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BKTMBM2K.RVW   980531

"Time Bomb 2000", Edward Yourdon/Jennifer Yourdon, 1998,
0-13-095284-2, U$19.95/C$27.95
%A   Edward Yourdon
%A   Jennifer Yourdon
%C   One Lake St., Upper Saddle River, NJ   07458
%D   1998
%G   0-13-095284-2
%I   Prentice Hall
%O   U$19.95/C$27.95 201-236-7139 fax: 201-236-7131
%P   416 p.
%T   "Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You"

It doesn't take long to figure out which Saturday morning is being
referred to in the Preface.  And one of the common failures suggested
by pundits after December 31, 1999, is that of phone service.  As the
outage extends to a decade, however, one begins to wonder how
realistic this book is going to be.  For one thing, loss of dial tone
is much less likely than billing errors, and the most likely errors
would be failure to bill for those calls taking place as midnight
(switch time) strikes.  However, the introduction goes on to point out
that the subtitle is much more appropriate to this book: it is
addressed to the non-technical audience, rather than those charged
with fixing the problem.  A bit of overstatement can therefore be
forgiven.  It is odd, though, that so many of the examples used refer
to large infrastructures: what *could* the normal citizen do if faced
with a region wide water outage?

Chapter one introduces the concepts of risk management and planning,
and stresses the relative time elements to plan for.  However, one of
the central statements is that we simply do not know what is going to
happen, and that makes planning rather difficult.  There are some
general suggestions (for example, that most disruptions will be of
days, rather than weeks, duration), but even these are questionable. 
One specific recommendation, for instance, is that stockpiling a
month's supply of food in a city apartment might be difficult, so
maybe you should go visit friends in the country for a month.  I'm not
sure what assumption this is based on, but if food distribution is
interrupted, it might be more likely that emergency food provision
would be concentrated in population centres.  The consequences to
employment are reviewed in chapter two, which ultimately suggests only
one course of action: have a nest egg on hand.  The scenario is
alarming, but also possibly unduly optimistic, since it repeatedly
suggests planning for a year out of work.  Using the book's own
figures, and fairly simple arithmetic, the average time out of work
would appear to be four years.  The discussion of utility disruption,
in chapter three, is vague and offers little in the way of practical
suggestions.  Interconnected failures are not emphasized (gas furnaces
fail as soon as electrical thermostats shut down) and food stockpiling
is probably not realistic (how many foods require no refrigeration for
storage and no heating for preparation?)

Given the heavy business emphasis in other areas, it is odd to note
that the concern for transportation is limited to personal travel in
chapter four.  While a sudden transition to telecommuting would have a
major effect on business (and be impossible for some), the failure of
shipping is much more serious.  Chapter five's assessment of the
banking industry could be responsible for a run on the banks, itself. 
(The advice to keep hardcopy of all transactions in the months
preceding and following December 31, 1999 is very good.)  The problems
of the advice regarding food in chapter six have already been
addressed, since the material basically repeats, in more detail, what
has already been said elsewhere.  Home computer problems are really
only looked at in terms of business use of PCs in chapter seven.  I am
rather interested to note that the Internet does not get a mention
either in regard to personal computers or in relation to news and
information in chapter eight.  The overview of medical care, in
chapter nine, is solid, careful, and useful.

While I agree that government is one of the largest, and most tardy,
potential victims of Y2K, chapter ten is shortsighted in seeing it
only as a provider of cheques.  As with much of the rest of the book,
the information in this section is US-centric, although similar
concepts apply elsewhere.  Chapter eleven reviews embedded computers,
but only broadens the scope of what could happen in other areas.  This
material should probably have been included earlier in the general
discussion of the problem.  Education, as all too often, seems to be a
bit of an afterthought, but some important points are made in the
relatively short chapter twelve.  Chapter thirteen notes that
communication is an obvious target, and so most likely to be
adequately addressed by the deadline.  That is good, since the book
gives no realistic advice for fallback positions.  (A cell phone will
be just as dead as a land line if all the switches are down, and is
much more likely to have problems in the handset.)

Despite the many shortcomings of the book, I do feel that it should be
read and considered by a good many people.  The books and articles
currently extent concentrate on the problem and necessary solutions
from a systems and technical perspective.  There is a need for some
consideration about personal actions that can be taken to ameliorate
potential problems.  Hopefully this discussion can have some
rationality behind it: producing a run on the banks or dry soup mix in
December '99 will help nobody.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1998   BKTMBM2K.RVW   980531