‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

… and all through the Norpolcorp corporate conference room all eyes were fixed on the speaker making her presentation.

“Now, I would like to call your attention to the transparency you see on the center screen. You will find it on page 37 in your packet. This chart shows the previous six years of present production, from the founding of Norpolcorp to a projection of present present production. Note the wide divergence of present demand and production over the six years. At the time of Norpolcorp’s successful takeover of Clausco, present production exceeded demand by almost a two-to-one ratio. I am happy to report that present present production will exceed demand by only a .002 percent margin. Yes, Mr. Koober?”

“Mz. Maltomeal, how can such a drastic improvement in performance be explained?”

“I was getting to that. In the first year, following an extensive review of Clausco policies and procedures, it was felt (and history proves) that robotics could halve present production times. Prior to this time, present production was carried out by hand in a small workshop utilizing mutant dwarfs. The review board decided it was cruel to force this minority to work under such conditions, and approved the reduction in work force. The mutant dwarfs enjoyed a generous severance package and are now eligible for federal assistance. The next transparency illustrates another area of performance enhancement: our delivery system. Yes, Mr. Koober?”

“Mz. Maltomeal, perhaps you could compare the old system to the new system.”

“I was getting to that. Two years ago we switched our present delivery system to our present system. Originally present delivery was performed by a single deliveryman using archaic transportation. His vehicle developed roughly eight horsepower and took approximately 24 hours to complete the delivery cycle. Present present delivery is divided into continental distribution points that receive their allotment by air express, from there our crack crew of delivery persons complete the delvery cycle. The time from start to finish: absolutely, positively, no more than 1.5 hours. The deliveryman, the former president and C.E.O. of Clausco, received a generous bonus in addition to his life-time salary and position on the board of Norpolcorp directors. He now resides in the Bahamas. His reindeer are sheltered at the Norpolcorp corporate theme park. Yes, Mr. Koober?”

“Mz. Maltomeal, what, in your opinion, is the reason for our success?”

“I was getting to that. All of our improvements in efficiency, in cost reduction, and production increase, can be credited to the installation 6 years ago of our Synapse TS1 computer. TS1 controls the entire operation from present demand projections, to present design, to robot control on the production and packaging lines, to flight and delivery van scheduling. All remote Norpolcorp terminals are tied into TS1, every aspect of Norpolcorp business is conducted under the watchful CCD’s of TS1. And this year will be even better as we prepare for tomorrow’s commericial holy day, Christmas. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Are there any questions? Yes, Mr. Zappa?”

“Ma’am, why is that red phone in the corner blinking?”

“That is our TS1 trouble hotline. Pardon me while I find our what’s wrong. Generally it’s only a tape that needs changing. Hello? Yes, this is Maltomeal. What?! How?! Can it be fixed?! Get a repair person out here right away!”

“Is it bad?”

“TS1 has crashed and they can’t get it restarted. The last thing printed on the system console was, ‘Whoa, Big Hippo!’”

“Boy, it’s cold out there! Is this the Norpolcorp main lobby?”

“Yes, may I help you?”

“Yes, I’m Johnny Iowa, Synapse Field Service. I came to look at your computer.”

“Oh yes, you’re expected. Sign in here for your badge.”

“Thank you.”

“Mr. Iowa? I’m Jimpo Koober, V.P. of Marketing. The machine is this way. How soon will it be fixed?”

“Well, that depends on how broke it is.”

“It has to be back on-line in 3 hours or all of those little children will go without their presents this year. It’s down this hallway to the right. Do you think it will take you long?”

“I don’t know. It could be that all I have to do is replace a fuse or reset a circuit breaker. Then again, it could be burned out somewhere – that could take a week.”

“A week? A week? One whole week? Who’s your supervisor?”

“Did I say a week? I meant an hour or two. Heh-heh, stupid me.”

“An hour or less? That’s more like it. The machine is at the end of this hall. I certainly hope you find out what’s wrong. Jeanny?”

“Yes, Mr. Koober?”

“This is Johnny Iowa, from Synapse. Jeanny is our computer operator. I’ll check back with you in an hour.”

“Thank you. Okay, tell me what happened.”

“First the user disk cabinet shook violently. Then I could hear a rasping noise that lasted several minutes. This was followed by flames and black smoke that filled the room.”

“Did you turn it off?”

“I didn’t think it was that serious.”

“I see. Tell me, how are the disks laid out here?”

“These are the system disks, here are user disks, and here are the data base and mirror disks.”

“Okay, we’ll start by running some diagnostics…”

“Koober, I wish you would stop interrupting me when I’m giving a presentation.”

“Yes, Mz. Maltomeal. I was just…”

“Never mind that now. What we need is a contingency plan for this evening’s delivery. I realize that it would be slow, but we could fly Mr. Claus up from the Bahamas and prepare his sleigh in the time remaining before the deadline.”

“The Synapse field engineer assured me he would have it up and running in 20 to 30 minutes.”

“Good. But, just in case, get Mr. Claus on the horn. I want him ready to go if there are any foul-ups.”

“Hell no, I’m not flying up there. I like it right here. Besides, you were the ones who wanted to replace me with automation. I worked my tail off for nearly 2000 years and all I got was a wham-bam-thank-you-Santa. I hope you get that pile of junk running. But if you don’t – don’t come crying to me. That’s right. The same to you! Good bye! I tell you, the nerve of some people.”

“Don’t let it get you down, dear. Here. Have a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.”

“This is what I miss the most – chocolate chip…”

“The machine is running, Koober?”

“Yes, Mz. Maltomeal. Mr. Iowa got it going. He’s outside the door.”

“Well, Koober, tell him to come in. Congratulations, Mr. Iowa.”

“Well, heh-heh, I wouldn’t get too excited yet. It’s going to be about 8 hours before you can use TS1 again.”


“Well, heh-heh, I accidently ran disk diagnostics on your data base disk packs – they have to be restored.”


“You’ll be happy to know that the diagnostic uncovered no errors on those packs.”


“But the data was backed up – you owe a lot to your operator.”

“You blithering idiot!”

“Sorry, Ma’am.”

“Where does that leave us now? You moron!”

“Sorry, Ma’am.”

“This is all your fault! Do you know what this means to Norpolcorp? Do you know what it means to my career? I went against the tide and fought for automation. They said it would backfire. They said I would fail.”

“Sorry, Ma’am.”

“But I proved them wrong; and now for the first time since we automated, we are going to miss a delivery. Unless…”

“I’m really sorry, Mz. Maltomeal. This is probably going to cost me my job. I’d do anything to make it up to you.”

“Mr. Iowa, how much do you weigh?”

… he was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight: