Post of the Day
September 22, 1998

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Year 2000 Problem Folder

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Subject: Once in a Millennium
Author: RonRodgers

Yi-Hsin Chang:

This morning I read your Motley Fools article, Once in a Millennium: The Year 2000 Problem. While I applaud your addressing the year 2000 issue in your work, I was distressed to see that you promote a view that there is little to worry about, and little that can be done by people who are not recompiling software modules or swapping out microchips. In truth there is cause for widespread alarm and there is much that could be done by ordinary citizens to mitigate the effects of a major disaster.

I've worked with computer software for nearly thirty years, founding a software firm in 1982 that provided the services for the daily automated trading of securities at major brokerage firms in New York and London. I have no financial relationship with or interest in any company involved in Y2K repair or preparations, and have been retired from software development for several years. I believe my background qualifies me to express an opinion on the scope of this crisis and the likelihood of success or failure in our efforts. And yes, I have initiated an effort on the Internet (http://www.Resilience2000.com) to raise awareness and provide assistance to individuals, small businesses, and charities.

  "Delaying adequate awareness of the likelihood of widespread failures...is not only irresponsible it contributes to increased suffering..."

Delaying adequate awareness of the likelihood of widespread failures in power and water supply, communications, transportation, financial institutions, medical and emergency services, is not only irresponsible it contributes to increased suffering by helping to ensure panic reactions when our society finally achieves awareness.

You are in the enviable and powerful position of being able to contribute to the timely education of the American public about this issue. I urge you to use your position to research and report on the issues at a deeper level. The superficial gloss of your article is apparent in such errors as suggesting that the Department of Defense will be complete in their Y2K efforts by December 31, 1998. In truth by December 31, 1998 "all further modification to software, except those needed for Y2K remediation, will be prohibited after January 1, 1999." This warning was the subject of an August 7th memorandum from Secretary of Defense William Cohen to the Secretaries of the Military Departments. The full text of his memo is available at http://www.dtic.mil/c3i/y2k/secdefmemo.html.

You say: "Despite the misnomer 'millennium bug,' the Y2K problem is not contagious like a cold. If a U.S. bank tries to do business with a bank in Russia plagued by the problem, their systems simply won't be able to communicate. The end."

  "The interrelated nature of our world economy is not a myth." ... "How will such outages impact our economy and our daily lives?"

This illuminates insufficient awareness of the interconnected nature of this problem. What will happen if U.S. banks and Russian banks and others can not communicate? What if Kroger doesn't receive Tyson chicken, not because Kroger and Tyson aren't themselves prepared but because the intricate web of supply upon which they (and we) depend has degraded? The interrelated nature of our world economy is not a myth. Think beyond the surface of your assertion about the FAA, for example. ("The Federal Aviation Administration has set a schedule requiring all systems to be compliant by June 30, 1999, and is developing contingency plans in the event of system outages.") What sort of contingency plan can compensate for widespread air traffic outages. How will such outages impact our economy and our daily lives?

I suggest you search out experts on this problem, such as Ed Yourdon and Ed Yardeni, who you have implicitly tagged as "doomsayers" in your article. Ask them hard questions, follow up on their comments. Continue down the hard road of educating yourself on this issue so that you can contribute to solutions rather than promoting a perpetuation of denial. Godspeed on your journey.

Ron Rodgers


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