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1998-05-01 07:24:27


The Little Engine That Could Needed Tracks



University of North Texas professor Leon Kappelman says there still may be time to keep a complete disaster from happening if we start now and keep focused.

I keep thinking of Tonto's remark, "What you mean 'we,' paleface?"

The United States has about 22% of the world's code. If we somehow fix most of our mission-critical -- presently undefined -- systems, but the world fixes half of theirs -- highly unlikely -- the world economy crashes anyway. Think "banking system." Since no bank has ever been made compliant, and there are perhaps 200,000 banks worldwide, what are the odds that they will all be made compliant, and that the fixes will coordinate with each other? Obviously, the banking system won't make it.

If today's banking system won't make it, what will the post-1999 banking system look like? And the economy that rests on the banks?

Professor Kappelman reminds us of the Little Engine That Could. Our generation was raised on that story, which none of us ever fully believed. (One of the "delicacies" for the good little boys and girls that the train was carrying was spinach.) The Little Engine That Could needed tracks. The tracks up ahead of us are broken. Specifically, the tracks are broken on a trestle high above a canyon. What happens if the engineer decides that it's a lot safer in the fields? Dr. Kappelman is really encouraging the engineer not to jump.

You and I are not the "we" who can fix this. We are not the engineer. We are merely the passengers on the train. We have nothing to do with the outcome of the "trestle event" except as spectators. Where do you want to view the upcoming event? From inside the train or from a nearby hill? Why should we stay on board this train? Please don't tell me "because the seats are so comfortable, and we paid for the tickets."

This appeared in INFORMATIONWEEK (April 27).

* * * * * * * *

Six months ago, I sent an open letter to the president requesting that he declare a year 2000 state of emergency. (You can read the letter at Well, he hasn't, and such a "declaration of war" against the year 2000 problem is all the more needed today. So let's stop the whining and take action. Remember The Little Engine That Could? Well, we can, too.

First, some realities:

- Most political, business, and community leaders, as well as nearly all of the media and the public, have no idea how great the risks of those two missing digits might really be;

- Most of the greatest risks have not yet even been inventoried and assessed, let alone mitigated;

- There's already too little time to fix everything;

- The clock is still ticking.

OK, so the preponderance of the evidence supports depression. But all that was true a year ago, too. Might as well quit wringing our hands and focus on the task at hand.

Although too little time remains for a perfect or complete solution, enough time is left to make some changes -- enough time to maybe prevent any year 2000-related deaths from occurring; to keep the environmental damages from year 2000 within tolerable limits; to keep the large-scale disruptions down to manageable proportions; to keep our families out of harm's way; and probably enough time to keep most of our enterprises viable into the next century.

No, it ain't pretty, and dealing with it won't be easy. But it will only be the end of life as we know it if we choose to see it that way.

So enough of the "woe is me" routine; it's up to us to solve this problem, so let's get on with the work.


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