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Nancy Schimmel's Songs and Y2K thoughts

(Nancy says: "OK, I'm letting these songs and ideas loose now. Post or send these where you
wish, with my name and message attached.")

Song: Back in '64
The Y2K Children's Sunflower Project
A Y2K Sunflower Song
The Year 2000 Problem
Thoughts on grocery stores in late 1999
Thank You PG&E

Back in '64

(To the Beatle's song "When I'm 64")

What were those people thinking about back in '64?
Setting up computers with two-digit dates,
Now we have to put them all straight.
Mem'ry got cheaper, they didn't change,
They took the easy way,
Matching the old when they could have been bold,
Happy New Year's Day!

Oo, are we wiser now?
Ah, or do we think it will
Fix itself somehow?

No use complaining, 'bout what was done back in '64,
Now we have to figure out what we will do,
I would like to figure with you.
Maybe our city doesn't have plans...
We could ask for more,
If we don't ask we'll be at this task
Till 2064.

1964 was in the middle of the old Cold War,
No one ever thought
Of the year 2k;
They figured by that time
We'd be blown away.

Send me an e-mail, drop me a line, stating point of view,
Indicate precisely what you mean to say,
What should we be doing today?
If we have problems making the switch,
Please don't lock the door,
Maybe you'll need me,
Maybe you'll lead me,
That's what friends are for.

New words by Nancy Schimmel
Have Y2k songs? Please send.

After one of our early conversations about Y2K, Nancy asked me, "Who will tell the children?"
I had no answer. I felt myself starting to cry.

A week later, she gave me this.

-- Tom Atlee

The Y2K Children's Sunflower Project

Dear Friend

I have been reading about the Year 2000 computer bug (some computers &
programs have used only two digits for dates and won't work or will make
mistakes when 99 goes to 00). I am getting concerned. If you haven't
been reading about it, I enclose a short explanation. Something will
happen, and nobody really knows whether it will be moderate
inconvenience or major breakdown. Either way, children pick up on adult
worries and will be frightened, both in advance and possibly at the
time. I have an idea for a project to involve children in, so that they
can be doing something and not just hearing frightening rumors. Of
course there will have to be many more approaches, but this is mine:

Through schools, community gardens, garden clubs & parks, adults can
encourage or help children to plant sunflowers in Spring of 1999, care
for them through the Summer, and in the Fall store the seeds to eat on
New Years Day 2000 to celebrate 2000 turns around the sun. This is
mainly symbolic, of course, though sunflower seeds are high-calorie,
nourishing food. It will be celebratory and satisfying during the
growing and harvest, and then, in the dark of winter when the lights may
go off--at least to test the systems, and maybe for days or weeks while
previously undetected bugs are worked out--children can offer the seeds
as their contribution of nourishing food they have grown that doesn't need
to be cooked, and it will help them feel empowered.

The seeds are easy to store for the winter in climates where nothing
will be growing at New Years. They have no need for canning or
freezing, and come in their own container, the flower head. And if the
VCR doesnt work, shelling the seeds will be something for the kids to

Here is what the Sunset New Western Garden Book has to say about
sunflowers (italics mine):

Helianthus annuus. Common Sunflower. Annual. From this rough, hairy
plant with 2-3-in.-wide flower heads have come many ornamental and
useful garden varieties...Best known form is coarse, towering (to 10
ft.) plant with small rays outside and cushiony center of disk flowers,
8-10 in. across, usually sold as Mammoth Russian. People eat the
roasted seeds; birds like them raw, and visit flower heads in fall and
winter. For children, annual sunflowers are big, easy to grow, and bring
sense of great accomplishment.
Sow seeds in spring where plants are to
grow. Large-flowered kinds need rich soil, lots of water.

( gives further directions)

Teachers can use sunflowers in science to discuss tropism, in math to
study Fibonacci numbers (how the seeds are arranged) and averages
(number of seeds in a flower head) and in crafts to make wreaths. The
dried heads can decorate classrooms and homes.

I'm working on a song about the project. There could be many songs. When
I get this worked out, if people think it is a good idea, I will want to
spread it around as fast as possible, because it will have to be in
place for spring planting season 1999. I could present it at the
Children's Music Network national gathering in New York in October, to
community gardening organizations (I know some folks in that) and to the
school garden folks here. I'd also like to get into magazines for teachers (such as
Green Teacher) and kids (such as New Moon). I'll be setting up a web site.
I do not want to organise this nationally, but to get the idea out to people
who can organize it locally.

I would like to know your thoughts on this project and on the general
challenge of helping children understand the Year 2000 problem. I am
particularly looking for a book I heard about that has ideas for
teachers using sunflowers to teach many subjects. Anybody seen it?

Nancy Schimmel
Pass this on, and let me know.
Have Y2k songs? Please send.

A Y2K Sunflower Song


The big sunflowers face the dawn
The young ones turn to follow the sun
The sun energy grows the seeds
If we give each plant what it needs.

They need sun and water, bees and air
We get seeds to plant and seeds to share.
Seeds to eat on New Year's Day
A little sun to drive the dark away.

Sunflowers, sunflowers
Tilting toward the sun
Sunflowers, earth children
Circling 'round the sun.

Two thousand turns around the sun,
Many more before we're done
Plant sunflowers to celebrate,
Eat the seeds to mark the date.


Leave the flower heads to dry
We'll eat those seeds by and by.
Except for the ones the squirrels take
Plant some extra for their sake.


Eat those seeds on New Years Day
But don't eat 'em all, put some away.
Eat, eat, but leave some to grow,
Plant em in the year two-oh-oh-oh

Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh
Plant 'em in the year two-oh-oh-oh

© by Nancy Schimmel, 1998
For other songs by Nancy Schimmel see

The Year 2000 Problem

When people set up main-frame computers back in the Fifties, they were
quite sure these computers would be superseded long before the year
2000, so they saw no problem in using a two-digit field for the date: 55
instead of 1955. Unfortunately, later programmers found it easier to
match the old programming so their programs would be compatable, and
some old main-frame computers are still in use, for instance in the
Federal Aeronautics Administration, where programmers are working madly
to fix the central computers on which all air traffic controllers
depend. If the FAA job isn't done by January 1, 2000, the computer won't
know how to deal with 00 as a year, the information will not be
reliable, and flights will have to be drastically curtailed until the
work is finished. Programmers have been working on the Social Security
computer since 1993 and still aren't done with the conversion. The
computer subtracts your date of birth (1933, say) from the present date,
1998, and finds that you are 65 and eligible for a pension. But it only
has a 2-digit field, so it is really subtracting 33 from 98. I was born
in 1935, so in 2000 the computer subtracts 35 from 00 and gets -35, not
65, and I,m not eligible for a pension. If this isn't fixed in time, it will
have to be worked around.

Fixing computer operating systems and programs involves three steps:
finding the glitches, fixing them, and checking that the fix didn't
cause another glitch. And if it did, fixing that. All this takes time.

Another problem is that many machines have embedded chips that are
actually tiny computers. Some of these will shut a machine down if
routine maintanance is not done by a certain date. The chips may be in
power stations, fire engines, and other machinery that we rely on. All
date-related chips in essential machinery will have to be found and
replaced before Jan. 1, 2000.

There are a finite number of people trained to cope with the Year 2000
problem. The problem is finite too, of course, but probably larger. The
effects on the public of not getting the job done will vary with the
agency, factory or business that uses the particular computer, and can
range from minor inconvenience to disaster. At this point, we don't know
what will happen. We only know when. (Actually, some programs that work
with planning ahead -- inventory, appointments, credit card expiration
dates -- are beginning to show problems already.)

There are various responses to the problem:

The programmer's response is to work hard for long hours (and often, to
ask for a pay raise).

The business person's response, and the bureaucrat's, is to say that
everything is under control, hire more programmers if they can find
them, and hope for the best.

The survivalist's response is to expect the worst and stock up the
country cabin just in case.

What should our response be? Community-minded folks are looking at this
problem as an opportunity -- to look for sustainable, low-tech, local,
community-oriented strategies to minimize the bad effects of our
over-reliance on big computers, big technology, and centralization. We
are making sure our own households are ready (some canned goods and
water stored, first aid kit, flashlights working, and so on -- the same
stuff as for earthquakes, hurricanes, large scale blackouts) but we are also looking at what
we can do for people who can't afford to stock up or don't have a home
to stock. Will the shelters have enough food? We are finding out what
our city or town has in the way of contingency plans if the lights or
phones do go out, etc. And we are getting to know our neighbors better,
because if the phones go out and the gas pump won't work, we will be
relying on the people right around us for help. If the transition goes
smoothly after all, we will be prepared for earthquakes and other disasters
anyway, and we will know our neighbors better, which ain't a bad thing.

by Nancy Schimmel, 1998

(For more extensive lists of things to do, click here.)


(PG&E is Pacific Gas and Electric, the leading power company in Northern California which, early in 1999, suggested its customers prepare for possible Y2K disruptions.)

Words by Nancy Schimmel
Tune: Wabash Cannonball

No one seemed to trust us
With news of Y2K
But keeping people in the dark
Is really not your way
In the envelope with every bill
You told us you don,t know
Exactly what will happen
When we hit Two-o-o-o

Thank you, thank you, thank you PG&E
Thank you for your courage and your honesty
Panic and confusion feed on secrecy
So thank you, thank you, thank you PG&E

You come right out and tell us
To make our plans in case
Computers and millenia
Do not interface.
With complicated systems
There are no guarantees
But we can help our neighbors
In all emergencies.

We know that you've been working
To cope with Y2K
We're glad that you've got back-up plans
Should something go astray
But confiding in your customers
Is the jewel in your crown
Cause we know it will be up to us
When the chips are down