How to get ready for the holidays

by Michael Alderete on 12/28/2002

I have five brothers and sisters, which can make holiday gift giving very stressful, so many gifts for so many people. Years ago we simplified, with a gift exchange where we drew names out of a hat.

Well, that’s how my siblings did it, when it was their turns to run the exchange. In preparation for this year, my brother mentioned to my sister that I had “more sophisticated tools for assigning gift-receivers to gift-givers,” to which I replied:

This is the difference from me and a normal person: I looked at the gift exchange as an opportunity to spend some time writing software. I wrote some scripts that would select people out of a pool, randomly match them with people, ensure you didn’t get matched with yourself, ensure you didn’t get the same person multiple times, ensure each person got selected X number of times, where X was the number of people you had to buy for, etc. I wrote test scripts to make sure that the random assignments were at least approximately random. I thought about adding notification routines, which would send out e-mails with gift assignments without my intervention, so I wouldn’t know who got who. But then I decided that was a little extreme, and it didn’t really matter if I knew. Plus I ran out of time, and had other things to do. Uh, like my actual shopping.

Now, if you think of this as a learning exercise, rather than a personal obsession/problem, it would almost be reasonable. And then you’d ask for the software, so you could use it yourself. Except I wrote it in an relatively obscure product called UserLand Frontier, of which only Tim L. might have heard of it, and none of you would actually pay for (it’s $899 these days, but it was free when I was using it). Plus it has a really steep learning curve, so even if you got the software free, you wouldn’t know how to use it.

I suppose that, with about 3x more work, I could turn it into a web site, and that might actually be fun (uh, remember, think of this as learning, not being weird), but I don’t have it on my list of things to do in the near future (i.e., before NEXT year’s holiday season).

So, long story short, if you do a gift exchange, I recommend a hat.

Now, before y’all start e-mailing me about my personality quirks, Rochelle already beat you to the punch:

Freak! Freak! Freak! It’s clear to me that I SHOULD be taking up more of your free time so you don’t continue to “waste” it ;->

Finally, before any Frontier fans get upset about the “obscure” or “steep learning curve” comments, remember that Frontier is a developer’s tool, and I was writing to my family, not a bunch of programmers. I happen to like Frontier a lot, but I wouldn’t give it to my mother!

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