He said, “I want to write a book…”

In one of the groups I read on Facebook, a person stated that they wanted to write a book and were looking for advice. In response, a few people commented that they would like to coach him or be a reviewer. My response was a little different and a little more detailed, even though quickly written. I thought I’d share what I wrote here:

My Facebook post:

Having published 20+ editions and having helped publish dozens+ of authors get published, let me ask the first question and most important question…..

Why?

Why do you want to write a book?

The advice that you get differs depending on the answer to this question.

If you are writing to make money, then put the pencil down and step away from the keyboard. If money is your motivating factor, then you would be better off applying your technical skills in another way. This is not to say you can’t make money writing a book – many have, but more have made substantially lower amounts of money than they would have made working at Taco Bell.

If you are writing to share your knowledge on a topics then my advice would be to talk to a publisher such as WROX, APress, etc. They have people that can work with you and they will do the grunt work such as copy-editing, layout, indexing, proofing, distribution, etc. They will, however, want you to write on a topic that they agree with, and they will give you deadlines. If you go this route, people in this group can connect you with Acquisitions editors (the people that sign authors for publishers).

If you are writing simply because you want a book with your name on it, then you can still go the route of a publisher, or you can take on more of the work and self-publish. This can be done fairly easily with online systems such as KDP through Amazon. As has been stated, self-publishing means you take on all of the work.

If you are going to publish on your own, recommended steps to make sure you include are:

  • Get a copy editor. (someone to check grammar, etc.)
  • Get a technical editor (someone to run through what you write and say it works.
  • Index the book if it is a technology book
  • Make sure you honor copyright and IP.
  • Set a deadline for getting things done.
  • Don’t try to be perfect with the writing (code does need to be correct). Many authors get stuck in perpetual revisions and never complete a book.

This is a quick answer.

Will the Fishers Nickel Plate Trail Cost $108 Million?

$108 million is a lot of money, especially for roughly four and a half miles of asphalt trail. However, when you start adding underpasses with LED systems, buying land rights, building barriers to block buildings, adding statues and art structures, creating entertainment centers for teens, create access from side roads, build risen platforms for viewing planes or “getting engaged”, or do a variety of other ideas that have been suggested for the trail, then the costs start adding up.

The original cost of the trail within Fishers was $4.4 plus some additional costs for road crossings. A couple hundred thousand was also planned for track removal. This is the number that as of today is still posted on the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs.

Recently, the city released a study indicating the incremental cost of doing both a trail and tracks. Being that the tracks already exist, it is really should be a study about showing the incremental cost of adding a trial while keeping the tracks! While the city had time and money to pull together this comprehensive report, they have been unable up to this point to provide a similar plan to what the trail along is going to cost. Being that they have already approved a tax increase for the trail, it is worth wondering why a similar plan had not already been done for the trail alone.

Being that the plan for the trail alone has not been made public, and being that no such plan can be provided when requested, we are left speculating the cost on our own. It is clear based on the fact that the city has already indicated that the initial cost of the first of three phases will be over $10 million, that the $4.4 million online is bogus, even though the FAQs still list it.

If you look at the Nickel Plate master plan, you’ll see that the original estimate was complete fantasy. While the plan doesn’t necessarily state that the items it contains will ever be constructed, the fact that they are included implies they will be. In addition to what is in the plan, there are also other costs that have been overlooked, such as adding sidewalks from the side roads at 106th and at 131st to get to the trail. With creeks and other obstacles, these side sidewalks will come with high price tags as well.

Taking a look at the plans, here are a few high ticket items that will skyrocket the price:

  • At 96th Street, a raised sidewalk leading to a raised platform and bridge over 96th Street, which is a major intersection requiring serious bridge work.
  • The plan shows a visitor center as a connector to the trail as well. This doesn’t exist, so while it isn’t part of the trail, it will be an addition multi-million dollar cost to Fishers and the tax payers.
  • The road crossing at Hague near 96th Street is a relatively high traffic road, a standard crosswalk will be done instead of going over or under. However, the plan shows a crosswalk with “container gateways,” seating and place making, and LED lighting built into the ground for lighting. This along with the landscaping will create additional costs.
  • Trail nodes, shelters, pull off zones, and other special elements will be additional costs that go way above the asphalt.
  • The addition of restrooms, water for dogs, hang out areas, and features such as swings are also presented in the plan.
  • Just South of 106th is an Art Park by the Scale-Up Plaza and additional small park listing. This is all surrounded by the new Hub and Spoke and other buildings, so from the plan, these items seems less like a community part and more like a feature of the businesses in that area.
  • The initial $10 million might already account for the costs of the play ground and sensory garden between 106th and 116th as well as the trail plaza, underpass, underpass ramp, and trail commons area in the downtown area. One thing that is clear based on the plan is that the downtown section will be shadowed by buildings on both sides including at least 3 parking garages. The Cove, the LED lighting, the tiered seating, the cultural commons, and the sculptures and innovation coves will all need to be paid for.
  • In the Tech area of Fishers, there are plans shown for a boardwalk, outdoor working pavilions, hammocks (over water), umbrella power stations, a meet-up environment with tables and chairs, and a ‘beach’ area.
  • Further north, there are proposed recreation courts and a teen center. This teen hangout could include a multi-level building including game courts as well as an obstacle course.
  • An education center that includes a tree house and art wall.
  • nature centers that provide overlooks (although I’m not sure to what)
  • Parking lots along the trail.
  • Possible power and data WiFi hubs as well as lighting and power.
  • And so much more…

When you add all of these items together along with the base cost of the tail, the number starts growing astronomically. The city has not committed to doing everything in the master plan; however, they did present the plan. As such, without serious disclaimers, an expectation is being set. Will it cost $108 million? I was told it by a city council member that it wouldn’t come close to $30 million. He implied it would be much less, but in seeing a plan without numbers, I’m wondering if he really meant it was going to go way over that amount!

My number of $108 million is pulled out of the air; however, it is more likely at this point than the published number from the city, which was the $4.4 million. At $108 million, that is about $1,100 per person or roughly $4,500 for a family of four. That’s a lot higher than the $170 cost originally implied for a family of four.

While grants could pay for some of this, that is unknown at this time. Without a budget and with the city showing they are willing to raise taxes to get what they want, it seems like the checkbook is open and a blank check has been signed.

You and I, the residents of Fishers, will be left to pay the tab when it comes due, starting with the increase in our upcoming property taxes. In reviewing my property taxes, it seems the only area where the rates increased were with the city. Unless something changes, I expect that increasing city taxes will become a trend.

Parting comment…
I would love to have this trail and all it offers. However, like all things I pay for, I want to know the cost up-front so I can compare it to other opportunities, such as adding sidewalks to some of our major streets, adding more SROs to our schools, fixing pot holes, or adding parks to other parts of the city. I’ve said it before, raising taxes and starting a project this big without having a budget or spending cap is fiscally irresponsible.

Is $108 million the estimated cost for the trial? The number is pulled out of the air, so it is highly doubtful. Having said that, it is much more likely to be $108 million than the number that has been posted in the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs.

The Riches of Self-Publishing…

This past year or so, I have published three books for other people and am working on additional books for myself. These are done through self-publishing, print-on-demand efforts. My intent is to continue to work not only on my own books, but with others to get their books published and available on Amazon. The three books published are:

Each of these books are unique in their own ways, and each was published because the author wanted a printed book that they could use when they are presenting or otherwise teaching. None of these were written with the sole purpose of getting rich, which is good when you consider statistics.

Last year I attended a presentation at a local conference on publishing. There were a few enlightening numbers that were shared in this presentation that help shine a light on the likelihood of getting rich by self publishing.

One of the first things to consider when self-publishing is the fact that you’re writing one book that will be made available with the millions that are already being sold. It was state that an average Barnes & Nobles stocks can carry about 200,000 titles. On Amazon, the number of unique books is closer to 3.4 million. If you write a book and expect to sell copies on Amazon, then you will also need a plan to help your book stand out from the (literally) millions of others.

For the average person who self-publishes a single book, the expectation of revenue from Amazon should be to earn $0. Yes, that’s nothing, nada, zip, zilch, not a dime. In fact, statistics show that about 88% of first time, one book “publishers” don’t earn anything on Amazon. Of those that make money, 10% make between $1 and $5,000US. That leaves only 2% to make more than $5,000 selling a book on Amazon. The thing that always amazes me on statistics like this is the number of people that don’t pay the retail price to buy a single copy of their book on Amazon. While they can get a discounted author copy, I would have expected more to buy a copy if for no other reason than to say they sold a copy!

If you work with a small press in publishing on Amazon, the numbers change. In this case, only 18% of books published by a small press don’t make any money. The next 67% make between $1 and $5,000US. Only 1% make more than $100,000.

Of course, traditional publishers fair better in sales, although they are by no means making huge numbers of authors rich either. 7% of traditional published books fail to sell. 40% fall into the $1 to $5,000 range and 9% make over $100,000. The writers that fair the best are those that use a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing. These also tend to be the people with more of a following, and thus an increased chance for exposure and to sell books. It is roughly 3% of the hybrid authors that don’t make anything with 27% earning between $1 and $5,000.

The last number I’ll share is that the average amount of money made in 2015 by self-publishing authors was reported to be $289. That equates to less than $6 a week, which isn’t quite a livable wage.

What is the take-away? If you are going to self-publish, you should not expect to get rich selling copies on Amazon. Rather you should write for other reasons. This is not to say you can’t make money self-publishing. You can; however, you’ll need to do more than simply toss it onto Amazon. Specifically, you’ll need to market your book. That, however, is a different story…

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Ten “Hmmm…” Moments from the HSE School Board Meeting on Feb 13

The February 13th, 2019 Hamilton Southeastern School Board meeting was one of the longer meetings. This meeting had a number of topics covered including the video retention policy, an update to the non-discriminatory policy, approval of a bond, approval of a contract, and then updates by the superintendent and board members. In this short blog post, I’m going to cherry pick ten items from the meeting that were interesting or might make you say “hmmm…..”.

Hmmm…. 1: The Never Ending Video Retention Discussion

The topic of streaming and retaining videos is one that I believe to be a no-brainer. Other districts retain videos of the board meetings and don’t indicate any date for them to go away. Other organizations do the same. As such, it is mind boggling that the topic was brought up again and nearly 30 minutes spent bantering it around before a vote was taken. At one point Mr. Boyer even commented that there were more important things for the board to be talking about than this, yet he continued to talk about this instead of calling for a vote! Look for this to be reviewed and hopefully finalized in next month’s meeting!

Hmmmm…. 2: Sexual Harassment at Fishers High School

Wow! A couple of community members, including to FHS students, spoke on alleged sexual harassment at Fishers High School and the idea that a person was being allowed to participate in a sport they were removed from as a result.This discussion by itself is enough to make you go “hmmm….’. It left many questions. You can watch the following video starting after about minute 12:00 to hear the comments. With the exception of Mr. Boyer, the board did not comment on this topic.

Hmmm…. 3: “I won’t be reporting these kinds of things in the future”

It is an unusual thing for a student to present to the school board in the main part of the meeting. As such, the two FHS students presenting (in my previous “Hmmm) deserves its own call out. The bigger “hmmm”, however, is hearing a Fishers High School Student stating that as a result of the school district’s actions they don’t feel comfortable reporting future issue such as the one discussed. This is the exact opposite of the environment the school district has been trying to create. Hmmmm….

Hmmm…. 4: “That was in our 3 year plan anyway.”

Most people likely missed the subtle comment made by Mr. Harrison, one of the technology people for the district. The board was presented with a contract that included a charge of over $10,000 for electronic equipment to add close captioning in real-time to the video streaming. It is odd that time was spent for the school board to discuss this topic because Mr. Harrison made the comment that it was in his 3 year plan to buy the hardware anyway.  Hmmmm…..

Hmmm….5: On the agenda, off the agenda

On the draft agenda from the January 30th meeting, there was an item (5.01) for Ms. Chavez to report on a policy. Ms. Chavez prepared a 15 minute report to present to the school board on diversity. In the agenda for the February 13th meeting, this was dropped for a standard item on policies and Ms. Chavez was shifted to speak as a community contributor, which is restricted to just 3 minutes. I’m not privy to the details of what was promised by the board, but do see the draft agenda on the January 30th Board Docs and the final agenda for February 13th. Ms. Chavez did her presentation in 3 minutes, which was impressive. Wondering what additional information she could have presented will may you go “hmmmm….”.

Hmmm….6: High School Choice

Just when you think it is done, it’s not. While time is running out. the administration opened up a survey to try to determine the impact of adding transportation. Adding shuttle buses between the two high schools is being considered, which would allow families that can’t afford to provide their own transportation to be able to still make a choice on which High School they want their child to attend. It seems high school choice is not yet completely nailed down…hmmm….

Hmmm…7: A new school, but no net new teachers

Southeastern Elementary will be opening next year. With a new school, you’d expect that the district would see an increase in the number of overall classrooms and thus an increase in the number of teachers. In addition to 26 new positions at Southeastern Elementary, there is also a need for teachers at other schools. Specifically,  Cumberland Road would need to gain 4 teachers, Sand Creek Elementary needs to gain 1, and Riverside Intermediate needs to gain 5 teacher. A total 0f 36 positions need to be filled in the lower grade levels.

A flow chart was created (shown below) to make sure that the hiring for these positions is equitable across the schools. Teachers in the district had until February 25th to apply for these Kindergarten through sixth grade positions. After that, the positions will be opened for consideration outside of the current teaching staff. this expanded opening is expected to happen by Spring Break. At the meeting, it was stated that there was going to be a lot of movement of teachers across the district.

Mr. Boyer asked the question of how many positions the district was going to lose at existing schools to make up for the new school. The response was that the 36 open positions, replace 36 existing positions. No new positions are being created even though a new school is being filled. That should make you go hmmm….!

Hmmm…8: Redistricting in a couple of years

Yes, you heard right. There could be another redistricting within a couple of years. This topic was raised when issues around High School Choice were raised and the need to consider different high school lines. If Durbin Elementary is updated or rebuilt, then it could take on a couple hundred additional students. This would cause a small shift in the redistricting that just occurred to take advantage of the space. The shift in the elementary schools would then roll out and impact the other schools that were being fed into. Changes to Durbin Elementary could happen within just a couple of years. Dr. Bourff seems to be pushing for this change sooner rather than later.

Hmmm….9: Posting recent videos…Maybe Not?

Previously it had been indicated that meetings in the new board room were being recorded and could be made available. At this meeting, it was stated that the board meetings that were being recorded before the streaming starts, might not be posted to the public. It was indicated that there would be a cost associated to getting the videos posted due to the need to add closed captioning and processing them to fit within the BoardDocs agenda structure. The technology group was going to need to see what the cost and effort is going to be. This would mean that some of the contentious meetings such as this one and the mid-November meeting would never go live. Hmmm….how convenient.

Hmmm…10: “In the public, not with the public”

It was stated by the board that the meetings are in the public, not with the public. This is important for those attending school board meetings to understand because it means that while you might have information that could help the board in the discussions they are having, you can’t share that information. It also means that if you want to speak, you have to request time in advance and present without the expectation of getting feedback. This means you can present questions, but you cannot expect answers. As many people saw in the February 13th meeting, the board can engage with members of the public if they want. They don’t, however, have to engage with everyone that takes the time to present.

In Conclusion

The February 13 HSE School Board meeting was definitely interesting. My notes are not perfect, but they give you an idea of just some of the many topics that were covered. Not all school board meetings are as exciting as this one, but with everything happening in the district, I expect there will be a few more exciting meetings in the coming months.

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Trust Nothing You Hear or See

Technology is to the point where you should not believe anything you hear or see online. Let me be more specific. I could tell you that the following three people are a family. I could tell you this is a picture of a man, woman, and their child. You might believe this, but the reality is, they are not a family

Actually, the reality of the situation goes beyond that. The child is not their child. In fact, that child does not exist. Nor does the man or woman. These picture are not real people. The pictures are all fake. While the pictures look very real, they are not. In fact, these pictures were created by an Artificial Intelligence program.

Similarly, I was recently told that it only takes about 10 minutes of audio from a person to be able to imitate their voice using AI. So with 10 minutes of someone’s voice, I can have a model of their voice that I could then apply to an AI generated image. In essence, I could have a non-existent person that could call your phone and leave you a message, or that could message you with an account that includes a full profile including a picture.

I could actually go one step further….

If I captured a bit of a person’s voice and combined it with bot technology, I could make an interactive program that could talk and respond using an existing person’s voice. The bot technology could be programmed so that the person could respond without any intervention from the developer.

I could record you or anyone else and then use your voice to say anything I want. The technology exists today.

Pictures of Non-Existent People

You can find pictures of non-existent people at https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/. If you go to this page, you’ll be shown a random picture of a person that does not exist. You can refresh the page to see additional pictures.

This web page generates pictures of people based on a style based generator architecture. To learn more about this, you can see the following video on YouTube:

The take-away from all of this is that as you view things on the internet or on television, you need to be extra diligent to make sure it is real. In a world of advancing technology, artificial intelligence, and programmed bots, it is getting very easy for anyone to generate fake personas.

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Thanks go to my Friday Night Gaming Group for the discussion that led me to look at this closer!