Fixed Price? Don’t get Stung

Chances are , you get get paid on a ‘Time and Materials’ basis – either as an employee or a consultant. Chances are, you’ve also thought that some extra work , perhaps at a fixed price, would be a nice sideline. Before you dive in, remember the following 5 key points.

  1. Write a Project Outline. Say exactly what will (and just as importantly) won’t be carried out as part of the project. This can take a lot of time to put together, but is essential to avoid trouble later. Even better get the client to pay you to write this, as it’s vital for them as well.
  2. Client dependencies. Do you depend on the client to get things done? If so, specify exactly what the must provide and when. Can’t specify exactly when you need (and there are many projects where this is the case)? Then do the work on a time and Materials basis only.
  3. Be visible to end client. The temptation is to go into a dark corner and start coding. The trouble is that you emerge blinking into the daylight at the end to find (i) The client frantic with worry about how the project is going and (ii) that events have happened that you sh. ould have known about. Price in regular time on the client site to keep in touch.
  4. Contingency. A wise man once said (In this case the instructor at the PMBOK course in Chicago): ‘If you can’t carry out the project with 15% time left over , don’t start it. For fixed price projects, make this something like 30% as the client will ask you to do little ‘extras’ and you can’t ask for extra money for every single one.
  5. Almost as important as knowning when to start (see point 1) is knowing when to finish. Document everything and do a final ‘handover’ day (a good idea is to hand over a CD whith all project deliverables on it). If you don’t do this, the project will never end, and you will never get paid.

Notice that all these items are about process , and not technology. Put simply; you can mess up your project just as easily using Java , PHP or .Net . Mess up as an employee or consultant, you get shouted at by the boss. Mess up on a fixed price and you’re into serious pain as you burn through (unpaid) extra time.

Irish Government looking for Podcasters

The Irish Government are looking for Podcasters. More information is on the E-Tenders site (registration may be required). I wonder if any of the poster boys of the Irish Podcasting movement will take up on this?I’ll take back what I said in my earlier (slightly cynical post): Web 2.0 meets the government.E-Tenders Logo

Summary of invitation for bids:

Crossborder Visitor Podcasting Pilot for East Border Region

Abstract:

The BCDEN project has set up a series of thematic working groups in each of the three Crossborder sub regions and has conducted a consultation and needs analysis exercise with each of those groups. The objective of this process was to ascertain, based on the region’s current ICT needs, what pilots would help the participant local authority areas to adapt to, innovate and compete within the Information Society.

Resulting from the aforementioned consultation exercise, the Tourism working group in the East Border Region (EBR) have selected Visitor Podcasting as one of the pilots they want to see implemented.

The aim of this pilot is to explore the use of new media opportunities, namely Podcasting, to reach a wider and more mobile target audience to sell EBR as an exciting and vibrant destination.

The objectives of the pilot will be to:

  • To deliver quality content to tourists through many different channels to increase the reach of communications
  • To promote the use of ICT in tourism within the wider Crossborder economy by using podcasting to attract more visitors to the EBR.
  • To increase the usage of ICT services by tourists
  • To enable cross advertising of other tourist attractions within EBR
  • To promote and facilitate Crossborder tourism

Requirements
ERNACT is now inviting tenders from suitably qualified application providers to successfully deliver this pilot by:

1. Supplying audio, picture and where required video, to enable EBR to run a Crossborder Visitor Podcasting pilot to help them achieve the aim and objectives described in section 3.1
2. Guaranteeing integration with mobile devices.
3. Ensuring involvement in the pilot of at least 1 tourist attraction in each of the eight EBR council areas.
4. Ensuring the crossborder theme is echoed throughout the pilot.
5. Liaising with the necessary project stakeholders in order to ensure smooth delivery of the project.
6. Imparting the necessary training to the relevant staff.
7. Facilitating ongoing support to tourism staff over the lifetime of the pilot
8. Project managing the entire roll out of the pilot

Links to Irish Podcasters:

Update (1) Tom Raftery is now looking for a partner to handle the paperwork. Best bet for Tom is to go for a medium sized IT company that’s already winning Government Business in other areas (as that is something the Government buyers look for). What you bring to the table is the podcasting expertise. I can give you the contact details of one if you’re interested – drop me a line here.

Can I give my TV Licence fee to An tImeall?

The Irish Times has a story that ‘technically’ you need a TV Licence to have a 3G phone. Doesn’t matter if you never watch TV on it , the fact that you could watch TV is what matters.

rte logo

If that’s the way it’s going to be, can I give my TV Licence fee to An tImeall? In the last 18 months Conn Ó Muíneacháin has done more for the Irish language via Podcasting than the entire team at RTE, so I’d like him to get my 150 Euro. If you haven’t yet figured out how to recieve podcasts yet, Flirt FM are rerunning them on a weekly basis.

Not a Web 2.0 Company – Scandanavian Airlines

I don’t think these guys will be joining the Web2Ireland (even Web 2.0) group anytime soon. Basically , their website says ‘We couldn’t be bothered using any of the Ajax toolkits out there, so we’ll get you Mr Customer to do all the work for us’. I wonder what their look-to-book ratio is ( I used to do some work for Aer Lingus – LinkedIn Profile).

Scandanavian Airlines (SAS) Website.

Hint to SAS: Here is how to fix this (pdf), or hire us and we’ll fix it for you.

Or if you prefer , reassure yourself that you’re not the only airline with Ajax problems.
More blogposts on Ajax.

Ask Tom – Oracle is from Mars, Java is from Venus

Sometimes Java people (who do the pretty websites, as well as the ‘ugly bits’) and Oracle people (who hang round in server rooms storing the data) exist on two paralell worlds. The normal conversation goes like this:

Java Person

Where do I get the information from?

Oracle Person

That Table there.

Java Person

Thanks

And that’s it , until the next month or so. And that’s before we get into words such as ADF , Oracle Forms, Fusion , 10g or OAS, all of which appear on a regular basis on JobServe, but to most Java people may as well be an exotic plant just discovered in the Jungles of Indonesia.


The solution? Ask Tom. More Oracle stuff than our caffine-addled little brains can handle.

Tom Kyte (the Tom above that works for Oracle) , also has his own blog for Oracle related stuff.

What comes after Java and .Net? Agents.

Most systems until now have been centralised : A bit like the old Soviet Union, everything is centrally planned. The trouble is real-life isn’t like that – it’s a market economy with no central control. There’s a story about a Russian Diplomat posted to New York in the 60’s. On a visit to a bakery he asked – who decides how many loaves are baked in the city? The answer is no-one – each baker individually decides how many to bake based on how many he sold the day before. Somehow (almost) everybody gets fed.Current OO systems are like the Russian’s view: everything is centrally controlled. Agents are more like New-York (or Dublin) city today – a place full of people (agents) acting in their own self interest. Somehow everything works ok. Economists have a theory that backs this up ; in general a set of people acting in their own self interest gives the best solution at a global level. Or, if you prefer it’s a bit like Ants. Individual Ants are stupid, but together they are clever enough to mark a trail to food and carry it back to the Anthill. It’s called Emergent Behaviour – simple programs combining to give the answers to complex problems.

How does Web 2.0 give a push to Agents? Before, Systems were standalone , and everything planned in advance. With Web 2.0 everything is connected and too complex to manage by one person. We need to look at what works successfully in real life. Just as Market economies overcame the ‘Command and control’ of communism, so Agents will overcome the Command and control of Objects. It may not be perfect, but it will be (slightly) better.

Will agents replace Java and .Net ? A sign that ‘the future is already here’ is that when you read the list ‘what makes an agent’ , you may go ‘but we’re doing that now’. Java and .Net have been around for so long now that it’s easy to forget the Object Orientated Programming (OOP) was once a radical new departure. It’s also easy to forget that languages such as C++, Visual Basic 6 and Powerbuilder were once ‘king of the hill’ and commanded respect from your colleagues when you mentioned your latest project was using them.

So what are agents? Compared to Objects :

  • Agents act in their own self interest , they may decline a request if they think it makes them better off.Objects always respond to a request.
  • Agents have their own thread of control , 1 for each agent. Objects may have their own thread, but most objects don’t. – Agents are pro-active, and seek to improve their lot , according to pre-defined goals.
  • Agents are ‘Coarse Grained’ that is, a system will probably have a few agents will a lot of normal , dependent , objects. It’s similar to the way Enterprise Java Beans are used : not everything is an EJB , and there a still lots of Plain Old java Objects.
  • Objects are designed from the start to work together. Agents can be written by different people , perhaps with widely different goals in mind.

Just like C++ was a procedural language with object orientated ‘bits’ attached, Agents are currently implmented in languages like Java , with agent-y bits attached. Probably the most useful set of bits is Cougaar. Cougaar is an open source project with a live community at Cougaarforge and an Eclipse based IDE. Cougaar gives you the basic infrastructure for creating and managing agents.

Of course , there’s nothing to stop you building your own agents. According to the above definition, most systems that have workflow tieing together entities making decisions according to their own business rules are not far off being agents. Especially when they have a scheduler (i.e. their own ‘thread of control’).

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Another announcement from Google

From the Google Blog:

Google Browser Sync for Firefox is an extension that continuously synchronizes your browser settings – including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords – across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions. For more info, please visit our