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The A3C Connection, July/August/September 1998 The A3C Connection
July/Aug/Sept 1998 Contents What's New at the ACCC ACCC Free Public Labs The Case of the 100-Year-Old Babies The Year 2000, UIC, and You Microcomputer Software and Hardware
What Does Y2K Compliant Mean? The ACCC Y2K Plan The Right Format for Dates ACCC Free Seminars, Fall '98 About the A3C Connection  

The Y2K Problem, UIC, and You

 
The ACCC Beat Everyone 
 
     
 
     
Let's Start with the Good News:
  The year 2000 -- Y2K -- problem is easy to describe and often simple to fix. It has three parts.

Dates with Two-digit Years: The most common year 2000 problems result from software and data that does calculations on or was written with dates with two-digit years. Two-digit years have always worked in the past: subtract 1994 from 1998 or subtract 94 from 98 and you get the same thing. However, 2002-1998=4 isn't the same as 02-98=-96. Sorting on dates with two-digit years also fails -- 98 is clearly after 00, isn't it?

The Year 2000 is a Leap Year: You probably know that every year divisible by 4 is a leap year. 2000 is divisible by 4, so it's a leap year, right? But there are two exceptions. Years ending in 00 (there's that old 00 cropping up again) aren't leap years. So the year 2000 isn't a leap year. But years divisible by 400 are leap years, which, finally, makes the year 2000 a leap year.

This means that after February 28, 2000, software that doesn't know that 2000 is a leap year will get the Julian date (number of the day in the year) wrong for the rest of the year, and will get the day of the week wrong forever. It won't know when to charge weekend rates, whether the vault should be open today, or that you really could have bought your house on February 29, 2000.

With the Year 2000 Come Several "Special" Computer Dates: There are other dates that were or will be computer gotchas. December 31, 1995, for example, which is the first of several dates that computer programmers used to mean forever. (That's dumb, but not too dumb; after all, George Orwell thought 1984 was forever.) Some programs use 00 to indicate a missing or invalid year. The date 9/9/99 might mean signal the end of the file. (That's a good one, isn't it?)

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And the Bad News
  The bad news is we must suspect that every piece of hardware, every software package and program, every embedded system, and every data set will be affected. (An "embedded system" is a specialized computer that is part of a larger system or machine. Your car, for example.)

So clearly, the scope of the Year 2000 Problem is the biggest problem of all.

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You Don't Have to Deal With:
  Campus- or university-wide services.

It's the ACCC's responsibility to keep the hardware, software, and operating systems on tigger, icarus, borg, the ACCC labs, and Server Services going, to keep the printers printing, to keep the Web and mail servers and other service machines running, to keep online databases such as the faculty/staff phonebook database and our account information functioning properly, and to make sure that all the services you get on the campus network (both computer and phone) will continue working.

The ACCC's year 2000 strategy and progress is and will be documented on the UIC Year 2000 Web site, along with Year 2000 information from other UIC departments and units:  http://www.uic.edu/year2000/

The UIC Y2K Web site has another important function --  to give you the information that you need to find and fix your own Y2K problems. You'll also find more information on all the topics we discuss in this group of articles, and links to many software and hardware manufacturers’ and vendors’ Y2K Web sites.

Administrative Information Systems and Services (ATIS) is responsible for all the UIC and general University of Illinois administrative computer and embedded system concerns, including payroll, billing, ISIS, and student data. You can check out their Y2K plan in “Year 2000 Strategy for ATIS-maintained Systems,” at http://www.aiss.uillinois.edu/Y2K/aissplan.html

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You Do Have to Worry About:
  And, unless you're particularly lucky, you will also have some embedded systems that you have to check out: scientific or medical instrumentation, for example.

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Hardware and Operating Systems:

The good news is most computer hardware and operating system problems are "minor" ones -- problems that you can fix yourself, with a minimum amount of fuss, and at little or no cost. Mac people are pretty much off the hook when it comes to hardware and operating systems. (Not software or data, though.) People using PCs (as in IBM-compatible), and particularly Windows, may have 'minor' hardware or operating system problems. Ditto people using UNIX (though, of course, each flavor of UNIX has its own set of problems).

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Commercial Software:

Getting Y2K-safe hardware and operating systems isn't enough. You also have to make sure that the commercial software packages you have on your machines are OK for the year 2000 and beyond. But there's more good news here. Many of the commercial software packages don't have intrinsic Y2K problems, and many that do can be fixed by upgrading. For example, if you're using version 5 of SAS (any platform), you'll have to convert to version 6.x (what x is depends on the platform).
You can fix these problems yourself, with some fuss -- obtaining and installing the upgrade and converting your data format if you need to. These upgrades might be free or they might cost a bundle, particularly if the software in question is illegal. You can be sure the manufacturers will make it hard for people using pirated software to upgrade.

See the article Y2K and Micro Software and Hardware for more information on how the Year 2000 may affect personal computers.

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Your Data and Handwritten Programs:

And now the really bad news. As the 100-year-old babies parable points out, as a researcher or administrator, your major problem is likely to be in your own data and the programs or macros you use to manipulate them. You need to check the data format of every date and check all your calculations to make sure they'll work the same with dates in the 20th century or the 21st century, or with a combination.

Well have more information on this in an upcoming issue.

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Your NSF funding is officially at risk.

From the National Science Foundation’s Official Notice to Grantees:
“Recipients of NSF grants and cooperative agreements generally have full responsibility for the scientific, administrative, and financial aspects of the activity being supported. This responsibility extends to anticipating and reacting to events such as the Year 2000 and taking all steps necessary to mitigate potential problems that might be caused by the Year 2000.”
The full text is on the Web at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1997/iin120/iin120.htm

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What Should You Do?
  For more information, see A Personal Y2K Plan and The 4th Step: Testing for and Fixing Year 2000 Problems. Both are on UIC Year 2000 home page.

1. Take the Year 2000 Pledge.

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2. Make a list.

List every piece of hardware, every software package and program, every embedded system, and every data set that you own, use, or support. Pay particular attention to:

  • Systems that include dates as an integral part of their functionality.
  • Systems that manipulate files according to the date information stored in those files.
  • Systems that store or read dates in permanent storage or that use dates in display or print output. Even systems that treat dates properly internally might have problems when it comes to displaying them.
  • All data with dates, which for many people amounts to all their data.
This includes computers of all sizes, ones that you use at home, in your research, and in your administrative work; commercial software and operating systems of every flavor, including commercial statistical, spreadsheet, database, calendar, and scheduling software; and the databases/programs you build with or for them. It includes the hardware and software you use in your personal or departmental LANs. It might also include stuff that doesn't look like computers -- that gadget you have that reads magnetic cards, for example. And remember, sometimes filenames are data too; people often include the date in the name of data files.

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3. Organize the list so you'll know where to start.

It's possible you'll have quite a list by the time you're done. Don't panic yet. Before you begin testing or fixing anything, spend a bit of time considering each item. Ask yourself:

Are you going to throw this out or replace it before the year 2000 will become a problem? Then cross it off your list -- it probably won't need to be fixed at all.

Whose responsibility it is to do the testing and provide the fix for this? If it's a commercial product, it's the vendor's. But even if you do find and apply a vendor-supplied fix, you should also do your own testing, to be sure it works properly on your system.

How important is it to you? How long will it take to fix?  The time left before the big day is limited, so it makes sense to begin with the stuff you know you'll be using on January 2, 2000. And if it's going to take weeks for you to get a required part or months to decide on a replacement, it's better to get to it sooner rather than later.

When you finish making your list, congratulate yourself -- you've taken the first and probably most important step.

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4. Research, Test, Fix, and Retest.

Y2K and Micro Hardware and Software has some information on what to do with personal computer hardware, operating systems, and commercial software. Well have additional articles in coming issues of the A3C Connection on how to track down and fix your other Y2K problems.

In the meantime, start exploring the UIC Year 2000 Web site  http://www.uic.edu/year2000/

It has news, background information, and links to manufacturer's year 2000 Web sites. The articles in this newsletter are there already, there are additional articles on how to identify and fix some common Y2K problems, and we'll be adding more soon.

But one visit to the UIC Web site -- or anyone else's -- won't be enough. Even though the year 2000 is less than 18 months away (and the fiscal year 2000 begins in less than a year!), virtually none of the commercial information technology companies knows all the year 2000 answers for their own products yet, without considering the problems that might arise when their products are used with other products. This problem is going to be around for a while.

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The A3C Connection, July/Aug/Sept 1998 Previous:  The Case of the 100-Year-Old Babies Next:  Microcomputer Software and Hardware


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