So this week we had another digital failure in our household. At least I’m happy about the fact it was much less embarrassing than some other technical discrepancies that seem to have befallen the worlds of science and engineering recently.
The rather expensive Soundbridge Internet radio I purchased a few years ago, in response to my wife’s requirement for more “proper” rock music stations in a location where Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) cannot reach, has curled up and died. And it did so in the usual disappointing digital way – no puff of smoke, loud bang, or any external sign that something had gone wrong. It just refuses to turn on or do anything at all. No doubt following the modern failure paradigm for electrical goods that I’ve described before (see Why Doesn’t Stuff Go Bang Any More?).
Of course, my local disaster doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination compare to that of Queensland University’s Pitch Drop Embarrassment. This fascinating experiment, complete with live webcam view, is now so famous that it got a mention not only on TheRegister.co.uk, but also a half-page spread in one of our national newspapers – which happened to mention that the last time anything exciting happened, several years ago and unseen by any human eye, they rushed to watch the video and only discovered at that point the webcam had failed. I notice in the pictures that they now have three webcams watching for the burst of activity that’s confidently expected to occur sometime this year.
But a faulty webcam can’t get near to competing with the issue at Sweden’s Ringhals power station last year, where they could have saved a lot of money just by installing a webcam. It seems that someone accidently left a vacuum cleaner inside one of the containment vessels, and nobody noticed when they started a pressure test. The resulting fire reportedly caused hundreds of million dollars of damage. At least the boss of the plant, Peter Gango, was able to quickly pinpoint the root cause of the event by telling reporters that “those items aren’t supposed to be left in the containment when testing.”
And another nice use of language to disguise webcam-related disasters has come to my notice recently. It seems that, before being abandoned altogether a couple of years ago, the wandering camera-equipped Spirit rover NASA sent to Mars had become permanently stuck in a sand drift. At which point it was re-designated from a “rover” to a “stationary research station.” Maybe I should just re-designate my Soundbridge radio as a “non-audible listening device.”
But instead I’ve taken the plunge and replaced the Soundbridge with an equivalent from Roberts Radio. It actually seems to work better than the Soundbridge (which doesn’t appear to be available any longer), and has some neat features such as integration with Last.fm, and it even connects to a UPnP stream exposed by Microsoft Media Player. Though where we live it can’t manage to drag a usable FM station out of the ether, and only finds a single DAB channel with enough meter bars to be usable.
Probably I should save money by avoiding all these high-tech devices, and use the cash to move house. Somewhere that gets radio and TV reception without needing huge aerials and signal boosters. Maybe somewhere like this…