Natural resonant frequencies amplified from American pop icon Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” music video released over 30 years ago are too powerful for certain laptop hard drives, Microsoft said last week.
Raymond Chen, a chief software engineer for Microsoft, shared a story from one of his colleagues, who said a major computer manufacturer discovered that while playing Jackson’s 1989 title track from her fourth record, certain laptops crashed.
“I would not have wanted to be in the laboratory that they must have set up to investigate this problem,” Chen said in a blog post. “Not an artistic judgment.”
During the investigation, they found that by isolating what was crushing the inside of the laptops, the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm hard drives used by the manufacturer.
“But why this song,” Chen said. “Does windows not like this song?”
Maybe Jackson’s militant dance choreography, political messaging, and vision for people of the world to unite under a rhythm nation filtered through black and white cinematography were just too much for the hard drive’s revolutions per minute.
Chen said the investigation turned “extremely weird” when they found that the classic 80s pop song crashed its competitor’s hard drives and other laptops beside the computer playing the track.
“The reason is that this song contained a frequency that matched the natural resonant frequency of the hard drive that these laptops were using,” Chen added.
Manufacturers resolved the issue by writing a special audio filter that detects such frequencies by filtering them out before the vibrations are produced and amplified out of the speakers.
“And I’m sure they put a digital version of a ‘Do not remove’ sticker on that audio filter,” Chen said. “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,” he added.
Natural resonant frequencies have not only destroyed internal storage systems, but have also been strong enough to collapse bridges.
History reports that the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge in Washington, which stretched the Puget Sound from Gig Harbor to 40 miles south of Seattle, collapsed from vibrations generated by strong winds in 1940. With the winds blowing in a specific direction, the frequency oscillations built up enough to cause an inevitable collapse.