Google
 

Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2015 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk



Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Please reboot your mouse

1 March 2013

Computers don't last forever. In fact, chances are that the average desktop PC will fail within a few years of its purchase -- that's just the nature of the beast.

Today's computers are made to a price and still contain spinny, whirly, moving bits such as disk-drives which, unfortunately, eventually wear out.

Even computers which have SSDs are not immune to hardware failure and we all accept that one day something will go wrong - leaving us disconnected and frustrated.

When this happens to you or I, some of us will be clever enough to do some rudimentary fault-finding and locate the fault to a specific subsystem such as the drive, motherboard, power-supply or peripheral. Others will simply "take it to the shop" for repair.

But what happens when a trip to the local PC repair shop is impractical?

What can you do when the computer concerned is actually on the surface of Mars?

Well this is exactly the problem NASA is facing right now with the Curiosity rover.

Apparently the rover's primary computer has had a bit of a spaz-attack due to some corrupted memory and now they're running on the backup system.

Yes, of course they have a backup. You don't spend that much money building a machine that will be dumped on a far-away alien world without building in a fair level of redundancy!

So far, all has been going very well with the Curiosity rover -- until a few days ago, the regularly scheduled data upload failed to take place. On closer inspection it was found that a critical segment of memory on the primary computer had been corrupted so NASA switched to the backup until a full investigation could be performed.

Detailed information is a bit sparse right now but apparently it would only take a single flipped-bit on the computer's memory to trigger a corruption (parity?) error so some are suggesting that a single cosmic ray may have been the cause. Whether this is a permanent error or one that can be fixed by a reformat of the device concerned has not been disclosed.

I suspect that this hiccup comes as a nasty surprise for the guys at NASA, especially in light of the other two rovers' unbelievably long operational lifetime -- far, far beyond that for which they were designed.

The best and brightest minds at NASA will now be furiously working to run diagnostics and see if they can come up with a repair or work-around for the primary computer although I'm pretty sure that now *it* will be relegated to the role of backup, for fear the fault may resurface even if it is fixed. No Indian call-center-based help desk is going to fix this problem!

It would be a huge shame if, after all that expenditure, hard work and success to date, the Curiosity rover ended up being mortally wounded by bad luck -- just as it starts to unravel more of the red planet's mysteries.

Hmmm... cosmic rays eh?

Where's my tinfoil hat?

Imagine the damage a flipped neuron could cause!

Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Have your say on this...

PERMALINK to this column

Oh, and don't forget today's sci/tech news headlines


Rank This Aardvark Page

 

Change Font

Sci-Tech headlines

 


Apart from the kind support of the sponsor, Aardvark Daily is largely a labour of love that involves many hours of hard work each month. If you appreciate the content you find here (or even if you don't) then please visit the sponsor and also feel free to gift me a donation using the button above.

Remember, this is purely a gift, you'll get nothing other than a warm fuzzy feeling in return.


Features:

Beware The Alternative Energy Scammers

The Great "Run Your Car On Water" Scam

 

The Missile Man The Missile Man book

Previous Columns

I've been thinking...
Most long-time readers of this column will know that some 15 years ago, I was running what was at the time, the world's most widely syndicated web-based new service...

Political Friday: protesting too loud?
Despite howls of protest (shhh... if you listen really hard you can just hear them) from politicians, the Higher Salaries Commission has forced a 5% pay increase upon them...

Drone vs Drone
In a follow-up to yesterday's column, it seems that those French droners have been at it again...

Defenseless against drones
All eyes to France...

Coming soon... the iCar?
Over the past few weeks the tech-wires have been buzzing with speculation that Apple is about to plunge head-long into the electric car (EV) market...

Only *we* may hack say US/UK governments
If there's one thing I despise, it's hypocrisy...

Kiwi drone crowdfunding hits $1.5m
Drones are still the topic de jour when it comes to the media and, it would appear, investors are keen to pile their money into promising drone ventures...

Tesla's really big idea
Today I'm not talking about Nikola Tesla, I'm talking about the company formed by entrepreneur Elon Musk and named after Mr Tesla...

How crazy are we?
I met a very nice Swiss couple on the weekend...

All programmers beware
There was a time when writing computer code was a pretty low-risk occupation...