Y2k Challenge: Embedded Systems

This article is presented for historical posterity. It is simply a clear representation of solid research – based on facts – and not wild speculation. Note: Some links here may be broken – mostly due to having been taken down after nothing happened.

“Michael Theroux is the head of an outfit called Borderland Sciences. Theroux is a better than good researcher. He called the false Y2K crisis on the nose months and months ahead of time. He has also written some compelling and valid rejections of the portrait of AIDS presented to us by the med research establishment. Theroux also writes about global warming.” ~Jon Rappoport,  http://www.nomorefakenews.com

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Y2k Challenge: Embedded Systems

No Device Failures
No Valid Challenges

by Michael Theroux
Updated Saturday, 01-01-00

On 01-14-1999, I issued the “Y2k Challenge”. To date, there has been NOT ONE specific example presented to us of an embedded system causing complete failure of a device.

Let’s review the challenge here:

When I was a guest on the Art Bell show on 01-06-1999, I stated that I would be welcome to ANY offering of a specific example of embedded system failure. What I mean by this is that I want to see an example of a device COMPLETELY malfunctioning because it is date sensitive – in other words – the device must CEASE TO FUNCTION period, and we must be able to verify it for ourselves.

No one has been able to specifically demonstrate this yet (please don’t just cite stories you have heard). The way to present this to us is to give us the type of device, namebrand, and serial number (if possible). We will then check it out for ourselves (again, we must be able to do this physically). If it CEASES TO FUNCTION because of the embedded system not being able to properly interpret the date, we will then state publically that we were WRONG about our previous conclusions concerning Y2k. We will publicise this information as far and wide as is possible.

It is our contention that no one will be able to produce such a device failure. We will keep everyone updated on this website of the results of this investigation. Results: Nothing happened.

01-01-00 has arrived and NO ONE was able to present us with an example of an embedded system causing complete malfunction of equipment. We received many responses to the challenge, but they were either unverifiable stories (which we didn’t want anyway), or examples of embedded system date failures where the equipment still functions but the date is wrong (we didn’t want these either).

Here are some of the examples we have received (my response in parenthesis):

1. Subcommittee on Government Information and Technology (just suspect stories with no verification)

2. http://www.acmi.canoe.ca/TechArchive/990114_y2k.htmlThe Canadians have met the challenge? (Nope. The article refers to a “might happen” scenario)

3. Children’s Hospital in San Diego has been involved in a very aggressive Y2K remediation effort. On a recent news program they indicated that 27% of the equipment tested for proper rollover into Jan 2000 simply locked up…totally non-functional. (Checked into this: I called the Children’s Hospital of San Diego – they couldn’t verify a thing)

4. Taxi cab meters in Singapore fail because of Y2k http://ww.infobeat.com/stories/cgi/story.cgi?id=2557873853-623(Only a story, and the article is not at the above URL — no way to verify it – UPDATE: In Singapore, computerized taxi meters went dead at noon Jan. 1, 1999 for about two hours, according to The Sunday Times. – not complete “failures” – the downtime is evidence of that (if it is correct…how did they fix it? – and I should add…it is very hopeful.)

5. Developers of pot control software at the Tiwai Point smelter in Southland (NZ) forgot to allow for 1996 being a leap year and thus having 366 days, rather than 365. Come December 31 and the pot control software refused to operate as it knew there were only 365 days in any one year! (story only — no way to verify – not Y2k related anyway)

6. Attendees of Wisconsin Y2K user’s group, August 19, 1998. Were told by Wisconsin Electric that they: A) Have 12 Catepillar D9 bulldozers B) 4 had Cummings Diesel engines which would have Y2K problems C) The Y2K issues were with the oil pressure monitoring assembly D) The front end loaders would shut down on 1/1/2000 (I called Wisconsin Electric and spoke to their Y2k Department [(414) 221-2345 corporate office] — UPDATE 02-16-99: IT IS A RUMOR – there is NO truth to this claim – see attached email HERE)

7. Why not pay the client’s cost for testing if the device does fail and assist with finding a replacement. Then advertise far and wide to those industries impacted. (we’re not about to pay to receive results on our challenge — we are simply trying to see if anyone can verify the claims that there are device failures. If we were offering money, how many do you think would try to fake failures to “win” ?? We may soon see some fakes anyway [we already have])

8. http://www.y2k-status.org/EmbeddedFailures.htm (All stories, “what if’s”, and similarity scenarios — nothing substantial)

9. List of non-compliant products: http://y2k.lmi.org/gsa/y2kproducts/noncompliant.cfm (This one is probably the most telling about the situation. On the entire list one cannot find the word “failure”. Typical descriptions of specific non-compliant systems include:

  • “Date/time mode must be manually reset.”
  • “If you use equipment without recording or don’t care about the date when you are recording it will work fine.”
  • “The date will not roll over to the Year 2000. User must reset date (one-time change). No other product modification is necessary.”
  • “…clocks/calendars feature which will roll over to 2000 with 4-digit year, but they will not calculate leap year. On February 29, 2000 the date will switch to March 1. The indicator will not accept the entry date of February 29. However, on March 1, the correct date can be entered. This condition will not adversely affect the operation of the indicator.”
  • “After the millennium change, turn the instrument off and on again. The correct date can now be entered. No other modification needed.”
  • “The clock setting can be changed to 2000 or any date and it will have no effect. The date is not used for any calculation.”

10. The press has reported two Hewlett Packard medical devices failed (No complete malfunction – See: http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/yr2000/y2k99prob.html)

11. 6% Failure Rate Reported http://www.garynorth.com/y2k/detail_.cfm/4279 (2008-10-07 – now a blank page) At the Cary, NC, Y2k summit this week, the Y2k consultant for the State of NC Department of Transportation stated that their embedded chip testing revealed a failure rate of 6%. (Notice this story does not say anything about “what” actually failed or “how” it failed. Story only)

12. The “Beach” Bug (See: http://www.webpal.org/Beach1.htm 2008-10-07: It would appear that his site has changed to a gloom and doom all-out-nuclear-war-is-imminent website) – the premise that hidden secondary clocks in embedded systems will fail when they roll over to 1/1/00. (It seems as though he is unable to tell the difference between a calendar and a clock. The key to this guy’s entire speculative supposition rests with the following statement in his article: “Many of these processors have either a built-in SECONDARY clock, or, as is the more usual case, associated with them in a second chip, a SECONDARY clock whose time and date is maintained by the first clock just as the wheels of old mechanical time pieces were governed by the spring and escape mechanism.”
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THEROUX’S ANSWER: The majority of his theory is based on the idea that both a primary clock, and a “secondary clock” (which apparently should be referred to as a Real-Time Clock or RTC) are contained in the same chip or embedded system, and yet he admits early on that the “secondary clock” (RTC) in, “the more usual case, [is] associated with them in a second chip.”

The most common example of this is your PC which uses two separate chips – the CTC and the RTC for time and date functions. First, lets have a clarification of terms, and then an example:

“Primary clock” in his words appear to mean: CTC – Counter/Timer Chip … the CTC is more commonly known as the ‘Timer’, the ‘Counter’. The CTC is sometimes referred to as a ‘PIT’ or Programmable Interval Timer as that is its function. The timer tick is a regular interrupt (about 18.2065 times per second, or once every 54.9254 milliseconds) which allows certain actions (such as updating a system’s time-of-day) to be executed periodically.

“Secondary Clock” in his words appears to mean: RTC – Real Time Clock (apparently he means something else: in his words, the SECONDARY clock is only imaginary because it is conceptual whatever that means), also called RTC/RAM or CMOS. This is usually a Motorola MC146818 or workalike, containing real-time date and time registers and battery-backed-up storage for BIOS parameters (CMOS). In a simple PC, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System, software in ROM chips) provides access to the tick count (from the CTC) and the RTC. (the RTC functions are present on the AT and all later machines, but not on the original PC or XT which is why you always had to set the date and time on bootup). In any case, the RTC is separate from the CTC and posseses the functions for date and time which are not necessary to the operation of the device. If Mr. Beach wishes to substantiate his statements he should include examples of such chips that contain both a CTC and and an RTC, and how they are dependant upon one another. It really isn’t rocket science, but writing the way he does makes it sound so mysterious. It is not mysterious, and his assertions shouldn’t be regarded with any authority until he actually produces something substantial instead of the usual uneducated “what if’s” held in high regard by Y2k doomsayers. Read the critical comments which he has honorably included on his website:
http://www.webpal.org/Beach1.htm#Critical – Mine is included)
2008-10-07: It would appear that his site has changed to a gloom anddoom all-out-nuclear-war-is-imminent website.
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We received many more responses – most were either statements of agreement or repeat the above examples. We submitted our “Y2k Challenge” to many websites. Most decided NOT to post it – I would imagine it is because they sell products which are advertised as “Y2k Preparedness” products. One website in particular continued to run unverifiable “Embedded Chip Failure” stories instead of our challenge. Well, nothing happened as we predicted.

Those making claims of total failures needed to back up their claims with VERIFIABLE AND UNDENIABLE PROOF. It has now been proven that the embedded chip failure was a myth, as we stated from the beginning.

Thank you.

Michael Theroux, 2001-01-01

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