As anybody who has ever tried to fix a PC will know, some errors are a nightmare to diagnose because they seem to make no logical sense whatsoever.
This week, Microsoft Software Engineer Raymond Chen shared an absolute doozie in a blog post, which will make you pity anybody who had to diagnose this problem back in the day.
Before you scroll down for the explanation, have a read of the problem. A “major computer manufacturer” discovered that playing a music video would cause certain models of its Windows XP-era laptops to crash. Not any music video, this one:
Yes, that’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation — a song that has been played over 28 million times on YouTube since it was uploaded in 2009 (at which point it was already 20 years old.)
No date is given, but given it’s Windows XP era, we can place this at some point between 2001 and 2007. One more useful data point for you: any other laptops with the same hardware makeup would also crash if the song was played nearby, including those from rival hardware makers.
Figured it out yet?
I’m sorry Miss Jackson
“It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used,” Chen explains. In other words, Ms Jackson’s 1989 banger uses the exact frequency that caused this company’s laptop hard drives to vibrate in a way that caused it to fail. It’s murder on the dancefloor.
Once discovered, the fix was trivial — albeit a bit of a cop out. The company added a filter to the computers’ audio receiver to block the frequency before it was processed. So if, for some reason, you remember a point in the mid-2000s when Rhythm Nation no longer sounded quite the same… well, that could be the reason. But hey, at least your PC stopped crashing.
“I’m sure they put a digital version of a ‘Do not remove’ sticker on that audio filter,” Chen writes. “Though I’m worried that in the many years since the workaround was added, nobody remembers why it’s there. Hopefully, their laptops are not still carrying this audio filter to protect against damage to a model of hard drive they are no longer using.”
This isn’t exactly what you’d call a live problem, given it involves mid-2000s hardware, a song that was already retro at the time and a readily available patch, but the Mitre Corporation thinks otherwise.
It’s created a new entry on its CVE database, for those that work in government departments with outdated hardware, a dislike of patching and a love of Janet Jackson classics. For some organisations, you can clearly never be too careful.