Houston We Have A Problem

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I take no credit in writing this, but perhaps the author is onto something here. Perhaps this election brouhaha is just a way to dirert attention from this.

By now, you have heard about the Year 2000 computer problem, also known as Y2K or the Millennium Bug. When I started this Web site in January of 1997, not many people had heard of it. There were no books for a general audience on it. Now, there are hundreds. Yet even this late in the game, the press is convinced that readers do not understand it. Today, in almost every published article on y2k, the journalist feels compelled to include this: "The problem exists because programmers for three decades used the last two digits of the century as substitutes for all four digits. Thus, 1967 is written 67, and 1999 is written 99. The problem will come in 2000 when unrepaired computer programs will read 00 as 1900."

Actually, unrepaired IBM-clone personal computers will revert to either 1980 or 1984, but the problem still exists, and not just in ancient models (pre-1998). Millions of old PC's are still used in running the infrastructures of most of the world. There may be 300 million PC's still in use, worldwide, and most are not compliant.

Add to this 50 billion embedded chips -- or maybe 70 billion. Perhaps only 1% of these are noncompliant. Or 3%. No one seems to know. (Three percent of 70 billion chips is over two billion chips.) We know only that there is a lot of chip-based systems to test, replace bad chips, and test again. (See Noncompliant Chips.)

But it is not just computer programs that are noncompliant. The data stored in these computers are noncompliant. It is also computer operating systems, including DOS, Windows 95, and early versions of Windows 98.

Over the last three to five years, large organizations around the world have been paying programmers to fix these systems. With only a few weeks to go before the century date change, the vast majority of these firms and governments are still noncompliant. This includes the largest money center banks on earth. The threat is two-fold: bank runs by depositors and, far more important, what Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan calls cascading cross defaults, where banks cannot settle accounts with each other, and the banking system goes into gridlock, worldwide.

Because corporate computer systems are noncompliant, they have not been subjected to rigorous final testing, which can take months. This was always a major problem, as I have said on this site from the beginning. (See Testing.) In 1997 and 1998, Fortune 1000 company after company promised to be finished with all repairs, leaving "a full year for testing." With very few exceptions, organizations missed this crucial deadline. The press, which had quoted it faithfully, promptly dropped the missed deadline down the Orwellian memory hole. The U.S. government, still noncompliant, has had numerous deadlines, beginning with September 30, 1998. It never meets these deadlines. No mainstream reporter ever mentions this fact in print.

Yet few people have changed their minds about y2k since March 1, 1999. In that month, all signs of panic, even among the 1% or less of American y2k-preparationists, disappeared overnight. The U.S. press has cooperated with the U.S. government and large trade groups in assuring the public that there is no big problem, that the December 31 deadline will not be missed by any important segment of the society. (Why will this deadline be any different from all the earlier ones? No one asks.)

In every country, the public has been assured that there is no need to panic, that everything will be all right. Especially banks. Over and over, the public is assured that banks will be all right, that there is no reason to get more than a few days' worth of currency.

If everything is all right, why have the vast majority of organizations missed the numerous deadlines that they have publicly announced?

The U.S. government assures the nation that y2k will seriously affect only foreign nations (rarely named, and when named, issue immediate official denials) and small businesses. But in the U.S., small businesses -- under 500 employees -- number 24 million. One-third of them are thought by the U.S. government's Small Business Administration to have done nothing to repair y2k. These businesses employ tens of millions of people. They also supply the largest businesses that are "not quite compliant."

Oil-exporting nations are not compliant. The U.S. imports half of its oil.

The largest companies that convert oil into finished products were not compliant as of early 1999. The industry promised it would be compliant by September 30. So far, no such announcement has been made. There is a new deadline for the industry: December 31.

U.S. ports are noncompliant. But 95% of all imported goods come through these ports.

We are told that the electrical power generating industry is almost compliant, but the basis of these assurances is a series of unverified, self-reported data from anonymous firms. These reports have been assembled by a private agency financed by the U.S. power industry, NERC.

What happens to electrical power generation if fuel and spare parts cease to be produced? The typical urban power company relies on more than 5,000 suppliers. The reports issued by NERC never discuss this aspect of the y2k problem.

As for the chemical industry, the news is not reassuring. The U.S. government's Chemical Safety Board sent a warning about noncompliant chemical plants to all 50 state governors on July 22, 1999. Yet this industry is the major exporter of goods industry in the U.S.

The U.S. Navy published on the Web, and then pulled (no explanation offered), a report on the risks to 144 U.S. cities due to failures of public utilities. The U.S. government and then the Navy went into damage control mode when the findings of this report were posted on a Web site that, within days, received so many hits that it had to be shut down and redesigned. Updates to the Navy's June, 1999 "Master Utilities" report have reduced many risk assessments, but the risks are still serious.

There is little but bad news coming from the nation's water and sewer utilities. Think of your community without water or sewer services for, say, a month.

The universal refrain is: "We can run it manually." For a few hours, maybe. But where is there publicly available evidence that large public utilities have produced detailed operations manuals and have implemented extensive training programs to be sure that employees can run all systems manually for days or weeks or months? There is no such evidence. The slogan is a public relations ploy.

I am not a computer programmer. My Ph.D. is in history. For over three decades I have studied the operations of bureaucracies. I have served as a Congressman's research assistant. I have seen how the U.S. government operates. All things are going according to standard operating procedure: public relations handouts, unverified positive statements, and verbal assurances that everything is fine here. Serious y2k problems are limited to the Other Guys Over There. But the computers of the Other Guys Over There exchange data with "our" computers. Bad data from their computers can reinfect our computers and their data. This, the PR people never discuss in public. Even if our computers somehow can be programmed to lock out noncompliant data, then the computerized systems that rely on shared data will break down. Think "banking system." (See Imported Data.)

Things will not break down all at once in early January unless the power grid goes down and stays down. But the domino effect will create ever-increasing institutional noise and confusion throughout January and beyond. Your check will not be in the mail. (See Domino Effect.)

-- more@than (just@the.elction), November 25, 2000


Gary's right!!!!!! By the time Y2K hits, most of us will be dead!!!!!

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), November 25, 2000.

You need help, Andy Ray.

-- (O@C.D), November 25, 2000.

I like history more than most, but still. Compliments of Old Git let's put this dog to bed with the following.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot And auld lang syne!

Chorus: For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet For auld lang syne.

2. And surely ye'll be your pint swopt! And surely I'll be mine! And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne.


3.We twa hae run about the braes And pou'd the gowans fine But we've wander'd mony a weary fit, Sin' auld lang syne.


4. We two hae paidled i' the burn, Frae morning sun till dine, But seas between us braid hae roar'd Sin' auld lang syne.


5.And here's a hand, my trusty fere! And gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak' a right gude-willy waught, For auld lang syne.


Enough already, OK?

-- Carlos (riffraff@cybertime.net), November 25, 2000.

I suspect, carlos my dear, that as new years approaches, there will be more and more "looking back". Face it, the fearmongers treated pollies like shit for over two years....payback son, payback. They should have thought about their actions BEFORE they made them

They should have thought about the CENSORSHIP before they did it

They should of thought about the one sided outing BEFORE they did it

MOST IMPORTANT they should have gotten their facts straight BEFORE they "took a stand" on an issue they were clue-less about

-- Twas There (saw@it.myself), November 25, 2000.

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