Re: ed yourdon on Y2k armaggedon (long & scary)

Lloyd Wood (
Fri, 6 Mar 1998 18:50:56 +0000 (GMT)

On Fri, 6 Mar 1998, Robert Harley wrote:

> Ed Yourdon writes:
> >There are approx 9,000 electric utility plants in the U.S., including
> >108 nuclear plants

which are Quite Old thanks to the US nuclear plant moratorium
resulting from Three Mile Island.

> >and at the present time (Feb 25, 1998), NONE of
> >them are Y2K compliant. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. [...]
> >NONE of the nuclear plants are compliant, [...]
> Read between in lines: in fact the safety rods are driven by
> microcontrollers programmed in BASIC

most of the plants' original design predate widespread use of BASIC
and microcontrollers, but I'm gaining a sneaking suspicion that you're
mistakingly going for style over accuracy, not having realised that
it's possible to score highly in both categories at once.

> with:
> IF date$="00" THEN PROCdefyGravity:PROCexplode

BBC basic with its Pascal oddities?

Using BBC basic on a (6502-descendent-based, presumably)
microcontroller when space is a premium, the interpreter, such as it
is, includes a bastardised 6502 runtime assembler of sorts, and you
can encode the two-digit year in nibbles handled by the accumulator,
saving a byte on this particular instance of uncorrected stored data
and rather more on the code?

It's people like you who are responsible for all this bloated object
malarky; let's see you program a refrigerator microcontroller in a
couple of kilobytes of space and 256 bytes of RAM for variables,
without multiple levels of indirection and code growth generated by
bazillions of verbose languages sitting on top of each other where you
don't know exactly what happens when your statements are carried out
so you assume that all your conditional statements are evaluated by
the Truth Fairy.

(Hint: using basic makes sanity-checking in a radioactive environment
like a nuclear power station much more difficult, as larger chunkier
variables means more errors due to alpha radiation and basic means
much larger error-correcting code and more space occupied by variable


Anyway, power generation plants have computed operating and
maintenance schedules. It's quite reasonable to assume that failsafes
reacting to a Y2K problem could play safe and initiate a controlled
shutdown, or admin schedules go to pot and they have to play safe
because no new rods are scheduled to be delivered ever as a contractor
falls over or because (more prosaically) the payroll system falls over
so people like Homer Simpson stop coming into work.

This would just be inconvenient if there wasn't the potential for it
to happen all at once at every station. In the middle of winter in the
northern hemisphere.

It's often been pointed out that the US power grid, particularly the
western seaboard, is notoriously fragile and doesn't balance loads or
handle excess demands well. So, large-scale power brown- or blackouts
are possible as a result of a knock-on effect. Remember also that the
people in Auckland, NZ didn't have guns. It's taken far less than this
to spark riots in LA.

Winter will be milder in New Mexico than in New York, too. Where would
you rather spend your time during a power failure? In the open plains
or trapped in a high-rise where the elevators don't work, with six
feet of snow outside?

I can see a lot of elderly plants coming up for decommissioning at the
end of their useful lives in the next couple of years.

> >That's the good news; the bad news is that Europe is approx one
> >year behind us
> Hey punk, Europe is centuries ahead of you.

At what point of the lifecycle of the civilization? Before or after
the peak and mature phase? (see Gibbons' 'Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire')

Ahead? Not from the viewpoint of technological infrastructure, as I
see it. (one word: minitel. Oh, how I miss my X.25 connection in
Toulouse whose provider generously charged us 800FF/Mb for all
incoming email and didn't give us direct access to anywhere outside
France thanks to bizarre provider administration decisions and
paranoid nationalistic routing policies. Introducing forging mail
headers saved us a fortune. Don't talk to me about the centuries of
advancement that resulted in me having to switch from AZERTY to QWERTY
keyboards and back several times an hour and relearn touch-typing.)

Please substantiate your claim of centuries of advancement (if indeed
you meant upwards rather than just along), with particular reference
to the software methodology that led to the Ariane 5 failures, the
multiple redundant power systems needed on international trains
travelling across Europe, and the incredibly unsafe European
bare-and-you-can-touch-it domestic 230ishV plug.

(rant about how the British Wiring Regulations and three-pin plug are
the best in the world etc etc elided.)

> >I've got 34 years of experience in the field, and I've got a public reputation
> Ooooooooooooh aaaaaaaaaaah, you must be way way way kewl.
> >I've written a Y2K book [...] I've also written 24 other
> >software-engineering computer books, starting in 1967
> Ooooooooooooooooh aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, you must be way way way way kewl.

Cooler than thou, by far. Definitely more credible, in my book.
Do you have _any_ valid grounds at all for a reasoned critique?

> PS: Ed, if you really want to scare people, you have to dredge up
> nazism somehow.

And you don't even have the balls to cc Ed Yourdon and tell him
what you think to his face.

I'm underwhelmed, frankly.


advanced societies don't dress their police in jackboots or give them
semi-automatic mow-the-crowd-down weapons to protect the public with.