On This Day Pre-Y2K

Confused by any of the jargon you see below? Check the Y2K Glossary!

January 7, 1999 Permalink

As I write this, we are fast approaching January 1999. In just a few days, we will see the first wave of year-ahead Y2K system failures, as well as a wave of the Year 99 failures which many have been underestimating. At the same time, the US dollar will face it’s first challenge in half a century with the introduction of the Euro (which is already advance trading higher than the dollar). And then we also still have that crazy stock market bubble and the deepening, irreversible, global depression. We are about to enter a short period of intense trouble and great dangers. I believe this will last 3 to 4 years, starting in January 1999, and will then lead to the longer devolutionary spiral I described in part two of this series. If I am right, we will eventually lose half to two-thirds of the world’s population. Most of us are “going to see the elephant” (perhaps more than once) and, statistically, most of us will not survive our own close encounter of the deadly kind.

This article is intended to help you prepare to meet that awesome elephant and to give you a better chance to survive those first terrible years. The first step is to load your most important weapon, not your gun, but your mind. Any good instructor will tell you that the key to survival is attitude. Believe that you will survive and your chances of actually doing so go up dramatically. This applies as much to economic hardship, hunger, thirst and illness as it does to a fire fight. But positive attitude alone is not enough. You must also make a realistic assessment of your situation and you must be able to make logical decisions and carry them out under stress, perhaps under threat of death. Let’s deal with this last point first.

One of the best ways to deal with extreme danger and your own imminent demise is to accept that you are already dead. This may seem to contradict the need for a positive attitude but, in practice, it does not. A friend of mine was the instructor pilot aboard a Learjet whose student pilot lost control just after liftoff and the plane immediately rolled inverted and crashed. The accident lasted only seconds, but before the airplane even touched down he had the fuel shut off and the emergency exit already open. As my friend explained it, he knew he was going to die but at least they would find the switches in the correct positions and the checklist completed. This attitude gave him the calmness he needed to take the steps which resulted not only in his own survival but also that of his student. However, the time to accept this is not during the takeoff roll but, rather, long before when you are mentally preparing and training yourself for a potentially dangerous activity.

In the Y2K context, the time to accept your own death is now, before the fun really begins. If I am right, and I honestly believe I am, then you must accept that you are statistically more likely to die than to survive. As am I. If you can come to terms with that now, you will be far better prepared to face anything you might encounter in the next few years, and your chance of survival will actually go up. I cannot tell you precisely how to do that -- it is something we must all face in our own way. In my own case, Christian faith gives me the certain knowledge that there are some things worse than death as well as the promise of something more valuable than life itself. I also have children and a grandchild who are more important to me than my own survival, so they come first. Your mileage may vary, but whatever God you believe in, the time to make your peace is now.

Accept this probability, come to terms with it, and you will also be better prepared to realistically assess your situation and to make rational, practical plans for survival. The first fact you must accept is that no government agency will be able to help you. You must do it all yourself and/or with a tight knit group of family, friends or neighbors. Neither the US Federal Government nor any other national government on earth is going to be ready in time. Even if a few individual agencies do fix their systems, they are unlikely to be the ones that we, the people, really need. Government “missions” worldwide are aimed more at controlling people than helping them, so their definition of “mission critical systems” is unlikely to match your own. In any case, the drastically lowered economic activity in this period will cut the tax revenues of all governments, national and local, to the point that none will be able to afford to help and few will be able to service their debts and pay their present employees. It will be much worse than the 1930’s because, this time around, government debt levels are greater, tax rates are already too high to be raised very much without serious opposition, and social “safety nets” already consume such an enormous portion of western economies that they, too, cannot be expanded without causing an even greater collapse. There’ll be no spending our way out of this one. Worst of all, currencies like the US dollar are no longer backed by real assets as they were in 1929. Even the partial gold backing of the Euro is unlikely to instill sufficient confidence, in the context of a total economic collapse, to allow it to continue in use as a medium of exchange. The economic model for this can already be seen emerging in Russia -- a barter/exchange system, an almost totally ineffective government and virtual elimination of the welfare state. Oh, and on top of all this, you probably won’t have a job.

No, in the short term, government is more likely to be your enemy than your friend. The United Kingdom, Canada and other nations have already announced contingency plans for martial law, which is just another name for a dictatorship. In spite of, and indeed because of, recent denials, I am certain the US will do the same. Such dictatorships usually begin for benign reasons, “for the good of the people”, but they rarely achieve the stated intention and more often they get worse and more despotic as their failures become more apparent. Once established, they are almost impossible to remove without force of arms. As wiser men than I have said, those who trade their freedoms for the illusion of security are bound to lose both. I feel truly sorry for our European and Australasian friends who have done precisely this, trading the right to their weapons for the illusion of public safety and thereby practically guaranteeing the loss of both. The stormtroopers will have a field day throughout these countries. They will maintain “order” but at the cost of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It will be a long time before most countries taste freedom again.

Here in the US, it will at first be worse than Europe but, I think, it will get better sooner. We do have the second amendment; a wide availability of privately owned firearms and ammunition; and even a military which is predisposed towards the people rather than against them. But there is no cause for complacency and I think there are good reasons to conclude that we could well be in the beginnings of a second civil war before the end of 1999. The key indicator (not cause) for this is the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton and the divisions it has exposed within society. It doesn’t really matter whether or not he is convicted because he would only be replaced by Al Gore, who is just as deeply hated by conservatives and just as likely to declare martial law. None of the possible outcomes can do anything to resolve the fundamental problems. For, in truth, we are a deeply divided nation, split almost down the middle between the political left and right. The polarization gets stronger each year, there is less and less dialogue, positions have become more deeply entrenched and anger, resentment and violence are boiling just below the surface (on both sides). This can only get worse when the Senate action is over and those on the right realize that nothing has changed and the system has badly let them down. This is the volatile mix, the powder keg, of a civil war and its dual fuses, the declining economy and Y2K have already been lit.

As 1999 progresses, as the global economy continues to decline and as more and more of the early Y2K failures occur, there will be some sudden, critical failure which will trigger a social crisis. There are so many possible causes, so many loaded cannon, that I cannot say which it will be or when. It might be the inevitable US stock market crash, it may be an international monetary collapse or it could simply be a handful of Y2K failures serious enough to finally wake up John Q. Public and to launch a series of bank runs. Whatever the cause, governments all over the world will seize on this as an excuse to put their plans for martial law into effect, hoping to have some kind of emergency administration in place before their existing systems are wiped out by Y2K.

—y2000@infomagic.com, Cory Hamasaki’s DC Y2K Weather Report, 01/07/99

Y2K is in the end-game. 358 days to go, this is a come as you are crisis. There is not enough time to even think about fixing the systems.

Several times in my career, I have seen IT disasters. These are rare events but it leaves an impression that doesn’t fade. Peak experiences. We’re all about to see something that’s never happened before.

A co-ordinated, world wide, information technology failure. Lots of systems will survive but lots will fail too. The failures will be odd, spectacular, unlike anything we can imagine now.

What flows from that? This is what I don’t know. Everyday, I try to see past the wall but the curtain remains drawn.

This, I know to a moral certainty. The systems will fail. It will take months to restart some; other systems will never come back; some systems will work correctly.

There will be very few situations where a catastrophic failure occurs, a supergeek is on hand to see it, he reaches in, makes one small tweak, and the engine starts up immediately. Don’t even consider this. Fix on Failure? What baloney.

The downs will be hard downs and will persist. I don’t see the point of on-site geeks during the roll over. If it fails, leave it. Call me in the morning and I will take a look at it, when I feel like it.

For problems like this, you want the programmers to be fresh and alert.

—Cory Hamasaki, Cory Hamasaki’s DC Y2K Weather Report, 01/07/99

I’ve been lurking for the last three months, watching the newbies argue over their PC’s readiness, or if their toaster needs to know what year it is. I suppose they’ll finally take in the big picture and realize that we really can die from a thousand pin pricks, and that the reliability of the power grid is actually the main Humpty Dumpty in this particular fairy tale.

TU Electric, a large company here in Texas, has been putting on low- key meetings to tell people about Y2K. They have a nice older engineer who assures us that even though there may be problems TU Electric will be ready (almost). Because they have twenty-five (25!) programmers and they started in 1996. WOW!

Seems I remember that a national testing institute estimated that a trained programmer could remediate about 200,000 lines of code in a year. Let’s see, 25 programmers X 200,000 X four years = 20M

Twenty million lines of code. They’re gonna fix twenty MILLION lines of code! No wonder they’re confident. Only thing is, TU Electric has 113 million lines of code. They are going to fix somewhat less than 19 percent of their code, and they are confident. They are happy. They are prepared. They are .....Oh my, look at the time. I believe Sam’s still has 20# bags of rice for $5.38 and I meant to finish preparing the garden expansion, and I need to order the new propane tank, and......

—Lon Frank, Time Bomb 2000 Forum (LUSENET), 01/07/99

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