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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the popular free-stock-trading app Robinhood went offline Monday and Tuesday, Twitter wags immediately opined that programmers must have failed to account for this year's quadrennial Leap Day, which fell on Saturday. The firm eventually denied that scenario, pinning the crash on simple infrastructure overload.

The big picture: But it wasn't a bad guess. Calendar quirks have always been a predictable source of software bugs. We think of the measurement of time as a science, but it is also a human art, encrusted with customs, exceptions and historical quirks.

  • Time zones are irregular.
  • Times are a.m. and p.m. except when they're on a 24-hour clock.
  • Different countries format dates differently.
  • To remember how many days each month has, people need mnemonic rhymes!
  • Computers are great at keeping track of all these things, but the people who program them still make goofs trying to account for all of the cases.

Y2K: Two decades ago, a bug associated with the flip of the millennium counter threatened a Y2K doomsday that never materialized, whether because the danger had been overhyped or because freaked-out companies hauled enough COBOL programmers out of retirement to fix everything.

2038: Today, Unix programmers are already preparing for the "Year 2038 bug." Some versions of Unix will break in that year as the number of seconds that have passed since Unix time began in 1970 grows too big to hold in a 32-bit register.

Daylight savings time: The clock's seasonal adjustments used to cause many systems to throw fits. Modern systems handle them smoothly, for the most part — but every time the clocks move forward or back, the brains of your local sysadmins, IT crews, and tech-support teams ache from their old war wounds.

What's next: The U.S. moves its clocks forward this coming weekend. Everybody ready?

Go deeper

Updated 21 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.