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

A good time to buy a new computer?
Every now and then, like it or not, you have to buy a new computing device...

Abusing virtual monopolies
One of the interesting side-effects of modern technology is that it increasingly creates powerful monopolies...

Good idea, bad implementation
You may not have noticed but yesterday a very powerful new law relating to the internet came into effect here in New Zealand...

Australia, the new fascist state?
Just last week I wrote about the fact that Australia has passed new laws that will see its citizens' access to the internet censored...

Mr Net TV, a huge business opportunity?
As I watched the final-ever episode of Top Gear featuring Jeremy Clarkson on the 40-inch LCD TV set in the livingroom whilst eating my dinner...

Maori, not an official internet language in NZ?
New Zealand has two official written and spoken languages - English and Te reo Māori...

Big brother shows contempt for the brave
We all know that in just about every country on the face of the planet, "the state" is increasingly probing into the private lives of citizens...

Flash buggered again
Tech websites around the world are carrying the story that Adobe has issued an emergency patch for Flash...

Do no not much evil
These days, Google is the internet and the internet is Google...

Netflix to be blocked in Australia?
Spare a thought for our Aussie mates across the ditch...

UFB disaster?
The good old POTS (plain old telephone system) is great in a disaster...