SMART Letter #14
November 30, 1998



            SMART Letter #14 - November 30, 1998

        For Friends and Enemies of the Stupid Network

             Copyright 1998 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com





Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken NJ.  

To attend see


              or call 908-389-0177



 + Lead essay: Y2K Letters to Leaders (Don't just read this, use it!)

 + Updated Quotes Page -- Newly collected quotes on

          +  Technological Change

          +  Predicting the Future

          +  The Year 2000 Problem

          +  Strategy

          +  Corporate Culture

          +  The Social Basis of Learning

 + Conferences on My Calendar, Copyright Notice, Administrivia



The Year 2000 is rapidly approaching, but our knowledge of 

potential Y2K problems is lagging. 

     Will the electric grid work?  We don't know.  

     Will our hospitals function?  We don't know. 

     Will the phone system go down?  We don't know.

     Will there be enough food and water?  We don't know.

     Gasoline?  Emergency services?  We do not know.  

     Will industrial accidents in refineries and chemical 

     processing plants increase?  We don't know.  

     Might there even be an accidental nuclear weapon 

     launch?  God we hope not.

Weighing the consequences, I believe that these are 

reasonable, pragmatic questions that must be addressed, 

especially given our lack of knowledge.

About one year ago, a high-ranking US government official 

told me that US weapons systems definitely were going to be 

Y2K ready.  In late 1997 he asserted that there was a 

spare-no-expenses push to fix them, that the best personnel 

were assigned, that the job would be done, and done right.  

But over the last day or two, stories in USA Today, the NY 

Times and the Wall Street Journal (11/27) report that 

weapons management systems that the US Department of Defense

thought were Year 2000 compliant weren't. Apparently specialists 

signed Y2K compliance papers without testing the systems.

The "Human Spirit" scenario occurs in the context of massive 

technological breakdown, yet it is a positive vision (see  If our leaders 

provide leadership, this will act towards preserving social 

institutions even as the infrastructure breaks.  How can we 

sensitize our leaders to the possibility that the 

information that "their people" have been providing may not 

contain the whole story?  And inspire them towards leadership

at the same time?

One of my advisors had the idea of a SMART letter writing

campaign. The letter below, based on the work of Tom Atlee 

and Gordon Davidson (and used with their permission) 

provides a suggested template.  Perhaps we might start with 

four letters -- to our mayor or city manager, to our chief of 

police, to our physician, and to our clergy . . . or ???

Please let me know your ideas on the below -- David I

--------------------- cut here ------------------------

Dear ---------

As we get closer to the Year 2000, I am hearing a lot about 

the Year 2000 Problem -- about how this might have serious 

consequences for the economy, for the infrastructure, and 

maybe even for civil order.  On the other hand, I am seeing 

very little national or local leadership. I have a lot 

of questions about how government and civic leaders are 

responding to the Year 2000 Problem.  Here are some of my 

questions and concerns:


Problem may just be a big inconvenience, or it could really 

mess up our lives and communities.  As an active citizen, I 

want to know how the important institutions we depend on 

are doing in fixing their computer systems. Companies, 

utilities, and government offices seem to be holding back 

information.  They seem to be giving us PR instead of 

really telling us how they are doing.  We don't want to 

assume that they're really behind and are going to fail in 

January 2000, but we do not know what they are hiding, if 

anything. Question #1: What would you do to make it easier 

for citizens to get real information about how companies, 

utilities and governments are doing in their preparations 

for Y2K?

HOW CAN WE PREVENT PANIC? Lots of people are getting pretty 

scared about what might happen on January 1, 2000, when 

some computers and microchips break down. Already there are 

signs that some people are heading for the hills, stocking 

up on dried food and planning to take all their money out 

of the banks.  This sort of stuff will probably get worse 

during the next year.  Question #2: What would you do to 

prevent widespread panic and dangerous runs on banks and 

stores, without impeding people's ability to prepare for 

the Year 2000 Problem?


Clinton cited a survey that showed that of the small 

businesses that even know about the Year 2000 Problem, 

roughly half intend to do nothing about it.  Most of the 

jobs in our economy come from small businesses.  They make 

parts and provide services that are vital to the operations 

of big businesses. If lots of small businesses fold, our 

economy is done for.  Question #3: What would you do to 

make sure that the small businesses that we depend upon are 

well prepared?


Electric Reliability Council stated in a September 1998 

report that 64% of electrical utilities in the U.S. are 

only 30% through their Y2K repairs, and 36% of utilities 

have no plan at all.  Many people think there is just not 

enough time for them to complete this work. It is also 

likely that nuclear plants, (which are 20% of our 

generating capacity) will have to be shut down because 

their safety cannot be guaranteed. If we lose our 

electrical grid we will have severe infrastructure and 

supply problems.  Question #4: What would you do to ensure 

that out communities have electricity (or backup systems) 

in January, 2000? 

WILL THERE BE SOCIAL UNREST? Many people who live in urban 

areas are concerned that even if they prepare by storing 

food and water, large populations of poor or unprepared 

people could lead to widespread social unrest. We could 

face severe social disruptions and even violence if basic 

services and supplies are unavailable. Proposals have been 

made that the federal or state government establish 

warehouses of food and supplies in the inner cities to 

prevent this scenario.  We could use schools for shelters 

and involve churches and businesses.  There are all sorts 

of things we could do. Question #5: What would you do to 

help us work together to prepare our whole community for 

Y2K?  What would you do to ease racial and class 

differences during the period of stress we'll probably 

experience with Y2K?


failures cause accidents in chemical refineries and other 

factories that release toxic or radioactive substances 

(which the EPA has publicly expressed concern about) or if 

governments and businesses just get too distracted by Y2K 

work to pay attention to the environment, the environment 

could be hurt pretty badly. Question #6: What are you going 

to do to ensure that we don't have toxic leaks or nuclear 

accidents because of Y2K?  What do you propose to do to 

protect the environment from Y2K-related damage?

WILL MEDICAL CARE BE DISRUPTED? A lot of experts are saying 

that hospitals are especially threatened by the Year 2000 

problem -- that some of their equipment has embedded 

microchips that might fail, or that computers might not be 

able to do important calculations with patient records.  

And the agency that handles Medicare payments is not ready 

for the Year 2000.  Furthermore, some medicines might 

become hard to get.  I've heard that 70% of the world's 

insulin is produced by one company in Europe. Question #7: 

Do you know how our medical institutions are progressing on 

their Y2K preparations?  What would you do to ensure we 

have adequate health care in January 2000?


be playing games with the Year 2000 problem. One day 

they'll say that it isn't a problem, and the next day 

they'll publish some scary Y2K survivalist story.  And a 

lot of good stuff that's going on -- like concerned 

citizens getting together to prepare their communities -- 

never gets reported. The Internet is filled with good 

analysis and documentation, but also with wild doomsday 

rantings and false reassurances. Question #8: What would 

you do to get the media to give us the useful information, 

inspirational stories and good guidance we need to get our 

communities ready for the Year 2000?  

WILL THE INFRASTRUCTURE CRASH? Many people are concerned 

that our entire infrastructure could be threatened, 

especially if the electrical grid goes down, as the entire 

system is completely interdependent, and a failure by 

telecommunications could bring down the electrical grid, 

all banking, and emergency services. Question #9: What 

would you do to ensure we have water, sewage disposal, 

waste disposal, basic energy supplies, food, public 

security, health care, care for the poor, elderly and 

infirm, adequate public transportation, a functioning local 

economy, a functioning justice and prison system, increased 

self-reliance and resilience as a community? 

To close, let me cite General Norman Schwartzkopf: 

"Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and 

character.  But if you must be without one, be without the 

strategy."  We don't know enough to formulate a strategy.  

So I am asking you to lead!  Answers to even some of the 

questions above would be most helpful.


--------------------- cut here ------------------------



Who has time for Wittgenstein these days, anyway?  

Here are some quotations I've added recently:


"Dinosaurs were highly successful and lasted a long time. 

They never went away. They became smaller, faster, and more 

agile, and now we call them birds." Mark Halper in Forbes 

ASAP, June 2, 1997.  

"In the times of rapid change, learners inherit the Earth, 

while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to 

deal with a world that no longer exists."  Eric Hoffer.  

"Who will pave my information super-driveway?"  Zigurd 

Mednieks in Telerati Newsletter #31, 12 Oct 1998. 

"If, while traveling, I send a turn-yourself-off message to 

my stove and it replies 'Unable to respond due to fire 

wall,'  should I send my garden hose a spray-the-house 

message?"  Steve Cummings, quoted in Journal of the 

Hyperlinked Organization, June 4, 1998 


"The only reliable prediction is that some simple factor 

that nobody had envisioned will cause things to turn out 

radically different from what is projected."  Eric 

Springman, quoted in the Journal of the Hyperlinked  

Organization ( November 25, 1998.

"Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, 

but with the future of present decisions."  Peter F. 


"Never make forecasts, especially about the future." 

Attributed to movie mogul Sam Goldwyn.


"[A rumor] breeds best in a society that is deprived of 

factual information.  What is read in the newspapers is 

reduced to the status of propaganda, whereas what is heard 

on the grapevine is elevated to fact.''  Elizabeth Wong, 

head of the Malaysian human rights group Suaram, during 

1998 Malaysian economic crisis.

"All financial markets are belief systems. We all put money 

in a bank and then borrow out ten times as much and feel 

safe. Why? Because we believe in each other as a system. I 

have never been part of an important business, trade, 

transaction, deal, or event that did not have its success 

begin and end in faith."  Austin Fitts, SMART Person 

(, July 1998 email. 

"In the control room there were three audible alarms 

sounding, and many of the 1600 annunciator lights (little 

rectangles of plastic with some code numbers and letters on 

them) were on or blinking. The operators did not turn off 

the main audible alarm because it would cancel some of the 

annunciator lights. The computer was beginning to run far 

behind schedule; in fact it took some hours before its 

message that something might be wrong with the PORV finally 

got its chance to be printed.  Radiation alarms were coming 

on.  The control room was filling with experts; later in 

the day there were about forty people there.  The phones 

were ringing constantly, demanding information the 

operators did not have."  From a description of the Three 

Mile Island accident in Normal Accidents: Living with High 

Risk Technologies by Charles Perrow (1984, Basic Books, New 

York) p. 28.

"Who knows which of today's short-sighted policies will 

turn out to be tomorrow's nightmare."  Tom Abate, San 

Francisco Examiner, December 29, 1996.


"This is not a company adrift, searching for some elusive 

silver bullet."  Bob Allen, at AT&T shareholders meeting, 

May 1997.  

"You can't depend on your judgement when your imagination 

is out of focus." Mark Twain. 


"Innovation requires us to systematically identify changes 

that have already occurred in a business - in demographics, 

in values, in technology or science -- and then to look at 

them as opportunities. It also requires something that is 

most difficult for existing companies to do: to abandon 

rather than defend yesterday."  Peter Drucker in Inc 

Magazine, March 1996. 

"It is a myth that people resist change.  People resist 

what other people make them do, not what they themselves 

choose to do. . . . That's why companies that innovate 

successfully year after year seek their people's ideas, let 

them initiate new projects and encourage more experiments."  

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in The Vineyard Gazette,  sometime 

during summer, 1997. 

"I don't want yes men around me.  I want everyone to tell 

the truth, even if it costs them their jobs." Attributed to 

movie mogul Sam Goldwyn. 


"The highest bandwidth network of all is found between the 

water fountain and the coffee machine." Davenport, T.H. 

Think Tank: The Virtual and the Physical, CIO, November 15, 




 + An Afternoon with George Gilder, December 10, 4-7 PM, 

   Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken NJ. Sponsored by, inc., and the Advanced Telecommunications 

   Institute of Stevens Institute of Technology. Tell your friends, 

   customers, suppliers, employees, boss, enemies, to be there or b^2

   To attend see


             or call 908-389-0177

 + Solutions 99! -- Denton TX: Sponsored by University of 

   North Texas, Feb 9, 1999. Contact Mitch Land .



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Copyright 1998 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com


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David S. Isenberg


18 South Wickom Drive	888-isen-com (anytime)

Westfield NJ 07090 USA	908-875-0772 (direct line)

				908-654-0772 (home)


     -- Technology Analysis and Strategy --

        Rethinking the value of networks 

      in an era of abundant infrastructure.


Date last modified: 5 Dec 98