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A colleague of mine recently mentioned something to me about an article that circulates every year during the holiday season, entitled “The Physics of Santa Claus”. This was news to me, so I ran a few Google searches to find out what she was talking about.

 

It seemed that some enterprising person had taken the time to go through and explain just what is involved in Santa’s Christmas Eve trip around the world delivering presents. How many households does he have to visit? How much do all those presents really weigh? How fast do the reindeer need to fly in order to get it all done in a finite amount of time? There is much speculation as to the origins of this piece; the general consensus seems to be that it began life published in SPY magazine in the early 1990s. Whatever the true story, it’s still an entertaining read in 2008.

I’ve taken some time to update the original with more current data – for instance, it seems the world’s population has grown a bit in the last 20 years. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the world population in 2008 was approximately 6,705 billion; 28% of these are children (defined as being under 15):

In fact, making some assumptions about the percentage of these children that celebrate Christmas and the number of children per household, it turns out that Santa needs to visit close to 200 million homes in one night.

We assume he distributes gifts from 5 pm to midnight, or for 7 hours. Due to the Earth's rotation, there is an overall time difference of 24 hours between different time zones, so we can therefore say that Santa has 31 hours to finish his work (assuming he logically travels east to west). Visiting 200 million homes in 31 hours means that Santa has to visit approximately 1586 homes per second:

This gives him about 1/1600th of a second to do everything at each home, such as parking his sleigh, looking for the right gifts, climbing down the sleigh and chimney, binge on snacks, fill the stockings, come up again and rush to his next stop!

For the complete details of his annual trip, visit the Applications Center where I’ve posted the Maple document in which I’ve recreated the Santa calculations. Happy Holidays!!

My wife will tell you that I am horrible at remembering important things like birthdays and sending Christmas cards on time … or at all. As we approach the end of another remarkable year, it’s always rewarding to reflect on the events of the year and take the time to thank all those who made the year so remarkable. So, in no particular order

And probably on your mind as well.

When there isn’t a hot news story about an election, a scandal or a disaster, it seems that China is the constant background music we all hear.  China’s incredible growth.  China’s incredible wealth.  China’s growing need for oil that will soon exceed world production capacity.  China as the manufacturer of everything.

I’m sure you’ve heard the same.

Two things are focusing my attention on India these days.

The first is something that I’m sure I share with most of you – the sad and terrifying news of recent terrorist attacks.  We all hope that these were acts of small groups and will not lead to wider conflict.

The second is that I am very pleased to be resuming a relationship with a very fine organization in India that I have known for 20 years.  Maplesoft recently announced that Cranes Software International will represent us in India.  I expect exciting things in the coming months and years.

Warning: this blog post contains strong language. Reader discretion is advised. Actually, it’s the posting in the Facebook group “Every time I walk into math class a little part of me dies” that contains the strong language. This group pulls almost 12,000 young students (mostly high school age) who share a common interest – the fear, loathing, and ultimately hatred of math.

Being inept at math is almost a badge of honor for many today. In a social gathering, even an adult one, it won’t be long until someone (typically articulate and educated) blurts out “I’m a complete zero when it comes to math” with some pride. Funny though … you don’t hear many shouting “I can’t read a single word!” with the same enthusiasm.

Come January, a group of Maple experts will be heading to the American capital, not for the presidential inauguration, but to attend the 2009 Joint Mathematics Meetings. This year’s event marks the 115th annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the 92nd meeting of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). 

Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in Taiwan.  In my first visit to Taipei, I was astounded by the sheer scale of the Taipei 101 skyscraper.  At over 500m tall it dwarfed everything else in the skyline.

Given the proximity of many active fault lines, tall buildings in Taipei have a degree of earthquake protection engineered into them with a tuned mass damper .

I’ve always been fascinated with the relationships between math and music, since they are both fields in which I take a great interest. This week I’ve been delving into some of the history that links the two. For instance, the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (circa 569 - circa 475 BC) is probably best known for the Pythagorean Theorem. However, he also made significant contributions to music, the influences of which can still be seen today.

For the first time, Cybernet decided to coordinate two more major meetings with the TechnoForum – essentially creating a 2-day multiconference. In contrast to the Maplesoft-centric sessions of the Maple Techno Forum on Day 1, the second day was focused on industry problems and the technological and scientific solutions emerging from various sources.

A while back I posted an article on Maplesoft activities in Japan. As planned, last week, some colleagues and I made the trip to Japan and once again, came back with a bag full of stories and insights – technical, business, social, political – you can never spend a week in Japan and not be suitably impressed and surprised by the latest happenings.

I was in Boston last week attending the ASME International Mechanical Engineering conference demonstrating MapleSim, our new tool for physical modeling.  I had the opportunity to speak to a large number of delegates, but I remember one conversation in particular; a professor who taught freshman students was bemoaning the fact that he found it harder and harder to impress students with his relatively simple animations of physics phenomena.  A simple animated pendulum no longer captivated students who were already immersed in the interactive physics-enabled environments of video games.  He had to escalate the intricacy of his demonstrations, but generating them was starting to consume too much of his time.

Twenty years after I first plotted the Mandelbrot set on a ZX Spectrum with 48K of RAM and a 3.5MHz processor, I’m still amazed by the sheer complexity and beauty contained therein.  I now have access to far more computing horsepower and can create ever more vivid visualizations.  It’s surprising what you can do with some creativity and a modicum of patience.

I was fortunate enough to spend the last two weeks on vacation in the south of Spain. Spain is a country composed of intricately layered history and traditions; influenced over thousands of years by its various inhabitants and conquerors: the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and of course the Christians (the Reconquista ended with the surrender of Granada in 1492 to Ferdinand and Isabella, the same year Christopher Columbus made his famous journey). Its food, music, art, architecture, and customs display these intertwined influences in unique and sometimes surprising ways.

Modern software tools should allow engineers to design, develop and test their designs before a single part is sent to the prototyping shop. So why is it not happening? Why are hundreds of prototypes manufactured, tested and then rejected? Why is so much time wasted at the testing and then redesigning stage?

Individually, the components for the ideal virtual prototyping tool are available, but they have not yet been wrapped up into a single integrated environment that’s based on design principles that engineers find intuitive.

Why is that?      

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been flying around the world on a press tour … sounds glamorous doesn’t it? Images of Brad Pitt or Prince William come to mind? Well, any similarities between a Brad Pitt press tour and one that I’m involved in is purely coincidental (if not miraculous). So what does one do on a Maplesoft press tour?

 Well, as it turns out, there actually is a fairly active community of journalists from far and wide who have a particular interest in recent developments in engineering and mathematical computing. And every year or so, we like to meet the press face to face to keep the lines of communication open between the company and these influential people of letters. This year, my tour took me through key regions in the US, UK, and Germany.

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