Unlikely excuses: A faulty microchip


Last year, a talking action figure was discovered to utter a curse word. A spokesperson for the store said that the problem might be a faulty microchip.

Huh? What microchips fail by saying curse words?

I mean, I can see the voice chip failing by generating static or chopping up the audio so as to become unintelligible, but what are the odds that a chip will just happen to fail by reassembling the audio to form a popular curse word?

Mind you, the problem may still end up having a benign explanation. Apparently, the recording is supposed to be of the word "stop". Maybe the recording quality is so poor that people can mis-hear it as another word. But that's not the same as a faulty microchip.

Comments (22)
  1. ERock says:

    Unless, of course, the code were to intentionally attempt to play a curse-word when it encounters a hardware error. :)

    Seriously, though, audio encoded in microchips for toys are are very low bitrates. Depending on how their encoded, a flipped bit could impact the sound of the next series of bits. Then again, if they’re not doing any checksums of the data before it gets stuffed into a toy then it’s still a process problem anyway.

  2. John says:

    "He asked me if I wanted him to arrest me and I said no, (then) he asked me if I wanted to be cuffed and I said (maybe), and then he said, ‘(expletive) don’t make me use my nightstick,’" Morton told the paper. "Without even thinking I said, ‘What did you say?’ So he said it again. To some people that might have been funny to hear a child say that, but I got very, very mad."

    Hilarious.  This kid is destined to become a cop.  Just don’t let him get his hands on a taser…

  3. abolibibelot says:

    "He asked me if I wanted him to arrest me and I >said no, (then) he asked me if I wanted to be >cuffed and I said (maybe), and then he said, >'(expletive) don’t make me use my nightstick,’"

    It is hilarious. The whole dialogue sounds like something directly lifted from a cheap porn flick.

    And what about having no problem with a kid playing with handcuffs, guns, and mace while freaking out because he might have heard a cussword?

  4. Karellen says:

    Um, no matter what happens, there’s no way that "stop" should be garbled to sound enough like "f—" that the kid could actually learn the word "f—" from it.

    That’s just f—ing insane!

    IMNSHO, at least one of the people in that article is lying.

  5. Matthew Sayler says:

    I think the explanation is bogus, but (OTOH) who knows what a single-bit error/shorted logic gate in a phoneme-lookup process could yield: possibly something radically different than intended…

    I’m not sure enough of how radical the changes could be, but given the low data rate to the encoders and the oddness of the voices of these kinds of systems, it seems possible.

    see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speak_%26_Spell_%28toy%29

    and

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Instruments_LPC_Speech_Chips

    http://www.mamedev.org/source/src/emu/sound/tms5220.txt.html

    and other files in that directory have some interesting information on the input format.

  6. asmguru62 says:

    It can be a easter egg, that some programmer decided to code into a toy. It supposed to say that word maybe once in a million cases (taking the stick from the belt), but just the random generator did not work properly. :-)

  7. Gabe says:

    It’s easy to imagine a person confusing F for S and K for P when the audio is very poor. That’s why they invented the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, …)! As with most crappy speech synthesis, you probably have to almost know what it says before you can understand it.

    The kid learned to swear from either his father or movies, and having no context misunderstood the word from the toy.

    The faulty microchip is probably a bogus excuse, but it’s understandable that some samples would have poorer sound quality, making it harder to distinguish the words and leaving more up to the imagination.

  8. Dean Earley says:

    We had an IP camera that, when there was a hardware fault, returned a picture of a girl in a grass skirt (and very little else) holding a custard cream pie….

    Took us ages to get an acknowledgement from the manufacturer, but it is a known "issue" :)

  9. Morten says:

    Poor audio and poor judgement can cause a lot of high-grade hilarity. I have on my shelf a plush toy with a "Press here" button. When pressed, the entire thing (of indeterminate species, but very yellow) starts hopping around on the table and laughing maniacally. After doing that for a considerable time it utters something, very loudly, that to all the Danes I’ve tested it on sounds like "What the devil" (in Danish, mind you – "va fan" is the Swedish equivalent). Priceless. It’s made in Denmark so it must be on purpose but one wonders…

  10. Michael says:

    Well, the memory that holds the audio file is also a microchip to non-technical people, and faulty may not mean "technically defect" to them, if you catch my drift…

  11. kl says:

    When memory chips are made they are tested. The ones that have single bit (or a small number) of bit failures are used in cheap consumer devices. Slightly defective memory chips end up in home answering machines as a dropped bit or two doesn’t really matter.

  12. Geoff says:

    A teacher in middle school used software to create word searches, and the software would insert a random swear word into the puzzle it generated.  Eventually someone pointed it out to her and she had to stop.

  13. Rich says:

    What kl said, and it gets worse. Memory chips binned out as bad disappear from one factory in China and reappear in the factory next door making cheap toys. And for even more cost reduction joy sometimes the chips don’t even contain memory:

    http://www.techonline.com/product/underthehood/201310284

  14. Name required says:

    If your biggest problem is some stupid toy swearing then you must really have a pretty good life. So shut the (expletive) up and let the rest of the world get on with theirs. (expletive)

  15. "Our TV’s are on Disney Channel 97 percent of the time.."

    Poor kids.

  16. Hari says:

    Heck this guy should ebay that toy, I’d pay to have one of these :)

  17. Karellen says:

    Soren > Ooh, good catch. I *really* hope that actually means "Our TV’s are on Disney Channel 97 percent of the time *that they are switched on*"

    Having the Disney channel on >23h15m/day really would be a vicious thing to subject your kids to.

  18. Andrei says:

    This is a reason why good developers never write curse words into the code…

  19. Karellen says:

    Good developers like … the Linux kernel maintainers?

    http://www.vidarholen.net/contents/wordcount/

  20. Tomer Chachamu says:

    Geoff: she shouldn’t have used that "bypass activation" crack. ;-)

  21. Lisa says:

    Not that I’m buying the story with the microchip–I’m sure it was unintentional, but shouldn’t that have come out in product testing??–but it does make me think of a funny story. When my daughter was a baby, she loved big trucks better than anything else and would shout and point them out any time she saw one. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say the word "truck". Now *that* was a fun one to explain to the other parents. :)

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