Thursday, October 6, 2016

Touch Press Games Apparently Just Released 30 of My Video Games, Which Is Cool But Emotionally Confusing

You know those video games I worked on for 4 years? The company, Amplify, was jettisoned by News Corp. Steve Jobs' widow bought it. They turned into a new company called Touch Press, and they are finally releasing the first games today on the App Store.

Via EdSurge:
During its heyday, Amplify touted its orange tablets as the tool that would transform digital learning experiences in school. Yet the company’s most impressive offering may have been its games. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company invested more than $25 million to partner with talented developers who built 30 learning games covering math, science and English Language Arts.

Unless you were a reporter or play tester, however, it was hard to get your hands on them. Only one title was available in the consumer market. The rest required a school license sold by Amplify.

The fate of the games seemed in limbo in Sept. 2015 after News Corporation sold Amplify. But now they have found a new home. Today, Amplify announced that it is merging its games division—the team and its assets—with StoryToys, an Irish developer of children’s learning apps, into a new company: Touch Press.
It's weird. I haven't touched them in years, let alone played them or worked on them. I'm not sure what condition they're in or what other games they're going to release, or when -- hey, I didn't even know they were out until someone in the office forwarded me a forward from another forward.

But I'm glad. I'm really glad. Like one of my coworkers said, "This is like seeing your kid graduate high school after his mother took away your visitation rights for the last decade."

But, hey. Now they're on their own. And I can finally stand back and kvell.

[go here to play them - free, I think!]

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Behind the Scenes at Noshland

I wrote a new short story on Hevria -- well, okay, half a short story -- but I have the whole thing in my head, and I'm, like, 98% sure that I'm going to post the other half in 2 weeks. Or next week, if Elad lets me.

And I'm kind of overbrimming with behind-the-scenes stuff to tell you about it.

Last Night at Noshland

BY   JULY 5, 2016  STORY
Zvi needs to leave Crown Heights behind, and he is leaving it behind, but every step he takes brings him a new wash of sadness, the nostalgia sinking deeper into his brain and skin and his nose, even though he hasn’t even left yet.

And Now, the Commentary Track.

  • The genesis of the story: I love one-night (or one-day) stories, like American Graffiti and Superbad and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I like giving my stories time limits in general, like how Goldbergs had to end at the end of the summer and this memoir I'm working on goes from Halloween to Thanksgiving. That gives me a ruler to pace everything. Having a single night is even better. It's like a puzzle where every single thing that happens has to fit.
  • Yes, the name of the shop in the story is based on the dear, wonderful Nosh World, zichrono l'vrocho (the characters and even the store itself are as complete fabrications as anything can be), but another major influence in the title and the story is the book Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan. It's about a Red Lobster that's shutting down, and there's a snowstorm coming, and workers keep not showing up for their shift, and it's really sad and beautiful -- and specifically, the way it was taught to me by my professor Alexi Zentner, who has a new book out this week that I'm not sure I'm allowed to say is really by him.
  • I'm doing this sort of as a challenge to myself: both to finish something, and to put it in front of people. I've been in kind of a sad place lately. My last novel is in limbo and the new one I'm writing is taking forever, and I keep starting stories and then not finishing them. So I'm trying to vanquish my writing anxiety with performance anxiety. I've put up the first half! Now I have to finish the damn thing.
  • I just also want there to be more fiction on Hevria! And more stories about Hasidim that aren't about how pathetic we are or people running away or what a horrible place the community is. Not that this is exactly a happy story (nothing I'm gonna write right now is going to be that), but I really do like Zvi, the main character, and I hope other people will too.
  • I was working on the last part of the story this morning and I realized with a shock of horror, there's almost no chocolate. Sure, I mention ice cream once or twice, but it is in no way true-to-life to write about a snack shop in Crown Heights and exclude chocolate. There's a paragraph in the second part about a girl who buys a bag of tortilla chips, and it would make way more sense for her character to be eating chocolate, but it makes way more sense for me as a person to think of someone eating nachos:

    And she buys a 50-cent pack of chips, of Golden Fluff tortilla strips, a brand whose name has always puzzled him (no gold? no fluff?) but whose taste is undeniably solid, that perfect balance of spicy and tangy and sweet, that he once read the Japanese call umami, a harmony of flavor, the perfect culinary addiction of which he was the purveyor. He loved the boldness of Tsivia Singer’s pre-party indulgence, and the vision of her walking down the street with the umami tang on her breath, neither of which he would ever taste.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Gobblings: The Movie (sort of)

stole a story from the Baal Shem Tov. Well, I sort of stole it. The part about it being in space, the aliens, the toy robots, the overprotective parents, and the saving the universe without the universe knowing about you saving it -- those parts I may or may not have made up myself.

(Except for the overprotective parents. That part's based on real life.)

Anyway: Here's a movie where I talk about The Gobblings and writing and how the rest of the world tells stories to put kids to bed, and we tell stories to wake ourselves up. Thanks to Daniel and David for filming it, and JAKEtv for making it real, and the wondrous people at Hevria for letting me be egotistical for a change.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Girl Can Become the King

I showed my daughters this morning's newspaper, and it was incredible to watch their faces light up. The oldest read the headline out loud -- Clinton Seals Triumph With California Victory -- and then she squealed, like really squealed, not the I-got-a-new-toy squeal but the I-did-my-multiplication-table-perfectly-for-the-first-time squeal, the squeal that says, holy shit, something in the world has fundamentally changed.

When we talked about who to vote for, I was pretty harsh that the girls weren't allowed to choose Hillary because she was a girl, and that we need to find out as much as we can about everyone, and we want to choose the best people, no matter who they are. (We followed through with this down to some last-minute Googling of superdelegates in the voting booth.) Everyone has good points and bad points, and I really don't like how Bernie probably wouldn't be very cooperative with anyone who wasn't on the same page as him, and I don't like that Hillary seems like a big-balls career politician with no guiding conscience.

But on the level of pure, simple, and direct showing my three daughters that girls can do anything, having a woman on the front page of the paper, claiming the nomination, conceivably becoming the leader of our country, it was an awesome fucking moment. I've been telling them since they were born that they can do anything. There's a lot of stuff that's still in the way, but it just came one step closer to true.

Pic: One more text from Hilary

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why I Write about Peeing

Hey, it's my latest piece at Hevria! I was complaining about our personal posts being too depressing these days, or maybe just mine, and Elad said that I should write something happier. We happened to be drinking at the time. The sun might or might not have been up, I'm not telling. What happened next was this blog post. I guess it really is possible to find inspiration anywhere.

Pee Break

Sometimes you just need to get out.
There’s that moment at the bar where the debate is getting a little too intense and I’m getting a little too evasive, and it hits. The realization that I haven’t peed in two hours. Yes, I am sitting with one of my best friends in the world, and yes, we are yelling at each other at the top of our voices, but the moment I stand up, something changes — I have a bit more of my personal space to myself, I am seeing the room from a different vantage point, and the world seems like a little bit of a different place.
“Excuse me,” I say, in a completely different voice from the one I’ve just been using, and using words, like excuse me, that I never thought I’d speak again. And then: “I’ll be right back.”
And when I slip away, the world slips away from me.
Sometimes it’s just so good to go to the bathroom. Not the act itself, but the act of leaving behind the world and making yourself alone. I’ve been operating on a constant emotional peak over the past few weeks, and I keep telling people, “I feel drained.” Those three words have never seemed so inappropriate: Whenever I feel an emotional overload, what I really should be saying instead is, “I need to drain.” There’s a Hasidic concept called hisbodedus where you leave your surroundings, leave your world and run to the nearest forest and scream as loud as you can, at the top of your lungs. Peeing might be the urban version of that.

(read the rest)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Dancing by Myself

When I wrote my latest Hevria post, I was feeling kind of fatalistic. The kids were not sleeping and I was watching Avengers: Age of Ultron. I'd just talked to a bunch of friends who went to the much-newer, and much-better-reviewed Civil War. That's probably why I was feeling so depressed. Anyway, most people told me it was depressing. Although I think it's kind of funny? Maybe you can figure it out.

Dancing in Traffic

BY   MAY 10, 2016  ESSAY
This morning I caused a traffic jam. Walked in front of a car on my lazy Brooklyn street, didn’t realize there was a car behind that, and another one. Six or seven total. Our street is narrow, with traffic further hidden by an islet of trees in the middle. I was taking my time walking. I hate crossing at the light. I’m very resentful that way. Most times I try not to take up space but when I do, I really do. I was walking, trying not to use any gas, any money, anything. Blocking all those cars, even for thirty seconds, just think how much fossil fuel I burned.
I’ve been taking up too much space. Money, air, people’s energy. I don’t actually make money at work. My job is all about potential, finding things that might still be worth money in ten years. They still pay me for it, for now, trusting that I’m doing something of value, even though none of us will probably ever find out. Will I still be around in ten years? At the job? On this Earth?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Teen Self-Referential Drama, Plus Or Minus a Few Years

I wrote another installment of my San Francisco-to-New York travelogue. I keep thinking, like, maybe my entire career is simply rewriting every Judy Blume book in chronological order, as memoir. Except that, in my version, the 13-year-old girl is played by an overgrown boy with an overgrown beard.

In This Huge Universe, The Only Things That Matter Are G-d And Girls

That first day on the road we drove to Los Angeles, then past it. There were no monuments to communicate to us that we’d entered or left L.A., no skyscrapers or theaters, no ocean in sight. I’d spent the better part of a year traveling down there, writing my novel about a teenage Orthodox girl who got her own television show. It was half wish fulfillment, half daring myself to try to achieve that nightmare. Every few weeks for a year I left San Francisco and bounced back and forth along the California coast on a Greyhound bus, staying for a few days or a week, soaking up enough inspiration to get me through the next 50 pages.
On this trip — the same unending fields out the window of Elyse’s SUV, the same pasture halfway with hundreds and hundreds of cows stuffed against each other, mooing sadly and uselessly — it was an entirely different feeling, the last time I’d make this bizarre pilgrimage.
We passed the cows, and Elyse’s dog Joey howled at them in primal confusion, startled by the moving background, disturbed that these nearby animals were rushing by fast while standing completely still and that they were simultaneously unafraid of his braying. It was only natural for him to chase cows, and for cows to tremble at his presence. The very fact of the road trip was lost on him. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe this was the way he’d always lived, his mind only in the moment, never regretting the past or dwelling in left-behind places, always dealing with what was in front of him. Maybe we were the beginners, and he was to be our rebbe.

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