Z2K9 — The Day the Music Froze During the Loading Screen

Update 1/1/2009: All better. The thing “fixed” itself. I was this close to composing a strongly worded letter written under only natural light.

In the time between beginning this post and finishing it, it looks like Microsoft formally announced a solution to the issue, the always exciting “it’ll fix itself tomorrow.” Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I want to listen to my party mix now. Anyway, um, enjoy the increasingly less relevant post below.

I’ve stood by my MP3 player for more than one-and-a-half years. The 30GB Zune isn’t the prettiest, thinnest, or most useful MP3 player, but I like what it does and how it does it. I spent a lot of time getting the video compression settings “just right,” and I didn’t need to purchase wrist weights to “maximize” my runs. I’ve gotten used to people confusing it with a dumbbell but I have never had the “I think someone stole my mp3 player,” panic because I know my husky baby isn’t going anywhere, if only because it would be a real burden for a potential thief if he or she needed to scale a fence.

My previous MP3 player, the geek approved Rio Karma served me just fine (though a few minor repairs) from 2003-2007, at which point it started turning into “computer junk,” component by component, necessitating a new player. Microsoft’s been good about updating the original, 30GB, player even though it’s now one-and-a-half generations old. I can’t argue with that, and the free Zune Software/Music Player is actually a program I’d whole-heartedly recommend to anyone, whether he owns a Zune or not. Everything was going swimmingly – the only real issues I had were occasional freezes (which disappeared with the latest 3.1 firmware) and a totally buff right bicep. This morning, I saw that one of the “tech news” websites I visit was reporting “Hundreds of 30GB Zune Players Fail Across the Country.” I have one of those. Uh-oh.

zune crash
Probably not the sort of top 10 list for which they hoped.

Skimming the article, I saw that the problems started around midnight PST last night, and most users experienced the freeze as their greeting as they turned on the device this morning. Of course, I still hadn’t turned it on, but I was watching The Matrix last night, and needless to say, perhaps the computer gods were not happy at the ending (with Neo’s bring the physical virtual and verbal smackdown to computer program) and were taking their vengeance. Being that guy, I decided I wanted to see the crash myself so I could poke around at it. Well, I succeeded in seeing it crash/freeze, but that was about all she wrote. Apparently, one can disassemble the player, change the computer calendar to any date but 12/31/08, unplug and replug the battery, then reassemble and use it just fine with no issues, but I decided I was done losing tiny screws when I decided the Rio Karma wasn’t worth fixing.

For a device considered not very popular, the news certainly got around. CNN posted a front page link (below “the fold,” though) to a brief writeup. (Now, to the doubters’ credit, the time between Christmas and New Years is ridiculously slow for the news.)

In terms of why it crashed, December 31, 2008 is the 366th day of the year. Odds are it has something to do with something in the software planning on each year being 365 days. Not the most exciting bug, but an easy one to forget to check for. Of course it could be an ugly coincidence, but Occam’s Razor, people.

I was going to write here about how it could be a challenging bug to fix because the devices didn’t even get to the point where the firmware updates can be initiated and it could be a support disaster, but being that the darn thing will apparently fix itself, I’ll spare the words. (Note to Microsoft employees: I have no idea if that little spiel back there about “doesn’t even get to the point where the firmware updates can be initiated” is even remotely accurate. I’m just counting on all 7 of the readers of this site nodding their heads and saying, “that Dan. He knows about computers.”)

Star Rating is pending the results of tomorrow’s self-update, but let’s not jump to any conclusions.

**

Two stars – nice it sort of fixed itself, not so nice that I actually had to say, “well, I have that song on my MP3 player, but unfortunately, it’s not going to work until noon tomorrow.”

BUT, I have seen some pretty good overly dramatic names for the “situation”: Z2K, Z2K9, ZUNEPOCOLYPSE. I guess give credit for the “social” for making enough noise the problem to be seen in more places than just some isolated support forums.

Of course, none of the postings made any mention of Judgment Day or this being Skynet’s first move, so I’m not completely impressed. That said, in terms of a future where our ground up brains might be used to fuel Gregorian Calendar does help me sleep better at night.

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