Chandigarh, Thursday, April 8, 1999
 

The Y2K time bomb is set!
by T.M.S. Virdi
AS the year 2000 approaches, the prophets of doom have started causing nightmares to the entire world. Just two seemingly small digits may turn January 1, 2000, from a worldwide celebration into a universal nightmare. With computers mistaking the year 2000 for 1900, virtually all businesses that use dates will be affected. The year 2000 computer bug is a huge problem that our world must face.

Neural networks and fuzzy logic
by Deepak Bagai
OUR society is undergoing a significant change, usually described as a transition from an industrial to an information society. It has been proven beyond doubt that this transition is associated with the advancement of computer technology and related fields like artificial intelligence. An artificial neural network is designed to be an imitation of human brain. It simulates the architecture and functioning of the brain’s nerve cells. A neural network can be built into the software or through hardware. The network can take data and learn from it. This means that the neural network can be trained and has the ability to generalise.

Cybersurfing with Amar Chandel

Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

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The Y2K time bomb is set!
by T.M.S. Virdi

AS the year 2000 approaches, the prophets of doom have started causing nightmares to the entire world. Just two seemingly small digits may turn January 1, 2000, from a worldwide celebration into a universal nightmare. With computers mistaking the year 2000 for 1900, virtually all businesses that use dates will be affected. The year 2000 computer bug is a huge problem that our world must face.

Thirty per cent of all installed PCs will experience unexpected failures after December 31, 1999, and 80% of Mainframe (like AS400) repair projects will not meet their objectives. Nobody on this planet can tell you whether the failure rate will be 0.0000001 per cent or 90 per cent. That in itself a risk.

The reason is that many computer systems in use today will find it impossible to process dates in the next century unless they undergo costly and time-consuming modification. Frequently, the year is stored within the system as just the last two digits (e.g. 96) rather than in full (i.e. 1996) See Illustrated COBOL Code that is Y2K in compatible. This results in the year 2000 being stored as “00” which will, to many systems, be considered to be 1900. The outcome is likely to be either incorrect processing of the date or “breakdown” of the system. In the 1960s and 70s, computer storage was very expensive and saving two digits in millions of records gave significant financial benefits. Whilst the implications for future problems were recognised, at that time it seemed inconceivable that the systems being developed would still be in use in the year 2000. Unfortunately, events have shown that this is not the case and today many systems are in use which will not correctly process dates later than 1999.

Most people expect the Year 2000 issue to be a high-tech problem, an ultimately technical affair that needs to be addressed by top computer experts. For these people there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the Year 2000 problem is actually a very simple one with an even simpler solution. Adding two digits to a line of COBOL code is easy; any novice programmer can do it.

The bad news is that, corrections are frightfully time consuming, and can take months or even years to complete and every single alteration needs to be tested before programmes can be re-implemented. What we are talking about is the volume. The demand for solution is exceeding the supply luring solution providers to charge as much they want. There is no “silver bullet” that is going to fix things. It’s too big a problem for the world to fix it in the remaining period.

As third generation language (COBOL) is more English-like language, every programme written in COBOL is very lengthy. Even a simple routine takes lots of lines of code in COBOL. The costs of fixing Y2K are staggering. Costs per line off code is anywhere between $1.50 and $2.00. It is not uncommon for a single company to have 100,000,000 lines of code. The total cost of rectifying Y2K is nearly $1 trillion. Further, there are not enough competent consultants and service providers to meet today’s requirements.

The potential of the problem in everyday life is alarming. Imagine making a loan payment in 1999 for a bill that is due in 2000. The company’s computers could interpret the ‘00’ as 1900 and you would then be charged with 99 years of late fees. There are many similar situations where the results could be more devastating.

This problem has wider claws of devastation. It is not confined to mainframes or minis, standalone PCs are also affected. You may not know it, but your PC may not be Y2K compatible also. In India this problem is not so serious as in the other western countries, however, risk factor is still there. In India major problem is with the compatibility of a computer itself with the year 2000.

There are thousands of computers in India whose BIOS (a permanent memory used to boot up your PC) may not be Y2K compatible. This is a hardware problem, not a COBOL related problem. Follow these simple steps and see if your system (PC) is Y2K compatible.

Test for the Year 2000:

1. Backup all the data that you think is invaluable or irreplaceable. This is a precautionary measure only. Your system will not crash by performing these tests, but anything can happen. Look at it this way, you needed a backup anyway, right?

2. Change the date on your Personal Computer to December 31st, 1999.

3. Change the time to 23:58 hrs (11:58 pm) and then power off the computer.

4. Wait at least 3 minutes and then turn the PC back on.

5. Check the date and time. It should be a minute or two past midnight, on the morning of Saturday, January Ist, 2000. The year “2000” must be displayed, not “00”.

6. Execute several programme like a world processor or a spreadsheet programme to make sure operation is OK.

7. Set the date and time back to the current settings.

This procedure will test your Basic Input Output Systems (BIOS). If your BIOS did not pass this first test, one of two things come to play: (1) Your BIOS is not Y2K compliant and cannot display or process the century or the year 2000 or (2) your BIOS may just be suffering from 1999-2000 transition failure. This means that the BIOS will work effectively in the Year 2000 and beyond, but will not make the transition from 12/31/1999 to 01/01/2000. Sometimes this transition problem can be solved by using Y2K correcting software such as Y2KPCPRO or by simply changing the date on January 1, 2000. After the transition problem has been encountered and the date has been changed, the problem does not come up again.

Now another major test that you may need to perform is the leap year test:

1. Change the date on your Personal Computer to February 28th, 2000.

2. Change the time to 23:58 hrs (11:58 pm) and then power off the computer.

3. Wait at least 3 minutes and then turn the PC back on.

4. Check the date and time. It should be a minute or two past midnight, on the morning of February 29, 2000.

5. Execute several programme like a world processor or a spreadsheet programme to make sure operation is OK.

6. Change the date and time back to the current settings.

7. Repeat Steps 1 through 6 using February 29th, 2000 as the date of Step 1.

It is very important to power off your computer completely and then switch it back on. If you do not do this the results you may obtain from the BIOS might be incorrect.

Another tip is that some network administrators control the century on your CMOS when you log on to the LAN. The user mistakenly thinks that the error is on his own machine, but it isn’t. You must conduct all tests with your LAN cord physically UNPLUGGED.

Let’s see what softwares are available for us to check the Year 2000 compliance. During the surfing on the Internet I have come across with some very useful softwares. Download these softwares from the URLs that follows:

Y2KSOLVER.COM is DOS based programme. It runs transparent to the user and maintains the years accuracy in case of programme failure. It is offered as a shareware in http//www.donload. com.

Y2KSOLVER.COM is available at http//www.y2kpatch.com. This site also sports a Y2K tester that you use online.

TEST2000. EXE is a good Y2K diagnostic programme from Rightime. It is free and available at http://www.rightime.com.

YES2KV20.EXE is year 2000 tester that is used in Windows. It is offered free for home use and is available at http://www.safteynet. com.

I have come across a site where I have seen that these verification methods might not work for Award BIOS, version 4.52pg. I have been able to figure out that Award 4.52pg is not Y2K compliant and anyone using this in a server (which may well stay on during rollover) may be in for a nasty surprise.

When testing any type of server for Y2K compliance, keep in mind that there may be problems with licenses expiring on any type of networked software when the date is moved up. If you suspect this could happen, check with your software vendor before performing any tests.

Temporarily disable any programmes that normally start as soon as your computer is turned on, especially if the programmes are date or time related such as calendar programmes, virus checkers etc. All of these programmes should be temporarily disabled before you forward any clocks on your PC. (One way to remove some of those programmes is to temporarily move the shortcuts in the StartUp folder to another folder. The StartUp folder can be found in Windows, Start Menu, Programs, and StartUP. Don’t forget to move the shortcuts back after the test.) Assess whether the PC contains any software that will expire as of a particular date. This may include software you have downloaded from the Internet that is on a trial basis. If you are not sure, contact the software vendor for more information on testing for Y2K.

As the year 2000 comes closer and closer, companies are losing precious time in order to swat the millennium bug. The deadline is fixed. The price of survival is high and the only reward is the hope of continuing to operate in the worlds of commerce and industry. Businesses that continue into the next millennium will enjoy the happiness of existence. Companies that fail to act now will probably crumble under their own weight. Act now and act fast is the order of the day. Get your system checked for its Y2K compliance before the dooms day. Don’t wait till the last moment!Top

 

Neural networks and fuzzy logic
by Deepak Bagai

OUR society is undergoing a significant change, usually described as a transition from an industrial to an information society. It has been proven beyond doubt that this transition is associated with the advancement of computer technology and related fields like artificial intelligence. An artificial neural network is designed to be an imitation of human brain. It simulates the architecture and functioning of the brain’s nerve cells. A neural network can be built into the software or through hardware. The network can take data and learn from it. This means that the neural network can be trained and has the ability to generalise.

The operation of neural networks is highly parallel. This allows concurrent execution of various identical yet independent operations. Neural networks can generate process models after being trained and are highly adaptive. They contain a self-learning algorithm that keeps track of changing process dynamics. Some software products based on neural networks have been introduced to facilitate process control. Neural networks are efficient at solving problems involving pattern recognition, image processing, association and evaluation in a manner similar to brain. Further, like the brain, such artificial networks are poor at precise calculations. They are as smart as their training data and do not perform properly outside their domain. This is the point where the combination of neural networks with fuzzy logic can yield more efficiency.

Fuzzy logic advocates the power of phrases like “very high”, “fairly low”, “very fast” and so on. In a process plant, many processes are too cumbersome to fit into mathematical models. Here a number of conventional rules can be replaced with one fuzzy rule. In conventional control, one rule is activated at a time whereas fuzzy logic allows activation of many rules simultaneously. Fuzzy logic control works on the principle of “grade of membership” of a specific functional variable. In most of the control applications of fuzzy logic, control decisions can be made in spite of lack of absolute accuracy in the data from sensors.

Fuzzy logic is based on fuzzy set theory. Traditional true or false logic cannot deal with cases that contain a number of exceptions. A fuzzy controller incorporates a set of rules which are used to initiate the final control action. Each rule signifies a linguistic expression about the control action to be taken. The applications of fuzzy logic include explorations within psychology and cognitive science of concept formation and manipulation, memory and learning, as well as in the fields of medicine, engineering, management, sociology, economics, biology and so on. The day is not far when the Neuro-fuzzy logic shall be the only dynamic approach towards machine intelligence.

(The writer is Asstt. Professor, Deptt. of Electronics, Punjab Engineering College, Chandi-garh.)Top

 

Cybersurfing with Amar Chandel
The language barrier is broken

OF the numerous uses of the Internet, e-mail is perhaps the most important and widespread. Private users as well as cyber café operators are unanimous that e-mail attracts the maximum number of customers. This use would have been even more widespread in India but for the fact that it is necessary to use the e-mail in English. Since multi-language keyboards are very few, it is not possible to send e-mail in other languages.

Well, this barrier is now fully broken. You can send and receive e-mail in Hindi anywhere in the world. And the switchover can be made free of cost. All that one has to do is to go to the website www.epatra.com and do about 10 minutes of groundwork. After that, it is as easy as sending e-mail in English.

First of all one has to download Hindi fonts, which have been aptly named Naiduniya. This job takes barely a minute or so and installing them onto your computer is equally easy. Once that formality is over, one can go to the Epatra site whenever one wants to send an e-mail and simply type the message in Roman script. As you type your message this way (for instance “aap kab aa rahe hain”), you see its Hindi translation in another window. It is not at all difficult to write Hindi words this way. The few mistakes that you may make initially can be eliminated by going through the “Read Me” section carefully.

Once the text is to your satisfaction, just press the send button and it will be transmitted as is done through other services like Hotmail or Yahoo. If the recipient has the Naiduniya fonts installed on his computer, he will be able to read the e-mail in Hindi. Otherwise, he will receive a prompt to download it from the Epatra website. Easy, isn’t it?

One small tip. While filling various columns like the e-mail address of the recipient and the subject of the message, you will see a column marked “From”. Here, you are not supposed to fill your name as is normally done but your e-mail address.

An irate Internet user rang up recently to narrate his tale of woes. He said that while users at other stations might be enjoying their cybersurfing, for those connected to Chandigarh, it is no better than cybersinking. At times, one does not get the connection even after ringing up a hundred times. At other times you get the connection but lose it within seconds.

His complaint is fully justified. There being barely 120 lines for some 5,000 users, the line remaining perpetually busy, especially during office hours, is but natural. The ideal ratio has to be one line for 10 users. But even worse is the frustration when one gets only garbled response on getting a connection or the line breaks repeatedly. Mind you, every time one gets a connection, one has to pay for a call, so what if there is no handshake.

Another nagging problem is that you get a connection but are not able to open any website.

Since we also sail in the same boat, we are not able to offer any solution. Perhaps the association of Internet users can activate itself to improve the hearing of the officials concerned. That will be a great service to the DoT because if the service remains as pathetic as it is at present, the department would only be offering its subscribers to private service providers on a platter as and when they make an entry here.

As I write this, I have rung up the number 133 times already. Most of the time I got the busy tone. Twice or thrice it was “no answer”. Twice I got the connection but received only garbled lines on the post-dial screen. Obviously, it would be futile to wish Happy Surfing to the readers. Try waking up at 3 in the night and try your luck. Good Luck!Top

 

Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

1. The Russian chemist Dmitri Mandeleev is well known for developing the “periodic table of elements”. Name his German contemporary who also classified elements in a similar scheme independently but failed to get credit for the same.

2. Name the two-part spacecraft launched by the USA in 1989 that reached the planet Jupiter in 1995 and has been conducting research about this planet since then. Why has it been so named?

3. Scientists at Lucknow have commercialised a new anti-malarial drug, arteether, which will help combat cerebral malaria. From which plant has this drug been derived.

4. German silver is used for making cheap jewellery, cutlery etc., because it resembles silver in appearance. What is German silver actually.

5. When a small spherical metallic ball falls vertically down in a viscous liquid, then at a certain stage its weight is balanced by the upward buoyant and viscous forces due to the liquid. What makes the ball still continue its motion downwards?

6. American physicist R.A. Millikan performed his experiment 9999 times to measure the value of a physical quantity as accurately as possible. What did he measure and what is his experiment known as?

7. What is the process called by which gases are first diffused and then separated by using their different rates of diffusion?

8. This rare Indian bird, found in Nicobar Islands, does not brood over its eggs but uses nature’s heat for their survival. For this purpose the bird determines the correct, required temperature inside a pit before laying eggs. Name this bird.

9. PET is a new path-breaking technique for obtaining precise diagnostic information about human organs (especially brain and heart). It uses nuclear technology and computers for diagnosis and analysis. What does PET stand for?

How many human genes have been estimated? What is the international project called that aims at determining the structure of all these genes by the year 2005 or so?

ANSWERS

1. Lothar Mayer 2. Galileo, named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who discovered four major satellites of Jupiter 3. Artemisinin 4. An alloy of copper, zinc and nickel 5. Inertia of motion 6. Charge of electron; oil drop experiment 7. Atmolysis 8. theromometer bird or megapode, locally known as “shrub fowl” 9. Positron emission tomography 10. About one lakh; Human Genome Project.Top

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  NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES

Longer life for PET bottles
GERMAN researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging in Freising are developing a new technology to manufacture hygienic recycled polyethylene terephthalate bottles which would be used to store soft drinks.

Until now, the main problem in the PET recycling technology was that substances that came into contact with the plastic were capable of diffusing into the material. Since it is not possible to be completely sure that consumers are not using empty bottles to store solvents and other chemicals, it necessary to check the ability of the recycling process to decontaminate the plastic thoroughly.

The Fraunhofer researchers have developed a test for this purpose in which a PET bottle is deliberately contaminated with chemicals and then recycled. Afterwards, the scientists analyse the chemical content of the recycled material.

In this way, they can see the efficiency of various stages of the process to clean the PET, according to a report in Fraunhofer Gesellschaft Research News.

The test is similar to a test devised in the United States. But in contrast to the American test, the one employed by the German scientists does not use real harmful substances such as pesticides, but takes a harmless substance as a pesticides, but takes a harmless substance as a model which has the same properties as the toxic chemical.

This “trick” allows the scientists to avoid the use of toxic substances and minimise the danger of environmental contamination and risk to human health.

Ultrasound to detect rust
A new ultrasound-based testing method to detect rust on the buried part of lampposts has been developed by German scientists.

The method will be suitable for detecting corrosion in street light posts, traffic lights and the flood lighting system, says a report in Fraunhofer Gesellschaff Research News. It helps check the thickness of the mast which withstands heavy winds and severe weather conditions.

Conventional testing methods are capable of making measurements at more easily accessible parts of lampposts only.

Faster ceramic prototypes
German scientists have come up with a new process by means of which ceramic prototypes of machine tools and parts can be produced straight from computer aided designing (CAD) data within a few hours.

The method, developed jointly by researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for material and Beam Technologies and Sintered materials, both in Dresden, would up help companies produce new products faster.

Normally a method called laser sintering is used to build up machine parts in layers, making it possible to create complex and filigree shapes quickly. Usually only bronze alloy is used for sintering.

But Fraunhofer researchers use silicon-infiltrated silicon carbide (SiSiC) — a common construction material for this purpose.

Making power from wood chips
Europe’s first commercial biomass gasification electricity-generating plant is scheduled to begin operation by the end of this year.

The plant, to be fuelled by wood, is now under construction in northern England. The plant is supposed to produce enough electricity to serve a town of 18, 000 people.

It will be fuelled with wood chippings made from forest residues and from wood specially grown with the technique of short-rotation coppicing.

Practised for centuries, coppicing is a method of regularly harvesting wood from the same tree, often willow. A modern version of this ancient system which consists mainly of dense planting of cuttings of specially bred, quick-growing and high-yielding varieties of willow is adopted for this purpose. When fully operational, the new power plant will use coppice wood from about 2,000 hectares of land, according to a report in spectrum.

The plant is based on the principle that energy from the sun, stored by plants as they grow, can be converted into useful energy for humans.Top

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