Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Get Ready For Some Fun, It's Question Number One

When I started this blog, I had a job that I found less than enchanting. My on-the-job satisfaction is reflected in the fact that I was writing three or four blog posts a week. Then I got a new job, the the posting all but dried up. Perhaps that will tell you how much I've enjoyed my work.

For the past six months, I've been working for a company called Jellyvision. Those of you with computers might be familiar with Jellyvision's best-known product, a snarky CD-ROM trivia game called You Don't Know Jack. Ring a bell?

It's been years since the last You Don't Know Jack game was released, in part because the bottom dropped out of the CD-ROM market, and in part because that wasn't really the business they wanted to be in. They're pushing an interface that creates a simulated conversation between the computer and the user. So while the Jack games do that, they're looking to find more applications of the technology.

What brought me to Jellyvision was an effort to put this system to work in teaching reading comprehension. It was a very exciting project; first and foremost, I got to write passages that students would then be quizzed about. Then I wrote the quizzes. Somewhere, somehow, a 6th-grader might end up reading something I wrote, and learn how to draw inferences from the text. I feel ennobled.

When that project finally wrapped up, I kinda figured my days were numbered. But they continued to find tasks for me (especially in September, when everyone was on vacation and I practically had the place to myself for a month), and I was happy to do them. Which is how I ended becoming a part of an even more interesting project: the resurrection of Jack.

Jellyvision is still trying to figure out how best to re-think Jack for the wired world of the 21st century. We've come up with all kinds of ideas. At least one of them landed me on Arnie's blog, with sock puppets on my hands. I still can't really explain that.

But all of our work came to a head yesterday with the unveiling of the first manifestation of the new Jack: The Daily DisOrDat. It takes the familiar question type from the old game and, as often as possible, ties it in to current events. We're still working out some of the bugs, so you might call this a live beta test (ooo, computer lingo), but on the whole, it's pretty much ready to be seen.

I'm especially proud, because I wrote the question that's up today (regrettably, I can't take credit for the brilliant visual joke that accompanies it). So I have now, officially, contributed to the world of You Don't Know Jack. About the only thing that might be more surreal to me would be writing a Star Trek episode. I've gone through the looking glass.

This is all very bittersweet, because I'm going to have to leave Jellyvision at the end of the year. I'll get into details some other time, except to say that I now hate Reader's Digest with an irrational passion. So just as I started to contribute to this thing I've always been a fan of, I have to quit. It has been occasionally depressing, so I try not to think about it too much. Instead, I try and write more questions, so that I'll still be around, even after I've left.

Anyway, it's nice to be able to show people what I've been doing all this time, and where the blogging went. I gave it up for Jack. So please visit the new website, and play the game, and tell everyone you know to do the same. It's fun, and Jellyvision will be watching closely to see how many people are stopping by. We need hits, people. And when the smart-ass host makes fun of you, that might just be my handiwork.

In the meantime, I've got to find another job that will keep me from blogging.