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Saturday, December 23, 2006
Santa's Sleigh 2006
Here's the latest update from Tom Hollis, Santa's Chief Engineering Elf. Feel free to repost and forward, with the attribution intact. The author is particularly interested in getting this to the troops.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, a tardy Merry Yule and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!


ROGUES by Liddy Midnight and Cricket Starr - Available NOW
FINDING THE LIGHT - a December Wild Winter Quickie, coming Dec 27th


10:00 ZULU, 23 DEC 2006
North Pole Systems Test Facility
Kris Kringle, Inc., Delivery Division, Sleigh Ops

From: Tom Hollis, Chief Engineering Elf
To: Santa Claus
RE: 2006 Sleigh Upgrades and Flight Ops


Sorry about the last-minute briefing, but this year we had a major overhaul of the entire distribution system and that ate up the time we allowed for “cushion” in the schedule. You’ll see the details below.

Well, the first thing I need to report is that your “EEOC” (Empowering Elves Over Christmas) program was more successful than you could have guessed. The team went into caucuses (cauci?) and two groups emerged. One referred to themselves as the Techuplicans and the other wanted to be called the Frenlicrats. The Techs wanted to continue on our current design path of outfitting Sleigh Ops with the latest tech that the Sciences and Engineering Sections could cook up. The Frens wanted to roll back to a more traditional approach, one involving more real magic and pure Christmas Spirit.

In keeping with your wishes EEOC-wise, I put it to a vote. The Frenlicrats won by a narrow margin, and the Techuplicans graciously acceded to the new plan. Showing good, old-fashioned Christmas spirit, they pitched right in to implement it.

To be honest, KK, I’ve been installing these gizmos for a few years now and, although they’re literally out of this world, I’ve become a bit jaded. I’d much rather see a speed boost on the bag run from a good ol’ strolling group of carolers than a black hole inversion interface. I admit it. I voted for the non-tech approach.

Anyway, here we go:

There was no way we could have stripped the sleigh control, recipient acquisition, gift delivery, and general amusement suites from either of the currently operational sleighs (#SC00082 and #SC00092), and re-fitted them in time for the season. So we pulled one of the veterans from the museum and re-worked her.

I hope your nostalgia pump is primed, Big Guy, because this year you’re gonna be driving Stormin’ Norma, the venerable SC1066!

Been a few centuries, eh, Dude?!?!

(Make sure you take Mrs. K for a spin, right? We’ve heard some gossip about a certain younger, red-clad couple, a certain turn-of-the-millennia sleigh, and some certain speeding citations around Phobos. Wink, wink!)

Bottom line, we hauled 1066 off the diorama, into the shop, and onto our spanking new MESH (Magic and Elemental Spirit of the Holidays) outfitting line. Here’s what we’ve added for ’06:

1.) REAL Pixies
2.) Three Elves in the Back Seat
3.) Christmas Spirit Interface Operator - CSIO
4.) Formation Flying (Don’t worry, we’re your hot spares.)
5.) Flight Ops

Let’s do these in order.

1.) REAL Pixies: It seems that the Pixies (and by this I mean the genuine, for-real, fluttery-winged, pixie-dusting, glow-in-the-dark PIXIES) blew a major gasket when they heard that there were machines doing a job they could do.

Actually, they have a point.

When you think about it, it kind of makes sense. The high speed H-UCEV’s flit out, sneak in to the recipients’ houses, scope out the lay, and report back to you, so you can plan for an efficient and accurate delivery.

Isn’t snooping on families and gossiping about every little detail pretty much exactly what Pixies are been experts at (among other silly, mildly vexing things…) for centuries? Why not channel their misbehav… er, natural abilities into a useful service?

So, instead of using the Observational H-UCEV’s (Ref. 2005 SUFO’s, attached below) you’ll be supported by an entire clan of real Pixies for advance recon and giftsitreps. Which Clan? Don’t ask me. They have been competing for this, fiercely (trust me, you don’t want to even see a fierce Pixie!) for 11 months now, and I don’t have a clue.

They’ll flit out—wait, scratch that, back up, re-start.

1.1 Your Right Seat (See CSIO, Sect. 3) will task them with a delivery location (Translation: Have a quick gossip about the recipients.),
1.2 The Pixie Posse — 1 to 7, always an odd number – will flit out to the GDS (Gift Delivery Site),
1.3 Report back (Translation: Have another quick gossip about general decorative style, cleanliness of kitchens and bathrooms, fantasy content of their paperback library, etc.), and
1.4 You can plan for the best gift deployment.

One thing about Pixies – they burn energy at a prodigious rate, and, consequently, have to be re-fueled at regular, short intervals. Usually they do this with nectar, honey, and/or ambrosia, but we’ll need a more efficient system.

Just off your left elbow, you’ll notice what looks like a circular Pachinko machine. While it functions kind of like one, it’s actually your Pixie Stix® dispenser. (Yep, Pixies LOVE Pixie Stix®.)

Just remember, NEVER GIVE PIXIES OF ANY COLOR THE SAME COLOR PIXIE STIX®. You know how silly they are normally. Give one of ‘em its matching color and you won’t be able to see straight, much less drive, for the storm of Pixie Dust, sparklies, confetti, tinsel, and such that will be spun into the space around you.

The dial is marked with a color wheel. When a Pixie flies up and chitters for “Stix, Stix, Stix!”, spin the wheel to the opposite color and dole out exactly two Stix per Pixie. Make sure you tell the Pixie, “No sharing these!” (See the color warning. above.) Two Stix gives them one for each hand and cuts down on mischief, limiting it pretty much to rein dancing and limericks. More than two and you risk putting the poor little Pixie out cold for the rest of the night in a sucrose torpor.

2.) Three Elves in the Back Seat: The Pixies started the hue-and-cry about ‘machines replacing magic’ and the Elves picked up the chant. They claimed that the Presentational H-UCEV’s were doing the job, i.e., hauling gifts for Santa, that Elves had been doing for centuries.

To be fair, they have a point, too.

So, instead of the PH-UCEV’s, you’ll have Three Elves in the Back Seat to help you haul the Load. Again there has been a furious competition for the privilege of Sackin’ for Santa, and these guys are ripped. ’Scuze, me. These Elves are ripped. One is a lady Elf.

Mr. Kringle, it’s spooky. The guys have it all over her on just plain humping poundage, but I’ve seen her, for-real-with-my-own-eyes, stuff six stockings from across the room, from the hip, no misses, and without a single cross-fill. In record time. For all of those best-gifts-in-small-packages, she’s your operator. (Sorry, I don’t know her name. The whole competition was anonymous.)

3.) Christmas Spirit Interface Operator: CSIO – I know that this project is pretty much of a surprise to everyone, you and me included. To relieve you of some of the workload of personnel interface, especially since you’ve been tech-focused for the last few years, the team’s decided to equip you with a Right Seat who’s been spun up on all of this low-tech stuff.

She’s (Yep, it’s a girl. Why shouldn’t we at least keep the evening spicy?) been training with the Pixies and the Elves for three months and she has their BusyNames (Translation: Call Signs), WorkTalk (Translation: Communications SOP), and Pecking Order (Translation: Mission Priorities) reduced to routine. I’ve run her against our best simulations of the high-tech sleighs. She not only works out ID, Locate, and Lookups at better than 88% of last year’s delivery rate, she’s dead even on accuracy.

Even better, she has now logged over 40 hours of rein time, distributed over several sleigh models and vintages. Jeannie says that she’s a tight-but-gentle strap, and Liddy vouches for her situational awareness and overall calm demeanor in adverse conditions. We all give her a go. Her name is:

Clara Clause-Kringle.

Da Missus.

Now, Boss, before you go all cinnamon-Red-Hot®, give me a minute. She’s got a point, too. Who’s better qualified?

And besides, who’s better qualified to make my life miserable if she doesn’t get to go?

Geez! Mrs. K. and all of the other “ladies” have been riding me for decades about this ‘guys only’ thing on the 24th. Sneaking Jeannie into the Right Seat two years ago was just the camel’s nose, and now we’re going to have to live with equal rights, full time. The real thumb-in-the-eye was when the gals pointed out to me that, under Santa Claus’s new EEOC program, we are now OFFICIALLY gender neutral, everywhere. Note – ’scuse me again, they noted — that this includes the Right Seat.

Anyhow, Mrs. K. will be handling the Naughty-or-Nice book, giving the Pixies their recon sites, and calling the bag loads out to the Back Seat Elves. Relax, this is just a staging step for St. Nick, and you get the final say-so on every present for every well-behaved recipient. Mrs. K will call out the names and gifts, and the Three Elves will arrange the packages in a Bag Load Plan (BLP) on the Back Seat. You get to modify, add, or delete any of the items, and to re-arrange the BLP as you like.

The Naughty-or-Nice Book is very up to date and Mrs. K has been studying it intently for weeks. With three pro Elves helping, I’m betting that you’ll be calling out, “Tag ’em and bag ’em”, most of the time.

But, just in case…

4.) Formation Flying: With this completely new setup (Or is it a completely old setup?), we’ve decided that a hot spare backup team would be prudent. Mikey’s coming out of retirement and he’s piloting #SC00082. Jeannie will be reining #SC00092. I’m going to be Right Seat for Jeannie, and Mikey’s got Liddy. (I guess you can call it a small consolation for Santa having a chaperone that my wife is coming along too, even though she’s not in my sleigh.)

Anyhow, with last year’s Jovian Holiday Top Coat we’ll be basically invisible, so none of the receiving public will notice the extra equipment.
Except, of course, when we WANT them to see us! (See the escort assignments, below.)

You’ll have five basic formations:

4.1 Wedge - This one is for general expediting, and it serves as the base for high speed aerobatics with the H-UCEV’s deployed.
4.2 Echelon Right – This one is for NON-Book coordination. We’ll line up abeam of Mrs. K. when we need assignments. Echelon Right is also cute for low-speed aerobatics.
4.3 Echelon Left – This one is for flight ops coordination. We’ll swing onto your shoulder when you want to give some flight ops assignments. For low speed aerobatics, Echelon Left is the easiest for you to guide.
4.4 Line Up – This is our standard travel formation, with us above and behind you, in full camouflage.
4.5 Close Escort – This one is for re-supply. Whenever you need replenishment, we parallel you, close aboard, and the Elves can transfer gifts. We’ll replenish from the dirigibles and ferry stuff in to you two Kringles.

5.) Flight Ops: Mikey and I did this year’s speed run with #SC1066. Boy, were the Martians ecstatic! They had to thaw out a couple of old codgers to make sure they had the paint-and-glitter formula right for Ms. Norma. She looks great! Oh, one note. The only tech-up we did on #SC1066 was that we added the Sleigh Atmosphere Sustaining System (SASSy). Comfort won out over traditionalism.

The "nice" category is essentially unchanged at 85.774%. Ditto on the demographics.

The International Space Station is your first stop, and you don’t have to worry about dodging the Space Shuttle. They found a hole in the weather and got down safely.

Russia is next and we’re going to mess with them. Last year’s rocket show has them all full of themselves, so we have to upstage them. The Pixies have been saving up Pixie Dust for months now, and they’ve promised me that they can dust whatever the Russians send up and safely override the flight controls. We’ll set them back on the tarmac all a-glitter, with the pilots compulsively telling knock-knock jokes for the rest of the night.

The EU is sending up some kind of aerobatics team. Your decision, boss, but I’d recommend a full show of three-sled formation flying. You’ll need the practice. (See “North America,” below.)

Somehow, the RAF has gotten wind of some kind of traditionalist movement going on here at the Pole. Don’t be surprised if some Spitfires show up to escort you, or maybe even some cloth-on-wood equipment.

Physical conditions in the Eastern Med and Mideast have worsened, but there is a bright kernel of optimism and hope, nonetheless. I guess the Human Spirit rises to defeat adversity. Key in on that and the Sleigh will power itself.

The anti-collision light show in South Central and Southeast Asia is now officially a Christmas Tradition. Liddy has upgraded her banner programs for the new sleighs to include all of the local languages and character sets.

The “Santa Cell” phone trick in China was a huge success last year, so we’re going to repeat it. We’ll light the back end of the Wedge formation and the International Space Station can feed live video of Santa’s Formation pulling the light bloom across China.

The Japanese gift lists are weighted towards personal electronics this year. You know, MP3 players, cell phones, and such. The Pixies love to fiddle with these things, inserting gag songs, celebrity phone numbers, and pictures of each other. I recommend that you let them have their fun. This will reduce the number of pranks they direct at you!

Australia has heard the traditionalist rumors from the RAF, and they’re decorating tall ships in all of the major harbors and coast towns. Inland, they’re planning 5-day Solstice Parties, and they say that they’ll be “just about primed” by the time Christmas Eve rolls in. That’s some party-going stamina!

There are a couple of really tough spots in Africa, and the gift list includes a good assortment of “comfort items,” including basic necessities, medicine, and portable housewares. It’s amazing that only ten miles can separate people who would only be happy with a sack of diamonds from people who would be happy with only a sack of flour.

South America and Central America have also created an official Christmas Tradition with the balloon show. I don’t think you’re going to see the ultra-light aircraft again, though. Last year a bunch of those pilots got jostled about pretty well, and they complained. Expect everybody to compensate by getting more balloons aloft. Keep it slow!

As to the North America… Boss, we’ve got a Mole at the Pole. The RAF got wind of a rumor or something, but somebody ratted us out on the Formation Flying to NORAD. Every flight demonstration team in North America has been alerted to us and pre-positioned somewhere along our route. We’ll be expected to watch their various routines and try “can you top this.”

I say, “Go for it.” You will have had 20+ hours of practice, and Norma has plenty more get-up-and-go than any afterburning stink-pipe. Have Mrs. K talk to them on the radio (That’ll rattle ‘em.), and if they get uppity, sic the Pixies on them.

That's the brief. Any questions, page me down on the MESH line.

See you at Midnight!


(c) 2003 - 2006 Thomas Quinn
Permission to copy, reprint or forward with attribution
granted to anyone (and everyone) with Christmas Spirit!



02:00 ZULU, 22 DEC 2005
South Pole Systems Test Facility
Kris Kringle, Inc., Delivery Division, Sleigh Ops

From: Tom Hollis, Chief Engineering Elf
To: Santa Claus
RE: 2005 Sleigh Upgrades and Flight Ops.


TA DA!.....(Brag mode on.) WE'RE DONE EARLY!.....(Brag mode off.)

Sincerely Santa, I've been doing these Upgrade-Ops memos for three years, but I have to admit that up to now, I've been a little out of my comfort zone. I grew up in this organization as a Production Engineer, and I got all of this fancy R&D stuff through on-the-job training. But, Santa-Meister, you gotta admit, here at Kris Kringle Inc., we spend one (1) day per year on Delivery, and 356 days (after the party, of course) a year on PRODUCTION. All of that hightech gear on the Sleigh is way cool, but give me a minute to praise the folks (assorted varieties) working on the line, filling the bag.

Thanks to the efforts of the Chilean Dwarves at upgrading our facilities, our South Pole production was 11.5% ahead of our best projection through Q2 2005. Then Icephoon Corrie hit. Sir, lemme tell you, the Ice Giants put up a heck of a fight, but even they can be beat when Ma' Nature gets her back up. Two thirds of the facility was glazed, and the rest was mostly frosted over head-to-toe. At the end, the IG's went vertical and saved our kiesters by pillaring that sheet over our heads. It kinda creeps me out how they can freeze solid like that, and then turn around and thaw out to such a fun bunch. Well, it worked, so, what the hey.

Special note of commendation here: I have no idea where / how those Serengeti Shamans came up with that hot-wind-in-a-bag trick, but it got us back in production in 11 days, so they're welcome to the Converse High-Tops and woolies. (Note to files: If we need these guys again, remember, they arrive barefoot, so bunker in mondo footwear.)

Those Dwarves worked like, uh, well, Dwarves, and re-re-vamped the production lines to squeeze another 1.1% out of the equipment. The South Pole Elves worked half-again and double-shift O.T. and got us back on track and even ahead of schedule.

Six weeks later Snurricane Simon hit us up North. Seeing that you were in the snow trenches with the troops throughout that one, I don't need to recount the frigid details. Here's the synopsis: 1.) The NP data center was totally snowed, so we sleigh-lifted staff and switched to the SP cold site, which is still the primary. (Flight OPS will care about this, see below.) 2.) Special Commendation to the Abominable Snowmen Arctic Core of Engineers for raising the top of the Ice Wall AND snow blowing the NP Basin empty in 3 1/2 weeks. 3.) We picked up Special Orders Production for that month at the SP, but the fourth shift Inuits got NP back on schedule.

Anyway, the net-net is that Production has roared back, and the whole kit and kaboodle is ready for Sleigh Ops and Delivery.

On to the briefing:

The only warm spot this year was Sleigh Engineering. You know how they love being all so hush-hush, Area-51 types. Well, this year, it actually helped us. (Geez boss, they're going to be insufferable 'til July!) In their "cavern, deep, ice, magically excavated, research use only", they kept working through the worst of the storm. We borrowed their folks when we needed their expertise with the repairs, and they were a huge help, routinely volunteering for extra shifts. Even so, they came up with a not-so-short list of utilitarian improvements, and they are pretty nifty:

1.) Holiday Top Coat (HTC)
2.) Hypersonic UCEV (H-UCEV) Upgrades
3.) Airborne Replenishment of Gifts Onboard Sleigh (ARGOS)
4.) Sleigh Atmosphere Sustaining System (SASSy)
5.) Bucket of Snow, Coal, or Sand Ejector (BOSCOSE)
6.) Flight Ops.

1.) First thing you'll notice is that both of the rigs (#SC00082 and #SC00092) have been:

a.) stretched,
b.) boosted, and
c.) tricked.

1.a.) Last year, we received several negative comments about how MARS (See last year's mods) front runner extensions ruined the classic "look" of Santa's Sleigh. The basic complaint was that with the runner front ends rolled out and the UCEV's docked, it just looked un-sleigh-like, not having the classic curly-cue front end. One commenter went so far as to suggest that it looked like you were driving one of Harley Earl's '59 Cadillac’s in reverse.

(Sir, I thought that comment a little hyperbolic. Besides, I really like Mrs. K's '59 Caddie.)

After careful consideration, the team is willing to grudgingly admit that the traditionalists probably have a point. In our enthusiasm, the Engineering team may have over-focused on utility at the expense of a good presentation, which is, of course, very important in our line of work. If you could get the crew to ease up a little on the heckling, I'll buy the first round of cocoa and let them rib me one last time. Favor? Either way, we fixed it. (See next.)

Step back and take a gander at the Ol' Gal. Notice how she's longer lookin'? Yep, we stretched your ride, dude. Ridin' low Santa-man, ridin' low.

The UCEV's were so handy last year we couldn't just leave them behind, curly front rails or not, so we stretched the Christmas Chariot. Note how much longer she is between the uprights? The UCEV's now tuck up and dock under the Sleigh between the uprights, and are automatically retracted close aboard. The Pixies dock forward, and the Presenters aft. An added benefit to this is that the Presenters’ protruding wing tips give you a step-up to the cargo deck, a feature you’ll need. Don't worry, those wings are basically indestructible. (See Sec. 2, below)

1.b.) The low rider look is kind of an illusion, because you'll be riding with about 15% more ground clearance from now on. The stretch was more like 30%, so the Sleigh appears lower when it's actually higher. We needed that extra under-deck space to fit in all of the modifications for the upgrades. (See 2 - 5, below.)

1.c) This brings me to a delicate subject. You know that the Martians have been doing the red exterior job on the Sleigh forever, right? No complaints, great work, quickly done, durable, etc. Well, the Jovians have been working on this really advanced color-morphing coating system, and they sprung it on us this year. (Mars is red, Jupiter is tutti-fruiti, get it?) The stuff is AMAZING! In its natural state, it looks like a semi-gloss clear coat that's been laid down, rubbed, and repeated about 40 times. But fiddle with the control and you can instantly change the topcoat to any pattern you can think of, or have thought of and pre-programmed in, or can ad-lib on the fly.

Talk about tricked!

The Jovians shipped us a portable controller that looks like a disk with Jupiter and its moons around it. I can only really see Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (old squinty eyes, and all), but Liddy has been fiddling with it and says that she can manipulate several more of the smaller moons, mostly for really cool special effects. She's figured out how to position the little moons to get different color schemes and patterns on the exterior. We figured that, at least, we should program in appropriate camouflage patterns for the more dicey neighborhoods you have to visit.

The "delicate" part in all of this is that the Martians have gotten their collective noses out of joint (At three nose per Martian, that adds up quickly!) about being "over coated" by the Jovians. Mrs. Claus, Jeannie, and Liddy all were out there (Mars and Jupiter) around October getting this done, and they may have been just a little too forceful in pushing for this upgrade. (What, our ladies are pushy?!?!) I see their point in wanting to get the Jovians involved in more projects, but I also see the Martians' point about being a long-time supplier, etc., etc., etc. I'm just letting you know so you'll be prepared.

The Jovians have a name for the stuff, which takes about 40 seconds to pronounce. We just call it the Holiday Top Coat or HTC.

2.) H-UCEV Upgrades

Remember last year that you had to stay subsonic when the UCEV's were deployed? No more delivering presents in the slow lane, Santa. The Physics and Software sections have been doing basic research into the "twinkle" effect of stars that is the basis of the Gift Positioning System (GPS), and they have discovered a new Force of Nature. No kidding, Boss. Munir (works in Physics, Marwahn's brother) and Bob (works in Software, Natalyia's husband) got together and determined that "twinkle" was just one observable attribute of a more fundamental, and much more powerful "attraction" emitted by the stars in the heavens. Reports are that their first test unit literally ripped itself off the bench and was last seen accelerating past Saturn. (The Saturnians got the giggles, remarking that young folks shouldn't fool around with power tools and fireworks.)

That aside, the H-UCEVS are now re-fitted with the new Star-Light Attractive Twinkle (SLAT-3) propulsion system (Version 3 is fully de-bugged, and we even managed to keep prototype 2 on the planet!)

Sam the Stone Giant hard-coated the little darlings for us. He calls the coating material a "polarized diamond malleable matrix." Don't believe it, or him. He's a complete ham, as we all know that he just slobbers on the H-UCEV's, smears it around, and cooks them in an active lava tube for 20 minutes or so. Absolutely gross and disgusting, but the stuff really is as hard as diamonds and it does hold up at Mach 6 inside the atmosphere. So, even with the overacting, he did a great job on the little fliers and he deserves a couple of extra bags of Portland cement for his coffee.

As I mentioned above, the fliers now dock under the Sleigh, with the Presenters in the aft slots. The wing tips will stick out a bit and they're intended to be used as step-ups to the rear seat / cargo compartment. They dock in the rear so that they have access to:

3.) Airborne Replenishment of Gifts Onboard Sleigh (ARGOS)

For the last few years, we've been stretching the limits (pun intended) of your bags' capacity. We thought about adding more bags, but we decided that it's high time you didn't have to carry the Full Christmas Load yourself. Santa, everybody knows you're the guy who "makes Christmas happen" but we folks here in Production also know that every successful front line operation is supported by a complex, competent, and effective supply tail. We've decided to give you more tactical flexibility by upgrading you with an air-to-air replenishment capability. Jeannie's team down in Flight Systems and Toshi's folks in Delivery Systems made it all happen.

Here are the details:

As you get a little "low in the bag," just make your way to the pre-programmed replenishment points. These are ARGOSites, and they're highlighted on ONNHRS by tapping the rain cloud gumdrop. When you get to an ARGOSite, you'll notice some nice, puffy clouds scudding along beside you. They're not clouds. They're pretty good-sized dirigibles, piloted by Pixie Granddams, powered by a SLAT-3 drive, and sporting the Jovian Holiday Top Coat, which is programmed for a multi-cloud background.

On the Sleigh's underside, forward on the Presenter H-UCEV docks, and between the Pixie H-UCEV's, we've added a universal docking collar. Swing up under the ARGOS Dirigible, invert, and ONNHRS will autopilot you into a collar seal / hard dock. ARGOS will then automatically replenish your bags. Don't worry about vertigo, etc., the TASD will compensate. When the stormcloud gumdrop stops spitting rain and lightning, and turns puffy white again with a little rainbow, your bags are full. Double tap the floorboard to release the collar, and you're off again with a full load.

4.) Sleigh Atmosphere Sustaining System (SASSy)

Oh, and don't forget, we have some very good boys and girls in orbit! How do you get there? Like I've said before, easy as chocolate cream pie. They'll show up on ONNHRS, and just motor out to them. When you leave the Earth's atmosphere, the SASSy system will kick in, and you'll have local environmental control around you and the reindeer team.

Actually, this was Mrs. Claus's idea. She's been doing the Mars / Jupiter runs, and she always complains that those suits give her "helmet hair." We threw this over to Special Projects, and they convinced the Nymphs to talk their buddies, the Venutians, into designing "Sleigh Bubbles" (their term, not mine) for us. SASSy is the result.

5.) Bucket of Snow, Coal, or Sand Ejector (BOSCOSE)

Lastly, we upgraded the BOCE to a BOSCOSE. We discovered that some folks, particularly at the higher altitudes and latitudes, actually LIKED getting a bucket of coal. All well and good if they've been nice, but, if they've been naughty....

Here's the gig. If they're on the "nice" list, and they're cold, give 'em a triple shot of coal. (Those unfortunate Pakistanis in the earthquake zone would be a good example.) If they're hot and parched, a mini-snowstorm fills the bill. (Several African refugee camps come to mind.) If they're naughty, well, you can figure out which "gift" sends the message.

The control is easy. Rock the bucket left for snow, right for sand, and center-tap it for coal. Thanks to ARGOS, you'll have tons more stores of each available.

6.) Flight Ops.

Like I said above, Jeannie, Mrs. Claus, and Liddy did the speed run to Mars and Jupiter this year. Note that we had a slight dip in the "nice" category to 85.887%. Looking at the demographics, I think a few national capitals are going to have a large number of very disappointed, very overgrown babies this year, in various governmental positions.

I back-seated for the performance check and the H-UCEVS held formation up to Mach 5.65. Smokin'!

The chasers and dispensers are all on line, and they don't interfere with BOSCOSE.

Do the International Space Station first. This will free them up for the China run described below.

The Russians have "officially" protested "our repeated, unauthorized over-flights" and our "ejection of obviously smuggled goods" when they pursued us. Yeah right. And that Energia rocket that's been sitting on the pad at the Cosmodrome is not painted with red and white spiral stripes, either. Somehow I think you're going to get only one escort from Russia this year, but it's gonna be a really big one!

(Actually, I think that they’re just whining because they’re no longer first in line. I bet the rocket is an attempt to upstage the ISS crew.)

(These guys are such teddy bears. Remember, NO DANCING!)

The EU is all full of themselves because the US selected an British-Italian chopper to be the new Marine 1. Expect to see an EH101 helicopter escort this year.

The RAF has been really REALLY quiet about their plans. Methinks we have a mole at the Pole. Have you been tipping them off? All we need is for the Fleet Street rags to be publishing pictures of their para-commandos swooping around your Sleigh, while you're humping a bag along the roofline at Buckingham Palace. Give, Santa. What's up?

Believe it or not, the Eastern Med and Mideast have improved considerably, so give it your best shot. You still have MARS nap-of-the-earth capability, and don't hesitate to have Liddy configure the Jovian Top Coat as desert camouflage or sky-patterned stealth. Mikey will still be on call. (Actually, I think he's going to stow away on the Mideast Station ARGOS dirigible. Don't be surprised if he gets dumped into one of your bags.)

Once again, South Central and Southeast Asia are going to do the anti-collision lights gesture. (Gosh, is this a tradition, now?) Liddy has programmed some banner signs into the exterior, all in the native languages and alphabets, so I think they'll have a ton of fun.

China has made a special request. They've recently gone mondo cellular, telephone-wise, and they've assigned you a cell. Not a number, a cell. When you overfly, all of the local cell phone will ring with a "From Santa" text message. All of the folks will then run outside with a flashlight, candle, drop light, or whatever. If you time it right the crew of the International Space Station can get video of the traveling light bloom. They've promised to try, and I think it would be pretty nifty. You look so nice in backlighting!

Japan hasn't asked for anything special, so just stuff 'em and run.

Australia has asked if you like beer. They've also been mounting water cannon on the Sidney bridge. Two plus two equals four, and I have a.) one comment, b.) one question, and c.) one suggestion.

a.) Yes, SASSy will protect the Sleigh from any precipitation by deflecting it.
b.) Do you feel slightly naughty this year?
c.) Fly down the center lane of the bridge. They'll hose each other AND the crowd.

In addition to the standard run, treat Africa to the snowstorm mode of BOSCOE.

South America and Central America just get more creative every year. They're sending up the balloons again, but, starting with Rio, you'll see several carnival-painted ultra-light aircraft, lighted from below with gaily-colored spotlights, circling around the balloons. This is an elaborate cell-phone-camera op. They've got some kind of "Who can get the best/most Santa air-dancing at Carnival" photo contest running. I say indulge them. Just keep it slow, those ultralights are kinda fragile.

Nothing new this year with the Air National Guard and Canadian Air Defense units and their escort slots again. Same-same. Use the star-shaped gumdrop on the upper right corner of the MFD to get the list and NORAD will handle traffic. I'd recommend spending some extra time on the Gulf Coast. They've had a pretty bad time of it this year.

That's the brief. Any questions, IM me. I'm off to go launch some dirigibles.

See you at Midnight!


(c) 2003 - 2005 Thomas Quinn
Permission to copy, reprint or forward with attribution
granted to anyone (and everyone) with Christmas Spirit!


08:00 ZULU, 23 DEC 2004
South Pole Systems Test Facility
Kris Kringle, Inc., Delivery Division, Sleigh Ops

From: Tom Hollis, Chief Engineering Elf
To: Santa Claus

RE: 2004 Sleigh Upgrades and Flight Ops.


Whew! Can you believe it? This year we actually finished a day before Christmas Eve. That leaves us one full day for test and rehearsal ops. If you can squeeze in an hour this afternoon, we'll have the Engineering Team on hand while you to get in some reins-time on the latest mods.

This year there are five system upgrades and one personnel change, all of which we have to review before "Sleigh's away!" As usual, I apologize for the length of this report, but you're going to LOVE the stuff. Here's the list:

1.) Mikey's replacement / your new co-pilot
2.) Multiple Adaptive Runner System (MARS)
3.) Unmanned Christmas Eve Vehicles (UCEVs)
4.) Gift Positioning System (GPS)
5.) Realtime Christmas Message System (RCMS)
6.) Flight Ops, IFF, In-Country Situations, etc.

Mikey's niece, Jeannie, is your new right-seater.

I know that you're really big on tradition, and Christmas Eve has been "boys' night out" for centuries, but Jeannie really is the elf for the job for several good reasons.

First, she was the system integration and test lead on the ONNHRS system (see last year's brief, attached) and she was with you on last year's run. ONNHRS worked like a charm, right? That shows that Jeannie's design is top notch, and that she can keep this complex gear running in the field.

Second, it turns out that Jeannie is the best natural Sleigh jock we've seen in nigh on three centuries. (Not counting you, of course.) Mrs. C noticed her handling of the Sleigh during the summer (Antarctic) test hops for this year's gear, and recognized her superior driving talents right away. She and Liddy have been training Jeannie in Sleigh ACM (Advanced Christmas Maneuvering) on the simulator and the backup Sleigh since August. In this short time, Jeannie's broken pretty much all of the training records.

Thirdly, er, wait one... Before we go any further, I'd like to state, for the record, that Mrs. Claus and her really big, wooden soup spoon are right next to me, and my dear wife Liddy and her rock maple rolling pin are on the other side, and they are "assisting" me with this section of the report.

The ladies have encouraged me to remind you of a few things. (Actually, they reminded me first, I'm kinda fuzzy on the details of the latter portions of last Saturday's party.)

a.) You were the Santa-of-Ceremonies at Mikey's retirement party, and
b.) YOU were the one who spiked the rum cake, the egg nog, AND the snow cones, and
c.) You were the one doing COUPLES TEAM LIMBO WITH MIKEY'S NIECE!, and
d.) They have it all on video. High definition, digital video. With sound.

Thirdly, most folks around here think you're a great guy, they really love the tradition thing, but you can sometimes carry it to an extreme, pushing just a little into the "stodgy" mode. In particular, the women-folk have noticed a tendency for you to only showcase the male half of the team when it comes to field ops. Note Mikey and the young bucks up front pulling for you.

So, the ladies have conspir... er, organized a little bit and have produced a top-notch co-pilot for you who just happens to be a girl elf. We all know that you'll "go with the flow" and accept a lady's touch on Christmas Eve. Have fun!

(Otherwise, there's always that video and the Internet...)

OK, they're gone now. Seriously boss, I recommend taking Jeannie. Having her along will really help with last minute little girl and little boy gift selections. It's amazing how tech-savvy kids are today and Jeannie knows tech. Also, there are a few rough spots on the ride, and she really can handle the rig.

Santa-Dude, most righteously, I kid you not. I've taken two check rides with Jeannie. She's slicker than buttered runners. Her call sign is "Mistletoe."

Enough Personnel stuff. On to the gear.

2.) You will notice a new set of runners with a really tricked blue-gray-silver color scheme. Well, the Russian elf contingent has called in some serious favors from the folks over at Illyusin and those runners are the result. It's all very hush-hush materials science stuff but the Multiple Adaptive Runner System (MARS) can actually change shape and resiliency on the fly.

The bluish undersides are several orders of magnitude harder than the old steel ones and can stand up to anything, including sand. Obviously, you'll be doing many sand landings this year. The gray-silver uppers will cushion high-G landings and they are self-leveling.

One really neat advanced MARS function is that the curly ends can straighten out. The main reason for this is so that they can serve as docking stations. This is particularly useful what comes next.

3.) When you first lift, don't be alarmed when you see four red-and-green, bug-eyed shiny things lift with you. They look like a cross between a pixie, a dragonfly, and radio-controlled airplane. Two will be the size of sparrows, and two will be a little bigger than a large eagle.

These are your brand spanking new Unmanned Christmas Eve Vehicles or UCEVs. They are your "eyes in the sky," and they are completely way cool.

Glance at the ONNHRS display. Note the little Pixie markers just outside the gumdrops on the four corners. Touch a Pixie's wings, and the main Honors display instantly switches to show what the Pixie or Presenter is seeing. (Uh, the real Pixies did the flight control programming on the UCEVs, so they insisted on naming them and decorating them. We call the little ones Pixies and the big ones Presenters. Put the accent on "present." Make sure you compliment the paint jobs.) Honors has voice recognition, so if you want to re-task one of the flitters, just ask for what you want. Calling "Pixie One" or "Presenter Two" will select them without touching the console.

The UCEVs are pretty autonomous, and they are programmed to scout ahead to the next name / location from the Naughty-or-Nice database. This will come in super-handy for checking to make sure there are no sneaky-peekers waiting to catch a glimpse of the Jolly Old Elf. Use the Presenters to scan the roof for obstructions and the yard for amateur videographers, and use the Pixies to check down the chimney and behind the sofa.

The co-pilot station has a scaled-down Honors display just for UCEV control, and Jeannie can handle this for you if you'd like. On long hops (i.e., over water), she'll dock the Presenter on the back rails, and the Pixies at the front.

4.) You may be wondering if we added to much workload, what with the UCEVs and such. Don't worry. You job just got easier because we're introducing the Gift Positioning System (GPS).

Remember how, last year, all you had to do was bring up the next NONdb name, fly the sled there, and set the hover mode? Well now, the sleigh will fly itself to the location and enter auto hover for you.

(Santa, Marwhan and the elves in the software section get the extra cookies this year. According to them, the GPS works by locking onto several stars and triangulating the Sleigh's position. They have cataloged hundreds of stars by what they call "twinkle coefficient" and can locate the Sleigh within an inch or two anywhere on the planet. Apparently, stars "twinkle" in visible and non-visible wavelengths, so they can even use them underground, or in the fog. Cool. Marwhan's team bolted the "go fly there" code to the guidance package and Voila! You have an autopilot.)

To use the GPS, just bring up the next name as usual on the ONNHRS and either double-tap the red-and-green gumdrop, or (and this is LOTS more fun) just say the words "Hey Sleigh, make their day," and she'll zip in on her own. I know it's corny, but they're software engineers, after all.

5.) The Realtime Christmas Message System (RCMS) is just a follow-on to last year's Christmas image delivery idea. This year, you can still pop a hard copy picture out of your bag, but you can also e-Mail a greeting, send an instant message, send a text message, and even attach a ring tone! Just grab the little candy-striped microphone from the upper left on the console (it's cordless) and dictate your message. There's a auto-tracking camera built in to that corner of the console for front shots, or, if you press the Pixie symbol while the mike is hot, the nearest Pixie or Presenter will feed a shot of Santa, a cute red-headed Elf, and the Sleigh. There's a slider on the microphone handle for zooming in and out.

6.) Flight Ops. Mrs. Claus co-piloted while Jeannie ran the Sleigh out to Mars on the speed run. The Martians did their usual fabulous job detailing the red exterior. On the way back she got an 86.334% "Nice" reading on Honors. Hooray, we improving!

I back-seated for the performance check this morning (Note: Be sure to thank Urg-Og the snow-giant again) and there's only one nit. If you're going to push above Mach 1, make sure you dock the UCEVs. They are subsonic only.

The chasers and dispensers are all on line.

As usual, we have escorts aplenty this year. The Russians have promised not to "intercept" you this year (We'll believe that when we see it!), but they insist on seeing you do touch-and-go's at a bunch of locations. I think they're just looking for a chance to get footage aqnd brag about the new runners.

The EU is sending up six Joint Strike Fighters. They've asked for the usual program of aerobatics, but the Pixies have cooked up a surprise. It seem the UCEVs have a full flight demonstration routine as part of the mainline programming. It includes a truly amazing light show from their luminous, reactive paint jobs. Knock 'em dead.

The RAF contingent this year will be Harriers. I only have suspicions at this point, but I think one of our Pixies leaked word of the UCEVs to our UK friends. No doubt they will be displaying some V/STOL antics to try and upstage you. Don't worry, your Presenters can more than keep up with Harriers. If they get too silly, have Jeannie thump 'em. Assuage their hurt feelings with the chestnut dispensers.

The Eastern Med and Mideast are a mess, so we recommend nap-of-the-earth. One design goal of the MARS upgrade was to give this option. Let us know how it works out. Mikey will be on call and, if you need him, I'll run him out in the backup Sleigh.

South Central and Southeast Asia are going to do the anti-collision lights gesture again, and we've decided to reciprocate. We kinda stole their "million origami cranes" idea and did it one better. Your dispensers now have a "snowflake" setting. When you select this and hit the "dispense" gumdrop, you get a six second burst of these big snowflakes (about poker-chip sized) that are actually candyflakes. They are light enough to float gently down, they don't stain, and they come in three flavors; peppermint, maple, and gingerbread. They also light up quite strikingly in the anti-collision lights.

China and Japan have each asked for circling photo opportunities. You'll need to do one around the Forbidden City and one around Mount Fuji.

Australia wants a multi-city tour this year. The list is already programmed in. Don't go under the bridge at Sidney. I think they are hanging some lights and decorations under it.

Africa is quiet again this year, so it's a standard run.

South America and Central America are going to repeat their "Christmas Balloon Parade." Wasn't that a blast last year? Dust them with the snowflakes and make sure you bring back pictures! You got so excited last year, you plumb forgot to take any.

As for North America, we all saw you hamming it up with Norman Mineta for your Transportation Security Administration airspace permit. You looked swell. I noticed there were no ELVES to be seen and photographed. Grrr...

All of the Air National Guard and Canadian Air Defense units want escort slots again. The list of Units and Tail #s is under the star-shaped gumdrop on the upper right corner of the MFD. NORAD will run them in and out in the listed order. Make sure you tail-wag to the high-caps over NYC, DC, etc. They're working the holiday.

Well, that's the pre-brief. Let me go get the runners siliconed.

See you at Midnight!


(c) 2004 Thomas Quinn - Permission to copy granted to anyone with Christmas Spirit!



06:00 ZULU, 24 DEC 2003,
South Pole Systems Test Facility
Kris Kringle, Inc., Delivery Division, Sleigh Ops

From: Tom Hollis, Chief Engineering Elf
To: Santa Claus

RE: 2003 Sleigh Upgrades and Flight Ops.


Thanks again for the few hours of Holiday Cheer last Saturday. The guys and gals were getting pretty stressed out debugging these modifications, and your visit was just the morale booster they needed. The snowball fight was an inspiration.

In a nutshell, we're completely operational, debugged, and back in business.

There are four really important upgrades and you're going to love them, but I have to go over the details with you prior to "lift and laugh." I apologize for the length of this brief. Here's the list:

1.) Time-and-Space Dilator (TASD) Effect and Area Effect Upgrade
2.) Bucket-of-Coal Eject (BOCE) Interface and Activation Control
3.) Gift Insertion / Targeting System (GITS) Replacement
4.) Flight Ops, IFF, In-Country Situations, etc.

1.) The TASD (We say "tasty") was a really tough nut to crack, big guy. Since 2001 we've been tracking a 380% increase in "Stay At Home" Christmases, and, frankly, I don't know how you've been keeping up with the workload increase. (I guess it's not SAINT Nicholas for nothing, eh?) But no more worries about over-clocking and having to hurry on-site. This is WAY cool.

The new Mark VI TASD has a 10exp4 ( That's ten thousand times more! ) time dial-down capability increase over the venerable Mark V. It also has a 64-fold increase in the area effect, and the Physics Section ( Science Lead Elf Natalyia was the go-getter on this one. She deserves many extra cookies. ) says you can easily mask an entire Carrier Battle Group, stuff their stockings, unload the turkey fixings, and clear out in less relative observable time than one radar sweep. VERY way cool!

The system uses the same panel control, the Cuckoo Clock dial, but now the range setting is field-adjustable. You set how big an area you want to cover in one stop by pulling the weight chains. Either way works (time is relative, you know!) and the difference in weight heights is proportional to the effect area. Flat neutral is about a one-room efficiency apartment, and up against the stops is about LA County. Reindeer will light up on the clock rim, indicating the area size. (They even prance!) Just Like the old unit, dial in your time estimate and poke the Cuckoo's nose to activate the system.

2.) The BOCE system hasn't changed but we re-worked the control. Just next to your left pinky-toe there's a small coal bucket. Just "kick the bucket" and the currently selected client gets the "naughty" gift. (See next for client selection.)

3.) Speaking of currently selected clients, I will now officially brag about my team. We have completely replaced the old analog Gift Insertion/Targeting System with the "On-board Naughty or Nice Household Registration System" (ONNHRS) or just the "Honors" system for short. No more having your co-pilot look people up in the Naughty-or-Nice Book and then flying the pipper onto the target. We've gone digital.

The system completely implements your HO-HO-HO (Hands-off, Hover-Over, Holiday Operations) "fly-by-wire" concept. The sleigh never actually has to touch down if you don't want it to. Just a slight extra pressure on the footboard disengages the system and sets you down, but feet up - you hover. (I know you like the unblemished look of a freshly snow-covered roof, and now you can "keep it clean.") AND once you get in position, if it's a moving target ( bus, train, ship, etc. ), all you have to do is "double tap" the footboard and the sleigh will hold position relative to the moving hover point. You'll feel the reins go servo. Just let go and step out. Very EXTREMELY way cool!

Now for gift selection and placement. The old "cross hairs" CRT is has been upgraded to a Multi-Function Display (MFD) and the colored gumdrops around the edge are mode and sensitivity selectors. The only one you'll really need is the bottom center ( The red / green striped one ) which is low enough that you can tap it with your knee or right foot. Hit it and you'll get a full-spectrum image enhancement of a forward-looking view, with the NON-Book data overlaid on the household map. The sleigh now has a complete, digitized, GIS map, including undergrounds (Thanks, Gnomes!) with resolution down to "not even a mouse" discrimination sensitivity. We've correlated it, the NON-Book, and your List, and we update the whole database in real-time. Trust me, Boss, we've checked it twice and it works like macaroons!

Using ONNHRS is as easy as chocolate cream pie. Touch the display anywhere to fire up the ONNHRS, line up Rudolf on a visit spot, tap the red-and-green gumdrop, and Viola!, all of the NON-Book and correlated List data is instantly displayed, overlaid on the forward looking view. Zoom in with the top-center (red-and-white) gumdrop, and reset with the bottom one. The surround drops will give you drill downs to individual records, good deeds, nasty habits, etc. Try them all out, they're fun. Remember, just a toe-tap and you're back at the master view.

The idea here was to keep you heads up and jolly. No more multi-tasking, quibbling with Mikey about spellings and address, etc. We think that this is going to make the crew's Christmas Eve a LOT more fun.

ONNHRS is all checked out, too. Ms. Claus ran the sleigh out to Mars on a speed run ( Don't worry, I sent Liddy with her as shotgun! ) and the Martians re-redded the exterior. On the way back she world-viewed (83.774% Nice - Not a bad year!) and managed to zoom onto a single fireplace from 18,000 km out. Good enough for me.

4.) Flight Ops. I personally ran the performance check this morning (Note: Be sure to thank Urg-Og the snow-giant, he really put up a storm!) and the old gal can still hold Mach 8 at any altitude, any weather. The seat-and-foot warmers work fine and TASD / ONNHRS interfaces perfectly with both of your bags, and both backups.

The perimeter chase lights have been programmed with every published IFF code and they'll auto-select based on your current location. ( I think we've got every secret code, too. I mean, c'mon, I work for Santa, and he pretty much knows everything! ) If you get into any trouble, the tinsel, roasted chestnut, and cotton candy dispensers are all on-line.

Now, as to escort. We've gotten a go for first insertion from the Russians, but no escort offer. Don't worry. There's just trying their old "Sneak up on Santa" game again, so there's two extra liters of Peppermint Vodka in the travel box for you to pay the "airspace tariff" after they "intercept" you and escort you to the "interrogation." Really, these tough guys are just a bunch of big kids! Just don't drink the vodka with them, and NO DANCING or you'll never get out of there.

The EU is sending up six Joint Strike Fighters. They've asked if you'd lead them in "Rudolf Loops" and "Santa Switchbacks" over a few capitals. Go nuts.

The RAF is sending up some rescue choppers. I think they're just trying to get video. It's your choice to humor them or not, but remember, they really like the roasted chestnuts so make sure you pop some over their base.

The Eastern Med and Mideast are a mess, but Mikey's riding right-seat and he speaks eight or ten of those languages. Let him handle diplomacy.

South Central and Southeast Asia have all banded together and decided to run all of their commercial traffic with anti-collision lights turned on from 01:00 to 02:00 local time in honor of you and the Season. I think this is a really nice gesture, and with the upgrades, you'll have the time and performance to reciprocate. Just use the HO-HO-HO upgrade to pace along side of them and deliver a few in-person "Merry, Merry's." Watch out for the wing tip turbulence.

China's REALLY heavy on fireworks this year, so keep the fire extinguisher handy. Mikey has a few dozen bottle rockets to shoot back. They get a big kick out of that.

Japan has asked for a fly-by on the bullet train. Go for it.

You have permission to go "under bridge" in Sidney. Wave to the Sheila's for me.

Africa's pretty quiet this year, so I think it's a standard run.

South America has teamed up with Central America and they think that they've kept their big welcome a secret, but we've found out. We're just keeping it secret from you! Don't worry, it's safe, and environmentally friendly. You're going to love it! (Just remember, lighter than air aircraft have the right of way under all international aviation treaties. Go slow.)

As for North America, every Air National Guard and Canadian Air Defense unit wants an escort slot. It will be a busy night. I've posted a list of Units and Tail #'s under the star shaped gumdrop on the upper right corner of the MFD. NORAD will run them in and out in the listed order. Make sure you tail-wag to the high-caps over NYC, DC, etc. They're working the holiday.

One last new item. You're going to have an extra set of hands in the back seat. Mikey's niece, Jeannie, is the lead software engineer on the ONNHRS project and she insists on being there for its first use. She wants to be able to chase down any glitches. Mikey backs her up on the request and I do too.

Mikey and I KNOW the code works right, and we're virtually certain that she was setting up for a boring ride. To remedy this, I've had the Electronics Shop retrofit the sleigh with about a two dozen digital cameras, about a badzillion megabytes of digital storage, and a satellite uplink. Here's the gig.

The Honors system has the capability to designate anybody and any household / residence. It was a simple software patch to link these two and now we can identify anyone who's away from home and family this year. This should include military men and women stationed in remote lands, government-service people, business travelers, medical professionals, charity workers, etc. Jeannie will run the image acquisition system from the back seat, and as time permits, if you'll ID these "out of towners" she'll snap a photo. She'll uplink it to South Pole Ops and we can make sure it gets delivered to their family by e-mail, or stuffed in with their presents. (We stuck a couple of photo printers in each of your bags.)

We all figured a photo of a loved one would be a lot better gift than a new blender. Let us know how the idea works out.

Well, that's the pre-brief. Let me go get the runners waxed.

See you at Midnight!


(c) 2003 Thomas Quinn - Permission to copy granted to anyone with Christmas Spirit!

posted by Liddy Midnight @ 10:57 AM   2 comments

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