COMMENTARIES

AN OLD  PROGRAMMER’S MIA CULPA

This is a copy of an Op-Ed that was printed in the N.J. StarLedger in a column called "SpeakUp" in July 1999.  It was about the upcoming year 2000 and how it was being blown out of proportion.  It also was to set the record straight about the cause of the perceived Y2K problem.  And a heretofore unknown fact about the clock time in large computer systems.

I am guilty of writing programs that only use a two digit date. In fact I have written programs that only used a one digit date. If you can accept that most programmers have excellent logic, really common sense, and understand what happened, then maybe you can forgive us.  Mia culpa.

There is a sinister compliment to we programmers that did this. And that is our creations were not supposed to last to the millennium. Or, in the case of my one digit date program, up to the end of the decade. Somehow they lasted, like fine art. Mia culpa.

I started programming in 1962. Computer main memory was extremely expensive, about a buck a character. That is what memory was called before it became fashionably called bytes. DASD space, direct access storage device, now called a hard drive on your PC, was very expensive too. More important, the physical box, about the size of two big refrigerators, contained only FIVE million bytes. All the computer rooms in the world at that time, put end to end, could not physically hold the DASD volume of data that the typical Christmas present PC hard drive now holds.

Saving two bytes per customer record in large data bases was quite an accomplishment. We were programming in machine language. There were no fancy programming languages like there are now. In fact there were no CRT’s, cathode ray tubes, monitors to current hackers. We programmed for printer type terminals, typewriters. There was no way these rudimentary programs were going to live to year 00. However, they have now been coined "Legacy Programs".  Mia culpa.

If you are looking for real criminals then look for programmers that wrote two byte date programs in the late eighties and nineties. The Y2K problem was already publicized in our industry. More important, the precedent that programs were living beyond expectations had already been set.

I don’t really expect serious problems midnight December 31, 99. I think lawyers and insurance companies have purposely blown this thing out of proportion. Lawyers for their fat retainers that they will never have to earn. And insurance companies for the obvious.

However, if the worry warts want to continue, here is something, heretofore, not publicized. That is that most major computer sites, especially mainframes, use GMT, Greenwich Mean Time, so they can be in synchronization around the world. GMT, offset five hours from the East coast USA, is also known as Prime Meridian, or Zero Longitude. Computers display local time as a convenience to we mortals. Therefore as the worry warts, sit in front of their TV’s, waiting for midnight 99, or is it midnight 00, they may find the catastrophe occurred five hours earlier, when these computers crossed into 2000, or is it 1900. Worse, the power may have gone off at 7 PM on the East cost. In summary, and reality, I think we will all be able to say happy new year to each other. Or is it old year 1900! Mia Culpa.

THE NBC MOVIE "THE SIXTIES"

The two part NBC movie "The Sixties" should have been delayed one more week till the end of the impeachment trial. Then NBC could have featured the best product of that era, Clinton. The movie high lighted just a few of the somewhat legitimate causes of that generation. What it didn't do was tell it like it really was. The 60's generation was the first massive generation from fore-fathers that tried to give their children more than they had. However they chose to have fun instead.

The sixties generation perfected draft dodging, embraced "if it feels good do it" philosophy, and glamorized drugs and marijuana to bring them to what the illegal drug industry is today. They said we didn't belong in Vietnam, it wasn't our war. Now, their star graduate, draft dodging Clinton, is sending troops to Kosovo, I guess it's our war when they see a need. We belonged in Vietnam, Korea, South America, Granada, Iraq , etc. The USA single handedly stopped the spread of Communism on all fronts, in all countries, that's why Communism failed.

Clinton is aware, now, of some information as to why we must stop the fighting in Kosovo just as the presidents during the Vietnam and Korean wars new we had to intervene. The only complaint I have is we didn't go in and kick ass. We worried about what the Chinese, Russians, and most recently, the Arabs might think. The sixties generation caused the demise of the draft leaving us with millions of men that have no discipline and can't hang up their clothes. They also continued their philosophy, if it feels good Bill, do it. Now they have come full circle and judged Bill Clinton as they would themselves. I guess I am the only one that seems worried that our president can have his finger on the atomic button while someone under his desk can cause him to have a sudden spasm.

I almost never puke.   However, now I do when ever I see Clinton salute the Marine when he boards his helicopter, when he wears that Air Force leather jacket, or when he places a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

STOCK MARKET ANALYSTS

Most stock market analysts have an M.S. in B.S.  Prove it to yourself, read the business section of your local paper for a few days in a row.  Each day the business section has a different analyst's explanation of what happened yesterday in the stock market.  These analysts are really run of the mill stock brokers or representatives of a brokerage firm, like Merrill Lynch.

It is so obvious that they fashion an explanation to fit the previous days outcome.  Check two different news papers and you will see two completely different reasons, sometimes contradictory, for yesterdays market convulsions.  They will say "traders did this or that", when if they are telling the truth, it is based on their five or six customers that called in a trade yesterday.  Hardly a fair sample.

There is no brokerage in the sky that asks before each trade, "why are you doing this".  The majority of the shares traded on the exchanges are done by big brokerage houses, mutual fund companies, corporations, very rich individuals, or traders timing or playing the price momentum.  I could prove this if I could get the exchanges to quote the number of different traders along with the total volume that they publish each day.   There is no logic that supports that just because the volume went up or down that there were more or less traders.  How about if Bright Star Mutual Fund traded 100 million shares yesterday.  That would be about one seventh of all the trades on an average day.  Now compare that to 10 million additional or different entities or persons, traded yesterday. I think one could make a safer guess as to the motives or emotions of the average trader.

Another humorous, almost daily, scenario is the interest rate or potential earnings excuse.  And the flip flop every other day.  It goes some thing  like this, and probably based on five customers: "The market went up yesterday because traders felt the Fed IS NOT going to raise interest rates".  Sometimes coupled with a previously announced statistic or indicator.  Then, when it goes down in a day or two: "The market went down yesterday because traders ARE worried that the Fed will raise interest rates".   Might not even be accompanied by a statistic or indicator.  This will go on for a few cycles.  Once, for fun, I recorded a popular analyst's market closing statement several days in a row.  Just the sentence why the market went up or down.  Then playing it back, with one sentence running into the next, it was hilarious.

Then of course there is the earnings spiel that the traders were "WORRIED" or "NOT WORRIED AFTER ALL", that gets cycled for a few times.  Usually, but not always, near earnings reporting time. Ever notice when the market goes up after unemployment numbers are announced?  The analysts say it went up because this will prompt the Fed to lower rates.  If, however, the market went down instead, the analysts will say traders are worried about business is slowing down.  Rising unemployment is not good for the economy at any time, period.  The market reacting opposite the way it logically should is the day traders freaking around in the market, period.

THIS IS A TRUE STORY:   The time the Fed raised interest rates in 1997 on a Thursday of the week the scenarios went like this.  On Tuesday, the analyst chosen for that day, said the market went down Monday because traders are worried the Fed will raise rates.  Wednesday's spiel was the same for Tuesday and Thursdays was similar for Wednesday.  Traders were, allegedly, terribly concerned that the Fed will raise rates.  That day, Thursday, the Fed raised rates and the market unexpectedly went UP!  Friday my great state newspaper had three analysts.  One said "the market went up because the traders were relieved".  If you are a trader and worried about rising interest rates, then what the Fed did would be your worst nightmare and the market would drop as you liquidated your holdings.  The next said "the market went up because the Fed demonstrated he was gong to control inflation".  That's what the Fed is supposed to do and does it with interest rates.   So, continuing that logic, that's a plus and the market should have gone up every day that week, in anticipation of the increase.  The third blew me away with his explanation of why the market didn't go down, as it logically should have, but went up.  He said that "that proves the market can do what ever it wants".  That's like it lives or is a spoiled brat.  Basically saying he had no freaking idea why the market did what it did.  Probably the same credibility he has every day.

My poor broker called me that day with some great opportunity.  I can't believe this guys timing.  I told him the story just as I wrote above.  Pointing out that they can't all be right and it's BS.  He said, "They don't pay these guys two hundred thousand dollars a year if they don't know what there are doing".  I paused, and said, "Doesn't president Clinton get paid two hundred thousand dollars a year", and hung up on him.  My broker has an M.S. in B.S..

DE FACTO DISCRIMINATION

The "Monumental Mistake" editorial that appeared in the NJ StarLedger 01/22/02 paper was very interesting. That was the column by Pitts Jr., an African American, from the Miami Herald. At first he sucked me in with his criticism of those that would rewrite history and change the ethnicity of the firemen, on the new statue, that raised the flag on 09/11/01. But then he went into the usual diatribe about the percentage of minorities in the fire department. The NYC fire department is the most diverse FD in the nation. His rhetoric reminds me of the Morris Town NJ fiasco where state and federal authorities rewrote a firemenís test because minorities didnít pass in their required politically correct percentages. After the third retry, and practically after kidnapping minorities off the street to take the test, it was canceled. The reason, "de facto discrimination". Their definition, "the fact that minorities didnít pass in significant numbers indicates that the test is some how discriminatory". Wouldnít the logically correct reason be that the minorities that were interested in the FD, took, and failed the test, were not smart enough to pass it?

 

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