Bah Humbug

I was buzzing through the house doing something when I overheard my wife laughing on the phone to her eldest niece about the upcoming christmas gathering. The main problem was how to manage the secret santa list for a family spread all over the country. Mary was laughing and saying, “But you would know everyone’s secret santa! And how do I know you wouldn’t just keep drawing names until you got one you wanted?"

My brain was distracted by something or other. Some part of it was hearing this conversation, recording, analyzing, problem solving, and coming up with a solution pretty much on automatic and without much oversight and control from higher functions. It does this continually, but most of the work product is filed quietly away and sometimes even classified to some level or even erased so as not to be accidentally divulged at some inopportune moment.

The mouth, somehow having gotten the results of the current analysis and having decided to act on its own, blurts out, “Let the computer do it."

Mary tells the niece to hold on a sec, asks me what I said. So the mouth obligingly repeats. Mary asks for clarification. My brain is catching up to my mouth by now and I can see no way. I tell her that I could write a simple program that could make the random selection of names so that the niece would not have to draw from a hat and so would not see who selected whom.

This gets passed on to the niece as: “Butch says he can build us a web site that will take a list of all our email addresses, draw the names, and send everyone an email with the name drawn for them."

Ummm. Yeah sure that’s what I said. But it sounded like a somewhat fun small project, so why not. I am starting to think about data tables, selections, and how this is kind of like dealing from a deck of cards. When Mary, the classic Product Manager with a raging case of featuritis, asks if I can make it where some people cannot draw certain other people like siblings excluded from siblings and such. After a second of thought I say yeah I can do that. And my problem solving design engine brain is getting up a nice head of steam.

Mary Product Manager lets me know that Niece One will have collected all the email addresses by end of day and Niece Two will have collected three gift suggestions to go on the wish list for each person - oh by the way the web page should show a wish list for each of us - and we need to have this done soonest so everyone has plenty of time for shopping so get cracking kiddo.

Yes Ma’am.

So I amble over to my desk to start to work. First task at hand: Review the existing products for ideas.

google secret santa

Second task: Make the Build or Buy decision. I play with the top two sites from the google search for about 30 minutes and see that both of them have 98% of the features that Product Manager Mary has added since the original phone call. The price of both is Zero since they seem to be driven by ad revenue. The main cost is the giving up of an email address. They both have privacy statements that say some words to make you think that they will not do profitable things with the information they gather from you but really mean that you can be sure of getting some more spam. For me and mine this is handled by using our spam-only email addresses. For the rest of our kin I feel somewhat bad, but then only a little since it is not likely to increase the amount of spam they already get by much. I pick the site that looks best to me (Elfster).

I shout, “Hey Mary! I’m done. Do you have those email addresses yet?"

For about 30 seconds I was seen as a heroic hacker able to cobble together a useful and clever tool in short order.

But then it dawned on her that I was not explaining what I had built, but what I had found. She became somewhat indignant and started complaining about how she had being telling the family that I was going to write us a custom web site and all I did was Google something up. Explaining the Build or Buy choice did not go anywhere and it was about an hour before things cooled off. She finally accepted that zero dollars and 1 hour were a much better deal than a couple of days of my time especially since the existing site does 98% of what we want.

In the end we spent about three hours with most of that being Mary on the phone chasing down email addresses. The Buna Gathering Christmas Secret Santa list is done, the santas are secret, The only thing left for me (since I do NOT shop) is to get Mary and the kids to the party in the tiny town of Buna, Texas sometime at the end of December where I hope to be able to find a quiet corner with a live internet connection.

And so it begins.
Bah Humbug.

Imported from an old blog. Some links might be dead. Let me know if you find dead links.