Today begins our fourth day of intensive meetings in Almaty,
Kazakstan with various organizations to address Year-2000 (Y2K)
problems with computer systems. Our first task is simply to raise
awareness about the issue. The second is to assist with an
inventory and assessment. I'm finding a number of interesting
parallels with Africa.
We're encouraging what economists would call a benefit-cost approach
to Y2K, though the particular jargon used is more business oriented.
Organizations assess the costs (social, fiscal, etc.) if a particular
information system were to fail in whole or in part, and then weigh
the costs of repair or replacement. They then decide how to proceed.
Often the impact of a Y2K failure is minimal, and the decision is
then to do nothing if the cost of repair or upgrade is high.
Sometimes the impact is more serious.
We are finding quite a few systems engineers who are quite confident
theirs will not be impaired in the year 2000. We did find one
administrator with a rather critical information system who expressed
confidence that his system is Y2K compliant. His system nonetheless
failed our tests. His cost for repair will unfortunately be quite
high, but at least he still has a bit of time to take care of the
At another meeting a debate occurred over whether the failure of a
system would have serious consequences. One side argued that a
failure of a national pension system would have few impacts since
people were accustomed to receiving their payments late, and since
those payments were in the form of cash rather than check. The
other side pointed out that even if payments were several months in
arrears at present, those payments nonetheless arrive late on a
quite regular monthly basis, and any interuption in the regularity
of even late payments could result in widespread civil unrest.
As for the matter of checks, some seem to feel that since the poor
exist primarily in a cash economy they will be less affected. But
the other side pointed out that computers are often used to generate
the printouts from which cash payments are made, and computers are
used to process bank transfers and letters of credit for the
businesses that pay cash salaries.
The view from my hotel window of the glaciers of the Tian Shan some
3000 meters above Almaty (already 800m above sea level) is quite
spectacular -- we expect to drive a bit higher on the weekend for a
closer look, once we have more time. I'm told there's a nice cafe up
there where one can sip tea while looking out over the Central Asian
Yesterday evening I shopped in a small grocery for juice, bread, and
cheese. The staff were all quite helpful, offering me plastic bags
to carry my goods and lengthy explanations of Kazakstan versus
Tajikistan butter quality, though I speak not a word of Russian and
they not a word of English. At the cash register with several
gathered around, I learned "spaciba" and they "thank you."
Almaty in summer is cool, green, and beautiful. Today we lunched in
a Korean cafe with outdoor tables, the temperature being perhaps 22C
(72F). There are quite a few ethnic Koreans here, relocated from
Siberia by Stalin, previously relocated to Siberia from Korea by the
conquering Japanese. I'm told it can be a bit grim here in winter,
perhaps due to the unfiltered coal smoke emitted from the hearing of
water piped throughout the city to warm homes and businesses.
Home to America in early September, then back to my regular post
and off to visit several countries in Southern Africa.
Jeff @ Almaty
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