The Sky is Falling (in Places)

The Sky is Falling (in Places)

but Some of it is Going to Land on You

Fickle bunch, we are. In order to sate our ravenous, but short-lived attention spans, we gorge ourselves on hype. Star Wars , Zippergate, you name it, we suck it up. Then we get bored, and move on to the newest bit of zip, but not before we attempt to downplay our fervor for yesterdays item. From half-price Jar Jar Binks dolls to a Blair Witch backlash, we are careful to trumpet that WE weren’t the ones going to the hottest movie, or wearing those huge butt-ugly bellbottom pants.

We’ve treated the Year 2000 problem pretty much the same way. Two years ago, Y2K was all the rage, and people seemed to feel it was a credible issue — one that would wreak havoc on our lives, cause the downfall of society as we know it, yada yada yada. Now, less than four months before the moment, we’ve decided as a mass to dismiss as wild hype any mention of possible problems connected with the change from “19” to “20.”

To all of you who feel that the attention paid to this issue is now passé hype, I have something for you to ponder on. The root of all hype is money. (Hell, the root of most everything is money!). A truly massive hype job starts with greed and grows into public mania. Except for outsourcing testing labs like the one I work at, some old programmers, and book publishers, nobody is making money on Y2K. People are instead spending a whaleload of money just to maintain the status quo. Most of it is too little, too late.

At the time of this writing, only three states (Iowa, North Dakota and Nebraska) are ready for Y2K. That’s right — your state, that incredibly well run entity that attends to your every need, is pouring your tax dollars into a black hole of “oops,” hoping that they will get an extension on December. The same folks that handle the DMV, road construction and school security have it all under control.

Ha. Want a Jar Jar Binks doll?

What people don’t seem to understand is that this is not a “me” issue. It’s one of few “we” issues a society has ever faced. Sure, the Gateway PC you are making payments on will work — its software was written in the last six months. And you’ll be able to surf the web, since the Internet is housed mainly on Unix machines that won’t have a date problem until the year 2038. But the vast bulk of heavy duty, 24/7 computing is done on decades-old mainframe computers, running code written on languages that don’t even have compilers handy anymore. (A compiler is a software tool that translates a English-based set of commands into the machine code a computer can read). We’re talking millions of lines of code. Most Fortune 500 companies are stating that they expect 20% of their systems to experience “disruptions” due to the date change. That’s 20% of the largest companies in the world, all getting somewhat hosed at once. From banking to shipping to Visa to hospitals, 20% of this stuff is gonna get a little screwy. I know from the experience of testing the software and systems of a major phone company that they aren’t ready. Nor do they have any intention of getting so. They plan on fixing whatever breaks as need be. Good luck.

To put this another way, imagine this. It’s January 1, 2000. You’re hungover, stumbling out of bed at 2 in the afternoon. You go to check your e-mail. Your cobbled together, state-of-the-art-in-1991 PC won’t boot. No harm done. You can live without it for awhile, and maybe it’s time to upgrade anyway. Sure, you meant to do backups, but didn’t, so all the information you held in Quicken is gone, along with some of those digital pictures you took on the camping trip — what the heck, the bank kept records, right? You don’t truly require a computer, so if you can’t afford a new machine, you do without.

Multiply this by a factor of a zillion, and you have China. Or the third world. Or Russia. Outdated code running on ancient machines in an economy going south anyway. Hell, at least we in the United States can upgrade software and call tech support — most of the software in the Far East is bootlegged stolen crap to begin with, and when it dies, who are they gonna call?

It’s going to be a ripple effect, little things here and there that will perhaps snowball into major FUBAR’s, and possibly, in overpopulated, economically weak areas, civil unrest when they have no water or power. Or entitlement checks and ATM’s, to bring it closer to home.

Yeah, it’s all hype. Go ahead and book that plane ride, dump all your money in the stock market, and plan a long car trip in that 2-year-old SUV. (No major carmaker has issued any sort of Y2K readiness statement). We’re all a bunch of hype-crazed fad junkies. Next year we’ll be touting wearable phones and the Guess Who reunion tour.

Yeah, it’s probably all hype. And no, you can’t have any water.

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