Annus Horribilis – The Y.6C Problem


© 2009 Keith G. McWalter

Remember “Y2K,” sometimes called the “millennium bug” problem? The more mature among us do. Now something just as seriously worrisome, something even more potentially disruptive, albeit less widely-known, awaits us in the coming year: the Y.6C Problem.

To fully understand the nature of the Y.6C problem, one must review how it came into being and how, though neglect, indifference, and abject stupidity, it has persisted. Then and only then can we consider how, if at all, we can properly prepare to deal with it.

The problem was readily recognizable from the very beginning, but was cavalierly ignored by almost everyone at the time: on August 24, 1949, I was born. While the glaring fact that I would, in all probability, someday turn 60 was generally acknowledged by some more thoughtful visionaries, no one was overly concerned (least of all myself), glibly assuming that by far-off 2009, any number of solutions would be devised to alleviate (or perhaps eliminate) the problem. As it turns out, however, application of conventional “fixes” (procrastination, rationalization, lying, listening to old Who albums) have resulted only in confirming the implacable nature of the difficulty.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” Alice McWalter, one of the principals in the creation of the problem, recorded in her memoirs some years ago. “We knew we’d probably have to deal with it someday, but we never really thought that day would arrive. We even put him in the same bedroom with his brother to save space. Now there’s not enough time to prepare for the inevitable.” She passed away not long after penning these prophetic words.

Initial reactions to the problem have ranged from outrage to denial. How, many ask, with all the expertise available, could so obvious and predictable a calamity not have been foreseen and properly prepared for?

Grudgingly it has been admitted that there is no simple “silver bullet” solution (although the involvement of handguns and conventional ammo has been occasionally considered). This is partly due to the fact that Y.6C is not just a glitch at the level of the operating system; the problem is “embedded” in innumerable devices we use every day (clocks, calendars, medical records, memories of siblings, children, and other relatives). Reconfiguring the infrastructure to the degree necessary to eliminate the flaw would create more problems than it would solve, even if it were humanly practical to do so. Experts have estimated that it would take approximately 113,576 person-years to snip the offending date out of all the calendars printed this year alone.

Estimates of the impact of Y.6C vary wildly, ranging from predictions of catastrophic, cascading failures of multiple cognitive systems and widespread
financial irresponsibility on one hand, to nothing more than a sharp increase in the probability of crying on the other. This much is certain, however: deterioration of memory function will occur, and some observers believe they can detect, almost daily, the leading edge of this manifestation of the problem. Processing speed will decline. Character recognition systems are particularly susceptible; it’s already been noted that some texts must be held at arm’s length for optical acquisition to occur, and this condition is only expected to worsen as Y.6C approaches.

Some consultants recommend extracting as much cash from the system as possible before the date arrives, on the theory that financial records may become
“lost” in the wake of Y.6C. Even the most confident say they will take precautions, and are already stockpiling sedatives, alcohol, and excuses to be out of town.

“We’d all like to think of it as just another date on the calendar,” says my wife Courtney, the consultant thought by many to be closest to the problem. “Unfortunately, that’s like sticking our heads in the sand. There just isn’t enough time left to avoid a serious upheaval. Let’s face it, this is going to get as ornery as a two-fisted billy goat.”

Even if Y.6C can be surmounted, other pitfalls lie further down the road. There is Y.65C, which is expected to have similar effects, only more so (albeit without some of the shock engendered by Y.6C). And still later, almost far enough off to ignore once again, there is Y.7C. The hope is that by then we will either be so accustomed to these disasters that no one will notice, or that someone will have devised a suitably effective mixed drink.

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