[Cross posted from CACM blog of 21st Dec, forgot to do it earlier!]
Dear Dr. Deolalikar,
Thank you very much for your email advising me about the state of P=NP problem. I must admit I got a little bit confused about the detail, but if I understand you correctly, it means that the travelling Santa problem (TSP) is still hard to solve within a reasonable time. To tell you the truth, we knew that. I’ll tell you what’s worse than computing the route – travelling the route at high altitude with snow melting down your neck. I showed your email to the chief elf and he laughed like a drain. You would too if you had to keep a stable full of reindeer fit enough to do the deliveries in weather like this.
You asked how we compute our routes these days. In fact, Mrs. Claus has changed this recently. Rudolf and I used to get the ordnance surveys maps out the week before C-Day and plot it out over a cup of tea. It was kind of tricky, but I prided myself on never missing out a single child. Now Mrs Claus made me get some new fangled sat nav for the sleigh but it doesn’t do so well under snow cloud cover. She was talking the other day about hiring a team of computer scientists to work on the TSP for next year. You wouldn’t like a job here would you?
Oh dear, I’m not quite sure how to address this email given that you seem so touchy about giving out your names. I still know who you are, of course. Santa knows these things. Or strictly speaking, Mrs. Claus knows these things.
I saw on the news that Operation Payback is switching focus to attack my website in revenge for me not planning to deliver to Julian Assange this year. Now look here – I haven’t delivered to Julian since the X-ray glasses in 1986 but it’s that’s only because he got too old, not too political. So I do think it would be rather unfair if you stopped all the children reaching my website to fill in their online orders to me. Mrs. Claus tells me that you have been doing DDoS attacks. I don’t really know what all that means but she said it would be as if thousands of extra children per second all started putting in presents orders. PLEASE don’t do this. I mentioned it to the chief elf, and he went quite grey at the thought. I have to admit I do sometimes wonder what happened to the good old fashioned days of children writing letters out long hand and putting them in the chimney. I did get a couple of nasty burns that way, but at least my orders didn’t go beserk on the whim of the Internet. While we’re on the subject, if you wouldn’t mind laying off Amazon until after Christmas that would be very helpful. We need a backup plan in case the chief elf puts his back out again and we get behind.
Bear in mind even if Julian Assange is too old to get presents from me, most of you chaps aren’t. And I will know among you who has been naughty and who has been nice.
Hello my dear,
It just occurred to me to wonder how we keep track of the naughty and nice lists these days? Are you still using that FORTRAN code I had before we were married?
Oh yes, and can you remember to take Rudolf to the vet? I’m up to my eyes in wrapping and his cough has been playing up again.
Hello my dear,
There, there, no need to get so upset. I will take him myself if you’re so busy.
Of course I appreciate all you’ve done on the computer side of things. Now you mention the SQL database it does sound familiar. But I had no idea you were doing so much clever stuff with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Let me get this straight: the children actually write down when they’ve been naughty and put it on Facebook with pictures? Time was, I had to write to their mothers and ask them. But do you really think it would be a good idea to ask Google if we can send some elves in their Google Earth vans to help us keep track of the kids? I mean, wouldn’t that be surveillance?
Dear Professor Richardson,
Thank you for your letter about CSEdWeek. I am very pleased to hear that you are teaching the children all about computing. Perhaps I might come to an event next year. I feel I am lagging behind a bit these days. While I think it is a lovely idea to give all the children in the world “Introduction to Algorithms ” in their Christmas stockings, I am afraid I won’t be able to manage it this year. Have you felt how heavy that book is? Poor Rudolf isn’t well and I don’t think he’d manage the extra weight.
You may be interested to know that the chemical engineers had a similar idea a few years back. They wanted every child to get a strip of magnesium and a box of matches. It didn’t work out very well. Let’s just say it involved some singed eyebrows on my part and a lot of angry letters from the mothers.
P.S. I’m glad you liked the Barbie all those years ago. I get a lot of orders for computer engineer Barbie these days. I can drop one off for you on the 25th if you like.
Dear Jean-Baptiste and Erez,
I just spent a coffee break playing with Google’s NGram viewer . I suspect a new term “vanity ngraming” (like vanity googling) will enter the language soon. In this case, I am afraid, my vanity was wounded. There is a gratifying climb in mentions of me between the Sixties and 2008 which is nice to see, and I am still way ahead of the Easter Bunny. But I was alarmed to notice that Harry Potter is mentioned almost as often as me. He’s not even real! Please could you do something about this? Maybe you could include my personal library of books of children’s letters to me in your corpus? That ought to dwarf Mr. Potter and his measly seven volumes.