Christmas, Programming

Improve your Christmas gift opening with Randomizer

My wife and I wanted to find a way to do an orderly one-at-a-time Christmas gift opening this year rather than the usual everyone-at-once free-for-all, but while also still keeping all the kids mentally present, rather than having them zone out until it was their turn.

We decided to randomly choose the next person to open a gift each time so that the kids would always have a chance to be next, keeping them on their toes. My wife suggested the sensible idea of picking names out of a hat. While she ran some errands, instead of writing down eight names on slips of paper, I wrote a one-page web app to run on our living room TV that would randomly choose who got to open a gift next. It worked perfectly, creating a mini-contest every time someone finished opening their gift, causing all of the kids to fall silent and then yell out the “winner’s” name.

The web app is called Randomizer. Give it a list of choices, and it will flip through them game-show-style (with sound effects) until finally settling on a winner. It kept the attention of eight kids between the ages of 3 and 10, quieting everyone down as soon as the beeping started after each gift was opened.

Try a demo here (be sure to un-mute your speakers), or watch this GIF screencast:

Screencast of the Randomizer in action

You can add as many options as you want, and you can weight some options more heavily by including them multiple times. The options are stored in the URL fragment, so you can bookmark Randomizer for frequent decisions. Try #Yes,No, #Heads,Tails, or #Rock,Paper,Scissors.

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Christmas, Life

Our 2016 Christmas Letter

I am trying something new this year. Instead of typing out the Christmas letter, I am dictating it to our new digital assistant, Alexa. Hopefully, this will save me some time, as I will be able to take care of some other important tasks while I update you on our lives. Yeah, hi, could I get two Big Macs, a large fry, and a medium chocolate shake? Actually, a large chocolate shake. Alexa, you’re not writing this part down, are you?

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Christmas, Life

Our 2015 Christmas Letter

You’ll never believe what this family did this year! Read on to learn their one weird tip for beating the cold!

Fast forward to July, because nothing before that matters. We sold our house and three of our belongings and moved 2,000 miles away to Oregon, the land where water is liquid year-round and your snot never freezes and the mailman delivers fresh homemade marshmallows every day! To be honest though, I’m starting to get sick of so many marshmallows! I mean, how many marshmallows can a guy eat?! After the first 20 or 30 each day, it’s a real chore to keep all these marshmallows down!

When we sold our house, we got top dollar for it. (The realtors and the bank took all of the other dollars in the stack.) We took that dollar and used it to put gas in our car for the long trip out to Medford, Oregon. Fun fact: You could drive from Minneapolis to any of the state capitals in less time than it takes to drive to Medford. Especially if you speed!

On our journey to Oregon, we saw all of the sights the North has to offer: Mount Rushmore, a cow, Old Faithful, and that thing where two swans touch their heads together and their necks make the shape of a heart. We almost slept in a teepee, and I’m happy to report that not a single member of our party died of dysentery, but we did see a lot of tombstones mentioning cheese and pepperoni.

“Fortunately,” we did not move to Oregon until after our yearly Minnesota camping trip. Even more “fortunately,” Oregon’s camping season is much longer than Minnesota’s, so we “got” to go camping again after we moved. How “fortunate” are we that we “got” to go camping two times in one year?? Two times. Imagine that. Can you even imagine it? I couldn’t. Until it happened to me.

Oregon is a magical place. Here’s proof: in October, I guessed the combination of a Master Lock on the first try. The first try! In Minnesota, it would take me two tries, but not in Oregon!

Gloria had two surgeries to clear her tear ducts so that her tears would drain normally and not smear all over her cute little face. Now the only thing smeared all over her cute little face is boogers and food and markers and juice.

While Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, Oregon is the land of approximately one lake. But what a lake! It was formed by a volcano and has an island in the middle! Gee willikers! It’s called Crater Lake, and we visited it to give it the Minnesotan Lake Stamp of Approval, but they didn’t know what we were talking about so we had to just stamp it on a rock and run away real quick.

Gabriel is in first grade now, and Gideon has started Pre-K. Most of Gabriel’s credits transferred from Minnesota, so he only has to retake Shapes 101 and Introduction to Glitter Applications.

In Oregon, you cannot pump your own gas, but you can grow your own grass, so that’s been quite an adjustment to make.

I hear it’s snowing in Minnesota. LOL.

Christmas, Life

Our 2014 Christmas Letter

Before I can even open with a greeting, I need to share the most important news since our last Christmas letter: Late last December, Jon Lovitz personally replied to me on Twitter. THE Jon Lovitz, of “Saturday Night Live” and “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold” fame. Now, I don’t consider myself a hero, but if some people want to call me that, well…

Friend, sit down with a mug of hot cocoa, a blanket, and a purring kitten, because you’ve been waiting all year for this letter to arrive and you deserve to be pampered. Find a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed, because this letter is like a massage for your mind that you won’t want interrupted by your so-called “friends” or “family.” Calgon, take us away!

Christina and I both turned 30 this year, and since neither of us have had midlife crises yet, we’re guaranteed to not die before the age of 60. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

I went to Hawaii in January (again, ugh!) for work. Fun fact: my computer screen looks exactly the same on a desk in Hawaii as it does on a desk in Minnesota.

Gabriel is in kindergarten now. I know what you’re thinking: “Is his kindergarten experience identical to the events in the Oscar-worthy 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film ‘Kindergarten Cop’?” Yes. Yes it is. “Get to da choppa!” Ha ha ha.

Gideon had been struggling with eczema and extremely itchy skin, so we put him on a restricted diet, and it has really helped. Basically, we don’t let him eat poison ivy leaves anymore. Sometimes just one as a treat if he’s been really good. It’s so hard to say no to that adorable little boy when he asks “Just one more leaf? Please??”

Gloria’s still around here somewhere.

I went to Park City, Utah in September for work. Fun fact: my computer screen looks exactly the same on a desk in Utah as it does on a desk in Minnesota, except blurrier due to oxygen deprivation.

Christina went to Las Vegas in October with her mom, sister, and Shania Twain. I would tell you what they did there, but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

I bought a 3D printer this spring. A 3D printer is this machine where you feed in money, and it gives you plastic trinkets that everyone asks why you didn’t just buy them at the store in the first place but what they don’t understand is that you do get to feel marginally superior because your plastic trinkets were homemade, until they break, but then you can print a replacement basically for free, as long as you don’t put a monetary value on your time.

We went on a family vacation this summer to Lake Superior and Wisconsin Dells. I would rate our time at Lake Superior as “superior,” and our time at Wisconsin Dells as “dells.” Wisconsin Dells is known for having many outdoor water parks, which, for a city further north than some parts of Canada, is either incredibly optimistic or incredibly short-sighted.

I built a Minneapolis-themed table that is now residing in the art museum at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Well, at least until they notice that I put it there.

We went camping again this year. The mosquitoes were so big that even they were making the “state bird” joke. Just kidding, mosquitoes can’t talk. The mosquitoes were so big that they were quite a nuisance and many people complained about them. Boom, roasted!

We’ve really embraced social media. This year, Christina and I tweeted, Facebooked, and Foursquared 4,226 times. That’s an average of 5.5 times per day per person, or in metric, a buttload of wasted time (1.1 Imperial buttloads). It’s easier to understand how much that is with a visualization: If we had instead spent 30 seconds talking to our kids each of those times instead of using our smartphones, then we would be good parents.

Merry Christmas!

Chris, Christina, Gabriel, Gideon, and Gloria

3D Printing, Christmas, Maker, Programming

Today’s Functional Print, CHRISTMAS EDITION: Christmas Tree Feet

In today’s appropriately festive 3D printer news, I’ve printed replacement feet for some ornamental Christmas trees:


These feet took a while to design — the organic shapes and border ridges were new concepts to me in OpenSCAD, but I was able to settle on a design that could be printed without supports.


Spot the original, if you can!

The feet didn’t require supports, but this was only because I printed the “toe” separately and attached it with acetone afterwards. If I hadn’t done this, I would have had to print a bunch of additional support along the bottom of the foot.


The trees are similar to OpenSCAD script and STL file are available on GitHub. Feliz Navidad!

3D Printing, Christmas, Maker, Programming

Today’s Functional Print: Christmas Light Clips

In today’s “’tis the season to be printing” news, I’ve printed replacement Christmas light clips.


They took about half an hour to model in OpenSCAD, and each one can print in only three minutes. Their exact design appears to be unique to the decoration that they came from, but these very similar clips sell for $2.99 for a pack of 100, so each clip has a retail value of about three cents.

The clips are being used to attach lights to these festive holiday deer:


Here’s a closeup:


Let’s play “Find the original clip!” It’s in there somewhere.


The OpenSCAD script and STL file are available on GitHub.


Our 2013 Christmas Letter

Another year, another single sheet of paper summing it up. Let’s get this over with.

In January, we went on a weeklong trip to Hawaii. I know what you’re thinking — “Hawaii in January? Soooo cliché!” I know, but our place in St. Bart’s was getting its ceilings re-gilded.

In February, we refinanced our mortgage again. It’s a pretty interesting story really, much too long to fit in this letter, but we got a great rate reduction under the terms of the HARP program, reducing our yearly interest rate from 5.5% down to WAIT WAIT DON’T STOP READING I’LL STOP TALKING ABOUT MORTGAGES.

Christina left her job at GE in March to pursue other opportunities, like not working. Unfortunately, it turns out that being at home with the kids all day does not fit the definition of “not working.”

We found out this year that Gideon is allergic to dogs, our cat Sancho, dairy, eggs, and peanut butter, so we made the tough decision to give him up for adoption. We can’t have someone like that cramping our style!

At the end of April, Christina’s dad unexpectedly passed away in part due to esophageal cancer. No jokes in this paragraph; we miss Doug.

The month of May saw us pack up our car and take a 3,000 mile road trip through the Appalachian mountains and the Cotton Belt. We did see some Appalachian mountains but, sadly, no cotton belts.

Gabriel participated in a sports camp in July. Oh, did I say participated? I meant “participated.” j/k, LOL. He did have fun and is planning on doing a football camp in January. Hopefully next year’s letter will not mention any sort of youth concussion study.

(In case it was not clear, the “him” that we gave up for adoption four paragraphs ago was our cat Sancho, not our son Gideon. That would be ridiculous! Who could say goodbye to that cute widdle face?? Sancho’s widdle face, on the other hand, is very goodbye-sayable-to.)

In August, we didn’t have a baby.

In September, we did have a baby! (Well, Christina had a baby. But I helped!) Gloria Abigail Finke missed an August birthday by four hours (and her due date by two weeks), and I don’t think we could have waited any longer. (We literally could not have waited any longer; the doctors wouldn’t have let us.)

By November, Gloria had had enough of us and needed a vacation, so she flew to Oregon to visit her best friend Jackson. Christina tagged along and visited her friend Leah, who happens to live in the same state, city, neighborhood, and house as Jackson. WHAT ARE THE ODDS

Christina is teaching Gabriel to read, but I like to think that we’re all learning a little something. Well, except Gloria. And Gideon. And me. And maybe Christina. So just Gabriel then.

Until next year’s letter,

The Finke Family

Christmas, Life

Our 2012 Christmas Letter


Blah blah blah introduction. Let’s get down to business.

In January, I took a trip to New York City to meet my co-workers for the first time, and Christina used the opportunity to jet to Oregon with Gideon to visit a friend. I’m not sure what Gabriel did while we were gone; you’ll have to read his Christmas letter to find out.

This spring, I threw myself into the political process and was elected as a delegate at the precinct, county, and state level for Ron Paul. The political process promptly threw me back, choosing to support Mitt Romney instead. By the time this letter reaches you, I’ll have either been proven wrong or revealed as a wise soothsayer that the country should have heeded. My money is on the sooth.

In March, we got new windows put on our house. They look nice, but the process was a pane.

Christina held a garage sale in April, and boy were her arms tired! Because it would be hard to hold a garage sale in your arms! Because it would be heavy! LOL!

In May, I took another “work” trip, this time to Vegas. Unfortunately for you, I am contractually obligated by the city of Las Vegas to ensure that what happened within the city limits of Las Vegas stays within the city limits of Las Vegas.

Get it? “Pane?” Because of windows!

Gabriel played his first team sport this year: three sessions of tee ball in June. In a startling display of segue, I also took him to his first professional sporting event later in the summer, to see the Twins with Grandpa and Jacob Finke. I didn’t plan it that way just so this letter would flow, but it definitely worked out. He enjoyed both tee ball and the Twins game equally, which is to say, little.

We did the annual family camping trip at the end of June. The weather was perfect, there were no bugs, and the kids slept for 10 hours each night. (Can you find the three lies in the previous sentence?)

August put me on an airplane again, this time to San Diego for an all-company meetup. (The meetup was in September; August was the name of the Delta airlines flight attendant.)

Gabriel started preschool in September. He also ended preschool in September. We decided his crying and refusal to attend each day were signs that he was too advanced for school. We’ll see if he’s still too advanced next year.

I should probably say something about Gideon.

I did the Paleo challenge for a month this year. If you’re not familiar, the Paleo diet involves eating only food that would have been eaten in caveman days; it’s supposed to make you healthier and hardier. Unfortunately, I didn’t look up the exact definition until it was too late, and I had spent a month eating bread, swiss cheese, potatoes, and milk — they’re pale, yo.

Christina spent a lot of time this year traveling back and forth to the Mayo Clinic with her dad while he was treated for esophageal cancer and subsequently underwent a gastrectomy. (Not Christina, her dad.) The surgery has changed him a little: he used to love steak, but now, he just doesn’t have the stomach for it.

This year, Gideon turned one year old, as children tend to do a year after they are born. (Next year, we are hoping that he will turn two, but we would settle for three.) He is a regular chatterbox; I stopped keeping track of his vocabulary once it hit 350 words. Speaking of which, did you know that it is possible to only know 350 words but never stop talking?

We bought a new car in October. Well, “new.” And “car.” And “October.” Okay, we bought a used SUV in November.

Merry Christmas,

Chris, Christina, Gabriel, and Gideon