Web site tracks Santa


BY JOHN JOHNSTON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In simpler times, the only thing kids needed to know was that Santa would dependably deliver toys on Christmas Eve.

But in the gigabyte-driven Information Age, they want to know more. And science and technology have risen to the challenge.

From 7 a.m. Christmas Eve through 5 a.m. Christmas Day, young and old alike can log on to the Internet and determine St. Nick's whereabouts through a project called NORAD Tracks Santa Claus. Digital animation, satellite images and audio reports will be updated hourly at http://www.noradsanta.org

From 4 p.m. Christmas Eve to 3 a.m. Christmas Day, people can call (719) 474-3980 and hear NORAD volunteers give updates on Santa's location.

NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint American and Canadian military organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The project began in 1955 after a store in Colorado Springs, Colo., advertised a special hot line for kids to call Santa. But the number was misprinted, and instead of getting St. Nick, kids were patched through to Col. Harry Shoup of the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor.

Col. Shoup was no Scrooge. He asked his staff to check if radar had picked up Santa flying south from the North Pole. Indeed, it had. So callers were given updates on the jolly elf's location.

NORAD, created in 1957, has continued the tradition begun by Col. Shoup, who is 81 and retired.

The Web site came on line last year, and an estimated 10 million people attempted to visit. (The counting mechanism locked up after 1 million.) This year, with IBM serving as host, the site should run smoother. It's available in English, French, Spanish and Italian. Some 50 million to 100 million “hits” are expected.

The site includes technical information on Santa's sleigh, as well as various secrets of his operation, such as how he gets down the chimney and how he eats so many cookies.

For those who would delve even further into the science behind the holiday, there's a new book, The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey($20; Little, Brown) by Roger Highfield.



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