Design Con 2015

Why Santa Claus switched to modular instrumentation

Santa Claus -December 13, 2012

Santa here.  Yep, the old Fat Man himself.  Larry asked me to guest blog for him, this being the holiday season and all that.


Guest blogger Santa Claus, at his workshop

And I’m happy to do so.  Now you may ask, what is the North Pole’s most famous resident doing blogging in a measurement magazine like Test & Measurement World?  Hey! – I’m a big reader!  If you think Santa’s workshop is just in the business of building broomstick ponies and Raggedy Ann dolls, then you haven’t spent much time in the 21st century, have you?  Ever look under a Christmas tree since the days music was recorded on vinyl discs?  You don’t find many pet rocks or tinker toys- you find electronics, and plenty of them.  If a gift doesn’t have a USB port on it, you might as well store it next to the unused hula hoops in the garage.  That way it will be handy when you plan your next garage sale.

Yes, my friends, the world is changing.  It was a tough transition for me, but even tougher on the elves.  When you switch from building toy wagons to video game consoles and cell phones, it puts quite a strain on you.  Some of the older elves called it quits.  I still share a few shots of eggnog with them down at the old Santa Saloon, but I didn’t give up.  My mission is too important.

So I changed.  If the children of the world want to play Gangnam Style videos instead of checkers- well, who am I to argue?  So I outfitted Santa’s Workshop with modern pick and place machines, wave soldering equipment, and went to work.  But you know what almost made me hang up my red suit and join the Grinch down at the Whoville Lodge?  The testing.  It was ho ho hopeless!

Yikes!  In fact, it was insufferable.  After Christmas Eve I used to take a month off.  Maybe go with Mrs. Claus down to Nova Scotia for some beach time while downing a few Mooseheads.  Oh no- not after switching to electronics.  I was too stressed to even relax.  I already had to plan for the next year.  I was using traditional box instrumentation, so I couldn’t repurpose a tester quickly for the latest fad.  I had to put the plans in place a year ahead!  And transporting those big boxes around? Hey- I use reindeer for everything. OK, you try explaining to a snorting hunk of overgrown venison smelling of tundra-breath that they have to haul a rack of iron to the center of the Arctic Circle, and you see why I developed a taste for 5pm schnapps.

But I digress.  I found a solution.  I switched to modular instrumentation.  I started with VXI.  Then I switched to PXI, and actually have a little AXIe as well.  First of all, the reindeer loved it.  A quarter of the size, but less than one tenth the weight.  It was originally Rudolph’s idea.  “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you bring my ATE tonight?”  Yea, he hated that cheesy rhyme, but I couldn’t resist.  The reindeer loved the lighter gear, so morale improved considerably.

Once we got the new equipment, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  The speed was simply amazing.  I had elves running into my office almost immediately claiming dramatic speed improvements.  I love it when they get excited because they go into this really high squeaky voice trying to explain something.  I often keep a balloon of helium in my desk and inhale it to reply, just to talk on their level.  We were all jumping up and down and squeaking like chipmunks on Red Bull after the first results.  The speed meant that I needed less equipment, thus lower costs and less space, so I was pumped!  I didn’t tell them, but I was looking at outsourcing the whole effort to the South Pole before that, so this was a big relief.  Reindeer may smell and have a temper, but they are productive.  Penguins just never resonated with me.  And they can’t fly.

But then we got our next surprise- how easy it was to reconfigure the system to test other products.  This was huge.  Honestly, I don’t have a clue what will be the big hits each year.  I try to do my market research.  I send a bunch of fake Santas to the malls each year, just to have children tell them.  Multiple issues with this, not the least of which is the quality of the temporary hires.  But that’s another subject.  The worst is that I won’t know until November what is on kids’ minds.  Then I have to adapt immediately. That’s how I first developed a taste for schnapps.  Well, that and some morale building exercises with the fake Santas.  Anyway, I found modular instrumentation was easily reconfigurable to the latest wish lists.  Just rearrange the modules, and we’re cooking with gas again.  It was a life saver- and cut down on my schnapps bill.

Speed, Size, Flexibility.  Not the top things Mrs. Claus may think about me, but this was what attracted me to modular instruments.  I love my work again. The elves are ecstatic, and now are experimenting with virtual instrumentation and FPGA customization.  Even some of the old-timers from the Santa Saloon have returned.  The reindeer love the reduced size and weight.  And Mrs. Claus?  I think she sees me in a new light these days.  I’m less stressed and have plenty more time after the holidays.  She whispered in my ear about a romantic vacation to Hudson Bay this January.

Ho Ho Ho!

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared in Test & Measurement World's Outside the Box blog by Larry Desjardin, aka Santa Claus!

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