close this bookVolume 9: No. 27
View the documentTechnology news
View the documentRobotics
View the documentProjects
View the documentY2K
View the documentY2K resources

The smallest page server on the Web is about the size of a match head. . [Bill Park , 18Aug99.]

A credit-card sized solid-state memory module may be available in two years, storing 86GB per square centimeter with a transfer rate of 100MB/second. That's 3.4TB for about $50. . [Bill Park , 24Aug99.]

Elite Models (New York) has posted animations of a computer-generated "top model" named Webbie Tookay, to advertise their Illusion 2K (Sao Paulo, Brazil) Virtual Models and Actress Management division. Elite is the agency that launched Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell. Webbie was created by Swedish designer Steven Stahlberg as "a combination of a voluptuous European blonde, a Latina, and an Asian woman" with well-defined breasts and hips. She also "has environmental concerns and is for birth control." Illusion 2K will soon add other virtual top models, including males. . [Grant McCool, Reuters. Bill Park, 24Aug99.] (They've put a lot of effort into creating her runway walk. You'll need a player for multiplexed MPEG video and audio to show the later animations.)

Futurists have proposed a "Soul Catcher" by 2030, to record and simulate the neural conditions that make up a person's thoughts and feelings. A "Soul Emancipator" may be possible by 2099, using a synthetic personality and lifetime video record to permit conversations with people long dead. [BW, 30Aug99. Edupage.]

See the latest Business Week for Otis Port's interview of Raymond Kurzweil, author of "The Age of Intelligent Machines" and "The Age of Spiritual Machines." Kurzweil believes that computers will soon exceed human intelligence, with the next level of technology being designed by the machines. He also expects wireless nanobot networks within all of our brain cells, providing readouts and optionally controlling neural functioning. Eventually there won't be a clear distinction between humans and machines. [BW, 06Sep99, p. 26D.] (Kurzweil's dual MIT major in CS and literature appears to have served him well. He is the founder and chairman of Kurzweil Technologies (Wellesley Hills, MA) and six other AI companies.)

Speaking of computer-designed technology, Pablo Funes and Jordan Pollack at Brandeis have used genetic algorithms to build bridges, tables, and cranes out of Lego bricks. The computer knows the properties of the bricks, but is otherwise only told that it must span certain distances and carry certain loads. A 2-meter goal resulted in the invention of a cantilever bridge -- something that humans took centuries to develop. The computer also came up with an inverted triangle design for a crane able to lift one kilogram. [Artificial Life. JoSH , sci.nanotech, 26Aug99. Bill Park.] (Some related papers can be found at . The work was funded by ONR, NSF, and now DARPA. Brandeis has filed for patent protection on the method of analyzing torque in structures of the sticky blocks.)

----- "One is always a long way from solving a problem until one actually has the answer." -- Stephen Hawking. [AWAD, 24Jul99.] -----

Mark Yim's PolyBot is a shape-changing modular robot that can roll like a tank tread or crawl like a snake. The Stanford prototype has 12 modules, but it may soon be 40 or perhaps 400. See for details. [Chad English and John Nagle , comp.robotics.misc, 14May99.]

There is also a crawling endoscope robot, . [Bill Park , 20May99.] (Bill says, "... and think of the entertainment applications!")

A website in Germany is devoted to walking machines, at . [Dirk Losch, comp.robotics.research, 11Aug99. Bill Park.]

Gecko Systems' CareBot is billed as the first personal computer robot. It can vacuum, carry small objects, and monitor for emergency conditions. . [Bill Park , 25Mar99.]

HobbyRobot.Com is a new venture from Wirz Electronics, long a supplier electronic supplies and kits to hobbyist and OEMs. . You can join their hobby robots mailing list at . [Ben Wirz , comp.robotics.misc, 05Apr99.]

----- "Man is certainly stark mad: he cannot make a flea, yet he makes gods by the dozens." -- Montaigne. [AWAD, 10Aug99.] -----

05Oct99 is National Techies Day, sponsored by CNET, Compaq, FedEx, Information Week, and others. The emphasis is on education and role modeling to interest young people in becoming techies to solve national problems. A company activity kit is available at -- host your own Dorito fest or field teams to local schools. [Halsey Minor , 20Aug99. Bill Park.]

Ralph Kuntz of Hamilton Scientific is looking for CPU cycles to help analyze medical data -- specifically factors affecting the success of urinary incontinence treatments -- via genetic algorithms coded in Java. Participants could finish a processing chunk in a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Contact . [, 25Aug99.] (He says that he could use an in-house workstation cluster, but the Internet community approach allows a larger search space and may improve chances of publishing in a major medical journal.)

----- "I used to think that my brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." -- Unknown. [Brandon Laws, 19Aug99.] -----

Note: It is not my goal to maintain journalistic balance in reporting on Y2K bugs. It is better to be alert and prepared for trouble that doesn't come than to ignore problems that may yet threaten us. -- KIL.

Edward Yardeni, chief economist at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (New York), still believes there is a 70% chance of a 12-month recession, 30% stock market drop, and deflation. Most at risk are industries -- such as the oil industry -- that have long and complex global supply chains, lots of suppliers, and are heavily dependent on information technology systems. Nearly all other economic forecasters are more optimistic. and . [Reuters, CNET, 11Aug99., 25Aug99. Camille Petrocco.] (In March, Yardeni had revised his estimate for the chance of a long global recession from 70% to just 45%.)

See for an alarming tale of a "Y2K" billing glitch in 1971 that shut down phone communications at George Washington University Hospital and much of the DC phone grid -- all because an operator hit return instead of entering a valid date. The author (and participant), now an associate professor of management and MIS at Barry University, is firmly in the pessimist camp concerning Y2K. [John E. Gochenouer, The Futurist., 25Aug99. Camille Petrocco.] (Enlightening, and worth the read. People screw up, not just computers, and we're all part of the system.)

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The problem with embedded microprocessors may simply be that there are so many of them. If only one in 10K fails -- out of 50B worldwide -- that's still 5M system failures we have to deal with. Note that a colon substituted for a semicolon in a small program brought down all California 800 telephones service for a day. More recently, a small glitch in one satellite brought down telephone pager service nationwide. An ordinary lightning strike in upstate New York started the cascade of power grid collapses that caused the first big New York City blackout. That caused the destruction of the Big Allis generator in Manhattan, which took five hours to spin down but had only three hours of battery backup for the lube pumps. Critical embedded systems have stringent dated maintenance and certification requirements, but cumulative failures of less-critical components can lead to equally serious failures. The US is "dripping with expert personnel and spare parts," but poorer countries are going to need more than a week to recover from the rolling waves of crapouts. [Uncle Al ,, 23Jan99. Bill Park.]

(Microprocessors do go bad, of course, and most products are designed to survive such failures. But when thousands go bad at once, who do you call and what do you do when their phones are already busy? Or when your vendor goes out of business and other vendors aren't taking new customers? What happens in countries where up to 80%-96% of software is pirated? (Much of that is games, but it also includes small business software. Pirated versions of compliant software will likely be available, but upgrading pervasive business systems -- without vendor support -- can be a major hassle.) What else goes wrong while your attention is diverted by the early problems? And how many of the short-term repairs will introduce new problems?)

A July survey of CIOs at multinational companies found 33% behind schedule on their Y2K plans and 8% not expecting completion by the end of the year. Others were concerned about international suppliers, particularly in developing nations. [WSJ, 26Jul99.]

Only 48% of the largest US companies now expect all of their critical systems to be prepared for the Year 2000. . [Cap Gemini America, Y2K WIRE, 10Aug99., 25Aug99. Camille Petrocco.] (Early this year it was found that many departments were reclassifying systems as non-critical, thus improving their progress toward compliance of all critical systems. The US Government dropped 3,323 systems from its mission-critical list, more than the 3,298 that were fixed. [USA Today, 30Mar99. Edupage.] Such statistical games are less and less possible -- even though the pressure is increasing -- but don't expect an absence of problems once critical systems are fixed.)

A Cap Gemini America study of 20M lines of code supposedly fixed by its clients found one new or remaining error per 2K lines of code. Most of the errors would cause only minor glitches, perhaps giving an appearance of proper functioning. [Thomas Hoffman, Computerworld. Larry Sanger ,, 23Feb99. Bill Park.]

If you've been counting on a Windows 2000 upgrade to make your systems Y2K compliant, note that Windows 2000 is 80% new code. That's 25M lines of new code that have yet to be fully debugged. . [Gary North's Y2K Links , 20Feb99. Bill Park.]

Ambrosia Software says that its marketing director Jason Whong will eat real insects if any of the company's new software (through Spring 2000) ships with bugs. Whong may be required to eat live or roasted crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, spiders, or other edible insects at a special bug-munching jamboree at MacWorld New York 2000. He's been looking up recipes on the Web. . [Terry Labach, QOTD, 26Aug99.]

Most Y2K fixes use windowing rather than date expansion, meaning that the computer guesses a date's century. Years from 00 to 30, for instance, might be treated as 2000 to 2030, with other years dropped back to the 1900s. That works for now -- usually -- but much of this code will have to be fixed again within a few decades. [SJM, 15Mar99. Edupage.]

Martin Minow suggests that Aug99 be followed by a new month, Caligula, to give programmers more time to fix and test Y2K code. If that's not enough, we can add Saturnalia. :-) [, RISKS, 01Apr99.]

President Clinton has signed a law delaying and restricting Y2K lawsuits, in the hope of protecting "firms whose productivity is central to our economy" from the distraction of extensive litigation. Opponents feel this caters to big business at the expense of consumers and small businesses. [Reuters/TechWeb , 20Jul99. NewsScan.]

Companies that are spending heavily on Y2K repairs are unlikely to spend on other IT infrastructure -- an effect known as "lockdown" or "buying fade." National Westminster Bank (London), for instance, will freeze its systems between Oct99 and Feb00 to ensure a smooth transition. That puts 54 new high-tech retail processing centers on hold. Fortunately for e-commerce, most Internet-related code is new enough to be Y2K-compliant. That's one of the driving forces behind new corporate investment in cyberspace. [Dick Satran, Reuters, 03Mar99. Bill Park.]

Cleveland Free-Net, the first US free community network, will shut down on 01Oct99 rather than make Y2K updates. The service dates back to 1984, and has about 7K users daily. [AP/SJM, 05Aug99. NewsScan.]

Foreign experts estimate it will cost China up to $600B to fix its Y2K problems, once they can get all their agencies and industries cooperating. No such amount is budgeted, of course. China's banking, power, and phone systems have received the most attention. . [AP, 20Apr99. NewsScan.]

On the plus side, many companies' business operations have been modernized to prepare for Y2K, increasing efficiency and productivity, reducing inventory, and improving customer responsiveness. There has been a dramatic surge in buying of enterprise resource planning (ERP) accounting and business systems. This may be one cause of the remarkable run of US economic growth than Alan Greenspan has attributed to technology. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 01Jul99. NewsScan.]

"New Economy" companies (including financial services, insurance, and real estate) are so hungry for tech talent that many young workers are in permanent job-search mode. Headhunters are stalking any company whose stock drops sharply, or any prestigious company where they can make contacts, and entire teams of creative workers sometimes move from one company to another to start new projects. Some companies are holding candidates "hostage" with all-day interviews and meetings, to keep them from interviewing with competitors. Others are asking for non-solicitation agreements, for protection against headhunter raids. Project managers are also job-hopping, or bringing in competitive offers that their current companies must match. (That kind of behavior used to get people kicked out, but companies can no longer afford to stand on principle.) Some venture capitalists are even keeping unemployed CEOs on salary until a suitable start-up company comes along. Starting salaries for Gen-Xers (20- and 30-somethings) in the elite 1% of the workforce have been rising dramatically: 18% in 1999 for programmers (now $38K-$51K); 16% for DB admins ($61K-$88K); 15% for webmasters ($52K-$73K); 13% for SEs ($55K-$80K); 12% for e-commerce specialists ($45K-$73K); 10% for project managers ($60K-$81K) and software developer/implementers ($50K-$65K); 8% for network admins ($43K-$60K); and 4% for CIOs ($114K-$180K). And that's on top of stock options, BMWs, luxury housing, and other sign-up bonuses. The average factory worker got less than a 3% raise in 1999. [Michelle Conlin, BW, 16Aug99, p. 34.]

----- "The first person to realize that the Titanic was going to sink was the engineer who designed it." [,, 23Feb99. Bill Park.] -----

A supposedly comprehensive site of Y2K resources is online at . [Robert W. Neill , WebSiteDaily, 11Jul99. net-hap.]

Macintosh users can check the Macnologist site for Y2K bug reports and rumors. . [Geoff Duncan , TidBITS, 05Apr99.] (For specific software, see the vendor sites.)

The Bookstore lists more than 300 titles (via, including "The Bug Stops Here"; "Crisis Investing for the Year 2000"; "KRASH! How Y2K Could Sink the Stock Market"; "How to Profit from the Y2K Recession"; "How To Survive Y2K Chaos In The City"; "The Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook"; "Lie-2K: Why the Alleged End-of-the-World Year-2000 Computer Crisis is Really Just a Hoax"; and "Fun With Y2K Stencils." . [, 25Aug99. Camille Petrocco.]

You can shop for Y2K and Millennium Gifts and Novelties at Yahtuki Alerts, . Their humor newsletter is available for a message to . [, NEW-LIST, 19Jul99.]

The Back To Eden eJournal is a monthly about country living and getting back to the Earth. Subject matter is similar to Countryside, Back Home, and Mother Earth News: gardening, cooking, small-scale farming and ranching, seed swaps, etc. Live a life beyond the sidewalks, where wonderful people share with one another. Send a "subscribe backeden" subject line t . [Glen Mentgen , NEW-LIST, 04Apr99.] (At one email issue per month, how long could it take to learn all you need to know?)