|arts & leisure|
Book Debunks Doomsayers
By Solveig Singleton
October 25, 1999
It took us a while, but we finally found a non-fiction Y2K analysis that doesn't waffle on the bottom line.
Robert Wilcox's Year 2000: Separating the Hype from the Reality assembles strong evidence that Y2K won't be all that bad -- a few days of disruption at most. This well-argued book is well worth a read if you're not worried mostly because the talking heads are telling you not to be -- and you want a better reason.
You should also read it if you've already panicked. You still have a chance to unload that $3000 generator on ebay, maybe even at Y2K-inflated prices. (Or just wait until the next hurricane.)
Wilcox is well-qualified to offer an opinion on this topic. He's an electronics researcher and designer with expertise in embedded systems and programming, among other things. He's supplemented his background knowledge with a lot of inquiries into the state of gizmos potentially affected by Y2K.
And because of his business background, he can offer reassurance on another front, too -- people are adaptive. When things do go wrong, they fix them, especially given the freedom offered by a market economy.
The book analyses almost every potential Y2K problem -- PCs, their BIOS chips, Windows, household appliances like coffeepots, automobiles, railroads, utilities, medical devices, and more. Wilcox first explains how and where the technology uses dates, and goes on in most cases to demolish concerns that Y2K troubles will be common or crippling.
The detailed arguments he offers are truly outstanding -- in fact, they're the best of any book so far. His remaining areas of concern include smaller water utilities and hospital infrastructures. You'll have to read the book to get his recommendation as to how much food and water to store.
Parts of the book fail to be entirely persuasive, such as when the author relies more heavily on official progress reports. Self-serving self-reporting isn't enough -- I know of control systems for a large Washington DC office building completed early in 1999 that would not have been Y2K-compliant if the construction manager's mother -- someone the author might disparage as an alarmist -- had not pestered him. But the author has compiled more than enough evidence for the general case to push the burden of proof back on his critics.
The book's main weakness is a tendency to bash unidentified "alarmists." Millennial tub-thumpers like Gary North are overripe subjects for mockery, sure, but the common garden alarmist is not deliberately manipulative and not just trying to sell books (one might say the same of any author).
Wilcox's arguments depend heavily on the progress that has been made with Y2K during the latter half of 1998 and 1999. Many informed "alarmists" were writing before then, correctly pointing out that while fixes were possible, people were not deploying them nearly fast enough. To the author's credit, he acknowledges this in case of Ed Yardeni.
The author is right to deplore the poor quality of research that many experts have offered on this issue -- there's been little investigative journalism of the facts of the matter outside technical circles.
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