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Millennium Fever

A transcript of the KZYX radio show "Two Girls on the World" which aired on February 3, 1999.

Clarissa Shaeffer: We have been talking about the Y2K matter.

Barbara Lamb: We certainly have. I’ve been trying to raise a lot of hysteria around here. I think some things will go seriously wrong.

Shaeffer: I’d like to bet for not too much going wrong.

Lamb: Maybe all the ATMs will just open up and spit money out onto the street. That would be fun. Of course there will be nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors in other countries melting down.

Shaeffer: So today we have a special guest.

Lamb: I’m also concerned about France because they’re too arrogant. And Japan because they’re too computerized. And their economy is in such a mess. They haven’t done a thing to be prepared for it. It’s my job to be hysterical about these things. That’s what I’m here for.

Shaeffer: So we have Barbara on the side of getting excited, and we have me on the side of going nyahhhh. My personal computer…

Lamb: Were your chips embedded in 1964?

Shaeffer: Pardon me? … I don’t have any chips embedded. Anyway, I came across this interesting article. I don’t know how many of you read the AVA, but there was this wonderful rendition of our conversation about a month ago when Mary Walsh called. And Barbara and I talked to Mary and did what we often do: never finish a sentence.

Lamb: Speak for yourself, Clarissa.

Shaeffer: And it was wonderfully cute in the AVA. But then I caught this thing Mark Scaramella wrote in the Ukiah Daily Journal: “Yorkville’s Barbara Lamb declared on a KZYX radio show recently that one of her main concerns was the lack of toilet facilities in the wake of Y2K, adding, ‘If the sewer system doesn’t work, people in the city aren’t going to have the wherewithal to go out into the back yard to dig a hole to use. Whereas people in the country know that that’s the first thing you would do: Go poop in the yard!’” (Laughs)

Lamb: (Laughs) I’ll go down in history as the Poop in the Yard person!

Shaeffer: And I was there, and some of you were there and Barbara really did say that. I think that’s a little country chauvinism. But I certainly hope that we all have the sense not to poop and then hide it in the corners of the house. Don’t keep it in the refrigerator.

Lamb: And don’t do like the French used to do — throw it out the second story window!

Shaeffer: Especially if you don’t have a second story.

Lamb: Or if there are people down below.

Shaeffer: You have to be a little careful with that stuff. Personally I’m not anticipating that as the major Y2K fallout, but you never know.

Lamb: When are you going to introduce our guest?

Shaeffer: This is the introduction, honey. This is really happening. … And this Daily Journal article adds another interesting aspect, which could come from nowhere but the AVA, talking about how people working on Y2K may stick nasty things in, little glitches which will be simple things but the programmers might make money on fixing. That would be an interesting scam. Certain programmers, sneaky ones, might do that. Anyway I called Mark Scaramella on the phone and told him I loved his references to us. And he stopped by on his way home from the paper.

Caller: Pooping’s no problem. All you need is a five gallon bucket filled with lime and then you can poop off the roof.

Shaeffer: That’s a possibility. Anyway Mark is here. Welcome Mark.

Mark Scaramella: Thank you. Glad to be here. By the way, can you say “poop” on the air?

Shaeffer: We said it several times a few weeks ago, and no one complained.

Lamb: He sounds like a voice of sanity in this whole thing.

Scaramella: I found it interesting, Barbara, that you began the evening by getting the date of Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day off by a week. If we have to depend on you to tell us when this catastrophe is going to happen, we’ll all be dead!

Lamb: Yeah, you’re right there. Y2K plus or minus a few days. Y22K.

Shaeffer: That’s not necessarily bad. I understand, Mark, that you’re saying people shouldn’t get too hysterical about this.

Lamb: That’s no fun!

Scaramella: Yes it is. Anti-hysteria is great fun. I had fun writing about it.

Lamb: You did. That was a pretty good article. But you did quote someone who agreed with me on the pooping thing.

Scaramella: That’s right! The Santa Rosa Press Democrat agreed with you. That was their quote. They’re experts on poop. They put it out every day and call it a newspaper. You have their full authority behind you!

Shaeffer: The PD is your favorite publication, isn’t it? It’s mentioned unfavorably frequently in the AVA. Even more unfavorably and more frequently than KZYX!

Scaramella: I haven’t kept count, but it’s close. We’re going to have a rolling Y2K catastrophe because three hours before Y2K engulfs Philo, it will hit New York where most of the Press Democrat stories come from. So when New York goes we may be spared a whole day of PD wire stories and R.W. Apple’s editorials!

Lamb: Oooooh, you’re right! That would be wonderful!

Shaeffer: That could happen! That is on the level of what I think might happen with Y2K. The wire services might go down!

* * *

Caller: Hi Clarissa, this is Fisher (laughs). How are you doing?

Shaeffer: Fine.

Fisher: You’ve got a lot of things in the mix today. I want to talk about the lime in the bucket. You better make sure it’s a plastic bucket. Lime will eat up a metal bucket.

Scaramella: Miners poop into buckets full of sawdust. Pooping in buckets is no big thing. When I was in the service we had to poop in field latrines occasionally; they were basically buckets. Plastic poop buckets should be in your Y2K preparedness kit.

Fisher: Mark, you talk about 24 hours of separate Y2Ks. But it’s more complicated when you think about it. Because the computers are all linked.

Scaramella: Can you be more specific?

Fisher: Computers talk to each other. So when the first one breaks down, it won’t be able to talk to the others in different time zones. So the others will break down. And the intercommunication will break down.

Scaramella: That’s the way all the hysterics talk. You have to be a lot more specific. The trouble with a lot of this Y2K rhetoric is that it doesn’t get specific enough. I was a logistics engineer for a large portion of my career. One of my functions was to perform Failure Modes, Effects, and Criticality Analyses (FMECA) in accordance with MIL-STD-1359B. I was quite conversant with failures and what to do about them and their linkages.

Fisher: When did you make the date calculation tests?

Scaramella: That’s what I’m saying is not being done here. A FMECA would require the identification of each failure mode at the detailed component level, an assessment of its likelihood, and then the failure would be traced up to the effect it actually has, followed by an assessment of how critical the failure is.

Fisher: When did you do that?

Scaramella: I did stuff like that for maybe 15 years. Both in the Air Force and in industry.

Fisher: Give me a rough date.

Scaramella: Let’s see. I started in the Air Force in 1967. But I didn’t get into FMECA type stuff until I got into systems acquisition in the 70s.

Fisher: Oh, you’ve been doing it for a long time!

Scaramella: I’m 55. I’ve been around a while.

Shaeffer: And you’re single, and available, and your interests are…?

Scaramella: Just because everybody else does it, I refuse to use KZYX for personals ad as a matter of principle.

Fisher: I wasn’t interested in your age or availability. I was trying to find out when you did your first Y2K test?

Scaramella: No, no. I haven’t done any Y2K tests. That’s what I’m saying the Y2K hysterics have to do. They haven’t done any such analysis, so their credibility is pretty low. All the talk is anecdotal and based on apocalyptic assumptions. But the End-of-the-Worlders haven’t demonstrated the particular failure modes and exactly what impact those failures will have.

Fisher: Yes they have.

Lamb: Yes, they’ve done tests and things went totally haywire.

Scaramella: Like what?

Lamb: Well, the Chrysler Corporation. All the doors slammed shut and locked and everybody was locked in!

Scaramella: A bunch of yuppies were locked in their New Yorkers because of Y2K?

Lamb: No, no. Their building. They were testing their building, their factory.

Scaramella: Well, I have heard of some building system problems.

Lamb: And in another building an elevator shot up to the top floor and was stuck there!

Scaramella: What was the failure mode there?

Fisher: That was a date check. The machine thought the year was 00 and it failed because it couldn’t divide by zero.

Scaramella: Ok, and what happens?

Fisher: I think a lock up is the failure.

Scaramella: So, a bunch of Chrysler execs are trapped in their elevator at the top floor? What’s wrong with that? Is that the worst thing you can come up with? Let ’em use the stairs. And even so, these are things that I need to see the system diagrams and engineering drawings on. There are engineers who know exactly how these things work, and can assess these kinds of failures specifically.

Fisher: I believe Australia tried a Y2K compliance test and locked up the whole system. And had a heck of a time getting it restarted.

Scaramella: These are interesting anecdotes. But they’re too vague. How do we even know for sure what the problem was? And, what’s the big deal if a few accounting systems are glitched here and there? How does it affect the public? Is it really that bad? That’s all I’m saying: people are getting ahead of themselves. It’s OK to be prepared for emergencies. We could have an earthquake in the next five minutes and it would be nice to have some food, water and batteries stored up for it. That’s fine.

Fisher: Are you Y2K prepared?

Scaramella: I’ll probably be in the same half-assed boat as most half-assed people — almost everyone in the county, in other words.

Fisher: Did you hear about the nuclear power plant going down? I think it was a cooling system failure.

Scaramella: They go down all the time. You don’t need Y2K to have power plant glitches. Just call the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Those are all fragile systems. Whistleblowers occasionally come forward and disclose various problems at nuclear power plants.

Lamb: A lot of people who see how fragile they are, are looking at this as maybe as a good way to get rid of them.

Scaramella: That might be nice, I suppose.

Lamb: Yeah. As it is we’re going pretty far off the deep end on a lot of things.

Scaramella: The point is there are plenty of things to be worried about, but to take one specific instant in time and say that’s where the catastrophe will happen, ignores the everyday, ordinary failures and near failures that happen all the time. There’s plenty of reason to be prepared all the time if you’re worried.

Shaeffer: So Mark, what are you doing to be prepared?

Scaramella: Well, so far, I have four crates of potato chips stored up.

Fisher: No beer?

Scaramella: Beer’s too expensive to store much of. The worrywarts just assume that everybody has plenty of money to just go out and buy at least two or three thousand dollars worth of supplies. But most Americans are in debt!

Lamb: That’s true.

Scaramella: They’re not going to be running out and buying three or four drums of rice at the local health food store.

Lamb: My sister was trying to buy extra propane at Home Depot the other day, and the salesman told her they were sold out of propane and generators. They’re sold out of all sorts of things.

Scaramella: They’re saying they’re sold out. That’s sounds like a sales pitch. I was “monitoring” the Art Bell show the other night…

Lamb: Just for scientific reasons, I’m sure.

Scaramella: That’s correct. One of their ads said, “Get your orders in now, the prices are going up.” So, “we’re running out” sounds like a variation on a basic sales pitch.

Lamb: It’s like Millennium t-shirts, Millennium hats, Millennium potato chips.

Scaramella: But that’s not preparedness.

Lamb: No, it’s commercialization.

Shaeffer: We’ve been talking about a Millennium Party.

Scaramella: That came up at the last CSD meeting last month. No one has brought up preparedness at Anderson Valley’s only duly constituted governmental authority. They’re not talking about preparedness, they’re talking about parties. You can see where their priorities are.

Lamb: This is Anderson Valley! Of course they’re planning a party!

Scaramella: That’s right. We can always poop in the yard, so we can party because we don’t have anything to be worried about.

Shaeffer: That’s right. It’s easy.

Fisher: Just make sure you have a plastic bucket.

Lamb: And when the power goes out we can go raid the winery stockpiles for our party.

Shaeffer: Be careful, Barbara. Be careful.

Lamb: I was only being facetious.

Scaramella: We have you on tape, Barbara. And we can easily take you out of context.

Shaeffer: Oh no. You mean we might get quoted in the AVA again?

Lamb: I’ve been taken out of context before. It won’t kill me. I’m still alive.

Scaramella: Yeah. But have you been taken out of your house?

Shaeffer: Well, I think one of the things that makes sense is to stay home that night.

Scaramella: The polls show that a lot of people plan to stay home.

Lamb: I’m not going to the Rose Parade, I’m telling you that.

Shaeffer: I don’t think I’ll attempt to fly in the first few days after the New Year.

Fisher: Did you hear about in China the airline companies are making all of their flight executives fly in their airplanes through Y2K?

Scaramella: That’s ridiculous! That makes no sense whatsoever. What year is it in China right now?

Fisher: What do you mean?

Scaramella: 4000 and something?

Fisher: (Laughs)

Shaeffer: I think it’s 3000 and something.

Lamb: No, it’s 4000 and something!

Shaeffer: According to the Jewish calendar this is 5759!

Fisher: The Chinese use our calendar.

Scaramella: Are you saying the United States is guilty of Calendar Imperialism?

Fisher: (Laughs) Yeah. Right.

Lamb: I heard that England plans to close Heathrow for three weeks after the new year. And they’re closing their school systems after the new year.

Scaramella: Closing schools could be a good thing. It’s true that there may be problems in the Air Traffic Control systems, though. That’s very old software. Our corporate and government leaders have shown that they are incompetent to upgrade that software and they’ve had to revert to the old software. There’s good reason to be cautious about Air Traffic Control systems. The government imposed way too many new requirements on the programmers; they made it much too complex and, not surprisingly, they haven’t been able to successfully upgrade. Plus, although you can do some simulations, it’s hard to do real-world tests of new software when there are planes flying around that depend on it. But again, that problem’s not unique to Y2K.

Lamb: Maybe the early programmers thought the world wasn’t going to exist after 1999 and they didn’t care.

Scaramella: The programmers assumed their computers and programs would be updated by 1999 and the date would be fixed as part of the upgrade. Look at the DMV — the state gave something like $48 million to Tandem computers a few years ago and came up with nothing. They had to abandon the new program and go back to the old one — with the two-digit dates. Fingers were pointing everywhere.

Lamb: What were they trying to produce?

Scaramella: An upgraded license plate and driver’s license management system.

Lamb: Oh, I remember that glitch!

Scaramella: That wasn’t a glitch. That was a major screw-up, plus possible corruption. And I don’t know if they’re Y2K compliant now. But that’s not going to manifest itself as a problem in one instant, that’s going to be one of those incrementally developing problems. But the impact is relatively small and they’ll fix it when they have to. They also tried to overcomplicate Social Security software a few years ago too. Which didn’t work — they couldn’t even get any bidders on their first major upgrade go-round. Finally they scaled it back to a manageable level and upgraded it. I understand it’s working now.

Lamb: So people will get their January check, but maybe not their February?

Shaeffer: Or March or April?

Scaramella: No. But I think there might be a leap year problem. That’s called D29. Day 29. But seriously, I think Social Security is OK.

Lamb: I’d like to remind our listeners that our special guest tonight is…

Scaramella: Mr. Positive. It’s Mr. Positive vs. Ms. Negative. Ms. Negative thinks everything’s going to fall apart. And I’m Mr. Pollyanna…

Lamb: Are you a member of the Skeptic Society?

Scaramella: No. I’m skeptical of them.

Shaeffer: I for one plan to save plastic bottles and fill them up with water.

Caller: Ask your guest about how he’s going to make popcorn in the year 2000.

Lamb: Yeah, what about popcorn, Mark?

Scaramella: I might have to do without popcorn. I’d forgotten about that, you’re right. And now, it’s probably too late to get enough to tide me over. This is starting to get serious.

Lamb: You can get one of those gigantic bags like theaters have.

Scaramella: Oh no. That won’t work. I used to work in a theater. And the problem is…

Shaeffer: It gets stale.

Scaramella: Oh, it gets worse than that. Those bags attract crickets and cockroaches. You do not want to be behind the counter when an irate moviegoer finds something crawling around in her popcorn as she’s reaching into it in the dark. I got some serious complaints about that.

Shaeffer: Now there’s a Y2K problem we haven’t discussed before. How do you store your popcorn? That’s serious.

Fisher: Do you remember those old wire popcorn poppers you shook over the fire?

Scaramella: Oh yes. That’s old technology — very Y2K compliant.

Lamb: I’m compliant before I even get up in the morning.

Scaramella: Yes, but that’s only because you’ve been out in the yard using the hole you dug.

Lamb: I’ve got a lot of experience with pooping in the yard actually.

Scaramella: And that’s why you’re so compliant?

Lamb: Yes it is. And I grind my coffee by hand.

Fisher: We’ll all go poop in her yard! … This is getting sick.

Scaramella: I shouldn’t have brought up the pooping again. It’s very late in the Millennium. I get like this whenever the millennium changes.

Fisher: Have you heard the Y0K joke?

Scaramella: Does it have to do with Jesus Christ?

Fisher: Yes. That’s right. Good job. I had to read on and on and on until I got the joke. And you got it right off.

Scaramella: OK, go ahead. What’s the joke?

Fisher: I forgot the joke. I don’t have a good copy in front of me. By the way, Barbara, did you hear that one of those groundhogs died?

Lamb: No. He did?

Fisher: We didn’t get all the data we needed. So it looks like more winter.

Scaramella: So, is somebody pregnant?

Fisher: No! That’s a rabbit!

Scaramella: Oh, sorry. That’s right.

Lamb: I think they’re using groundhogs now. The animal rights people wouldn’t let them use rabbits. And a lot of people are getting pregnant. The groundhogs are getting worried.

* * *

Scaramella: As out there on this subject as I think you guys sometimes get, I’ve heard statements from Senator Bennett, the guy who’s chairing the Senate Y2K hearings, that sound even more ridiculous. The idea is that the Russians will launch an missile attack on the US because Russia’s power went out and they blamed it on us as part of a first strike, and so on.

Shaeffer: If that happens we won’t even have our party.

Scaramella: Well, that’s how ridiculous this senator is. He even said in a hearing recently that he thought maybe he’d made some overly panicky remarks in the past. Obviously, a power outage in Russia is easy to handle as far as the possibility of bombs go.

Lamb: Just tell Russia not to do that.

Scaramella: Exactly. See, you’re not a real hysteric like Senator Bennett.

Shaeffer: It seems like most people would know that if the power went out in Russia at midnight on December 31, they’d know why.

Scaramella: Right. It’s probably not the Americans attacking the Russians. But here’s Senator Bennett making these ridiculous statements. No wonder people panic. The panic may the problem; not the Y2K itself. Our irresponsible authorities are more of a problem than the computers could ever be.

Lamb: What about all the power outages we’ve been having?

Scaramella: Oh, that’s become normal. Deregulation hasn’t helped. And you know power companies will divert power to their priority customers if the system has to dump some loads. But that’s not Y2K.

Lamb: They’ll turn Boonville off first.

Scaramella: Boonville will be the first to go. KZYX might even go off the air. Then what would we do?

Fisher: Does KZYX have a preparedness plan?

Shaeffer: You’ll have to wait to ask Ron O’Brien. … Seriously, what do you think we should do Mark?

Scaramella: Well, ordinary preparedness is OK. Check with the fire department, the Red Cross. You can get kits, you can get lists, books. That’s got nothing to do with Y2K.

Fisher: Is the AVA Y2K compliant?

Scaramella: No, we’re incompetent. Oh. Compliant? We’re pretty low-tech. I think we’ll muddle through, like everyone else.

Lamb: What about the people in South Central LA?

Scaramella: I think poor people are better able to take care of themselves than a lot of nervous yuppies and middle-class people who are worried about how they’ll find a decent decaf latte when the power goes.

Shaeffer: Which reminds me of pooping in the yard again. I worked in a school in Southern California which had an emergency policy. We had a policy that if the kids couldn’t get to the bathroom in an emergency, we were supposed to bring our trash cans out. That’s Y2K compliant, right? It was our Emergency Pee and Poop Policy. Our EPPP.

Scaramella: There are plenty of things to be concerned about. You don’t need Y2K as an excuse to furrow your brow.

Shaeffer: We’ve had some large nuclear power plant meltdowns.

Scaramella: Only Chernobyl can be called a meltdown.

Shaeffer: Then that was that other one.

Scaramella: Three Mile Island wasn’t a meltdown, it was a release of radioactivity.

Shaeffer: What about up in Washington?

Scaramella: Oh, you mean Hanford? Those were releases too; some of them were intentional. Those are very bad, they deserve serious attention. But again, it’s got nothing to do with Y2K. Just worrying about it doesn’t help. It becomes a political, administrative and management question. When you do things on the cheap and for short-term gain year after year, you create an increasingly monopolistic and fragile system. There are big problems out there. There needs to be a systematic, political response to bring about real diversification and reliable long-term solutions. But I don’t see much evidence that the present political situation will change for the better any time soon. What we have is a few people with plenty of stuff who don’t have to worry about anything, while everyone else is out here wondering when the next catastrophe is going to hit. If you just wait for the Democrats and the Republicans to do something about any of this, you’re going to be waiting way past Y2K.

Everyone: (Pause) Yup.

Shaeffer: We all agree on that. And it makes no sense. We’re all captives on this planet.

One Comment

  1. Marco McClean November 20, 2018

    At the start of the movie /Strange Days/, set in late December 1999, the camera’s in a car rolling through a dark city where people are beating each up and setting things on fire and shooting guns. The car radio plays:

    Deejay says, You’re on the air, Lori.

    Edgy woman caller says, If you read the Bible you’d know there won’t be another thousand years. We’re in the last days.

    Deejay: The last days? You mean the Apocalypse, the Rapture?

    Caller: Look at the signs. There are wars, rumors of wars…

    Deejay: Just so we know how much time’s left, when’s the rapture supposed to hit? Is it midnight, New Year’s Eve?

    Caller: That’s right.

    Deejay, laughing: Is that midnight L.A. time or Eastern Standard Time or what? What time zone is God in?

    Caller, in hateful hissing growl: /I pray for you!/

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