Gen Xers and boomers will remember the musical powerhouse that Janet Jackson was in the late 1980s. But now it turns out that her music has a new power: it can crash laptops.
This week Microsoft chief software engineer Raymond Chen shared the story of what happens when older Windows XP laptops play the music video for Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.”
In particular, Chen recalls the story of a colleague from Windows XP product support. An unnamed major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the video would crash certain laptop models.
Stranger still, playing the music video on one laptop resulted in another nearby laptop crashing.
So why did the song cause computers to crash?
The song featured a resonant frequency that affected the laptop’s hard drive. Chen told:
“It turned out that the song contained one of the natural resonance frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives they and other manufacturers were using.”
In other words, playing the song produced specific sound waves that vibrated at the same frequency as that of the hard drive. This caused the laptop to crash. This is known as vibration resonance.
Fortunately, the manufacturer solved the problem by adding a custom filter to the audio pipeline that detected and removed the interfering frequencies during audio playback.
Not an isolated incident
Even more interesting, there are other instances of vibrational resonance causing local effects.
Another Microsoft developer revealed that playing the game 101 Monochrome Mazes would “reliably crash their machine” because the speaker track and reset trace were too close together.
I was once working on a new desktop computer and I found that playing the game 101 Monochrome Mazes would reliably crash the machine.
The hardware experts investigated and found that the track to the speaker on the motherboard was too close to the reset track.
— Larry Osterman (@osterman) August 14, 2022
The phenomenon does not only affect computers. In 1940 the Tacoma narrows suspension bridge collapsed in response to gusts of wind, creating a vibrational resonance that matched the bridge’s natural frequency. It caused the bridge to swing, twist and eventually collapse.
Soldiers marching in unison across a bridge can also create vibrational resonance.
In 2011, the TechnoMart mall in Seoul was evacuated in response to a 10-minute swaying. Mall officials initially suspected a local earthquake.
The screenplay was: successfully replicated using 17 middle-aged participants who practiced the song for five minutes.
Dancing enthusiastically in choir at performances can also lead to vibrational resonance.
It all gives a different meaning to the term good vibrations.