I hadn't read before, and it's interesting. Do you have any thoughts as to how the techies on the forum were overthrown by a few pessimists? Did they make it so hard on the techies that they just left as you did?
The Engineer, Great, you were able to find out more about the power plant "y2K induced shutdown" in England than I was, thanks for the scoop. I was never able to find a single thing to verify it happened, though I saw it quoted all over the place (trying to remember if this claim was on the UK IEE Y2K site as well, did anyone see it there?). As far as Norths links go, as stated above, before I ever got to his site, the debunkers had informed me of his background, agenda's, etc, so fortunately I never gave him any credibility (thanks to cpr, Poole, Davis, Doc, and the whole obnoxious lot of ya for saving me, lol).
Sysman, I sure did appreciate having at least one person on TB2000 who didn't wan't to hang me first and THEN ask me y2k question, thanks ;). TB2000 was a tough place for those working y2k in the industry to post "optimistic" information to last year, but fortunately I had a tough hide from EUY2K and Lane and Gordon ;)
Malcom, you pessimistic??? Nahhh, I did perceive early on in first meeting you that you thought that serious problems could occur, but the findings you posted were pretty consistent with most of the industry. I on the other hand looked real hard for serious problems on my y2k project, but would have been VERY suprised to find the power plant affected to any significant degree. Your "it can happen" approach was probably better.
-- David ("FactFinder") (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 18, 2000.
I wonder whatever happened to Lane Core? He vanished like a popped soap bubble at rollover, and hasn't said a word here or on EZboard or on csy2k ever since. How very mysterious.
-- Flint (email@example.com), April 18, 2000.
I believe the last posts that I saw from Lane were at the old EUY2K board, either shortly before or shortly after the rollover. I think I had expressed some regret at some of my more "personal" posts, and Lane echoed the sentiment if I remember correctly (Lane and I went at each other pretty hard on occassion there). In any case, by the time Y2K approached, I think almost ALL at EUY2K were more optimistic about what the outcome of the rollover would be.
Rick Cowles actually started moving away from y2k with his new Energyland site months before the rollover. I believe he did those in the forum a bit of injustice by not discussing the actual outcome in the forum before closing it, he just kind of blew outta there with very little to say. I would guess starting a new venture left little time to discuss the Y2K aftermath, and I know he's still busy from a recent email, but I have asked him to contribute to this thread, it would be nice to get his comments post-rollover.
-- FactFinder (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 18, 2000.
Don't know if it's the same company. Send me an e-mail and we can discuss.
My background was mostly engineering and construction project management with some programming thrown in. I had done some SCADA work so they thought I "must" know something about embedded systems :^)
The IT side of our house had almost no input into the embedded systems project design or testing methodology. They were busy enough fighting their own fires and didn't have time to take on another conflagration. As it turned out, that was good thing for us as we were able to do what we thought made sense and didn't have to spend a lot of time running around getting permission.
-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), April 19, 2000.
The IT side of our house had almost no input into the embedded systems project design or testing methodology. Nope Jim, that's not MY company, lol. But I'll drop ya an email anyway.
-- FactFinder (email@example.com), April 19, 2000.
Lane Core apologized on January 6, Flint -- six days before you decided to leave the Y2k discussion.
-- (Janu@ry.2000), April 20, 2000.
You've posted a link to a thread where Lane Core didn't apologize for anything except for doubting "certain" anonymous power engineers. Not a woprd about his completely wrong predictions about what would happen with power.
The next thread has Flint saying that he feels that Y2K is essentially over and it's been fun. I must have missed the part about where he said he was leaving.
Another attempt to rewrite history.
-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), April 20, 2000.
Dan, Malcolm, David,
Thank you for this retrospective. Not a power industry insider myself, I really appreciate learning what was going on.
In answer to the discussion question, for the sake of newcomers I'll relate a history of my multiple levels of first enounters with Y2k. :-)
My perspective was/is that of a longtime (1963-...) programmer in the oil, computer and financial industries, recently out of work while recovering from a temporary medical disability, who has both perpetuated and remediated Y2k problems and loves explaining computers to non-techies.
(The volume of details that follow are intended to convey a sense of a programmer's point of view, for non-programming lurkers.)
I don't remember just when I first became aware of the basic Year 2000 computer problem (not including wider societal effects), but sometime prior to 1979 I understood that improper programming for handling two-digit year number abbreviations could lead to a wide variety of errors when the date reached 2000. This was not particularly precocious of me -- many of my fellow programmers also knew this. But as far as I recall, none of my professional programming up to that time had directly involved any decision-making on the basis of two-digit years.
In mid-1979, during a software conversion project for a small computer manufacturer, I noticed a "00" bug in the code. For reasons I don't recall, it seemed infeasible to correct the problem by merely changing the code in that module -- the data records would have to be modified to include a four-digit year field. I commented on this to my officemate Bill, who also immediately recognized the problem.
Then I went to our supervisor Steve and explained the problem -- we'd have to convert _all_ the modules in the whole system if we changed the database format. He thought a bit, agreed that I was right, then motioned to several project folders neatly laid in overlapping fashion on one side of his desk and said something like, "See these projects? They're all due *this* year. I can't worry about something that's 21 years in the future." Then as I turned to leave, Steve muttered, "Besides, I'll [or maybe it was "we'll all"] be retired by then."
During the following years fellow programmers and I brought up the looming 1999-2000 rollover problem in casual conversation a few times.
When I started working in 1985 for the company that later became Deluxe Data Systems (division of Deluxe Corp.), I immediately was faced with two-digit year fields again. Though Deluxe's internal record formats had provided four-digit year fields from the beginning, most external formats had two-digit fields. From inspection and from asking my coworkers, I found that there was no formal policy, in my group anyway, about how to handle conversions between two-digit and four-digit fields. Programmers had developed an informal policy of always using windowing, but pivot dates were left up to the individual.
In 1989 or 1990, while perusing a subroutine for date conversion (mapping day-of-year to month and day-of-month), I found and fixed a 2000-2-29 bug. That is, it would have processed 2000 as a non-leap year. When I notified the author, he said he'd learned the 100-year rule from his grandparents in reference to 1900, but did not know the 400-year rule. (BTW, I've read postings that were skeptical that any programmer would incorporate both the 4-year and 100-year rules, but not the 400-year rule. Folks -- it really has happened.)
About 1991 (I'm not sure now, but whatever I wrote in the old TB2K forum about this probably had the correct date), Deluxe started a formal year 2000 program. Sometime in 1992 I worked for a while on remediation subprojects for a major credit card company that was our customer.
At that time there was only a very little discussion, among programmers I knew anyway, of the possibility of cascading or domino effects of Y2k errors.
Deluxe's Y2k remediation continued, but I wasn't involved much after 1992 IIRC. I stopped working in 1996 because of a medical disability from which I'm still recovering.
I discovered Gary North's site in 1996 and, while recognizing the religious bias after a short while, remained alarmed by the potential for widespread societal effects. ("Just because he wants the downfall of civilization doesn't mean that we couldn't have another Depression.")
With present hindsight, I see two factors that strengthened the amount of alarm that I communicated to others. 1) Because of my programmer's orientation, when I listed or explained potential problems I often failed to consider, or at least to convey, that some of them had very, very low probabilities. I'm accustomed to having to take care of all possible problems a program might have to handle regardless of probability of occurrence, but this is often inappropriate for non-digital eventualities. 2) Depressed feelings because of my medical troubles.
However, despite scorn for North's apocalyptic bias, I think there was some value to his and others' provocation of fear. There's a natural human inertia to resist getting started on something new and so strangely odd as Y2k planning and remediation. Many, many companies and other organizations did not get started as early as Deluxe. It took a kick to get them started, so that kick was necessary and useful even though it was excessive in many respects. Without it, we could have been cleaning up a lot of messes now and discussing Y2k in a noticeably different tone.
Richard B. Woods Milwaukee, Wisconsin
-- No Spam Please (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 27, 2000.
IMHO there's some fascinating book and thesis material to be had in examining the multiple aspects of Y2k <--> people. Once I started lengthy consideration of the matter, I saw over and over that how people met, thought about, and reacted to "Y2k" was illustrative of human nature in general. (Maybe in my middle age I'd find that true in relation to almost anything, but this is a *Y2k* forum, so ... :-)
I've mentioned specific examples in earlier postings on this and other fora, but here's a list off the top of my head now:
Origins of Y2k:
How we learn the calendar and incorporate its structure into our everyday thought.
Quirks of the Gregorian calendar.
History of the number zero
The roles of abbreviations in spoken and written language.
History of use of two-digit year abbreviations in non-computer contexts (Consider the opening lines of the poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere".)
Survey of current use, in non-computer vs. computer contexts, of year abbreviations.
Psychological impacts of round numbers like 2000 or "00"
The coincidence that the rise of computers came in the last half-century before a "99" <-> "00" year number rollover. Alternative histories: How much worse or better would it have been if the rollover had come about when the Computer Age was younger? How much worse (or better?) if computers had permeated our lives for an extra 40 years or so before the rollover? What if the calendar were 100 years younger -- the Computer Age had started in the mid-1800s and we, now in 1900, had just experienced the 1899->1900 rollover?
Why _did_ programmers use two-digit year fields so often? (Besides the COBOL standard, that is.) Short-sighted? (More than their managers or other people?) Cheap? (More than their managers or other people?) Just where does the power of deciding data formats reside?
Calendar-related problems other than the "99" -> "00" rollover.
Awareness within the computer industry:
How much did IT professionals know and when did they know it?
IT professionals' responsibilities as communicators to the public
Who first called it "Y2K" or "Y2k" anyway? (Side note: distinction between uppercase "K" and lowercase "k" for purists)
[Insert more topics here.]
Overview of end-of-the-world prophets
Religious significances of the year 2000
Fears of technology
The Internet as miracle communications medium for kooks
"Surely you jest":
The basic absurdity of "00"'s bringing the world to its knees
Difficulty of communicating the reality and seriousness of the problem
The Search for Truth:
What's the real scope of the computer problem?
Mainframes vs. embeddeds vs. everything else
What about the "domino" effect?
"It's going to cost *how* much??"
Programmers have a lousy record for delivering software projects on time, so why should we think Y2k remediation will succeed?
[To be extended]
Hmmm. I see that I've drifted from illustrations of human nature towards direct probes of the Y2k problem. Aaccckkkk -- I've been programming too long. To counteract my perfectionstic tendencies, I'm going to post this as is, but note that my intended theme is how Y2k illustrates human psychology. Richard B. Woods
-- No Spam Please (email@example.com), April 27, 2000.
Just in case you and I were the only two required to memorize "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" in 7th grade, it begins,
"On the 18th of April, in '75,
hardly a man is now alive
who remembers that famous day and year
of the midnight ride of Paul Revere."
-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), April 27, 2000.
Richard Thanks for all your comments. I am sorry to hear of your medical struggles.
Yes, the psychological aspects of Y2k fascinate me as well, and many of the topics you suggest would be worth discussing.
Anita: So I guess that if I told you that I'm a "conjunction junction, what's your function" kind of guy, that you'd think I was a pup? :)
-- Dan the Power Man (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 28, 2000.