Santa Spat Reveals Important Points

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-01-06 Print this article Print

NASA and NORAD, the space folks and the air defense folks, respectively, pretended (I think) to have a bit of a turf war during Christmas week.

NASA and NORAD, the space folks and the air defense folks, respectively, pretended (I think) to have a bit of a turf war during Christmas week. After years of issuing an annual press release concerning its tracking of Santas round-the-world flight, NORAD bristled at the news that NASA now proposes doing the same.

"Tracking Santa has been a NORAD program for 45 years," said NORADs Sgt. Austin Carter in a statement reported by ScienceNow, adding, "I wasnt aware of NASA involvement."

What moved me to mention this episode was an editorial comment near the end of the online story. "Its unclear who anxious children will turn to for vital tracking information on Christmas Eve, but odds are that NORADs efforts will be considered more important by the administration. After all, NASA can only track St. Nick. Once the National Missile Defense system is deployed in 2004, the military will have the ability to intercept Santa and his reindeer—should that become necessary for national security," observed writer Charles Seife.

However lighthearted this may all be, it makes at least two serious points. First, theres nothing wrong with having at least two independent sources for any information important enough to be worth analyzing in the first place. It wont always make you popular; people may quote the Chinese proverb about the man with one clock knowing what time it is, while the man with two is never sure.

But if we learned one thing from the accounting profession last year, its the importance of multiple measures—not only traditional measures of earnings, for example, but also cash flow or "core earnings" to provide a reality check.

Whether were looking at ourselves or at our competitors, its part of the job of the IT professional to know what raw data can be acquired and to be creative in suggesting applications for that knowledge.

Second, its a sterile proposition to acquire data with no idea what action can be taken in response. Storage vendors are happy to help us tote up terabytes, on what might as well be write-only devices—but someone should be prepared to answer the question, "And then?"

Tell me what Santa brought you at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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