I couldn’t resist sharing this happy little math gif. Mathematically speaking, it makes no sense, but it’s still sweet.
Happy Valentines Day!
There’s a lot of magic involved in Santa Claus’s annual journey around the world. Delivering presents to that many households can’t be done without it. But there’s also quite a bit of math. And I’m thrilled that Santa agreed to do this interview with us, revealing a few secrets of how math helps him in his work.
Can you explain what you do for a living?
Well, throughout the year, my main job is to oversee a large toy production facility at the North Pole. This includes supervising thousands of elves, who are responsible for toy manufacturing, as well as management of the reindeer stables, grounds work, sleigh maintenance and other smaller details.
But my main responsibility is only on one night of the year. On Christmas Eve, I pilot a large, flying sleigh, driven by eight reindeer and Rudolf, throughout the world to deliver presents to all good boys and girls. It’s a big night, and I usually take off the entire month of January to recover!
When do you use basic math in your job?
There’s a surprising amount of math involved in my work. These days, the naughty-and-nice list is in a database. A sophisticated set of formulas help me map out my once-a-year trip, which determines how the sleigh is packed. If Los Angeles gifts are on the top of the pack when I land in New York City — well, that’s a big problem.
I also need to manage my time, since I have so little of it that night. The different time zones help me stay a little ahead of the clock in most cases, but I sometimes have to do some on-the-spot figuring when weather becomes a problem.
But the real math is in the sleigh. Much like an airplane pilot, I must maintain a steady speed and take into account things like wind and visibility. The elves have helped equip the sleigh with state-of-the-art equipment, like gauges for altitude and speed. However, there have been some times when I’ve need to apply distance/speed/time ratios on the fly.
Do you use any technology to help with this math?
Absolutely. As I mentioned, we depend heavily on databases on the North Pole. These are housed in a large server, allowing us to manage our manufacturing quickly and easily. If a formula needs to be changed — for example, we need to greater ratio of purple bicycles to red bicycles — that alteration can be made in the database and applied throughout the facility. It streamlines the process considerably.
And I couldn’t fly to as many houses as I do today without my computerized dashboard in the sleigh. Each year, it’s calibrated to the specific weather conditions that are expected and even the current weight of the reindeer. Being able to customize these variables means making the most of those 20 hours that I’m in the sky.
How do you think math helps you do your job better?
I’m sure many people have said this: I couldn’t do my job without math. From the elves’ payroll to the naughty and nice list, every point of this whole operation hinges on how well we’ve done the math.
How comfortable with math do you feel?
I’d much rather talk to a child about what he or she wants for Christmas than sit down and solve a bunch of algebraic equations. But I’ve learned that in order to accomplish all that I do, I need to do some computing, too. I feel pretty comfortable with math, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world.
What kind of math did you take in high school?
School was a lot different way back then. You have to remember, I’ve been around for a long, long time! Heck, calculus wasn’t even invented yet, and forget about the calculator! But I did fine with the little bit of math I did take in school.
Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?
When you’ve been in a job like mine for this long, you definitely have to pick up some new skills. The biggest changes have been technological. And once computers came on the scene, all of my operations had to be redesigned. I’ve even brought on some elves who are experienced with math modeling, so that we can stay ahead of any climate changes that will certainly affect our work. They’re developing up several models now with regards to the North Pole itself.
Thanks so much to Santa for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer a few questions. Happy holidays to everyone! In honor of the season, I’m going to take the rest of the week off. I’ll see you back on Monday, December 30, when we’ll kick off a really cool month designed to help you meet a special New Year’s resolution: brushing up on your basic math skills.
There’s a lot more to this time of year than the 12 days of Christmas, 3 wise men or 5 golden rings. Between digging out our credit cards and stringing hundreds of twinkly lights on the gutters, most of us have more numbers than sugar plums dancing in our heads.
And so, I bring you Christmas by the Numbers, a round up of interesting statistics about this huge holiday.
93: Percent of Americans (in 2008) who say they celebrate Christmas
81: Percent of Americans (in 2008) who identify with Christian faith
$427 million: Predicted sales of Christmas cards in 2012
4.1: Percent that holiday sales are expected to rise in 2012 over the previous year
12: Percent that online holiday sales are expected to rise
625,000: Predicted number of seasonal workers expected to be hired this holiday season.
25-30 million: Number of real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. each year
7: Average growing time (in years) of a six- to seven-foot tall Christmas tree
4,000: Number of Christmas tree recycling programs across the country
749.51: Dollars expected to be spent on gifts, decor and cards by the average holiday shopper this year
60: Percent of holiday shoppers expected to “self-gift”
1: Rank of gift cards in list of popular Christmas present requests
10: Percent chance of a white Christmas in my city (Baltimore, MD)
Any statistics that you’d like to see? Share your ideas in the comments section. Happy holidays!
I don’t know about you, but I’m still pulling together some gifts — with less than a week before Christmas. Each year, I try to get done before December, but no dice. I must love the stress.
So, if you’re still looking for a little giftie or two for the geek — or geek-lover or geek-wannabe? — in your life, here are some ideas.
I am not an athlete. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But even I would wear this hoodie. It’s the perfect mix of geek and cool. Well, at least I think so.
From Cafe Press.
It might take you a moment to see the beauty of this design. I’ll wait.
Get it? Even if you can’t follow the solution to from start to finish, the last line is perfection. (Must speak internet.) And while you’re baby is sporting this fashionable accessory, you can review solving inequalities.
Made by Skyhawk Press, Monterey, Cal. Available on Etsy.
Because how else can you make a π pie? I have a set like these, and while they’re terrific for really geeky cookies, they’re also great for making cute kid-party sweets — Like a bunch of 3s for a three-year old’s party. They’re also handy when you need number “stencils.”
Available at Barnes and Noble (order online and pick up at the store).
Splurge for the platinum with diamonds or stuff her stocking with a more moderately priced bobble in sterling silver. Either way, you’re telling her that you mean forever in a delightfully geeky way.
Available at Tiffany & Co.
We all have one in our families or among our friends: the home chef who cooks with the precision of a surgeon. And finally, here’s a cutting board they can truly appreciate. With guidelines for julienne, chop and mincing — and even including curves and bias marks — veggies have never been so perfectly prepared.
Made by Fred & Friends.
This has to be my very favorite find of the holiday season. A reproduction of a 1916 toy created by William Robertson, this little piece of tin can find the product of two numbers in the shake of a tail. Give it to a particularly precocious child and ask him or her to figure out why it works. (Hint: It’s all about the triangles.)
Available at local gift shops and online.
Need more ideas? Check out last year’s list, which offers ideas specifically for kids.
And if you’re in the market for something funny and useful, check out my book, Math for Grownups, designed to ease the fears and pain of even the most resistent math-phobe. Promise. (Available online, at local independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble.)
Do you have gift ideas to share? Please post about them in the comment section. (I still have a few things to pick up myself!)
Yesterday afternoon, I dropped off the gifts I had purchased for a mother and son who are spending the holidays in a women’s shelter. He’s not even three years old, and he’s already had a much rougher life than I. But at least this year, he’ll have a Little People fire truck and new set of ABC and counting board books.
I don’t share this story to toot my horn. Plenty of people do as much or more than that each year. And I’m guessing their motivation is the same is mine — it feels good to give.
At the same time my math brain loves some guidelines. I grew up Lutheran, and I was expected to tithe 10% of my allowance. It was a great practice to get into, but now that I’m not a tithing church-goer, I miss having a formula. How much giving is “enough”? How can I know if I’m pushing myself enough?
Last year, I came across Peter Singer, who developed a really wonderful set of formulas based on a variety of different incomes. I wrote about it last fall, and I thought I point you to it today — in case you didn’t see it or need a reminder.
No matter what holiday you celebrate in December, the month has traditionally marked a time for charitable giving. The weather is growing colder in some areas, making it much tougher on the homeless. The end of the year is creeping up, and with it the deadline for tax exemptions for charitable giving. And holiday cheer often means counting our blessings and remembering those who are less fortunate.
Yes, December is the time for giving. But how much is enough? And what is too much? As we attempt to balance our own needs (especially in these difficult economic times), many of us struggle with our own sense of guilt and generosity. Read the rest of this post.
Do you have a formula for developing your yearly contributions? Share it — or your thoughts about using math to make charitable giving decisions — in a comment.