INFOMAGIC - LATEST BREAKING NEWS : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Cory put this out on the web.

Pre-publication debate.

Digest and decide.

"cory hamasaki's DC Y2K Weather Report - 106 Prepublication Review Copy DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT - Please do not host this version on the web. Wait for the final WRP 106

Preface -- On Infomagic II --

An early draft of Bruce Webster's thoughts on Infomagic's "Set Recovery On - Part II, Charlotte's Web" (see WRP 103) escaped to c.s.y2k and the Internet a few weeks ago.

Bruce has finished the article and has allowed the DC Y2K Weather Report to run the final version. Infomagic is responding directly to Bruce's critique.

I am offering this prepublication copy of both Bruce's and Infomagic's thoughts to the newsgroup as a preview to WRP 106. I will publish both Bruce's and Infomagic's article as part of the full WRP 106.

WRP 106 will be released as a print version to both shareware and print subscribers. The web/newsgroup version of WRP 106 will be delayed until after the mailing.

Both Bruce Webster and Infomagic have significant Enterprise Systems expertise as well as recent Y2K remediation experience. Please take the time to read their essays.

Commentary -- Bruce Webster --

Comments on Infomagic II by Bruce Webster

Many of the Year 2000 postings paint a picture of significant or even irreversable collapse should there be significant outages in the "iron triangle" of power, telecom, and banking. Their arguments are that such failures will inevitably lead to a domino effect, pulling down system after system. At the very least, they argue for mass bankruptcies, especially among large businesses, complete shutdown of air traffice for extended periods, and so on. They cite the inevitable unfixed Y2K bugs, as well as the iatrogenic defects created when attempting to fix Y2K bugs. [The term "iatrogenic" is a medical one and means "doctor-caused". An "iatrogenic" program defect is one introduced by a programmer trying to fix an existing defect.]

Such analyses go wrong in several areas. First, they often show a lack of understanding of key business issues. For example, the most likely reason for diminished or interrupted commercial airline is not FAA problems or problems in the aircraft themselves or even in the airports. It is that insurance companies will withhold liability insurance until _they_ are certain there are no bugs in the system, so to speak. As someone else has noted, could you imagine what the repercussions of the Swissair tragedy off Nova Scotia would be if it had happened on January 1, 2000?

Some analyses reflect a lack of understanding of the realities of information technology. For example, one analysis asserts that even if we should fix all Y2K problems (which, like others, I consider an impossibility), the residual failures alone would cause a global economic disaster. This ignores the vast number of software defects currently present in the global IT infrastructure, which we manage to work around somehow anyway. It also asserts that such defects are "systems failures" as opposed to annoyances, miscalculations, and so on. Let me give you a counter-example. I know of a major commercial enterprise that estimates that it loses over $100M a year in overpayments to other firms due to software errors and inadequacies. Yet this firm is profitable and sound.

Many analyses talks about businesses failing without projecting a clear understanding of how businesses fail. In the vast majority of cases, it's due to a lack of cash (or credit). Note that businesses, _especially_ large ones, can suffer major losses for months or even years (cf. Apple) and stay in business.

These analyses likewise fail to cite situations where a software failure has ever been fatal for a business, especially a large one. Again, most software, _especially_ that within enterprises, is defective; failures occur daily and are dealt with. There _are_ a few real-world examples of software failures crippling organizations, as can be seen in the books _Software Runaways_ (Glass) and _Software Failure: Management Failure_ (Flowers), but what those books more emphatically point out is the ability of enterprises to absorb tremendous software failures (and financial impacts) _without_ going out of business.

Such analyses need to better establish how Y2K failures could lead to such business failures. Most Y2K failures range from minor annoyances to major inconveniences. Some could seriously hurt a given business. But the analyses do not give credible scenarios where Y2K defects (much less residual or iatrogenic ones) would lead to a Fortune 500 corporation going into bankruptcy.

The supply chain argument is the most credible one made. The GM shutdown this year due to a 57-day strike at two suppliers led to 200,000 workers being laid off, while GM lost nearly $3B. But note: GM didn't go out of business. Likewise, assertions that large businesses are more likely than small businesses to go bankrupt ignores the realities of business: small businesses are far more likely to close than large businesses because they are more vulnerable to shutdowns in cash flow, supplies, and services.

Finally, the arguments about inevitable collapses, devolutionary spirals, and carrying capacity are nothing new. In various forms, they were at the core of books such as _The Limits to Growth_ (Forrester), _The Population Bomb_ (Erlich), and _The Coming Dark Age_ (de Vaca), all of which turned out to be dead wrong in their predictions. Why? Because they presumed that the complex systems--social, political, economic, informational, technological, and so on--that make up human civilization would fail to adapt or adjust.

They also ignore the absolutely wretched state most of the world was in just 50 years ago after World War II--with most of Europe, Russia, and Asia laid waste, hundreds of millions dead, crippled, sick, or undernourished, occupying armies spread throughout the world, and the US economy the only robust one on the planet--and the subsequent economic expansion which has taken place in those 50 years with very few bumps (1973-74, 1980-82, 1991) in spite of--and in some cases, because of--that devastation.

From what I can tell, those making such arguments are largely unaware of complexity theory and complex adaptive systems (cas). I don't profess to be an expert on complexity theory, either, but I've studied it enough to see how enmeshed its principles are in the world around us, including--especially--the human side of that world. _Very_ briefly put, complex, intelligent, adaptive behavior emerges out of a cas not because of some form of central control or mass goals, but because of simple rules followed by the agents who make up the cas.

As noted above, we are enmeshed in a vast, interlocking network of complex adapative systems which we do not fully comprehend and certainly do not control, though as agents we influence and shape them. It is my personal opinion that the 'miracle' economy that we have enjoyed for the past several years is a result of emerging complex systems. If you went back six or seven years ago and asked a group of economists whether it was possible to have a national economy with low inflation, low unemployment, low interest rates, and steady growth, you would have been laughed out of the room; it violated virtually every school of economic thought. Yet that's what we've had for some time now.

Lest you think that complex systems are your unconditional friends, recognize that they have consequences and side effects that we may not like. As consumers, we are (generally) thrilled with the stunning drop in the price/performance ratio for personal computers; a four-month delay in getting a new system has saved me 25% or about $1000. But I sure wouldn't want to be Compaq or Dell or Gateway or CompUSA; the competition is fierce and the margins paper thin. Likewise, the growing rash of mergers and acquisitions, with commensurate layoffs, are likely symptoms of how markets and industries are adapting.

But it is these complex systems that will adapt. To speak of going back to a pre-1900 or even pre-industrial society--and staying there for any length of time--betrays a profound lack of understanding of how far we have come in just 50 years. I daresay most of us don't really have a clue of what the standard of living was like for 95% of Americans in 1949, just as most of us don't really understand how 80% of humanity lives today. We still have all the knowledge on how to bridge those 50 years, and most of it doesn't require a massive industrial base.

Note that in all this, I am definitely not the "Pollyanna" type. I am on the record publicly as estimating that the US impact will be a 7 on the 0..10 WDCY2K scale (see I suspect it may be less than that, though reports of recent days (e.g., the December 14th issue of BusinessWeek) don't give me much reason to hope. On the other hand, I have seen nothing to indicate that it will be an 8 or higher, much less the end of the human species.

But even if we are looking at an 8 or a 9 on the scale, I believe that the speed at which we would respond and adapt would stun even us. The world might be forever changed, but that's happened several times this century already (WWI, WWII, fall of the Soviet Union, to name a few), and there's no reason why it won't keep happening. For us, two to four years of economic contraction may appear to be a disaster or even the end of the world; for much of the world, it's just a way of life.

Maybe it's just time we grew up, quit whining, and got over ourselves. Life isn't easy or fair; our salaries may not always go up each year, and we may even have to go through very tough economic and political hard times as did our parents and grandparents. That's not the end of the world; it's just reality. Deal with it; we have more important work to do. ..bruce..

[For those of you interested in learning more about complex adaptive systems, I'd recommend _Out of Control_ and _New Rules for a New Economy_ by Kevin Kelly, as well as _Hidden Order_ and _Emergence_ by John Holland for starters. I have a list of another dozen or so books if you get really serious.]

(c) 1998 Bruce Webster

---------- Bruce has been in software engineering and information technology for 24 years; he spent 18 months working in a Fortune 50 Y2K project, including 9 months setting up from scratch the Y2K contingency planning effort; He is co-founder and co-chair of the Washington D.C. Year 2000 Group (; he has testified before Congress on Y2K three times and have given private presentations to the World Bank, Congressional staff members, and the US intelligence community; Bruce's book will be published by Prentice-Hall, _The Y2K Survival Guide_. (Original title was _The Winter of Our Disconnect_, but P-H marketing overruled him.) For more details, see]

------------------------------------- | Bruce F. Webster | | Chief Technical Officer, OSG | | Co-Chair, WDCY2K Group | | | | | | | | | | mobile: 202.256.1279 | | office: 972.650.2026 | ------------------------------------- | place: Ritz-Carlton Tysons | | Tysons Corner VA (to 12/10)| | phone: 703/506-4300 (rm 2004) | -------------------------------------

Commentary -- Infomagic --

Response to my critics by y2000 @

I am surprised and somewhat saddened by some of the responses that I have received to part 2 in my series "Set Recovery On". I am, of course, delighted that so many of you have read these articles and have taken the time to respond positively, either publicly in the c.s.y2k news group or privately by eMail. (If I have not responded to your eMail please forgive me, the response has been enormous and I just haven't had the time).

My disappointment stems from the fact that so many of the negative responses were more in the nature of personal attacks rather than substantive arguments against the positions I have put forward. While there is, without doubt, a great deal of emotion attached to the Y2K situation I have always tried to avoid descending to such levels, even to the point of declining to respond any further when the discussions have reached that level. Philosophically, I will do everything reasonable to avoid being robbed, but I still believe that it is better to be robbed than to be the robber. In like manner, I believe that it is better to be called names than to be the one calling those names to others.

I say this not for myself but because what I am about to say might itself be interpreted as a personal attack even though it is not so intended. In spite of their personal nature, there have been many responses which, even though I consider them incorrect, are still worthy of consideration and to which I should therefore reply. To do so one by one, line by line, in the newsgroups is impractical. Therefore, I have chosen to respond to one particular person whose comments just happen to contain most of the arguments against my hypotheses. Bruce Webster is co-chair of the Washington D.C. Year 2000 Group. His comments are included in juxtaposition to my own in this outer article of Cory Hamasaki's DC Y2K Weather Report (WRP). Bruce, please believe me that this is not a personal attack. I am responding to a virtual opponent and you just happen to be the real address space within which the these pages have been dispersed .

I would like to begin with your assertion that the most likely problem to stop (or limit) the airlines from flying in January will be the loss of liability insurance. (Elsewhere, Bruce also predicted that this alone might reduce airline traffic by 80% for about 3 weeks). On the face of it, this argument is relatively easy to dispose of. First, there is no _aviation_ (FAA) regulation in the U.S. which requires an airline (or any other aircraft operator) to even _have_ liability insurance. The need for insurance is determined by Department of Commerce regulations and, of course, by a common sense desire to responsibly manage financial risk. It would be easy for the DoC to waive the insurance requirement if the costs rise too high, to allow the larger airlines to self-insure, or even to provide government insurance during a high risk period. There is even a historical precedent for this -- the Berlin airlift.

Second, the insurance companies do not (and legally _cannot_) decide whether it is is safe to fly, they only decide whether or not a particular airline's normal daily operations and procedures are safe enough to insure. From memory, based on specific knowledge of the wording in my own commercial aviation insurance policies a few years back (air taxi), there may not be anything an insurance company can legally do to void the policy, or to withhold coverage, as long as the airline is operating within the FAR's and within its individual operating limitations as specified in its AOC (Air Operator Certificate). It might be argued that the insurance companies will add Y2K limitations or much higher rates next year, but it is by no means certain that they can, or will, do so. There are lawsuits under way right now to determine whether insurance companies can legally apply such exclusions. In addition, insurance companies are in business to make money. If they don't sell insurance, they don't make money and they don't please their stockholders. In short, insurance is _not_ a major limiting factor.

Finally, it may be my "lack of understanding of key business issues", but I just cannot see why insurance would be available/waived for 20% of the flights and not for the other 80%.

More seriously, this discussion goes to the very heart of the pollyanna/doombrood differences of opinion. My complaint is that the pollyannas tend to fixate on single, individual problems rather than stepping back to take even a glimpse of the larger problem, with all of it's intricacies and interdependencies. Moreover, the examples they use to support their position are so often totally unrelated to Y2K and its possible/probable effects. As a case in point, consider Bruce's raising of the "repercussions of the Swissair tragedy" had that occurred on January 1, 2000. This is completely irrelevant. That accident was (apparently) caused by a fire in the in-flight entertainment system, combined with CRM (Cockpit Resource Management) failures on the part of the flight crew -- what we used to call pilot error. A date of 1/1/2000 would not change the cause, or the liability, or the size of the financial settlement to the victims' families. At worst, the law suit might be dragged out a little longer while the defendants' trial liars attempt to blame the ATC system for the accident.

However, this example does lead us to another of Bruce's points. He asks for a "clear understanding" of how businesses fail and, quite rightly, asserts that most businesses fail because of a lack of cash or credit. But this is like saying that an airplane crashed because it ran out of fuel, or a patient with gunshot wounds died from loss of blood. Such a view doesn't address the reasons _why_ the airplane ran out of fuel or _why_ the patient was shot. These might include incorrect fuel loaded in one or more tanks; unforecast headwinds beyond reasonable expectations; improper operation of the engines; failure of a simple drain valve; etc., etc. Perhaps the pilot was the patient who was shot and the airplane just flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel! If there is one thing I have learned it is that aircraft accidents are almost _never_ caused by a single factor but, rather, by a combination of factors, a chain of interrelated events. The same applies to the failure of a business. The running out of cash and credit is always the result of a number of different factors. My postulate is that the one-two punch of Y2K and a depressed economy will lead to a much higher incidence of such factors which, when combined, will indeed lead to a very high rate of business failures.

In the case of airlines, I firmly believe that the litany of factors leading and adding to their demise will include all of those I listed earlier -- fuel supply interruptions, problems in the ATC system and generally lowered economic activity and travel, as well as the probable collapse of the banking/financial system on which everything else depends. It will also include Bruce's insurance problems (in the form of higher rates) as well as a myriad of other factors which even I do not presume to predict in advance. Any or all of these could so easily lead to "lack of cash or credit" and the ultimate demise of individual airlines and many other businesses as well. And just to make matters worse, current worldwide trading in interest futures already in dicates that there will be a definite, predictable, credit crunch in December 1999. Apple Computer might once have been able to sustain million dollar losses for years -- but not when outside cash and credit are no longer available.

This is really the crux of the problem. Bruce and the pollyannas present their case for society dealing with potential problems on the basis that "we've always been able to deal with the problems in the past", with the implied assumption that we will alw ays be able to do so in the future. Bruce specifically cites the existence of large numbers of residual bugs in all of the production software used by large corporations and, quite correctly, states that, generally, we manage to work around them. He assumes that we will be able to deal with Y2K problems in the same way. But Y2K is different. Very different.

First, in spite of the intentionally optimistic numbers in my original analysis, the number of Y2K failures will be far, far higher than the number of residual failures extant in our systems today. The reason for this is the sheer volume of changes we have been making in order to achieve compliance. In my experience, I have found date references in source code every 30 or 40 lines in average programs. This is one or two orders of magnitude greater than the code which must be checked and changed for a typical maintenence project. Furthermore, we haven't just changed one system. We have made major changes to virtually every system in the world, all in the relatively same short span of time. In addition, the changes have been performed under extreme time pressures, often undertaken by less qualified personnel, without adequate testing facilities (time machines) and with a far less competent level of project management and direction than I think appropriate to the size and importance of the problem.

Second, the character of Y2K problems is different from the simple problems about which Bruce and others are talking. Typically, Y2K is a "boundary condition" error and, as such, it is much more likely to crash entire systems instead of just introducing minor annoyances or inconveniences. For example, if the "bounds" of an array are erroneously exceeded, the usual result is that other storage is overwritten and the entire system fails in strange, unpredictable ways. In the Y2K context, we have seen this already. The first Y2K law suit was filed by a grocery company, whose system could not accept credit cards which expired in 2000. But it wasn't just an inconvenient false date error on a printed sales slip. The entire system crashed, several times a week, whenever one of these cards was read. Each time it took hours to fix the problem and to bring the system back on line. Yes, you're absolutely right, they _did_ still deal with the problem but it cost them enough to justify a multi-million dollar lawsuit. And that was in a fully functional economy, while everything else was still working, and they could still get support from the software vendor. When they could still get cash and credit from their bank.

That was just an early error, occurring in isolation. The closer we get to Y2K, the more frequently these problems will occur and, as I showed in my original analysis, even with overly optimistic numbers, eventually the combined rate of failure will become very high indeed. At some point, next year, we will run out of programmers who can take time off from the real work of Y2K in order to fix-on-failure or to manually patch and reload a database several times a week. At some date, the number of failures will reach a point that they cannot all be addressed immediately and together. Many systems will have to wait, perhaps not just for an available programmer, but for the fixing of _another_ system on which it is dependent. In fact, try and fix _any_ system if the power is out, or if the banks can't cash the client's check, or the programmer can't get gas for his car.

This is why I think the critical failure rate (resulting in business bankruptcies) will be as high as 10% to 20%, let alone the miniscule and ridiculously optimistic 1% I used in my original calculations. I have been widely criticized for these estimates and, I freely admit, I _don't_ have specific numbers to back them up (Y2K really _is_ different from anything we have ever encountered before and there are no applicable heuristics). All I can do is guesstimate on the basis of extensive prior experience. However, I am not alone in my prognostications. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is advising it's member banks to expect a client bankruptcy rate of up to 15% as a result of Y2K problems, slap bang in the middle of the range I have predicted. Perhaps they, too, are closet doombrooders?

Bruce's final point has to do with "complex systems" and their ability to "adapt" to changing circumstances. His assumption is that complex systems are always, or perhaps just usually, capable of adapting to changing conditions. As far as computer syste ms are concerned, I would tend to agree with him under normal conditions. System maintenance comes under this category and so would Y2K remediation -- if there was enough time.

But time _is_ the factor he is ignoring. There isn't enough of it left to fix (or adapt) enough of the systems and so they are going to fail, in very large numbers. The same applies to the real life social systems which computer systems only model. I argue that this factor alone will reduce the productive output (carrying capacity) of the global economy to such an extent that large segments of the population will indeed die, in turn leading to less ability to fix the systems and recover, to still lower carrying capacity, to still more deaths, and so on. This is what I call a devolutionary spiral. Perhaps a desolation spiral would be a better name, since it more accurately reflects the end results.

Systems (computer, social or biological) _cannot_ adapt if there is not enough time to do so before they actually and completely fail. This happened 65 million years ago when few life forms had the time to adapt to major ecological changes resulting from an asteroid impact. And, no, even I am not suggesting that Y2K will be that bad (I hope), but the principle is the same. What I am saying, without equivocation, that there is not enough time to "adapt" our computer systems to survive the century rollover. I am also saying that, after the failures, the impact on overall human activity will be so great that we will not have the strength to adapt our social systems to the new conditions. Eventually, we will adapt, but the conditions to which we adapt will be completely different to anything we can now imagine.

Like it or not, Bruce, complexity theory and self-adaptive behaviour just don't scale very well to multiple, massive, parallel, systemic failures.

(c) 1998

-- CCCC --

Serious thoughts by men with significant expertise and current experience with Y2K.

As usual, commercial reprint rights revert to the authors but you are encouraged to circulate the material and discuss the information presented with your associates.

The full print WRP 106 will include the above articles, Infomagic's Part III, a shocking essay on why "Infomagic *is* wrong, it will be worse", a letter that might scare your friends to take action, photos from DragonRanch, details on the home made LED flashlight, and much more.

I hope to have the print copy in the mail before Christmas. Everyone, print and shareware, (unless you explicitly requested "no mailings") who subscribed prior to the mailing will receive WRP 106. This mailing will include the 1919 publication on gardening and no-power vegetable storage.

Watch or the mirror sites for the full WRP 106.

cory hamasaki"

Thanks Cory (understatement).

-- Andy (, December 18, 1998


Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black to me. While I do think the recovery will be much quicker than most believe, I don't buy all of Websters arguement. As for Infomagic - he seems to have gone to the North/Milne school of arguement - pick at tiny points - never address the major issues - and then declare a rout.

I hear very little from the people who have worked in factories, the farmers and miners, and so forth aside from myself. These are the people who will tell you what can be done when the computers are down - they have to cope with it when they are down today. Lets hear from them!

-- Paul Davis (, December 18, 1998.

I work in a factory. The front end is all computerized, handles the chemicals. The back is not. But, no front end, no back end, you know? If our computers went down, monitoring the system would be all but impossible. The manpower alone would be overwhelming. We would have to go into a shutdown and just try to keep everyone safe. I'm quite sure I don't want to be in-house when it happens.

-- margie mason (, December 18, 1998.

Paul, with all due respect, asking for people who have "can-do" stories they can share with us ("Yep, that dadburned computer contraption went down, so I jes rolled up my sleeves, and I sez to Ethel, 'By jimminy, girl, we's jes goin't to have to do it the way we done did it back in the Summer of '44...") is worthless, because noone has experience with: "multiple, massive, parallel, systemic failures". In fact, again with all due respect, I am beginning to think that one can be in multiple, massive, parallel, systemic failures DENIAL. I don't know how else to explain, for someone as otherwise intelligent as you obviously are, somehow completely missing this crucial point about Y2K.

Nobody knows what will happen in such a scenario, but Infomagic makes a very plausible case for what could happen. And arguing against this using many examples of where single, isolated, non-parallel, non-systemic failures were successfully overcome is pointless. (Its just a variation of the so-called "comparing apples to oranges" approach.

-- Jack (, December 18, 1998.

My gripe with these types of analyses is that they factor out the human being, and creativity. And I am not a pollyanna. The silver or golden triangle has to be factored in to all these equations that predict the future of the iron triangle...It was Robert Cook or Richard Dale that talked about the silver/gold triangle and it's impact Y2K and post-Y2K. I'm hoping they'll chime in.

-- Donna Barthuley (, December 18, 1998.

close your friggin' tags

-- ... (.@...), December 18, 1998.

Who's tags? I didn't use any this time. I'm as poor a proof reader as anyone, but this time I didn't even use any....who did...looked alright to block italics or bold. What?

-- Donna Barthuley (, December 18, 1998.

Hi Paul and Group:

I'm a to be a full time farmer (now RN) -- raised commercial sheep for sale as meat for your table, and then switched to a rare breed (Jacobs) for sale to specialty niche market (lean meat, unique wool) like the University Extension guys said I should. Went broke REALLY fast with commercial sheep (cost about 72 cents per pound to raise, counting feed and assorted infrastructure, and rarely "earned" over 65 cents a pound per lamb), and took longer to go broke on Jacobs (spent small fortune advertising, and few sales to imagined niche market). We ate a lot of lamb, let me tell you.

And therein is the crux of the y2k problem for the "role up yer sleeves" farmers -- we are already working at maximum capacity, and not quite breaking even most of the time. Another case in point: the poor hog farmers. Just talked to one guy with 50,000 fat (market weight) hogs under cover (in buildings) -- he figures they cost him 43 cents per pound to raise...that's his "break even" selling point. Today, hogs are selling for 4-8 cents per pound. That's right...this poor guy is pulling his hair out. His kids are going to have to leave college with this semester. His equipment is going back to the dealership. He may lose his house.

AND THE ECONOMY IS "SOUND" (sorry about the yelling...I'm a little upset by the whole picture).

No amount of "can-do" is going to fix this.

Post y2k, try to imagine feeding 50,000 hogs (8-10 pounds of grain each per day) for the months it takes to fatten them -- hope you have a small mountain of good quality corn, soy, and assorted additives on hand. Hope you don't have to rely on somebody shipping that in to your electrically air-conditioned feed bunkers.

Then what? Ship 'em? If the trucks, trains, and auction barns are running. If someone is buying. If someone is butchering. If there's a way to dispose of the offal, working water system to wash the carcases, sewers for the rinse system, refrigeration for the meat, some way to transport the meat to market, operating markets -- and people with enough cash to afford to buy the commodity. Uh, and please make certain that the price is good enough so that we don't have to take money out of our pockets to pay the auctioneer's $3 per head price to run the pigs through the chute....

If any link in this chain doesn't work?

I can tell you, Mr. Farmer and his neighbors will dine well for quite some time.....but that isn't going to help you city folks feel any better.

Farmers are just as dependent upon the "big picture" infrastructure as any other business.....if they're going under this year from poor prices, there'll be fewer left to feed this country next year. Just when we need them most.

Anita Evangelista

-- Anita Evangelista (, December 18, 1998.

Anita: thanks for the heads up. I am doubling my stash of vienna sausages. :)

-- a (a@a.a), December 18, 1998.

I just read Douglas Carmichael's paper. Reading Infomagic and Webster's debate after this makes them look both like Polyannas.

Carmichael's understanding of sociology is what scares me. They ALL could be wrong, it could be worse.

-- Chris (, December 18, 1998.

This is why I come here.

-- flierdude (, December 18, 1998.

Thanks Anita...I've never bought the "the economy's great" line....

***AND THE ECONOMY IS "SOUND" (sorry about the yelling...I'm a little upset by the whole picture)"*****

Never bought it. We are working people...don't do banks....entirely different economy.

-- Donna Barthuley (, December 18, 1998.

Donna - Not to mention the fact that that phrase and similar were chanted by all manner of pundits just before and during the Crash of 1929. Not the most effective mantra one might use, methinks.

-- Mac (, December 18, 1998.

Ya, but, Mac, many back then were divorced from the banks...? And how many now? Less, yes? It will be worse. I am not proposing a solution...only predicting more problems.

-- Donna Barthuley (, December 18, 1998.

Chris: Douglas Carmichael? I hate to sound ignorant, but could you expand? Did I miss something or am I just not making a co0nnection between the name and a post? (I keep promising myself I'll give up this forum -- too much static -- but then someone like chris comes along and gets my interest up again.)--------- Re the farm comment, some friends of ours in Minnesota run one of the few integrated hog-beef-corn-soybean operations left in their part of the state. In others words, they feed what they grow and grow what they feed, buying in as little as possible both in grain and animals. They are looking bankruptcy square in the face, despite operating more self-sufficiently than any of their neighbors (who are also going bankrupt in record numbers). I'm reminded that this same situation -- booming national economy, desperation on the farm -- preceded the now famous late 80s recession and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Even without y2k, things are gonna get nasty out there.

-- jdclark (, December 18, 1998.

----begin quote----

Why Vegetarian?

  1. Total US grain production consumed by livestock: 70%
  2. Water needed to produce a pound of wheat: 25 gallons
  3. Water needed to produce a pound of meat: 2,500 gallons
  4. Number of people worldwide who will die as a result of malnutrition this year: 20 million
  5. Number of people who could be adequately fed using the land freed if Americans consumed just 10% less meat: 60 million.

Source: EarthSave Foundation

----end quote----

...and Southern California is running out of water, now trying to get it from Lake Michigan!

-- Jon (, December 18, 1998.

>>desperation on the farm

jdclark, thess rat! You may want to read in this regard, the excellent study of the the farm meltdown that has been going on since the 1980's

Harvest of Rage Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning by Joel Dyer.

Fantastic book (even has finger-through simulated 12 ga slug holes in the dust jacket!) Sample quote:

On July 9, 1986, Katherine Copeland's life became unbearable. THe small-town farmwife who could have passed for anyone's grandmother walked ou to a burning trash heap and killed herself by crawling onto a flaming barrel of garbage. Eugene Copeland tried to explain his wife's demise to the New York Times (August 17, 1986): "You learn all your life that if you work hard, things will get better. But in this business it just doesn't work that way. She just couldn't see any escape. She got desperate." ... Suicide has become the number one cause of death on America's farms."


-- Runway Cat (, December 18, 1998.

Anita - farming has been a bad business to be in since 1984 or so. That figured very much into my decisions to do what I am doing now. But that does not reply to my request - I know there are people here besides myself who have wired around PLC's - thrown bypass switches - thrown the switch from CONT to COMP and got the plant going again - and done other things I have not that got things going in the case of failures in control elements. And I would like to hear from them.

Jack - I truly think you are exaggerating the effect of interlocking elements - unless you really think every part is so dependant on the whole that everything stops if one part stops. Now coal is about as basic an industry as you can have - and over half the coal comes from union mines (or did in 76). During the great strike of 76 coal production dropped through the floor - in the middle of one of the worst winters in history. Cars were produced - trains ran when weather permitted - things did not stop. If interdependancy was that bad - everything would stop if we had a couple of national unions on strike at the same time. Doesn't happen. And the reason it doesn't happen is because the system has a degree of built in redundancy - which allows working parts to take over from the ones that have quit. When coal plants across the northern tier could not run because the weather was so cold they literally could not move the frozen coal into the hoppers fast enough to keep the boilers going - nuclear plants down for maintainence came back on line as fast as possible, factories and offices were shut down to minimum power (enough to keep water pipes from freezing) and homes stayed warm and lives were saved. Most were not aware that they had come so close to disaster. Now you are hypothesing that so much of the system will go down that no part will be able to support the rest. The idea that 1% or 2% of the system going down will bring down everything - and that exact statement has been made on this forum - is just silly. More than that HAS gone down during times of emergency - and was supported by the built in redundancy of the system. No one builds systems that run that close to the edge. During the winter emergency I spoke of above a fairly high percentage of US power was off line for several weeks - I forget the exact percentage but think it was between 17% and 25%. That is a pretty big fraction of the entire system overall. Other things were down during that winter - coal production due to the strike - trains were hopeless for several weeks - travel on any roads north of the Mason Dixon line was very chancy (and for quite a ways south of it I am here to tell you). Hey, if you want I've got a picture of the Ohio River frozen over solidly at the KY border with IN. One heck of a lot of the system was flat knocked out - and literally hundreds of important things froze up and were destroyed by the cold - and we were already in recession - and we blame well made it through. And that is why I can't swallow the interlocking failures leading to TEOTWAWKI idea. It would require failures on a scale I just don't think will happen.

-- Paul Davis (, December 18, 1998.

Paul: Nobody knows just what is going to happen in 2000 but I think you're underestimating the effects of a simultaneous computer meltdown, worldwide.

-- cody varian (, December 18, 1998.

Mr. Davis,

I highly value your veiwpoint, notwithstanding that I disagree. I find your presense on this forum refreshing and uplifting. Your intelligence and experience lend credence to your message. And I admire your confidence and courage in the face of flames and disagreement.

In comon with Bradley Sherman and Don Scott (of csy2k)and other notable Pollyannas like Howard Bellasco, your contravailing viewpoint helps to balance the discussion. But one of the things Pollyannas seem to have in common is a lack of documented, statistical or numerical foundation for your arguments---as opposed to the apocryphal or anecdotal evidence you guys usually present.

Your argument is that we have redundant over-capacity and therefore should be able to operate successfully even if much of our capacity is temporarilly unavailable. Unlike subjective propositions like "can-do spirit, courage and the Amercan way", your premise is one that could and should be relatively easy to support with statistical evidence.

Your challenge, sir, should you chose to accept it, is to document to a reasonable person's satisfaction, how much superflous capacity and/or slack is available in those systems which are vital to our continued social and economic well-being. A contribution of this nature would be held in high regard by this poster and, I'm sure, many others who find it hard to sleep lately. Thank you for your consideration.


"Life is not a series of problems for which their are solutions, its a series of dilemmas for which there are trade-offs."

-- Hallyx (, December 19, 1998.

jdclark, Donna B. gave the link to Carmichael's paper in the thread

Year 2000: Who will do what and when will they do it?

It's long but a must read.

-- Chris (, December 19, 1998.

Ouch. Hallyx, you do realize that is a PhD thesis at least that you just handed me? Oh well - I will try to get an estimate - but it will take a while. I suppose I could base something on US exports of raw materials - and the average level of plant downtime for maintainence(generally if you really need it you can get it back for a time really fast) - and max production capacity for coal mines related to current production.

-- Paul Davis (, December 19, 1998.

Hallyx, that is a very interesting challenge to Paul. I do believe he has gone a reasonable distance, in his 2 or 3 earlier long posts, towards doing what you ask. It would be great if he could do more! Your question is elegantly stated, but still just a bit broad for my understanding. Thus, I'd like to try to clarify and slighty focus the questions, this is my take on what you'd like Paul to answer, please correct me:

(1) You are asking him to prove the negative (show that things WON'T go down)

(2) You are asking him the broad question "To what degree can every industrial, health, financial, emergency, military, and utility process in this country be run on manual overrides, and for how long ?

Are those your 2 basic questions ?


-- Runway Cat (, December 19, 1998.

And remember, everyone, ultimately nobody can really prove anything -- its the very complexity of how everything interconnects (including the "human element" that Donna likes to see factored in) that defies anything approaching a "proof".

Its all a matter of playing the odds. If you prepare as if its going to be a meltdown, and you are wrong, then you have lost very little, relatively speaking. If you prepare as if its just going to be a bump in the road, and you are wrong, you have lost a lot. (To put it another way: Even if the odds that its going to be a bump in the road are 70%, and that of a meltdown is 30%, you are still better off preparing for a meltdown, once you factor in the associated risks.

-- Jack (, December 19, 1998.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ