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1997-08-15 14:15:34


All Fall Down: The Little Things Will Get You



This 19-page catalogue of booby traps should end all chatter about how there's really no threat, that someone will fix it. There's a huge threat, and no one can possibly fix it. Whatever it is, it will hit.

Mike Phillips, a bond trader, has put it well (pp. 15-16):

* * * * * * *

I am a bond trader. I work out of my home. I have a satellite dish on the roof which takes quotes which originate on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, are relayed by computer to a private vendor, converted to their system then uploaded to the satellite. I then receive them and convert them in my computer to a screen display. Using this information, I make trades.

As near as I can tell, I am going to be out of business on 01/01/00. There are no firm plans for any link in this complex chain to be Y2K compliant. Even worse, fixing these various links will not help if they are not COMPATIBLE with each other. Before the vendor can fix his system, he must know what the Chicago Board of Trade will do with their system. Only then, can I begin to consider what to do with my system. Of course, the CBOT is only ONE of many markets my vendor must deal with, each with its own computer system.

But, enough about me. I don't expect you to care about the bond market or me. This was meant as an example. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that no one reading this ever even considered something like my personal situation in connection with the Y2K problem. Likewise, there are probably a hundred thousand other unique situations that aren't being factored in either.

The more I consider this situation, the more I come to the conclusion that everyone involved, even the doomsayers, are making the same mistake...thinking too small. Everyone latches on to one or two aspects of the problem, figures how they'd handle it and thinks that's it. On midnight, the elevators might go to the bottom floor, so I'll walk down the stairs. My ATM card might not work, so I'll keep a little cash handy to cover a month's expenses. Might not want to be on an airplane on 01/01/00, etc.

The truth is, EVERYTHING that can go wrong with computers will happen at exactly the same time (except for the stuff that happens early). I think it's difficult, but you have to try to expand your mind and try to wrap it around the whole problem, keeping all the parts in focus.


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