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Y2K speech, part 2

This entry contains the second and final part of a May 13, 1999 after-dinner speech I delivered at the Kronos Worldwide Sales and Service Conference ("WWSSC") in St. Louis, Missouri, to an audience of over 800 people. The first half of the speech can be found in my previous entry, entitled "Y2K speech, part 1".

During 1998 and 1999, I spent much of my time working on the so-called "Y2K" problem, to ensure that Kronos products would operate properly at the turn of the millennium and beyond. I discussed this effort in two previous blog entries, Y2K and Y2K (bis).

The speech is copyright 1999 by Lawrence J. Krakauer. The footnotes include information to help non-Kronos readers understand my references, some of which were topical, and some of which would have been understood only by employees of the company. The photographs depict various moments in the speech. Note 1


When I spoke to this group two years ago, Laura Woodburn had just started as Vice President - Engineering. In fact, my speech was one of the first impressions she had of me, and she probably decided that she had a total lunatic on her hands. Now that we've worked together for a couple of years, I think she realizes that I'm only a partial lunatic.

Please reflect on the astounding progress Engineering has made in two short years. We finally have professional management! We do long term planning! We have a published Plan of Record, thanks to Barb Purchia! Sometimes, we even know what we're doing! Listen to Alex Schay of The Motley Fool: QUOTE "[Kronos's] gains came from a clear increase in the productivity of the company's sales force" -- I thank you all -- "... as well as the unprecedented amount of new products pushed into the pipeline." UNQUOTE. I think Laura deserves a round of applause. Note 2

OK, enough sucking up to my boss. Laura, remember, my review has to be in just before January first!

Since the Millennium is an issue of Biblical proportions, I went straight to the Good Book for an analysis of some of the other people helping with Y2K testing. In addition to TKC Win, Dan Doherty is responsible for all our legacy and character-mode products. But this was all foretold. In the Book of Daniel, Chapter 1, verse 9, it says "Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs." Hmm, Dan, were these HP-eunuchs, or DG-eunuchs? Note 3

Now, just in case Microsoft has any Y2K problems, who's going to protect us? I'll tell you who; our Vice President, Client/Server Systems, Peter George. As it is written, Matthew chapter 16, verse 18: "Thou art Peter, and on this rock I shall build my church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it". Note 4

Quick Bible lesson (something about being up here at a pulpit is inspiring me!): "Thou art Peter" in the Latin Vulgate reads "Tu es Petrus", but "Petrus" in fact means "rock" in Latin. If we translated names by meaning instead of sound, then we wouldn't have the apostle Peter, we'd have the apostle "Rock", like "Rock Hudson. And then that verse would read, "Thou art Rock, and on this rock I shall build my church," and even readers of the English translation would get the pun. Note 5

See, I can't give a speech without teaching something. I promise not to do it again. Why all these quotes from the Bible? Because as a computer nerd, I'm a member of the Geek Orthodox Church.

I'd also like to acknowledge Paul Lacy, our Chief Financial Officer, chairman of the Year 2000 Steering Committee, who has worked tirelessly on this problem, even after it stopped being fun. OK, Paul, from now on, your Y2K memos will be referred to as the "Epistles of Paul".

Finally: In my speech two years ago, I included the line "Already, Tom Champine is working diligently to be sure that our products crash reliably in the year 2000!" I made a joke out of it, but there was truth behind that line. At a time when Engineering thought we wouldn't have any problem with Y2K, Tom was, to stick with my Biblical theme, our "Doubting Thomas". Had he not pushed us early on, we might be in serious trouble right now. Please join me in giving a round of applause to Tom Champine.

Tom started with Kronos nearly 13 years ago, in our Detroit office. The British captured Detroit in 1760, but they gave it back. They couldn't get the parts. Tom is now Director of Service Planning, and sits in a lovely sun-lit corner office at Omni Way. Tom; you've come a long way from the Balloon Saloon back in Southfield, Michigan. Debbie Burns worked with Tom in Detroit back then, so I asked her if she had any stories about him. She smiled, then laughed for quite a while, and then looked serious, and said, "Yes, but I can't tell you any of them". Steve Hiatt was the District Manager in Detroit back then, possibly on the strength of his guitar playing.

The Posse

Make no mistake about it, the Year 2000 is a problem that could sink the company. It will be very serious if we miss something, and have a product fail in the year 2000. Tom and I might not find every problem there is. As the official Kronos Engineering "Year 2-K Sheriff", I am hereby deputizing all of you. This audience is the largest posse ever formed, and we've got to organize and search for any possible Y2K bugs that might have been missed.

So everyone, raise your right hand, and repeat after me:

[Raises right hand]
I, State your name, ...

state your name

   (Alright! I knew you'd do that! I knew I could count on this audience!)

promise to be on the lookout
for any Y2K bugs
in products made by,
sold by,
or used by Kronos.
If I see any,
I will promptly report them
to Larry in Waltham,
along with a cash donation.

[lower hand]

Here's a good side effect of the Y 2 K problem, competitively. As you know, Kronos has figured out what it wants to do when it grows up, and that turned out to be "Front Line Labor Management", "F-L-L-M", or "phlegm", as we call it. This highly successful concept was developed in a series of top-secret joint Marketing and Engineering meetings, although they must have been smoking something when they came up with an abbreviation pronounced "phlegm". The existence of those meetings was known only to top Kronos management, and, of course, the Chinese government. Note 6  Naturally, we are the world leader in "Front Line Labor Management", because our competition hasn't figured out what it is yet. Once they do, maybe they can tell us.

But seriously, it's better to be in "phlegm" than to be in urp. "E-R-P", that's "Enterprise Resource Planning". E-R-P is the realm of the "J BOPS", JD Edwards, Baan, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and SAP, and you may have noticed that PeopleSoft stock is slumping faster than the Red Sox in September, and the SAP has not been rising. One reason is our friend Y-2-K. In E-R-P, it's been a case of "I'm O.K., You're O.K, Y-2-K, oops!".

But why are we doing fine in phlegm, while they're having so much trouble in urp? It's because E-R-P rollouts take a very long time, whereas Kronos products roll out comparatively quickly. We're both losing sales to customers preoccupied with Y-2-K problems, but so far, Kronos is making up this business with replacement of non-compliant systems. But in E-R-P, it's already too late for customers to roll their systems out before the end of the year.

The Aftermath

Here's a problem with working on the year 2000: your job can end abruptly on January first. Do you think I don't know what is being planned for me? Hey Laura, I hacked into the e-mail system years ago! I know what you're up to! In the year 2000, they're thinking of trading me to PeopleSoft for two Java programmers and one additional Nerd to be named later.

Seriously, think about it! There are possibly millions of people working on the Year 2000 problem, and it will all end abruptly on January 1. Edward Yardeni now thinks a Y2K induced recession has a sixty percent probability. Note 7

You young whippersnappers are too young to remember the Great Depression. Well, so am I, but I'm old enough to remember my father talking about it incessantly. Try to picture it: people sitting in the street wearing signs saying "Will write COBOL for food". People in ATM kiosks, pressing the buttons to wile the time away, even though they've forgotten why, and no money ever comes out. An army of computer nerds, nostalgically double clicking vending machine buttons to download cans of Coke. It inspires me to break out once again in song:

Hit it, maestro!

Once I wrote a program, made it run,
Made it race against time.
Once I wrote a program, now it's done,
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I wrote a program, didn't do
All the testing I should.
When it said "December Thirty-two",
Knew the outcome wouldn't be good.

Once I wrote a program, wrote too fast,
And now there's a new paradigm.
Came the year 2000, it didn't last,
Brother, can you spar-a-dime?

Once I had my options, stock, and cash,
Head Hunters calling all the time.
But my sloppy coding caused a crash.
[spoken] Hey Buddy, can you spare a dime?

You can tell that's a song from the depression, slightly modified, of course. A dime doesn't buy you anything anymore. In 2000, they'll be asking for ten bucks to buy a double latte at Starbucks. Note 8


But our problems are small compared with Microsoft's. A typical Microsoft product has about a jillion features. If point one percent of them have Y2K bugs, that's a lot of bugs.

Microsoft needs to learn that sometimes, more is less. Let me give you an analogy: to get more room, I bought a king-size bed. But the very first night, my wife Margie's hand stretched out into the new territory in a kind of exploratory way, and then suddenly, BOING! she stretched out on a diagonal and occupied almost the entire surface. I swear, if she had lived on the German border, she would have annexed Poland. This restricted me to a narrow strip along the edge, and it kicked my dog Bowser off the bed entirely. It was sort of like installing Office 97 on an old computer, and watching it eat the hard drive. And Bill Gates thinks we need even more of this stuff.

I recently met Bill at the 35th anniversary celebration of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science. After his speech, I shook his hand. Obviously, I was hoping that, say, point one percent of his wealth would somehow rub off on me, which would instantly have made me a multi-millionaire. But I checked my bank account afterward, and now that I think about it, the balance seemed to have gone down a bit. Hmm. So I guess nothing positive rubbed off on me from Bill.

Except... it was that very night that it occurred to me that by bundling my Bowser with my blankets, I could monopolize the entire king-size bed! Note 9

It worked, but it's kinda lonely now.

The Original Timeclock

But I can always take pride in that very first timeclock I built for Kronos. This sucker was built way back in 1979, nearly twenty years ago, and yet it can be set forward into the year 2000! Remember? Joe LeLievre found it for me. Now, Y2K Compliance definitions say it's compliant if it does the same thing in 2000 that it did in the 1900s. I've already set it to the year 2000; let's stick in a card.

[A clamping noise is heard, and a buzz.]

The solenoid locked up again; so far, so good.

[Pulls the card from the clock in flames; holds it up]

Yup, just what it did in '97! Alright! Note 10 
Yup, just what it did in '97!

If it's the same bug regardless of century, then it's a bug, but it's not a Y2K bug! And that's just what it did when I spoke to you two years ago, right? You guys saw it!

[Douses the card in a pitcher of water]

OK, Joe, it's compliant. Ship it!


I for one can't wait for the Year 2000, because I'm hoping to return to doing useful work. And I can take a well-deserved rest from this messy problem until 2100, which won't be a leap year. [Worried look] Uh-oh, that might be a problem.

[Brightening] Wait a second. I'll be dead by then!

Wait a second.  I'll be dead by then!  What a relief!

What a relief!

But let's not end on a note of doom and gloom. Let's all pat ourselves on the back. See? [Demonstrates] Kronos makes mission critical products, which do extensive calculations with dates. Yet the majority of our products pass when tested. Every Kronos-designed terminal we tested has passed, except for one hand-held. Versions of TKC going back to 6B.01 have been tested, and they all passed.

As we considered older and older products, we stopped testing because we hit products that have been long obsolete, not because we hit products that didn't work. Our problem areas are largely with products made for us by third-party vendors. We're clearly doing better than most software developers, and that's something I think we can all be proud of.

Can I say there will be no problems in January of 2000? No, it's likely that something unexpected will go wrong; one thing we've learned about this problem is that it's full of surprises. But I hope to see all of you as part of an even larger and even more prosperous Kronos in the next millennium.

I'd like to give special thanks to my wife, Margie, who had a lousy Mother's Day while I was finishing up my speech and working on my visual aids. OK, Margie, I'm ready to autograph your body parts now. Thanks, everyone.

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© 2012 Lawrence J. Krakauer   Click here to send me e-mail.
Originally posted March 8, 2012

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Footnotes (click [return to text] to go back to the footnote link)

Note 1:   In the interest of full disclosure, so important in someone who worked on the Y2K problem: the photos shown here were not actually taken at the speech. Rather, they are 100% genuine reenactments. The sharp-eyed viewer might notice the absence of the lavaliere microphone I wore during the speech. But I did put on the same shirt (well, I'm an Engineer; I've only got one shirt).   [return to text]

Note 2:   The Alex Schay quote was from an article in the Yahoo Financial News dated April 19, 1999. It is no longer posted on their site.   [return to text]

Note 3:   For you non-computer people: there's a pun here, because the biblical quote speaks of "eunuchs", and Kronos vice president Dan Doherty was, among other things, in charge of porting Kronos products to the UNIX operating system. Specifically, we had at the time ported it to run under both the Hewlett-Packard version of the operating system (HP-UNIX) and the Data General version (DG-UNIX).   [return to text]

Note 4:   This allusion to Bill Gates, Founder and CEO of Microsoft, is the work of Dean Christakos, who was responding to "Microsoft buys the Catholic Church", a 1994 April Fools' Day spoof that was circulated widely on the internet.   [return to text]

Note 5:  Thou art Peter ...

From the Latin Vulgate:

"Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam."

From Latin Scholar Mindy Goodman:

"Re: the very famous quote from Matthew, chapter 16, verse 18: The name Petrus means Peter. Petrus is a second declension singular masculine noun in the nominative case. Petrus has its root in the first declension feminine noun petra, which means rock. That's why the name Peter means rock. Matthew is saying "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church." It's what you could call reification, a very fancy word that means actualizing an idea. Anyway, you are definitely right: case (and different declensions) are the reasons for Petrus and petram. As previously stated, Petrus is second declension masculine singular nominative (subject) and petram is first declension feminine singular accusative. It is in the accusative case because the Latin preposition super requires that a noun which follows it be in the accusative."   [return to text]

Note 6:   Not long before the speech, there had been some sort of leak of secret information to the Chinese government. Sorry, I forget the details now.   [return to text]

Note 7:   Dr. Edward Yardeni is President of Yardeni Research, Inc., a provider of independent investment strategy research. Actually, he had raised his recession probability estimate to 70% in August of 1998. My 60% figure came from an earlier article in April 1998, when he had raised his probability estimate from 40% to 60%. But in hindsight, he was wrong - there was no Y2K-induced recession.   [return to text]

Note 8:   Here are the original lyrics for "Brother, can you spare a dime", by Yip Harburg (music by Gorney Harburg, 1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell, full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell, and I was the boy with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell, full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell, and I was the boy with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Here's a link to play the Bing Crosby version on YouTube in a separate window. You can then close that window to return here. Although many people recorded the song, Crosby's version was by far the most popular. You can compare it with Al Jolson's version here, which will also open in a separate window.   [return to text]

Note 9:  This was my only disappointment - and I spent so much time setting it up! But it must not have been clear enough, because it didn't get much of a reaction. It was a reference to Bill Gates of Microsoft trying to get away with "bundling" the Internet Explorer web browser in with the Windows operating system.

The idea was:

Bill Gates: Bundled his browser with his Operating System To: monopolize the browser market
I: Bundled my Bowser with my blankets To: monopolize the king size bed

Oh, well. In general, I was thrilled with the audience reaction. As soon as I got a few good laughs early in the speech, I felt the group was on my side, and the rest was easy.   [return to text]

Note 10:   A substantial number of the attendees in my audience had been present at my Chicago speech on The History of Kronos two years earlier. So while they were not surprised at what happened, they were mostly happy to see it done again. Others were new to Kronos, and were completely surprised. "Joe" mentioned below the photo ("OK, Joe, it's compliant. Ship it!") was Joe LeLievre, in charge of final testing and quality assurance (I think he's still at Kronos today in much the same position).

If you're interested in seeing how the flaming card demonstration was done, see "How I reliably set timecards on fire". The page will open in a separate window - close that window to return here.   [return to text]

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