Mike's Christmas Engineering
Like all good engineering boys and girls, you've no doubt spent considerable time working out the engineering feats required for Santa to pull off the logistical miracle of Christmas. I’ve seen too many engineers get trapped in the quagmire of linear thinking, estimating the speed and payload required and invariably reaching the flawed conclusion that friction will reduce the reindeer to venison jerky. Today’s letter will illustrate where you went wrong.
Let’s start with production. I'm no dummy. I no longer naively believe that the elves are spending their year building toys for good little girls and boys. Navigating that minefield of patents and international IP law would require an army of Elvin litigators. No - clearly Santa's elves are shoppers. In fact I believe I spotted some in Costco just last week hording a cartful of netbooks. And they’re not as friendly as you might think.
Deciphering how this massive operation is funded is a bit out of my sandbox but I've got ideas. Nobody has ever read the US tax code through and through (did you know it's over 7 times the word count of the bible?). Santa is getting funding in there somewhere. And you can bet that Santa got a kickback out of the 2000 page healthcare reform act (to help him recover from a soft 2009). The European Union is in on this conspiracy as well, rumored to have overextended and used Greece as collateral.
That covers finance and procurement, but we all know the real engineering coup is in the delivery system.
Before getting too aghast with logistics awe, let us examine the numbers. American folklore (commissioned by a PR firm in the polar circle, with further sponsorship by Hallmark) would have you believe that Santa is servicing a territory that includes over 2 billion children. Ridiculous braggary. They’re simply playing on politically correct tendencies to avoid the sensitive topic that Santa excludes Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem and Jewish children. That knocks his delivery down to a much more manageable 400 million children – max. And that figure makes the dubious assumption that all of those children have been good.
Let’s talk distribution. Don’t fall for Rudolph folksongs. Santa is no Luddite. Warehouse distribution, not Mach27 reindeer, is his secret to rapid delivery. NDA’s prevent us from understanding all the details, but I understand that limited partnership agreements are in place with both Walmart and FedEx.
Anytime you’ve got remote assets you must have systems in place for supervisory control and data acquisition. I’ve run the numbers - SantaSCADA may indeed be the largest wide-area SCADA deployment on the planet.
Having spent my career in communications technologies, combined with a bit of inside info, I can comfortably say that the last five years SantaSCADA has received tremendous technology upgrades, particularly in Internet Protocols and wireless. Thanks to advancements in those technologies Santa’s automation group is no longer slave to a single vendor, nor their proprietary “blue wire.”
Wireless sensors, RFID and even Ethernet serial servers are in use to bring every bit of asset and device data up to an IP network. WiFi has become the core of SantaLANs, eliminating the prior issue of frantic network teardown the day after Christmas. Cellular data networks, hindered slightly by frustrating lack of 3G coverage in rural areas, provide Santa’s backhaul connection and allow data from every device and asset around the world to integrate back to central operations. Smartphone’s provide local EMI (Elf-machine-interface). iPhone’s were likely tested this year but rejected due to poor coverage from AT&T so it’s yet another year on the Blackberry. (With the pending Verizone iPhone launch maybe there will be an Apple conversion, if Santa and Steve Jobs are able to set aside their petty differences).
Remember my article earlier this year? “The 10 Commandments of Wireless.” EETimes published it as well, where it managed an impressive rank of their 7th most read article in 2010. B&B’s own web logs show a high number of polar circle downloads as Santa’s IT team was no doubt troubleshooting some teething problems in their own wireless deployments from last season.
Another piece of insider info: Remember our new Zlinx Xtreme wireless modems and I/O? Remember that they’re not only waterproof for outdoor installation, but they’re good to -40°C as well. I’m not supposed to tell who buys what, but there were some tell-tale shipments to northern Greenland, known to be a shipping hub for Santa’s automation group. Even if you haven’t tried Zlinx Xtreme in your wireless applications yet, if you like what you see do me a favor and give it a vote for Wireless Integration Product of the Year over at Control Engineering. Halfway down the page, just takes a minute.
Hope that helps solve any of your unanswered questions. I hope that 2010 was good to you and yours and that Santa shows his appreciation as well. Share your comments on our blog.
Happy Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Ramadan, Boxing Day, and a very Merry Christmas.