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2000 may cause computer chaos

Nov. 12, 1997

Internal computer clocks will crash or timetravel due to change in millenium

By Scott Karafin

Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

It will hit New Zealand first. On Dec. 31, 1999, computers across the world will change their internal clocks to reflect the beginning of the year 2000. Many computers will crash, showing that an error has occurred; others will carry on as if they have been transported back in time.

With a simple tick of the clock, many of the world's most advanced machines will be rendered useless.

This is the problem facing the computer experts of Baylor, the U.S. government and thousands of businesses nationwide. According to the September 1996 issue of World Press Review, this problem started when early computer programmers decided to express the year in two digits for the purpose of cutting back on expensive memory space. Later, when the cost of an extra two digits of memory was no longer a concern, the two-digit month-date-year format had already become the standard.

Conventional computers are not the only machinery at risk. Everything from elevators to aircraft may shut down, thinking they have not been serviced in a century. Children may receive pensions. Senior citizens could lose Social Security.

The U.S. government alone has estimated the cost of upgrading all its computers at approximately $30 billion. The Social Security system said it will need 30 million new lines of computer codes to adapt its software. The IRS has predicted that it will need at least 300 man-years of work to solve the millennium problem.

A problem beyond the expense and inconvenience of software adaptation is the demand for knowledgeable programmers. Many of the computer programs requiring changes were written in languages that have been obsolete for years, by programmers who left the companies years ago.

Becky King, associate director for information systems, said that Baylor has taken steps to ensure smooth sailing past the millennium.

'We want to make sure we can still register students and pay all the bills,' she said. 'As far as Baylor goes, we are being very pro active. We have examined the areas where we need to make changes.'

King said that Baylor uses the same registration software package as many other colleges in Texas and that it will not pose a problem. The financial software in place since 1989 will need to be replaced and the transferring has already begun.

'This is an area of concern for us, but we have planned for it,' she said. 'We will be in good shape for the New Year's Eve party.'

She said that not everyone will be as fortunate as Baylor in the year 2000.

'The government will have lots of problems,' she said. 'And it's looking less and less like they'll get them converted in time.'

King said that many people will be holding their breath as they try their appliances for the first time in the 21st century.

'Are VCRs still going to work?' she asked. 'How about cars, microwaves and elevators? You don't want to be in an elevator when the clock strikes midnight.'

When asked if programmers might have forgotten to plan for any needed adaptation, King said that it we will inevitably experience some glitches.

'I don't think it will be anything major though,' she said. 'We're all going to be very privileged to see all the havoc that we'll to through at this time.'

Tommy Roberson, analyst programmer for information technology center, said that individual students with personal computers should not be effected by the change of millennium.

'Most year-2000 problems are on databases,' he said mentioning a friend who was unable to book a flight using a credit card expiring in 2001. 'Any PC built in the last five years won't be a problem. The clock won't be wrong and the date won't be wrong. At least it shouldn't, but anything's possible.'

Tim Sisson, a Pflugerville computer science major, said that he hopes everyone has begun solving the problem early enough.

'The scary part is the fact that nobody started worrying about it until recently,' he said. 'Hopefully the campus will be prepared for it.'

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