Mar 5, 2020 - Technology

How wrinkles in time mess with our computer systems

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?

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Expect lawyers to take aim at Robinhood

Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

After Morgan Stanley last month agreed to pay $13 billion for E*Trade, deal-makers began buzzing that Robinhood could be the next discount domino to fall. Particularly on the heels of Charles Schwab agreeing to buy TD Ameritrade for $26 billion.

What's new: Robinhood does now have a target on its back, but the archers are more likely to be lawyers than potential acquirers.

Another fiasco for Robinhood

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Millions of stock and options traders were effectively shut out of the market for all of Monday as well as two hours of early trade on Tuesday.

Driving the news: The culprit was Robinhood, a fast-growing stock-trading platform that inexplicably face-planted on a day when trading volume surged and the stock market rose by 4%.

Microsoft Teams adding new features as demand increases

An example of the pop-out chat window option coming to Microsoft Teams. Photo: Microsoft

With the coronavirus pandemic putting increased attention on collaboration software, Microsoft is announcing a host of new features coming to its Teams product this year.

Why it matters: Microsoft sees Teams, which turns three years old this week, as a key growth product for the company. The product now has 44 million daily active users, up from 32 million a little over a week ago.