1997-09-18 - Re: Preparing the Remnant for the far side of the crisis

Header Data

From: Tim May <tcmay@got.net>
To: cypherpunks@Algebra.COM
Message Hash: d69cbc15cb1ac319cd97882869dc12e26153dd795ab92dcba41d79dea72db93d
Message ID: <v03102802b04709533c46@[]>
Reply To: <v0311070eb046c146ecf3@[]>
UTC Datetime: 1997-09-18 17:13:29 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 19 Sep 1997 01:13:29 +0800

Raw message

From: Tim May <tcmay@got.net>
Date: Fri, 19 Sep 1997 01:13:29 +0800
To: cypherpunks@Algebra.COM
Subject: Re: Preparing the Remnant for the far side of the crisis
In-Reply-To: <v0311070eb046c146ecf3@[]>
Message-ID: <v03102802b04709533c46@[]>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

(large file elided, as it's really too large to comment on in bits, even
eliding most of it)

Gary North is not the only one forecasting a "meltdown."

There's simply no way that much code can be refactored to get the "00"
problem fixed. It isn't, of course, just a matter of doing a
search-and-replace on "00" and replacing it with "2000." For example, the
date code was picked to be 2 digits (back in the 1950s and 60s and well
into the 70s, 80s, and even 90s) to save space. Switching to 4-digit dates
would require recompilation of the code (for which the compilers may not
even run properly any longer), and the old hardware will of course not
accept straightforwardly recompiled code (because part of the code "tucked"
these compressed numbers into small registers, as but one of many examples).

Anyway, the best CASE and suchlike tools are inadequate to solve this, as
North notes.

Also, just _testing_ the new code will be a huge project. As North notes,
this will take down mainframes needed to handle the already-increasing
load. And new flaws will occur, just due to bad code and not even related
to the 00 issue. Several years would be far too short to take on this
effort...the 8 months (!!) being talked about by the IRS is laughable.

I don't know the impact. As just one example: a lot of people will be
getting warning notices asking where there Social Security payouts are
being reported, or demanding verification that they are eligible, etc.
(Various subroutines buried in millions of line of code scattered on
hundreds of old machines will incorrectly calculate ages, of course.)

(The IRS could try to "turn off" anything related to sending out notices
about age-related situations, e.g, about Social Security and IRAs and the
like, but this would chop revenue out. And add to the confusion, as people
send queries back to the IRS.)

If the IRS is only now beginning to address this monumental problem, as the
reports we are now seeing suggest, then a meltdown is inevitable. There
simply are not enough programmers to handle the job, and by Brooks' Law
(which is dominant over Moore's Law, of course) not even thousands of
skilled programmers could accomplish what is needed.

And certainly not in just a few years, much less the 8 months (!!!) being

Another thing: taxpayers and corporations will _add_ to the confusion, by
sending letters and queries back to the IRS asking about some letter or
warning they got from the IRS. For some, this will even be a tactic to
delay payment almost indefinitely. ("I received your letter of blah blah
telling me I am not eligible for blah blah benefits. Before I can complete
my tax return for the year 1999, please advise me about blah blah.")

It is conceivable that the Year 2000 problem, which is really the "archaic,
distributedm, chaotic, too-big data base problem," could accelerate the
conversion to a simpler tax, perhaps a 15% flat tax. (Even a flat tax needs
consideration of what income really is, what apparent income is not real
income, etc. But a flat tax which ignored Social Security income and
deductions, for example, or other social transfer payments, would be much
simpler for government computers to handle.)

The notion of privatizing the system will not really help much, not in the
handful of months before the impact hits. And there are worrisome aspects
to this privatization. Recall that previous regimes had problems collecting
taxes, and issued "letters of marque and reprisal" for "privateers" to stop
ships on the high seas to collect taxes for the crown. Sir Francis Drake
made his fortune this way, collecting taxes for Elizabeth I.

How will it go when Electronic Data Systems or TRW are the ones computing
the taxes owed? (TRW has that nice advantage of already having our credit
spending habits.)

It's gonna be exciting.

--Tim May

The Feds have shown their hand: they want a ban on domestic cryptography
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
ComSec 3DES:   408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1398269     | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."