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So Far, So Great

E. L. Core

My prognosis now.

A great weight has been lifted from my shoulders in the past few weeks: there have been no noticeable deleterious effects on business and commerce from Y2K failures in systems that had not been remediated or had not been successfully remediated — which would have been showing up in ever increasing numbers since the beginning of December — and there have been no infrastructure failures overseas.

Do I think there will be problems yet? You bet. Big problems? Certainly. But big problems in little ways. Are executives going to be screaming? Yes. Programmers pulling their hair out? Yes. Users and customers and vendors frustrated and worried and frantic? Yes. Business problems — maybe even business failures? Yes. Lawyers required to get to the truth? Yes. But not everywhere nor all at once, as I had feared might become the case.

I think that software and hardware failures, and their effects, will be more isolated than epidemic, and therefore, by and large, manageable.

Dick Mills, take a bow.

What happened to the electricity? Nothing. Why were so many folks so worried about it? Because only one person — Westergaard's Dick Mills — took the time to explain why there was nothing to worry about. Utility companies hid behind NERC. Other electrical engineers hid behind pseudonyms. But week after week, for months, Mills carefully, patiently, publicly debunked the rumors and myths and misconceptions. That's why I asked him to summarize his position for my series. He was derided by Doomers when they should have been thanking him for dispelling senseless worries with step-by-step explanations. And Mills has been as critical as I have been about the public-relations stance of the industry, all the while explaining why there wouldn't be problems.

Washington ought to explain a few things.

What happened to the infrastructure overseas? Nothing. Why were so many folks — including me — so worried about that? Because official reports from the US Senate's Y2K Committee, the US Department of State's inspector general, and the CIA all said there was risk — in some cases, high risk — of infrastructure failures in some areas. Even the IY2KCC acknowledged an uncertainty about the risk. They were wrong, and whatever of my own thinking and argumentation was based upon their reports and assessments was consequently wrong.

I thought the public was being hoodwinked by happy-face interviews into thinking this was a situation that would have no long-term consequences. Why? Because I read long, detailed, official reports from people who had conducted many formal hearings, and I read sober, somber testimonies from officials with contacts around the world. But it was I, rather, who was hoodwinked into thinking that the substance lay in official reports and formal testimonies.

You can't tell the players without a scorecard.

One interesting aspect of the Y2K debate that I noticed over the past year is the wildly differing assessment of Westergaard Year 2000. Many of the more vocal Pollyannas denounced it as a Genuine Doomers' Foxhole, while many of the more vocal Doomers derided it as a Veritable Nest of Pollyannas.

That is what comes of trying to take a stand in the reasoned middle. That is what has come to me, too, it seems. I have been asking a few of my correspondents about their view of my writing. Ted Derryberry had this to say, January 5, 2000, which I appreciate very much:

"I always thought that you presented extremely logical arguments that just naturally led to the conclusion that things could be bad or that we weren't being told the whole story. I guess this could be taken as a doomer attitude, by short-sighted pollies. :-) What really got to me about the whole thing was how people wasted so much time arguing over the tiniest details of the issue. It seems that very few people could even 'agree to disagree'."

Technical analyst Gregory Balzer wrote, January 1, 2000, expressing an opinion common among the programmers who have written to me recently:

"Just a very short note to thank you for your 'What's Wrong with the Way the World Thinks about Y2K' articles. Needless to say, this morning I was thankful to still have electricity, but stumped by evidence of so few failures. This was not at all the outcome my personal experience with software development had lead me to expect to see. Your essays externalized many of the same thoughts, feelings and questions I have been working through."

The Chronic Situation is partly determined by the Crisis Event.

I have been widely quoted lately — much more widely quoted than I would ever have imagined — thanks to AP reporter Frank Bajak, who has paid me the high compliment not merely of paying attention to what I have been writing but also understanding the gist of my argument: "Y2K is not a one-time event. It's a chronic condition."

I never wrote exactly "chronic condition". Too medical for my taste. What has been lost — what I might not have made clear myself — is that the condition of the Chronic Situation has been largely determined by that of the Crisis Event. I had feared (no, I don't mind using that word) that the Crisis Event could have been worse than it was, which would have exacerbated the Chronic Situation. As it has turned out, the Crisis Event has gone remarkably well. And I don't mean just the absence of major problems from embedded-system failures, but also the absence of major problems from Y2K failures in business "back-office" systems since most of them came into their time-frame of greatest vulnerability: the middle of December 1999.

What's coming?

It's not true that the worst is behind us, as many are saying. But the possibility of the worst is behind us. "Death by a thousand cuts"? Maybe. But not for most. (Of course, that doesn't make it easier on those adversely affected.)

Some claim they knew a long time ago what the outcome would be. They did not know. Oh, they were convinced what it would be — and, for the most part, they have been right. But they did not know. I and many others were not convinced about many aspects of the situation. None of us is obliged to follow anybody else's schedule for becoming convinced of anything whatever.

Remarkably, the very sort that warned programmers not to extrapolate too much from their own experience to the world of embedded systems are now doing the very opposite, extrapolating from the world of embedded systems to business software systems, declaring it's all over. But it's not.

No, we're not out of the woods yet. Almost, though. We have passed through the deepest, darkest part of the woods without getting stomped on by giants, not just in the USA but around the world. Ogres might lurk still in the woods' recesses. But I don't think they will be able to do much damage.

Am I jumping the gun? Maybe, but I don't think so. I am ready now to switch from my year-long mode of "cautious pessimism" to "cautious optimism" for the future. I encourage you to do the same.

© 2000 ELC

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(Created January 5, 2000; revised January 6)