Leap Year causing little worry in the computer world

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Leap Year causing little worry in the computer world

By JOSHUA KUCERA The Associated Press 2/28/00 10:57 AM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- When Y2K was the worry of the day, dozens of city-dwellers moved to the Blue Ridge Mountain community of Floyd County, Va., to stock up, bunker down and wait it out.

But since 2000 dawned without major computer glitches, the approach of Leap Day on Tuesday isn't causing much concern -- even here.

No one was stocking up for Feb. 29 at the Floyd Country Store on Friday, and worry was running low at the hardware store, too.

"A couple of people came in discussing it," said David Thompson, a hardware store employee. "There was one scare and everybody realized there wasn't nothing to that one, so I think they're letting it all pass."

Any glitches tied to Leap Day will likely be minor. In Japan, the Meteorological Agency reported today that computers at six local observatories failed to correctly recognize Feb. 29. The agency expects they will be fixed later in the day.

Computers have long had trouble registering Feb. 29 -- treating it as March 1, or March 1 as Feb. 30. There are greater risks of programming errors this year because 2000 is an exception to an exception. An extra day is added every four years, except for years that end in "00" -- unless divisible by 400. So 2000 is a leap year, but 1900 is not.

The potential for confusion is not a surprise.

"I can't imagine there would be any Y2K consultant irresponsible enough to fix New Year's Eve and not, while he's there, do something about Feb. 29," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who heads the Senate's Y2K advisory committee.

Still, Y2K planners will be watching, if for no other reason than to celebrate.

"Once we're through ... the chances of multiple failures and multiple problems at once become almost nonexistent," said Kendra Martin, spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute.

The Cassandra Project, a Denver-based Y2K preparation group, is having trouble getting people to prepare for Feb. 29, said Cathy Moyer, its managing director. "The energy is out of this project," she said.

Still, Moyer said, the group will undertake "the same kind of monitoring process, the same kind of vigilance" as for Y2K.

The Feb. 29 problem is different from Y2K, which stemmed from a programming shortcut of using only two digits for a year. Left uncorrected, the Y2K bug could have fouled computers that control power grids, air traffic and phone networks. The leap year problem could simply throw off computer's calendars by a day.

Y2K glitches that appeared were largely quirky, along the lines of Web sites displaying the year as 19100 or bills demanding payment from customers in 1900.

A few were worrisome, such as a Pentagon computer failure that interrupted the flow of spy satellite information. But widespread disruptions never materialized, largely because programmers killed the bug in time and consultants overestimated infrastructure systems' dependence on technology.

Any Feb. 29 glitches that might occur should be quickly repairable.

Microsoft Corp. issued an update to take care of a Feb. 29 problem with Excel 2000 spreadsheets, while other software packages incorporated Feb. 29 into a general Y2K fix.

Most consumers need not worry if they already updated their computers for Y2K, but it would be wise to review billing and other statements that come from businesses, said John Koskinen, President Clinton's Y2K czar.

Future potential problem dates include March 31, when businesses generate quarterly reports, and Dec. 31, the 366th day of the leap year. Beyond that, Unix computers that count dates in seconds might run out of space in 2038. And programmers who used a common, short-term Y2K fix known as windowing will face another rollover in 10, 20 or 30 years.

However, the International Y2K Cooperation Center of the United Nations and World Bank will turn in its keys this week. Koskinen's domestic Y2K council will dismantle in March. And many companies and states have already shifted Y2K responsibilities to regular maintenance teams.

"Y2K is dead," said Kazim Isfahani, formerly the Y2K analyst with Giga Information Group. "Let's all leave it well and move on."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 28, 2000

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