t has the potential to screw up social security, make medical devices malfunction and detonate nuclear reactors fortunately for college students, university records should be safe when the clock ticks past midnight on Jan. 1, 2000.
The notion of a full-fledged Armageddon might be an exaggeration, but the millenium bug could be one serious global pest if it isn't exterminated by the end of 1999.
The pesky bug isn't actually an insect or a virus, but a problem that exists because of the way computers were made years ago. To conserve space and memory, programmers designed technology that recognized only two-digit dates as opposed to four-digit ones. So, the year 2000 could cause confusion not only for mainframes, but for any type of electronic device that uses microchips containing date information. That means telephones, fax machines even your car could come to a grinding halt!
"This is a big deal," says U. of North Texas Professor Leon Kappelman, author of "The Year 2000 Problem." "It's about all infrastructures being at risk."
In an effort to keep things running smoothly, universities all over the world are trying to de-bug computers that only know how to party like it's 1999.
Many schools, like the U. of South Florida, have undergone complete overhauls of the computerized systems that keep track of student applications, financial aid and grades. The transition at South Florida caused a few problems during fall registration, which administrators say are inevitable. Some students were locked out of courses and unfairly charged late reg fees.
At Ball State U., two full-time employees sit behind a computer screen and punch in numbers all day long so student records will be secure at the turn of the century.
"There are other things we'd like to spend time on that we can't," says Ball State associate director of computing services Leigh Mainwaring. "Nothing's more boring than sitting there and changing numbers."
While administrators attack the cyber-plague head on, many students are confident their lives will be secure in the new millenium.
"Personally I'm not afraid, I expect bugs to come up," says U. of Delaware sophomore Albert Pomenti. "If it happens, it happens. It's not in my control."
Idaho State U. senior Katie Carlson isn't too concerned either. "I'm graduating this year," she says. "But, I probably should be a little more worried than I am."
Administrators agree, saying that educating people is key to tackling the problem. Many schools have organized workgroups and appointed reps from each of their departments to try to whack the bug. Many schools, like the U. of Michigan, have created web sites to address the problem and link to other schools.
While universities seem to be on top of things, others may not be up to par. The medical industry, public utilities and federal government records are all in danger if they don't hike up efforts, says Kappelman.
So while administrators aren't buggin' out, a world-wide can of Raid seems to be in order.
By Jamie Pietras, Assistant Editor