Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Africa by Toto to play on eternal loop 'down in Africa' (bbc.com)
43 points by rmason 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

That installation won't even last a week before being destroyed by weather. Cool concept though, but I was expecting a bit more than just a few tiny speakers and a wire.

"Mr Siedentopf says he hopes the song will play for another 55 million years."

I think I can hear the engineers over at the Long Now foundation pissing their pants with laughter: http://longnow.org/clock/

They are only aiming for 10,000 years. A walk in the park compared to this apparently godlike and immutable mp3 player atop a painted plywood box. Has this guy even heard of atomic diffusion? Not like it'll last long enough for that to even come close to becoming a relevant factor.

Where do people get this idea that machines are eternal? It's outrageously rare to find a machine more complex than an adjustable wrench that lasts half a lifetime, let alone surpasses generations, but in nearly all of fiction machines are portrayed as ageless things that dwarf our puny lifespans as fragile meat-beings. It's simply not true.

This is a weird tangent, sorry for derailing.

It's not rare to find a 50 year old car or motorcycle. Did you mean something that functions for that long without maintenance?

It's pretty rare if you consider it percentage wise, as in proportion to all the vehicles on the road. Because there's so many hundreds of cars we encounter every single commute, even small percentages are reliably represented which makes rare things seem commonplace--after all, you see them every day. But the percentage of cars and motorcycles on the road that are older than fifty is still pretty dang low. Rare isn't the same as nonexistent, after all. I believe the average age of a vehicle on the road in the US is around eleven years, which is a record high.

My BMW R50/5 just turned 47, getting real close to that over-the-hill party. I'm planning to buy it a cake in a few years, plus I've got the parts for a top-end reseal. Going to be real classy. Definitely looking forward to it.

From the article...

> "Most parts of the installation were chosen to be as durable as possible, but I'm sure the harsh environment of the desert will devour the installation eventually."

Then you watch the video and... yeah. I can think of a lot better ways to do that. The wires aren't even protected at all.

I'm with you. "Eventually" here is about a week.

Forget the wires, the speakers by themself seem to be positioned to collect as much sand as possible. Also the mp3 player is exposed to the sun, on a white surface.

I lived in West Africa, I went to the desert, and a week seems very generous.

Not if it's blessed by the rains...in Africaaaa...

> The 1982 track is quadruple platinum, and was the most streamed song in 2017, with over 440m views on YouTube

That can't be right. Despacito has 5.9bn views on Youtube now and came out in January, 2017.

Strangely, it links to an article [1] that says “It was one of the most streamed songs in 2017” (emphasis mine), not the most streamed one.


That might just be the "official" channel, older songs like that usually have way more off-brand videos too.

I bet this thing will be rickrolling the desert in a few weeks.

Hasn't this continent suffered enough already?

It will be functional for about a week.

Looks like Mr. Siedentopf is safe as none of the PROs[1] seem to collect royalties in Africa. I'd hate to get the bill for a perpetual public performance license fee.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_rights_organisatio...

The artist has been amusing himself in London too https://news.artnet.com/art-world/tate-modern-viewing-platfo...

The Weezer remake is really good too, and Weird Al is in the video. How can you beat that?


I'm partial to Leo Moracchioli's metal version, myself.


The wiring detracts from the overall presentation of the art piece.

Cool idea though

there's quite a distance between that and the serengeti which was somewhere in the lyrics, so what I mean is I think this might be at the wrong place.

The lyrics also mention Mount Kilimanjaro and (in a metaphorical sense) Mount Olympus. I think it's probably generous to assume that the lyricist had a specific place in mind :)

Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro are both in Tanzania though.

Metaphorical Mount Olympus must lie in every human heart.

They should build a more durable one atop Kilimanjaro.

First time I heard this song in a Family Guy episode. Have it in my playlist ever since.

It's running on eternal loop in my head since i read this.

How would you better engineer this instead for it to actually last 55 million years?

Edit: For the defeatists, I meant if you had access to all the Earth's resources and the full effort of mankind.

Make a sphere from glass that is hard to scratch. Put everything inside, including the solar panels and the speakers (make the speakers touch the sphere surface so you can hear it from outside).

Sphere should be mosty empty so that it has lower density than sand - it will float on it no matter how the dunes change.

Add small electric engines that rotate against the sphere in 2 axis, that will move the sphere back to its desired geographic position slowly.

The mp3 player itselft won't last 55 milions years. It will break way before. And be buried in the sand by the first sand storm, no matter how flotty the sphere is. Footballs get buried in the desert, no matter how light they are. Source: I lived in Bamako.

I think if it moved a little every so often it would get unburied. But I don't live near a desert so maybe I'm wrong.

You will have so many sand storms in 55 millions of years. And one is enough.

I'd teach it to some people and persuade them to teach it to their children :)

And hence, religion.

A.K.A. "old forgotten words and ancient melodies".

A thermoelectric generator with a radioactive source would get pretty close.

You can pretty much seal up everything else (encased in a solid glass cube, e.g.). You may want an inert out-gassing source internally, but that would probably only last a few millennia.

Choosing a trade-off between half-life and radioactive mass would be a fun engineering task. Plutonium-238 has a half-life of 87.7 years and would be long depleted before 55 million years are up. Longer term isotopes would need a ton of mass to get you there.

Funny. Contrary to everyone else worrying about the speakers and the PV's, I was thinking about the batteries failing fastest (assuming the thing keeps them to play at night).

Lead-acids would be garbage after 5 years, unless they were way oversized. After about 20 years, failure would be inevitable.

Ultracapacitors would probably last north of 50 years.

Whatever you encase the PV within needs to allow sunlight through. Diamond would probably not work for this. Silicon itself is freakin' hard (about 9 on the Mohs scale) so it would outperform even quartz in terms of abrasion resistance, and you could put its contacts on the back to keep them from eroding away. Silicon needs a different layer on the front to couple its high index of refraction to the incident light, and I'm not aware of any superior optically clear materials that could accomplish this.

Am not a speaker expert, but I'd be surprised if they didn't fail before the rest of the system. Apple's iPhone speakers will warble themselves dry after they're immersed in water, so I'm wondering if constant Toto will keep the sand out of the speakers.

An ultrasonic-interference sound generator based on piezoelectric elements might outperform a conventional speaker setup. Tinny > Short-lived.

There isn't a hope. The MP3 player itself, with solar panels, encased in glass? It could last a good long while... if it weren't that it'd be buried by sand very soon.

The mechanical transducers in the loudspeakers are the big weak point though. Suspensions, foam mountings, the voice coil magnets themselves, the cone; all subject to stress. Under ideal conditions, hundreds of thousands of hours of use. A desert is far from ideal - fine dust and temperature extremes - though far from disastrous too (a damp salty cave by a tropical ocean). Hundreds of thousands of hours gets you a decade and a half of play. So only 54,999,985 years to engineer for.

Alternative speaker tech (piezo speakers maybe?) could last longer. But it's limited! Fine moving parts are anathema to this kind of longevity experiment.

EDIT: Actually I'd encase the electronics in a giant diamond; glass would get scoured rough by the sand pretty quickly, to the detriment of the PVs.

But why not go nuclear? Not a full on nuclear reactor but one of those nuclear RTG batteries. The half life might be low but could you not keep doubling the amount until you reach the requisite years? Basically take the amount of Pu you need to power the device, and double it 20 times (half life of Pu-238 (87 years) * 2 ^ 20 >= 55 million years). This way the entire unit is self contained and you can encase it in whatever super durable material you can think of -- artificial diamond/sapphire.

Hell, ain't Africa home to some giant natural fission reactor? Reignite that thing and there's your power source.

Because the power source isn't the problem. It's the mechanicals in the speaker.

Solid metal LP record with the song cast into it attached to some kind of manually wound record player (why play it if no one is there). Electronics will fail quickly in that environment, but something like that would last for a while.

Somewhat serious answer. The 10,000 year clock by the longnow foundation is going to play music with chimes, I'm sure they could play the melody from Africa if we wanted them to ;)

They are finally starting to build the thing, pretty exciting for someone one who has followed the project for 10+ years:


10,000 years might be the 1st baby step to building something to last 55 million, but that number is so large I would say it is effectively impossible.

I don't know if it'd be possible. Wind and sand is a wicked combination and it'd be sandblasted away pretty quickly no matter what. And if it didn't have the chance to float, it will be buried by the shifting sands. At that point it would probably last a while, but it certainly won't be playing Africa anymore.

Can we even build something playing sound for 55 millions years ? I mean, even forgetting the required energy, the sand, the wind, the temperature variation and the light... Just creating a music player that last so long would be an amazing challenge. I don't think exposed rocks last that long, and they do nothing.

I would start by replicating all the tech on the Mars rovers. Similar environment and autonomy requirements.

As tudorw alludes to, social engineering: The only way to do that would be to convince people - on the assumption that their society could last 55 million years - to look after it and ensure that some kind of Ship of Theseus style Toto Gig just by having been replaced everytime it breaks.

That or robots...

This sounds like a good basis for a sci-fi short story about a religion that centers around a device that continually plays the sounds of their gods. They have been maintaining it for millions of years, even though they can't understand what the message is anymore...

Is there a storage medium that would last even a thousand years? The song must be stored somewhere to be played. Any sort of storage that won't be subject to bit rot at this timescale would be prohibitively large.

Naysayers aside ("it won't last a week"? How about the healing power of music you cynics...)

What I want to know - who's going to sort out the mess this is going to cause with streaming fees?

If I play a song from a legally-owned MP3 in public but no one is around to hear it, do I have to pay licensing fees for a public performance?

"To perform or display a work “publicly” means—

(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or

(2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times."

17 USC §101

(note that this doesn't appear to answer your question!)

Is this Namibian law?

Nope, that's a great point!

Here's the Namibian copyright act from 1994


which does include an exclusive right to "perform in public" a copyrighted work, and doesn't seem to further define or clarify this concept.

I assume it's using a local copy...

Cross that off my list of places to visit. One of my most hated songs of all time.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact