Ed Yourdon and all fire away at this. This guy is better than Al Gore!

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I cut this from the July 99 issue of The Contrarian's View by Nick Chase. Is this guy not good. Makes me feel that I am not worthy to be a programmer. But changing lightbulbs is out of the question since thats a hardware problem and I don't do hardware.


by "Ben" My continuing coverage of, and attempts to decipher the reality of the Y2K computer flaw, prompted the following missives from a reader (rearranged and compacted for printing here):

* * * * * * * * * *

The situation has changed dramatically from a couple of years ago, but you do not seem to be aware of this. Judging from the quotes in your Y2K section I can see why.

At least you have noticed that Gary North has "an axe to grind". That's putting it mildly. But the real problem with North is not his bizarre agenda, but that he does not have the slightest clue about technology. About history, maybe, but computers, nada. Just the other day I saw the most hilarious hoax posted on his [web] site and he bought it hook, line and sinker. [One in which the first letter of each sentence spells out "PAUL MILNE IS A BIG FAT IDIOT". /Nick] He simply doesn't have the skills to tell the difference between complete bullshit and a plausible scenario.

[For example,] the Euro implementation.... job was also supposed to be impossible to complete on schedule, estimated to be six times the size of Y2K, and Capers Jones, patron saint of doomers, estimated that of 2 million affected systems, half a million would not be fixed in time. Gary North expounded: "The deadline is fixed: Jan. 1, 1999. It has been trumpeted for years. It has been fundamental to one of the great public relations campaigns of all time. But Europe will not make this deadline. The world will know on Jan. 4". Uh huh, I'm still waiting.

Why are you still quoting Ed Yourdon? The guy who wrote Decline and Fall of the American Programmer at the moment when the profession was just moving into its golden age? You just can't get more wrong than that. The guy is a total laughingstock in the programming community. Besides, he has left the Y2K debate like a yellow dog with his tail between his legs, hoping to get a head start on his rehabilitation.

Cory Hamasaki? He's no programmer, he's an archaeologist! He's been out of the loop for so long, his opinions on Y2K are about as valuable as Alan - I wrote a few lines of COBOL 35 years ago - Greenspan. Then there is Paul Milne. He's just a plain, stupid, idiot, who makes an ass of himself on a daily basis.

If you want to know what to expect come next January, you would do better than to listen to these yo-yos, or looking at Gallup polls, for that matter. There are plenty of real experts out there with solid reputations. It seems to me you used to read Peter de Jager. He probably knows more about Y2K than anyone on the planet.... Peter's position has shifted a great deal. Perhaps not as much as I would like, but last time I heard from him he sounded pretty burned out and he was lamenting the fact that he was fighting a multi-front war. I am sorry to see the way he is being treated by doomers these days. They call him a traitor, a victim of bi-polar disorder, or darkly suggest that the government has "got to him". But when the dust all settles, I am confident that history will bear him out as something of a hero.

As for the Gallup Poll you cite in the June issue, you missed a glaring anomaly that explains why the general public is very unreliable in giving a clear picture regarding Y2K. Take a look at Figure 14. Only 7% thought their own banks would not be able to solve Y2K problems in time. But the responses to banks in general were very different, with 44% saying people would lose access to cash, and 29% that banks would lose track of people's money. Heh, that's a problem!

So why the huge discrepancy? Actually this is a phenomenon that has been widely discussed amongst Y2K remediators. In fact, one recent conference was entitled "I'm O.K., you're not O.K.". There is tendency to think that other members in your industry, especially competitors, are way behind your own company. And all the other guys think the same. The not-so-polite term for this in remediation circles is "The Circle Jerk". It's an inevitable, behavioral kind of thing, and all of the statements of "Y2K readiness" will not change that. You might as well expect a Marine to say that the Army and Navy are just as good. Ain't gonna happen.

The fact is that the result of Y2K is now a foregone conclusion. If you think the next recession or market crash will be precipitated by excessive consumer debt, trade imbalances, cheap money, overvalued stocks, etc. you can make a good case, and I may very well agree with you. But if think that Y2K is going to deliver the fateful blow, then you are sadly mistaken.

Let me clear about one thing. I'm not saying there are not going to be problems. I'm not saying that computer systems are not going to do wacky and inconvenient things. What I am saying is that there will be no SIGNIFICANT increase in these kinds of problems due to Y2K. Y2K bugs that sneak through remediation will simply get lost in the noise of the gazillion things that go wrong each and every day.

One of the most ridiculous myths that has been perpetuated is this idea that there is lots of 30-year-old legacy code that has not changed, is undocumented, and the source code lost, and now nobody knows how to fix it. What planet are these people on? Application software is a living, breathing beast that requires the constant ministrations of an army of worker bees.

Every time government comes in with a new piece of legislation that affects every payroll in the country a mountain of maintenance work is created. For example, I worked on the introduction of the "Goods and Services Tax" in Canada about 10 years ago, which affected nearly every transaction in the country. Unlike Y2K, which is actually quite straightforward, I was dealing with a myriad of rules: a donut is taxable, a dozen are not, a tongue depressor is taxable, unless it is part of medical kit, in which case it is not. Compared to that nightmare (which had a deadline every bit as unmovable) Y2K is a walk in the park.

These huge maintenance projects are not new; what is new is that the general public has suddenly taken an interest in the activities of a bunch of nerds and geeks. And due to these anxieties managers and bureaucrats have figured out that budget allocations for anything Y2K is the fast track for approval. So you have a situation, for example, where the U.S. Congress passes legislation regarding health care reform that had implications to all links in the delivery of patient care, the HMOs and insurers, hospitals, practitioners, nursing homes, Medicare etc, without funding earmarked for the gigantic number of software fixes required. A huge problem which to my knowledge did not get any media attention. It's shady, but I can't honestly blame institutions for slapping a Y2K sticker on this work in order for it to be properly funded.

If the upshot of Y2K was that leaders would finally start thinking about the consequences to software infrastructure of their decisions, then all of this current silliness would be worth it. But I'm NOT holding my breath.

As for publishing any of this stuff.... well sure, but it certainly was not my intent to attack your position on Y2K in front of your readership. I was merely hoping to spur you to provide more balanced coverage on this issue. As a fellow contrarian, I admire certain aspects of your commentary, and even your dogged, though somewhat misplaced, bearishness. I just think it would be a pity to see your credibility undermined by predicting an economic impact to Y2K. Let Yardeni hang himself - he can afford it.

("Ben" has 20 years' experience in application software development and maintenance in the accounting, petroleum, transportation, legal and health care industries. For the past couple of years he has been heavily involved in Y2K remediation - professionally with legacy systems for a number of Canadian hospitals, and in a more casual capacity as a member of the Internet community grappling with Y2K.)

-- Ed (ed@lizzardranch.com), September 21, 1999


Standard polly stuff, if better-written/reasoned than most of it. I will throw this in about Jager (mentioned above): IMHO, he will probably be seen as a transitional figure. That is, he once mattered a great deal, and now hardly does at all. Think of Gorbachev while in power, and later when Yeltsin was the man the ambassadors and CEOs visited when in the C.I.S. (pointedly ignoring Gorby); Jager's analagous. I suspect Jager lost his nerve, got leaned on ("take a more optimistic stance publicly, or have an 'accident'"), or... Anyone else got any ideas what really happened with him? Please don't waste our time with "Maybe he really thinks the remediation situation really is going that well". Jager is neither stupid nor ignorant, and 5 hours in the last month reading articles on Gary North's site will disabuse any intelligent & honest person of the idea remediation is going well.

my site: www.y2ksafeminnesota.com

-- MinnesotaSmith (y2ksafeminnesota@hotmail.com), September 21, 1999.

There's no substance here to challenge. It's just name-calling, and unsupported conclusions. Forget about it.

-- Dog Gone (layinglow@rollover.now), September 21, 1999.

"Ben's" piece takes jabs at a large list of Y2K commentators but contains almost no hard information about how much or how little Y2K work has been done to date. The comments the author had about Capers Jones and Dr. Edward Yardeni show a slick writing style...

...Capers Jones, patron saint of doomers...

Let Yardeni hang himself - he can afford it.

...but an ignorance of the fact that both Jones and Yardeni are respected, moderate voices in the commentary on Y2K. It also contained almost no verifiable information about Y2K, such as the following:

Rep. Stephen Horn's ninth Y2K report card:


36 out of 43 high-impact federal programs not ready for Y2K:


The July GAO report on the Y2K readiness of large American Cities:



On average, cities reported completing work for 45 percent of the key service areas in which they had some responsibility. They also stated that work is well underway on the remaining services. Cities were most likely to have reported completing work in their transportation systems and telecommunications equipment. Relatively few, however, reported completing their portions of water and wastewater treatment systems, public building systems, and emergency service systems.

The Cap Gemini America survey on the Y2K readiness of large companies:


Fewer Than Half of Major Firms Anticipate Full Year 2000 Compliance in Critical Systems by Year's End

And as uncertain as the situation is in the U.S., the overseas picture is even less encouraging:


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), September 21, 1999.

As others have noted, there is just not much of substance here, just a lot of ad hominem attacks. Gary North is a fairly easy target for personal attacks, but the author makes no attempt to address the mountain of information North has presented about Y2K. He offers one stupid post by North as an indication that nothing North has to say can be taken seriously. One mistake, does not, in my opinion, negate the mountain of evidence.

Then he attacks Ed Yourdon. "Everyone", it seems, is laughing at Ed. Really, who? I'm not. Just an example of the fallacious argument from popularity "Everyone who's cool does drugs. Everyone who's cool laughs at Ed."

Attacks on cory hamasaki. Again no proof.

The author makes a good point when he says that only 7% of the population thinks that their own bank will fail because of Y2K. However, consider this. Man is governed by both logic and emotion. For example, if I have an important test the next day, I may get out of bed and doublecheck to see if I have set my alarm. Logically I "know" the alarm is already set, but "emotionally" I need to check, just to be sure. A similar thing seems to be happening with the banks. Logically, people "know" that their bank won't fail. But, I believe, "emotionally" they are unsure and this insecurity will manifest itself as we move closer to January 1.

In his most ridiculous claim, the author seems to say that source code is never lost. Right. Important files never get deleted. Important papers never get thrown away. To be fair, the percentage of lost source code is fairly small (something like 2%-3% if my porous memory serves) however, 2-3% here, 2-3% there and pretty soon you're missing some serious amounts of code. And when you try to make a change and recompile, boy are you in for a surprise!

Finally the author holds up government projects as an excellent example of projects that make numerous changes to existing code under an immovable deadline. I have two words, IRS and FAA. Need I really say more?

Finally, the author makes what really is the pollies strongest argument: that y2k will be lost in the noise of everyday bugs. Bugs, breakdowns, and crashes happen every day, y2k will be nothing but more of the same. What they ignore, as always, is the simultinaity. Doomers have never denied that things break every day, but they have stated with great regularity that the problem is to many things going wrong at the same time. Its not a problem when one store's computer is down, its a minor problem when five store's computers are down, its a major problem when ten store's computers are down.

How's that for debunking?

-- John Ainsworth (ainsje@cstone.net), September 21, 1999.

An article about the new Senate Y2K report:


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), September 21, 1999.

It would appear that "Ben" has trouble grasping the big picture and this is a fairly common lapse in the programmer community. They tend to look at the projects they are working on and do not comprehend that numerous little defects can be fixed but when thousands of problems occur at the same time, they cascade into bigger waves of problems. The "Euro" deadline caused major problems that were covered up and were more in the nature of confusion in account balances than in systems shutdowns. These were given little attention in the press partially due to heavy government promotion of the Euro by various European Governments. We owe a debt of gratitude to Ed Yourdan, Gary North, Cory, Paul Milne and numerous others who have raised these issues and have caused many more problems to be fixed than would have been fixed without their involvement. Was enough fixed? No. Would it be worse without their involvement. Yes. Who contributed more to the effort, these people or ALGORE and WJC?

-- Moe (Moe@3stooges.gom), September 22, 1999.

Standard polly discussion as noted above (personal attacks, downplaying interconnectedness & scope of problem, etc.). Other points:

In reference to "I'm O.K., you're not O.K.", that's a major part of the problem. Nobody knows what is going on, everybody has their own ax to grind (including Ben, whether he knows it or not), noone can be trusted, so in the vacuum of information rumors abound. And these "facts" and those "rumors" - neither can truly be proven or debunked. Pollies & doomers alike try to claim victory, or at least better insight to the facts, but the truth is there are no facts and there is no victory. Y2K will unfold in only one way - the way in which it actually happens. Y2K does not care if GN has an axe to grind, or if Ben has 20+ years in the business or if the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It will happen as it happens and our thoughts and opinions on the matter will not influence it one bit. The only thing that will influence it is the success of the remediation, and that we will not know until after the fact, due to the massive amount of spin and agendas on all sides of the debate.

Y2K may not deliver the final blow, but will probably act as a catalyst for the other looming problems you mention.

And the classic polly CYA disclaimer (no polly drivel would be complete without it):

Let me clear about one thing. I'm not saying there are not going to be problems. I'm not saying that computer systems are not going to do wacky and inconvenient things.

Then he goes on about the lost source code/documentation issue. True, most software is a "living, breathing beast", but this is a volatility issue - how often are changes to programs and/or data required. Some programs are modified monthly, some never. We have several systems here that have not been touched since they were implemented on the lastest platform - in 1983. If it were not for Y2K they would probably remained untouched for another 15-20 years.

Then, the worst of all, tries to compare other previous large projects (a Canadian governmental payroll change) to Y2K. The magnitude is incomparable. It's like comparing the size of Earth to Jupiter or even the Sun. Many orders of magnitude up on the scale. And the inflexible deadline. Give me a break. All deadlines are flexible, except Y2K. If you miss the deadline, maybe 100 million people get over or underpaid by 10%, or the Canadian govt. loses some taxes. Large problems to be sure, but incomparable in scope to Y2K (I won't even mention "international" or "embedded systems").

Two good points made:

That managers & execs are padding budgets as Y2K expenditures. Problem: This again adds to the "spin" - no one knows whats going on, the worldwide project is too big it can't be accounted for - no one even really knows how much money is being spent, how many people are working on the problem or how much code & chips need to be worked on. Too big. It could be fine, then again maybe not.

Other point is excellent, unfortunately I agree with him on the long term end result:

If the upshot of Y2K was that leaders would finally start thinking about the consequences to software infrastructure of their decisions, then all of this current silliness would be worth it. But I'm NOT holding my breath.

That, I feel, is the problem with the IT industry: no housecleaning. Keep adding, never delete. Keep adding files, data elements, programs, rules, regulations - but never delete or streamline. Things will eventually get so muddled that no one can decipher it at all. That's usually when it's time for a major system upgrade - and we all know how quickly, inexpensive, seamless and stressless those go.....

-- Jim (x@x.x), September 22, 1999.

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