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Julius Caesar Killed Your Play Station 3 March 6, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in PS3.
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The year was 45 BC, and the Roman calendar of 355 days just wasn’t cutting it. It was an awkward system of adding days every other year in order to keep all the festivals occurring at the same point each year, and Julius Caesar

2000 years after his death, Caesar's insatiable lust to conquer has led him to the digital world, and your Play Station 3.

wanted a change. And so, he assigned his astronomer, Sosigenes, with the task of creating a new calendar. A calendar that was simple, and required minimal finagling from year to year.

And from this, the current 365-day calendar was born. But since the Earth takes 365.242 days to orbit the Sun, an extra day was added every fourth year to the end of Februarius (February).  This 366 day-long year we commonly refer to as the leap year. And while the next one is not due until 2012, many PS3s didn’t get the memo.

On Sunday, February 28th in the late afternoon, millions of PS3s decided to brick themselves.  The culprit? a pesky bug within the hardware’s internal clock. The clock was set to Greenwich Mean Time, and so when midnight hit for the 28th (roughly late afternoon for us here in the states) all the PS3s attempted to access February 29th.  Why the PS3 thought it was a leap year? No one knows, probably was a simple calculation error in one line of code, but as a result, the systems went bananas.

When you attempted to connect to the Internet, the times didn’t match up, and as a result the system shut itself down. This error resulted in the internal clock being set to 12/31/1999, a date that is long before the release of the PS3, and a host of other problems including: games not loading, downloaded content not loading, and non-synched trophy data corrupting.

While the error seems to have passed when March 1st rolled around, this recent episode has raised many questions about the current state of videogame hardware.

The push to all-digital is a steady one. More and more content is becoming available on the PSN and XboxLive, and we have even seen the release of the first all digital system (PSP Go). And while the digitalization of all content may be an inevitability, we must make sure those creating the system are held accountable.

When you buy a game disk, you own it, its tangible, not a string of 1s and 0s sitting on a server. But when I download a game, do I own it? Is it really substantively on my hard drive away from any outside influences? This recent episode makes me think not.

Why did an internal clock error manifest itself in such rampant and strange ways? The interconnectivity of the online components and offline components of a system has been rudely pushed to the forefront of our consciences. And this has made me question if I really want to lose that tangible disk any time soon. If seemingly simple bugs like the leap year error can cause widespread damage, then how safe are all my digital purchases?

Before I entrust Sony or Microsoft with all of my media, I need to know measures of security are in place. I need to know that they are holed off somewhere that I can see and understand, even if they are just in principle just a string of 1s and 0s.

I guess we actually should be thanking Julius Caesar, for without this error, we may not have realized just how vulnerable our whole web of interconnectivity is. When it is all boiled down, everything is running on code written by imperfect humans. And as a result, some of the code will have imperfections. And while this is understandable, and in no way should result in scrapping the all-digital model, I hope this error makes everyone think twice about the digital shift our industry is making.