Janet Jackson can add another claim of fame to her five Grammy Awards, 11 Billboard Music Awards, 11 American Music Awards, and nine Guinness World Records entries: she created a music video that had the power to crash laptops that played it, and even laptops nearby. Your fave could never.
So how did Ms Jackson’s 1989 hit Rhythm Nation get this mystical power? A blog post by Microsoft developer and writer Raymond Chen tells a story from the days of Windows XP support. It turns out that when the music video for the song played on one laptop, it would crash certain laptop models in their vicinity. The secret was not in the rhythm – it was in the frequencies.
“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 in the post. “The manufacturer worked around the problem by adding a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed the offending frequencies during audio playback.”
Resonance is a very useful phenomenon. In a system with an applied periodic force, said force will have a certain frequency. If the frequency matches the natural frequency of the system, you will have an increased amplitude. The timekeeping mechanism of modern watches is based on this principle. When we push someone on a swing, we do exactly this make them go higher and higher.
Infamous examples of this phenomenon have to do with bridges, although the most famous example the Tacoma Bridge collapse was not caused by resonance.