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1997-09-22 15:10:59


De Jager on the 14-Year-Old Boy Story


Peter de Jager is the point man on y2k. He is the author of the 1993 "Doomsday" essay that got the y2k awareness factor going (sort of). Here is what he posted on his forum on September 22.


Yes, I know. You want to believe them. You won't have to take life-changing defensive action if one of them is true.

None of them is true.

* * * * * * *

Over the past few months I have been besieged by queries... 'Peter! What do you think of the report that a 14 year old has found -the- solution? What do you think about this idea that has not yet been made into a product?' etc. etc.

At first I declined to comment, but the trend in the media is to report on these things, so I guess I'm forced to comment... but before I do I need to put things into perspective.

I've been involved in this Year 2000 'project' since 1991 and have been aware of it since 1979, when I reported to IBM on my first night as a novice computer operator. My activities recently have placed me, rightly or wrongly, at the centre of this turmoil. In the last 2.5 years, running the homepage and the mail list, I've received information from around the globe on the progress in 'solving' this problem. I do little else besides 'Year 2000' work at the moment.

During the past 2.5 years, people have contacted me about 2-3 times per month telling me about their 'solution'. 50% of these are tossed aside as viable solutions with about 3 minutes worth of discussion, of the rest, another 75% are already used as the core part of an existing vendor's product and the remaining handful are 'interesting' ideas, which would require a tremendous amount of effort to even determine if the benefits they offer exceed those provided by existing tools. NOTHING to date, has been uniquely worthy of fanfare.

Unless of course I was to use the rather loose criteria being used by some of the press today. The reports I'm hearing about, have no merit except for the context surrounding them. I will use only a single example to demonstrate my case, otherwise I'll be accused of a bias towards a particular type of solution.

In the story, covered worldwide, about the "14 year old boy applies for a patent for his year 2000 solution..." The news worthiness of the story lies not in his application for a patent... anyone can apply for a patent on anything, nor does it reside in his finding a 'solution' because zero details about the alleged solution are provided... the story is this... he's 14 years old. (it would be a much better news story if his computer had been located in the garage... but on a slow news day you take what you can get.)

Folks, I've not been given details about this alleged 'solution' but regardless... I will guarantee it is not a 'silver bullet'... at best he has 'solved' some tiny portion of the problem. How can I be so sure, especially since I DON'T know what he's 'discovered'? That's a fair question. Here's why.

The Year 2000 'problem' is not a 'puzzle' with a single answer. It's more like a huge ugly task than anything else. If you compare it to the building of the Panama Canal you can gain some sense of the complexity.

To 'solve' the Panama Canal 'problem' you must perform several hundred different tasks. You must hire the people, create dwellings for them, build roads, ship supplies, create a hospital, deal with malaria, dig the ground, pump water, communicate, co-ordinate, drive trucks, sail ships, mix concrete etc. etc. All of this makes up the Panama problem... What would be your response to a headline stating a '14 year old solves the Panama problem?'

The same is true for the Year 2000 problem, it cannot be 'solved' by any tool or by any single individual. The tools ARE important to the solution, in fact they are crucial, but to claim some individual has solved the problem is at best naive.

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