Leap year computer bug bites hard in Japan

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Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 14:40 GMT

Leap year computer bug bites

Bug in Japan

1,200 cash dispensers in post offices fail

43 Meteorological Agency offices have computer failures

Three prefectures have failures in seismic monitoring equipment Computer system monitoring work hours fails at Monju nuclear plant

Six financial firms report problems

Schedule boards at three railway stations fail

370 information display screens in post offices fail

Japan has been worst hit by the Leap Year computer bug, a failure by computers to recognise the year 2000 as a leap year and add a day on 29 February. Cash machines, weather and earthquake prediction systems, and a nuclear plant were all affected and the government was forced to admit embarrassing carelessness.

Chief government spokesman Mikio Aoki said the government had let down its guard after the New Year, when the millennium bug caused a number of problems.

"Because everything went well then, there is no denying we were negligent this time," he said.

Elsewhere in the world, the problems were rare and minor. In New Zealand, as many as 4,000 shops had trouble verifying banking transactions and in Singapore the subway system rejected some travellers' cards this time," he said.

No glitches have yet been reported from Europe or the Americas. Computers in the US have did fail in leap years before. Four years ago, for instance, Arizona Lottery players could not buy tickets when machines failed.

To leap or not to leap

The problem results from an exception to an exception in the rule determining which years are leap years and therefore have an extra day, 29 February.

Generally, leap years occur every four years, when the year is wholly divisible by four. However, years that are wholly divisible by 100 are not leap years. The confusion has arisen because not all programmers were aware that those years that are wholly divisible by 400 remain leap years, meaning 2000 is in fact a leap year.

The failures in Japan, one of the world's most technologically-advanced nations, are embarrassing. They follow high-profile space rocket failures, last year's nuclear accident and hacker attacks on government computers, as well as difficulties with the millennium bug at the start of 2000.



-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 29, 2000

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