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Tuesday
Feb212017

Moving from anger to empathy

Last week was not a happy week for the tech department. Our new monster firewall that was to increase our bandwidth from something less than 1 gig to about 10 gig decided after two weeks of performing flawlessly to simply stop working one evening. The crippled Internet access meant that staff and students could not get to resources during the school day and that kids could not use their Chromebooks from home since Internet access through them is authenticated through our content filter that sits inside our firewall.

My valiant techs spent the weekend trying to find and cure the cause of the firewall failure, finally resorting to reinstalling our old firewall in order to re-establish at least some connectivity. All last week, we brought down the network for a few minutes late in the afternoon and again for a couple hours late in the evening working with the firewall company's engineers and programmers to test possible fixes. Each notice to staff and students about the pending outages was accompanied by faint glimmers of hope that this time the fix would take.

It was not until last Friday that we were fully up and running again. I have yet to get a comprehensible explanation for the failure, and more importantly, a plan to keep the failure from recurring. But I am sure I will. If I don't I will be happy to let anyone who asks know the brand of firewall we made the mistake of buying.

Over my 25 years as a tech director, I have had to manage a number systems failures, but none quite as long lasting or far reaching as this one. As technology has moved from a curiosity to a mission-critical tool in schools, the impact of the loss of functionality has grown exponentially. And this latest firewall problem demonstrated that the impact is not only on staff members during school hours but on students 24/7 as well.

But here is what I find remarkable. At the beginning of the week, the emails and phone calls I received were quite rightly critical and often angry. Hey, people couldn't get things done they needed to do. Who could blame them for being unhappy? But by the end of the week, when an announcement was sent out that the last attempt to repair the technology failed and another would be made that afternoon and/or evening, I began to receive email of sympathy and thanks for those in my department who were working so diligently.

I ask myself why the change? I believe it is because my staff has the reputation of good customer service, genuine care for the people it serves, and a true sense of educational mission. Our educational community believed we were doing our damnedest to get things going again.

It's quite nice being on the receiving end of empathy and I am happy my staff's past actions made that the outcome.

And that the firewall is functioning again. At least for the time being.

Sunday
Feb192017

BFTP: So you want to write a book

Unless you actually write a book (or are in a close relationship with a book author who grouches aloud), it's difficult to realize the amount of time that goes into such a project. Hey, slap a few word on the page, ship off the manuscript and just wait for the royalty checks to come rollin' in. Not quite.

Here, as I remember it, is a sort of general timeline I experienced completing my eight commercially published books (six titles and two second editions):

  1. Initial contact with the publisher. For most of my books, I've had the benefit of sitting down at lunch with a publisher representative at a conference. In some cases I initiated the contact; in others the publisher contacted me. Either way there is a verbal "pitch" about the need for the book and why you should be the one to write it. Takes about an hour.
  2. Formal book proposal. If the publisher and you are both interested, the next step is completing a formal, written book proposal. This includes author information, a proposed table of contents, a sample chapter, initial marketing information about target audience, and a survey of books that may be considered competition. Takes about six to eight hours to complete this.
  3. The contract. If the proposal is accepted, a contract is sent out, spelling out deadlines, royalties, etc. Depending on how much negotiating and questioning you might have, devote a few hours to studying this.
  4. Writing the first draft. This is the biggie. The words have to get on the page or screen. A lot of my efforts here are taking pieces of blog posts, columns, articles and other materials I've already written. But even when writing a book "500 words at a time", selecting, organizing, updating and editing for tone, voice and currency takes time - no way around it. For a few books, I've gone on a week-long writing retreat to a small hotel in a warm, but boring place so I could focus on just the first draft without distraction. Plan on 80-160 hours for this stage.
  5. Asking for endorsements. Once the first draft is readable and submitted, the publisher will ask you to solicit those one-line "blurb" endorsements. It's at this stage you have to remember the old saw, "If you can't take advantage of your friends, who can you take advantage of?" I do seriously appreciate those folks who are more than just professional acquaintances who are willing to put their own reputations on the line to offer kind words for the work.  Time spent: six to eight hours.
  6. Obtaining permission for quoted materials. All my books contain quotes, graphs and other materials written by others. If you want to use your own previously published work, you may need to contact the original publisher unless you have a "first rights to publication" agreement. Yes, I was surprised too. Publishers are pretty anal about all this. Figure up to 10 hours.
  7. Major revisions based on first readers. The publisher will send the first draft to a few content experts who will then make major revision suggestions. Once the initial shock subsides, you realize these are pretty good suggestions but will require major changes. Hard to estimate the time spent here, but let's just say another 20 hours.
  8. Revision based on editorial comments. My books sometimes have 3-5 editorial "questions" regarding grammar, vocabulary and such on every damn page. (Of course, this is why most published authors sound smarter than they actually are.) 30 hours to go through the manuscript again, line by line, page by page. If you aren't getting sick of the text by now, you have a stronger stomach than I do.
  9. Follow-up editorial questions. Whew, all the questions answered. Not quite. At least a dozen or more will need clarification. Five hours.
  10. Layout questions. This is your first chance to see what the published pages will look like and to make sure headings, bullet points, numbered lists, graphics, and call-outs make sense. This is another time suck. Figure 20 hours to add your comments.
  11. Review of final layout. Very, very last chance to see if the layout artists actually understood your comments and made the right changes to the final pages. Five hours and severe nausea.
  12. Sending complimentary copies to those who helped and to your mother. While authors get a few complimentary copies, I always order 20 so additional copies to send to friends and colleagues. I make sure my mom and my boss get a copy. Autographing, stuffing, and mailing take about three hours.

Figure about 230-250 hours of actual time-on-task* and 18 months between the time of conception and birth of a book. I have also self-published a book (Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part) using a vanity press. They suggested using a free-lance professional editor and I took their advice and am glad I did. Just as a doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, a writer who edits his own work is an idiot. I forget to run spelli-check on my blog posts half the time.

A few other things to remember for would-be authors. Most royalties are pegged at 15% of the price the book is actually sold for. Despite having nothing to say about it, you will be blamed for the book's price tag. Don't expect many visitors at conference book signings (at least compared to children's book authors.) Paparazzi ought not to be a big problem.

But - and this is important -  if you have a story to tell, if you have experiences to share or lessons to teach, if you have a message to spread, if you are on a mission to change the world for the better, hell, even if you are motivated by somebody saying you can't do it - write your book.

* You can easily double this amount of time if you have children living with you.

Original post Dec 29, 2011

Thursday
Feb162017

The relationship between tools and creativity


In Life Beyond G Suite, my friend David Jakes asks:

If you believe that the use of G Suite has made you, your students, or your school more innovative, that's good.  My question:  how long will G Suite continue to be something that inspires innovative thought and practice?

My guess:  Not forever.  G Suite will have a shelf life.  Everything does.  Of course, it will continue to grow and improve - but will that be enough for you and your kids?  More importantly, will it become more interesting for you and for your students and will it help kids learn differently?  Will G Suite still be a catalyst for innovative practice in a year? Two years?  Five years? How long before G Suite becomes the next interactive whiteboard?  It's available, it's useful, but...

I am not terribly sure whether any technology impacts one's creative or innovative capacities. Am I as a writer more or less creative using GSuite's Docs than I was in 1981 when I was using AppleWriter?  Or while using Word or AppleWorks or typing in the text editor of my blog?

Would Jakes argument require a new type of paint brush in order for da Vinci to be creative? Or providing a new kind of camera for Annie Leibovitz to take imaginative portrait?

It is not the tool, but the mind behind it, that makes us innovative - in education and in life.

The greater the transparency, the less one needs to think about how to operate a tool, the better. If I have a concern about the development of G Suite it is not about what new features it may add, but whether the new features will turn a simple tool into one so complex that it actually interferes with the creative process.