Chairman & Co-Founder of the Cutter Consortium
Taos, New Mexico, USA
"Move Over, Rodney Dangerfield -- You've Got Company" (01/06/2000)
"Jan 1, 2000 Assessment of the Y2K Situation" (01/01/2000)
"Move Over, Rodney Dangerfield -- You've Got Company"
January 6, 2000
Dear Mr. Dangerfield,
I've long admired your ability to maintain a sense of humor even when, as you put it, "I don't get no respect." I find myself in the same situation today, and I'd like your help in maintaining my own sense of good humor while being bombarded with email messages from people who tell me I've lost their respect. You may find several others knocking on your door in the coming days -- Peter De Jager, Leon Kappelman, Gary North, Jim Lord, Bill Ulrich, Edward Yardeni, Dennis Grabow, Michael Hyatt, Robert Roskind, Cory Hamasaki, and others -- but they've each got their own story to tell, and I'll let them plead their own case. If any of these names are familiar to you, then you probably know that my problems are associated with Y2K. I'll show you some respect by assuming that you're familiar with the term and with the concerns that governments, companies, and individuals around the world have had about Y2K for the past few years. In case you didn't notice it, the world did not come to an end on January 1, 2000 -- and while most people were extremely relieved, some were incredibly annoyed. It seems that, at least to some extent, I'm in the same position you are: I don't get no respect.
If the initial outcome of the Y2K problem has led to blame-casting, it's not a great surprise that I'm one of the targets. After all, I've been one of the more vocal pessimists about Y2K for the last several years. And unlike many of the Y2K commentators, analysts, op-ed page editorial writers, TV anchormen, politicians, and PR spokesman, I actually know something about software projects. I've written several books on software engineering during the past three decades, which meant that -- at least in some circles -- my views were taken more seriously than they would have been if I was, say, a butcher or a baker or a candlestick maker. But because my views were given such credibility, I'm held more responsible for being "wrong" about my predictions than the people who offered television commentaries on "that why-kay thang." This is understandable, and I suspect the same thing is happening to the other Y2K commentators with a computer background -- e.g., people like De Jager, Kappelman, Hamasaki, etc.
But Rodney, there's a curious thing about this criticism. I never forced anyone to do anything about Y2K, nor (to the best of my knowledge) did any of the other commentators whose names I mentioned above. There have been a lot of allegations that I exaggerated Y2K in order to make a profit, which I'll discuss in more detail below; but I never held a gun to anyone's head and said, "Buy this Y2K book of mine for the exorbitant price of $19.95 (which will surely wipe out your life savings), or I'll personally guarantee that you'll die of the dreaded Y2K disease." Yeah, I know that a lot of people are angry because they feel that I "influenced" or "scared" innocent, gullible people into spending their life savings on tuna fish and rice, but let's stick with this issue of "voluntary" versus "forced" for a few minutes longer.
Here's what puzzles me: if people are pissed off because I offered a pessimistic Y2K book to the marketplace, and because I posted a number of free Y2K essays on my web site, why aren't they even more pissed off at their elected officials? The U.S. government first announced, back in 1997, that it was going to spend approximately $2 billion to repair 9,000 systems; by the time the dust settled in the autumn of 1999, the price tag had escalated to $8 billion, but the number of "mission-critical" systems being repaired had dropped to roughly 6,000. Where do you think that money came from? It came from the tax-payers of America, and I don't recall reading anywhere that we could treat this as an "optional" contribution on our IRS tax forms. If so, I assume that a lot of the people who have been sending vitriolic e-mail to me might have checked off a box on their Form 1040 that said, "Reduce my taxes by $80, because I don't want to contribute anything to that ridiculous Y2K effort of yours." ($80 is the result of dividing an $8 billion expenditure by an estimated 100 million taxpayers.) Bottom line: the government spent a lot more of everyone's money than they would have on my textbook, and it was a unilateral decision on their part.
Aside from the money, a lot of us based our assessment of the Y2K situation on the reports and testimony and studies conducted by various government agencies -- so why aren't we mad at them that Y2K seems to be turning out differently than everyone thought? I made all of my comments about Y2K outcomes based on the "deja vu all over again" metaphor, but I never held myself out to be an expert on the international scene. It was the State Department that told us, in Congressional testimony, that dozens of countries were moderate-to-high Y2K risks; it was the State Department that was so worried about the situation that it offered several hundred of its embassy members a paid trip back to the U.S. to avoid the rollover in Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova. The New York Times criticized that decision in an editorial, and perhaps one of the reasons for their criticism was that this, too, was a unilateral Y2K decision, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
And the State Department wasn't alone; the CIA concurred in the assessment of international risks, and the Defense Department's intelligence services also warned of potential problems, as did the Senate's Y2K Committee. In a press briefing on January 5th, DoD UnderSecretary John Hamre suggested that perhaps all of these intelligence agencies had underestimated the ability of developing nations to fall back to a manual operation if their computers failed. Or, as a colleague of mine observed about the post-Y2K situation in Turkey, "Their power is out three days a week anyway. So even if their PC was Y2K-compliant, they have no power to plug it into much of the time." This doesn't sound like rocket science, and I'm surprised that the CIA, State Department, and Defense Department didn't figure that out in advance. I'm surprised -- but in the spirit of today's atmosphere, maybe I should be bitterly angry. Maybe we shouldn't respect the government agencies either.
While we're on the subject of government reports, why isn't anyone pissed off about the FBI's warning that we were likely to be defending ourselves against 100,000 computer viruses that would be launched on or around New Year's Day? Several government web sites, as well as several corporate e-mail systems, were shut down for the entire rollover weekend in order to minimize the vulnerability to such attacks. But have you noticed that the attacks never came? Well, there might be an exception or two; the January 6, 2000 edition of the South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong has been hit by approximately 14 new Y2K-related viruses (see "Companies hit by Y2K bug and virus"). But that's a far cry from 100,000 viruses -- and I have not heard or seen any reports of significant virus attacks anywhere else in the world. So, does this mean that companies needlessly shut down valuable web sites and email servers for nothing? And if that's the case, isn't anyone mad at the FBI for such a gross exaggeration of the actual situation?
And what about all the terrorist threats? For the last two weeks of December, we heard daily reports in every news medium about the possibility of terrorist-related incidents in Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, London, New York, and Washington during the New Year's celebrations. Seattle got so nervous (perhaps because of the arrest of an alleged terrorist driving a car full of explosives across the Canadian border) that the mayor canceled the New Year's Eve party. Nothing significant actually happened, though the FBI reported today (January 6) that it had thwarted approximately 20 attacks (see "FBI Says Moved to Thwart About 20 Threats Over Y2K"). Does that mean we should be angry at government officials for arousing concerns all across the country? I don't know about you, Rodney, but I'm really glad that they did; even more than the threat of computer breakdowns, I was terrified at the possibility of a suitcase bomb being set off in Times Square, or a concentrated toxic virus being dumped into the Los Angeles water supply.
Meanwhile, what about private industry? One of the industries that concerned me most was the chemical industry; according to a study released in October 1999 by Texas A&M University, only 13.5% of small and medium-sized chemical plants were ready for Y2K, while nearly all were vulnerable to problems (See "Most Small Chemical Plants Surveyed Not Y2K-Ready; Temporary Shutdown Urged to Minimize Chemical Accident Risks"). That's one reason why some of us are looking with a somewhat jaundiced eye at the post-Y2K "incidents" being reported by the Chemical Industrial Safety Board, such as Wednesday's (January 5th) leak of anhydrous ammonia at an ice plant in Davey, FL (see "Anhydrous Ammonia Leak At Ice plant; Nearby Resident Dies, Eight Workers Exposed"). Authorities have not yet indicated whether this is Y2K-related, which is hardly any consolation to the grandfather who died as a result of the leak.
As for the rest of industry, the government's official estimate of U.S. corporate expenditures is $100 billion, but other estimates range as high as $300 billion for the U.S., and $600 billion to a cool trillion dollars worldwide. If you're a shareholder of any one of the Fortune 500 public corporations, chances are that your dividends were reduced (proportionately) by whatever amount of money was spent on Y2K repairs. In several cases, we're talking about large sums of money -- e.g., $900 million at Citibank, $500 million at AT&T. Did they call up any of their shareholders in advance and ask if it was okay to spend that money?
The fact that we could even imagine such questions must come as a complete surprise to many Y2K project managers and corporate executives; it appears to have taken Y2K czar John Koskinen somewhat by surprise. For all we know, there may be Congressional hearings as well as shareholder lawsuits, investigating this fundamental question of whether we spent too much money on Y2K, or whether all of the expenditures on Y2K were wasted. In the euphoria of the moment, it's easy to imagine how people might be coming to that conclusion. After all, some 30% of U.S. small-to-medium businesses (SME's) made no preparations for Y2K, on the assumption that a "fix-on-failure" strategy would suffice. Since "victory" has now been declared in the Y2K battle, that means 70% of the SME's must be wondering if they got bamboozled into spending money on Y2K repairs that they really didn't need to. And if they turn out to be right (which I'm not willing to accept at this point), then I can understand why a lot of them would be pretty mad at me, as well as the various Y2K doomsayer commentators.
I can understand why a small business owner, with no particular computer expertise, might feel that he was bamboozled if he spent several thousand dollars upgrading his computer equipment, and then discovered that his competitor across the street spent no money, and ended up without any problems. But I hope that nobody thinks that I had the power to persuade hard-nosed executives of the large corporations to spend $100 billion on repairs that they didn't need, or to persuade cash-strapped Federal government agencies to spent $8 billion on Y2K repairs that they didn't need. Even in the best of times, I don't get that much respect.
My personal opinion is that most of those Y2K expenditures were necessary, and that the SME's who adopted a fix-on-failure approach are going to be very sorry in the coming months. Since large organizations are not perfect, and since feather-bedding and incompetence and pork-barrel projects are a fact of life in any complex endeavor, I wouldn't be surprised if an objective postmortem discovered that 10% of the Y2K expenditures were misdirected, exaggerated, wasted, or even stolen. About the only area that I think people could seriously question is the money spent on "command centers" and backup contingencies. With 20-20 hindsight, perhaps someone could argue that the government didn't need to spend $50 on its Y2K Information Coordination Center, and that New York City, Los Angeles, and dozens of other cities didn't need to build their Y2K bunkers. Something like 80% of the Fortune 500 corporations in the U.S. built command centers to monitor the Y2K rollover. Maybe, since everything went so well, society could have saved that money. I doubt that you'll find many corporate executives or government leaders who will agree with that assessment, but it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of Y2K disbelievers will be singing that theme song rather loudly in the coming days.
Bottom line: if it turns out I was wrong about Y2K, an awful lot of smart, serious, responsible people were wrong with me. That doesn't absolve me of whatever blame eventually gets doled out, but I'd like to have some company if I'm going to burn in Hell for my Y2K sins.
The Hate Mail and the Thank-You Mail
Since you probably have a lot of experience in this sort of thing, Rodney, let me ask you: how does a "I can't get no respect" person deal with hate-mail? Some of it is pretty funny, like the fellow whose email to me began:
"You incredulous jerk!"
Some of it is straightforward and succinct:
"You are an idiot. You always were an idiot. You always will be an idiot."
Some of it is threatening:
"I hope Amazon.com has a return policy....I plan to use it for your disinformation presented in your book. Class action lawsuits may be in the works."
And some of it is violent:
"If I ever meet you in person I am going to personally beat the shit out of you. And then when you recover, I'm going to beat the shit out of you again."
Fortunately for me, messages like these were offset by an approximately equal number of messages expressing thanks. Some of these messages give me (and the other Y2K commentators, too) credit for having raised the alarm, forcing society to take the problem seriously, and thus ensuring that the problem was solved; here's an example:
"Good Job Ed. You and other prophets warned the world and it reacted and fixed the Y2K problem just in time."
I think someone like Peter De Jager probably does deserve this kind of gratitude, for his basic message changed from gloom-and-doom in 1996 and 1997 to one of cautious optimism by late 1998 and early 1999; his feeling was that, indeed, society had taken the Y2K warning seriously, and that as a result, we had "broken the back" (to use his phrase) of the problem. In my case, such a tribute is far less appropriate -- for I not only felt that the problem was large and serious, but also that the track record of the software industry strongly suggested that a significant minority of corporations and government agencies would finish late, over budget, and with lots of bugs. I was pessimistic about the outcome right up until the end, based on my industry experience, and I continue to be pessimistic now, six days after the rollover. And it seems that I'm not the only one who feels that way; someone wrote to me to say:
"I am convinced that it isn't over yet. There will be problems of that I have no doubt. I do NOT regret one moment of time I have spent preparing. Nor do I regret the money spent. I can use everything I have accumulated. We will be retiring this year, so we will be able to save our money and be able to move to the area we wanted, and can live a simpler life style. I thank you once again for your efforts on warning us, and I am more than grateful for the wake-up call on the way we live our lives. People should be thankful, not angry to have learned how to arrange their lives for the better."
And while some of the hate-mail messages came from software professionals who believed I had exaggerated the problem, it was interesting to see others saying just the opposite:
"With a deeper understanding than most about the complexities of software engineering and legacy source code maintenance, I applaud your call for caution as people will assume that the Y2K problem is 'over,' and that they can relax their vigil.
"Y2K is already being heralded world wide as an unnecessary expense with many questioning the validity of the exercise. No doubt your excellent initiatives to inform over recent years will come under criticism but the blind often lead by ignorance and their derision will not in any way undermine our gratitude for the work you have done as we understand the severity of the present software crisis, of which Y2K was but the tip of the iceberg."
So, Rodney, what should I do with all of these messages? Some of the negative messages were polite and civil, and at least two of my critics reminded me that they had corresponded with me earlier (i.e., before the rollover) to tell me I was wrong. But the overwhelming majority of the negatives messages were from people I had never heard from before. Some of them (especially those with a computing background) emphasized that they had known all along that I was wrong, but many others appeared to be operating with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. That being the case, is there any point in answering them?
What's that you're saying -- "repentance is good for the soul, and maybe if you apologize, those people will respect you once again"? No, I don't think so. The most vitriolic messages were from people who seem to be prepared to spend the rest of their life hating me -- as illustrated by this slightly illiterate message:
"I personally will make sure that all of my contacts will no what a liar and crook you are. Oh yes, I do have a lot of contacts! Hope you made enough money to live out the rest of your life!"
One nice fellow, though, was kind enough to offer me a new form of employment to cope with what he assumes will be a lifetime of unemployment for having sinned so badly with Y2K:
"Now, that your paranoid and neurotic Y2K fears have not come to fruition. I am sure that your 'Y2K skills' are no longer necessary, even in a small New Mexico town .I would like to offer you the opportunity to help us clean our horse stalls every morning and evening at the Y2K minimum wage...think about it...I hope that the world will no longer provide you any format other than restroom walls to spread your irresponsible futurist 'techno-babble' ...perhaps you could write for 'Sci-fi' channel, or some sit-com. Thanx for the entertainment over the last couple of years. Maybe you could start now on a Y3K scare scenario. Good Luck."
Why So Much Anger?
Perhaps you can help me with another aspect of this "don't get no respect" phenomenon, Rodney: why is it that the people who disagreed with my outlook on Y2K were so incredibly angry? For example, what on earth would prompt someone to write a message like this:
"i hope you feel as stupid as you make yourself appear to be... have fun pulling your head out of your ass for the rest of your life, while trying to suck money out of the nation's idiots.
"couldn't you have at least been a participant of some mass suicide?"
It appears that a lot of it has to do with the strong suspicion that I (and several of the other Y2K commentators) was in it for the money. One of the more polite expressions of that belief was this message:
"I really do think you grossly went way out to try to make it seem much more dangerous than it really was just to pump sales of your books on the subject."
The implication seems to be that if I were Mother Teresa, spouting the same message, it would have been okay. Or, on a more practical note, if I had given away the Time Bomb 2000 book, then I could be forgiven for being wrong; but the implicit assumption (as articulated in the email message above) is that if I had given away the manuscript, then I would never have been motivated to write such strongly pessimistic material. As it turns out, roughly 100,000 people downloaded the manuscript from my web site, at no cost, when my daughter and I were writing the first edition of the book in the summer of 1997; and another 100,000 copies were downloaded, at no cost, when we were writing the second edition during the summer of 1998. I'm sorry if the critics are annoyed that yet another 250,000 copies were sold by the publisher; the irony is that I made less money on this book than most of the 25 technical books I've written over the years, because it was sold at a heavy discount to book stores, and offered to the public at a modest price.
Ironically, it looks like hardly anyone in the Y2K "business" made a financial killing. I know that I didn't: my income in 1999 was 50% lower than in previous years. People seem to forget the fact that most of the people working in the Y2K field already had a career and a decent income, and that they ended up doing an enormous amount of pro bono work to help their community, their church, their family and friends, and their country as a whole, get ready for Y2K. About the only people who really made a lot of money during the "Y2K era" were the long-term food supply companies, generator manufacturers, and other "preparedness" firms who ramped up production for a year or two, and are now returning to normal levels of sales.
Aside from the profit issue, there seem to be a number of people who are angry about the possibility that I betrayed the IT (information technology) profession, and scared innocent senior citizens out of their wits, leading them to make rash decisions to fritter away their life savings on unnecessary preparations. Witness, for example, this message:
"I've also seen many stories where some really disadvantaged and elderly people have spent beyond their last nickel to equip themselves for a 1/1/00 disaster. If you are a just man you would realize your culpability in all of this... I would suggest that you openly apologize for misleading people and find some way to donate money and time to some charities to help expiate your guilt. It won't correct all the wrongs that happened as a result of your actions, but it would be more like the right thing to do."
If there really are some disadvantaged and/or elderly people who have spent "beyond their last nickel" to prepare for a TEOTWAWKI-style disaster, I'm really very sorry for them. But Rodney, if anyone has ever bothered reading the Time Bomb 2000 book and the dozens of my Y2K essays, they would find that, over and over again, we stressed the need to take personal responsibility for making one's own decisions, based on one's own assessment of the stakes, and the risks, and the likelihood of Y2K problems. In the concluding chapter of our book, for example, my daughter and I wrote:
"To help come to a decision -- whether to accept or reject the possibility of serious Y2000 problems -- we suggest that you do your own 'reality test' to follow up on what we've already discussed in this book. We also suggest that you carry out your own personal assessment of the impact of a Y2000 disruption. And most of all, we strongly suggest that you spend the next two years paring down and simplifying your life, so that you can face the new millennium with as much flexibility as possible...
"This book may have been your first exposure to the Y2000 problem, but it certainly is not the only source of information. We've referred to several magazine articles and sources of information that were available to us during the writing process; there will undoubtedly be much more during 1998 and 1999, and you should be able to find them in your library, newsstand, or bookstore."
To suggest that I deliberately conned IT managers and deliberately scared senior citizens out of their wits, may be a convenient justification for whatever antagonism someone feels toward me, but it fails the common-sense test. I've had a good reputation, a good career, a comfortable income, and more than enough challenging work to do in the computer field to keep me busy for the rest of my life. Why would I want to risk all of that deliberately to behave in the fashion of a boiler-room con artist?
Was I Wrong?
Regardless of whatever motives I may have had for expressing concern and alarm about the potential Y2K outcome, one of the most fundamental questions is whether I was right or wrong about my Y2K predictions. To those who believed I was predicting that all of the lights would go out, and that all of the phones would go down, and that all of the banks would be closed, it's easy to conclude that I was wrong. We all woke up on the morning of January 1 to find that the lights were on, the phone emitted a familiar dial tone when we picked it up, and the banks were open (well, perhaps not on January 1, but certainly by Monday or Tuesday of this week).
But very few, if any, of the Y2K commentators were predicting that kind of total, complete, utter shutdown of the infrastructure. Well, perhaps some of us did a couple of years ago; even Senator Robert Bennett, the co-chair of the Senate Y2K Committee, opined in the summer of 1998 that there was a 50% chance of a nationwide Y2K-related power failure. But by the summer and fall of 1999, it was far more clear to everyone that the disruptions were more likely to be short-term and localized. But in my mind, that was just the first of three stages of Y2K; as I suggested in an essay entitled "My Y2K Outlook: A Year of Disruptions, A Decade of Depression," the second stage was likely to be a series of disruptions caused by less-than-catastrophic Y2K-related failures:
"None of this necessarily means that the electricity will be out for six months, let alone a full year; none of it means that we should necessarily expect to lose nationwide telephone service for a full year; none of this means necessarily that we should expect our bank to be closed for six months. But it does mean that we're likely to be living in an environment much like the Third World countries some of us have visited, where nothing works particularly well. One day the phones will be out; the next day, the phones will work but the air-conditioning in our office building will be down; that will be fixed a couple days later, but then the banks will decide to close for a day because of some unexplained problem."
You're welcome to disagree with this assessment, but it seems to me that many individuals in this country are already beginning to experience these kinds of disruptions. Ask the several hundred thousand travelers today (January 6th) what they thought of the FAA breakdown on the East Coast; ask the residents of New Mexico what they thought when the Department of Motor Vehicles shut down across half the state, earlier this week. Ask the 400-500 people in Sweden what they thought about the discovery that their non-compliant Web browser would not allow them to conduct e-commerce transactions on the Internet. Ask the stockbrokers in Islamabad what they thought about the fact that their stock-exchange computer was inoperable, and that they would have to document their trades manually. Ask the 1 million computer users who were unable to send or receive e-mail messages for two hours today (January 6th) at one of the nation's largest ISP's; for what it's worth, the ISP says the problem was not Y2K-related, but the customers have no way to know whether this is the truth. Ask the 43,000 patients at 581 clinics worldwide (but not in the U.S.) what they think about the January 3rd report that their kidney dialysis machines are non-compliant, and may cause infections (see "Alert issued for dialysis machines: Y2K problem may cause infection, U.N. official says," in the Dallas Morning News). Ask the hospitals and health-care providers in eight states (including Oregon, Washington, and California) what they think of the bank glitch that has delayed electronic Medicare payments, despite the fact that the bank had been certified as Y2K-compliant by Federal regulators (see "Belated Y2K bug bite stalls Medicare payments"). While you're at it, you can ask thousands of small business owners, and tens of thousands of citizens, across the country what they think of the PC breakdowns and computer failures they're beginning to experience. None of these involve life-and-death issues (except for things like the Florida anhydrous ammonia leak mentioned above), and none of these appear to be "system" -- at least, not yet. But they definitely fall into the category of "disruptions."
But this is not the official "party line" that is being presented by the government and media. When I turned on the television Monday morning (January 3rd), I was amazed to see that "victory" over the Y2K bug was already being declared, even though most U.S. workers were still straggling into their offices and sipping their first cup of coffee. True, the stock markets in Hong Kong, Japan, and Europe had already been open for several hours by the time America woke up for business on the first post-holiday morning but it was still amazing to see how quickly victory was being declared.
Those of us who live in the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, and other "open" societies with a free press like to believe that we have unfettered access to all the news, both good and bad. Thus, we look around us, and we obtain a visual confirmation that the lights are on, the phones are working, the banks are open, and the planes are flying; we then turn on our television and hear that the same is generally true all across the country. Thus, we conclude -- and if we didn't do it on our own, we would hear it directly from John Koskinen and various other spokesmen -- that there are no "systemic" problems, no national disruptions, no regional failures. Whatever problems and glitches are reported now, we are told, are "anecdotal" and "episodic" (to use Koskinen's description), as well as being local and isolated. Not only that, we are told that these isolated incidents will not, and cannot, accumulate and aggregate to such an extent that they would impact the economy.
Okay, so that's the party line. But it's not clear to me whether this is sufficient for us to relax our vigil. After all, the glitches do exist, and new ones continue to be reported with each passing day; the fact that they're described as "local" may simply mean that while they don't affect me and my neighbors, they do affect you and your neighbors. Thus, the "local" glitch won't make the headlines in the national newspapers, and it won't cause my neighbors and me to panic; but it might still be enough to cause serious problems for you, your neighbors, and your company. It's terrific that the government and the media has created an atmosphere where panic and civil unrest is unlikely, if not impossible; but that's not enough to protect you from whatever local glitches might still emerge to cause you problems.
For example, I'm particularly concerned that Mr. Koskinen has included all of the nation's small businesses in the realm of isolated, episodic, localized events. From one perspective, this is an accurate way of describing things: a serious Y2K-related glitch in XYZ Widget company is probably unrelated to the problems of any other small business in the same geographical region, and may well be unrelated to the problems of any other Widget manufacturer. But from another perspective, it means that we have removed the entire collection of small businesses from our collective Y2K "radar screen." It was true before January 1, and it continues to be true after January 1, that somewhere between 30% and 50% of the small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in this country made no repairs, replacements, or contingency plans for Y2K; they consciously and deliberately (or, perhaps in some cases, unconsciously and accidentally) chose a "fix-on-failure" strategy.
Thus, those SMEs became vulnerable, on or before January 1, to Y2K hardware problems, operating system problems, Web browser problems, application problems, and embedded systems problems. They may or may not have encountered those problems on this first day of business in the new year. If they did encounter problems, they may or may not have admitted them to anyone outside the corporate walls; and even if they did, it's unlikely anyone paid much notice. They may encounter more problems tomorrow, and even more problems when they run their weekly payroll system, their bi-monthly invoicing system, and their monthly accounting systems. Before the January 1 rollover, the Federal government estimated that as many as 7% of the nation's SME's faced possible bankruptcy because of Y2K problems they had not bothered preparing for. I don't see how the initial success of the core infrastructure systems -- banking, telecommunications, and electric utilities -- changes that estimate at all. The nation's small businesses were at risk, and they are still at the same risk. The relevance of this situation should be obvious. You may not care whether XYZ Widget Corporation lives or dies unless it happens to be one of your suppliers. If you're a large Fortune-500 company, it's inevitable that you have somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 suppliers and vendors. Please don't let the media euphoria tempt you into thinking that 100% of these vendors have miraculously succeeded in avoiding Y2K problems!
And even if you do believe that we've achieved 100% success with our Y2K efforts in the U.S., don't forget about the rest of the world. Amazing as the Y2K victory has been in advanced countries like America, Canada, and England, it has been even more amazing to hear from the media that the dreaded bug has been vanquished all over the world. Before you decide to throw a global Y2K victory dance, I suggest that you visit the web site of the International Y2K Cooperation Center (IYCC)) to see whether you have the same reaction that I did. Note that IYCC is not a bunch of rabble-rousing, apocalyptic religious lunatics. The organization was founded in February 1999, under the auspices of the United Nations, with funding from the World Bank. It operates in Washington, DC under the stewardship of Bruce McConnell, and its task is to serve as a clearinghouse and communications center for national-level Y2K status information. You can get some interesting perspectives on the status of country X by visiting the Y2K section of the U.S. State Department's web site, or that of the British Foreign office, or similar government agencies in Canada or Australia; but IYCC does not have to answer to the politicians in any single country, and thus has the opportunity to be more objective and neutral.
With that as background, let me summarize what you're likely to see when you point your Web browser at the IYCC site. You'll see a list of countries, arranged either alphabetically or by time zone (the latter presumably intended for those of us who stayed up nearly 24 hours during the rollover weekend). The list consists of a one-line entry for each country, with a color-code -- green, yellow, or red -- for the country's Y2K status in each of twelve columns: energy, telecommunications, finance, air transportation, sea transportation, land transportation, health/hospitals, government services, customs/immigration, food, water, and an overall assessment. But what strikes you when you first look at the web page is not the detail heading for each column or each line -- but rather the fact that the entire page is green. No yellows, no reds, nothing but a sea of green. Indeed, the visual impact is much the same as the impact we've received from the media about the status throughout the U.S.; and indeed, the line for the United States in the IYCC web page is also bright green, all the way across the page.
But wait! Look more closely! Hmmm some blank lines, indicating that the entries have not been filled in for some countries. Why not? Because the countries have not reported their status. (A corollary, as I pointed out in a previous Advisor, is that whatever information you DO see on the page is self-reported information, NOT something that has been independently observed and verified by a team from the United Nations.) Okay, fine, so a few countries have not sent in their reports -- well, how many countries? The answer, as of 11 PM EST on 5 January 5th, was 40 -- out of a total of approximately 180 countries that belong to the U.N. Here are the missing 40:
Andorra, Bahrain, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzogovenia, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Guam, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Iraq, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Srpska, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome & Princi, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Surinam, Syria, Tajikstan, Togo, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, and Yemen.
Okay, so nobody really cares whether Andorra is Y2K-compliant or not. In fact, nobody would care whether Andorra disappeared from the face of the earth -- except for the people in Andorra, and a few of their friends and family who happen to be located in other parts of the world. But you could say the same thing about Bosnia, right? If that's the case, why did we spend several billion dollars getting involved in Bosnia's political situation earlier this year? I'm not trying to make a political statement here, but I think it's worth remembering that countries with an insignificant economic status can nevertheless create an international crisis if they suffer internal disruptions. Aside from the economically insignificant countries on the list, there are a few whose absence might be noted -- e.g., oil-producing countries like Bahrain, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates.
Of course, the mere fact that a country has not reported its Y2K status does not necessarily mean that everything has fallen apart. For all we know, things are just great in Iraq -- but that country is in the midst of some tense negotiations with the U.N. at the moment, and perhaps it has decided to withhold its Y2K status information out of spite. But the point is that while we can't automatically assume that all 40 countries on the "missing" list are having serious Y2K problems, neither can we assume that they are enjoying the same "green" status that the other 140 countries have reported. For that matter, it's not clear how much credence we should give the reports from the 140 "green" countries. Based on a number of reports in 1998 and 1999, for example, I was expecting significant problems in such countries as China, Russia, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Pakistan, Ecuador, and Venezuela; if you think I'm being pessimistic, remember that the State Department reported to the Senate Y2K committee that nearly half of the countries around the world were in a medium- to high-risk Y2K situation.
So, take a look at the self-reported status information from China. The status report was submitted on January 3rd, and the total amount of detailed information provided in the twelve categories was the following note about banking: "Banks have been operating since Jan. 1 (observed holiday business schedule) and everything is normal. Stock trading resumed today, Jan. 3 and so far there's been no known problem." In the entry provided for "Additional Remarks" was the pithy phrase: "Everything is OK." So much for a country of a billion people.
Similarly, Russia submitted a report at 5:18 PM (local time, presumably Moscow time) on January 1st, in which the entry for each of the 12 Y2K categories was "No problems." Indonesia submitted a report at 4:56 PM, local time, in which the only entries were "No reports adversely received for disruption so far" for the health/hospitals category; "Not operational - will re-open on Monday" for the Government services category; and "No information yet - Monday" for the Customs/Immigration category. In case you've forgotten, Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, has suffered enormous political strife recently, and is a major supplier of oil to Hawaii.
Pakistan's report was even more interesting, especially considering that it was submitted at 1:33 AM, local time, on 1 Jan 2000. The comments on the 12 different industry sectors consisted of "ok," "satisfactory," "no problems so far," "no problems reported," "normal operations," and "normal services slight congestion at rollover" (for telecommunications). Under the heading of "Additional Remarks," we find the statement: "Nothing adverse or abnormal reported from any sector so far." But when the stock market opened in Islamabad on the morning of 1 Jan, the computer handling trading transactions failed, and stockbrokers had to record all of the trades manually; there have also been power failures in and around Islamabad in the days immediately after the rollover, though I've not seen any definite confirmation that they were Y2K-related.
Does this "prove" that any of these countries are actually experiencing significant Y2K problems? No, of course not. But it does suggest that there is little, if any, basis for declaring Y2K-victory in any of these countries. You may not care about the silence from Andorra and Yemen, but it's worth remembering that China is the most populated country on the planet, and Russia is the second most heavily armed nuclear country on earth.
Speaking of "nuclear," it's interesting to note that Japan is now acknowledging a total of nine Y2K-related incidents in its nuclear power plants since the rollover, in addition to one non-Y2K-related incident. The latest information I've seen from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency indicates seven such incidents in U.S. nuclear power plants. All were apparently minor in nature, none involved a compromise of safety-related systems, and none required the respective plants to be shut down. Still, the Japanese population is reported to be somewhat concerned that so many incidents could have occurred in a country that supposedly takes nuclear safety very seriously. Similarly, it's reasonable to assume that we would see high levels of competence when it comes to nuclear plants in the U.S., France, Germany, and other advanced countries. But if Japan can have nine such incidents, and we've had seven -- all in less than a week of post-Y2K operational experience -- how much confidence should that give us about the state of affairs in Russia, Ukraine, and other parts of Eastern Europe? Do we really want to declare victory and go back to sleep at this point?
A few months from now, maybe it will turn out that all of this initial optimism has been justified after all; maybe every entry in the IYKCC status report will not only be green, but also backed with detailed information confirming the "compliant" status of the various industry sectors. But I think it's extremely premature to announce worldwide victory at this point. And while some of my critics seem to think that only a full-scale TEOTWAWKI would justify my saying that I was right, I disagree. At the very least, I think it's far too early to tell whether I was wrong.
Should I Apologize?
Rodney, if you don't really think that you were wrong about something, does it really make sense to apologize? In some cases, it seems to be the politically expedient thing to do -- much like apologizing to your spouse, even if you don't think you were in the wrong, just to put the matter behind you. Lots of Y2K doomsayers seem to be going through this in the past couple of days, perhaps so that they can bury the hatchet, and move on to new jobs, new careers, and new relationships.
If indeed there is a widespread consensus, later this year, that some or all of the Y2K doomsayers were absolutely, positively wrong about their predictions, an apology may be required as part of a socially acceptable penance. But for those of us who believed that we were doing the right thing, for the right reasons, it will be far more important to figure out why we were wrong. Correspondingly, I think it's important for all of the Y2K optimists to figure out why they were right. Perhaps this won't seem so important for the reporters, commentators, and politicians; but I think it's particularly important for IT project managers, because a similar "crisis" is likely to come up again at some point in the future. (If nothing else, the UNIX-based computer systems will be vulnerable to problems in 2038, when their internal clock rolls over to zero).
Thus, whenever a company and its IT department is ready to hold a Y2K victory party -- whether it's today, tomorrow, next week, or next month -- they need to spend some time, money, and energy to conduct a "lessons-learned" post-mortem. This is a familiar concept, because it's part of every standard project management methodology -- even though most postmortems are ignored, forgotten, or carried out in a perfunctory fashion. Perhaps that's because a lot of software projects are so embarrassing that nobody wants to talk about them; after all, who wants to carry out a postmortem about a project that exceeded its budget by a factor of four (like the Federal government's Y2K project)? Or perhaps it's because the original project-team members are long gone, and the second-string team that struggled to finish things off is so tired and frazzled that it doesn't want to talk about all the mistakes that were made before it showed up. Or perhaps the project was a great success, in which case everyone has moved on to other projects before anything thinks of a postmortem. In any case, ours is a culture that typically doesn't learn from its past; IT professionals are often convinced that each new project is unique, and that there is nothing to be gained from a postmortem of the past.
But Y2K is different. This was a global challenge that Y2K czar John Koskinen described as the most complex challenge since World War II. And since victory has been declared, that means we must have succeeded; and that implies that a Y2K postmortem offers a unique opportunity to capture some wisdom and pass it on to future generations. How is it that we managed to succeed with the most complex challenge since World War II, when our track record on software projects for the past 40 years suggests that 25% of Y2K projects should have ended in abject failure? When my daughter and I finished the manuscript for our Time Bomb 2000 book, the publisher sent it out for reviews by industry professionals. One such reviewer was the Y2K project manager for one of the major banks in New York City. He opined that we were making far too much of a fuss about Y2K, and that after some false starts, his bank was confident that it was on the right track. It was really very simple, he said; they were simply carrying out standard project management practices, including a weekly presentation to the CEO of the bank. I remember thinking at the time: a weekly presentation to the CEO of the bank?!? How often had that happened before? How many other IT projects had been considered so mission-critical that the CEO would even care about progress on a weekly basis?
Indeed, a postmortem of Y2K projects may indicate that, quite simply, the reason it succeeded was that -- for the first time ever! -- senior executives up to, and including, the CEO actually paid attention, provided support, and monitored the progress of the project. I've gotten first-hand reports from one large insurance company that this was a major factor, if not the major factor, in their success. And to the extent that such a practice can be repeated, it may have offered an enormous insight into the reason so many IT projects have failed in the past: they have not received adequate support and oversight from senior management.
Not every organization will agree with this assessment. Some may find other unique explanations for their success -- e.g., a charismatic Y2K project manager, a dedicated staff, a devoted vendor, etc. But others may argue that there was nothing particularly unique or surprising about their Y2K projects; they may argue that they followed the same procedures, and fully expected to achieve success. To hear such an explanation from an SEI level-5 company would not be a great surprise; but since every organization seems prepared to declare victory over Y2K, this casual confidence of victory seems somewhat misplaced. Remember: 70% of U.S. organizations are at SEI level-1, which means they have no consistent, documented set of processes or procedures for their software projects. Perhaps level-1 companies have the naive belief that every project will succeed; but the evidence from the past 40 years strongly suggests otherwise. So, while it may not be surprising that a level-1 software company would have been confident of its Y2K success, the actual results are surprising. At the very least, an IT organization should survey its past track record of software projects, and ask itself the simple question: why is it that we were able to succeed this time, when we have failed so often before?
If a question like that isn't sufficiently interesting, here's a more provocative one, which I raised earlier in this essay: how is that we managed to achieve "victory" over Y2K when 30-50% of small-to-medium enterprises (SME's) did no remediation? Why should SME company A have spent $100,000 remediating its systems, when SME B spent no money at all? For that matter, why should Fortune-500 company X have spent $100 million its Y2K remediations, when Fortune-500 company Y (in the same industry, with same revenues, and the same number of employees) spent $10 million? You may not care about these questions, and you may not think they're worth addressing; but we've already gotten some indications that the public, and the shareholders, will be asking these questions.
Similarly, your company's postmortem activities might address this question: why is it that some cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, began their Y2K work in 1996 and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their remediation efforts, while other cities, like Washington and Rome, began in 1998 -- and all have managed to declare total victory against Y2K? Why is it that the advanced countries like America, Canada, and England became quite serious about Y2K at a national level in 1997, while developing nations around the world typically had no Y2K budget and no Y2K coordinator as late as the end of 1998 -- and yet all countries that bothered reporting were able to declare total victory against Y2K, as we saw in the earlier discussion about the IYCC? In his January 3rd press conference, Y2K czar John Koskinen suggested that one answer to this question is that the advanced countries had gained valuable information about Y2K solutions, which they were willing to share, at no cost, with the developing nations. If this is the reason why everyone managed to succeed so perfectly, it suggests that "knowledge transfer" is an incredibly valuable activity. Perhaps that should be the lesson gleaned from a Y2K post-mortem. If indeed Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Gambia, Italy, Nigeria, Ecuador, Uruguay, Russia, Ukraine, and dozens of other countries managed to achieve the same level of Y2K success as the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia well, there is some incredibly valuable information to be gained.
Well, Rodney, you've been great to listen to all of this; I really appreciate your advice. As for this business of "respect," you're such a classy guy that I'm sure you remember what the French writer Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, said in Sentences et Maximes Morales, no. 165, back in 1678:
"Honest people will respect us for our merit: the public, for our luck."
If the requirement for achieving respect in the Y2K struggle was one of luck -- i.e.., advocating no personal preparations, and admitting no risk of serious failure, and then crossing one's fingers and hoping that it all turned out right -- then it's a form of respect that I can do without.
Sincerely, and with all due respect,
"Jan 1, 2000 Assessment of the Y2K Situation"
January 1, 2000
I got up this morning and found that my e-mail inbox was already filled with messages with questions and commentaries about Y2K. Some asked if I was prepared to admit that I was wrong, and that Y2K had been a scam all along; some thanked me for making them think about the issue more carefully than they would otherwise have done; and most asked what I thought about the current situation.
The fact that I was even able to receive e-mail this morning obviously says a lot. The Internet is up, the lights are on, I got dial-tone when I picked up the phone. Terrorists did not attack the New Year's celebrations in Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, London, New York, or Washington. As best I can tell, none of the 100,000 computer viruses we had been warned to expect have attacked my computer system. In short, the world has not ended as of 10:00 AM Mountain time, here in Taos, New Mexico.
What does all of this mean?
I don't think there is a single correct answer to this question. Keep this in mind during the coming days, for there is a tendency in many discussions, commentaries, arguments, and analyses for people to assume a "binary" either-or, yes-or-no, all-or-nothing, black-or-white attitude toward issues like Y2K, not to mention several other complex issues and problems facing society. I believe that the current Y2K situation reflects a combination of several factors:
* Potential Y2K problems have been fixed.
Let's give credit where credit is due: hundreds of thousands of computer programmers around the world worked long, hard hours (usually without being paid for the overtime work they put in) to fix some, or most, or possibly all of the potential Y2K bugs that would otherwise have occurred. I've stated publicly on several occasions that if any industry managed to muddle through the Y2K situation, it would be the banking industry -- because they had their own built-in sense of urgency, they had the financial resources, they had the technological sophistication, and they had more regulatory oversight and pressure than any other industry. The same is likely to be true for the military weapons "industry" -- i.e., the fact that none of the advanced countries of the world launched nuclear missiles at one another last night implies, among other things, that they worked diligently to remove whatever bugs might have caused a problem. The most notable outcome of Y2K last night is that, in almost all parts of the world, the lights stayed on. Industry experts like Rick Cowles are better qualified than I to comment on this, but it's easy to see why people would conclude from last night's success that the electric power industry did a better job, and achieved a higher degree of completion, than the preliminary reports and data suggested would be the case.
* Potential Y2K problems were exaggerated.
This has been a common theme on the part of many Y2K "optimists," and I am one of many people who has been accused of exaggerating the nature, degree, and potential severity of Y2K problems. As I'll suggest below, I think it's premature to make this conclusion about software-related Y2K problems -- but I must confess that I'm beginning to wonder whether terrorist problems, and cyber-terrorism problems, might have been exaggerated. I have absolutely zero expertise when it comes to terrorism, so I simply don't know whether the intense media focus on potential terrorist attacks on New Year's celebrations, which we heard repeatedly for the final two weeks of December, was over-done. Indeed, several media reporters and anchor-persons seemed concerned about this possibility, and asked government authorities whether the constant coverage was creating more of a problem than there really was. Given the nature of this problem, there's a good chance that we'll never know how many threats really existed, how many were nipped in the bud, or how many were foiled at the last moment. In a similar vein, I'm amazed to see that there have been almost no reports of viruses or other cyber-attacks; this was perceived to be such a major problem that many corporate and government web sites have been shut down for the weekend; I was so nervous about it that I used a backup machine to access the Internet and pick up my email on the morning of January 1st -- just in case there were such virulent viruses that everything on my computer would somehow be deleted.
It's also possible that the embedded-system threat was exaggerated, though I feel strongly that it's far too early to make such a statement. But one of the frustrating things about the Y2K problem has been that (a) no one is precisely sure how many chips and/or embedded systems actually exist in the world, or (b) how many of these actually have a real-time clock with date-awareness, or (c) what percentage of the date-aware chips and embedded systems might fail on Jan 1, 2000 even if the "official" use of that chip did not involve any date calculations, or (d) what percentage of the "official" date-sensitive applications were actually non-compliant, and thus subject to failure, or (e) what percentage had actually been fixed, or (f) what degree of testing would be sufficient for an organization to confidently predict that it had actually solved the problem. The estimates for all six of these categories varied widely from one industry to another, and from one expert to another. My personal belief had been that even if the optimistic estimates were ten times too pessimistic, there was still such an enormous quantity of embedded systems that we would surely encounter some serious problems ... but perhaps we will eventually conclude that a large number of well-meaning computer experts exaggerated the extent of the problem.
Could we also have exaggerated the extent of the software problem?
Again, it's too early to tell; but it's hard to argue with the statistics that have been reported by Y2K IV&V vendors who have examined code that had been remediated, tested, and put back into production. Typically, the IV&V vendors have found between 100 and 1,000 undiscovered Y2K errors per million lines of code, and typically 30-40% of these errors have been judged as "moderate" to "serious" in terms of their potential impact. The reports from the first 10-12 hours of the new millennium suggest that no "serious" software-related Y2K bugs have occurred. Did we exaggerate the problem? I don't think so, but time will tell.
* Many potentially faulty systems were turned off for New Year's, or run manually.
We know that the Russian electric system was switched to manual on New Year's Eve; and we know that a large number of banks, ATM machines, seaports, pipelines, chemical plants, refineries, and other environments were either turned off, or run manually during the critical rollover period. Obviously, if a system has been shut off, we won't notice whatever Y2K problems may still be lurking inside; and if automated processing has been bypassed in favor of manual operations, we won't see the Y2K bugs. To the extent that this explains our initial success, we should be careful before celebrating too loudly.
* Some systems had a lower load, and many systems had a higher degree of support, than normal.
One common explanation for the success with electric utilities is that the winter-season demand in the northern Hemisphere is about half the peak demand in mid-summer. This allowed the U.S. to scale back the output of many utility plants to approximately 80% of their normal output, so that standby and spare plants could be powered up to handle any extra load that would have been needed if there were failures. Aside from that, almost every company whose systems were expected to be operational during the rollover had a far higher degree of support and supervision than would normally be the case. Thus, whatever Y2K problems did occur during the rollover were probably spotted more quickly, and fixed more quickly, than would have been the case under normal conditions. This situation will continue throughout the Jan 1-2 weekend in many organizations, and possibly on into the first business week of the year. This is not intended as a criticism at all; it's simply a reminder that if there are "delayed" Y2K bugs that pop up later in January, when the support staff has been reduced to normal levels, they might not be found or fixed as quickly.
* Some, and perhaps many, Y2K bugs have not become visible yet.
I've suggested this already in my earlier comments, and it's also a common theme in many of the other reports and commentaries on January 1st. Even if a Y2K bug has already occurred, it may not have become visible to the computer technicians observing the system, let along the customers and end-users who depend on the systems. In many of the testing efforts that took place prior to January 1st, it was observed that a period of hours, days, or even weeks transpired before the Y2K bug finally caused externally-visible consequences; this is no great surprise, for the same thing happens with "normal" software testing. In addition, there are a number of potentially serious Y2K bugs that won't occur until businesses resume operations on Monday, January 3rd; or when the payroll system is run for the first time on Friday, January 7th; or when the end-of-month accounting systems are run on January 31st; or when February 29th is encountered, and the computer systems have to decide whether 2000 is really a leap year; or when the end-of-quarter processing takes place on March 31st; etc.
* Some problems have been covered up, de-emphasized, ignored, or not reported.
I'm not suggesting a conspiracy theory here, though some observers have a more cynical and jaundiced view of the situation. But it has always been common practice for individuals, corporations, and government agencies to fix their problems "behind the scenes" whenever possible, and to maintain a facade of normal operations whenever possible. There's no reason to imagine that it will be any different than Y2K problems; the only obvious difference is that customers and end-users may be more vigilant in looking for such problems than they normally would. Indeed, if one scans the news reports and Internet postings for the first 10-12 hours of 2000, there have been some problems, though it's not always clear whether they're Y2K-related. Two U.S. nuclear plants shut down during the evening of December 31, and a third plant scaled back its output significantly; the initial reports indicate that these problems were not Y2K-related, but that may turn out to be a premature assessment. Y2K-related problems occurred in approximately 8 other U.S. utilities, but were quickly fixed; and power brownouts and brief outages were reported in Texas, Kentucky, California, and New Mexico. Meanwhile, two nuclear plants in Japan experienced alarm conditions shortly after midnight, though radiation levels apparently remained normal; while these problems were apparently Y2K-related, they were not judged serious enough to shut the plants down or to report them prominently in the worldwide media coverage.
If all of the Y2K problems fall into this category, the optimists can reasonably argue that Y2K was not a problem after all -- for it did not injure or inconvenience a large number of people for a long period of time. Again, I think it's premature to make that overall judgment about Y2K; and for those who feel more pessimistic, these initial failures, bugs, and disruptions might be seen as a harbinger for more serious problems when the systems are subjected to heavier loads on January 3rd, and when they no longer have the augmented support staff to pounce on the problems. Time will tell...
Inevitably, there will be observers who dismiss all of these arguments, and who conclude that the whole thing was a deliberate, malicious scam perpetrated by greedy charlatans. If so, these charlatans have succeeded far beyond anything ever before accomplished: they convinced hard-nosed business executives, and cash-strapped government agencies around the world to part with roughly $100 billion in remediation costs. They convinced the U.S. government to build a $50 million command center to watch for problems; they persuaded business executives and government leaders to shut down thousands of systems around the world, in order to avoid the impact of the non-existent Y2K bugs. How they managed to coordinate all of this, and how they managed to fool so many people for so long a time, must remain a mystery. If you want to believe that this is the "real" explanation of the Y2K situation, you're welcome to do so. If you're asking me to admit that I was a part of such a grand conspiracy, the best I can do is politely respond. "No, I'm not that clever."
The good news about the first 10-12 hours of post-Y2K existence is that (a) the world has not come to an end, (b) no serious, life-threatening problems or crises have been reported, and (c) there was hardly any evidence of panic. Many stores in the U.S., Japan, and a few other parts of the world, reported hectic business during December 30-31, as people stocked up on toilet paper, bottled water, flashlights and batteries. Heavy cash withdrawals were reported in parts of Nigeria, Hong Kong, Turkey, and a few other isolated spots; but there were no full-scale bank runs, and initial reports in the U.S. and England indicate that ATM usage was not much greater than normal.
The bad news -- at least potentially -- is that people will assume that the Y2K problem is "over," and that they can relax their vigil. It's easy to become complacent when "victory" has already been declared in the media. Before I went to bed on New Year's Eve, I set the clock on my computer back to 1998, and then unplugged it from my household electrical outlet. My plan was to start up my backup machine this morning, observe the rollover, run through a series of tests to ensure that all of the applications were working properly, and then log in on the Internet to see if a horde of viruses would destroy the machine. But after hearing repeated reports on television that nothing had gone wrong, and after seeing that the electricity and phone service had not been disrupted overnight, I wondered if I was going overboard. Indeed, I did begin with my backup machine, and I did log in very carefully to see if there was any evidence of viruses. But I have to admit that I'm susceptible to rampant optimism, too: I didn't have the discipline to go through a laborious exercise of running all of my systems on the backup machine, before finally starting up my primary machine. And so far, everything seems to work ... except ... ackkk!!! .... urghhh!! ... gadzooks, how did all of those files get deleted? ... oh, no! ... my machine is being destroyed before my very eyes! ... eek!
Just kidding ... so far, everything does seem to be working fine. But in my opinion, Y2K isn't over yet. I'm less worried than I was 24 hours ago, and I'm delighted that things have worked out so well, so far. "No news," as Y2K czar John Koskinen said in an interview yesterday, "is good news," and I hope it continues. My family is delighted that they won't be subjected to a diet of tunafish and rice; but I'm going to hold onto that food for a while. Here in northern New Mexico, we actually do get three-day winter snowstorms from time to time, and the power occasionally goes out even without Y2K as the explanation. I have no regrets or apologies for the preparations I made, or the precautions I took -- no more so than I regret the money I spent last year on automobile insurance, health insurance, and fire insurance, none of which turned out to be necessary.
Let's hope the good news continues. In the meantime, my best wishes to everyone for a Happy and Y2K-uneventful New Year!