If my first years at MIT were peak years in my life, then 2002 was an absolute low. In June of that year, my (now-ex) wife divorced me. It came as a shock, though in hindsight perhaps I should have seen it coming. The first clue was in 1998 when my wife received her inheritance following her father’s death. One of her first reactions was to tell me “Now I don’t need you any more”. More evidence that economic issues were the basis of our relationship in my wife’s mind. I couldn’t believe she would think like that – even if she didn’t need me economically, there was a very strong reason to persevere in the marriage (difficult as it was) – specifically our co-parenting our 3 children. I was always committed to trying to work things out in our marriage, and we tried lots of counseling (individual, couples, and even couples groups). In fact on the morning of June 6, 2002 (a day that will live in infamy in my memory, and ironically D-Day, where D could stand for “divorce”), my wife and I were (so she told me) scheduled to meet a new counselor to try working again on our marriage difficulties. It turns out there was actually no therapy appointment, rather I was set up to have “divorce papers” served on me at that time. I was totally shocked, and terribly upset at being lied to. The old cliche is “it takes two to make a marriage work”, and apparently my wife wasn’t committed to that. I remember telling my boss at Gensym (back in 1998) that I might be facing a divorce, given my wife’s attitude. Fortunately, it didn’t happen at that time. Later I learned that she in fact had consulted lawyers, who advised her that divorcing me immediately after receiving her inheritance might lead to her having to split it with me. So she waited, but (whether consciously or not) made my life miserable – perhaps trying to push me into divorcing her. That wasn’t going to happen, because my children were so important to me that I’d put up with almost anything to maintain my close relationship with them. During those intervening years she used her inheritance money to hire an architect and have extensive renovations done on our house – which was enormously stressful, and included our having to move out to an apartment for 3 months.
I became extremely depressed that day (June 6, 2002) and the weeks following. I was walking around in a daze. I had to scramble to line up a lawyer to represent me, and I was in fear and terror of what would happen to me. I didn’t know where I’d be living, how I’d manage economically (I was still working part-time at MIT, but that was more for tuition savings than for income), or most importantly what would happen to my relationship with my children (2 of which were still living at home). I quickly sought out a psychiatrist and got on medications to help me cope. Throughout this time, my son Aaron, who was then at MIT, tried to reassure me that this would all turn out to be a blessing in disguise, and that I’d end up much happier being out of the unhappy marriage. He was absolutely right! In just 2 or 3 months I was changing my attitude and looking at the bright side of things — something I learned particularly from my mother! Fortunately I didn’t have to move out immediately (my wife intended to stay in the house), and most importantly I found a terrific lawyer that I really enjoyed working with. Unfortunately, my 50th birthday (July 4, 2002) came at a time when I was not in any mood to celebrate, so I felt I missed out on marking that half-century milestone.
By October, I had found a great (if expensive) apartment in Lexington, very near the high school — great for my son, David, who was attending LHS at the time. Once I arranged for the apartment, David committed to moving with me — the choice was entirely left up to him. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to live together with him during these years. Sadly, if understandably, my daughter Rachel stayed with her mother, and I felt a sense of loss for the reduced level of our interaction and relationship during her middle school and high school years. Of course I saw her as much as I could, but I missed seeing her on a daily basis, reading with her, working on homework together, and simply kissing her goodnight when she went to bed (I used to sing her lullabies when she was younger). She occasionally stayed over, but that was inconvenient for her – since all her “stuff” was at her mother’s house.
The divorce turned out much better than I had feared. We finalized an agreement in November, 2002. I got enough of a settlement (mostly for my half of the equity we built up in our house) that I was ok financially — turned out that by living frugally, I could live off the income from investing my assets. Most importantly, I didn’t have to pay alimony, and my ex-wife assumed responsibility for the kid’s college expenses (something that had always been promised by her father while he was still alive, so we had never “saved for college for the kids”).
I discovered the joys of freedom! I was free of the constant stresses of a difficult marriage. Economically free to pursue any career directions I wished. And free to seek out new relationships.
I started dating even in the Fall of 2002, as I was getting re-settled and finalizing the divorce. At first it was difficult to re-accustom to the dating world, but I ended up trying on-line dating (JDate), and met quite a number of very interesting women, some of whom are still friends. No, I was not a JDate “success story”, but I ended up in a wonderful relationship with someone I had known even before the divorce. But that was a bit later (2006).
In Summer 2003, I decided to have a “make-up” celebration for my 51st birthday (half-century + 1). July 4, 2003 was a very special Independence Day! I was much happier by this point, and invited a number of my friends and former classmates and colleagues to celebrate with me. We had lots of food, and had an open musical “jam session” in our back yard. I had written a number of songs during this period (song-writing and music helped me in dealing with the emotional roller-coaster of 2002). One of the songs I wrote and shared at the birthday bash was “Losin’ the Blues”. I was always a blues fan, but I was feeling so happy those days that I felt it was more difficult to play and write blues songs. I plan to share that song and others on my web site, but I’m not quite there yet, so look for it in a later post on “Musical Notes”.
My part-time teaching at ESG/MIT ended in 2004. After that, aside from the occasional consulting gigs, I devoted myself to working on my game and puzzle interests, as well as trying to get back into basic AI research. While there are many advantages to working at home, I missed having colleagues and co-workers to interact with (and learn from!). I started seeking out collaborators, but it was hard to find them — academics were wary of “working with someone who technically was un-employed”.
In 2008, I went to the G4G8 conference, the 8th Gathering for (Martin) Gardner. I neglected to mention in my earlier posts how deeply I was influenced in high school by Martin Gardner’s famous Mathematical Games column published in Scientific American. I was so glad our high school library subscribed to Scientific American, and I, like many other budding mathematicians and puzzle lovers, voraciously read Martin Gardner’s column every month! The G4G8 was the first “Gathering for Gardner” that I attended. It was an expensive trip for me to go to Atlanta for nearly a week, but I’m so glad I did. It was great to see old math and puzzle friends, and to also find new ones! These gatherings bring together people interested in the areas of Recreational Mathematics, Puzzles, and Magic (all interests of Martin Gardner’s). Thank you, Martin, for fanning the flames of my puzzle passion, and introducing me to so many fascinating mathematical topics! I’m sorry I haven’t been able to meet you in person and thank you directly for all your inspiration. At G4G8 I presented a short talk on my Target Tiling video game inspired by Tetris. Another major highlight of G4G8, for me, was meeting an editor from Sterling Publishing, who encouraged me to submit a proposal for a puzzle book based on my Round Trip puzzles.
Becoming a puzzle book author
I submitted a proposal, which was eventually accepted, so I set to work producing several hundred Round Trip puzzles, for the book. Although I had a computer program that generated these puzzles, I still needed to hand-solve every one to rate it for difficulty. There were also some nitty-gritty technical issues surrounding creating images for the puzzles — turned out that screen-grabs were not of sufficiently high-quality resolution (I had modified my program to automatically display and do an image capture of puzzles). So I turned to postscript, and learned how to do rudimentary postscript programming – I was totally surprised to discover that (.ps) postscript files were simply text files with postscript commands in them and that postscript was simply another programming language. I learned enough postscript to format .ps files of my Round Trip puzzles, and then wrote a program to automatically generate all the .ps images in a batch! I was fortunate that my editor (or one of the publisher’s departments) was willing to do the layout of the images – that saved me a lot of work. I did write a 20-page introduction which you can find on my web-site just under the Round Trip Puzzles book icon. Turned out the publisher only wanted a 4-page intro, so I put the full (what I call “expanded”) intro on my web page. After nearly 3 years, my book Round Trip Puzzles finally appeared in January 2011. I personally think these Round Trip puzzles have the potential to be the next Sudoku and KenKen puzzle success phenomenon — and they fill a niche of logical-spatial-geometric puzzles, which I personally (being a spatial-visual thinker) relate to. I have tried to publish a column (for free!) in various newspapers, but with very limited success thus far. With the right promotion, I truly believe these puzzles could take off! I should mention that Scott Kim’s “Brainteasers and Mind Benders” Page-a-Day calendar typically includes 12 or 13 of my Round Trip puzzles, and in some years the variant One-Way-Trip puzzles.
Becoming an iPhone game developer
When my book appeared, I mentioned to my son, Aaron, that it might be cool and fun (as well as good business promotion for the book and the puzzles) to make an iphone app based on my Round Trip Puzzles. Aaron liked that idea, and said he’d be interested in learning how to program for iphone. I originally was hoping to learn from an iPhone app development mini-course through MIT’s IAP (January intersession), since such a course had been offered through IAP in 2010. Sadly, it wasn’t offered in 2011, but Aaron said we could learn on our own — he is an amazing programmer (and I consider myself to be a rather accomplished programmer), and in addition he has unbounded confidence (which I lack). So he relocated to Boston (from San Francisco) for the month of January and we started our intensive self-study in Objective C and iPhone programming. It took us a good month just to learn how to do basic graphics display – it really shouldn’t be that hard, but it was! We both signed up as Apple developers to get the iOS programming and development tools. By April, we had a working rough draft of our app, and published it on the iTunes store! The graphics and interface were all pretty rough, but the game was pretty solid and playable (and, I think, fun!), not to mention free! We initially got a rather negative review based on the low production quality, despite our having announced it very clearly as a rough draft with the intention of getting user feedback. There was a 2nd review that was much more encouraging – it pointed out that the app was only a “rough draft” and that the puzzles and playability were quite good!
We decided to name our app Monorail. By April we were ready to launch our 1.0 official first release, including 50 free puzzles, and 350 more puzzles available through In-App-Purchase. With the help of some TapJoy promotion, we had 500,000+ downloads during July, and reached the top 10 in educational puzzles (briefly #1 in a few foreign stores) in many international iTunes stores. Actual paid sales were a small fraction (maybe 1%) of the free downloads. Downloads (and sales) slowly tapered off as the promotion ended, but by January 2012, we passed the 1,000,000 (free) downloads milestone. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with many reporting that “Monorail is addictive”.
I truly enjoyed collaborating with Aaron. I know myself well enough to realize that I would never (and I never say “never” lol) have been able to create Monorail on my own. It was another important lesson in the power (and enjoyment) of collaboration! I really loved working with Aaron on this project, and wished our collaboration could have continued, but he decided to return to his ambitions of creating new startups (he had already created one startup, called AppJet, and sold it to Google several years earlier).
I was fortunate to find some new collaborators who helped me update Monorail . In November 2011, we released a version that included ads in the free version, and 2 additional puzzle packs for In-App-Purchase (total of 880 puzzles in all). Also made some improvements to the graphics and interface. Unfortunately, the updated Monorail did not generate enough revenue to keep them involved, so there has not been an update in well over a year.
Experiencing a “Glennaissance”?
Over the last few years, I feel I’ve been entering a period of my life where I’m (once again) becoming more productive, happy, and energized with my various creative and “work” endeavors. I quote “work” since so much of it is truly great fun. I’m trying to follow Steve Job’s mantra of “Do what you love!” and have been fortunate of late to be able to do that. The things I love are: puzzles, programming, math, and music. I’ve been doing a good bit of each, lately. I even started performing (keyboards and singing) again at local Open Mics this last year. I had written a lot of songs over the years, many of them in the period following my divorce — which was a period of intense emotions (both negative and positive), and it’s been fun to share those in small supportive venues!
My search for collaborators, though on-going, has led to a number of fruitful joint-endeavors. I loved the iphone puzzle app Relix, which I think is wonderfully challenging, so I was very excited to be able to work with the developer in producing a sequel Relix 2 (which I like even better). I contributed a pack of really hard puzzles for Relix 2, called the Iba Insanity Pack. I would love to hear from anyone who has solved , or even attempted(!), any of those puzzles. They are not for beginners (fair warning!).
More recently, I’ve been enjoying working (as a level-designer) on a new iPhone puzzle app that should appear sometime this Fall. I’m also working with one of my brother’s former students on an Android version of my Target Tiling (Tetris-inspired) game. It would be great if some of these ventures turned out to be financially rewarding, but even if not, I’ll be very happy to share some of my puzzle ideas with a broader audience.
I still hope to get back to AI research, but to make significant progress, I know that I need collaborators to work with. I’ll be blogging about my AI ideas in future posts, so stay tuned, and if any of the ideas interest you, please get in touch.
Made it through a first-pass overview of my life. Seems it mostly focused on career, with other elements tossed in. There are lots of life arcs I’d like to review and share in more detail, including my spiritual journey, more on parenting, more on my childhood / family environment, and the books that I’ve found particularly influential over my lifetime. I also plan to elaborate on my philosophical explorations and thinking, my ideas on AI research, programming environments (programming should be much easier!), puzzle explorations, my musical creations, and may even venture into my personal political thinking and viewpoints. Lots to write about — I should be kept busy for a long time!