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University of Waterloo | Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, June 11, 1998

  • UW faces the Year 2000 problem
  • New money for water treatment
  • A big weekend for optometry
  • Notes on a damp spring day
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UW faces the Year 2000 problem

An open house tomorrow morning will explore how UW is facing the trendy -- and scary -- problem of making sure computers and systems can cope with dates when 1999 rolls around to 2000.

"Year 2000 Preparations at UW" is the topic. The event begins at 10 a.m. in Davis Centre room 1302. An announcement summarizes the issues: "Computer problems related to the coming of the next millennium are receiving much attention in the media. This IST Open House will discuss the issues UW faces as we prepare for the Year 2000, including a brief introduction to the technical sides of the problem, general approaches, status of hardware, software, and data at UW, who's responsible for what, and current plans. As our efforts involve many people around campus, the presentation is intended for a non-technical audience."

Everybody from insurance companies to the the federal government is concerned about the Year 2000 issue these days -- not just in Canada but everywhere that computers are used. A web site from the Royal Bank briefly explains what it's all about:

A large amount of computer software, from operating systems and application programs to the most basic machine language hardwired into computer circuitry, has been programmed to store the date as: dd/mm/yy. This means that only two digits have been allocated to store year-related information.

Of course, reading the date field by only two digits does not present a problem until the computer has to recognize dates after 1999. After this date, a computer that is not YEAR2000 ready cannot determine whether 00 stands for 1900 or 2000. This can result in system crashes, corrupted data and erroneous results. Almost any computer date calculation will likely be incorrect.

Decades ago, computer programmers never imagined that the systems they were developing would still be in use by the turn of the century. In the early years of computer programming there were legitimate reasons for abbreviating wherever possible. Computers were expensive, every bit of memory was precious and disk storage capacity was limited. By abbreviating the date field, computer programmers could squeeze more performance out of the available hardware. It was a compromise that became an industry standard and remained that way for decades.

And this month's issue of The Computer Paper reports: "A survey earlier this year by corporate software giant PeopleSoft . . . observes that many businesses may feel a little like a deer caught in the headlights of a car -- they don't know whether to stand still and hope the car swerves to miss them or to run like hell. . . . Statistics Canada estimates that Canadian companies will spend at least $12 billion resolving the problem by the end of the century." Software firms such as Microsoft are working hard to make their products "year 2000 compliant", TCP notes.

New money for water treatment

A $2.7 million "collaborative research and development" grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council will support the work of UW's "industrial research chair in water treatment" over the next five years. The chair, held by civil engineering professor Peter Huck, is the centre of a celebration today.

[Huck photo]
Peter Huck
Created five years ago, the chair -- really a research group headed by Huck -- is supported by NSERC, several businesses, and municipalities including Waterloo Region, Ottawa-Carleton and Brantford. It does what's described as "leading-edge, fundamentally-based and practically oriented research in critical issues related to drinking water treatment" in laboratories and at three pilot plans.

"One of the activities that Dr. Huck's group will undertake is the training of the next generation of specialists in new water treatment technologies," says Paul Latour of NSERC's university-industry projects program. And Mike Murray of Waterloo Region says, "The chair represents a true partnership between many groups committed to improving drinking water quality, and the research will benefit the entire water supply industry."

Today's official launch for the chair's second five-year term starts at 10 a.m. in the Davis Centre lounge. Among the guests will be Waterloo's Member of Parliament, Andrew Telegdi, who is expected to announce an additional federal grant for the project, bringing its total funding to $3.8 million over the next five years.

A big weekend for optometry

The decision ten years ago by "farsighted individuals" to start a Centre for Contact Lens Research at UW's school of optometry will be celebrated with a symposium at the school on Friday. Researchers from Australia, India, Spain, United States, and across Canada will discuss technologies that allow for the development of radically new materials to meet the demands of an aging population with changing visual needs.

In the past ten years, the work of a number of talented individuals, "with a considerable commitment from the University of Waterloo and the school of optometry", has produced a centre "considered to be among the top five facilities worldwide" which specialize in contact lens and cornea related research, said director Desmond Fonn.

"Projects throughout the years have spanned most aspects of contact lens materials, care systems, wearing modalities and effects on the eye," he says. As. well, the centre continues to make advancements in instrumentation and techniques designed to measure the ocular responses to contact lens wear, he said.

In conjunction with the anniversary celebration, the school of optometry will hold its annual continuing education program Saturday and Sunday, including the fifth annual Woodruff Lecture on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. The lecturer will be Martin Steinbach of the Eye Research Institute of Canada at the University of Toronto, speaking on Visual Development with One or Two Eyes". He'll talk about the roles of competition and learning in visual development in a comparison of binocularly normal children and adults with children who have had one eye removed at an early age.

Over the weekend, continuing education credit courses for optometrists, other health care professionals and educators, will include sessions ranging from Sunlight Related Eye Diseases and Digital Imaging in Eye Care to Writing Referral Letters. All activities, including a trade show on Saturday, will be held in the Optometry building.

Notes on a damp spring day

The Bike Centre hours for the spring term are Monday 9:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., says loyal volunteer Ted Harms. "The prices are still the same: $1 an hour to use the tools and $1 to use the lube, oil, or degreaser, etc., and there's always a volunteer on hand to assist you in your repairs. If you're interested in volunteering, just come by anytime we're open and fill out a form. If you have any questions, feel free to call the Bike Centre at ext. 5174." He adds that next Wednesday, the Centre will be holding a bicycle auction. "These are bikes that have been re-claimed by the UW Police, and Bike Centre volunteers have fixed them up so they are ready to ride. There'll be a variety of mountain and road bikes and even a kid's bike or two. The auction will take place in the SLC atrium at 12:30 p.m. with the preview beginning at 10:30. Cash or cheque sales only."

A demonstration of Pitney Bowes fax machines and related software runs from 9:30 to noon today in Davis Centre room 1304. "Department heads and other interested customers" are welcome to drop by.

St. Joseph's School has the Humanities Theatre booked for its end-of-the-year choir concerts tonight at 7:30.

A workshop on "Visual Aids: Design and Use", aimed at teaching assistants, runs from 12:00 to 1:30 tomorrow in Math and Computer room 5158. The teaching resource office at ext. 3132 is accepting registrations.

Watch your step in the Physics building for the rest of this week, Peter Fulcher of the plant operations department suggests. Plant ops is doing a rush repair job on the building before a major conference next week -- among other things, getting the entire first-floor ceiling replaced. "Please use caution and bear with us," he says. "Entrances are all open, but it will be congested."

Fulcher also sends word that the south steps to the Optometry building will be closed for repairs next week -- "power washing, concrete repair, concrete sealing, railing repairs. We hope that the weather will be in our favour." While the steps from Columbia Street are closed, people who want to get into Optometry can do so from the main (east) entrance, the loading dock, the northwest (clinic) entrance, or the southwest entrance on the third floor.

Finally . . . it's a birthday today for Martin Van Nierop here in information and public affairs. But of course none of us know how old he is.

CAR


Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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