How Data Science saved Christmas

9 min read

It’s the middle of December and it’s shivery cold in the North Pole at -20°C. A fat old man sits on a big brown chair, beside the fireplace, stroking his long white beard. His face has a frown on it, quite his unusual self. Mr. Claus quips, “Ruddy mailman should have been here by now! He’s never this late to bring in the li’l ones’ letters.”

Nervous Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, he is sitting on the armchair and resting head on his hands

Santa gets up from his chair, his trouser buttons crying for help, thanks to his massive belly. He waddles over to the window and looks out. He’s sad that he might not be able to get the children their gifts in time, this year. Amidst the snow, he can see a glowing red light. “Oh Rudolph!” he chuckles. All across the living room are pictures of little children beaming with joy, holding their presents in their hands. A small smile starts building and then suddenly, Santa gets a new-found determination to get the presents over to the children, come what may!

An idea strikes him as he waddles over to his computer room. Now Mr. Claus may be old on the outside, but on the inside, he’s nowhere close! He recently set up a new rig, all by himself. Six Nvidia GTX Titans, coupled with sixteen gigs of RAM, a 40-inch curved monitor that he uses to keep an eye on who’s being naughty or nice, and a 1000 watt home theater system, with surround sound, heavy on the bass. On the inside, he’s got a whole load of software on the likes of the Python language (not the Garden of Eden variety), OpenCV – his all-seeing eye that’s on the kids and well, Tensorflow et al. Now, you might wonder what an old man is doing with such heavy software and hardware. A few months ago, Santa caught wind that there’s a new and upcoming trend that involves working with tonnes of data, cleaning, processing and making sense of it. The idea of crunching data somehow tickled the old man and since then, the jolly good master tinkerer and his army of merry elves have been experimenting away with data. Santa’s pretty much self-taught at whatever he does, be it driving a sleigh or learning something new. A couple of interesting books he picked up from Packt were, Python Data Science Essentials – Second Edition, Hands-On Data Science and Python Machine Learning, and Python Machine Learning – Second Edition. After spending some time on the internet, he put together a list of things he needed to set up his rig and got them from Amazon.

Santa Claus is using a laptop on the top of a house

He quickly boots up the computer and starts up Tensorflow. He needs to come up with a list of probable things that each child would have wanted for Christmas this year. Now, there are over 2 billion children in the world and finding each one’s wish is going to be more than a task! But nothing is too difficult for Santa! He gets to work, his big head buried in his keyboard, his long locks falling over his shoulder. So, this was his plan:

Considering that the kids might have shared their secret wish with someone, Santa plans to tackle the problem from different angles, to reach a higher probability of getting the right gifts:

  1. He plans to gather email and Social Media data from all the kids’ computers – all from the past month
  2. It’s a good thing kids have started owning phones at such an early age now – he plans to analyze all incoming and outgoing phone calls that have happened over the course of the past month
  3. He taps into every country’s local police department’s records to stream all security footage all over the world
A young boy wearing a red Christmas hat and red sweater is writing a letter to Santa Claus. The child is sitting at a wooden table in front of a Christmas tree.

If you’ve reached till here, you’re probably wondering whether this article is about Mr.Claus or Mr.Bond. Yes, the equipment and strategy would have fit an MI6 or a CIA agent’s role. You never know, Santa might just be a retired agent. Do they ever retire? Hmm!

Anyway, it takes a while before he can get all the data he needs. He trusts Spark to sort this data in order, which is stored in a massive data center in his basement (he’s a bit cautious after all the news about data breaches). And he’s off to work! He sifts through the emails and messages, snorting from time to time at some of the hilarious ones. Tensorflow rips through the data, picking out keywords for Santa. It takes him a few hours to get done with the emails and social media data alone! By the time he has a list, it’s evening and time for supper. Santa calls it a day and prepares to continue the next day.

The next day, Santa gets up early and boots up his equipment as he brushes and flosses. He plonks himself in the huge swivel chair in front of the monitor, munching on freshly baked gingerbread. He starts tapping into all the phone company databases across the world, fetching all the data into his data center. Now, Santa can’t afford to spend the whole time analyzing voices himself, so he lets Tensorflow analyze voices and segregate the keywords it picks up from the voice signals. Every kid’s name to a possible gift. Now there were a lot of unmentionable things that got linked to several kids names. Santa almost fell off his chair when he saw the list. “These kids grow up way too fast, these days!” It’s almost 7 PM in the evening when Santa realizes that there’s way too much data to process in a day.

A few days later, Santa returns to his tech abode, to check up on the progress of the call data processing. There’s a huge list waiting in front of him. He thinks to himself, “This will need a lot of cleaning up!” He shakes his head thinking, I should have started with this! He now has to munge through that camera footage! Santa had never worked on so much data before so he started to get a bit worried that he might be unable to analyze it in time. He started pacing around the room trying to think up a workaround. Time was flying by and he still did not know how to speed up the video analyses.

Just when he’s about to give up, the door opens and Beatrice walks in. Santa almost trips as he runs to hug his wife! Beatrice is startled for a bit but then breaks into a smile. “What is it dear? Did you miss me so much?” Santa replies, “You can’t imagine how much! I’ve been doing everything on my own and I really need your help!” Beatrice smiles and says, “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get down to it!”

Santa explains the problem to Beatrice in detail and tells her how far he’s reached in the analysis. Beatrice thinks for a bit and asks Santa, “Did you try using Keras on top of TensorFlow?” Santa, blank for a minute, nods his head. Beatrice continues, “Well from my experience, Keras gives TensorFlow a boost of about 10%, which should help quicken the analysis. Santa just looks like he’s made the best decision marrying Beatrice and hugs her again! “Bea, you’re a genius!” he cries out. “Yeah, and don’t forget to use Matplotlib!” she yells back as Santa hurries back to his abode.

He’s off to work again, this time saddling up Keras to work on top of TensorFlow. Hundreds and thousands of terabytes of video data flowing into the machines. He channels the output through OpenCV and ties it with TensorFlow to add a hint of Deep Learning. He quickly types out some Python scripts to integrate both the tools to create the optimal outcome. And then the wait begins. Santa keeps looking at his watch every half hour, hoping that the processing happens fast. The hardware has begun heating up quite a bit and he quickly races over to bring a cooler that’s across the room. While he waits for the videos to finish up, he starts working on sifting out the data from the text and audio. He remembers what Beatrice said and uses Matplotlib to visualize it. Soon he has a beautiful map of the world with all the children’s names and their possible gifts beside.

Three days later, the video processing gets done Keras truly worked wonders for TensorFlow! Santa now has another set of data to help him narrow down the gift list. A few hours later he’s got his whole list visualized on Matplotlib.

Santa Claus riding on sleigh with gift box against snow falling on fir tree forest

There’s one last thing left to do! He suits up in red and races out the door to Rudolph and the other reindeer, unties them from the fence and leads them over to the sleigh. Once they’re fastened, he loads up an empty bag onto the sleigh and it magically gets filled up. He quickly checks it to see if all is well and they’re off!

It’s Christmas morning and all the kids are racing out of bed to rip their presents open! There are smiles all around and everyone’s got a gift, just as the saying goes! Even the ones who’ve been naughty have gotten gifts. Back in the North Pole, the old man is back in his abode, relaxing in an easy chair with his legs up on the table. The screen in front of him runs real-time video feed of kids all over the world opening up their presents. A big smile on his face, Santa turns to look out the window at the glowing red light amongst the snow, he takes a swig of brandy from a hip flask.

Thanks to Data Science, this Christmas is the merriest yet!

I'm a technology enthusiast who designs and creates learning content for IT professionals, in my role as a Category Manager at Packt. I also blog about what's trending in technology and IT. I'm a foodie, an adventure freak, a beard grower and a doggie lover.


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