Monday, January 14, 2019

Reality TV Show Producer Number 2: How many bar room brawls do you have in an average month ?

Writing this on a flight to Denver and then changing to a little puddle jumper for Devils Lake , North Dakota where I will land at midnight. Surprisingly, all the rental cars in Devils Lake are reserved but the Spirit Lake Casino, like any casino I’ve ever heard of is open 24 hours a day so they are very kindly sending someone out to the airport to pick me up in the shuttle they use to bring employees to work.

After meeting with Producer #1 who said our family needs a few more addictions and dysfunctional relationships,  I had a talk with producer number two. He had two names, neither of which I remember so let’s just call him Bob-Bob . The business associate who connected me with Bob-Bob is a really straight up honest guy and also quite successful. He pretty much ordered him to give us the straight scoop and only work with us if he thought it would be beneficial,

Bob-Bob was hilarious. He’d worked on some shows you’ve probably heard of and he said, 

“My speciality in reality TV is drama. We put people in situations where drama is likely to happen and if it doesn’t we create it,”

I asked him how exactly he did he do that and he gave me an example from one of his shows.

“We brought these people together who really didn’t like each other - but nothing happened. So, we put them in our vans and drove them all to a bar. Still boring. So, we tipped the bartender to give them free drinks but still nothing was happening. Finally, we bribed the bar owner to keep the bar open after hours and after 2 or 3 am when we’d been plying them with free drinks for hours, some fights broke out and people calling each other names and bringing up some pretty awful stuff from ex-friends that we could use.”

I told him, 

“ You know, you aren’t making yourself look so good here, Bob-Bob .”

He laughed and said,

 “I’m just telling you the truth. It’s a living. The people on our shows, they don’t usually have much talent or education or connections. Yeah, maybe the show makes them look bad but it’s more money than they’d be making doing anything else and no one is making them do the show . I’d like to see a show about a functional family and successful people who like each other. I think if I pitched it to my network they’d say it was not our kind of show but I think other networks might pick it up.”

Bob-Bob and I had a nice conversation but we both agreed he wasn’t the type of producer we were looking for, although he had some great stories and I would totally invite him to a party.

As for the other networks he recommended, we never did get around to contacting them because we went through meetings with producers three, four , five and six and we are really busy running a company (you can read how awesome that is going here).

In fact, I have the opposite of an Instagram life, where people post pictures and make it look like their life is so amazing. Often I don’t post the awesome stuff going on, either because I’m just enjoying the moment , or I don’t want to impinge on people’s privacy or I am just too damn busy making shit happen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My Life Needs Better Writers (or, what happened to our reality show)

Yesterday, I wrote about our first idea for a reality show. I thought it would be amusing to go through some of our discussions with producers.

The first conversation went like this:

Producer: How many children do you have? 19? 20?

Me: What? No. I have four. All daughters. All wonderful.

P: Any addictions? Alcohol? Drugs? Sex addiction?

Me: Um, well, we drink wine and sometimes a martini. But no, none of us have ever been arrested for DUI or in treatment or anything like that.

P (incredulous): NONE of you? Out of six people?

Me: Well, actually, I think that's pretty typical.

P:  Dennis isn't having a sex change, by any chance, is he?

Me: No!

P: Are you considering whoring Julia out to hip-hop stars?

Me: NO! What the fuck? She's 17 years old!

Me: Look, here is my idea. We make video games and we want to open an office in the Caribbean because we think that would be a good market. Tobago is absolutely beautiful. We can have the show cover a game from start to finish, where we have to come up with the design and Maria and I, who are the least laid back people you ever meet, hire our crew from the island and have Julia I-can't-get-up-before-noon as one of our interns. Trying to get a game done on schedule is drama and tension in itself but add in starting with a new team and cultural differences and I think it will naturally get to the point of me wanting to kill people. I am sure I can set up teaching judo at some of the local clubs. Hopefully it will help them and I'll need it with the stress. Ronda says she'll drop in for a fourth of the episodes, lend advice on game design and testing, party with the locals and try to keep the peace.

Producer: I'm going to give you my honest opinion. This show will never sell. Your family is too boring. You don't have a million kids. You aren't little people. You have successful children and you all love each other. No one wants to watch that. They want to see people drunk and puking, screaming at each other, crying, talking about their addiction. They want to see a family that is a dumpster fire so after they watch it they can feel good about themselves.

We talked to six producers and I actually thought all of them were pretty good people but for various reasons, we didn't end up doing the show. Three of them passed on us, two of them we declined and one was mutual.

As for this particular producer we actually had a very nice, funny discussion. This was one person's honest opinion. I appreciated the honesty although I disagree.

from the north woods to New York City

Our family is not boring. We just need better writers

I think if you can make a show about people losing weight where standing on the scale is drama, if you can make a show about baking cakes and another about cupcakes and ... well, I think you could make an interesting show about us.

Take today, for example. Maria gave a talk about making games in DC at a conference with 1,200 kids - which still went on despite the government shutdown and the fact that she rewrote her talk at 4 am. It was great, by the way. Then, she was mobbed by kids wanting to play our games.

Ronda was doing a live wrestling show in Orlando. She travels so much that I actually had to look it up on the internet to what city she was in.

Julia took off for London where she is going to be living for the next five months.
The last time we'll all be in the same place until June

I went into the office to work on a proposal for a new game, discussed the design of a game in progress, tried to figure out how to renew my visa for Chile, came home and taught an online class on biostatistics with all kinds of technical glitches, then created a video on exploring data.

Okay, well, my day was not that exciting today, but there have been other days in the past year when I've climbed a mountain to see the condors, went hiking in the driest desert in the world, watched hoop dancing at a pow-wow, been stuck in a hotel during a blizzard in North Dakota. Every year, I'm everywhere from the north woods to New York City. I'm scheduled to be in four states and three countries in the first five months of this year - and that's only what has been confirmed as of the first week in January!

Let's face it. I don't care who you are or what you do, much of your daily life is pretty mundane. (Unless you are working with Producer #2 .) You get up, have some coffee, take a shower, drive to work, go to a meeting, read your email, eat a sandwich. The winning competitions you didn't enter (strange, but true), laying on a Caribbean beach or heart-felt discussions with your children about life are just a fraction of that. Even Harry Potter and Hermione spent most of their time studying, sleeping and eating.

Speaking of sleep, I have to get some.

Buy Parenting Like I Know What I'm Doing , by me and Maria Burns Ortiz for only $1.99 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Rowdy Family Business Reality Show: What I was doing three years ago

 Searching an old email address, I came across this email sent 2 1/2 years ago when my lovely daughters and I were discussing a reality show.

Think Duck Dynasty Meets Silicon Valley with some very attractive real-life CEOs

The opening RouseyOrtizDeMarsTaylor group text begins

Mom: I'm in North Dakota, freezing my ass. 
Ronda: I'm doing a Sports Illustrated photo shoot from an undisclosed island location. Someone is currently painting my ass. 
Maria: Salt Lake City, pitching investors. I do not discuss asses. This is why I am the CEO
Julia: I'm in hell, commonly known as high school.
Jenn:  In 20 minutes, I have to go back to teaching middle schoolers about the constitution. Why are you people bothering me?

The series centers around Maria Burns Ortiz and AnnMaria De Mars, a daughter and mother who are the CEO and president of an educational video game start-up, with frequent appearances by younger sisters Ronda Rousey, a professional athlete, actress and entrepreneur and Julia De Mars, a soon-to-be college student and aspiring actress.

Maria balances three children aged 1-8 with a husband running his own journalism start-up and trying to cope with her unconventional extended family. Mom gave up the job as CEO to Maria because,

"Someone needs to wear a suit and not tell potential investors to go fuck themselves if they say something incredibly stupid. I am not that person."

Episode 1 has Maria and younger sister, Ronda, trying to convince the family that a reality show would be good for business. The first, literal, sign this may not be easy is the sign that hangs on Mom's office door, which reads "First of all, no. Second of all, no." When they enter their mom's office, she starts the conversation with,


They point out that they haven't even said anything yet, to which she replies that every time they come to her with that look it has been some crazy ass idea. Ronda wanted a monkey. Maria wanted to move into her own apartment when she was in high school because her sisters were annoying, etc.

They try Dennis, step-father and CTO (bit of back story on Dennis coming into their lives after Ron died makes him seem a sympathetic figure). He refuses to open the office door 

"Only if you don't show me on television."

One of the daughters asks,
"What if we just record you through the door?"

The sisters regroup to a coffee shop to plot and the final scene is a game design meeting in the conference room of the company offices, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Annmaria, with Dennis on Google hangout, is running through artwork, game mechanics and some esoteric coding and statistical details, with Maria adding information on the story line and characters. At the end of the agenda when AnnMaria asks if there is any new business, Ronda enters the conference room.

She says we need to discuss this reality show idea. Half the developers immediately find somewhere else they need to be. Maria and Ronda give a convincing 2-minute summary on why this would be good for the company and, as a result, help children everywhere get access to the games and a better education.

AnnMaria grudgingly agrees and the final scene has her saying to the computer, 

I'm going to regret this aren't I?  

Dennis answers from Google hangout - probably

So, whatever happened with the reality show? Well, we had a few discussions with producers but for the rest of the story you'll have to read the next blog post.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

How to Have a Merry Christmas

I'm sitting here drinking peppermint mimosas with my lovely Julia and ruminating on how good life is. Christmas has almost always been a very happy time of year for me. There have been a couple of sad Christmases - the first one after my divorce, the first one after Ron died - but usually the holidays are the best time of the year.

Peppermint Mimosas - Look better than they taste, but still okay

I know that a lot of people have a hard time at Christmas. They don't get along with their families. Their families don't accept them because they are gay, married outside their religion/ race,  cut off all contact with an abusive relative or a million other stupid reasons.

How to have a Merry Christmas

Let go of the expectations. People are who they are. It is what it is. Either change your thinking or change your situation and then let it go. Ronda has the organizational skills of a hyperactive squirrel. She is generous, smart, funny and kind but she probably just remembered on Monday that the 25th was Christmas. Maria had already finished shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and I suspect Jennifer already has her calendar planned out through December 25, 2019. Julia is cleaning her room now so that it will be ready for her grandmother when she arrives in six hours. You may think six hours is ample time but that only means that you have never seen Julia's room.

I'm not particularly the warm and cuddly type.  I do hug people and tell them I love them, but not every other sentence, like some friends of mine do. Jenn was shocked to hear that I actually baked cookies yesterday, which I found a little insulting.

I could go on but my point is this - everyone has foibles, flaws and failings. Many family gatherings fall apart because you find it so inconsiderate that cousin Tina is 45 minutes late for the eleventh year in a row or that your dad never listens to you and bought you a sweater with a camel instead of a cashmere sweater. 

You know that prayer about accepting things you cannot change and changing the things you can? My secret to enjoying the holidays and life in general is something like that.

Let it go or let them go

The unhappiest people I know CHOOSE to be unhappy. Yes, you do. I could get offended by off-hand remarks but it's a waste of energy.

I'm Catholic. I have friends and family members who are atheist. Every now and then they will make remarks like, "I can't believe that you go to mass." Well, I do.Yes, I am aware of the child abuse that has gone on for decades, probably centuries, and it disturbs me greatly.  We actually had a reasonable discussion about this at Christmas. I don't take it as a personal affront that people don't believe what I do. I listen to their ideas and keep drinking my peppermint mimosa.

We have a very good rule in our family -

"If it happened over a year ago, you can't bring it up in an argument."  

This is a rule my children have used against me on occasion, but it's still a good rule. I see married couples, parents and adult children, adult siblings all arguing about that party someone wasn't invited to in 1998 or the graduation someone didn't attend five years ago.

If you catch yourself saying,

"But don't you think parents SHOULD attend their child's graduation/baptism/ bar mitzvah/ wedding and don't you think they SHOULD feel bad and apologize?"

I don't know anything about your situation but since you are the person reading my blog, I am going to side with you and say yes, you are correct. So what? seriously, the point is, they didn't do whatever it was and they didn't apologize and buy you a gift and a doughnut to make it up to you.

Speaking of doughnuts ...

Fish Lake is an adventure game that teaches about fractions.  You can canoe rapids, solve math problems and if you need help learning, there are activities explaining fractions using turtle eggs, riding between camps and yes, even chocolate doughnuts used as an illustration of mixed numbers. Buy it and support my day job! Runs on Mac and Windows computers.

 So, you didn't get the apology or the doughnut. You felt undervalued and underappreciated. Let it go. That person maybe is not going to be as close to you or understand you as well as you had expected. Maybe you are adding now, fuming,

"As much as I had a RIGHT to expect!" 

So what? They are probably not going to change so you can decide to let it go or not.

The other option is to just not spend time around people who make you so unhappy. There are (former)  friends and relatives I don't see any more.  I had a friend who made a series of bad career choices, in my opinion. Every time I saw her she railed against President Obama's policies and how he was ruining the country and that is why she had financial problems. The last time I saw her, you'd think she'd be happy but no, she still couldn't get a job because "They are only hiring black people. I'm too white to get a job."

That's the point where I decided I was done. Probably stupidity isn't contagious but why take that chance?

If you have a racist/ misogynist / homophobic uncle, you don't have to sit and listen to that person. If some relative gives you the creepy vibe and you don't feel comfortable with that person around your children, don't go anywhere they happen to be.

Guess what else? YOU get to decide. If you have a relative who is always putting you down, telling you that you don't make enough money, you are too fat, you should be married by now or whatever it is that makes you feel bad, don't see them. Are they at the same gathering as your grandparents who you really want to see? Then call up your grandparents and ask if you can come visit on a random weekend in February. Flights will be cheaper and your grandparents will be thrilled to have their grandchildren think of them more than one season of the year.

Problem solved.

Much of the family happiness comes about because we really wanted our past to be different. Some of it is because there are people in our lives at present that we need to cross off the Christmas card list.

Let it go or let them go.

It's never too late to start living your happily ever after.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What I Learned about Business at Judo Con, Part 2

Several times during his presentation, James Wall of confidently stated,

“We are the best at what we do.”

If you really, truly are the best at what you do and are confident about that, you should be able to sign up customers. Not surprisingly, Wall to Wall Martial Arts is quite successful.

You may not have heard of James Wall. He’s a credible, competent judo player, a legit fifth-degree black belt. He was never on an Olympic team. He hasn’t coached any world team members .

You may have heard of James Wall if you are interested in judo games for teaching young students , because he’s fairly well known nationally for that .

If you are somewhat impressed with yourself and asking,

“Who is James to say he’s the best? I’ve won X, Y and Z.”

Good, I hope you are happy with yourself. However what James does is provide a friendly, fun atmosphere for children to learn martial arts and be healthier and better disciplined in the process. He offers a comfortable environment for women to get some exercise and learn self-defense. He, and his fellow instructors, provide a collegial training environment where people who didn’t have to just Google the meaning of the word “collegial” can get in better shape, learn some judo and compete in regional tournaments.

That’s what Wall to Wall Martial Arts DOES. If you are in their area of Louisiana, no one does it better. Hypothetically, there may be a better school in Delaware, but seriously , if you live in Dedham Springs you are not taking your nine-year-old thousands of miles away to a judo class.

James truly is the best at what he does and he’s perfectly fine with that .
This made me think about my business. I know our software is good. Will it teach your preschooler to count or prepare your high school student for the SAT?

No, we focus on grades 3 to 8. If your child needs to learn multiplication, division, factors, how to solve those pesky time-rate-distance problems, find a mean or median, we’re awesome for that .

Rather than trying to teach every subject at every grade level, what I think we need to do is reach the parents and teachers of kids who need to learn what we are teaching.


Have an Android device? No problem.  Making Camp premium for Android has you covered.

People in startups often say they are in the “fintech space” or the “medtech space” which I have always found a kind of pretentious way of saying you are in finance or medical technology.

However, both James Wall and Lester Martell, from High Impact Martial Arts in New Jersey, were very clear on what their space was. It was the city and county where they are located and probably no more than a 30-minute drive from their location.

If you’re a teacher and you have kids in your class who speak Spanish, we have videos, games , PowerPoint presentations, everything you need, even if your Spanish is limited to “Adios” and “Dos cervezas, por favor.”

If you teach Native American students and you’d like to include some of their history and culture in the curriculum but you didn’t really learn any of that in school ( because who did?) , we have games that include those stories. You want to include cultural content without skimping on the math and language arts standards? We have that covered, too.

What I learned at Judo Con was to focus on what we are best at rather than worrying about all of the parts of the market we don’t cover. That’s not our thing , just like training Olympians isn’t James’ thing . And that’s okay.

I’ll be honest. I went to Judo Con for a personal reason . Steve and Becky (Rebecca) Scott and I have been friends for over 40 years . It isn’t coincidence that this girl is named Julia Rebecca De Mars.

So, when I heard they were organizing this event , even though I was literally on the other side of the world , I bought a ticket . I did think about it, for about a minute , but then I concluded, “Fuck it! These are two of my best friends.”

Even though I went for personal reasons, as I’ve said previously, it was definitely worthwhile from a business insight perspective. I’ll definitely be going again.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Judo in Chile and the World Judo Federation

Not that anyone asked me, but since that has never stopped me before, I’m going to give you my opinion on judo in Chile and the World Judo Federation. Keep in mind that this is based on one tournament - the Chilean national championships, which I watched today .

First, the good impressions:

1.The competitors get major points from me for attitude. I saw lots of attacks, lots of ippons both throws and pins and only saw 2 stalling penalties out of all of the matches.

2. There were a lot more counters than you'd normally see in tournaments in the U.S. You don't see a lot of counters at U.S. tournaments and at this one in Chile I saw a few successful counters and quite a few more attempts.

3. There were quite a few throws for ippon.

4. People were generally quite nice, both competitors and referees. I was just some random old lady off the street who didn't speak terribly good Spanish and they didn't know me from Adam. Still, everyone I asked was perfectly polite and willing to take their time to answer my questions.

What I think could be improved

I saw no grip fighting, literally, zero.  

Nobody blocks a high grip- which might be related to the counters, since if you have a high grip and come in off balance you are more likely to be countered. However, if you have a high grip and can bend your opponent that prevents him or her entering a lot of throws.

Matwork is rudimentary.

Not only didn’t I see a single choke or arm bar, I didn't even see a single attempt. I actually asked one of the black belts waiting to compete if chokes and arm bars were not allowed at this tournament. He said, no, they were allowed and maybe I would see some. I didn't.

While there were some turnovers, and more turnover attempts into pins, they were not very deliberate. If you've read Winning on the Ground (what do you mean, you haven't?) , you know I'm usually the one for hitting hard and fast when the situation presents itself, as opposed to Jimmy's 47-step moves, so for me to say the matwork needs more deliberation is really saying something.

There were no matwork combinations. I didn't see anyone try a half-nelson. No one tried to do matwork from the guard, either as offense or defense.  The only defense was to pancake out.

On the other hand, generally both players tried to attack when on the ground, instead of one just laying there and trying to wait it out until the referee stood them up, so that was good.

World Judo Federation

As for the World Judo Federation, I don't know exactly what their rules are but there certainly were far less penalties called than in the typical judo tournament. That's a good thing. They let the players compete without stopping the match a lot to tell them they couldn't grab here or don't touch the leg.

I did see one player grab the leg and nothing happened. I asked a competitor who told me that was legal.

From watching, it reminded me of Freestyle Judo. I went to the freestyle nationals a few times and there were very few penalties called and the players were a lot more aggressive, in a good way, with less vying for grips and more attacking than the typical judo tournament. I'm not being a hypocrite here when I just criticized the Chilean players for not grip fighting. I think you can overdo it.

My recommendation would be if you are into freestyle judo you might want to check out their Panamerican Judo Championships next year and give it a go. Probably USA Judo would have a cow but if you are doing freestyle judo, USA Judo obviously isn't dictating your life.

You know what would help you if you went to South America? Spanish! AzTech Games can help you brush up on that high school Spanish you forgot.

Truth: Our games were developed for teaching kids math and some are bilingual to so kids who English is their second language can play, too, but about 10% of our users are people wanting to improve their Spanish - including me.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Positive Lessons from Judo Con

I learned a lot at Judo Con in Kansas City last week. It was a really positive event, with 54 people from 12 states and Chile (me) in attendance. The limit was supposed to be 50 attendees, with a focus on club leaders interested in improving technical skills, growing their martial arts programs in both size and quality (shameless plug, for example, by focusing on academics as well as athletics). However, there were a few young blue and purple belts who wanted to come and how can you say no to kids who want to do judo, so they slipped in for the technical sessions.

I learned a lot about marketing and social media from the sessions James Wall and Lester Martell did on how to recruit martial arts students. One lesson that really stuck with me was this quote from James,

"Every new white belt I get is a precious little nugget. I take care of them, polish them up like gold. Do you know how much time, effort and money it takes me to get a new student into my school? Take care of those new students! Don't take them for granted."

He's really correct, not just for judo, but for business in general. How much do we take care of our new customers versus just going back out there looking for more? I could go on quite a bit but you could listen to the Judo Chop Suey podcast for a lot of detail.

The biggest takeaway for me, though, was a personal one. Several times during the weekend and thought,

"I am surrounded by good people."

Usually, when I go to a judo event there are mostly good people there but some who are complete assholes or plain out frauds. We all know them, the people who have an eighth-degree black belt and flat don't know much judo.

At this event, every single person was either someone I had known for many years and knew was a hard-working, intelligent, honest person doing the very best he or she could to make the world a better place in their own way.

This is your reward for being a good, honest person - you get to be around people like yourself.

If you're all about pretending to be a ninth-degree black belt, you aren't going to get on the mat and actually roll around doing arm bars with us. No one on the mat was there to impress people. We were having fun. I grabbed Caitlyn, Madelyn, Sandi and Julie at various times and said, "Hey, let me try this move on you."

It's not often that I've been in a group of this size and thought to myself, "I can see being friends with every single person in here. These are the people that help their neighbor with a flat tire, take the time to talk to a kid who is having a bad day. They are also people who, regardless of age, keep learning."

I felt very privileged to be there.

This is my day job. I make games that teach math, history and English. Get it for under two bucks!