Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Crashing airplane computer systems

I just read a story about a guy who crashed the entertainment system on an airplane.

He was playing the game Tetris on the seatback screen. Tetris is a game in which you line up shapes falling from the top of the screen so they form complete lines at the bottom. There was an option in the game to preview the next shapes to fall. He pressed the + sign on the screen to increase the preview to 4, which was the maximum. He noticed that the seat phone keypad also controlled the screen (for changing channels, for example), and he used this to enter 5 for the preview. A bug in the game!

He then pressed + again and it went to 6. Another bug. He kept on pressing + until it got to 127, the largest signed number that will fit in a byte. He pressed + one more time and all the passengers' screens went blank as the entire entertainment system crashed.

I just hope the flight control system wasn't written by the same programmers.


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