Y2K- Hoax of the Century

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Upside New England November 30, 2000 12:00 AM PT by Geoffrey James

"There has yet to be an apology from the Y2K "experts" for starting the hoax and keeping it alive."

Remember Y2K? Hard to believe it, but just a year ago, everyone from the U.S. government to BusinessWeek was terrified that we were about to approach a technological Armageddon that many believed would herald the end of the world as we know it. We now know that the Y2K disaster scenario was, in fact, a hoax.

Don't get me wrong. The Y2K glitch was real and there were some programs that might not have functioned perfectly if the glitch wasn't fixed. But despite all the brouhaha, there was little likelihood that the Y2K glitch would have a significant impact on anything other than a few irate customers. We know this because the new millennium began without any significant computer-related problems, even in countries like Russia, Bulgaria and Vietnam, where next to nothing was spent on the problem.

The supposed massive impact wasn't just a hoax, it was an expensive hoax. John Gantz, chief research officer at Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., estimates at least $70 billion was wasted on Y2K work that wasn't really necessary.

That estimate, however, doesn't take into account the money spent by frightened citizens on "Y2K preparedness," some of whom sold everything they owned and headed for the hills. And then there was the extra government expense, which included $50 million to create a Y2K "crisis center."

Where it started

Where did the hoax originate? While Y2K glitch worries had been bouncing around the industry for a decade or so, the supposed problem was thrown into the public eye when the Gartner Group published a news release in the mid-1990s describing the supposed "dangers" of the Y2K glitch, predicting that it would cost $300 billion to $600 billion to fix it.

These figures were obviously based upon pure guesswork (give or take $300 billion?), but that didn't keep the Gartner Group and other firms from building an entire business selling "information" about the hazards of Y2K.

Like its colleague companies, the Gartner Group is widely quoted in the media as an "authority" on high-tech matters. But anybody who has ever worked with these market research companies knows the quality of research frequently is questionable and the opinions in the reports are often tailored to excite computer vendors into buying pricey reports.

The "expert" status of the Gartner Group put it in an excellent position to capitalize on the growing interest in the Y2K issue. Leading the charge at the Gartner Group was Vice President Lou Marcoccio, a Massachusetts resident who was quoted frequently on the subject and even was called down to Washington, D.C., to present expert testimony to the U.S. Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem.

During that presentation, he outlined the dangers of Y2K and even predicted that 1999 was supposed to be marked by "fiscal year system failures" (which occur for companies that have an early fiscal year ahead of the calendar year).

When the fiscal year failures didn't happen in 1999, I called Marcoccio to ask why other analysts were beginning to question Gartner Group's numbers. Despite repeated requests for an interview, he refused to return my calls.

Another local Y2K monger, Capers Jones, chairman of Burlington, Mass.-based Software Productivity Research, was willing to talk to me, however. It was Jones who popularized the notion that Y2K eventually would cost $3.2 trillion, based in part upon his belief that there would be $1 trillion in lawsuits as a result of Y2K failures.

-- Mild Mannered Reporter (clark@super.duper), December 01, 2000


All I can say is there sure were a lot of gullible people in high places. As the author of the article say it was real and what if the effort and money wasn't spent and the problem was just ignored.

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), December 01, 2000.

There were many more key people who "blew the whistle" on Y2K and got companies to act making their systems Y2K compliant. I find it odd that the author only "blamed" (read 'credited') two Massachusetts people. I would give more credit to Ed Yourdon, the Westergaard Y2KTimebomb website authors, and Y2Knewswire.

-- slzattas (slzattas@erols.com), December 01, 2000.

What are you talking? I spent two years reading every Y2K Statement from everybody from my own organization to I.R.S. to the Electrical Engineers, everybody and his brother,I read. They were all "duh", no wonder I prepared. Haven't had to buy toilet paper for two years. Always hated that t.p. took up most of the basket. It was my experience, I lived it, I read their stupid concerns. And took them to heart, because they were too stupid to fit a puzzle. Or actually talk to each other. Some have never experienced the life experience of being "money poor", never visited an Out-house, they could not phantom any idea of a life style being less than a bunch of ticky tacky houses, all in a row, in an expensive neighborhood, with deed restrictions on the size of your storage unit.

-- My Story (andI@sticking.com), December 01, 2000.

What Y2K, Isn't gas still under a dollar. electricity and fuel for home heating and industrial applications the cheepest in history? There are no problems at refineries, wells and pipelines. Arn't The companys who make and use microchips making record profits? people are voting with their feet to support these companies by the millions and millions. people are innovating at a record level with the fastest, safest, simplest, most reliable technology known to man. Banks who are using this safe and reliable technology haven't suffered losses, and their futures are so rosey that the whole country is running to them with there investment dollars. Sure January 1 was not an orgasm, but it's still groaning and will be for years.

-- lee blocher (cblocher@northernway.net), December 01, 2000.

Everyone is looking at Y2K from the wrong angle. To understand it, we must focus on the Y2K influence that caused changes "outside" of technical difficulties. Here's how I came to my conclusion.

First, I, like many of you, read thousands and thousands of pages of reports from every conceivable source. I was convinced that Y2K was going to have a great impact on the markets, the infrastructure in the US and particularly (maybe even devastating effects on emerging nation infrastructure). When nothing happened, I knew there was NO WAY that our government and all those huge multi-national corporations had made some joint 600 Billion (with a B) dollar mistake AND, there was NO WAY they all worked so hard and so diligently that they took care of ALL the problems they claimed existed. That left two possibilities

1) They are all gullible morons OR 2)the corporate powers and the government powers combined efforts to hoodwink us into thinking Y2K was a much larger event then it really was. But why would they do that? For computer contracts and Spam sales? Hardly. There's a much more frightening explanation than that.

It was a shock when I realize that it was more than just "us" they were trying to convince about Y2K dangers. It was the emerging nations, our allies AND members of Congress. I might add, that it was extremely convenient that "right wing wackos" with a tendency to stockpile Spam (at least that's how the media portrayed us) took it so seriously, because it allowed the spinmeisters the ammunition to launch a PR campaign that would inspire the millions of "joe and jane schmoes" to disassociate from the subject, thus remaining comfortably ignorant.

Next, I asked myself..."so what did happen?" and the answer was most interesting. (I wrote this in January of 2000 and added a few updated sentence for this post)

Was Y2K some big mistake? Did the governments and corporations of the world really spend 600 billion dollars on a lark? Were the CIA, FBI, UN, Navy, National Guard, IMF, World Bank and a host of others really "dead wrong" when then warned of major infrastructure breakdowns and possible rioting?


Was Y2K a scare tactic that induced our Congress to spend billions of dollars on militarizing our civilian infrastructure? Was the Y2K scare used to bamboozle Congress into passing laws based on the false assumption that a concrete deadline required immediate action?

Lastly, did the Y2K scare also bamboozle emerging nations and some of our allies into letting us "help" them by sending in expert engineering teams to work on their infrastructure? With regard to this last item, it is interesting to note, that after the anti- climatic rollover, John Koskinen made this statement (paraphrased). "Y2K, did do ONE good thing for us, it allowed us to map out a complete blueprint of the infrastructures in all the emerging nations". Hmmmm, I thought...."that's a tidy bit of information to possess".

Now, bear in mind that countries like Iraq and Libya who didn't trust us enough to let our mapping teams (I mean remediation teams) in, along with countries like China and Japan that have very large technology systems and did virtually no Y2K preparation, had no more problems than the US and it's expensively and extensively-remediated friends. How could that be?

For a clue...fast-forward to two months ago...President Chavez from Venezuela (who is not considered a friend to the US), slipped off to Iraq to meet personally with Saddam about an oil deal. Needless to say, the White House and State Department were ticked off big time. The day after Chavez returned back, and during his Presidential Inauguration speech, over 70%of the power mysteriously went out in Venezuela, leaving Chavez stranded in the dark. Since when do entire countries go out with no storm or war presence involved? And what exquisite timing... during the inauguration speech. A message to Chavez? Perhaps. There has been one other strange power outage too. Prior to Venezuela, Taiwan had a major, unexplained power outage, just at the time the Clinton Administration was switching alliances to the mainland and Taiwan was clamoring about independence. Coincidence? Perhaps.

What other effects did Y2K have? The answer is...many major changes to legislation.

And, why were all these new laws implemented? We were told we needed them ...

1. So the police forces would be heavily armed and trained to prevent major riots during power outages. LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: A much more militant Police Force, which, now uses black, riot uniforms, more potent tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some locations, armored vehicles now exists.

2. So the military could come to the aid of the police forces (bypasses Posse Comitatus Act)

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Military can be called in for use against the civilian population when major rioting occurs, or terrorism or drug dealing is suspected. Prior to this change, our laws specifically prohibited the use of the military against our citizens (and for very good reason).

3. So money could be allocated to refurbish nuclear bunkers in case riots or terrorist attacks required government leaders need someplace to hide. And, to allocate over 50 million dollars for "the main" communications bunker in Washington, DC. (Note: Although it was reported that every major city built or refurbished a bunker, not one cent was spent on protective structures for the public). LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Members of government will be protected, in case of major rioting, terrorist attack or war.

4. So money could be allocated at the State and local level to train emergency personnel from the police departments, fire departments, hospitals, National Guard, Red Cross and other agencies in how to respond to chemical and biological attack. These multi- agency mock attacks were practiced in secret all over the country. Participants were told they could not reveal information about the practices for “national security reasons”. (Note: no information was disseminated to the general public informing them of what to do in these emergencies)

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Federal and local agencies are trained for chemical and/or biological attack or war.

5. To form a “Secret Infrastructure Protection Committee”, which includes top officials from the government and major US corporations.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: A secret liaison between government and industry exists which controls the lifeblood industries in our country: banking, media, telecommunications, electricity, gas, water, raw materials, and chemicals

6. To protect banks, power, gas and water companies, telecommunications companies and chemical companies from having to disclose the truth. Terrorists or hackers might take advantage of the vulnerable situation Y2K (was supposed to) put us in.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Many industries are now shrouded in secrecy and protected from disclosing the truth about dangers they may pose to our economy, health and environment.

7. To legally discourage an employee in an Infrastructure related Industry and/or the chemical industry to disclose damaging information about that industry. And, to do the same with the media. Everyone was expected to remain silent for “national security” reasons since Y2K would make us so very vulnerable.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Employees in infrastructure related industries and the media are legally discouraged from telling the truth and in fact, can be jailed for disclosing vulnerabilities and discrepancies. This law alone, protected the truth from ever coming out of the industries involved.

8. To allocate huge amounts of money for military expenditures such as a state-of-the-art, military telecommunications system that would bypass current systems should they be taken off line by outages, or terrorists, or war. To provide for a plan where the military, via this system, is directly linked to industries that uphold our infrastructure.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: The US military can now communicate with all units of the National Guard and keep control of infrastructure related industries if the US was under siege either from riots, terrorist’s attacks or war. Only the public would be in the dark.

9. To create International teams of specialists that would be ready to descend upon an infrastructure-compromised country....”to help them out”.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Teams of “international” specialist were deployed to countries to help them remediate their Y2K problems. Other, more military teams, were put on call in case such a country was under siege either from y2K-related riots, terrorist attack or war.

10. To allow hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the United States to help solve the computer code problems. (Note that this initiative was rushed through so fast that it was later disclosed that many immigrants allowed into the US did NOT have background checks)

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: Possible terrorist-connected entries into US exactly at a time when we were passing emergency legislation to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: The US becomes more “internationalized”. There are more voters for Democrats.

11. To empower FEMA with legislative backing, money and materials enough to oversee the control of the United States in case of black out induced catastrophe. (Note: many people are critical of the secrecy that is prevalent in the FEMA organization)

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: FEMA now has the power to take total control of the United States public infrastructure under “emergency conditions” including: massive riots, terrorist’s attack, war or natural disaster)

12. To justify the issuance of an extra $50 billion dollars into the United States monetary system. Fifty billion dollars that was never removed from the system when it was clear Y2K was a non-event.

LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: The stock market was bolstered making the economy appear far more stable then economic fundamentals portrayed. This added liquidity has, in turn, increased the instability of the markets to a point where a severe crash and recession are more likely than ever. (and in the process right now)

13. To justify many more potentially restrictive Executive Orders that would put all of the above in motion. LEGISLATIVE IMPACT: The person holding the position of “United States President” now has the power to suspend the Constitution, nationalize all industry, confiscate all property, and direct the military WITHOUT input from Congress, simply by declaring a “national emergency”.

NOTE: During the Y2K preparation scare, Congress was lobbied by concerned citizen groups, to “top off” the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and to make sure that fuel companies were prepared for the uncertain outcome of the rollover. It is interesting to note that four weeks after the rollover, the United States had the lowest level of petroleum and natural gas reserves in 10 years. Furthermore, petroleum imports were reduced by 26% between 1/01/2000 and 1/31/2000. This reduction is far greater than any cutbacks that may have affected us through OPEC’s reduced production policy. If government and big business REALLY believed Y2K was a threat, why did they “reduce” rather than “increase” our oil and gas supplies? And, why did they lie?

As an added note, it is clear now, in December of 2000, that the energy crisis in oil and natural gas is real. Furthermore, rather than have those "extra" Y2K stockpiles, we are depleting our SPR to frighteningly low levels just at a time when the world is a particularly vulnerable position.

Perhaps it’s time the American people asked, “What is going on?”

Personally, in looking around the globe and monitoring events, I believe Y2K was subversive preparation for a coming war. And, that not everyone in our government is...shall we say...on our side.

-- meg davis (meg9999@aol.com), December 02, 2000.

I don't think these nincoompoops are that smart.

-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), December 02, 2000.

A friend who worked on a y2k remediation effort for a large insurance company suggested that while y2k preps might be prudent, the real thing to prepare for is what our civilization has done to the biosphere.

Here in a certain area of the Pacific Northwest, we are almost one foot low in rainfall for year 2000. November was probably the driest in decades. Meanwhile, George W. denies that climate change is underway and Gore's negotiators for the Kyoto treaty want a result that doesn't require the US to do a damn thing. (Don't blame me, I voted for Nader.)

I'm glad to have a well powered by renewable energy. In 2020, that will be a luxury more valuable than an SUV powered by depleting supplies of petroleum.

Meg Davis's comments are interesting -- her point about the militarization snuck through under the guise of y2k is intriguing.

See www.dieoff.org for details.

-- mark (mark@windandsolar.com), December 03, 2000.

Meg, would you kindly point us to the specific new laws/legislation that you refer to above with reference numbers or web links if possible . It would be very helpful when passing this information on to other people.

-- Jeanette Thomas (y2kids@y2kids.net), December 03, 2000.


January 8, 2000

Experts Puzzled by Scarcity of Y2K Failures


Whether it is with scorn, anger or resignation, most computer experts and Year 2000 program managers brush off suggestions that they overreacted to the Y2K threat, taken in by computer companies and consultants positioned to profit from fear.

Still, like the skeptics, many wonder: How did countries that started so late -- and appeared to do so little -- manage to enter 2000 as smoothly as nations like the United States and Britain that got an early jump?

"That question is plaguing all of us, although some people won't admit it," said Maggie Parent, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's representative to Global 2000, an international banking group formed to coordinate and stimulate Year 2000 work. "We expected there to be some significant blowouts."

A World Bank survey published last January concluded that just 54 of 139 developing countries had national Year 2000 programs outlined and only 21 were actually taking concrete steps to prepare.

Japan, China, Italy and Venezuela showed up as high-profile question marks in various studies. Paraguay's Year 2000 coordinator was quoted last summer saying the country would experience so many disruptions its government would have to impose martial law. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova were seen as so risky that the State Department issued travel advisories in November and called nonessential personnel home over New Year's.

So what accounts for the surprisingly quiet rollover? Computer experts cite several factors. Even they may have underestimated how hard many countries worked in the last few months, when the problems were better understood, and how much help came from others that started early. And in many cases, assessments of overseas readiness were based on scarce or vague data.

But the simplest if most embarrassing explanation is that the some public and private analysts who testified before Congress and were widely quoted overestimated the world's dependence on computer technology. Most countries had much less to do to prepare because they are far less computerized than the United States. The computers they do have are much less likely to be tied together in complex systems and are often so old that they run much simpler software, according to Louis Marcoccio, Year 2000 research director for the Gartner Group, a technology consulting firm.

At a briefing last week on why Pentagon analysts overestimated the risks in many countries, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said, "If we had a failing, it may be that we extrapolated to the rest of the world the kind of business practices that we have developed here."

Once adjustments are made for technology dependence, some analysts say, the investment of the United States and other pacesetters in Year 2000 preparations was not that far out of line with those that started late. But the figures from many countries are so unreliable that it is hard to be sure. Russia, for example, is estimated to have spent anywhere from $200 million to $1 billion.

Mr. Marcoccio suspects the lower figures are closest to the truth but he adds that based on the government's estimate that the United States spent $100 billion, "If Russia spent $400 million, they spent proportionally more than the United States, because the United States is 300 times more reliant on computers."

Such assessments lead down a pathway that only a statistician could love. Use Gartner's estimate that the United States spent $150 billion to $225 billion, and the comparable Russia investment jumps to a minimum of $500 million. Tamper with Gartner's guess that the United States is 300 times as computer-dependent, and figures dance another direction.

But nearly everyone agrees that the figures for the United States include substantial sums toward preparations abroad by American multinationals. Motorola said its $225 million Year 2000 budget included not just repairs at its overseas factories but, for example, helping its Asian suppliers pinpoint potential Year 2000 flaws. It also paid overtime for support that helped paging and radio networks in Italy function flawlessly over New Year's.

The federal government picked up part of the tab for foreign nations. To jump-start lagging nations, the government paid for many of them to send representatives to the first United Nations meeting on Year 2000 in late 1998. It distributed hundreds of thousands of CD's in 10 languages providing background and suggestions for how to organize Year 2000 projects. More recently, the Defense Department provided $8 million to set up a joint observation post in Colorado as insurance against miscommunication that could lead to missiles' being launched.

"We got a lot of free consulting from the United States and agencies like the Inter-American Development Bank," said Rodrigo Martin, a Chilean who headed a regional Year 2000 committee in South America.

Such aid played a bigger role in helping late starters to catch up than most people realize, some computer experts say. As John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, sees it, hype about the magnitude of the problem misled fewer people than hype about the impossibility of getting it fixed.

"This was a process that could move faster than the preparedness surveys," Mr. Koskinen said, noting that alarming press releases and testimony frequently relied on research that was obsolete within weeks.

Del Clark, who led the Year 2000 program at Phillips Petroleum, concurred, saying: "China was the big question mark for us. Part of what happened was that they were working hard late in 1999 and the status information was out of date."

It helped that repair efforts became less expensive toward the end because of the experience gained by those who did the work early and the tools developed for them, according to Brian Robbins, senior vice president in charge of the Year 2000 project at Chase. In addition, Mr. Robbins said, it turned out that some countries like Italy had done more work than reported.

By 1998, the pacesetters were far enough along for a sense to develop that others were lagging, and fears about the consequences began building. There were extenuating circumstances in some cases, like the economic slump in Asia, and many realized the problems would not be as daunting as in the United States. But with time short, industry groups like Global 2000 and a few countries began trying a variety of tactics to accelerate Year 2000 preparations.

"People outside of information technology don't realize how incredibly mobilized the world became," Ms. Parent said.

Still, many of those most familiar with the relative preparedness and spending levels in many foreign countries wonder whether it will be possible to figure out why things ended up going so smoothly.

Information was always hard to come by and hard to compare since sources varied so widely in what costs they attributed to Year 2000 work. In general, foreign countries have not included labor costs in their Year 2000 figures while the United States and Britain have, but practices have varied widely.

Now that Year 2000 has arrived, the pressure to sort out such data is disappearing rapidly.

Still, questions about the transition will not go away. What actually happened might figure in insurance lawsuits because if courts were to decide insurers were liable for the money companies spent to avoid problems, the insurers would undoubtedly cite the success of laggards and low spenders as a sign that budgets for American companies were needlessly bloated.

More broadly though, comparing preparations and the results achieved may shed valuable light on cultural differences in how technology is set up and managed, according to Edward Tenner, author of "Why Things Bite Back." That in turn could help society deal with problems like global warming and the proper use of biotechnology. "We really need to look at the sociology of computing in detail," he said.

-- (NY@Times.article), December 04, 2000.

I thought we were done by now with the diatribes from people who did not have any personal responsibility for making sure that a organization's programs etc. still worked in 2000 - obviously I was wrong. I suppose the silliness is because the reality was serious but far too boring for the evening news. So - here's some of what needed to be fixed in NY State. The emergency phones on the Northway failed diligently as of 12AM Jan 1, 2000. Not fatal if your car is working well, but no fun at all if it dies at 1AM when it is about 12 degrees below zero (farenheit). The ones in the stretch thru the Adirondack Mountains were were replaced the middle of 2000, they left the lower half of the highway without them. Paycheck systems, systems for keeping track of time accruals within agencies, most fiscal systems and a number of hardware and software components of Unix servers and mainframe computers had to be replaced because they were tested and it was confirmed they would fail. Some applications could have lasted until March 2000 due to a happenstance of when they actually received their first year "00" date, but as of that date most of those that were not remediated quietly collapsed.

I'm selfish I guess. I don't find it trivial that I and others would not have received our paychecks, had our time correctly recorded for retirement and social security purposes or been able to recoup work related travel expenses. (We had a reliable car and I did little skiing, so the loss of the emergency phones didn't personally trouble me last winter.)

I don't know how Russia etc made it (did they?), but a cursory scan of news suggests that little has worked adequately there for a lot of years now. Failure seems to be the norm, with a black market economy that is probably more robust than the official one. Right now a couple of big sections of that region are freezing because utilities and/or fuel delivery systems failed.

But if you are independently wealthy and pay cash to avoid disruptions, I guess Y2K remediation would seem overblown...

-- Celia Murray (celiaam@aol.com), December 04, 2000.

Only one more thing needs to be said about Y2K:

"Turn out the lights, the party's over!!!"

-- (not@real.address), December 04, 2000.

Final Report of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion

Retrospective on the magnitude of the problem


-- Former (y2k@news.hound), December 04, 2000.

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