Y2k Retrospectives Chapter 6: Y2k Heroes

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Because the issue of what information was available pre-rollover has been discussed extensively on previous chapters, Ive decided to move on to another topic. If enough people want to re-visit this subject, Id be happy to coordinate the discussion with a chapter.

Chapter 6: The Power Industry Y2k Hero Awards


Dan's comments:

Utility Category: Two winners. First, Transalta of Calgary Canada. Even though the Y2k test results were coming in positive, Transalta was one of the utilities that decided to dig deeper into the issue. They not only performed the standard Y2k tests, but they also investigated down to the computer chip level, uploading ROM information and determining definitively how these devices were using date information. They shared their test results openly with other utilities.

Transalta also performed what I think was the most intensive test of a power plant. They hooked up numerous devices that monitored data exchange amongst their DCS and various data transmitters. Other utilities were invited to witness the tests, with the power plant on line and connected to the grid. Several computer monitors were set up just so that others could watch the data flow. It was quite an impressive test, and really removed any small doubt that traditional tests might have left.

The second winner, in my opinion, is Alliant Energy. They too seemed to go the extra mile. They assisted major customers. They performed more Y2k drills than any other company that I know of. They surveyed their customers and shared those results at the NERC conference. If any company was ready, it was them.

Supplier Category: Schweitzer Engineering Labs, or SEL (they manufacture protective relays and control devices). They attended and presented at several EPRI conferences, answering all of our questions. They allowed us to visit their factory. Their web site included an exhaustive list of products with their test plan and test results. They even shared some of their warts regarding Y2k: Some of their devices disable themselves for about one fourth of a second every New Years to re-write the year. This is a top-notch company, and they showed that during the pre-Y2k investigation period.

Honorable mention goes to General Electric, who had what I thought was the most trick Y2k web site: If you entered your name and address, then clicked on the G.E. products you use, a letter (electronically signed) was automatically sent to you, describing the Y2k status of those products, all in a matter of minutes!

Industry Category: Gerry Cauley and Gene Gorzelnik of NERC tirelessly worked to develop thorough reports to the DOE, and coordinated several industry-wide conferences all over the country. They received a lot of negative press in the form of false accusations from the so-called Internet News sites, and handled it well (well, I did talk to Gene about a few of the false reports, and he did say that he learned how to better deal with it over time). This was all new territory for us, so we were bugging them constantly with questions about how to deal with Y2k issues, and I think they did an excellent job.

Internet Category: There are several winners here, for various reasons:

Drew Parkhill, who was willing to verify my identity to the TB2000 crowd that was hounding me for personal information. Thanks dude!

Malcolm Taylor, who exercised great patience and grace when mercilessly attacked by pessimists. Malcolm almost always kept his cool and answered every question put to him.

Factfinder, who thoroughly de-bunked several bogus claims about Y2k and power. You were a bit rough around the edges at times, but I liked your use of logic.

CL, who was one of the first industry insider to post on the message boards, endured the first (and worst) attack on euy2k. You were a pioneer, my man.

Personal Category: I have to give kudos to the management of my company. They literally gave me a blank check: I received a company checkbook and credit card so that I could quickly register for Y2k conferences and get the supplies I needed. Every request for travel was granted, even a trip out of the country. We were given several million dollars to use in whatever way necessary to tackle the Y2k bug.


"The Engineer's" Comments:

My heroes are:

CPR; for willing to confront the Doomsters head-to-head. He gave as good as he got, maybe even more so. And while his style may have grated on a lot of nerves it was a needed antidote to the poison spewed by the other side.

Aaron Lynch; for hitting the nail on the head way ahead of all of us.

The "nameless" grad student; for starting and maintain Biffy for so long to give us a place to rally around.

Doc: For doing the same thing later on with DeBunker

And last Dick Mills; While some may think he was too much of a pessimist, he provided a lot of clear, common sense write ups for people who didn't know anything about the power industry. His write ups about black starts was especially useful in answer to a lot of questions people posting on TB. Ditto his write up on SCADA.


Jim Cooke's comments:

There were a number of heroes in the Vendor community. IBM was one - they always had the latest info on their computers and continued testing right up through December. ABB was great with background on transformers and Schweitzer on relays. We had some "problems" with our SCADA vendor but they did finally managed to deliver the Y2K fixes by the end of October.

In my mind, the real heroes of Y2K were the general public. It was very easy for me to envision a general panic developing toward the end of December with all sorts of artificial shortages being created. To their credit, they reacted reasonably and none of my concerns happened. Good for them!


David (Factfinder's) comments:

Best Industry Organization for Y2K I would put the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) way at the top. EPRI did a very good job of ensuring the free flow of Y2K information between utilities, major utility suppliers, and even other industries such as oil and gas. I saw no other industry organizations in any industry who even came close to doing as good a job.

Honerable Mention- Corporate General Motors. The GM Y2K test plan was used as a reference for many utility test methodology documents, I found it extremely useful for embedded systems testing. NERC. Much maligned, more data than most organziations, not many critics even bothered to read the data.

Best Mass Media Contributor Mitch Ratcliffe, ZDNET The sanest and most knowledgable voice in the mass media on y2k. Period.

Best Invidual Contributions cl_sky, my personal hero and "mentor" at EUY2K since he was the first I met there and frequently argued that Y2K was NOT going to be a big deal in the power industry (way back in 1998 when I first found the forum). And what a boost from The Engineer, and the calm and pursuasive guys, Dan and Malcom. Cherri at TB2000, Flint for his intellectual nature that was conducive to reasonable discussions, Decker, many many others including the debunkers.

Last but not least, early on, when the Internet was drowning in myths, several individuals put up websites taking on the mythmakers and providing much closer to the truth - Steve Hewitt's Y2K site, Stephen Poole's Y2K site, Doc Paulie's Debunkers, and Paul Davis's Biffy forum. I think from now on, when the hype is big on a given subject, my battle cry will be "Remember the Q7!"


Malcolm's comments:

From a relatively remote New Zealand it is hard to say who are the true heroes, but I'll give it a shot..

My first impression of the most deserving applicants would have to be:

De Jager. Not because he did anything outstanding in remediation, but mainly because he was the first person in the world to stand up and say that there may be problems. Later he was also noticed for his early change in position and his recognition that Y2K would not be as bad as first thought.

Rick Cowles. For making a discussion site available that was solely dedicated to the electricity industry. Although I didn't always agree with his perception, he did encourage all points of view and generally kept discussion on topic. Although he did protect his site in the last few months before the roll-over, he didn't mind extracts being posted on other sites as long as the author's consent was gained first.

The Engineer, CL and Dan would have to share the prize for being able to answer questions on the USA electricity system quickly, clearly and concisely. Each had his own area of expertise and in combination this trio could show exactly what the industry was capable of.

And the first prize for research would have to go to Factfinder (David). I don't know how you did it David, but any and all information (with links) appeared to available within minutes of a request being made. Such a great source of fast and accurate information showed just how proactive the electricity industry in USA really was. I am sorry that I could never hope to supply such a quality source of information on our own industry here in NZ.


Discussion Question: Who were your heroes of Y2k, and why? (Warning: If you choose a pessimist for a hero, be prepared to defend your position, because Y2k was essentially a non-event)

Next Chapter: The Villainous Acts of Y2k (were not going to attack people, just their bad acts)

-- Dan the Power Man (dgman19938@aol.com), May 30, 2000


I guess Hoffmeister was a kind of hero to me. He showed exactly why the proposition that multiple computer failures would shut down society was patently false by pointing to statistics that recorded computer malfunctions on a large scale every day. Even in the face of this virtually irrefutable logic, he was villified.

I'm grateful to you, Dan, for stepping to the plate early on and illustrating from experience why power would likely work. You provided a consistent, convincing voice of reason from the professional sector.

-- Celia Thaxter (celiathaxter@yahoo.com), May 30, 2000.

Hey Dan, hate to suck the wind from your sails, but the votes are in and Andy Ray has already been nominated for Forum Narcissist.

-- Election board observer (TB2KUncensored@greenspun.com), May 30, 2000.

Two of the real heros remain almost unknown. They had no reason nor desire to play the Net forum games.

Dr. Murray Jennex, SCE and Joe Bell in Michigan.

Bell took on Gary North in his own venue. Bell was /is a Christian Reconstructionist who told North to "come down off your Y2k Hobby horse and stick to things you know something about."

Since Bell was also the Y2k project director for 38 power plants his words about the status of the Power Industry carried some weight right in North's own back yard. Gary claimed in a silly remark that "I gave Joe Bell a bloody nose etc." but in reality, Bell had cut North off at the knees in his own backyard because there, most people knew that North was no Y2k expert but just "Old Gary, the historian who gets carried away from time to time".

Bell was so adamant about this that he demanded a Church Trial for North in Gary's own church but was denied. After that North was more careful about his "lights out" statements. Rather he let others make such claims. Since he was the driver for most of the charges that the "grid would go down", such claims died out long before 1/1/2000 except in the lunatic fringe.

Re: the lunatic fringe. After it was clear there was little to claims that the "grid" would go down, the fanatics turned their attention to Nuclear plants, chemical plants and as we still see: the Oil industry.

Dr.JENNEX of SCE, a Ph.D. was in charge of the remediation of Nuke plants and at my request, he debunked several of the myths that were distributed on assorted list serves about the danger of embedded to Nuke plants.

One particularly mentally defective Zombie tore into Jennex implying he was some low level tech or student. After Jennex's credentials were displayed, most of the Zombies (the virulent anti-nuke greenies excepted) shut the Fxxxx up.

If there had been more Bells and Jennexes, most of the stupidities of 1998 and 1999 would have been ignored for what they were: extremist claims about matters they only knew about 2nd, 3rd or 10th hand via: "I studied this for 100s of hours and my documents show.....".

Y2k Fear was BS and most of us knew it.

-- cpr (buytexas@swbell.net), May 30, 2000.


It might be very illuminating to have a chapter on the role that multinational corporations such as DOW, IBM, and others played in helping ensure the functioning of the infrastructure in countries in which they have a presence abroad.

Hope you will consider this.

Also, what role do you think that awareness building over the past several years played in making sure that the rollover was as successful as it was? I am talking about the role that building awareness played in motivating people to put effort and resources into doing remediation and being prepared for quick fixes and workarounds and other contingencies. That also might be a good topic for a chapter.

-- really_interested (really_interested@to_know.more), May 30, 2000.

I can't believe what I'm reading, Art Bell was no hero. He was one of the rare wackos who was more gullible than Gary North and Paul Milne put together. True, he did Gary a great disservice in the end by bringing him so much notriety, but this was just a miscalculation on his part. I say good riddance to him.
Who did I think the real hero was - Andy The Gold Moron. All one had to do was read his posts and realize that the y2k fear was for crackpots and morons, of which he had one foot in each camp.
Seriously though, the real heroes were cpr, Hoffmeister, and Steve Hewitt.

-- James Casper (jellias@butterbread.con), May 30, 2000.

Celia: Thanks much for your kind words. They are appreciated.

CPR: I'd never heard of Joe Bell, but I have met and worked a tiny bit with Murray Jennex on Y2k. He's a very knowledgable guy.

really interested: I agree that we should try to find out how some of the international type companies handled the Y2k thing. My company is domestic only. However, I did work a bit with a couple of international companies, and they did have some trouble with countries that for some reason were very secretive about their Y2k efforts, and this company couldn't get the information they needed.

Regarding the "awareness building", we kind of touched on that in Chapter 1 of these retrospectives (look up old threads from about a month ago in the Utility category). My personal experience was that the alarmists did nothing to motivate my company; we decided early on to use whatever resources were needed to tackle the problem. And we found out early in testing that nothing was going to shut down the grid (circa mid-1998). Anyway, good comments.

James: Yes, the "crackpots" were a big reason why the power industry in general gave up on trying to convince the pessimists. Studies consistently showed that about 10% of the population thought power outages were likely, and there was nothing we could say to sway those people.

I think CPR was referring to Joe Bell, not Art Bell.

Finally, with apologies to Factfinder, he submitted a revised version of Chapter 6. Here it is:

Y2K Heroes- from a Power industry perspective

Best Industry Organization for Y2K

I would put the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) way at the top. EPRI did a very good job of ensuring the free flow of Y2K information between utilities, major utility suppliers, and even other industries such as oil and gas. I saw no other industry organizations in any industry who even came close to doing as good a job.

Honerable Mention- Corporate

General Motors. The GM Y2K test plan was used as a reference for many utility test methodology documents, I found it extremely useful for embedded systems testing. NERC. Much maligned, more data than most organziations, not many critics even bothered to read the data.

Best Mass Media Contributor

Mitch Ratcliffe, ZDNET The most knowledgable voice in the mass media on y2k. Best Invidual Contributions

cl_sky, my personal hero and "mentor" at EUY2K since he was the first I met there and frequently argued that Y2K was NOT going to be a big deal in the power industry (way back in 1998 when I first found the forum). And what a boost from The Engineer, and the calm and pursuasive guys, Dan and Malcom. Others who didn't work inside the power industry did a good job of research into the effects of y2k on embedded systems and on the readiness of the power industry: Cherri at TB2000, Steve Hewitt, Stephen Poole, Charles Reuben, and many others who posted at TB2000, Doc Paulie's Debunkers, and Paul Davis's Biffy forum.

-- Dan the Power Man (dgman19938@aol.com), May 31, 2000.

Heroes and villains.

OK, guys, a serious question here. I'm curious about whether you were aware of this message from the old forum last year and if you consider the person who posted it a hero or villain.

Why The Power Will Fail In 2000


If nothing else, this old post shows the power or lack thereof of Internet rumors.

-- Stuart Porter (sp63@aol.cim), May 31, 2000.

Since I'm the one who posted that "Why The Power Will Fail" thing, I can address it. :)

I don't view myself as either a hero or a villain. That was an experiment in which I was assisted by others, including a couple who worked in utilities. I put obvious boners in it (such as the VCR model number[g]) as a clue to anyone who'd choose to examine it in ANY detail whatsoever.

(Incidentally, several of my compatriots wanted me to make it more realistic -- using the correct model numbers and descriptions for the various components of a typical Siemens Sinaut rig, for example. I refused.)

Before I posted it, I provided notice to some people in the media to ensure that it wouldn't spin out of control. Finally, and most importantly, I had already planned to "out" myself a few days later when the State of Y2K for July was released.

My critics here have focused primarily on the reaction of TB2000 posters. To their credit, they saw through the scheme pretty quickly -- and I suspect that this is because one of my compatriots decided to "out" the thing him/herself anonymously (and also contacted Rick Cowles to ensure that it wouldn't remain on the EUY2K forum; Cowles, in turn, contacted Gary North, who also deleted it from HIS site).

(In other words, I wuz betrayed ... not that it matters.[g])

The truly amazing thing is that, IN SPITE of the fact that this was a clearly-admitted and acknowledged hoax, it STILL made it all over the Web, EVEN AFTER IT WAS OUTED HERE AND ELSEWHERE. (For example, the Contrarian's email newsletter referenced it, and it was republished in several email newsgroups, weeks after the fact!)

Two points were made here. The first, of course, was that hardcore Doomlits would believe ANYTHING that supported their belief that Y2K would be a Bad Thing.

The second was that just about anyone who was willing to take the time to learn the terminology could write a quite convincing hoax that would fool even many "experts." Had I wanted to, I could have made that thing FAR more realistic, never outed it, and it would have been circulated ever farther and wider.

Using this as an example, I argued -- and still maintain (with reason) -- that many of the posts which appeared at TB2000, CSY2K and elsewhere, claiming so-called "personal knowledge" of systems that WOULD fail in 2000, were written by bored trolls and teenagers who rolled all over themselves laughing at the results.

Fortunately (judging from my email), many people DID get that all-important second point, so I don't regret doing it.

The biggest (and saddest) point of all, though, is that Y2K was the first big test of the Internet as a means of disseminating information, and it failed that test miserably. From Jim Lord's ridiculous foo-foraw over the infamous "Navy Papers" to Gary North's entire Website, Y2K proved that anyone with Front Page or Composer and a little time on their hands could become An Authority.

-- Stephen M. Poole, CET (smpoole7@bellsouth.net), May 31, 2000.

Who were your heroes of Y2k, and why? As far as I'm concerned, there is a long list of Y2k heroes...

First and foremost; CPR. My first introduction to Y2k was via the internet and Gary North. Being the naive non-techie that I was, I fell for Gary's hype hook, line and sinker. (Not ashamed to admit- I was scared.) Eventually I stumbled across the Biffy site and began to read CPR's posts. It was the first time I had seen facts, solid evidence and extremely strong arguments which contradicted the end of the world scenerios which were being preached to me. At every turn, he absolutely destroyed the arguments of the "Doomers" and it soon became apparent to me that this was a person I could trust to speak the truth about Y2k. I credit him with pulling me (and by extension, my friends and family) out of the Y2k "fear factory".

Also on my list of heroes is the entire crew on Doc's Debunker site (too many to name them all). It was their knowledge, expertise and experience that steadily whittled away any "doubts" I may have harbored as 1999 continued to tick by.

The newsgroup csy2k had it's share of heroes also. Bradley K Sherman, Don Scott, Ken Winter, Henry Ahlgrim just to name a few who did a great job of countering the FUD spewed by Milne and others.

Three heroes stand out to me on the TB2000 forum; Hoffmeister, Decker and Flint. Not only did they "hang in there" in the face of constant personal attacks, but their extremely logical and well reasoned arguments (coupled with their command of the English language) consistently exposed the myths and mythmakers that would have otherwise gone unchallenged on that forum.

All of these people are "heroes" to me, not because they were "right", but because each one of them played a major role in erasing my fears about Y2k. Without their dedication to seperating fact from fiction I'm sure I would have suffered a lot of uneccessary stress and anxiety throughout 1999. I thank them one and all.

-- CD (costavike@hotmail.com), May 31, 2000.

Stephen, I consider you a hero myself, since you had the courage to put up a website denouncing some of the y2k nonsense.

As far as the "worried utility worker" post, I saw it first at TB2000 and then at EUY2K, and I indicated that I did took it as a hoax in both. Unforunately, I wasn't in on the "experiment", and thought it was just another one of many RC/dd1light/name the doomer/ type posts intended to keep the fear of y2k flaming brilliantly. Looking at the responses in the TB2000 thread, it appears that the ones who called it as a hoax are those who did searches on the "Phillips VRZ262-Q7" and found a similar number that turned out to be a VCR, so I don't think your power "insiders" gave you away at TB2000. At EUY2K, I can't remember who was the first to throw the "flag", but remember, Rick had recently been burnt by the "Q7" and "555 timer" hoax, and had heard nothing but optimism from those of us in power who were posting there (and there were only a few at the time). Rick says he has "forgotten" the password (he changed it), so I can't go back and look at the archives, but if memory serves me right, in addition to myself, I think others pointed out that it was a "Q7" type hoax. Some of the same people at EUY2K frequented TB2000, so it's pretty likely they saw the dismisals there.

Basically, I think you made the hoax too easy to disprove for it to explode all over the net, but even so, it still made the rounds!

The funniest thing about your post is that you were severely attacked for it in many quarters, yet there is no doubt that you would have "come clean" to demonstrate your point. Meanwhile, people like RC, dd1light, and many who wanted the fear to last (perhaps those hawking y2k supplies) posted dozens and maybe hundreds of bogus made up claims of serious y2kproblems in power, oil, etc. Yet they were HEROs to many at TB2000. Even now, these people would be "defended" by many, just as Yourdon, Hyatt, and others are. Why? Human nature I suppose - it doesn't matter what was right, what the truth was, what matters is what SIDE you were on (doomer/poly/etc). Such is life :)

Stephen, a question - I have always assumed (or thought I had seen it indicated) that you also wrote the Q7/555 timer hoax, which I loved, it was hilarious. Did you write that?

-- FactFinder (FactFinder@bzn.com), May 31, 2000.


I have always assumed (or thought I had seen it indicated) that you also wrote the Q7/555 timer hoax, which I loved, it was hilarious. Did you write that?

No, I didn't write that one, nor do I know who did. CPR might.

The really funny (and sad, at the same time) thing about the Q7 thing was Roleigh Martin, who presented himself as an embedded "expert," throwing the thing out onto his list-spam for "comments."

After I took him to task for it at my Web site, he and I had a rather interesting email exchange. He said he was simply trying to educate himself; what was wrong with that? What was wrong with admitting your limitations?

He could NOT see that merely having to ASK whether a transistor could be "non-compliant" in the first place indicated basic (and *profound*) ignorance of the hardware. That was about like an auto mechanic having to ask his/her friends, "I've heard that sparkplugs can be replaced with safety matches. What do you guys think?"

-- Stephen M. Poole, CET (smpoole7@bellsouth.net), June 01, 2000.

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