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Corrupted software disrupts New Year's fireworks in Seattle

The show ran late and was out of sync with the music being played

By Eric Lai
January 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A bad computer file forced the operators of a New Year's Eve fireworks display in Seattle to launch fireworks manually, resulting in a show that was slightly longer than planned -- and out of sync with its choreographed music.

The show, held near the Space Needle in downtown Seattle on Monday night, started on time but ran for 11 and a half minutes rather than the choreographed eight and a half, a spokeswoman for the Space Needle told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. The three-man crew launched all of the fireworks, but they were not in sync with the music, a compilation of Oscar-winning songs including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," she said.

Pyrotechnics software running on PCs has been used by professional operators for more than two decades, according to Dorothy Drewes, co-editor of American Fireworks News.

The most popular fireworks applications include FireOne and PyroDigital, according to Drewes. Both run on Windows XP and Vista.

The software today is "very graphical," Drewes said, likening the various programs to video-editing software such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s Premiere. That allows operators to create and simulate more-complex shows that can be timed precisely with accompanying music. That kind of timing is more difficult when fireworks are fired off by hand.

"It's very seldom today that you fire manually, especially in a competition," she said.

The buggy show was operated by Pyro Spectaculars Inc., which has run the Seattle show without a problem for the past 14 years, the Space Needle spokeswoman said.

A call to Pyro Spectaculars' headquarters in Rialto, Calif., was not immediately returned.

Pyro Spectaculars is one of the five largest fireworks show operators in the country, Drewes said. Pyro Spectaculars uses pyrotechnics software that is either heavily customized or written totally in-house, according to Drewes, who has seen it.

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