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Summary and Comments

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Category: 

No_Big_Problem

Date: 

1998-05-01 19:01:40

Subject: 

It's Mostly Fixed Already, Says San Francisco Writer

  Link:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1998/04/19/BUSINESS15481.dtl

Comment: 

The Year 2000 Problem is mostly fixed in most mainframes already.

I read this in the San Francisco EXAMINER (April 19).

It is hard to say whether stories like this bother programmers more than my site does. I say y2k can't be fixed, no matter how much money organizations spend. This lady says y2k almost fixed. If believed, both views would reduce demand for programmers. But mine is not the popular view. Hers is.

I need to compliment the lady on her creativity. I searched in vain for the beloved "planes falling from the sky." I found this: "Airplanes collide in mid-flight."

I would have felt better when I read that it will only cost $115 billion to cure the y2k problem in the U.S. -- "in stark contrast," she says, to Gartner's estimate of $600 billion. The only trouble is, Gartner's figure was for the worldwide costs. She didn't pick that up from her reading. Pity. It sure made good copy. (The estimate for the U.S. has been $100b to $200b.)

* * * * *

As big as the Y2K problems and its costs may appear, they pale in comparison to the hype that surrounds them - hype of such legendary proportion that it produces its own market, luring the hapless and paranoid to pricey and gratuitous solutions.

Steer clear. As the great F.D. Roosevelt once cautioned, speaking of a different matter, the biggest fear with the Y2K problem is fear itself. . . .

Because computer systems work together (e.g., the bank account database you access with Quicken on your PC), fixing one component (e.g., bill-generating software) required fixing all other pieces with which it worked (e.g. the records it sorts). The more time that passed, the bigger the problem grew, and the bigger the problem became, the less anyone wanted to fix it.

Fortunately, like most computer problems, the Y2K bug can be fixed. In many cases, including the huge databases where it strikes the deepest blows, it already has been fixed by programmers who built patches and rewrote code.

Unfortunately, like most computer problems, the Y2K bug's potential dangers have been exaggerated - in this case, to science fiction proportions that humble the supercomputer HAL in Arthur C. Clarke's sci-fi classic, "2001."

News reports of the impending apocalypse pollute newspapers, magazines and TV. On the Web, where people should know better, Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) lists hundreds of sites devoted to the Y2K problem: 100 describing dangers and 500 selling cures.

Y2K, they say, is deadly. According to Y2K spin-laden soothsayers, when clocks turn over to 01-01-00, we should expect the worst:

Power outages darken streetlights, causing countless car crashes. Tap water runs cold and contaminated, spreading killer plague. Airplanes collide in mid-flight. Public transportation halts, trapping BART riders beneath the Bay. Elevators hover between floors, then plummet to the ground. Banks lose all records and seal safe deposit boxes permanently. Prison gates fling open, freeing all inmates. All taxpayers are called for audit; all voters, for jury duty. The stock market crashes. Economic depression ensues. Riots destroy the cities that mass suicide has spared.

Or so the solutions sales force will have you believe. Then they'll sell you their books, like "Time Bomb 2000," by Y2K consultant Edward Yourdon, or their millennium testing services costing $100,000 a day, such as those of Comdisco (www.comdisco.com).

They'll even scare you into buying their videotapes if you let them. . . .

The Gartner Group, a Connecticut-based IT consultant firm whose revenues rely primarily on selling expensive advice to corporate clients, estimates that $600 billion will change hands globally on Y2K compliance. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Bangkok Post and Irish Times, Gartner analysts ware of catastrophe for businesses and countries that don't comply by analyzing and updating every business-related computer, program and line of code.

Enter Gartner's recently expanded set of Y2K consulting services, including research accounts priced at $20,000 a year. Gartner's Web site (www.gartner.com) peddles books and brochures, such as a report on the growth in the IT services marketplace. Titled "Fixing Year 2000," it's 12 pages long and costs $795.

A small price to pay to avert global destruction?

"It is a sales tactic. They scare everybody, tell them that the world is going to end, then sell an alleged solution to prevent that from happening," said Jim Balderston, industry analyst at Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City. "We call it the Fear Tour." The tactic is not new to the computer industry, said Balderston. . . .

"The U.S. Y2K problem is badly overstated," agreed Tom Oleson, research director at IDC Research, a market research firm in Framingham, Mass. "The companies selling Y2K solutions tend to exaggerate the problem to attract customers for their services or seminars." . . .

Finally, under the hype lies a genuine grain of truth. Right now, at 20 months to countdown, Y2K-problem systems are pervasive. Even Microsoft has admitted that a great number of its most popular products will be affected by the Y2K turnover, including Windows 3.1 applications and the much-hyped browser, Internet Explorer. For most computer users, though, the problems can be solved in a few minutes by downloading and installing software patches, most of which are in the works, if not already available.

A lot can happen in software in 20 months. Even though banks' solutions are not complete today, Oleson noted, panic is premature. "By the time that it really matters, they will have the problem solved." . . .

In stark contrast to Gartner's oft-cited figure of $600 billion, Oleson estimates the cost of Y2K cleanup, at least for the United States, much closer to $115 billion - $35 billion of which will be paid to services that directly renovate code. . . .

At bottom, Y2K will bring almost nothing we have not seen before: ATMs may go down for a day; credit cards may have to be hand-processed; we may have pay with cash (or barter); the stock market may plummet and close, then rise the next day. The involvement of computers alone does not render annoyances fatal.

Rebecca L. Eisenberg (mars@well.com) is a San Francisco writer who lives at www.bossanova.com / rebeca / .

Link: 

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1998/04/19/BUSINESS15481.dtl

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