Time Bomb 2000!: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!

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9780130952844: Time Bomb 2000!: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!

"Time Bomb 2000" describes how the year 2000 problem can potentially affect all facets of business life if not properly addressed. Chapters are devoted to effects on home PCs, on the job, the news, airplanes, and more. Advice is given on how to deal with the problem if and when they actually occur. .

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Review:

Writings on the year 2000 (Y2K) problem, or the "millennium bug" as some would have it, have been limited to highly technical analyses of specific problems and their solutions. Very little attention has been paid to how the Y2K problem will affect the lives of average people and everyday systems, even though many prognosticators believe this is where the problem will have the largest impact. In Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You, Edward and Jennifer Yourdon do just that by presenting a collection of scenarios ranging from the best we can hope for to the worst cases. Each chapter investigates a different area of computing and the possible effects of this disaster on each. From home PCs to world financial networks, the Yourdons explore a variety of "domino effects" that January 1, 2000, could trigger and the necessary time, effort, and cost to fix the aftermath. The impacts on real life could be anywhere between annoying and catastrophic, and the authors examine each extreme. Each chapter contains "fallback advice," describing the amount of time required to repair these systems. (The authors liken Y2K to a hurricane--it only lasts a day, but requires a year of cleanup.)

Although the Yourdons insist that their overall view is optimistic, it's hard not to feel doomed when reading some of the worst-case scenarios brought on by the year 2000 problem. While Time Bomb 2000 is meant to be an alert, it's not time to start stockpiling canned goods yet, and we can probably still party like it's 1999 right on schedule. However, we should remain extremely mindful of what may await us the next morning.

From the Inside Flap:

Preface

The day the world ends, no one will be there, just as no one was there when it began. This is a scandal. Such a scandal for the human race that it is indeed capable collectively, out of spite, of hastening the end of the world by all means just so it can enjoy the show. Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories, Chapter 5 (1987).


Saturday morning, 11:00 AM

Your head throbs as you roll out of bed. It was quite a celebration last night—the celebration of a lifetime—and you've slept through your alarm clock. But now it's Saturday morning, and you always call your dear old mom in North Carolina every Saturday morning. So you shuffle past the kitchen, pause briefly to snarl at the coffee machine that failed to brew your morning coffee as usual, and slump into the living room sofa to conduct the weekly hi-Mom-howya-doin' ritual. You pick up the phone, and after a moment, snarl again—there is no dial tone.


Shuffling back to the bedroom, it becomes obvious why you didn't hear the alarm clock—there's no electricity. And, when you step into the shower to wash away the headache, there is no hot water. You're in a worse mood when you step out again. Snarls have given way to soft curses, but you realize that you need to sound pleasant and cheerful when you talk to Mom, so you force a smile onto your face as you head for the living room again. You pick up the phone again, and after another moment of silence, all attempts at civility vanish—still no dial tone. You hold the phone in front of your face and curse in loud, angry terms at the telephone company.


There's still no dial tone at 1 PM, and the coffee maker still won't work. To make matters worse, the refrigerator has stopped too, and the freezer is now leaking water onto the floor. You've gotten dressed in the interim, and even though you've frequently criticized the coffee at the corner deli, you now decide that it's better than no coffee at all. As you reach the front door of the apartment building, you remember that you ran out of cash during the celebrations last night, so you stop at the bank on the corner to get a few dollars out of the ATM machine—but the machine gobbles up your bank card and refuses to give you any cash at all. When you reach the deli on the corner, you find it even more curious that their phone is also out of service, and that they're operating without electricity. And when you return to your apartment, you still find silence rather than a dial tone when you pick up the phone.


More silence on Sunday, and again on Monday. It's now been three days since you've had working telephone service, and it's no longer funny. Not only have you been unable to reach Mom in North Carolina, but you haven't been able to communicate with any of your friends and business associates. Indeed, the whole point of staying home on Monday (January 3) was that you were expecting a very important call from a prospective employer who had been trying to lure you away from your current job with a possibility of a 50 percent salary increase—but only if the negotiations could be finalized by January 3.


We won't continue the vignette any further—you get the point. If your phone was out of service for three days, it would be somewhat annoying, and there could possibly be some important consequences. But suppose that it wasn't just your phone that was inoperable, but every phone in your building " in your neighborhood " in your city " in your state " in the entire country? Suppose that nobody could call anybody else for three days? Would civilization come to a screeching halt? Not likely—but there would be a lot of grumpy people, and there would inevitably be some financial consequences. Let's make this vignette more serious: suppose the phone outage persisted not just for three days, but for a full month. No phone calls for the entire month of January; nobody has a dial tone. Don't just nod your head when you read this sentence: think about it. Suppose you couldn't call anyone, and no one could call you because nobody in your city had a working phone, and as far as you could tell, nobody in North America, Europe, or anywhere else where phones were taken for granted had viable telephone service. (It's worth noting, by the way, that approximately 50% of the human race, particularly in large sections of China and Africa, has never made a phone call, so not everyone would be affected!)


Obviously, a month without telephone service would be pretty serious—but what if it was a full year? Could your employer survive for a full year, let alone a month, without phone service? Could your city? Could the national government of whatever country you live in? And if you think a year is bad, what about a decade? A century ago, all of what was then considered "modern society" functioned quite well without telephones—but would that be possible today?


Lest you think that we're concocting stories to pick on the phone company, remember the other events in the vignette above: your bank's ATM machine doesn't work and the lights are out. And, let's expand our vignette a bit: What about your car? Suppose you turned the key in the ignition and nothing happened? Or, to put things into the proper perspective: Suppose you were driving home a little early from the New Year's Eve festivities, and just at the stroke of midnight, all the red lights and alarm signals on the dashboard begun to flash and beep at you? Now what?


Welcome to the Year-2000 problem. No, this is not a joke, and it's probably not an exaggeration. It won't happen to you on this New Year's Eve " but the next New Year's Eve that falls on a Friday will be December 31, 1999. And when the clock strikes midnight on that very special Friday night, every computer system in the world will encounter a "rollover" phenomenon that may or may not be fatal. In the best of cases, your phone will still work on Saturday morning, January 1, 2000 (indeed, the major telephone companies assure us this will be the case), and so will your car, the electric utility company, and all of the other machines and devices that you've come to depend on, often without even realizing that there's a computer inside.


But in the worst of all cases, the rollover phenomenon that occurs when 1999 changes to 2000 could cause consequences that make the vignettes above seem quite tame by comparison. The computer industry is planning to spend between $300-600 billion over the next two to three years in an attempt to avoid this problem, and some experts are already warning that this estimate is too low. 1 But as we write this book in late 1997, it's becoming increasingly clear that the vast complex of computer systems will not be completely modified and upgraded to deal with what has come to be known as the as "Year-2000" or "Y2K" software problem.


Because of the magnitude of the Year-2000 problem, hundreds of technical articles have already been published in computer journals, and dozens of computer conferences have been held to offer advice to computer professionals and managers. Numerous articles have appeared in Fortune, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, and other business publications to warn senior managers of the impact of the problem. Articles have even appeared on the front pages of the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Newsweek. And, several technically-oriented Year-2000 books have been published—with more on the way. 2


But this is not a book aimed at computer professionals, even though that's the area in which one of the authors makes his living. This book is aimed at computer users, including our family, our neighbors, our friends, and all the millions of people who use computers without really understanding or caring about how they work. The technical books and articles warn the computer professionals: "The Year-2000 problem could be really serious if we don't do something about it. We need to get started right now in order to avoid a major disaster!" But this book asks the question: What if the computer industry doesn't manage to fix the Year-2000 problem successfully? How serious a problem could it be, and what should your fallback plan be? What would be the economic consequences of a telephone outage for a day, or a month, or a year, or a decade? The telephone, of course, is only one form of communication; what if we didn't have FedEx, the Post Office, or the Internet available? What if the Year-2000 problem knocks out electricity for three days, or the water supply for a month, or access to your bank account for a year, or regular Social Security checks for a decade? Then there's the field of transportation: What are the personal consequences of failures with cars, buses, trains, and airplanes? What about credit cards and the stock market? What about newspapers, radio, and television? Hospitals, access to medicine, access to doctors? Food supplies? Welfare? The Internal Revenue Service? The Defense Department? Schools and universities? Oh

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