Time Bomb 2000! : What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!

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The #1 Year 2000 action guide for everyone—now completely updated! @ BCTEXT = Saturday, January 1, 2000. Suddenly, nothing works. Not your phones, not the cash machine, not even your fancy new VCR. All because of "minuscule" computer programming errors someone made decades ago.

Science fiction? Almost all computer ...

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Overview

The New York Times Bestseller!

Over 200,000 copies in print!

The #1 Year 2000 action guide for everyone—now completely updated! @ BCTEXT = Saturday, January 1, 2000. Suddenly, nothing works. Not your phones, not the cash machine, not even your fancy new VCR. All because of "minuscule" computer programming errors someone made decades ago.

Science fiction? Almost all computer experts agree, it's very, very possible.

Whether or not you own or use a computer, virtually every aspect of your life now depends on them: communications, electricity, transportation, finance, medicine, your job, the government... you name it. What if those computers stop working for a day? A month? A year? Time Bomb 2000 tells you the odds, based on up-to-the-minute information—and offers complete guidance on how you can prepare!

Time Bomb 2000 is co-authored by Edward Yourdon, editor of Cutter IT Journal and one of the world's leading authorities on software development. Few people have a clearer understanding of the Year 2000 problem—and why it's proving so difficult to solve. Realistic, practical, and terrifying, Time Bomb 2000 is the #1 book for everyone who wants to survive the Year 2000 computer crisis.

  • Will your bank open?
  • Will your money be there?
  • Will social security checks arrive?
  • Will there be electricity? Food? Water?
  • Will your PC work?
  • Will your car run?
  • Will medical devices work?
  • Above all, what can you do to prepare?
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Imagine waking up the morning of January 1, 2000. Sunlight streams through the blinds. You have a splitting headache because you partied way too hard last night. You get up, leave the bedroom, and check the time on your digital alarm clock. It's blinking an indecipherable time. You think, "The electricity must have gone out." And you're right. You pick up your phone only to be greeted by silence. "Well, it should be back on in a few hours." Wrong! (The phone might not be operable for days.) A final horrible realization occurs when you enter the kitchen — Mr. Coffee won't work! Is this starting to sound like "Scream 3"? It should, but this isn't fiction. And the reality has the potential to be much worse. All this because a backroom computer at your company (or anyone else's) set in motion 25 years ago counts the date via two digits instead of four.

Time Bomb 2000, by Jennifer and Edward Yourdon, is the layperson's approach to the year 2000 computer crisis. The Yourdons are not offering a placebo solution: "...given the complexity of the problem, we think it's pretentious for anyone to suggest that he or she [has one]." In lieu of a solution, the Yourdons have delineated the issues necessary for the noncomputer expert to consider in the face of Time Bomb 2000. This is an indispensable book for anyone who hopes to weather the year 2000 computer crisis.

Library Journal
Optimists may be gleefully eyeing the approaching millennium with great expectations of the innovation that will undoubtedly accompany its dawning, but those with perhaps a more grounded gaze see January 1, 2000, as the day of reckoning for computers and their infinite applications everywhere.

The Yourdons (Edward is the author of 25 computer books) offer a doomsday scenario of what life might be like if techno gurus aren't able to correct, on a universal scale, an oversight born when programmers failed to see the significance of the double zeros at the beginning of year 2000. Will ATMs work on January 1 of that year? Will medical devices work? Social Security checks arrive? Will basic services like electricity, water, mail, and food delivery be affected? No one is claiming to know everything for sure, but the Yourdons' harrowing account of what life could be like if computers all shut down at once is both frightening and useful for the solutions it offers. For all computer collections.
— Geoff Rotunno, Tri-Mix Magazine, Goleta, California

Booknews
Apocalyptic believers are not the only ones awaiting the millennium as the end of civilization. The Yourdons (he is the editor of American Programmer ) depict the fallout we might encounter as of Saturday, January 1, 2000 due to most computers — including those of the government, banks, and utility companies — being programmed to recognize "00" as "1900" rather than "2000." Despite inadequate planing, the Year-2000 meteorite might just fizzle out.
Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Oregon
Jack Woehr

Soothsayers of Doom

Time Bomb 2000, the "revised and updated" edition of noted software methodologist and industry pundit Ed Yourdon's New York Times bestseller, is 600 pages of absolute nonsense. Open anywhere, shake the book upside down, and out billows a smothering cloud of horsefeathers. Where does the overwhelmed reviewer start?

How about with the back cover.

"Will your bank open? Will your car run? Will your money be there? Will medical devices work? Will social security checks arrive? Will there be electricity? Food? Water? Will your PC work? Above all, what can you do to prepare?"

There's a photo of Ed with daughter and coauthor Jennifer; Ed in a sleeveless sweater and open-necked dress shirt, looking like an East Coast teevangelist touting his latest family self-help book. Next to the photo is a credit for Ed Yourdon's Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer. He's not exactly dodging responsibility for his more famous opus, The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer (it's mentioned inside the book on his authorship credits page), but he's not bragging about it.

The techniques of argumentation used inside the book are reminiscent of millennialist literature from many centuries and from all over the world. There are fancy geometrical diagrams looking like the Qabbalah scholar's bad dream. The diagrams describe "Interaction between various worlds" and prove that something could happen if somebody doesn't do something, and it could be pretty bad, if it did happen, because everything is connected. The book implies very strongly that Y2K is the pin that just might puncture the balloon of industrial society.

Things become a little more clear on the back flyleaf, where we find an ad for another of the series, Ed Yourdon's Year 2000 Home Preparation Guide, "featuring [sic] preparedness expert James Talmage Stevens, author of Making the Best of Basics: A Family Preparedness Handbook and Don't Get Caught With Your Pantry Down!".

In fact, it's perfectly clear. The medicine show is in town. Let's flip open this literary road apple, this monument to the shamelessness of fad surfing. On page 78, we read:

"It's also possible that certain careers or professions will vanish because of sharp changes in the fashion, taste, or hobbies of society, following a massive Y2000 failure. Maybe we'll abandon baseball as the national hobby - a change that will not only be catastrophic for today's highly paid athletes, but also for those who sell peanuts and beer in the stadium."

This is not computer science, nor economics, nor sociology, nor any other kind of science. It's Swami Salami burbling prophecy through a glass darkly to the credulous unwashed à la Hal Lindsey and Salem Kirban. Here's a particularly phatic passage from page 80:

"Even more sobering is the impact that a pervasive Y2000 problem is likely to have on different generations. Just as the Great Depression had a different impact upon the generation of children, young adults, middle-aged people, and the elderly, we're likely to see a similar range of reactions to the Y2000 crisis ... a younger generation ... may find a Y2000 crisis liberating ... An older generation is likely to have more to lose."

"On the day you cross that river, a great empire will fall." They charged Croesus several golden tripods for that one at Delphi back when Moses was still in knee-pants.

There's a fairy tale I read to my daughter when she was four years old called "The Three Simpletons" and it starts something like this:

A maiden was, at her betrothal party, sent to the cellar to fetch more wine for the guests. It happened that she saw an ax hung from the ceiling near the cask. "Suppose," the maiden thought, "my betrothed and I were to marry, and have a son, and he were to grow up fine and strong, and be at age twenty himself betrothed, and come down fetching wine, and the ax should fall on him and disfigure him before his wedding!" And she sat at the foot of the stairs and wept in anguish at the thought.

The maiden is eventually joined by her mother and father, both of whom in their turn are overcome by the same hideous anticipation. The future bridegroom discovers them weeping in the cellar and sets off to wander the wide world until he finds three people sillier than his fiancee and parents-in-law.

I similarly pledge myself to read assiduously the books I come across, ever seeking something sillier to read than pere et fille Yourdon's Time Bomb 2000. I may be at it well into the millennium.
Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780130952844
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
  • Publication date: 12/24/1997
  • Series: Yourdon Press Computing Series
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 404
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Read an Excerpt

PREFACE: Preface to the Second Edition
I came here today because I wanted to stress the urgency of the Y2000 challenge to people who are not in this room. With millions of hours needed to rewrite billions of lines of code and hundreds of thousands of interdependent organizations, this is clearly one of the most complex management challenges in history.
- President Bill Clinton, Speech at the National Academy of Sciences, July 14, 1998

By now, the average citizen has been bombarded by countless newspaper articles and magazine reports concerning the so - called "Millennium Bug." Of course, there are still some who aren't sure what it means, or why it's relevant, or how it might affect their lives; if you're one of these people, you'll find a more traditional introduction and explanation in the preface to the original first edition of the book, which follows immediately after this material.

But for those who already have a general understanding of the Y2000 problem, and especially for those who read the first edition of Time Bomb 2000, a brief update is in order. We've maintained the same basic organization of the book in this second edition, but we've updated virtually all of the references, footnotes, links, and examples to reflect the most recent Y2000-related events. We've also added a chapter on the international ramifications of Y2000, as well as a new appendix that provides a bibliography of books, articles, and Internet sites.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to provide the one thing that many of our readers and colleagues have asked for: an unequivocal, black-and-white answer to the question "How bad will theY2000 problem be?" To be perfectly honest, we don't know - and neither does anyone else. It's about time we all admitted that, notwithstanding our predictions and estimates and guesses and wishes, we really don't know what will happen on January 1, 2000. Commentators, experts, gurus, business executives, and government leaders may think they know what's going to happen, and they may construct an eloquent and appealing argument to support their prediction. Chances are that if it appeals to your predisposed opinion about Y2000, you'll like it; otherwise, it will make you angry.

Many people who have contacted us are obviously frustrated by this state of affairs. "What good are all these experts," one college student complained to us, "if they can't tell us what's really going to happen?" Another email correspondent said "I don't have time to read all of the hundreds of articles, books, Web sites, and newsgroup forums about Y2000. Can't you just summarize it for me, and give me a simple answer: Is it going to be a disaster, or can I stop worrying?"

But if someone summarizes, abstracts, and filters the hundreds of disparate articles about Y2000 for you, then you're going to get that person's bias or prejudice mixed in with the summary. And if that person has an "agenda" or a particular "spin" that he wants to put on the Y2000 phenomenon, you're going to get that, too. This may sound cynical, but do you really expect the Federal Reserve system and the banking community to give us a pessimistic outlook on their Y2000 progress, even if the situation really is pessimistic? For that matter, it's simply not realistic to expect any senior business executive to stand up and say, "We've missed every milestone on our Y2000 project, and we underestimated the cost by a factor of five. Our programmers are burned out and demoralized; they've formed a conga line, and they're dancing out the door with their last burst of energy... and the CIO just quit. There is no way on earth we're going to finish even our mission-critical systems in time. We're doomed; you might as well sell your stock now."

But beyond this obvious point, there's something more important: People seem to want a crystal-ball prediction expressed in terms of an "either-or" outcome. They want someone to say, "Either Y2000 is going to be the end of the world (TEOTWAWKI), or it's going to be a non-event. I'm convinced it's going to be a non-event, and here are the 27 reasons why..." But this is an overly simplistic way of looking at the future, and it doesn't help us make effective plans for coping with what, at this point, remains unknown.

Here's a metaphor. Suppose you plan to drive your car from your home to the office, and you want us to predict the outcome. We could say to you, "One of two things will happen: Either you'll either arrive safely, or you'll be killed in a fatal accident. We think you'll arrive safely, and here are the 27 reasons why..." For a 200-word newspaper article, or a 2-minute TV report that's absolutely obsessed with reducing everything down to a black-and-white sound-bite, this might be an acceptable way to summarize the situation - and that's what seems to be happening with much of the media reporting of the Y2000 situation.

But there are obviously a number of other outcomes in our automobile example, and it would be much more helpful if we could say to you, "The most likely outcome is that you'll arrive at your office without any problems. But there's a moderate chance - perhaps 1 in 10 - that you'll be involved in a minor fender-bender accident along the way, in which nobody is injured, but a few hundred dollars of damage is inflicted upon your car. There's a smaller chance - perhaps 1 in 100 - that you'll be involved in an accident in which you or the other driver will sustain minor injuries. And there's an even smaller chance - perhaps 1 in 1,000 - that you'll get involved in a really serious accident, in which your car will be destroyed, and one or more drivers or passengers will be sent to the hospital with major injuries. And, unfortunately, there is a tiny chance - perhaps 1 in 10,000 - that you'll be involved in a fatal accident that will kill you."

Armed with that information, you could then ask yourself the obvious questions: How much risk am I willing to tolerate? What should I do to reduce the risk? A teenager might ignore all of this information, and drive a convertible with no seat-belts, no airbag, no insurance, and no auto registration. A more conservative person would consider the risk-reward tradeoff of a seat-belt and an air-bag so obvious that he would happily spend the extra time and money to reduce his risk. Some might eschew a convertible, and drive a Volvo instead. And a few might be so fearful of the risks, especially in urban centers like New York or Los Angeles, that they would decide not to drive at all.

The big problem with Y2000, of course, is that we don't know how to quantify the various risk scenarios; we don't have the benefit of 50 years of statistics about automobile accidents and fatalities. That's unfortunate and frustrating, but it's not an excuse to ignore the problem. After all, we deal with uncertainty in our lives all the time, and we do the best we can to make an intelligent decision that's compatible with our level of risk-tolerance. When we get in our car, we don't have precise statistical data about accidents and fatalities for my neighborhood; we have a "gut feeling" that incorporates not only the general information about traffic accidents, but also up-to-the-minute impressions about the weather, the road conditions, and unusual circumstances (e.g., it's New Year's Eve, and there may be a lot of drunk drivers on the road). We go through a similar risk-evaluation process when we consider taking a stroll through a potentially dangerous neighborhood in a strange city, or when we respond to an invitation to go hang-gliding or sky-diving or bungee-jumping.

When it comes to Y2000, most of us will agree that the "non-event" scenario is relatively unlikely; there's a reasonably good chance that we'll experience one or more minor disruptions, at the very least. Beyond that, we each have to do our own risk assessment: How likely is it that the disruptions might last a couple days, or a month, or a year, or longer? And how much are we willing to gamble that our assessment might turn out to be wrong? All of these scenarios need to be considered and evaluated, not just the two extremes of non-event and TEOTWAWKI.

One last point about the crystal-ball assessment, and the decisions we make: They deserve to be private. We're tired of newspaper reporters and TV journalists asking us, in the midst of an interview, "How much food have you stockpiled in your house? How much cash have you taken out of the bank? How many Kruggerands have you bought?" The proper answer, we believe, is: None of your business! After all, nobody asks us how much money we have in our savings accounts, or what percentage of our annual income is set aside for savings and retirement; nobody asks us how much auto insurance we have, or how much life insurance we're providing for our families. At least in North American society, those questions are considered an invasion of privacy. But why do we bother with a savings account or insurance policies, if not to provide a "nest egg" for a rainy day? How is that any different from the decision that a few folks are making to stockpile some extra food in their pantry to cope with possible Y2000 disruptions? While there might be emotional criticism about "hoarding" of food and supplies in December 1999 if everyone decides to rush to the grocery store at the same time, stockpiling ought to be a personal and private decision in late 1998 and early 1999 - just like the decision to divert some of our disposable income to savings, rather than consumption.

The concerns about Y2000 that we expressed when we wrote the first edition of our book in 1997 have been validated and supported by a growing number of conservative, reputable politicians, industry officials, and corporate executives. When the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of England describe Y2000 as a serious problem, as they both did during 1998 speeches, it suggests that the subject should not be casually dismissed as an alarmist exaggeration. It requires only a modest effort to search the Internet to find somber warnings and/or dire predictions about Y2000 from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve System (Alan Greenspan), a former Secretary of Defense (Caspar Weinberger), and numerous Congressmen and Senators. Of course, none of the statements made by these officials constitutes proof that our assessment of Y2000 is completely correct - but it does suggest that it's a legitimate topic of discussion and concern, rather than something reserved for the lunatic fringe.

Though we can't forecast the outcome of the Y2000 problem with absolute accuracy, we certainly can argue that the past year has been plagued with procrastination. Procrastination seems to be most severe in the small businesses, and in the small towns. Optimists may sincerely believe that the Fortune 500 companies will finish their Y2000 projects on time, and that the Federal government will manage to at least finish the mission-critical systems in the most critical agencies. But recent surveys indicate that approximately 75 percent of small businesses around the world have not yet begun working on Y2000; here in the U.S., surveys indicate that approximately 40 percent of the small companies don't plan to spend any time or money on Y2000 until the year 2000 itself, at which point they'll see what's broken. Similarly, recent surveys have indicated that approximately 55 percent of the mayors of local towns and communities believe that Y2000 won't impact them; therefore, they're doing nothing about it.

A year of procrastination and delay may be tolerable for long-term problems like global warming or the destruction of rain forests, but it's likely to be fatal for Y2000. Even 1997 was too late for most companies to start their Y2000 project with much hope for success; a company starting in 1998 has no choice but to use a triage strategy in order to keep at least its mission-critical systems running. Meanwhile, Wall Street remains, for the most part, sound asleep, despite the risks associated with Y2000 disruptions within corporate America, not to mention the risks associated with disruptions within the financial institutions themselves.

One other dramatic change has taken place during the past year, and it bodes ill for Y2000: The financial crisis engulfing Russia, Korea, Indonesia, and several other parts of the world. Russia, known to some as Bangladesh With Missiles, has an official Y2000 budget of zero. The country has no money for Y2000; it has no money for anything these days. Reports in late October 1998 indicated that food supplies had fallen to approximately a two-three week level, and that fuel stockpiles were also falling; chances are that Russian bureaucrats, business leaders, and citizens are far more concerned about the lack of food and fuel, as winter approaches, than they are about fixing a pesky computer bug whose consequences won't be felt for another several months (by which time they may be dead anyway). Similar problems confront the government and businesses throughout several Asian countries; it doesn't give us much hope that Y2000 projects will be given a high priority throughout the region.

What about the optimistic reports from U.S. agencies like the IRS and FAA? What about the reports from the banking community that the vast majority of its members are making good progress, and expect to be finished on time? In short, what about the good news? To paraphrase former President Ronald Reagan when asked if he trusted the Russians to live up to their promises after the nuclear disarmament treaty was signed, "Trust, but verify." With few, if any, exceptions, all of the optimistic news about Y2000 has been self-reported status information; even if the people who tell us the good news are honest, sincere, and competent (an assumption we all have to evaluate for ourselves), they may still be wrong. Ask anyone who has worked on large, complex software projects: Things often seem great until the system testing and integration begins. Even if dozens of serious bugs are discovered during testing, the project team and the project manager will exude confidence that the deadline will be met - right up until the day before the deadline, they'll earnestly tell you that the system-killer bug they just found is absolutely, positively, the last bug. Serious testing - end-to-end testing, and integration testing involving multiple firms, and multiple combinations of "supply chain" interfaces - has not yet begun in any of the key industry sectors. All we know for sure is that 1999 will be The Year of Testing Dangerously.

We expect that there will be several "trigger events" during 1999 when we'll get a preview of just how good or bad the Y2000 situation will be; the most significant events are likely to occur on April 1, July 1, and October 1, 1999 for the simple reason that large numbers of government agencies and private-sector organizations will begin their 1999-2000 fiscal year on those dates. We may also get an advance indicator of the severity of Y2000 on April 9, 1999 (the 99th day of the 99th year); and on August 22, 1999 (the date that the GPS satellite system "rolls over" to zero); and on September 9, 1999 (a date that some computer systems will interpret as 9/9/99, which may signify "end of process" or "end of file"). But we won't really know for sure what will happen until we reach midnight on December 31, 1999.

In the meantime, we all have to make our own assessment of the situation, and act accordingly. Optimists with great faith in the ability of organizations around the world to fix the problem may decide to do nothing at all; those who are somewhat more pessimistic will implement varying degrees of contingency plans - ranging from modest plans for putting a few extra dollars of cash in their wallet to more ambitious plans to stockpile food, water, and other essentials. We can't tell you just how optimistic or pessimistic you should be; what we can do is provide you with as much information as possible, so that you'll be able to make an informed judgment on your own.

If you have questions or comments about the Y2000 situation as you go through your planning process, please feel free to send us an email message at ed@yourdon.com or jennifer@yourdon.com. We wish you the best of luck in your plans and preparations for Y2000, whatever they may be.

Edward Yourdon
Jennifer Yourdon
New Mexico and New York, December, 1998
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Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface
Ch. 1 Year-2000 Planning Overview 1
Ch. 2 Y2000 Impact on Jobs 27
Ch. 3 Y2000 Impact on Utilities 83
Ch. 4 Y2000 Impact on Transportation 127
Ch. 5 Y2000 Impact on Banking/Finance 165
Ch. 6 Y2000 Impact on Food 253
Ch. 7 Y2000 Impact on Your Home PC 279
Ch. 8 Y2000 Impact on News Information 305
Ch. 9 Y2000 Impact on Health/Medicine 317
Ch. 10 Y2000 Impact on Government 351
Ch. 11 Y2000 Impact on Embedded Systems 409
Ch. 12 Y2000 Impact on Education 433
Ch. 13 Y2000 Impact on Telephone and Mail Services 449
Ch. 14 Y2000 Impact on the Rest of the World 481
Ch. 15 Conclusion 503
App. A What the Y2000 Problem Is All About 523
App. B The Ripple Effect of the Y2000 Phenomenon 571
App. C Additional Sources of Information 595
Index 615
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Preface

PREFACE: Preface to the Second Edition
I came here today because I wanted to stress the urgency of the Y2000 challenge to people who are not in this room. With millions of hours needed to rewrite billions of lines of code and hundreds of thousands of interdependent organizations, this is clearly one of the most complex management challenges in history.
- President Bill Clinton, Speech at the National Academy of Sciences, July 14, 1998

By now, the average citizen has been bombarded by countless newspaper articles and magazine reports concerning the so - called "Millennium Bug." Of course, there are still some who aren't sure what it means, or why it's relevant, or how it might affect their lives; if you're one of these people, you'll find a more traditional introduction and explanation in the preface to the original first edition of the book, which follows immediately after this material.

But for those who already have a general understanding of the Y2000 problem, and especially for those who read the first edition of Time Bomb 2000, a brief update is in order. We've maintained the same basic organization of the book in this second edition, but we've updated virtually all of the references, footnotes, links, and examples to reflect the most recent Y2000-related events. We've also added a chapter on the international ramifications of Y2000, as well as a new appendix that provides a bibliography of books, articles, and Internet sites.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to provide the one thing that many of our readers and colleagues have asked for: an unequivocal, black-and-white answer to the question "How bad willtheY2000 problem be?" To be perfectly honest, we don't know - and neither does anyone else. It's about time we all admitted that, notwithstanding our predictions and estimates and guesses and wishes, we really don't know what will happen on January 1, 2000. Commentators, experts, gurus, business executives, and government leaders may think they know what's going to happen, and they may construct an eloquent and appealing argument to support their prediction. Chances are that if it appeals to your predisposed opinion about Y2000, you'll like it; otherwise, it will make you angry.

Many people who have contacted us are obviously frustrated by this state of affairs. "What good are all these experts," one college student complained to us, "if they can't tell us what's really going to happen?" Another email correspondent said "I don't have time to read all of the hundreds of articles, books, Web sites, and newsgroup forums about Y2000. Can't you just summarize it for me, and give me a simple answer: Is it going to be a disaster, or can I stop worrying?"

But if someone summarizes, abstracts, and filters the hundreds of disparate articles about Y2000 for you, then you're going to get that person's bias or prejudice mixed in with the summary. And if that person has an "agenda" or a particular "spin" that he wants to put on the Y2000 phenomenon, you're going to get that, too. This may sound cynical, but do you really expect the Federal Reserve system and the banking community to give us a pessimistic outlook on their Y2000 progress, even if the situation really is pessimistic? For that matter, it's simply not realistic to expect any senior business executive to stand up and say, "We've missed every milestone on our Y2000 project, and we underestimated the cost by a factor of five. Our programmers are burned out and demoralized; they've formed a conga line, and they're dancing out the door with their last burst of energy... and the CIO just quit. There is no way on earth we're going to finish even our mission-critical systems in time. We're doomed; you might as well sell your stock now."

But beyond this obvious point, there's something more important: People seem to want a crystal-ball prediction expressed in terms of an "either-or" outcome. They want someone to say, "Either Y2000 is going to be the end of the world (TEOTWAWKI), or it's going to be a non-event. I'm convinced it's going to be a non-event, and here are the 27 reasons why..." But this is an overly simplistic way of looking at the future, and it doesn't help us make effective plans for coping with what, at this point, remains unknown.

Here's a metaphor. Suppose you plan to drive your car from your home to the office, and you want us to predict the outcome. We could say to you, "One of two things will happen: Either you'll either arrive safely, or you'll be killed in a fatal accident. We think you'll arrive safely, and here are the 27 reasons why..." For a 200-word newspaper article, or a 2-minute TV report that's absolutely obsessed with reducing everything down to a black-and-white sound-bite, this might be an acceptable way to summarize the situation - and that's what seems to be happening with much of the media reporting of the Y2000 situation.

But there are obviously a number of other outcomes in our automobile example, and it would be much more helpful if we could say to you, "The most likely outcome is that you'll arrive at your office without any problems. But there's a moderate chance - perhaps 1 in 10 - that you'll be involved in a minor fender-bender accident along the way, in which nobody is injured, but a few hundred dollars of damage is inflicted upon your car. There's a smaller chance - perhaps 1 in 100 - that you'll be involved in an accident in which you or the other driver will sustain minor injuries. And there's an even smaller chance - perhaps 1 in 1,000 - that you'll get involved in a really serious accident, in which your car will be destroyed, and one or more drivers or passengers will be sent to the hospital with major injuries. And, unfortunately, there is a tiny chance - perhaps 1 in 10,000 - that you'll be involved in a fatal accident that will kill you."

Armed with that information, you could then ask yourself the obvious questions: How much risk am I willing to tolerate? What should I do to reduce the risk? A teenager might ignore all of this information, and drive a convertible with no seat-belts, no airbag, no insurance, and no auto registration. A more conservative person would consider the risk-reward tradeoff of a seat-belt and an air-bag so obvious that he would happily spend the extra time and money to reduce his risk. Some might eschew a convertible, and drive a Volvo instead. And a few might be so fearful of the risks, especially in urban centers like New York or Los Angeles, that they would decide not to drive at all.

The big problem with Y2000, of course, is that we don't know how to quantify the various risk scenarios; we don't have the benefit of 50 years of statistics about automobile accidents and fatalities. That's unfortunate and frustrating, but it's not an excuse to ignore the problem. After all, we deal with uncertainty in our lives all the time, and we do the best we can to make an intelligent decision that's compatible with our level of risk-tolerance. When we get in our car, we don't have precise statistical data about accidents and fatalities for my neighborhood; we have a "gut feeling" that incorporates not only the general information about traffic accidents, but also up-to-the-minute impressions about the weather, the road conditions, and unusual circumstances (e.g., it's New Year's Eve, and there may be a lot of drunk drivers on the road). We go through a similar risk-evaluation process when we consider taking a stroll through a potentially dangerous neighborhood in a strange city, or when we respond to an invitation to go hang-gliding or sky-diving or bungee-jumping.

When it comes to Y2000, most of us will agree that the "non-event" scenario is relatively unlikely; there's a reasonably good chance that we'll experience one or more minor disruptions, at the very least. Beyond that, we each have to do our own risk assessment: How likely is it that the disruptions might last a couple days, or a month, or a year, or longer? And how much are we willing to gamble that our assessment might turn out to be wrong? All of these scenarios need to be considered and evaluated, not just the two extremes of non-event and TEOTWAWKI.

One last point about the crystal-ball assessment, and the decisions we make: They deserve to be private. We're tired of newspaper reporters and TV journalists asking us, in the midst of an interview, "How much food have you stockpiled in your house? How much cash have you taken out of the bank? How many Kruggerands have you bought?" The proper answer, we believe, is: None of your business! After all, nobody asks us how much money we have in our savings accounts, or what percentage of our annual income is set aside for savings and retirement; nobody asks us how much auto insurance we have, or how much life insurance we're providing for our families. At least in North American society, those questions are considered an invasion of privacy. But why do we bother with a savings account or insurance policies, if not to provide a "nest egg" for a rainy day? How is that any different from the decision that a few folks are making to stockpile some extra food in their pantry to cope with possible Y2000 disruptions? While there might be emotional criticism about "hoarding" of food and supplies in December 1999 if everyone decides to rush to the grocery store at the same time, stockpiling ought to be a personal and private decision in late 1998 and early 1999 - just like the decision to divert some of our disposable income to savings, rather than consumption.

The concerns about Y2000 that we expressed when we wrote the first edition of our book in 1997 have been validated and supported by a growing number of conservative, reputable politicians, industry officials, and corporate executives. When the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of England describe Y2000 as a serious problem, as they both did during 1998 speeches, it suggests that the subject should not be casually dismissed as an alarmist exaggeration. It requires only a modest effort to search the Internet to find somber warnings and/or dire predictions about Y2000 from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve System (Alan Greenspan), a former Secretary of Defense (Caspar Weinberger), and numerous Congressmen and Senators. Of course, none of the statements made by these officials constitutes proof that our assessment of Y2000 is completely correct - but it does suggest that it's a legitimate topic of discussion and concern, rather than something reserved for the lunatic fringe.

Though we can't forecast the outcome of the Y2000 problem with absolute accuracy, we certainly can argue that the past year has been plagued with procrastination. Procrastination seems to be most severe in the small businesses, and in the small towns. Optimists may sincerely believe that the Fortune 500 companies will finish their Y2000 projects on time, and that the Federal government will manage to at least finish the mission-critical systems in the most critical agencies. But recent surveys indicate that approximately 75 percent of small businesses around the world have not yet begun working on Y2000; here in the U.S., surveys indicate that approximately 40 percent of the small companies don't plan to spend any time or money on Y2000 until the year 2000 itself, at which point they'll see what's broken. Similarly, recent surveys have indicated that approximately 55 percent of the mayors of local towns and communities believe that Y2000 won't impact them; therefore, they're doing nothing about it.

A year of procrastination and delay may be tolerable for long-term problems like global warming or the destruction of rain forests, but it's likely to be fatal for Y2000. Even 1997 was too late for most companies to start their Y2000 project with much hope for success; a company starting in 1998 has no choice but to use a triage strategy in order to keep at least its mission-critical systems running. Meanwhile, Wall Street remains, for the most part, sound asleep, despite the risks associated with Y2000 disruptions within corporate America, not to mention the risks associated with disruptions within the financial institutions themselves.

One other dramatic change has taken place during the past year, and it bodes ill for Y2000: The financial crisis engulfing Russia, Korea, Indonesia, and several other parts of the world. Russia, known to some as Bangladesh With Missiles, has an official Y2000 budget of zero. The country has no money for Y2000; it has no money for anything these days. Reports in late October 1998 indicated that food supplies had fallen to approximately a two-three week level, and that fuel stockpiles were also falling; chances are that Russian bureaucrats, business leaders, and citizens are far more concerned about the lack of food and fuel, as winter approaches, than they are about fixing a pesky computer bug whose consequences won't be felt for another several months (by which time they may be dead anyway). Similar problems confront the government and businesses throughout several Asian countries; it doesn't give us much hope that Y2000 projects will be given a high priority throughout the region.

What about the optimistic reports from U.S. agencies like the IRS and FAA? What about the reports from the banking community that the vast majority of its members are making good progress, and expect to be finished on time? In short, what about the good news? To paraphrase former President Ronald Reagan when asked if he trusted the Russians to live up to their promises after the nuclear disarmament treaty was signed, "Trust, but verify." With few, if any, exceptions, all of the optimistic news about Y2000 has been self-reported status information; even if the people who tell us the good news are honest, sincere, and competent (an assumption we all have to evaluate for ourselves), they may still be wrong. Ask anyone who has worked on large, complex software projects: Things often seem great until the system testing and integration begins. Even if dozens of serious bugs are discovered during testing, the project team and the project manager will exude confidence that the deadline will be met - right up until the day before the deadline, they'll earnestly tell you that the system-killer bug they just found is absolutely, positively, the last bug. Serious testing - end-to-end testing, and integration testing involving multiple firms, and multiple combinations of "supply chain" interfaces - has not yet begun in any of the key industry sectors. All we know for sure is that 1999 will be The Year of Testing Dangerously.

We expect that there will be several "trigger events" during 1999 when we'll get a preview of just how good or bad the Y2000 situation will be; the most significant events are likely to occur on April 1, July 1, and October 1, 1999 for the simple reason that large numbers of government agencies and private-sector organizations will begin their 1999-2000 fiscal year on those dates. We may also get an advance indicator of the severity of Y2000 on April 9, 1999 (the 99th day of the 99th year); and on August 22, 1999 (the date that the GPS satellite system "rolls over" to zero); and on September 9, 1999 (a date that some computer systems will interpret as 9/9/99, which may signify "end of process" or "end of file"). But we won't really know for sure what will happen until we reach midnight on December 31, 1999.

In the meantime, we all have to make our own assessment of the situation, and act accordingly. Optimists with great faith in the ability of organizations around the world to fix the problem may decide to do nothing at all; those who are somewhat more pessimistic will implement varying degrees of contingency plans - ranging from modest plans for putting a few extra dollars of cash in their wallet to more ambitious plans to stockpile food, water, and other essentials. We can't tell you just how optimistic or pessimistic you should be; what we can do is provide you with as much information as possible, so that you'll be able to make an informed judgment on your own.

If you have questions or comments about the Y2000 situation as you go through your planning process, please feel free to send us an email message at ed@yourdon.com or jennifer@yourdon.com. We wish you the best of luck in your plans and preparations for Y2000, whatever they may be.

Edward Yourdon
Jennifer Yourdon
New Mexico and New York, December, 1998
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