Bugged By the Millennium

A computer glitch has some Dallasites predicting an apocalyptic meltdown. They may not be that crazy.

"Maybe this Year 2000 is God's way of waking us up that maybe we have made an idol out of technology," Kelly says.

Well, it could be.
After all, who's to say that it's not? Fact is, no one knows for certain how far-reaching the effects of the Millennium Bug will be, and that's making it much harder these days to tell the kooks from the merely prudent.

Two things are certain about the year 2000 computer crisis.
One is that Y2K is a crisis, one that respected computer-industry analysts say will cost companies and government agencies between $300 billion and $600 billion just to avoid catastrophe 16 months from now.

The second certainty is that there is no chance that all computers and computer-controlled devices will be fixed on time.

That means there will be computer failures in Dallas, across Texas, all over the United States, and around the globe. The problem is that nobody knows how many failures there will be.

All anyone, even the experts, can do is guess.
And the primary place to play this guessing game is the Internet, that shining gem of the computer revolution. Search the 'net for information on Y2K, and you'll quickly find yourself standing in the middle of a giant electronic cocktail party, a weird mix of the reasonably worried and the out-and-out loonies.

Take, for instance, Gary North, the former Tyler, Texas, resident who gained fame in the 1980s for his books about "Reconstruction-ism." North contends that constitutional democracy has failed and that our system of justice should be replaced by a strict interpretation of the Bible, meaning that gays, adulterers, etc., should be strapped into electric chairs.

National newspapers, such as The Washington Post, were writing about North in the '80s, and now they're writing about him again, only this time it's because he has adopted the impending Y2K collapse as his new cause. So far this year, North has appeared in major daily newspapers from Chicago to Minneapolis to Arizona and beyond.

North has fellow travelers in the Dallas area. One is the Weatherman and his friends. Another is Karen Anderson, a Colleyville homemaker who has created a Web site that advises women on how they can prepare for Y2K and look fashionable at the same time.

There are also people like Bruce Hopkins, who lives in Mesquite with his wife, Phyllis, and is making a pile of money selling dehydrated and freeze-dried food across the country.

These people come from different backgrounds and possess various religious beliefs. But they all agree that, since nobody knows how bad the Y2K crisis will be, it only makes sense to spread the word and encourage people to prepare.

For some, that means moving to the country. To others, it's more prudent to stock up on food, water, generators, and other supplies, the most bizarre of which is "The Keeper," a reusable rubber cup that provides an alternative to tampons.

While some of them are making money selling "preparedness," to dismiss these people as ghoulish profiteers or "end-time" religious nuts and conspiracy theorists--which some of them are--doesn't do justice to the complexity of the Y2K debate.

Like Kelly at Denny's, most of these people didn't grow worried about Y2K after spending a weekend reading Bibles at some remote ranch in Montana. They're worried because they have turned to the most credible Y2K experts they can find, and what they learned wasn't reassuring.

One of the best-known computer experts in this debate is Ed Yourdon, a best-selling author of Time Bomb 2000, a 400-page book that attempts to explain how Y2K could affect people and suggests ways they should prepare.

In July, Yourdon captured international headlines when he announced that he was moving from New York to Taos, New Mexico, because he thinks the Big Apple will "resemble Beirut" within days of the new year.

Yourdon is not the only expert who is saying scary things.
Another is author and University of North Texas professor Leon Kappelman, the co-chair of a national group of Y2K computer programmers who are feverishly working to fix the problem.

"We're at war against all these broken pieces of technology. Literally, there are billions and billions of points of potential failure," Kappelman says. "The problem is, it's hard to get a handle on what the probabilities are. Everywhere [computer programmers] have looked, they've found problems. It doesn't mean every one of them is broken, but a lot of them are."

Kappelman knows that more and more people are packing their kids into urban assault vehicles and ditching the city, and he doesn't like it. But that's not necessarily because he thinks they're entirely wrong about Y2K.

"The people that are running for the hills are assuming high-probability, worst-case scenario, and they're responding to a lack of information," Kappelman says. "I would call them cowards because they're not staying to fight the war."

The war.
Would that be mankind's war against the billions and billions of little, byte-sized Frankensteins it created?

Dallas computer consultant Bill Wachel has already enlisted in the war.
In May 1996, Wachel created D/FW Prep 2000, an informal group that meets the third Friday of every month at the Wyatt's cafeteria on Forest Lane, not too far from Denny's.

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