Digital Tbucket Tank (DTT)

# Space and influence on computers. The effects? e.g. wrong election result ...

On average, your computer makes a mistake every few days for no apparent reason. It is not a hacker attack, but the effect of invisible radiation that can alter the outcome of an election or lead to a plane crash.

In the Belgian federal elections in 2003, citizens voted electronically - with magnetic cards that each voter received. In the city of Schaerbeek, the unpopular candidate Maria Vindevoghel won. It would not have been exceptional if she hadn't won far more votes than there are eligible voters in her constituency. All used Magnetic cards were collected and the votes counted again. The support that the candidates received has not changed, with the exception of Mrs Vindevoghel, who this time received exactly 4096 fewer votes. A further investigation determined the cause of the error, which was referred to in the official documents as "spontaneous setting of the bit in the thirteenth position in the computer memory". To understand this mysterious explanation, one has to know how the computer stores information in its memory.

Image source: Pixabay

Zeros and ones

We use the decimal system, in which numbers are recorded as consecutive powers of ten. So 123 means one hundred (1 * 102), two tens (2 * 101) and three ones (3 * 100). The computers use a different recording system - binary. There are only two digits in it - zero and one, and each subsequent position of the record is a bit, that is, another power of two. The tenths number 123 looks like this in this notation: 1111011 (1 * 26 + 1 * 25 + 1 * 24 + 1 * 23 + 0 * 22 + 1 * 21 + 1 * 20 = 64 + 32 + 16 + 8 + 0 + 2 + 1 = 123).

The difference between the votes cast for Ms. Vindevoghel was 4096. This number is exactly as large as the two counted up. This was a clue to the computer scientists trying to explain the strange election result. It is easy to draw further conclusions: there was an anomaly in the memory of the voice counting computer where one of the bits took the value 1 instead of zero.

If a candidate had actually received six votes, the result recorded with 16 bits would have looked like this: 0000000000000110 (1 * 22 + 1 * 21 + 0 * 20 = 4 + 2 = 6). However, if a bit in the thirteenth position (counting from the right) were to be changed, the number would look like this: 0001000000000110 and would be 4102, 4096 more than the original result. The question is who or what could change that?

The constant bombardment

An investigation in Belgium ruled out that a computer was hacked or a virus was used that altered data in memory. The reason for the error: The cosmic rays reaches the earth mainly from the sun, but also from distant objects such as neutron stars, supernovae etc. It consists of elementary particles with high energy. Most of them are distracted by the Earth's magnetic field, but some of them get ahead. In the atmosphere, they collide with air atoms, creating what are known as secondary cosmic rays - mainly high-energy protons, alpha particles and electrons. This radiation can affect the computer's memory registers.