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Janet Jackson’s Hit Song Could Destroy Laptops, Reveals Microsoft Engineer
It's normal for people to judge others' music taste, but have you ever heard of laptops complaining about yours? It might sound strange, but Janet Jackson's classic 1989 song "Rhythm Nation" apparently has the potential to crash your laptop's hard drive. At least, that's what Microsoft's principal software engineer Raymond Chen claims actually transpired back in the day.
As per Chen's blog post, some laptops running Windows XP could not handle specific musical notes from the song; thereby crashing their hard drives in the process. What's more, the damage wasn't even restricted to the device blasting the blockbuster hit. Playing the song back on one laptop reportedly affected nearby computers as well.
Although Chen refrained from naming and shaming the laptop brands, that's most likely because the sonic destruction apparently didn't discriminate between manufacturers.
How Could Music Possibly Have Crashed Laptops?
According to Chen, the unnamed "major computer manufacturer" eventually learned that laptops from its competitors didn't fare well with the same song either. Further investigation revealed that crashing laptops shared one common specification—they all used 5,400 RPM hard drives of the same make and model.
"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 wrote.
Software Fix for a Hardware Issue
Chen further revealed how the manufacturer fixed this issue while avoiding expensive recalls. The unnamed brand added a custom filter, designed to ignore the offending frequencies, in the audio pipeline of the affected laptops. The destructive resonance was effectively filtered out of the system at the software level.
Raymond Chen also didn't reveal the brand of hard drives that fell prey to this issue. Like most great stories, it's hard to find evidence proving that all this actually happened. However, it still stands as a testament to the might of physics, and an ominous reminder of its destructive potential.
Resonant Frequencies Can Be Destructive
However, just because there's no record of this happening doesn't mean it never did. Chen proved this point by punctuating the blog post with a video depicting a data center engineer disrupting hard drives by, well, screaming at them. Resonant frequencies are potentially fatal to fragile electronics and solid constructions alike under the right conditions.
That's precisely why even marching armies are instructed to break stride when crossing bridges.
As The Verge notes, the same phenomenon works in reverse as well. In 2017, security researcher Alfredo Ortega showed how hard drives were used as rudimentary microphones to eavesdrop on people's conversations.
Fortunately, Modern Laptops Are Janet-Proof
Speaking of contemporary hardware, it's hard to find laptops bearing hard drives incorporating mechanical platters prone to resonance. Most new computers are equipped with solid state drives (SSD) that contain no moving parts.
At any rate, we suspect Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" doesn't get much play time anymore, so the chances of your laptop crashing are slim. Unless, of course, we are forgetting a critical element—you know—like the Streisand Effect.