Fun_People Archive
24 Sep
hi-tech santa

Date: Tue, 24 Sep 91 09:25:09 PDT
To: Fun_People
Subject: hi-tech santa

[Please feel free to print or repost this -- as long as you 
include my name and the copyright notice.  A shorter version of 
this appeared in the December 24/31, 1990 issue of {InformationWeek}.
 -- Daniel P. Dern ]
                 "If You've Been Good, Press One"
                         by Daniel P. Dern
                (c) Copyright 1990 Daniel P. Dern
     May be reproduced and distributed freely in unmodified form 
     on a noncommercial basis PROVIDED THAT this notice remains 
     intact.  All rights reserved; contact author (Daniel Dern,, 617-926-8743) for any other intended 
     usage, e.g., reprinting in trade or general press. 
    My schedule this fall was been too hectic for my annual visit 
to the North Pole Toy Works, where I see what new information 
technologies "Pops" Kringle, NPTW's technophilic CEO, has brought 
on board in the intervening months (and, as often as not, what's 
gone awry). 

    So I reached out and called. 

    Instead of the usual cheery operator's voice, a deadpan 
recording answered. 

    "Hello, you've reached the North Pole Toy Works.  If you've 
been good, press 1.  If you've been bad, press 2.  If you aren't 
sure, or need other assistance, please press 3 or stay on the 
line.  Happy holidays -- we'll be right with you!" 

    I pressed the "3" on my phone, and started reading 
yesterday's Wall Street Journal while New Age holiday melodies 
danced in my ear. 

    After twenty seconds, a familiar voice broke in, garnished in 
speakerphone acoustics. 

     "So you've moved," Pops commented without preamble.  "How's 
your new video system working out?  And the robot coffee-maker?" 

    "How'd you know that, Pops?" I asked.  "For that matter, 
how'd you know it was me on the line?"

    "Voice technology," he chortled proudly.  "Automatic number 
ID -- we didn't even need ISDN!  You're on the list who gets 
routed to me automatically, and the system also did a lookup to 
the consumer purchases and credit record CD-ROMs, and popped the 
highlights on a window at my workstation.  Piece of cake!  By the 
way, it says you've been good, more or less." 

    "Thanks for the readout, Pops."  I made a mental note to pay 
by cash more often.  "It sounds like you've gotten pretty strong 
into voice and phone processing applications." 

    "We couldn't get by without them," he responded.  "Those 
letters to the North Pole take five to seven handlings each.  
We're working on document scanning and image management for next 
year -- but voice processing takes much less elfpower. 

    "We've gone totally cellular," he continued. "We've given 
pagers to all our staff, and installed cellular phones on all the 
delivery vehicles, with voice, fax and modem capability." 

    "That's quite an investment."

    "It's worth it.  After all, we positively, absolutely have to 
get there overnight."

    "What else have you been up to, MIS-wise, Pops?" I asked.

    "CD-ROM is big this year, as you've seen.  We're getting a 
lot of population demographics from the Census bureaus, map 
graphics, and airline flight guides so we know where to steer. 
Next year, we'll probably add CD-ROM players on the vehicles, and 
have in-house facilities to put our naughty/nice lists and 
routing schedules onto disk for them." 

    "So you're planning ahead," I observed.

    "Yes -- but not too far.  You should see the stack of five-
year plans we've never gotten more than two years into.  We're 
currently working twenty months out.  In February, we start 
rolling in any new systems -- and at the end of May, we do a 
freeze on all mission-critical stuff till after Delivery Day, 
which gives us about four months to get the bugs out.  But we 
still have our all-nighters -- and up here, that's a long time!" 

    "But it sounds like you've got things under control," I said. 

    "Well, yes and no," he acknowledged.  "The individual new 
technologies we deploy have gone in pretty smoothly.  But the 
business and operational environment has been wicked flaky this 
year.  For example, deregulation meant we could pick our carriers 
of choice ... but try getting one of them to bring a line this 
far north.  And the walruses keep nibbling on the cable, which 
doesn't take the cold that well anyway.  We've tried VSAT, but 
the aurora borealis zaps the heck out of the signal.  I'm 
thinking strongly of moving some of the service centers closer to 
our user base concentrations." 

    "Have you tried out-sourcing?" I asked.

    "Grrrrr."  I heard a background sound, like teeth grinding on 
a pipestem. 


    "Let's just say, I don't recommend out-sourcing for critical, 
non-standard resources.  Instead of reindeer, I nearly had a 
mish-mash including moose, caribou, two Scottish Highland cattle, 
and a gnu.  'Just as good, and more cost-effective,' they told 
me.  When I heard they were going to use these mutant 'stealth' 
turtles, I hit the roof!  I don't care if they're fast and 
invisible.  Total control is worth the effort.  But we are 
exploring a joint service bureau effort with EasterBunCo and a 
few others." 

    "Have you made a decision between Windows 3.0, OS/2 or Unix?" 

    "We've got one of each in the test lab, and are trying to 
decide if they're bad or good."

    "What's hot for this year in the gift department?" 

    "We've combined the Virtual Reality glove with those 
eyeglass-size video screens, and come up with something we call a 
Look and Feel Suit.  I may try one myself -- but I'll have to do 
a little personal downsizing first.  Whups, the backbone just 
crashed again -- see you next year!" 
                             # END #
(Daniel P. Dern ( is a free-lance writer
specializing in technology and business, in Watertown, Mass.  This is
the fourth year he has chronicled Kringle's computer woes.)

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