How To Transform an IT Operations Centre into a “Santa Tracking Centre” on Christmas Eve
Just in time for Christmas this year I decided I would like to spread a little bit of Christmas cheer. Every year everyone brings their kids to work on Christmas Eve for the morning to enjoy a small celebration. Cookie decorating, a pot luck offering and even a quick visit from the big man himself. Last year I thought, day in and day out we track IT Security Incidents but what if we tracked something else just one day a year? Why not track Santa using all the latest and greatest tools we have at our disposal. Sure, Norad is the leader in this specialized field, and I certainly don’t intend to take over here, but the kids and their families might just appreciate the gesture. Besides, it’s also a great opportunity to get a bit of positive exposure.
After making the decision to transform our small three person office into a command centre, I also decided I would share my work with others so that they could use it to create their own IT Santa Tracking Centres too. Below I will briefly go over what I did to create the materials as well as share them where possible. I encourage others to also share their ideas and maybe share some photos of your set up if you decide to make your own IT Santa Tracking Centre next year.
Santa Tracking Radar Video
My first thought when creating a Santa Tracking Centre was that ever tracking system needed to have a radar screen. After all, if you can’t see where he was than you can’t track Santa can you? I wanted this screen to be a bit generic for a few reasons. First, I wanted anyone to be able to use this no mater where they are. Second, I didn’t want some brat to tell me I was wrong, although this will probably still happen! 😉 Finally I wanted it to be fun for the kids. I randomly have the “red dot” which one might assume is Santa Clause “jumping” around the screen randomly. I envision kids watching in anticipation as they try and guess where Santa will show up next. This video (as do all of my videos) works best with VLC Media Player when set to look. I will give some specifics on my configuration below.
Target Locked on Santa Claus
The next most important display was probably the easiest to produce. And that is good news because you may need to do something like this yourself. We need to know where Santa Claus is within the global geospace at the “current” time. For my situation, I figure he will be some place around Russia. To represent this I took a work map and overlay a blinking target along with the text “TARGET ACQUIRED” (Wonder how many people notice the spelling mistake! LOL I guess I should fix that later.
Santa Sleigh Statistics
I am no statistician, nor do I profess to know a very much about designing futuristic space craft looking instrument panels but I thought I should try and design a panel that showed Santa’s Sleigh information in near real time (we need to account for the delay resulting from the satellite transmission). In this video you will find all of the things that are critical to Santa’s mission at hand. Cookie Meter, Milk Meter, 9 reindeer, Speed and Altitude.
Santa’s Naughty & Nice List
What better way to track the countless names then using a North Pole Mainframe. This video does a really bad job of simulating a mainframe. I just didn’t have the time to do things right so I cobbled this together the best I could to simulate one. I know that the downloading should have been done in ASCI text and that that text would never scroll so smoothly on a real system, but this was easy and was the fastest way I could think of getting it done given the time I had allotted to myself. you get what you get for a free solution right? I sure hope that there aren’t any kids that show up at my office on the naughty list or I might have them crying and then have to apologize to parents!
Santa Claus News Reel
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The final video I have lined up for my IT Santa Tracking Centre is a news reel which includes 30 minutes worth of news clips. For fear of getting myself into trouble over some type of copyright issues, I will not be sharing my news reel with you. But I will tell you how I created it. I simply hit YouTube and I performed an advanced search (this one) for “Santa Claus News” and added HD to my search criteria. I was then presented with a whole bunch of news footage. Using Firefox and my favourite downloader plugin, I was able to store a copy of the video on my hard drive. After watching each segment to ensure I wasn’t including footage of some dead beat Santa Claus getting arrested or some controversial comments about Santa’s race I found I had amassed my goal of 30 minutes of video. I then fired up my video editing suite of choice, piled all of the videos into a composition one after the other and rendered out a single file. Sure this might not be required, but I figured it would make things easier for me later.
Air Traffic Control Clip of Santa Claus Sighting (ATC)
The final little piece of my creation was to create a clip of some air traffic control and pilot conversations which can be played over a headset for children visiting to give them that final sense of excitement. Now, for all those pilots out there, I am fully aware that this isn’t entirely accurate and there are certainly more runways on this ATC controller’s list of responsibilities, heck he even get’s to direct ground traffic so it must be a small airport too! To create this piece, I wrote out a quick script with a few conversations between a controller and some pilots. I then recorded all of the pieces (myself). Next I loaded them into my audio editing suite of choice and cut them into the individual pieces. After running the different “characters” through some sound processing to alter the voices making them sound slightly different I was able to add some effects (AM Radio Preset) to make them sound as though they were being transmitted. I think this process worked out really well considering I sound nothing like this piece which was important because once again those bratty little kids might call me on it! 😉 To play this piece, I am using the standard Windows Media Player with the “scope” visualization to make it appear to be a radio transmission.
VLC Media Player Configuration
As I mentioned earlier, I used VLC Media Player. All of the default settings worked well except that I found that by turning off the setting “Show media title on video start” under Tools / Preferences / Subtitles & OSD I didn’t get the title showing up ever time the videos restarted. Speaking of videos restarting, make sure to press the “Loop” button at the bottom of the VLC Player to ensure that the videos will play continuously for the entire session just before you press the full screen button to hide the Windows GUI. One final tip, you may want to check hibernation, sleep and screen saver settings to ensure your Santa Tracking Center isn’t rudely interrupted.
Putting It All Together
After spending an entire weekend and about 14 hours creating all of the audio and visual elements I simply headed to the office, turned on our monitoring displays, launched a bunch of VLC Player instances and set each instance to play a video full screen on the monitors. I am guessing that if you don’t already have a bunch of monitors set up to display your various real-time monitoring applications, you will likely have easy access to enough to set something up. I then loaded the Radar and Dashboard video’s onto each of the monitoring officer’s computers found a machine to play the ATC Audio clip on demand and was ready to go to town! The icing on the cake was a poster I printed to install on the entry doors for our offices on each floor.
A Whole Lot Of Fun
Overall I think it was all worth the effort and the materials are something I can reuse next year. Not only did the kids have a blast, I thoroughly enjoyed watching them. One little girl kept covering in mouth in surprise while listening to the ATC file and another little boy had the time of his life banging away on the keyboard sending messages to Santa. Kids watched the Naughty & Nice list with huge anticipation while another child try to chat it up with Santa while listening to the ATC feed. Maybe next year I can convince Santa to chat with them over Skype as though he is busy flying his sleigh.
If you decide to use my materials please share a photo or two and if that just isn’t possible for some reason please let me know how your Santa Claus Tracking Centre worked out.