Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1999/01/06

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Subject: Re: [Leica] Please pardon my Y2K discourse.
From: "Gary Todoroff" <>
Date: Wed, 6 Jan 1999 23:05:40 -0800

> From: Jim Brick 
> I have been designing computer systems for 34 years. Embedded controllers
> for 22 years. I have been involved, as a consultant, with hundreds of
> companies. There are millions and millions of programs. . .

An excellent, well-presented post, Jim! Without making Y2k a major thread,
it showed a rational concern for our fellow LUGgers. I have been
programming for 24 years and recently modified date problems on some very
minor "legacy" applications for a client's HP3000 minicomputer. I was
surprised and disturbed at the amount of time it took. The changes weren't
bad - it was the testing that took up hours of night-time backups and
sample runs to make sure we had not clobbered any data. And I'm still not
100% positive that we found every date problem in a relatively small number
of programming nooks and crannies.

Most computer program modifications are not tested with a great deal of
planning. Small changes are made and the office staff is told to "watch
out" tomorrow for how the bills print or the data looks on a screen. It's
easy to cope in real time with a little problem the next day. However, the
Y2k date problem is systemic. All of the millions of changes have to work
on one specific day. Testing all of this ahead of time is at least five
times the effort (therefore cost) of the program changes themselves. And
Jim and I both know that real data never behaves as nicely as test data,
even if testing is well-designed.

I always chuckle (a bit nervously) when people invoke that the mysterious
"they" will fix the problem. In this case "they" means guys like Jim and me
with finite time and intelligence. The magic which people expect us to
perform is comprised of nitpicking maintenance hours on a program, trying
to untangle the strange web of five previous programmers with nine
different styles of coding. It sure makes photography fun by comparison.
I'm still not sure if I want to either triple my consulting rates or simply
disappear by the year 2000!

In any case,  there is no upside to the problem, except perhaps for the
lawyers. Lots of weird things will happen, which will mean lots of people
behaving weirdly. Altho many kinds of shortages have been predicted, I
think the biggest shortage will be patience and politeness. We are not used
to standing in lines and being inconvenienced in more than minor things.
Prepare to live life slower and simpler for awhile - just a few months, I

However, hope itself is no solution. People who brush this off lightly have
not been inside the COBOL or RPG that still runs much of the world's daily
business functions. Even fewer people relate at all to the incredibly
arcane world of embedded processors Jim talked about. None of us have been
inside an earthquake fault either. But here on the Northcoast of
California, we know they are down there, as those faults surprisingly
reminded us on an irregular basis. We prepare though, with some thought to
emergency provisions, flashlights and batteries, and an attitude to expect
life to be less than "normal" for awhile. Altho we do know the exact date
of the coming Y2k "earthquake", we just don't know its magnitude.

Y2k reminds me of being on small boat with an increasing roar being heard
downiver. There is no way to know if it's a waterfall or just some bumpy
rapids. At least you stow some things and remind the other passengers to be
prepared. Jim and I are just concerned with all of you in the same boat
with us.

Gary Todoroff
Tree LUGger and programmer/analyst