Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Bumpy beginning for Baker

September 3, 2003

Between a computer virus, electrical blackout and subsequent loss of phone service, the first week of school at Baker University has been a little bumpy.

"It was for the first week of classes, but it can only get better from here," said Baker spokeswoman Stacy Cohen.

While the Aug. 26 blackout which shut electricity off to the majority of campus from about 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. was bad enough, it's been the pesky computer virus that has been more long-lasting of a problem. It started the week before, sometime around Aug. 20, and has ballooned into a situation where e-mail was virtually non-existent to-and-from faculty and staff computers. Friday it was finally fixed.

"It started early last week (Aug. 20). I had 232 e-mails, but only 10 of them were really mine," Cohen said in explaining how the virus has clogged the system. "It wasn't until this week (Aug. 25-29) that it all fell apart.

"The student's system is up, ours is not," she said of faculty and staff, prior to it being at least partially fixed Friday. "We're hoping we'll get it fixed soon. Anyone who has sent us e-mail, we haven't got it yet and we don't know when we will."

As an example of how it "fell apart," on one day last week there were 52,000 e-mail messages clogging up the server. There was basically nothing going in or out. It's the same virus that has effected computers world wide, including many college campuses.

"It's a very strange situation," Cohen said. "I'm just glad we're not alone. I've heard there are a lot of universities that have it. It's amazing how much we use e-mail. People are now being creative to get messages out. It's like going back in time 10 years."

Cohen explained that the virus comes in an e-mail with an attachment, usually a piff file. Once the attachment is opened, it installs a program in the computer which collects e-mail addresses, chooses some of the addresses and sends an e-mail "spoofing" that it is coming from the person's computer. The process is then repeated when someone else opens the attachment.

The Baker system has been clogged for quite awhile, but eventually messages will get in and out. Cohen cautions anyone that gets an e-mail from a Baker address to be careful.

"I'd definitely pay attention to anything with a piff file attachment," she said. "You can open the e-mail, but don't open the attachment. One thing this will teach people is not to open attachments from people you don't know."

As for the power outage on Aug. 26, it proved to be short-lived and didn't cause too many problems, although it did help cancel the annual opening picnic for Baker faculty and staff for the first time. A transformer outside Constant Hall began smoking around 2 p.m. as the university was hitting an all-time peak usage of 1,450 kilowatts, up from the average of 1,312 kilowatts. Baldwin city crews arrived an worked on the wiring in the transformer.

"The city really acted quickly," said Cohen. "As soon as we called and said we had smoke and a problem, they were here. We could have been without power for a long time."

The outage effected most of the campus, but there were a few buildings served by other transformers that had power. However, classes were canceled for the rest of the day, as was the picnic scheduled for that evening.

"Obviously, the loss of power shut us down," she said. "If it hadn't been so hot, it wouldn't have been that big a deal. It would have just been a blip. But we were concerned with the heat and where the students would sleep.

"We lose power enough here that it wasn't that odd for us," Cohen said. "I didn't hear too many complaints about the power. People took it in stride and people got out of classes."

The concern about air conditioning to dormitories didn't last too long as power was restored around 7 p.m. Long-time Baker students are used to power outages, but they have been reduced in the last couple of years. The Aug. 26 outage proved to be part of Baker "orientation."

"That's a good way to look at it," she said. "For the freshmen, it was the second day of classes and they were surprised. But everyone pulled together and were willing to help in any way they could."

As for the picnic cancellation, it was just an unfortunate turn of events.

"Part of the problem is scheduling," said Cohen. "This really is a family event and there were just too many things going on now to reschedule it. The way we're looking at it, it's just been postponed until next year.

"We're going to use the same theme next year, so the benefit of that is the prizes and games will be used then," she said. "Everything wasn't a total loss. There were 17 briskets that were lost. The chicken hadn't been cooked yet. The cobblers and other stuff was fed to the students the next day."

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