Computer Alert Looms for Leap Day : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Friday February 25 1:37 PM ET Computer Alert Looms for Leap Day

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The once-in-400-year Leap Day on Tuesday is prompting a new round of worldwide computer monitoring, the last big gasp of the Year 2000 technology problem.

Experts generally predict a relatively glitch-free Feb. 29 rollover because the issue was addressed during standard Y2K upgrades to make sure systems did not mistake 2000 for 1900.

But some software could jump to the wrong date or otherwise get fouled up in a way that might not be spotted until sums are done at the end of the quarter or year-end.

``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 for the last time to keep tabs on automated systems.

If problems occur, they could involve billing cycles, payrolls, interest computation or other calculations where the number of days is critical, he said.

Esoteric Rule

The potential Leap Day headache arises from the esoteric, three-step rule governing when a 29th day is added to February to mesh with the cycle of seasons.

The rule took effect with the calendar introduced by Pope Gregory 13 in 1582. It says the extra day is added in years evenly 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 years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not Leap Years. The 400-year exclusionary rule was to fix the growing lag between the spring equinox and the date under the old Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, the U.S. timekeeper.

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 would chiefly affect software, not the hardware or operating systems that were the focus of giant fears during the century date change.

Rear Adm. Jay Cohen, director of the Navy's Y2K project office, said some programs, if left unfixed, might properly display the extra day in February but ``get to the end of the calendar year and then lose a day.''

Federal Workers On Watch

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 said he would take part in scheduled conference calls up to three times a day on Tuesday, on Wednesday and on 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.

According to a Jan. 31 memo to U.S. military units, ``more failures were noted during the Leap Year tests than the end of year tests'' during Y2K preparations.

``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 message from the Army's director of military support said.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 26, 2000

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