Leap Year Limps Out As Computer Headache

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Tuesday February 29 7:20 PM ET Leap Year Limps Out As Computer Headache By Jim Wolf WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leap Year Day tripped up computers around the world in relatively minor ways on Tuesday, authorities said, as once-giant fears stirred by the Year 2000 technology bogey largely went out with a whimper. Japan reported what may have been the biggest glitches sparked by computer-program failures to recognize a centennial 29th of February, a special leap day that falls only once in 400 years. February gets an extra day in years evenly divisible by four except in centennial years, when the extra day is added only if the year is evenly divisible by 400. Thus 2000 is the first leap year of its kind since 1600, a rule that some programmer apparently missed. Chief spokesman Mikio Aoki said the government had let down its guard after Jan. 1, when computers generally avoided the pitfall of confusing 2000 and 1900. ``Because everything went well then, there is no denying we were negligent this time,'' he said. About 1,200 post office cash dispensers failed out of a total 25,000 because of date-related problems, Japan's Post and Telecommunications Ministry said. A date-related glitch also struck Japan's weather bureau for the second straight day, prompting computers at 43 offices to file botched temperature and precipitation readings. Officials in the United States, the most technologically dependent nation, reported only a handful of date-related glitches despite the resurrection of a $50 million center to track glitches. The U.S. Coast Guard reported a leap year rollover anomaly in the archiving module of its message processing system, President Clinton's top Y2K aide, John Koskinen, said. The failure of the archive component prompted the Coast Guard to rely on a fallback while the problem is sorted out, he said. At Offut Air Force Base south of Omaha, Nebraska, a leap day glitch disrupted a data base that tracks aircraft maintenance parts for the 55th wing, responsible for global surveillance. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Will Ackerman, a spokesman at Offut, said the glitch caused ``no mission stoppage'' as personnel went back to pencil and paper to track inventory, supposedly for a single day, when the data base is expected to recognize March 1. Koskinen said a date-related glitch set back baggage handling at Washington D.C.'s Reagan National airport, causing longer check-in lines than normal. Other potentially troublesome dates have also come and gone in the past year without significant disruption. These included April 9, 1999 -- the 99th day of the year; the Aug. 22 rollover of the Global Positioning System, a popular navigation tool; and Sept. 9 which, when written as 9-9-99, could have been confused as an end-of-file marker, causing systems to shut down. Koskinen, a presidential assistant, said the leap day rollover was ``the last day we'll be concerned about at a national level,'' though end-of-quarter and end-of-year tallies could still reflect glitches. Overall, the leap day problems, as expected, were minimal, said Bruce McConnell, head of the World Bank-funded International Y2K Cooperation Center. ``Basically, this is what we predicted: no major disruptions but minor glitches that are all being handled by the organizations responsible for them,'' he said in a telephone interview. In Bulgaria, a system used by police to issue new documents failed to find a proper expiry date five or 10 years hence because there is no February 29 in 2005 and 2010. The system defaulted to 1900, police told a Sofia-based center that tracked the Year 2000 issue, according to Grozdan Karadzhov, coordinator of the Sofia-based center. In New Zealand, minor problems hit banks. New Zealand's Y2K Readiness Commission chairman Basil Logan said: ``The problem is not widespread and affects a few merchants using electronic banking transaction systems.'' Separately, a special U.S. Senate Y2K Committee said on Tuesday that the estimated $200 billion spent worldwide to dodge Year 2000 computer problems averted what would have been a crisis. ``It is the committee's judgement that the level of effort was justified and the expenditure of funds was indeed necessary,'' said the bipartisan panel, chaired by Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, and co-chaired by Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 01, 2000


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-- MinnesotaSmith (y2ksafeminnesota@hotmail.com), March 01, 2000.

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