Scientific Investigation 2

CONTINUED FROM PART ONE: So it is for scientists practically to apply the findings and interpretations of findings from controlled tests done in isolation, to a practical situation  The empirical world asks of them to ‘release into the wild’ these applied findings which have been found by them when, as findings, they were as if ‘a single and just-fertilised animal cell in a womb’.

What is meant by this is that it is a given that nature abhors a vacuum; yet our scientists’ experiments necessarily were carried out in as if in a ‘sanitised vacuum’ as far as was humanly possible at the current stage in scientific development.  Thereafter any results are then applied practically in a bustling free-for all of n-1 phenomena and among the interchanges and conflicts within this n-1 phenomena, and so are being applied to what we call ‘the world’, or ‘real life’, or ‘actual fact’.

Thus scientists are introducing their ‘single cell embryos’ into a ‘world of adult forms’ so to speak.

Now my model in explaining what I mean in this essay has been simple and maybe simplistic – to a point that I have laid out my exposition in an elementary way. But this simple exposition of scientific method I am able to build up a bit more and so introduce some complexity.  I can add one or two factors. Firstly there is a general working interconnectivity of the fragments comprising the scientific understanding we have; and secondly there is an appliance of scientific understanding en bloc; as a philosophy derived from such an interconnected understanding.

These two factors ameliorate to an extent the gravity of the criticisms I am able to make.   Because scientific understanding in its diverse disciplines is generally interconnected, as it is also in inter-disciplinary terms. This means that when one theory of some historical firmness is demonstrated to be false, perhaps by an advance of understanding, that falsified theory is likely to bring down like a house of cards considerable amounts of previous understanding which had been related to and/or dependent on it.

Thus scientific understanding is applicable and is applied in larger units like blocs of interdependencies. These interdependencies add up and accumulate so as to give credence and firmness to their scientific content.  And so the single-cell embryo released into the wild is not wholly an isolated fragile vulnerable animal, but it will have family and relatives, friends and well-wishers – other pieces of blocs of understanding which will support it as a newcomer.

Large blocs of applied understanding, in their use then, represent a probable greater stability in the science comprising them; and usually greater confidence in them accompanies this..

Now, to go back to the experimental stage of a theory, to when we spoke of having to foreknow all the potential interferences so as to be able to get the best vacuum possible for the experiment to take place in; and thus to do our best to eliminate them from, neutralise and account for them, in our results.

Scientific understanding, even when applied in durable blocs and so with a level of confidence, is scientific understanding being applied without any person or group knowing anywhere near the full story in any level of depth about what further untapped understanding else might be ‘out there’ in ‘reality’ undiscovered, undisclosed, and so able to intervene and to interfere ‘in reality’ to our net benefit or to our net detriment.  As the poet said:

‘Our beginnings never know our ends’

My own opinion is that our effort at understanding, in science as elsewhere, the natural world and any other areas of study, is, like St Augustine’s humility, endless.  There have been seen in history too many places where people of science and of other pursuits have unilaterally called time on nature, existence, and knowledge.  There has been hailed in our own age The Global Triumph of Capitalism and a consequent End of History. There is The Death of God.  There has been eminent men in The Royal Society in 18th century London who felt that humanity was nearing its apotheosis in learning, and that for future ages there would be no place further for them to investigate and to reveal.  Bertrand Russell expressed in his writings in the early 20 century that soon all that there was to be known about the natural world shall have been discovered by men (not women?).

There are our science folk heroes of these present days who chase The Philosopher’s Stone of ‘A Theory of Everything’, and who in prejudice preclude so much of that knowledge having been arduously discovered and painstakingly recorded for us in the course of previous ages. In truth, so much of value hits their waste baskets; data which any theory truly pretending to an encompassment of everything should have need to take heed of.

Fear and Trust

For all the misgivings one has in business, and in business relationships, the bottom line for the presence of adequate peace of mind for one to continue trading or developing is, and is always: Trust.

One cannot proceed very far without it in any social interaction and especially in those business areas which set out to solve problems.  This need for trust is one reason why there are Brands; because for goods and services carrying a Brand name one knows, one has a cool idea of what one is about to get when one buys an item.

Brands, when sound and reputable, go some way towards guaranteeing a level of quality and after sales support etc. And this is one reason why counterfeiting is at bottom parasitic – because it trades upon the reputation of someone else’s goods and services. It offers no guarantee of quality or of after-sales service etc, and when a person has been hoodwinked by a counterfeiter and the product he has bought is scrap; it is the Brand name which was traded upon which tends to suffer in its reputation; and also the company who is the legitimate owner of the Brand name; irrational though this might seem?

The reason for a decline in a genuine reputation of a bona fide Brand and its company being caused by illicit traders trading upon the Brand’s repute; is the knock which is taken on the Trust in that Brand name, and to the almost complacent ready expectations one has, when one has been used to buying that Brand. Thus customers loyal to a Brand can suddenly be shaken by a bad experience with it and so no longer buy its products.

The scale of the shock and distrust escalates enormously for a person hoodwinked by products counterfeited such as medicines, and say, vehicle parts like brake shoes and tyres, because of the perceived major risks of harm which accompany taking a drug which is not approved nor bona fide; or the large risk experienced in having brake shoes or tyres fitted to one’s car when they are possibly substandard.

These considerations then, show some of the ways that trust is central to trading and to doing business.

Because we are destined to ‘live by the sweat of our brows’ we are constrained to do business so as to earn our livings.  This also means that we are compelled to have to trust others who come to us to do business with us, and also to trust those from whom we seek out business.  The default position for doing business then, necessarily has to be one of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and a prima facia openness of one’s approach to others, up to the point where that openness is no longer seen by us to be circumspect in regard to this person or that company, and so on.

There is much theology in this position in which we find ourselves, whereby we are compelled to trust in the first place; and to have to do so in a world which is often harsh and wherein many persons and groups are out for themselves without any social or moral qualifications on their relational behaviours.  We know the world is like this by reference to our own experiences; and that fortuitous remoteness of and anonymity for persons who use the Internet, make it a playground for those who thrive on catching out the unlucky; those who make some poor and regrettable decisions.  The web is brimming with scams and sharks and people who are simply of ill will or else hooked on schadenfreude.

Despite all this being the fact of the case; and despite us knowing full well that this is the fact of the case, we are compelled again and again when doing business via the Internet (and elsewhere) into and back upon that immovable default position of bona fide prima facie initial trusting of our newly met business associates.

And this is why old and returning customers and associates are so prized by us; because we know them and are able to assess any risks they might pose to us to a fairly exact extent. And now comes in a further paradox. For those who are ambitious in business old and returning customers and associates are never enough. Ambitious persons are always seeking new business and new business opportunities, which means necessarily meeting and doing more and more business with untested persons.

In addition it is the ambitious person who is most likely to be tempted to pick up a missed opportunity even when knowing it is to the cost of a competitor for him to do so; or else to be tempted to even less upright business practices as being convenient and expedient short cuts to wealth and position. (I discount from this generalisation the motivations of persons in dire straits or grasping at straws because they are say going insolvent, whose bad behaviour might be ameliorated by their obvious distress)

The paradox here is then that in the normal course of doing business it is the most ambitious who expose themselves to higher risk levels and are compelled to offer prima facie trust the most and most often; whereas the business person who is happy to earn and to live comfortably without great expectations exposes himself to less risk and is compelled to place less prima facie trust down than an ambitious person is compelled to. And so it is that the least trustworthy, the ambitious, are taught by experience that trust is an essential for them to be able to advance towards the orders of magnitude they desire.

Of course in here steps The Law; on the side of and in support of higher risk takers who meet with foul play against their businesses. The Law is then an arbiter of fair play which may be called into action by an aggrieved party in order for that party to attempt redress for what has been essentially an (alleged) breach of trust by an associate or client.  It is at bottom a breach of trust always; and it is always based upon the breach of the holy commandment: ‘Do as you would be done unto’.

John Milton:

‘Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden , till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse…..’

I quote Robert Burns also (back on the subject of Law):

‘Courts for cowards were erected

Churches built to please the priest

A fig for those by Law protected

Liberty’s a glorious feast!’

It is no co-incidence that ambitious persons and businesses are those who most frequently use the law and its courts so as to defend their positions against rivals and against swindlers and thieves.  Not only are they normally those who are most exposed to risks like these we are presently discussing; they as business entities present the best pickings for the scammer or for the counterfeiter, since – as we have pointed out elsewhere – the big guys and their companies go to extreme lengths to present a perfect and seamless front-end image and marketing regime to their multitudes of customers. Their Brands are thus considered some of the most stable, lucrative and sound in the world because of this window dressing of theirs; and damage when done to their Brands is some big bad news for them.

So the Law is from one angle a kind of backstop for the risk takers by it deterring and chastising those who would do to them ill for gain. The Law is the inferno one has to invoke and through which one must go so as to purge oneself by condemning one’s enemies to its raging fire.

Law in this case then is artificial and put in place to be evoked so as to take the place of trust whenever trust has been lost by a breach or by an abuse of business practice and of normative rules. But Trust in its pro tem prima facie default position remains the natural value by which day to day business is oiled and with which its engines run for the most part reasonably smoothly.

Trust and placing trust, especially in an unknown person or business and being under constraint to do so – this can be very stressful. The only solace at this time of initial contact when doing business is that the same stress applies equally – in almost Newtonian exactness – to the other side, to the other Party to the deal.  The curse of ‘the sweat of our brows’ then transpires to be a Godsend sent to us so as to bring us together – if not as undesigning amicable disinterested and extempore cordial strangers, then – and better than not at all – as persons looking after their mutual interests and in joint hopes for the sharing of benefits.

‘They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”

You can find this article at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/business/@matthew.raymer/fear-and-trust

The Importance of Clarity

‘There is nothing I can say that cannot be mistaken’ Karl Popper

Written and spoken language is not like mathematical symbols or software code script.  Ludwig Wittgenstein said about words:

‘…..many words…. Don’t have a strict meaning. But this is no defect. To think it is would be like saying that the light of my reading lamp is not a real light because it has no sharp boundary.’

Mathematical symbols are usually used far more definitely than words are generally used.

So developers ‘know where they are’ with code and script; although with words, when it comes to drawing up a customer agreement or communicating to a customer about ways of doing things in ‘layman’s’ terms, developers face the same problems as the rest of us do when we want to speak to someone else clearly and accurately.

Hence the importance of clarity

Clarity is not always accuracy; but clarity has the virtue of being when it is achieved able to show up inaccuracies to common scrutiny; as far as inaccuracies are able to be shown up.  So that the developer ought to be able to spot them; and a customer has a chance of spotting them.

And so aiming for clarity is paramount and in this way it is prior to accuracy; although accuracy remains prior to clarity when it comes to actual use of code and script in development work.  Even to a developer a piece of software writing she creates might sometimes have to be complex and/or cutting edge; and so it might well not possess clarity when other developers come to look at it, and certainly not when a customer sees it.

Some things are just complex and involved and that’s that.

But there is an art to using words and language which is hard to attain to and which never reaches much more than a modest acquaintance with the full potential they possess for clarity, accuracy and meaning.

“Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,”

But because language and its expression is a hard taskmaster there is no reason a person should not attempt to write and to speak with precision and as clearly as the matter in hand will allow.

Now for some practical things; a few simple dos and don’ts which are able to make a huge difference to readability and understandableness of your  use of language, most particularly your written  language.

Possibly the most overused and so most liable to misinterpretation in written language are pronouns.  The personal pronouns are he, she, they, them, we, you, him, and her.  Add to these the pronouns commonly used to denote objects; that, this, it, those, they, there, then, and a string of others. These though are the main culprits.

Try disentangling a sentence written like this:

‘It was within his ability and he took it from him and he threw a glance at him and told him he was stealing’

Who is stealing? Which of the males? Who threw the glance? Who took the object ‘it’?

No mater how many times you read the sentence you can’t fathom it; its full meaning is not able to be fathomed – as it is written here. If we take a bit of care in our thought and write it this time thus:

‘It had been within his ability, and another had taken it from him; this other had then thrown a glance at him and at the same time had admitted stealing.’

Or maybe:

‘It had been within his ability, so he had taken it from another, and as he had taken it, he had thrown a glance and had said to that other ‘I am stealing’.’

Two near enough opposing situations either of which is derivable from the original sentence as a possible meaning.

You can see that a use of tenses has helped a lot in making the two situations in the two sentences derived from the first, clear sentences able to expresses meaning so as to be hardly mistakable.

The sentences that are clear in their meanings are perhaps more cumbersome to read than the first one is, but they are written as language being used so as to be clear, and were not written to offer entertainment or conversationally.

The use of the past perfect tense has enabled the writer to keep a grip on the meaning of the words closely and so he has been able to steer through the complicated actions that were to be communicated without him losing the thread of who did what to whom.

So a good rule of thumb is to keep pronouns to a minimum.  Instead of using them use the names of the things and the persons they are referring to, even when this means a lot of repetition of these names.  With technical language, and with legal language too it is better to be dull and clear than to be snappy and slack.

A second good rule of thumb is to think about the variety of tenses available to you before or as you write.  It takes time. At first it seems unnatural. As you get more practiced things will speed up and that sense of flow in writing will become easier.  If you really don’t know where to begin with tenses, get yourself a simple English grammar, nothing too technical, and gen up on a few. You only need to master the main ones people use in descriptive technical writing.

This recommendation of a simple grammar might sound daunting, or deathly boring, or both; but when you  find you have saved yourself from an otherwise costly and/or time-consuming ambiguity, or you find you have saved yourself from misunderstanding an important paragraph, you will get that buzz of  delight which will gladly lead you back into your simple grammar, there to learn some more saving graces.

You can also find this article at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/grammar/@matthew.raymer/the-importance-of-clarity

The Project Takeover Blues 4 – Concatenations

When there’s train crash, at speed the railcars which follow the engine bogey crash and crush up into one another as like a concertina.  Sometimes, especially when one has been in one of these accidents, time seems to slow down to a crawl for you; and this is a subjective state which however seems for all the world to be very real when it is taking place. And so you get the impression that you are watching a movie in slowmo, that somehow you are outside of yourself like a person watching in a cinema, and things are crystal clear and going on somewhat surreally all around you.

So the railcars crash and crush up into one another as it were very clearly and slowly, and the sound might not be even noted by you, even though the noise is going to be terrific.

The crashing and crushing up into one another of the railcars is a concatenation; a series of interconnected events, a sequence which, once set in motion, is more or less thereafter inevitable in its continuance and in the case of a train crash, linear in its consequences.

Now imagine a more complex situation; an exponential concatenation; and add several concurrent strands to it, say fifteen or twenty; and further let each strand be capable of interacting and interfering with the outcomes of the other sequences of concatenation, so that the overall consequence of the event is as near as one can imagine envisaging what an atomic fission chain reaction might be like to experience when occurring at a level of magnitude fitted to daily human life.

What needs to be done now is to psychologise this imagined physical event. Because such events do occur like this between humans in relationships; they are of the kind whereby say a couple fall in love and wed, and yet five years down the line they are fighting tooth and nail in public, in an acrimonious courtroom war of attrition with an aim to do as much hurt to the other as either can dream up.

The wedding day is the rail network running fine and everything is on time. Five years later the divorce is the catastrophe that happens when all the signalmen on the network have oddly gone loco (!) and switched points and lights so that our chain reaction of series of concatenations becomes a terrible bizarre reality.

Of course trains can’t all pile up in this way in fact; it’s just not in the nature of track layouts, so you have to excuse the illustration as being unfitted in this respect. Nonetheless relationships do deteriorate and once they reach a momentum to break free of convention and restraint, and these fissile explosions boil up and over, they behave as if they could be governed by the laws of physics

You might be able now to get a bead on what we mean when we say that some Project Takeovers are dangerous because analogous to you being handed a ticking bomb to fix back into being a fluffy toy.  The chances of you being able to do this are really not good.  Because when gaps open between developers and their clients which allow tensions to brew and fester, and respect to wither and fail; and expectation to switch to a negative value; and communications to begin to hide from parties as much as they reveal to them; when this and other strands of dysfunction kick in and begin messing with a developer/client relationship, then the Project is on course to be a train wreck.

One cannot hear a symphony during an earthquake. One cannot grow crops during an eruption. In the same way one cannot  complete a Project well when relations between you and your client are seriously falling apart. Inevitably the friction, frustrations and simmering resentments will poison not just the well from which you and he drink in common, but will mar the understanding of what technically is required  in the project and how by design this requirement might be implemented.  You may have heard the joke that a rhinoceros (sometimes it is a giraffe) is an animal designed by a committee; well take this joke a step further and one might say that nothing of any pleasing or functional shape and purpose was successfully made by mutual enemies.

The story is well picked out by William Blake:

I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

Some things cannot be said between business associates. They are likely to be discussed by the several friends of each of the parties about the other party, and there is no satisfaction in that to either party.  Thus wrath grows insidiously.  It is these situations which lead, in a good many cases to, so as to become parcelled up as, explosive charges, resulting in Projects that are to be handed over to subsequent developers as Project Takeovers.

Now certain heavy elements are by the course of their nature highly unstable at NTP.  In the natural  order they will deplete into stable but more or less inert substances.  And on the way to stability they emit, sometimes for aeons and aeons, emmanences fatal to life of nearly every known kind.  In the same way there are persons who like these heavy elements are volatile and unreliable, dangerous; and, unfortunately too often, they also destroy themselves because of their adverse natures. They too often also end up ostracised from normal and amiable society, living lives on the streets or in closed wards.  Whether or not they might be held responsible for any consequences of their nature is not in question here.  The observation to be made from this figure is that many, maybe most of these unfortunates are so fragmented as personalities because they are so deeply and intractably conflicted within themselves.

‘If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand’

This then is another figure for that relationship which ought to be one of communing and mutually assisting parties with prima facie goodwill and generous good faith; but which in the course of events over time deteriorates so that neither party knows where they are and trust has utterly failed.

With Project Takeovers very often this is the damage that has been done already – to the client and to his Project – to his former developer and to this developer’s own trust and good faith – and one is taking it on, if one decides to take it on, as a balled tangle of threads constituted of knots of thwarted emotions and frustrated wills, which, as you being the new developer, very likely will be yours to try to unravel in addition to having to complete the Project. This is often the case even concerning the actual development work previously done by any former developer; one too often will have to reverse engineer and re-engineer virtually from scratch any development work already accomplished.

‘He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.’

[This article was originally published at “The Project Takeover Blues 4 – Concatenations“]

Project Takeover Blues Part 3: Psychological Attrition

Much of this article is applicable in a wider, more general sense than just to the mind-messing which can go on when a part-completed Project is taken over by a new developer. Although in these instances they manifest most acutely and are the frequent, maybe invariable, accompaniment to these occasions.

They manifest most acutely for the most part because of the back-story, the history of the development so far carried out by the former (now sacked) developer, and the aftermaths of his/her now failed relationship with a dissatisfied client commissioner of the works.

Many times, especially when the client is not technically-minded and holds in his head an idea of the finished product he wants, but with no understanding of the means and works required to obtain it; this kind of client is a type who most likely to come to grief with his developers.  It is the difference between knowing how to use the controls of a TV or PC, but yet having zero knowledge of how they work or how they are manufactured, which generally opens up a gap in these relationships which is very hard to bridge or practicably proves unmanageable to work with.

(A further exacerbation frequently arises which can be exampled by reference to a commonplace experience of parents in this new and technological age. Their children frequently have grown up accustomed to and acclimatised to an unrestricted availability of plenty in a consumption-driven economy, wherein many consumables are of easy access, but of whose scientific history, development, composition and operation these children know and care nothing. It is felt back story is not to be needed – and because of a spoon-fed dispensation provided by specialized technocrats who stand a universe away in apprehension from the worlds of these children – these children place very little if any value on or feel gratefulness for being able to possess immensely complex and refined technological (and other) products which have issued so freely and abundantly in availability to them.  They have come too easily.)

And so likewise, too often the lay guy who is commissioning works from a developer shows he has a belief that he holds an inalienable right to ask for the moon if he desires it, and feels that to have it is his unconsidered entitlement and the developer’s summary duty is to provide it.

The customer then believes he is always right, even though he has no qualifications, has shown no aptitude or ability in, or even felt moved to be curious about, how the works he expects provided ‘on a plate’ are in fact done and achieved.

As adjunct to this state of complacent ignorance too often an assumption of unquestioned, unquestionable seniority over a developer accompanies this outlook.  Again because of a lack of a sense of any value and weight to the expertise a developer uses and which goes into the sophisticated products he is able to create; and because the client customer considers himself to call all the shots because his pocket is going to finance the works he wants done; these considerations he feels, in a confidence of blind ignorance, place him in an unassailable position of master directing his servant.

The developer must be solicitous and show obsequiousness to his, the client’s, assumed standing, desires, requirements, and sometimes whimsy.  The client like some minor feudal official feels able to lord it over those whom he feels have no status and so no power to oppose or object to him.  So the story goes.

This scenario might seem unjustly coloured – and it has been presented in high-definition so that the essence of the stereotypical bad client is distilled for to be seen in a concentrated form.  And further, developers are not alone in being slighted and dismissed in their worths by the consumerist tinpot would-be dictators being produced by our blasé over consuming, over-producing instant and easy access to everything head in the sand societies. But they are in the front line of vulnerability.

It is developers who are too often subject to uninformed anger and disdain, to non payment for services supplied, to abuse and incomprehension when the moon the client is informed is not available this side of Paradise.  They suffer from such clients attempts to tell them what to do and how to do it; that claim that the impossible is available and just get it from off the shelf.  They are hard pressed to contain the burgeoning of late additions and alterations flooding in and claimed as being in the original requirement by a client, having to tread a fine line between politeness and refusal, and explanation without apology.

As for the client who has sacked or else lost his initial developer – the upshot is the same – there has been reached an impasse – either the initial relationship has failed or else the developer has been unable to deliver – and the client having to seek out another developer in order to complete entails inherently in its history a decisive breach in relations having occurred previously. Thus the prognosis for a happy ending for the newly-hired subsequent developer is not the best.

Indeed there is nothing so difficult to defend oneself against, let alone to try to break down, as entrenched ignorance coupled with an assured self-confident complacency. These are qualities of character being nurtured and encouraged far too much, far too widely. Their owners can sustain their character because such people are able to survive and by doing so send harmful concatenations of reverberations around in their societies.

They are able to survive and to continue because of the great and ponderous gulf in our societies set between consumers and their consumption, and manufacture and development, whereupon the consumer thinks he is king because he holds the purse strings’; but in fact the technocrat holds the aces because he has the knowledge and therefore the power to withhold or supply the gadgets and gewgaws our lives have become crucially dependent upon.

The consumer has been or has allowed himself to have been removed, separated, from the wellsprings of his existential essences.  (For instance, many city children in developed societies have not experienced seeing the commonplace farm animals in the flesh.  Food is commonly shrink wrapped and packaged up, offered without blemishes, irradiated in inert atmospheres, pre-peeled, maybe with added chemical adulteration, all being presented as pristine, untouched by  human hand, almost as if ‘official, rubberstamped-good’ food, and as far away from a slurry tank or a muckspreader as human imagination is able to conjure)

The result is loss: the loss of an awareness of authenticity, and so of good judgement.

The consequence is belief that the technocrat is able to/will be able to supply the moon and anything more that the consumer stipulates; and that he is obliged to, will be coerced to do so by consumer demand.  The disbelief, anger and fear aroused when this closed bubble of fantasy occasionally bursts, and reliant antibiotics fail to cure, or when systems go down and crash, are usually directed at the technocrats and are accompanied by a widespread and genuine sense of staggering helplessness in which consumers understand themselves to be ‘victims’.

Like the typical client with his project on its second or third developer, they are indeed victims, but for the most part in consequence of their own renunciation of commitment, engagement, curiosity, generosity, and humility, in the face of an easy and comfortable, listless superabundance requiring seemingly no accountability.

The Project Takeover Blues: 1 – The Client jumps ship – or was he pushed?

What I’d like to spell out in this series are the ins and outs of taking over a project from another technical team.  Spelling out the issues that tend to arise in this area needs to be viewed not only from a perspective of one development team taking over another’s work, but also from the perspective of commissioner-funders the project. How they might see their replacing an existing team.

There is a whole host of angles and fractal views from which to take up this topic. This then is the first of another series of articles – this series looks at Project Takeovers – and this opening article is a broad-brush attempt to sketch what are to be their chief themes.

Discussing projects part-finished that are handed over to you for completion puts me in mind of George Orwell talking about Hitler’s stormtroopers goose-stepping through Berlin and Nuremberg: “It would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying”.

Looking from the outside inwards there are plenty of belly-laughs to be had from this topic; and taking-over Projects might even make a good TV sitcom format; but sometimes even Hell looks inviting from a distance?

Reason number one is the lack of history you get along with the part-complete work.  At best it’s a one-sided story, the commissioning client’s Authorised Version (no Apocrypha).  Given that there has normally to have been a rupture followed by a total breakdown between client and former developer, this one sided story will always be pretty colourful, but in heavy shades of dark and light.

Another George Orwell item comes to mind, the Party Line dogma of ‘Four legs good; two legs bad’. In short- the other developer guy is always the villain of the piece.  Sometimes even the client forgets that you yourself are a developer and he begins drawing generalities from his bad experience and starts unheedingly to tar your trade and all its practitioners with the same brush.  Depending on how desperate you are for work, you might turn a deaf ear or else plead a fully-filled work schedule.

Of course, we are all human and so are all errant sinners, and so he might have a solid case against the former developer (developers are human too, in case you are not sure!). Nonetheless, to receive a doctored version of events is usual whether or not whose fault caused the break-up, and this is at best difficult for the new developer. Very few people can bear too much self-examination. (‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’ T S Eliot)

The former developer will likely be ill-disposed towards the client, and so a very crucial source and route for obtaining valuable information to help you complete the task is sometimes cut off; although allowing for camaraderie amongst developers there might sometimes be some slack cut for you by him? Especially if he has a story to tell with grievances he might be just too pleased to get off his chest to ‘someone who understands’. So first points to note:

Approach the Former Developer to get:

  1. His side of the dispute; and
  2. Any technical background and advice he is happy to offer you.
  3. To get a bead on the client himself
  4. To assess in as far as you have opportunity the objective situation of the breach
  5. To find out whether the client is a decent payer (on time and without quibble?)

This final point e) is probably the most important item for you to find out.  A person can put up with a lot of frustrations if the pay packet arrives in full and on time.

Regardless of the answers had from a former developer be prepared for a lot of deconstructional work on what has been achieved so far in the Project.  Whether the client or developer has been the one who is inept or inexpert the net result is often the same: the software you inherit will almost certainly need unravelling, beginning again if not at square one then at a point far back before things began to fall apart administratively.

This is because at whatever entry point in a Project, and from whatever angle, comes into it a feed of chaos, in the shape of too many changed minds, overmangaging of minutiae, unscientific expectations, the quart in the pint pot (“feature creep” is the trade term), and so on: like a good leaven it will propagate through the whole batch and raise the loaves of consternation within it.

In all this there is another general rule arises, that:

The software build and the technical side of things will go far more smoothly and be a lot easier than the handling of the human aspects of Projects and of their interested parties.  A psychiatrist friend of mine once quipped to me that ‘a neurosis shared is a neurosis squared’ – one might say much the same for the human relations management involved in taken-over projects. Unless one has a foreknowledge of experience in these things you might not be fully prepared for the upgraded bagatelle game involved.

There is likely to be enjoyed a ‘honeymoon period’ between you and the client but his bad experience that led to you getting the half-formed app or build to finish has made him more wary and skeptical about developers and their ways, and he will be more on guard than he had been previously and sometimes will be looking for ‘unconformities’.  It is hard to say whether a non technical client is better or worse than a technical one.

Alexander Pope once said: ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ and perhaps half-knowledge is the very worst state for a client to be in.  The client ignorant of technical things is the kind most likely not to accept being told by a techie he is asking for too much or the wrong sort of thing and so on. This is because he cannot appreciate the limitations of IT science.  For a client who knows a lot about techie things one always asks ‘Why isn’t he building it himself?’.  Sometimes this is naively asked at face-value; sometimes it is asked rhetorically with some sarcasm when he is the kind who is looking over your shoulder every moment of the day.

But the client with half-knowledge can be truly awful. He can insist it ‘can be done’ and that he ‘can tell you how’; that he knows the budget is sufficient. He of all kinds of clients is the one most liable to seek for mission-creep and to pile up add-ons and extras, and to suggest inarticulate tinkerings.  You lose either way – do as he demands and the app is crap – do as you believe in and he refuses to sign off.

Considering these conflicts arising between Clients and Developers it is not surprising that so many projects are handed on to the next firm half complete; and it is surprising that so many projects see it through to completion.

To say a word in favour of clients, so that there is some balance to this article, it is true that developers often can be not the most forgiving of people, and can be abrasive, and from the perspective of clients, ‘difficult’ because they too have had a history and experience of tangled relations just as clients have had.  They too feel they are ‘once-bitten’ and so they are now ‘twice shy’, and so they are very defensive right from the off.  If developers were good at human relations they would not be developers; they would be in conflict management where the money is.

The scientific mind is one that is least liable to ‘suffer fools gladly’; because perhaps the precision of methodology into which it has been trained heightens its sensitivity to loose thinking and approximated accuracy. These however are the norm for more or less ‘ordinary’ kinds of people.  Such a heightened sensitivity cannot bear these casual outlooks which it sees as being ‘slapdash’ and it finds them an enormous source of frustration and annoyance.  Yet what is more necessary for handling people well than a certain ‘easygoingness’ and a broad ‘willingness to tolerate human foibles’?

The two outlooks are thus ‘chalk and cheese’; so is it any wonder that after the marital arts, the second place for exercise of mutual self defence goes to techie-client relationships? Like an old married couple.

Introduction to Professional Web Design

When I originally set out to write this article, the question as I had it in my mind was “How long should it take to design a web site?”  After some reflection, I decided that while this question is a burning one for clients, it would be more comprehensive for me to ask what issues necessarily must be considered when doing design for the web?  What I’ll be doing in this article here is laying out some general areas for consideration, into which we shall delve further in detail in later articles. Continue reading Introduction to Professional Web Design