Where wasChicken Little when the sky fell?
For Y2K experts, who have been foretelling disaster for years, the same question applies. This is, of course, the moment they've been waiting for. And after years of seeking media attention, the media are now coming to them. What to do?
Stephanie Moore, an analyst with
Giga Information Group
, will be at ground zero of the media feeding frenzy. She has been publishing and consulting with Fortune 500 companies, helping them evaluate their Y2K assessments, for most of the last four years. So as the year 2000 rolls around the globe, Moore will be part of a marathon broadcast with
. The unlikely duo -- Moore, an attractive, thirtysomething blonde and, well, Donaldson -- will be crammed together for 23 hours on New Year's Eve in an 8-by-6 plot inside the federal government's Y2K command center at a former Secret Service command center on G Street in Washington, D.C. Their vigil will kick off when midnight hits the
Marshall Islands. These five small islands located in the central Pacific, midway between Hawaii and Australia, will be the first place to see the new year. The television event will culminate with reports from Hawaii, the last place the new-year rollover will occur.
Through phone calls and televised reports, "we'll be checking with correspondents and contacts all over the world," says Moore. "And there will be officials from 67 government agencies to give us progress reports" on whether problems are occurring.
Since 1996, when the
issued a report describing a massive Y2K problem that could cost $300 to $600 billion, a small group of information technology consultants have crisscrossed the globe, warning of impending disaster. They have been popular speakers, sought out by both the public and private sectors, drawing handsome fees and yet often the subject of derision by the media and Y2K naysayers in general. Now that the big night is nigh, it's their moment in the spotlight.
Dennis Grabow, a former
banker, has been running the
Millennium Investment Corporation
hedge fund out of Chicago. For years he has been warning that a Y2K meltdown would hit global financial markets and advising clients to eschew the stock market in favor of investments in U.S. Treasuries (thereby missing one of the greatest runs in U.S. stock market history). He told
The Wall Street Journal
on Dec. 20 that he's still right -- it's his timing that was wrong. He's banking on problems erupting because of the sheer number of electronic chips in everything from toasters to car parts worldwide. He anticipates that companies will see lost sales or litigation from the glitches. So in preparation, "I believe that I'm going to be in New York broadcasting with one of the major networks," he says, remaining tight-lipped about the specifics.
Other Y2K criers, after years of seeking the spotlight, are now slinking off into the wings. "The last place you're going to find me is on television," says one prominent Silicon Valley Y2K consultant, who has spent most of the last five years publishing and speaking about the subject. "If nothing happens, you're gonna look like
with the vaults. How'd you like to be etched in people's memory as the guy standing there when nothing happened? You'd never get another consulting gig in your life."
The so-called "Y2K bug," caused by an old shortcut that had computer programmers record years in two-digit fields, started in the '50s and '60s (make that 1950s and 1960s), when computer memory was a precious commodity and 19s couldn't be spared. But putting them back in has been a difficult and imperfect task. And while the public sector has seen glitches -- like in Philadelphia, which sent out jury notices for appearances in 1900, and an Oakland public works operator receiving a $322,000 paycheck -- most problems in the private sector have been either overrated or solved on the QT.
Peter de Jager, one of the loudest criers since his infamous "Doomsday 2000" article appeared in IT magazine
on Sept. 6, 1993, has changed his Y2K plans precisely because of media attention. De Jager, who charges $12,000 for a one-hour speech on the global rubber-chicken circuit, has warned that if Y2K is not addressed, bank runs, power failures or worse could occur. The
American Stock Exchange
de Jager Year 2000 Index
fund (up 141% since its April 1997 inception) named for the head of the Vancouver-based eponymous consulting firm. But as time has gone by and corporations have seemed to heed de Jager's warnings, he has scaled back talk of a disaster.
As such, he got used to journalists' questions, which went something like this: "They'd say, 'Will it be safe to fly?' " says de Jager. "And I'd say, 'I believe so.' And they'd ask where I planned to be on New Year's Eve, so I'd say I plan to be with my family in my favorite Irish pub. And they'd say, 'Ah-HAH! Despite the fact that you say it's safe to fly on New Year's Eve,
won't be anywhere near an airplane.' "
So de Jager has decided to drop his family plans on Dec. 31, 1999. Instead, he'll be on
flight 928 at 5 p.m., going from Chicago's O'Hare airport to London's Heathrow.
"This is not a publicity stunt," says de Jager. "United is not paying me; no one is paying me to do this. I'll be making phone calls from the flight and traveling with a reporter." De Jager says he's turned down requests for appearances from all the networks.
But inevitably the Y2K moment will come, and go. What does one do the morning after? "Enough of the work got done that we're going to get through this," de Jager says, his Irish brogue weary from so many years of work. "I will take a year off. I honestly feel as if I'm up for parole for good behavior in about three weeks time."
Cory Johnson files weekly from TheStreet.com's San Francisco Bureau. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he neither owns nor shorts individual stocks, although he owns shares of TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Johnson welcomes your feedback at
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