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1998-05-06 12:08:19


Doomsday Scenarios Summarized in Major Technology Publication



This lengthy story on the various doomsday scenarios indicates that, slowly but surely, the pessimists are pushing their views into the media. What was considered crackpot as recently as late 1997 is now becoming an acceptable, though controversial, outlook. This review article is evidence of the trend.

From this point on, the optimists are on the defensive. The bad news will roll over the optimists' position by early 1999. Then real pessimism will begin to get a hearing. As the news gets worse and worse, any thought of getting y2k solved will fade. Men's concerns will switch to the more personal concern of avoiding the worst of the fallout.

Notice how the Yourdons' TIME BOMB 2000 gets a favorable hearing. This book is becoming a best-seller -- for a technology book, it is a best-seller. It is into its 6th printing. It will soon define the optimist side of the debate. Anything more optimistic than this book will be regarded as public relations flak by politicians and the managers of noncompliant corporations.

The key to winning any debate is to frame the questions on the debate's agenda. The Yourdons have now set the terms of discourse. To a lesser extent, so have the categories on my Web site. That's why those more optimistic than the Yourdons are now moving off of the radar screen of printed opinion, even though most people want to believe the optimists. Nobody really wants to be the doomsday man (except for me and Paul Milne). But nobody wants to be Polyanna, either.

From this point on, anyone more optimistic than the Yourdons is a Polyanna. The ranks of the Polyannas will thin between now and February 1, 1999. After April 1, 1999 (fiscal year 2000 for Japan, Canada, and New York State), their ranks will simply disappear.

Notice that my site is identified as the extreme end of the spectrum. But I'm on the spectrum. Six months ago, I wasn't. Watch carefully. As time goes on, my site will move toward the center, as the Polyannas move off the screen and newly created hard-core sites appear to the right of mine. When you see criticism of my site as being too soft core, you'll know that I have achieved my goal.

My goal is to be Mainstream 2000 by December 31, 1999.

The author says of my site: "North goes way beyond everyone in his pessimistic view that it’s all beyond repair and we should just pull the plug." I do not advocate pulling the plug. I advocate walking away from the plug. Let someone else stay dutifully by the plug. He can be the "guardian of the plug" until such time as he figures out that after the power grid goes down, the plug won't do anything, or after the banks go down, nobody will pay him to guard the plug.

My bet: when the guardians of the plug stop being paid, they will depart for safer regions if they can.

This is from TECHWEEK (May 4).

* * * * * * * *

“New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and a dozen other cities are going to resemble Beirut in January 2000. That’s why I moved out of NYC to rural New Mexico a couple months ago… The government of the U.S. as we currently know it will fall on 1/1/2000. Period.”

That’s computer programming guru Ed Yourdon talking. And he’s one of the more conservative Y2K experts.

There’s growing alarm in computer programming circles about what is seen as the abysmal failure -- out of hubris or greed or both -- of American business and government to take the Y2K crisis seriously enough.

Small but significant numbers of concerned citizens, TechWeek has learned, are beginning to act on those ominous predictions and are heading for shelter in self defense. They are millennium survivalists, heading for the woods and hills, stocking in supplies, hunkering down, and preparing for what they see as an apocalypse fostered by our total reliance on, and interconnectivity with, flawed computer systems, along with institutional denial of Millennium Bug’s threat.

None of the mission-critical sectors in the United States are even close to being Y2K compliant, say the experts. Not the 9,000 electric utility plants. Not the 11,000 banks. Not the telecommunications companies. And certainly not the U.S. government, which is way behind in its own Y2K fixes. . . .

But not all Y2K survivalists are opting for “safe havens.” The communal aspect puts off a lot of individualistic computer professionals, even if they acknowledge the need to bunker up. Tim May, a retired Intel physicist famous for discovering the damaging effects of nuclear radiation on computer chips and co-founder of the “cypherpunks” listserv, is a good example. He’s hunkering down right at home in the woods.

“I feel safer where I am in a remote wooded area in Northern California at the end of a network of country roads,” he says. He’s fully self-sufficient, with a four-month supply of food, a generator, and a 500-gallon propane tank, all held in preparation for the collapse of the country’s financial markets and infrastructure. He’s especially wary of the possible loss of electrical power-- and the riots he believes will follow.

TechWeek also spoke with a programmer who works for a Midwestern nuclear power plant with lots of embedded systems. He was a member of a Y2K study team that concluded that plant operation in the year 2000 would be difficult at best, and fixes would cost about $30 million. Plant management axed the proposed fixes. He’s now planning to pack up his family ASAP and head out to a small town in the country. Under NRC rules for “unanalyzed situations,” the plant will have to be shut down in December 1999 for testing, he believes.

IRS burnout?

According to May, we won’t have to wait until January 1, 2000. “The financial collapse will occur when the investors wake up and realize what’s coming,” he says. Just one example of what’s in store: “July 1, 1999 is the start of the IRS fiscal year 2000. The IRS won’t be able to process W2s and 1099s at that time. It has 100 million lines of code and isn’t even awarding a Y2K conversion contract until October 1998 -- plus the delays from the usual lawsuits,” he says. “I predict that no vendor will bid on this impossible contract.”

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti shares his concern: “If we don’t fix the century-date problem, we will have a situation scarier than the average disaster movie you might see on a Sunday night,” he said in The Wall Street Journal on April 22. “Twenty-one months from now, there could be 90 million taxpayers who won’t get their refunds, and 95 percent of the revenue stream of the United States could be jeopardized.” . . .

Back to the 19th century

Candace Turner, who runs American Panel Corporation in Joplin, Mo., agrees with May’s strategy. American Panel custom-manufactures the giant freezers used by Tyson Foods and other agribiz companies.

“When I heard about the Y2K risks with embedded chips last year, I wrote to 50 of my suppliers, such as trucking companies and makers of power saws and copy and fax machines,” she says. “Except for my insurance company, none of them could certify in writing that their products or services would continue to work in the year 2000. Southern Pacific just sent me a joke poster: ‘January 1, 2000: just another day.’ ” And without the five trainloads of coal a day, the local power plant in Riverton, Kan., could not provide power. “It became obvious that American Panel might not be able to continue in business,” she says. After trying, unsuccessfully, to sell the company, Turner decided to prepare for the worst—a return to an 1800s lifestyle on her five-acre “hobby” farm.

“I’m learning how to drive a team of horses with a plow,” she says. “I drove 18 miles Saturday. I drove a team of Missouri mules first, then a pair of horses. A good day, except I learned how hard it all is!” she says. “I wanted to help others deal with 1/1/2000, so I expanded my cooler business to manufacture low-cost $7,000 ‘Survival Dome’ houses.” These 32-foot insulated domes are covered with stones and can be assembled from a kit and heated with a small wood stove. Turner also runs a Y2K survival-oriented mailing list (to subscribe, e-mail with the subject line: “join y2k”), offering practical survival tips on such things as non-hybrid seeds, preserving food, and home doctoring. . . .

The Great Geek Migration

Signs to watch for, he [Milne} says: “CEOs will start abandoning their companies. Then the Y2K programmers will realize they’re on a death march, culminating in the Great Geek Migration. Programmers will have to decide: how long do I stay and make the big bucks?”

This whole line of apocalyptic thinking really alarms some people. William Ulrich recently wrote a somewhat cranky opinion piece in Computerworld ( on April 6 exhorting Y2K programmers to be good citizens and stay on the job. He was concerned that “clearing out bank accounts and food stores might become commonplace. The alarmists essentially would have created the problem they intended to flee.”

Financial consultant Gary North ( responds: “In Asia, Africa, Europe, South America -— where 80 percent of the world’s code is -— it can all be solved if American programmers just stay on the job in large cities. And if the COBOL fairy shows up on time.

“Programmers can sit in their urban splendor in 1998, hurling epithets at a handful of their peers who have decided to protect their families. But, one by one, they’ll quit when the checks stop coming. When the bank runs begin in 1999, the programmers will depart for greener pastures. That’s why it’s naive to believe that Y2K will be fixed… Y2K is a systemic problem. It cannot be solved. Why stay on the deck of a sinking ship if you can get off?” . . .

Allen Comstock also suggests Jan. 1, 1999: “A lot of computers will be going down after that date because many programs such as spreadsheets and accounting apps will look forward at least during the current year and it ends with ‘00,’ so there will be problems.”

Then there’s July 1 and Sept. 1 of 1999, the start of the fiscal year 2000 for many organizations.

Is your company or organization also preparing for those dates?

Keeping up with the Y2K crisis

The year 2000 crisis is here. So is a confusing array of books, videotapes, Web sites, vendors, and consultants. Let’s sort things out.

The best place to start is the highly readable Time Bomb 2000 by Edward Yourdon and Jennifer Yourdon, published in January by Prentice Hall, 415 pages, $19.95. Edward Yourdon is a leading computer programming guru and author of 25 computer books. His daughter Jennifer is a research economist at a major New York investment bank. They clearly know their fields.

This book is essential reading for every adult on the planet. Unlike other Y2K books, most of which focus on arcane technical analyses, Time Bomb 2000 spells out the impact of the Y2K bug for the person in the street, explaining the impacts on the most critical sectors of the economy, including utilities, transportation, banking and finance, food, health, government, education, and telecommunications.

For each of these sectors, it offers specific, practical fallback advice and suggests preparations for individuals and organizations alike for four assumed levels of failures: two days, one month, one year, and ten years. Yourdon’s Web site ( has good chapter overviews and updates. . . .

Another key resource is Dr. Edward Yardeni’s frequently updated Web-based “Year 2000 recession?” (, which offers no-nonsense, well-documented insights on the current Y2K predicament—and it ain’t pretty, as Perot would say.

Yardeni, who is chief economist and a managing director of the prestigious Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (North America) investment firm, is currently predicting a 60 percent chance of a global recession by the year 2000. Make sure your CEO and CFO are checking this site weekly.

Another eye-opening (and scary) book is Electric Utilities and Y2k by Rick Cowles, available in condensed form on his site. Cowles, a top consultant to the electric power industry, warns there’s a high probability that all the nuclear plants in the United States will be required to shut down as a precautionary measure prior to 01/01/2000 because no one knows if these systems are going to function properly. Cowles also reports that four power utilities have discovered that embedded electronic systems failed when they simulated the year 2000 rollover.

Another resource is historian Gary North’s, offering links to the best current articles, with North’s well-written curmudgeonly introductions. North goes way beyond everyone in his pessimistic view that it’s all beyond repair and we should just pull the plug.

The best places to keep up-to-the-minute are Y2K guru Peter de Jager’s “Year 2000 Information Center” (, offering news, Y2K vendor links, articles, conferences, jobs, user groups, and links to the best Y2K-related sites; “Westergaard Year 2000” (, a daily Y2K magazine; and the newsgroup.


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