As the new millennium approaches, hundreds of people have professed clairvoyant powers and conjured dramatic scenarios for the momentous day. Ranging from a disease that will wipe out the population to an enormous explosion that will destroy the Earth, each prediction seems more fatalistic than the next. But amidst all of the speculation, some have taken a more technical approach to prepare for the event. Assuming that the world will not end and that the University will admit a Class of 2000, University Information Management Services began planning how to adjust approximately 1,000 computer programs to the new millennium. Under the old program, class year was identified by the last two digits. But the computers do not have the capacity to recognize years beyond 1999. So a student graduating in 2000 would be treated by the former program as a student graduating in 1900. For the countless departments that used these programs, the new millennium posed serious technical difficulties. Take Residential Living, for example. Priority for room assignments is based on class level. The computer reads a member of the class of '96 as older than a student graduating in '99. But if Residential Living used the old computer program, a freshman in the Class of 2000 would be treated as a student in the class of 1900 -- much older than the average sophomore, junior or senior. The Registrar would also find organization of its service muddled by the old system. Class schedules and grades on students' transcripts, for example, are arranged chronologically. But students who study at the University before and after 2000 would find their classes from that year listed first. Preventing a major technical disaster, Management Information Services Analyst Stuart Benoff organized a 13-month, two-phase project to reprogram the relevant databases. During the first phase -- which started in April 1993 -- Benoff and seven other employees removed millions of files from the databases and reprogrammed the system to make room for the first two numbers identifying the millennium and century. The group then put the files back in the database. During the second phase, Benoff and his co-workers wrote programs that allowed them to add the first two digits to each date. "The weekend that we installed the first two numbers, we had to work 30 hours in a row," Benoff said. "We had 15 PC's in one room. Everyone took turns monitoring the program and slept in the back on the floor. It was like old college days." Adding to approximately 50 new programs, Benoff also designed programs to compare the files before and after the reprogramming -- ensuring that none of the information was changed during the transfer. After completing the monumental project, Assistant Registrar Edwina Patruno said she tested the program. So far, Benoff said, the transition has gone smoothly. "When you write so many programs, you expect to have a few problems," Benoff said. "We're constantly running programs to verify that everything is right. We've only had one or two small contained errors that haven't affected the integrity of the data." The program's real test will come when the Class of 2000 registers next fall. Then, barring any world disasters at the turn of the millennium, Penn computers should be able to relax for another 100 years.Comments powered by Disqus
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