FLORENCE -- Let’s play “what if.” What if older computers on the Francis Marion University campus can’t recognize the zeros in the year “2000” as a new year? What if older computers off campus don’t recognize “2000” as THE year 2000?
In most cases, don’t worry, say Jonathan Baltzell, director of FMU’s academic computing center, and Donald Pierce, director of FMU’s information resource management. There aren’t many reasons to be concerned about on-campus computing. However, “We anticipate having problems with whatever we haven’t anticipated,” Baltzell said.
Worst case scenario, Baltzell and Pierce agree, would be a “Hugo-like” situation affecting several communities where there is disruption of local services: no electricity, no water. But neither believes the “Year 2000” computer problem will be that extensive. Both believe, that disruptions in computer programs will occur, and as much as possible they and their departments have looked at what those problems might be and how to make campus computer programs “Y2K compatible.”
They have been working for nearly two years on curing campus computers of the “Bug.” Each FMU computer department has been testing software for Year 2000 problems and has staff members assigned to assess potential software problems and their solutions. Both Pierce and Baltzell feel they have done, and are doing, what they can to make campus computers able to recognize the year 2000 as a legitimate year in computer programs.
They know, however, they cannot anticipate “embedded” problems and all scenarios where the year change will make a difference in the running of software. Because of the interconnectedness to other computers off campus and on, they cannot foresee each scenario. They are preparing to resolve each Y2K problem as it may arise, within 48 to 72 hours.
Quite simply, computer programmers started the problem, Pierce and Baltzell say, and computer programming will fix it. Pierce, who oversees the university’s administrative and business computing functions, including payroll, registration, and accounting, has written many of the computer programs used by the university. Baltzell oversees the computers used by professors and students through academic computing services.
And, Baltzell says, there’s no need to link the “Y2K Bug” with the dates Dec. 31/Jan. 1. Beginning as early as April 1, 1999, when some businesses, organizations and institutions begin their 1999-2000 fiscal year, and continuing maybe five to ten years into the future, the “Bug” will exist in the information technology industry.
Historically computer programs used only two digits for “year” entries. The reasoning was simple, Pierce says, memory and storage was expensive. Reducing a year to its last two digits will result in some programming malfunctions, particularly in those programs which perform arithmetic operations, comparisons, or sequencing of date fields, unless computer software is made “Y2000 compliant.”
Santee Cooper has said in a recent mail-out to consumers, “Since most businesses and services depend on computers, a period of confusion may result – unless the problems are corrected beforehand.” The company, and most others, are testing critical systems and correcting problems.
Programmers have been discussing the problem for nearly 15 years, Pierce and Baltzell say. The first campus system checked by Pierce, beginning about two years ago, was payroll. FMU employees will get paid, he said, but will they be able to access their money or cash their checks at the bank?
Probably, they say, adding it’s always wise to have cash on hand for any emergency situation that may arise though. Want to know how Y2K compliant your bank is? A visit to websites or a phone call to any company should get you a copy of that organization’s “Year 2000 Readiness Disclosure.”
Pierce and Baltzell say it would be wise for each individual who owns a home or office computer to inventory their computer software. Once the inventory is made, contact all the vendors to determine the state of Y2K compliance of the specific software. Users should then replace or upgrade software and hardware according to the vendors’ advice. Because of the inter-reliance of one software product with another, it is difficult for many vendors to guarantee compliance with every conceivable application.
Each office on campus needs to inventory its computer-driven equipment to check for possible Y2K problems, also. For instance, because of the date stamping in most fax machines, it is possible that the office’s fax machine needs updating. Again, contact the vendor for more Y2K information.
Expect inconveniences during the Y2K era, the two computing department heads say. While some incidents might be minor, humorous inconveniences, the prospect of greater disaster is worrying some, prompting them to plan how to exist without many modern, computer-dependent conveniences -- even how to grind their own flour.
“I hate that people are making money off this thing (computer glitch),” Baltzell says.
With certainty things will break, they already do, Baltzell says. “What data processing program doesn’t occasionally go down?” But it’s fundamentally very, very hard to know whether the impact of the Y2K bug will be big or little. With 12 computer labs and five servers on campus, and 800 microcomputers to assess and service, the two departments may have software malfunctions for which they have not planned.
On a side note, one of the original Y2K alarmists, Peter de Jager of Canada, called the “the patron saint of doomsayers,” has posted an article on his Year 2000 Website telling folks that doomsday has been avoided.
Cataclysm is no longer “on de Jager’s Y2K calendar of events,” he predicts no meltdown of electrical power grids, no collapse of financial markets, and no telecom burnout. Why?
Because folks around the world heard the cry to do something about the computer glitch before it was too late.