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Wired and PC Mag weigh in with Y2K Coverage

 

If you’ve been reading about the sinister Y2K bug, then there isn’t too much that was written about that’s shockingly new in either of these issues. But there are some highlights.

Best written piece award in either mag would have to go to Ellen Ullman, author of the highly praised memoir "Close To the Machine", who wrote a kind of philosophical Y2K history for Wired that could have just as easily fit into Harper’s or Science.

Instead of throwing a lot of Star Trek Warp Drive Technobabble at us, she used concise clear language, spiked with clear metaphors for Y2K like Russian Dolls, Palimpsests and my favorite, Ice 9—which was the world ending virus featured in Kurt Vonnegut’s great novel "Cat’s Cradle".

In a side piece, Ullman also demonstrates to us just how the world ends, in real time. The major reason why some of the techno elite have taken to the hills with the chem johns, rancher rifles and off grid power supplies is how Y2K will affect "embedded chips". There are an estimated 25 billion of them lurking out there, in everything most likely, according to PC Magazine…Most problematically in places like electric utility generators and nuclear reactors. They probably think it will be impossible to find all of them, let alone fix them. They might be right.

To illustrate this point, Ullman interviewed the guy who’s responsible for keeping a Texas oil company Y2K compliant. You watch as he finds an infected embedded chip and tests it. You continue to watch it melt before your reading eyes. Chilling. Dark Side Y2K proponents believe that the cascade effect of all those disintegrating chips will cause bad Road Warrior like times for everybody.

Other things of interest in Wired, aside that it doesn’t seem as interesting or as passionate as when the Rosettos were helming it, had to do with one of their short pieces. Big Blue seems to be working on a whole buncha cool Futurama stuff. They won’t be fooled again into not recognizing the future, like with that operating system mishap. This time they’re working on nano engineered big volume memory, higher tech monitor (with resolution better than most paper) and even biotech.

As for Wired’s stuffy, calculator firmly stuffed in shirt pocket beeper on the side wearin’ competition, PC Magazine, it showcased some professional articles. In other words, well written, well edited easily forgotten pieces on everything from Y2K problems to free sites for businesses.

There were a couple of features that were interesting. The always readable Dvorak thinks that smart card appliances are right around the corner now that the French patents are about to run out. There’s also a cool feature on two new items called Flashback and GoBack. Say for example you download some file that erases some very important information, these programs will allow you to go back before your error, and the mistake is erased. Sure would be nice if you could do that in life.

 

PC NOVICE Guide to Y2K, Vol 7. Issue 2, $5.95

 

Somewhat assured, the writers in the PC Novice magazine "Guide to Y2K" tell us that they’re certain that those alarmists who believe Y2K will bring about "nuclear winter" and the return to an "agrarian" society" are way off base.

Yet after reading the magazine carefully, I’ve come to conclude that perhaps I should take another pensive look at all those Mad Max movies as possible future templates. I might also decide to get myself familiar with terms like "chemical toilet" and "dry rations".

I found the whole experience of reading this quite depressing.

Just so I can share the experience with you, here are a list of all the items you have to check out in order to make sure your system is compliant: All hardware systems, including, but not limited to: sound cards, graphic cards, motherboard, motherboard bios chip, and all external parts, such as tape drive backups. All software systems, including but not limited to: operating systems, spreadsheets, word processors and databases. And, just for some exasperated fun…If you’re on a network, all machines that are on your network. If you need that machine—whether its functioning as a server or a proxy for your data or printer—then you’re going to be in trouble when it goes down.

To cover it all would take a book or two, in fact they are about 10 of them out there already—you can even get a dummies book on the Year 2000 (Y2K) crisis. But this magazine, part of a series, neatly and concisely catalogs the horror.

Listed in no particular order of panic:

Fear Your Word Processor: Here are some frightening things that you are going to need to know about your software.

No version of Microsoft Works is compliant. If that weren’t bad enough, some older versions of office need patches, such as 97. Furthermore, the writer of one of the articles speculates that some software companies purposely made their software non compliant in order to force you to buy an upgrade. Mark Edward Soper, the writer, mentions one company and one product by name: Microsoft’s Front Page 97.

 

Define Compliance, Please: Yet something else to be frightened of: Companies have different definitions of compliance. Your protection against the apocalypse is that companies will tell you in an upfront and honest way that they are Year 2000 compliant. Two problems: Compliance doesn’t mean the same thing as guarantee. Two: Compliance, to borrow a phrase, is in the eye of the beholder. Some companies think they are compliant if their product is compliant with a downloadable patch. You, the customer, have the fun of sorting it all out.

 

No guarantee of a fix: There is no one fix that will catch all the ways even one PC might not find its way to Y2K compliance. But the writers do give you a host of options and solutions. Everything to free website downloads to Bios add on extension cards to pricier diagnostic software solutions. Yet, as it becomes confusingly and compellingly clear after reading these stories, no one fix or diagnosis will solve every problem that you have. There is even some disturbing suggestions by the magazine writers that some of the fixes offered may be incompatible or might not even work. Something else to keep you awake at night.

Bomb Shelters? Not such a bad idea…: In an effort to be fair to those alarmists who are predicting the "nuclear winter" and a return to an "agrarian society", you get a short little section entitled "Citizens Prepare for Disruptions".

It features some quotes by Paloma O’Riley, the founder of the Cassandra Project, which is probably one of the most notable Dark Side Y2K web sites out there. She believes that everyone should start "stockpiling a lot, (italics theirs), of food and water, as well as fuel for woodburning, kerosene for lanterns, and propane for cooking so she can help them in case they don’t heed her advice." O Riley is personally preparing for a 3 to 6 month period of ultimate Thunderdome type chaos.

Oddly enough, the people quoted don’t think the apocalypse will be an entirely bad thing. After all, amidst the rioting, fires and sporadic gunshots, people have to come together to bury the bodies and defend themselves against the roving band of Mohawked marauders.

Community at last.

In summation, and I use that phrase with just a bit of irony, I found this guide to be invaluable. There is a wide range of articles that touch upon almost every company, problem and fix. In fact, 40 or so pages are dedicated to about a dozen or more software and hardware companies and the compliance of many, if not all of their products. They list a ton of websites, some of them offering free downloads and diagnostics. They even list popular market software packages that range in price from $50 to several hundred for networks. They give an appraisal of each product and what it can do.

If you’re just learning about the depth of this problem, then I strongly recommend this as a primer.

 

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