Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” Was Apparently Too Hard For Some Laptops

While it’s normal for friends to judge our musical tastes and take away your privileges, our devices usually won’t complain about our listening habits (even if we ask them over and over to play a song that most humans don’t like). unbearable). However, according to a story shared by Microsoft’s chief software engineer Raymond Chen on his blog old new thingSome Windows XP-era laptops took the exception to the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” because it contained a sound that crashed their hard drives.

According to Chen, an unidentified “major computer manufacturer” discovered that some of their computers were crashing while trying to play the song, and that playing the song on a laptop could have crashed another nearby computer that was just concentrating on its business. Had been. The manufacturer also found that this problem also occurred on laptops from other companies.

Chen says the company eventually found that the song had a sound that resonated with a specific model of laptop hard drive. In other words, it was like a less destructive version of what happens when someone plays a distinctive sound to shatter a wine glass—the sound waves created by the computer’s speakers while the song is playing cause its hard drive to vibrate, crashing the computer. Does it According to the story, the manufacturer has come up with a simple, if elegant, fix for the problem: making it so that their computers simply can’t run that specific frequency.

The story, unfortunately, is relatively light on specifics. Chen doesn’t reveal which laptops or hard drives were affected, and there’s no video of the laptop actually crashing while playing the song. Still, it’s a fun anecdote about the weird things physics can do to our computers and the process of eliminating what seems to be completely random bugs.

While I can imagine that troubleshooting this problem must have been some sort of nightmare, it’s no secret that hard drives are exceptionally susceptible to all kinds of vibrations. Chen links to a 2008 video that shows data center engineers disrupting hard drives by screaming, and in 2017, security researcher Alfredo Ortega demonstrated a program that purposefully crashes hard drives by playing a sound at their resonant frequency. does. The program also warns that this can physically damage the drive – resonant frequencies can actually be extremely destructive under the wrong conditions. They have helped collapse suspension bridges, and the Stuxnet virus has tried to take advantage of them to destroy centrifuges.

Ortega and other security researchers have also demonstrated how hard drives can be used as primary microphones to spy on people’s conversations, thanks to the fact that they react to sounds. One of the examples included in a talk demonstrating the effect of playing an Iron Maiden song on a hard drive and seeing if Shazam can recognize it. The experiment apparently worked, although the presenter does not mention whether it caused the drive to crash.

PS: Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Paweł Zadrożniak, the guy who makes music using old computer parts, including hard drives, has covered “Rhythm Nation”. But Zadrożniak certainly should now because the irony would be delightful.

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