5 DEADLY MYTHS ABOUT THE
YEAR 2000 CENTURY DATE CHANGE PROBLEM -- Y2K
By Daniel Fisher
While many organizations are now involved in a full-scale attempt to fix the Milennium Bug, many won't make it before 2000. In fact a large percentage have no y2k projects, and many of those who do have barely even started. Despite what what some say or whatever many misleading news reports will gleam, it's already too late to complete the y2k bug conversion on a system-wide basis.
This is a tongue in cheek version why uninformed people dismiss the y2k problem as hype. Note that those who give these assurances offer little evidence, and have not actually studied the y2k problem. In reality, it is an extremely serious problem that could catastrophicaly devestate our way of life. See: Scarey Quotes .
Many are fooled into a sense of complacency after hearing many happy-faced reports about company XYZ getting nearly compliant. Even some y2k gurus have been deluded into a state of denial after hearing so many reports...particularily after the constant bad news we've been hearing for two years! Don't let this happen to you! Sure there is--and will be--alot of genuine good news in 1999. This isn't unexpected, it was as predictable as the sun coming up tommorow! What you must remember at all times is this: the majority of code will be repaired, but a significant portion will not, and it this minority portion (15-30%) which may cause a systemic breakdown . The fundamental problems of y2k still exist; It is an unsolvable problem. This is unfortunate, but we've entered a psychological lull in which only happy-spinned reports are released.
(from US News )
MYTH 1: There's plenty of time.
A world conference of Y2K problem managers last year listed this as the foremost "deadly myth" they encounter. Fifteen months later, "this is still being thrown out, especially in local government and health care" agencies, says Dick Lefkon, who has chaired five of the Y2K conferences. The experience of the Social Security Administration shows how naive the "plenty of time" view is. Way back in 1989, an SSA computer crashed as a district office was trying to set up a routine repayment schedule into the next century. That got the agency's attention, and officials started working on a solution. But even with that huge lead, the SSA has only recently claimed compliance and has left an entire year for testing.
By comparison, many other agencies have barely finished even an inventory of their systems to determine the size of their problems. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is in charge of nationwide air traffic control, only completed its inventory in March. Despite FAA Y2K czar Ray Long's pledge to fly on a commercial airplane on New Year's Day 2000, government auditors say that "at its current pace, [the FAA] will not make it in time." A congressional subcommittee led by Rep. Stephen Horn found that only nine out of 24 federal departments and agencies were on schedule for fixing their mission-critical systems by Jan. 1, 2000, and five of them--Education, Defense, Transportation, Labor, and State--would not be ready until 2002 or beyond, if their current pace continues.
In the private sector, entire industries are bracing for the worst: A recent International Air Transport Association survey of 44 major airlines shows that only 67 percent expect their systems to be fully Y2K compliant by Oct. 1, 1999. Any slippage would put them right up against the new millennium, with entire systems--from scheduling to maintenance--in jeopardy. "Failure to act decisively could have catastrophic consequences," IATA Director General Pierre Jeanniot has warned.
Among large companies that reported their Y2K progress to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a study shows that only 42 percent have finished inventories of their critical computer systems. And that's just the first step. Companies next must assess the size of their Y2K problem, decide whether to hire outside technicians, and then begin the slow process of repair. It turns out that progress is even slower in small and midsize companies. A National Association of Securities Dealers survey found that 61 percent of small businesses have not yet come up with a Y2K plan.
Late starters are in big trouble because the calendar is immutable and testing can take as long as fixing the software. Moreover, many computers must be tested in tandem with whatever computers they are linked to. It won't matter if Social Security computers are glitchless on Jan. 1, 2000, if the Treasury Department's computers aren't: The Social Security checks still won't get printed.
Many industries, such as the airlines, will actually encounter Y2K problems a year early--on Jan. 1, 1999--because they make reservations or plan business activities a year in advance. And some government and financial institutions will hit the Y2K wall at midyear when their fiscal year 2000 begins. For 44 state governments, that means July 1, 1999, and for the federal government and most other companies, it's Oct. 1, 1999.
Firms only now starting to tackle the Y2K problem should be thinking about triage, says Larry McArthur, president of the Ascent Logic Corp., which does Y2K risk assessments for companies. He notes that the questions should be: Which of our systems are essential to protection of human life and safety? Or to keep a company from going bankrupt? "Enterprises need to look at this from a survival standpoint," McArthur says.
MYTH 2: Someone will find a quick fix soon.
Barry Ingram, senior technology executive at EDS Corp., which is heavily involved in Y2K problem fixing, says that despite obvious signs to the contrary, many managers "are hoping for the miracle to happen." Of course there are, and will be, some fixes for specific software. But there are thousands of programs and reams of software out there. At least 600 different computer languages are in use throughout the world, containing several billion lines of code. Connecticut uses 19 different programming languages in its state-run computers alone. John Rowan, information-technology director for Fulton County, Ga., who has been tackling the Y2K problem for a year, says his mainframes, midrange computer systems, and 3,200 PCs use about 4 million lines of code in six different languages.
It gets worse. Many programs are written in "modular" style, meaning one segment may be written in one language, like COBOL, while the next segment might be in C++. A silver bullet for fixing COBOL would be very helpful in the COBOL segment but useless in the next. And one uncorrected module is like a burned-out bulb in a string of cheap Christmas lights: The whole string goes down.
If that's not enough, a lot of the earlier code that has survived in various forms through the years did not adhere to any standard that could be easily scanned by a fix-it program. The old programmers were as much artists as technicians: They simply created their own style. A programmer might use the name of a girlfriend or daughter as a code word to designate a date field, making it virtually impossible for another technician to tell from the program language which words refer to date fields and which don't. The only answer is for trained technicians to read each line of code and find the critical bugs.
Finally, there are the glitches that may lurk in the estimated 40 billion microprocessors in the world that run everything from microwave ovens to hospital equipment to stabilizers on oil tankers. Gartner Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn., consulting firm that has studied the Y2K problem since the late 1980s and supplies data on it to Congress and industry, predicts as many as 50 million microprocessors will experience Y2K-related "anomalies."
MYTH 3: We are throwing enough money and people at the problem to fix it.
The Office of Management and Budget estimates it will take $4.7 billion to debug federal computers--a figure that is up 100 percent from a year ago. GartnerGroup says a realistic estimate for a complete overhaul of federal computers is $30 billion. So while the federal government is indeed "throwing money" at the problem, it may be seriously miscalculating the amount needed. In business, many CEOs resist funding Y2K repair because they view it as nonproductive, says Lefkon, the conference organizer. Lefkon estimates that in one third of nongovernmental organizations, "somebody important still believes that."
But even if enough money were allocated, there aren't enough people--debuggers and testing specialists who know ancient and varied programming languages--to renovate the billions of lines of code that need repair. Already there are more than 345,000 unfilled openings for technology specialists. That will only get worse as the year 2000 draws nearer and more companies move into the labor-intensive testing phase. To cope, counties like Palm Beach, Fla., have imported workers from overseas, and the U.S. Senate approved a bill last week that would make such importation easier. Y2K "boot camps" are proliferating, where everyone from college kids to single moms gets crash courses in COBOL. The University System of Maryland is offering full-tuition, four-year scholarships to students who receive training and take salaried positions for two years debugging computers for Maryland businesses and agencies. The program's director, Jim Hill, calls this "a GI Bill without the bullets." Meanwhile, companies nationwide are raiding one another's staffs for programmers, who can command up to six-figure salaries.
MYTH 4: With so many new computers out there, surely we can't be vulnerable to a problem created 25 years ago.
Barry Tate, senior manager of industry operations for IATA, says the notion that the Y2K problem applies only to old systems "can give a false sense of security." Indeed, to many people, the Y2K problem sounds like a throwback to the era of punch cards and UNIVAC. And it is true that most systems with a Pentium chip or newer are likely to be Y2K compliant. (Other PCs will require upgrades.) But there remain many huge mainframe computers, some dating back to the 1960s and '70s. Their software was partly written 20 or 30 years ago, and has a way of proliferating. Ingram of EDS Corp. says he got a call from a computer expert about a program Ingram had written in the 1960s. It had turned up in a new program at a completely different company. "So that one program I know has been in existence for 34 to 35 years--and there's a lot of them out there," he said.
Ironically, one reason the Y2K bug has survived is the concept of "backward compatibility," which was introduced in the 1960s to bring order to computer development. IBM and other computer companies, realizing they couldn't expect clients to buy new software every model year, made sure that each new model was largely compatible with earlier programs. That, however, created an environment in which the old Y2K bugs have been able to worm their way--program by program--into the most modern equipment.
MYTH 5: With luck, it won't affect me.
Not likely. At a recent congressional hearing, Gene Dodaro of the U.S. General Accounting Office warned that "critical services could be severely disrupted." At the Internal Revenue Service, he said, the processing of returns and issuing of refunds could be delayed; the Veterans Administration could fail to make payments for service-related disabilities; and the FAA's glitches could cause "delayed flights, degraded safety, customer inconvenience, and increased airline costs."
Many local governments are in even worse shape than federal agencies. "They haven't really sat down and reflected on the computer's impact on their operations," says Gary Gwyn, president of the International City/County Management Association. "That's naive." Gwyn, city manager of Grand Prairie, Texas, has started fixing a long list of vulnerable systems in his own community that includes traffic lights, emergency communications, water distribution, public records, even data on releasing inmates from jail.
Experts are predicting more trouble in the health sector, as patient billing and insurance records at hospitals or HMOs are vulnerable. Certain kinds of biomedical equipment, including patient-monitoring devices, are also in danger of malfunction. Because many electric utilities have gotten a late start, localized power outages are a threat.
One risk-management executive describes a client he won't name--a Midwestern electric utility--that ran a test for Y2K compliance. When the test clock turned over to the year 2000, a safety system mistakenly detected dangerous operating conditions, and the power generators completely shut down. Programmers worked on the problem for three days, then reran the test. A different sector failed, shutting down the system again. Technicians have yet to fix the problem. The debacle underscored one of the most unsettling aspects of the Y2K bug: Fixing the program that runs one piece of equipment can have disruptive effects on other parts of the system.
- They will get it fixed on time. Technical problems are always fixed in a reasonable time period. Brownouts, engine failures, computer glitches, broken water mains, etc. are eventually fixed. Remember Apollo 13?Don't worry, be happy :-)
- They always solve these things. Potential crises are blown out of proportion only to fade away. Population explosions, raw material shortages, and ecological catastrophes were supposedly imminent 30 and 40 years ago. Thermonuclear war was an ever-present possibility from the 40's to the early 90's. The federal deficit, the costs of Social Security, Medicare, and the S&L debacle were going to bankrupt us. Don't worry, be happy :-)
- It can't be that much of a problem for the experts. We love technology's benefits, but are ignorant of the working of its features. Computer systems are a "mysterium tremendum" for most. The interconnected complexity of our automated culture defies personal comprehension. It is also counter-intuitive to consider that a technical problem defined only as a "bug", which only requires adding two more digits to a date field, could be more difficult than reconciling one's monthly bank statement. COBOL, embedded chips, and electronic data interchanges are techno-jargon to most.Nevertheless, don't worry, be happy :-)
- They won't let a depression happen ever again! The federal government and the central banks have the tools -- monetary and fiscal -- to prevent a 1930's type economic contraction. We know how to prevent depressions, where unemployment reaches 25% or worse. Only shallow business downturns or brief recessions are to be expected every few years. Our bank accounts are insured.Don't worry, be happy :-)
- Don't you know? Thinking makes it so! We are a nation of pragmatic optimists. You can be whatever you set your mind to being. We're pretty much sold on the power of positive thinking.Don't worry, be happy :-) Modern society operates on the basis of virtue and principle. Amoral leaders and citizens exercise an insignificant influence upon society. Seldom do we allow our desire for personal peace to get in the way of our concern for others. Only a very small, minority wish to be let alone, to minimize the possibilities of being personally disturbed or troubled by the troubles of other peoplewhether across the world or across the city. Don't worry, be happy :-)
- Modern society easily pulls together when dealing with catastrophe. We're flexible! Society's obsessive focus on affluence and ever-increasing prosperitya life made up of things, things, and more thingscan be easily set aside when problems arise. Don't worry, be happy :-)
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