From the October 1999 Idaho Observer:


Skydiving into the Next Millenium

The Five Ws of Y2K preparation

by Robert Morgan

Even at this late date, nobody seems to agree on how serious the Y2K computer problem will be. However, in February, 1999, the U.S. Senate Y2K committee stated: “Those who suggest that (Y2K) will be nothing more than a bump in the road are simply misinformed.”

It is entirely possible that our nation will be in the midst of unprecedented disruptions in the next few months. For those individuals who have done nothing to prepare themselves, it will be like jumping out of an airplane without the benefit of parachutes. Once Y2K arrives, there will be no going back for training and parachutes. We will all have to live with the preparations that we did or did not make for ourselves and our families.

Most of us are aware of the billions of dollars spent by businesses and government agencies to correct faulty computer software. This effort involved rooting out lines of software code, which might lead to computer failure at the date rollover on January 1, 2000. As deadlines have come and gone, and the window of opportunity for correcting the problem grows smaller, we have been told that mission critical software problems have been addressed.

We have seen that the number of government systems reported as “mission critical” decline as the year 2000 approaches. It's safe to assume that redefining which government “missions” are critical and which are not has been done to falsely represent to a justifiably concerned public that all “mission critical” government software is Y2K compliant.

The balance of the software-driven functions of government agencies and business which are not deemed “mission critical” will be dealt with in a “fix on failure” mode. If those systems that have been redefined as “non-critical” begin to fail within the same time frame, we could experience some very serious problems.

What about the embedded chip problem? Most people in our country are only vaguely aware of the embedded chip problem if they've even heard of it at all.

Embedded chips are ubiquitous in all industrialized nations. These are small microprocessors with software instructions “burned” into their memories. Microprocessors have been embedded as integral components into a myriad of electronic devices. They are in rail and subway systems, hospital life support systems, building elevator controls, water purification plants, wastewater disposal plants, automobile and truck control modules, control and navigation systems for ships and aircraft.

We find still more embedded chips controlling the flow of oil and gas pipelines (if oil in the Alaskan pipeline stops and freezes during this coming winter, it might not thaw out until the spring, and could even burst).

Oil refineries are heavily dependant upon embedded chip technology. Offshore oil platforms have chip-controlled valves deep beneath the sea that are difficult, time consuming and expensive to change out.

Chemical plants make extensive use of embedded chips; so do large manufacturing facilities, railway control and tracking systems, gas and coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants, satellites and many more arguably “mission critical” systems.

How many embedded chips are there? No one but God really knows. However, estimates range from 25 billion to 70 billion. One estimate indicates that a 0.06 percent failure rate could shutdown 40 percent of the word's production lines.

On the Beach

In the late 1960s, it was the Beach Boys. In the late 1990s, it is the Beach Bug. Never heard of the Beach Bug? Most people haven't. In April of 1999, Bruce Beach posted an essay to the Internet, which was, as Gary North described it: “The End of the Case for Y2K Optimism.”

Mr. Beach is a former college professor of computer science, and holds both U.S. and Canadian microprocessor patents. He detailed the “secondary clock issue” related to embedded chips: “First of all let me emphasize regarding the secondary clock problem with Microprocessors we are not talking about wall calendar time. And we are not talking about wall clock time...”

All microprocessors contain a primary first clock that we may call its heart beat clock. The tick of this clock determines the speed of the processor. Some of these clocks are very fast, ticking at speeds of millions, or billions of times per second. However, these are not the clocks about which we are concerned.

Many of these processors have either a built-in secondary clock, or, more commonly, are associated with them in a second chip -- a secondary clock whose time and date is maintained by the first clock just as the wheels of old mechanical time pieces were governed by spring and escape mechanisms.

“The first clock is much like a metronome, or the swinging pendulum of an old Grandfather's clock. This first clock in the microprocessor is like a drumbeat that is keeping all the functions of the microprocessor marching in order. On one beat an instruction from the microprocessor's internal memory is fetched, on the next beat that instruction is executed. The pendulum then swings and it is fetch time, and then again it is execution time. Many times a second the dance goes on during the life of the microprocessor. Among the instructions executed may be that of maintaining a secondary clock. . . .

“Many computer programs do not use the secondary clock, or many people did not concern themselves with such things as file dates on their computer files being incorrect. They may feel that if they were not using the secondary clock, or if the secondary clock setting made no difference to them then the computer was not using the secondary clock or the secondary clock was not affecting the computer.”

Beach goes on to state later in the article: “Chips often control things based on intervals. Such as checking every so often (perhaps in milliseconds) as to whether they should check to see if it has sensed a train coming and should lower the gates, or that the train has passed and that it should raise the gates. For this purpose it may, and very often does, use the secondary internal clock to keep track of how much time has passed and whether or not it should check for the presence of a train.”

Finally, he states: “In order to measure a delay, or interval, the logic in the Logic Ladder oftentimes used the difference between the current secondary clock time and an earlier time from the same secondary clock. This all works well and good and without any concern about whatever time people are using out in the real world. That is it works fine as long as you subtract a lesser time from a greater time. But, should it ever occur that the system subtracts a greater number from a lesser number, you will get a negative result. Something which will happen one time only and that is when the secondary clock flips over to zero zero for the year Y2K.

“What will happen when this happens is called undefined. Sometimes undefined results are not that bad but oftentimes they are and engineers really do not like to be surprised by them.”

Most Americans today live at a level of prosperity unprecedented in human history. We can drive down to the store many miles away by sitting in a comfortable vehicle and manipulating some hand and foot controls. While we are on the way, we can listen to a digitally recorded classical music symphony, and call home on our cellular phone to confirm shopping items. Once in the store, we can select fruits from California and Central America, wines from France, fish from Alaska, and fruit juice from Hawaii. Back home again, we can either freeze our food for long term storage, or maintain temperatures just above freezing to retard spoilage. We can flip a switch to control the lighting, rotate a dial to control the temperature, and watch a live news clip showing earthquake damage in Taiwan via satellite link up. Before we go to bed, we can rotate a knob and moments later enjoy a nice hot bath. These are things that kings of a few centuries ago could never enjoy, except maybe the French wine.

Our comfortable American lifestyle is built upon a wonderful and complex patchwork of interrelated systems, all of which are dependent upon the continued functioning of what is referred to as the Iron Triangle: Banking, telecommunications, and the power grid. If any one of the legs of this tripod is missing, the other legs will fail. All three legs are totally dependent upon computers and electronic devices.

Even if somehow we could solve all of our software and hardware problems, there would continue to be the problem of the rest of the world. Many of the world's industrialized nations utilize outdated computer systems to operate their own iron triangles. Quite often, the software, which runs their computers, has been pirated. Understandably, software manufacturers do not offer bug fixes or updates to owners of pirated software. It is reasonable to expect that these nations will suffer serious problems in their infrastructures, and that those problems will be associated with both faulty software and failed hardware with embedded chips.

The United States has become dependent, to a very large degree, on the continued commerce with these nations at risk. If Venezuela can no longer manage to pump its oil out of the ground and into supertankers; we will be in trouble. If Pacific Rim nations are unable to supply computer parts to the rest of the world, assembly lines everywhere will stop, and once again we will be in trouble. If the phased array radar early warning system surrounding Moscow should stop sending its “everything is ok, no incoming missiles” signal because of a power outage, we could be in for some serious consequences.

Human nature

“The heart is deceitful and above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Even if somehow the people of the world were able to side step all of the complex software and hardware snares which we have prepared for ourselves, we would still be left with our human nature.

What if people simply perceive, right or wrong, that the banks will possibly fail to open on Monday following the New Year? If they take a few moments to weigh the risk/benefit ratio, they would probably conclude that there is little risk to taking their money out before the New Year, especially considering current interest rates. They may also conclude that the risk involved in leaving their money in the bank is too high.

If a large enough number of people all decided to withdraw their money from the banks at about the same time, they would trigger a problem. It is a problem that the FDIC has been working on for quite a few months now. You've probably noticed the encouraging Y2K pamphlets on the counters at your bank, and perhaps stuffed into the envelope with your bank statements. What the FDIC fears most is the “run.”

The Achilles heel of fractional reserve banking is that the money really isn't there. If even half of the bank customers in the United States attempted to withdraw their money, most would have to be sent away empty handed.

This phenomenon shut the doors of many banks during the great depression, leading to the Bank Holiday. In spite of FDIC reassurances, it could shut the doors again. Bank closures could topple the Iron Triangle. These events could lead to a major depression. Historically, depressions have been known to trigger wars. If we were to go to war today and if that war escalated to even the limited use of nuclear weapons, we would face the likelihood of blanket electromagnetic pulse. Two high altitude atomic detonations strategically placed over the United States could literally fry all unprotected electronic devices below. We first learned about electromagnetic pulse during atomic tests at Bikini Atoll; streetlights in Hawaii were knocked out. That was before the widespread usage of delicate electronics. Any rate, bank runs could lead to depression, which could lead to war, which could lead to widespread computer failures. All of this could result from human nature.

Now what do we do?

Considering what we have learned, it would seem reasonable to make some preparations just in case things went a bit sour with Y2K. As families or as individuals, we need to calmly evaluate what things are actually essential.

It is easy to say that God comes before my family, but do you mean it? Next, we should look at the things that we need physically. No matter where you live, you will need water and food. Wheat is easy to store in large quantities, so you might think in terms of water and wheat. Then, if you live where it gets cold in the winter, you should probably store some wood, and make sure you keep it dry. If you want some comfort as in the electric lights and radios and refrigeration, you will probably need electricity or watts.

Do you remember what happened in Los Angeles a few years ago when a local court handed down a verdict that was not well received by some of the city's residents? You may wish to have a few weapons on hand to protect your water, wheat, wood and watts. These five Ws can be likened unto parachutes against the wild and fast Y2K free fall that may be awaiting us.

Water

It would not hurt to store water in one gallon bottles. However, for serious water storage, it is more practical to think in terms of 300 gallon 500 gallon, and 1000 gallon potable water storage tanks. There are 300-gallon vertical tanks available, which are 35 inches in diameter and will fit through a three-foot doorway. 1,000 gallon and larger tanks can be obtained that are fully buriable and are, therefore, less likely to freeze in northern climates. Small 12-volt pumps are available which can then pressurize the water for your household use. Solar panels or other power sources are then used to charge the batteries, which power water pumps. For residents of northern climes, one practical use for those one-gallon milk bottles is as follows: Fill them 80 percent with water and keep them outside where they will freeze. Then if your refrigerator stops working, bring a few jugs from outside and place them in the fridge. Your refrigerator has now become a turn-of-the-century-style icebox.

Wheat

A useful concept for the storage of wheat and other grains is to use what is cheap and plentiful. Five-gallon buckets are plentiful, and if you shop around a bit, they are not very expensive and possibly free if you know somebody who works in a restaurant. A five-gallon bucket full of grain is a convenient size, and easy for a healthy man or woman to carry.

For long-term storage, you must use some strategy to kill off the bugs that come with your grain. Oxygen absorbing packets are available, but some people with a lot of buckets to treat prefer to rent a bottle of nitrogen or carbon dioxide. With a scale, which measures in grams and an ice crusher, you can utilize cheap and plentiful dry ice.

The ton of grain won't do you much good without some way to grind it into flour. Buy a hand-driven flourmill first before you buy an electric one. Then, consider what you will do with your flour. Not everyone can afford a $2,000 dollar wood cook stove, but they are nice for those who can. For the rest of us, keep in mind that folks in the Third World countries bake bread and other things without expensive factory made stoves. If you do nothing more than purchasing some fire brick, sand, and cement, you can probably put together a wood-fired bake oven along the lines of what would be found in South America. Of course, it's always best to have everything assembled and tested before you actually need it.

Wood

In most parts of the country, wood is the most plentiful and efficient heating and cooking fuel source. As we prepare for the Y2K winter, it would be wise to cut and stack a sufficient amount of clean and dry wood for heating and cooking. We will not belabor the subject of wood. All one has to do is remember a camping trip where burnable wood was in short supply to realize how miserable a winter without electricity would be without a sufficient and readily available quantity of this versatile backup fuel source.

Watts

Concerning watts, or electrical power generation, the first thing that comes to mind for most people are gasoline-driven generators. Also, for most people, the bigger the better is the rule of thumb.

Most of the inexpensive gasoline generators that people are buying these days are only intended for intermittent light usage. They are horrendous gas hogs and will frequently breakdown after a few weeks of hard use. In the country, it is quite common to encounter people running a 5,000-watt generator all day long when their electrical load consists of 200 watts of lighting. Bigger is not always better. If you are truly depending upon a generator to provide you with power for water pumping or other critical uses, you should count on spending a minimum of $5,000.

Serious generator buyers should carefully consider the diesel engine option. There really are some good reasons why truck fleets, non-nuclear submarines, ocean vessels, and trains all use diesel. Even if you decide to use a fuel generator for electric power, you should consider the efficiency of a hybrid solar electric system.

There are countless variations, but the general concept is this: Your generator comes on, charges your batteries at full output, and then switches off. Then, as small intermittent loads are turned on that are off during the day, an inverter draws power from your batteries to supply those loads. Considerable efficiencies are realized by this generator-battery-inverter hybrid system. Only 1/3 to 1/4 of the fuel is needed to accomplish the same tasks. It also means that generator run times are dramatically reduced, with consequent savings on maintenance and repairs.

There are, of course, many other ways to charge or batteries aside from my running a generator. A serious solar electric retailer, preferably one who lives off-grid, can help you design a cost-effective system. There are a lot of options, however, and you could spend years learning how to use what's available. If things go badly for our nation and the world in the next few months, you may not have time to research this field and then to act accordingly. Find a solar dealer or consultant who is knowledgeable, and utilize their experience to set up an independent power system.

Weapons

Most people think of firearms when they think of weapons, and rightfully so. Jefferson referred to them as the American peoples' “Liberty Teeth.” If you have reason to believe that you may have to protect your life someday with a firearm, then it's probably a good idea to have more than just one box of ammo. Be sure to have lots of ammunition for practice. Remember, practice makes tolerably proficient. Unless you shoot regularly and grew up shooting at early age you are probably a much worse shot then you think -- even against a docile, unarmed paper target.

If you ever need to defend yourself, your assailant will probably be both armed and extremely aggressive. This is not a time to be trying to remember which way to slip the safety on your weapon. Finally, as Massad Ayoob states in his book, In The Gravest Extreme, “American laws universally condone homicide ONLY WHEN UNDERTAKEN TO ESCAPE IMMINENT AND UNAVOIDABLE DANGER OF DEATH OR GRAVE BODILY HARM.”

So there you have it. When you think Y2K, think of water, wheat, wood, watts, and weapons. Happy landings!