An opera singer shattering a glass, redux.

Raymond Chen is an engineer at Microsoft. His blog, The Old New Thing, deals with backward compatibility — making sure that new versions of Windows run all your old stuff, ever.

Chen tells the story of an unnamed “major computer manufacturer” who discovered that you could crash some models of their laptops by … playing the video for “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson.

Even better — you could crash other manufacturers’ laptops.

Even better than that — you could crash a laptop by playing the video on a different laptop.



Back in the old days — a whole decade ago — computers still used mechanical hard drives. Disks coated in magnetic material, spinning really fast — like a small, two-dimensional, extremely precise cassette tape.

These were susceptible to vibration. You could cause disk errors by shouting very loudly near a computer.

So “Rhythm Nation” contained a sound at the natural resonant frequency of the hard disks used in these laptops.

What did the manufacturer do? They stopped using the susceptible model!

No, of course they didn’t. They added a custom filter to the audio software pipeline in their installation of Windows XP to filter that frequency. That filter is probably still there, years later.

Your mission: document the resonant frequencies of common computer hardware, and come up with an enormously popular banger of a tune that hits all of them.




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