Scrambling F-18s For Santa

by , Dec 4, 2013, 9:06 AM
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The annual tradition of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) tracking Santa's progress around the globe to entertain children everywhere has come full circle. According to the site, it all started in 1955 because of a mistaken phone listing from the Colorado Springs Sears ad that invited kids to call Santa. Turns out the number actually was for the NORAD predecessor Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). In fact, the number was for the commander-in-chief's hotline. In the spirit of Christmas the director of operations Harry Shoup let kids dial in to get updates on Santa's progress, having the staff check radar and satellites and such.

I recall making some of these calls when I was a tike on Christmas Eve. And now the tradition has come back to the phone -- and now tablet via apps and Web sites -- but not without controversy. This year's trailer promoting the service includes a brief scene in which Santa's sleigh gets an escort from two fighter jets. The Campaign For A Commercial Free Childhood asserts in one news report that this inserts into a childhood tradition “violence and militarism.”

I must have missed the part where Santa's thuggish escorts strafe a village of naughty kids instead of dumping coal.  

Apparently the Coalition missed the joke that every 8 year-old gets about the blending of NORAD high tech and sentimental tradition. They missed the fact that military staffers give of their time to provide the service as well. Oh -- but why am I even bothering here? I am guessing that the coalition misses a lot of jokes.  

To be fair, NORAD does admit that this year they included at the site some more informational material on NORAD's non-Santa role, but it is buried deep within the site and not a part of the experience.

More interesting is the site and app, designed by the Microsoft team. It seems to have been optimized to work best on tablets, with snappy touchscreen responsiveness. I especially like the use of the stop-motion animation motif. The site takes its cues from the early Rankin-Bass Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. In fact, if you spin the globe on the home page, you will notice it spins with the same kind of low-frame rate that will feel familiar from those TV specials.

From the phone-ins of childhood to the apps and tablet-friendly Web sites of today, the has always been a goofy and deliberate blend of high and low tech, nostalgia and modernity. Last year the site got 22.3 million uniques from 235 countries.  They still take calls and answer emails. This takes 1250 Canadian and U.S. military who donate their time on Christmas Eve. I prefer to thank them than righteously nitpick their effort.    

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