December 14, 2006

Why I hate Engineers and I don't mean trains

Engineers take the fun out of Christmas. I got this in an email from my Dad:

Engineers take the fun out of Christmas. There are approximately two and
one-half billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since
Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist (except
maybe in Japan) religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to
15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the population reference
bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that
comes to 108 million homes, presuming there is at least one good child in

Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different
time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming east to west (which seems
logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that,
for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of
a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the
stocking, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever
snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh
and get on to the next house.

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around
the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the
purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.7 miles per
household; a total trip of 75.6 million miles, not counting bathroom stops
or breaks.

This means Santa's sleigh is moving faster than 675 miles per second --
3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest
man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a pokey 27.4 miles per
second, and a conventional reindeer can (at best) run at the rate of 15
miles per hour.

The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that
each child gets nothing more than a medium sized LEGO set (about three
pounds), the sleigh is carrying approximately 570 thousand tons, not
counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more
than 300 pounds. Even granting that a "flying" reindeer could pull 10 times
the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them --
Santa would need 378,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting
the weight of the sleigh, another 38,000 tons, or roughly seven times the
weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

Six hundred thousand tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous
air resistance - this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a
spacecraft reentering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer
would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short,
they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer
behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in th eir wake. The entire
reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or
right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from
a dead stop to 650 mps. in 0.001 seconds, would be subjected to acceleration
forces of 17,000 g's. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would
be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly
crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink

Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now. Merry Christmas.

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