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Computer Glitch Halts Seattle New Year's Fireworks 202

Posted by Zonk
from the probably-not-funny-for-seattle dept.
supersat writes "At the stroke of midnight New Year's Eve, Seattle's fireworks show ground to a halt. The source of the problem is reported to be a corrupted file that wasn't checked until the last minute. After two reboots, the fireworks had to be detonated manually. And yes ... one blog commenter, claiming to have worked on prior shows, said that the shows run on Windows."
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Computer Glitch Halts Seattle New Year's Fireworks

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  • Runs on Windows? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oligonicella (659917) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @09:41AM (#21873796)
    Well, unless it was an operating system problem and not bad data or bad programming, what's the point in mentioning that other than childish bashing?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @09:43AM (#21873808)
      You must be new here.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by heinousjay (683506)
      Perhaps an analogy:

      If you're a straight guy looking to masturbate, what's the difference between two chicks getting it on, and two dudes?
    • by bersl2 (689221)
      The childish bashing is still funny, as long as it doesn't get too serious.
    • by digitalhermit (113459) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:16AM (#21873960) Homepage
      nah. just good natured bashing..

      Like when your co-worker drops his coffee on his lap.. you don't hate the co-worker, but you have lots of fun at his expense. "Coffee's hot, I bet."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dasOp (781405)
      To be honest, I'd much rather read stories in the line of

      "The magnificent fireworks display in <insert city here> was actually controlled and detonated from a laptop running <insert favorite distro here> with a soon-to-be foss-application written in <insert programming language of choice here>. <online mag of choice> had a talk with the man responsible, <insert name here>."


      Anders
    • by Harold Halloway (1047486) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:24AM (#21873996)
      ...because Seattle is the home of Microsoft. There's a certain irony in this story.
      • by Blakey Rat (99501)
        Redmond is the home of Microsoft. Redmond's across the lake, north-east from Bellevue. But, uh, nice try? I guess?
    • by supersat (639745)
      Well, frankly, that was the first thing EVERYONE wondered, even among the mildly computer-literate, especially since Seattle is Microsoft's backyard. It's easy (and fun) to make fun of Microsoft's legendary reliability, even if they don't deserve it.

      Now, a comment on a blog is hardly trustworthy, so the second thing pointing this out does is put the claim out there for actual reporters to verify, if they choose to do so. It might even stir up some comments by Microsoft or the company hired to do the show.

      Mo
    • Never mind that an operating system which crashes is a common source of file corruption. But ok! Yeah, you're right! it's the fault of programmers! They corrupted their own little f*cking files. After all, who here among us has ever seen Windows crashing while it was flushing the fucking write-back cache?
      • by murdocj (543661)
        Well, I've been programming on Windows since 3.1, and UNIX since 1973, and I've seen as much file corruption on *nix as I have on Windows. Sorry to rain on your parade.
        • Given file corruption as equally probable, the most fragile system is windows (the insane registry), followed by unix/linux/OSX (a stabler OS and journaled FS help). Good ol' macOS beats em all because it could keep an arbitrary number of system folders (=OS installations) in the same partition, and switching between them IIRC could be done at startup. No system file was a single point of failure.

          But even this is irrelevant because as you should know and other slahdotters state, file corruption under window
          • by Locutus (9039)
            Could it have been that the show was written/scheduled in Microsoft PowerPoint and a corrupt .ppt file caused the OS to crash? ;-)

            LoB
            • > Could it have been that the show was written/scheduled in Microsoft PowerPoint and a corrupt .ppt file caused the OS to crash? ;-)

              Could be, but then the news would be that the previous 13 editions everything worked well.

              Seriously, of the last two presentations I saw, both involving dvd video playback on XP, one failed miserably in front of 100 people, the second had periodic glitches (maybe the screensaver kicking in?) in front of 600 people.

              Speaking as someone who just discovered his mplayer isn't fin
    • by jhines (82154)
      A single, or more than one, file gets corrupted and the show doesn't go on.

      Yes the underlying reasons for this happening are of interest to us, since many of us are charged with implementing or running systems, while not as showy, have to run to pay the bills.

      Yes, the operating system in use is an issue, since it has part of the job of keeping files from being corrupted. It has the job of catching errors.

      It was a flashy semi-failure in our collective business, we would be the stupid ones not to learn all we
      • by rcw-home (122017)

        A single, or more than one, file gets corrupted and the show doesn't go on.

        There's a saying: Of what you see on TV, believe 25%. 5% if the reporter is wearing a windbreaker.

        The article was posted on the P.I.'s website at 1:55am, less than two hours after the problem occurred. That puts this fine piece of journalism in the esteemed company of football post-game loser interviews.

        As a sysadmin, I hear accusations of "corrupted files" regularly. Very rarely is the problem actually a corrupted file. Shock

    • Culture (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Crag (18776)
      Your point is valid: the failure was probably not directly attributable to the operating system. It may be that the automation was developed in Java/Eclipse and would have broken identically on any platform.

      However, the point of many Microsoft 'haters' on /. has been that Microsoft tools are explicitly designed to interfere with the freedom of its users and especially developers. This is not an especially contentions point in the debate because the Microsoft side of the argument is that this is their valu
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      It also says it's the first problem they've had in 14 years.

      But honestly, from a neutral observer of channel 5 in a bowling alley, I didn't notice any problem with the fireworks and I can guarantee nobody else there did, either. They said it was 'out of sync with the music', well, we couldn't hear the music, and the big blast happened at exactly midnight.
    • "Well, unless it was an operating system problem and not bad data or bad programming, what's the point in mentioning that other than childish bashing?"

      I couldn't connect to my webserver last night during a power outage. Incidentally, that server runs on Linux. Giggle giggle snort. My niche with mod points will love that!

    • It's a good indication that the software wasn't engineered to be particularly highly reliable. You wouldn't use Windows to run a nuclear power plant safety-critical system. I'm not saying that this situation demands such reliability, but it's arguably relevant.
    • by lpq (583377)
      If there was a problem, how would you know it hadn't been caused by the OS? It's not as if you can examine the source. With the file-corruption on Windows Home Server, they got caught.
  • by lililalancia (752496) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @09:53AM (#21873856)
    Shouldn't that be "the show doesn't 'run' on Windows" ?
  • by Sadsfae (242195) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @09:59AM (#21873878)
    Someone wasn't there click "Allow" when the dialog popped up asking "Are you sure you want to proceed with the fireworks extravaganza?"
  • by WiglyWorm (1139035) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:03AM (#21873890) Homepage
    Those fireworks were not vista Certified.
  • by sk999 (846068) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:06AM (#21873900)
    From the article: "The source of the problem is reported to be a corrupted file ..."

    Gee, who can guess which version of Windows they were running?

    Microsoft's Windows Home Server corrupts files [computerworld.com]?

  • by Hymer (856453) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:08AM (#21873906)
    Is this 2007th's last Microsoft caused disaster...
    ...or 2008th first ?
    The best part is that it happened in Microsofts backyard.
    --
    Just trying to get my first "Funny" tag in 2008 ;-)
    • by Locutus (9039)
      what would be even funnier is if Bill and his whole family where in The Needle for the event. THAT would put the icing on the cake in really ring in 2008 the right way. As it is, I already like how 2008 is starting off.

      LoB
  • by director_mr (1144369) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @10:38AM (#21874040)
    Unless you know what the file was stored on, what interactions with the computer caused the halting of the program and on what basis they decided to continue manually, you are jumping to conclusions. One guy even claimed there was BSOD mentioned in the article (nowhere was it mentioned I can see). After years of supporting computers and servers, I can confidently tell you there is no way of knowing what caused the glitches from the article. A corrupted file on which several pieces of hardware are going to coordinate something as complicated as a fireworks display is probably not caused by the operating system, as the operating system has no reason to modify the file at all, and will only be reading it. More likely is a malfunctioning hard drive, possibly bad media that was used to transfer the file from one location to another, Or possibly a bad connection between the file storing device and the computer running the program. If you look up corrupted file you will see that every operating system known to man has to deal with that. There is no operating system that can magically correct the corrupted file and cause a fireworks display to run correctly. That is just silly talk.
    • Pyro Spectaculars [wikipedia.org]. They have been in business for 30 years, have done multiple Olympic game shows and do other high profile shows every year. You can compare that to M$'s reputation for screwing everything up.

    • After years of supporting computers and servers, I can confidently tell you there is no way of knowing what caused the glitches from the article.
      If you said, "after years dealing with kernel code" I would buy your argument.

    • by aethera (248722) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @01:01PM (#21874922)
      From what little we have to go on in the article, it looks like there was a problem with syncing to time code. It's been a few years since I last did time as a tech at a major theme park, but our fireworks shows looked a little like this: There was a dedicated computer running the pyro controls, one running sound playback, one controlling the lasers, one controlling lights and fog, and one controlling some miscellany such as a 70mm film projector and the large water pumps that produced a screen the movie was rear-projected onto. All of these computers could be a little buggy given that this was in the days of windows 98 and getting device drivers to play nice was always a problem. But this stuff was worked out long before showtime. The biggest problem that could show up at the last minute would be the SMPTE time code that keeps it all synced up. One intermittent cabling problem somewhere in the system could cause a computer to get bad or no time code signal at all, causing at least that one element to not playback correctly. The best way to solve this problem was to notice it ASAP, usually in the few seconds of preroll before the show starts so that you can manually sync everything at a predetermined point. But there really is no ability to pause just one element or speed up others. Once you're off time code, you're going to have to go manual, and at least with pyro with all of the different fuse delays involved, manual just isn't going to be quite right. The only other last minute problem I could think of would be a corrupted file, or more than likely a revision that wasn't saved correctly or an outdated file being loaded automatically by the show control software and no one verifying that it was the proper version. These holiday shows are a one off, of course, so there is no dress rehearsel. You can run all the simulations you want, but you only get to fire off the pyro once.
      • by cheekyboy (598084)
        Having had past experience with smpte re video editing etc... why on earth do those machines need CONTINOUS timing, surely all they need is a start
        trigger and off they go using their own clocks. Its not like they need to individually slowdown/speed up because you just said that cannot be done, tho
        it should have been possible with multi smpte signals from a generator with individual speed controls/pause/restart modes.

        Even in more past earlier days on Amigas using 3 to do music+stuff, we only syncronized the
    • by Fweeky (41046)

      If you look up corrupted file you will see that every operating system known to man has to deal with that. There is no operating system that can magically correct the corrupted file and cause a fireworks display to run correctly. That is just silly talk.

      ZFS checksums everything, and mailing lists and blogs are full of people mentioning that it's detected and corrected corruption on their HD's. Sometimes it's corruption that's been happening unnoticed for years on other filesystems, aside from the odd mysterious crash, now reduced to a number in the CKSUM column of zpool status (provided there's a good alternative copy, which doesn't have to be on a different disk).

    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``A corrupted file on which several pieces of hardware are going to coordinate something as complicated as a fireworks display is probably not caused by the operating system, as the operating system has no reason to modify the file at all, and will only be reading it.''

      Yes, that's what you would expect. But if this really were a Windows glitch, it wouldn't be the first time. I remember something about a Windows file server system silently corrupting files...that was on Slashdot a few days back, IIRC.
    • by bertok (226922)
      That used to be true, at least for hardware-level corruption.

      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZFS [wikipedia.org]

      Also, I'm betting they were using consumer-grade hardware, which is notorious for skipping the 5$ extra chip needed for ECC.
  • by jpellino (202698) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:01PM (#21874516)
    Sorry. Couldn't resist.

  • And yes ... one blog commenter, claiming to have worked on prior shows, said that the shows run on Windows

    And yes ... this has not one goddamned thing to do with the reported problem.

    I see Slashdot is going to resort to low brow sensationalism just as much in 2008 as they did in 2007.
  • by Plutonite (999141) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @12:18PM (#21874658)
    Ballmer can help you launch chairs, not fireworks. Use FOSS for a happy new year.
  • Why Windows? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kilodelta (843627) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @01:52PM (#21875260) Homepage
    I've seen so many instances of BSOD's on things like gas pumps, ATM's, etc. Windows sucks. Am I using it, yes I am. I'm well familiar with its eccentricities. Would I use it for mission critical projects, hell no.
    • Would I use it for mission critical projects, hell no.
      Synchronizing fireworks displays is not "mission critical". But as the story says, it was a corrupted data file, not the OS.
      • Depends upon your definition: in mind this application does qualify as mission critical. In this case, it means you only get one shot and everything is riding on it.

        So don't dismiss this is just a fireworks show. Sure, the Space Shuttle isn't going to come tumbling down if the system fails ... but millions of dollars will be lost. These shows are expensive. I'm just surprised they didn't invest in a more robust controller, that's all. People that design these systems need to learn one simple lesson: the
      • by Blkdeath (530393)

        Synchronizing fireworks displays is not "mission critical". But as the story says, it was a corrupted data file, not the OS.

        Since the synchronized fireworks display was the mission, and the actual firing of said fireworks was critical, yes, the system in question was mission critical.

  • by Craptastic Weasel (770572) on Tuesday January 01, 2008 @01:53PM (#21875264)
    Yeah, it could have been worse, imagine if they used the algorithm from the program that determines how long a file will take to to transfer...

    10... 9... 80.. 6430... 6... -3..

    happy new years :)
  • My server had a corrupt file last month. I replaced an old harddisk and now everythijn is ok again, but....

    Yes, in my blog you can read I run Windows Etch.

    I mean I THOUGHT I had installed Debian, but as I read the article it seems corrupt files are a Windows thing so I must be running Windows Etch....
  • Video (Score:2, Informative)

    by jxself (1210830)
    A video of the event in H.264 video and AAC audio of if you're interested: http://aws.bluehome.net/2008.mp4 [bluehome.net] (Listen for the booing in the background.)
  • Black Sky Of Death
  • Dear Alberto,

    It doesn't matter which OS you use as your controller, you ALWAYS have a fail-safe machine, or two.
    I bet you'll remember that in the future.
    ALWAYS.

    Yes, I WAS a show tech.

  • It's a growing trend to synchronise major fireworks displays to music. The NYE fireworks in Sydney, Australia have had a 'soundtrack' for many years.

    It never seems to work for me. The reason, is that they synchronise the mid-air explosion to the music, not the kaboom that accompanys the launch of the shell.

    That is, every shell goes boom and a few seconds later when airborne, boom again. The second boom is usually a lot quieter. This is also before you add in the delay of the boom getting to you based on dis
    • by Baumi (148744)

      It's a growing trend to synchronise major fireworks displays to music.
      [...]
      It never seems to work for me. The reason, is that they synchronise the mid-air explosion to the music, not the kaboom that accompanys the launch of the shell.

      Actually, I think they synchronise it to the visuals of the explosions, which works fine for me. The "kaboom" sounds are more of a necessary evil, IMHO. You still have to be close enough to the speakers, of course, otherwise the light will reach you before the music. At one major show I watched, they compensated for this by slightly delaying the soundtrack in the speakers farther away from the fireworks.

      • by lewko (195646)
        Actually, I think they synchronise it to the visuals of the explosions

        Yeah, that's what I meant.

        The "kaboom" sounds are more of a necessary evil

        Are you kidding? Without the Earth-shattering kaboom, it's just a screensaver.
  • I watched the fireworks on TV from a Seattle-area bar, and no one noticed anything was wrong. Of course, that was after 8 straight hours of drinking.

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