Leap Day: Y2K redux minus big fears

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Leap Day: Y2K redux minus big fears

By Reuters, 2/25/2000, 1:10 a.m. EST WASHINGTON - Trouble-shooters around the world are gearing up for the Leap Day Tuesday that occurs once in 400 years, the last big gasp of the Year 2000 technology problem.

Experts generally predict the Feb. 29 Leap Day rollover will cause no major system failures anywhere because computers typically were checked for compliance during Y2K upgrades.

But they say it could screw up data processing, especially in customized programs written in the 1970s and 1980s and used for record-keeping, billing or other calculations where the number of days is critical.

"It's a real issue that we feel obligated to keep track of," John Koskinen, President Clinton's chief Y2K aide, said on Thursday as he prepared to crank up a $50 million Y2K command post to keep tabs on automated systems for the last time.


About 150 federal workers will staff two shifts a day Feb. 28 to March 1 at the so-called Information Coordination Center two blocks from the White House. Their job is to compile data on any glitches in key systems across the United States, home to most of the world's computing power.

Koskinen is to take part in scheduled conference calls up to three times a day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with fellow national Y2K coordinators on the steering committee of the World Bank-funded International Y2K Cooperation Center.

This group includes Britain, Bulgaria, Chile, Gambia, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands and South Korea.

Australia and New Zealand have also been invited to take part as canaries in the coal mine for any problems spotted after Feb. 29 dawns at the International Date Line.

"If there are difficulties in many cases it will result in minor or modest glitches that can be remedied quickly if people catch it quickly," Koskinen told a news briefing.

Bruce McConnell, an information technology expert who heads the International Y2K Center, said in an interview that he did not expect any Leap Date problems to require an "international response" of the type readied -- but not required -- for Y2K.

The potential Leap Day headaches arises from the esoteric, three-step rule governing when an extra day is added to the calendar.

Under the rule that took effect with the calendar introduced by Pope Gregory 13 in 1582, February picks up a 29th day in years divisible by 4 except when the year is divisible by 100 -- unless the year is divisible by 400.


Thus 2000 is the first Leap Year of its kind since 1600. The 400-year exclusionary rule was designed to improve on the old Julian calendar's imperfect mesh with the cycle of the seasons. The years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years.

Koskinen said early testing found that some software programmers knew enough of the Leap Year rule to get to its second step. This means they may have coded 2000 as a normal year in which February had 28 days, instead of the 29 required.

Botched Leap Year coding, if left unfixed, would chiefly affect software, not the hardware or operating systems that were the focus of giant fears during the century date change.

But the U.S. Navy, in a recent message to commanders, said that "during the rampup for Y2K, more failures were noted during the Leap Year tests than the end of year tests."

"However, in light of the minimal impact worldwide during the Y2K transition, it is not expected that the Leap Year transition will produce any significant infrastructural failures," the Navy message said


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 25, 2000

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