Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Y2000000000000000000K Problem

Via Peeve Farm, an unexpected consequence of runaway inflation in Zimbabwe:

One major commercial bank said its automated teller machines are not configured to dispense multi-zero withdrawals and freeze in what it called a "data overflow error." Software writers are busy writing programs to try to overcome the problem.

Urgent electronic transfers in trillions also take several days as electronic accounting systems grapple with transactions in 12 zeros.

I did this kind of work (Y2K and other data format conversions) in a prior life, but these were comparatively isolated systems, generally internal to a company. When you start adding in all of the interactions involved in international banking, this kind of thing can get pretty hairy pretty fast. Also, a lot of our fixes involved packing more data into the same amount of space (be it database, report or screen real-estate). Here, the numbers are just getting bigger and bigger - I wonder if it won't be the practice at some point to just start dropping the rightmost zeros. I mean, I'm sure that already happens out in the marketplace, but banks usually have to be a bit more precise than that. So for a lot of reasons, I don't envy the folks working on this one.

And frankly...I was kind of surprised to hear that there were ATMs in use in Zimbabwe.

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