Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Illinois Property Taxes & Schools

I often bemoan the property tax situation here in Illinois. Sometimes when I mention it one of my friends reminds me that our schools are really good here and you get what you pay for. (Approximately 70% of our property tax goes to the school district.) I've always acknowledged he had a point.

But no more.

I ran across the US News & World Report ranking of US High Schools. They rank the schools on multiple factors, but two of the most important are graduation rate and what they call their college readiness score. That is based on how many students attend AP and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes, with a factor of 3 for each student who not only took the class, but passed it. Standardized test scores are also included in their methodology.  Not a single one of the schools in our area (or any of the Chicago suburbs – a couple of Chicago city schools were on the list) was in the top 120! You would think, with the second highest property taxes in the nation (only behind New Jersey, which had 8 high schools in the top 120!) at least one of our schools would be in the top 120. Ordered by state, Illinois’ high schools as a group ranked 26th in the nation. Interestingly, Illinois comes in 13th in the nation in per pupil spending.

Obviously we’re not getting our money’s worth. We pay more tax than all but one, but score right in the middle of the pack when it comes to school performance. This is not good. This has to be fixed. We need to pay less property tax to retain and attract people to Illinois and still our schools have to do better – either with less money, or they have to be funded a different way, not via the property tax.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Winter Wonderland Picture

We got a little snow last night. Normally by this time of year I'd be badmouthing the snow, but we've had a relatively mild winter so I still think it's pretty. But, it would not break my heart to know this is the final snow event this season. 😀


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

February 12, 2020: Observations on Writing & Publishing

What Happened to Ebooks?

This blogger maintains that Gen Z prefers paper because they spend so much time on screens. He offers no facts to substantiate this, and I doubt he's right.

But he is right about this: Ebook pricing is way out of kilter to it’s cost, relative to printed books. The big publishers are still desperate to protect their investment in printing presses and binding equipment, not to mention their distribution network. If ebooks were priced correctly, based on their cost of creation and distribution, printed books would decline in popularity quite rapidly.

Read the entire article: https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/what-happened-to-the-ebook-revolution/amp

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A Tool Worth Looking At

Some of you may use Canva for book covers or other digital art. This site is similar to Canva, but specializes in creating advertisements for your work. Check it out: https://bookbrush.com/.

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More Scammers Preying on Writers

My favorite website for uncovering scams to self-published authors, Writer’s Beware, recently wrote about fake agents. I’ve talked about hybrid publishing scams, marketing-your-book scams, and now – fake agents. The bottom line: publishers are supposed to pay you and agents should only get money when they sell your work. Stop falling for false promises regarding marketing too!

It's worth reading the entire article because he names names!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Observations About Writing

Many of the writing and publishing blogs I follow had predictions for 2020. Here are a few that I found interesting:

  • The bifurcated book market will continue: like mass-markets immediately post-WWII. There is a whole digital-first publishing world, spawned by self-publishers, that offers (mostly) genre fiction at prices commercial publishers can’t match: $4.99 and under. The net result has been that commercial publishers are finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to compete in the genre fiction market of customers who measure their reading in books-consumed-per-week. This has happened before. Mass-market paperbacks right after World War II became a separate publishing system from “trade” until the two started to blend in the mid-1960s. What brought that prior era to an end was pressure on both sides of the equation. The mass-market distribution system got clogged, returns rose, and it became inefficient, unwieldly, and expensive. And those publishers wanted to be sold in bookstores as well. These effects would not appear to apply to today’s circumstances, so it would seem that the cheap-ebooks market and the commercial market will remain separate for the foreseeable future. (https://www.idealog.com/blog/7-ways-book-publishing-will-change-over-the-next-few-years/)
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Lastly, I read a good book recently about photography: 


The Visual Toolbox: 60 Lessons for Stronger Photographs by David duChemin

On page 234, he wrote:

“Simplify - Antoine De Saint-Exupery said, ‘A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ The same applies beautifully to the photograph. Elegance is about simplicity, about the removal of everything unnecessary to the telling of the story or the expression of emotion. Pulling everything extraneous from the frame, or forbidding it to go there in the first place, allows the necessary elements to play their strongest.”

I think this applies to writing also. Brevity is goodness. Too many writers go on and on, as perhaps this post does. 😀




Monday, December 16, 2019

Batavia Lyceum Event: November 25, 2019



If you have never had an opportunity to attend a Batavia Lyceum event and wondered what all the fuss was about, here's your chance. This video is just a small snippet of what the event is like. Of course, the topic changes every month. You'll hear some noises in the background: that's food and drink being served by the great staff at Bar Evolution!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

December 15th: Bill of Rights Day

Today is Bill of Rights day. It's a pity there are no local Bill of Rights day celebrations. My little town chooses to celebrate Flag Day and the somewhat creepy Loyalty Day. In my humble opinion (which no one cares about) the Bill of Rights is far more important to us than the flag or some vague concept of loyalty.

My favorite amendment happens to be one we don't hear much about: the Ninth Amendment.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
This  amendment shows the genius of James Madison. If I may be so bold to paraphrase it says: "Just because it's not in here [the Constitution] doesn't mean it's not your right." People mention "privacy" isn't explicitly mentioned as a right in the Constitution. Technically correct. But, Madison knew that rights are not granted by government - rights are inalienable, granted to us by a power higher than government.

He was also smart enough to know he couldn't know everything (if only tRump was that self-aware). He knew he could not foresee all developments in the future. It's not a big stretch to think he would be shocked at the government's and corporations' ability to gather data on citizens in our day.

Read the Bill of Rights every December 15th. Put it on your calendar. Don't take them for granted. Our government has been chipping away at them for decades (the Patriot Act - what an Orwellian name). Stay alert. Do something.

Graphic courtesy of the Bill of Rights Institute (https://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/)

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why I Like Aurora's Venue for Concerts

The Venue, in Aurora (21 S. Broadway Ave. [US Rte 25], Aurora, IL 60505) is a great place to attend a concert. Why? 5 reasons (OK, maybe 4 - you'll see):


1. It's a cool space. They have comfortable chairs, no matter the ticket price. If you upgrade for the better seats you get a table for your drinks and snacks.

2. Did I mention drinks?



3. It's a great setup for the musicians. A nice stage, high quality sound system and lighting. It all makes for a great show. 

4. Did I mention drinks? I know I have a problem. But, another plus is they have ample parking. That's good - right?

5. They have cool merchandise. The musicians usually have CDs and other stuff for sale. The Venue has cool t-shirts and, wait for it... harmonicas! Really, where else can you get harmonicas in cool colors for only $5? (Prices subject to change, don't yell at me if they're no longer $5 by the time you read this.)



Featuring mostly Chicago area talent, the Venue in Aurora is a great place for a night out. There's good restaurants nearby, Hollywood Casino, all within walking distance. Make a night of it!




Saturday, December 7, 2019

Hammered Dulcimer Christmas Carol



The Fox Valley Music Foundation started filming a documentary about the Fox Valley's Bill Robinson. Bill builds and plays the hammered dulcimer. Bill, joined by Katie Moritz and Greg Ferguson, played a short concert so we could hear the dulcimers in action. One of the tunes was Joy to the World, which seemed appropriate given the season. We hope to have the documentary done sometime after the holidays.

Enjoy.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Dreary Day in Geneva, IL


Metra at Geneva station eastbound to Chicago

Metra at Geneva station eastbound to Chicago

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

5 Reasons I Like the Batavia Lyceum



Rosemary Fuerer in action!
Last night I attended the latest rendition of the Batavia Lyceum. Rosemary Feurer, a history professor from Northern Illinois University presented: A Brief History of Socialism in the United States. I had a great time and I wanted to tell everyone why I like this event.








  • Interesting Topics : It’s not always politics, but it is always illuminating. Some of the topics:
    • Nov 19, 2018 (note: already done!) – Reform, Innovation & Defense of America's Most Dangerous Game – all about the history of football safety, from way back when the league started to now!
    • Coming up on May 18, 2020 – Julie Bayer – Opera: The queen of the night tells untold tales – An evening with Julie Bayer – a welcome break from election year politics!
  • Knowledgeable Speakers: This month we had a professor of history from NIU. Last month it was a political science professor explaining the polling statistics regarding the upcoming primaries and election. The football safety presentation was from a history teacher / defensive coordinator from Batavia High School. These people know what they're talking about!
  • No Hecklers: The crowd is polite during the presentation; they allow the speaker to present without rude interruptions. If you think everyone agrees with the presenter, think otherwise.
  • Civilized Discussion: After the presentation, usually around 45 minutes, there is Q&A / Discussion time. It can get quite spirited. Do I believe in socialism? No! And I let my views be known, as did others who disagreed with me. No one got personal, or unpleasant. There is no name calling and it’s good to talk about issues in a civilized manner. (I may have raised my voice a little trying to convince someone that Norway is not a socialist country, so perhaps “civilized manner” is overstating the case.)
  • Comfortable Bar; Great Drinks: The location is wonderful. The room is comfortable; the chairs will not cause pain for a couple hour event. The bartenders make a great Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or pour a nice beer or wine. The prices will not bankrupt you. Food is available. It’s a great location for an event like this.

Next Month: Dec 30, 2019 – Matt Holm – Thick Description From Low-down Gentlemen: Chicago Urban Blues and the Civil Rights Movement

Save the date now. Get it on your calendar.