Top 6 Resources for a Travel Modeler to Work From Home

December 16th, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year, isn't it?  Nothing says "winter" like 6 inches of snow that keeps you from going to the office!

Over the years, I've amassed a set of utilities, many of them free, to make my life easier.  This list can sometimes take the place of things that I would normally use in the office, other times they are things that sync to the "cloud" and I use them both in the office and at home.

1. Dropbox

I don't care too much for USB "thumb" drives, and I've had my fair share of leaving them at home or at work and needing them at the opposite location.  Dropbox clears up this mess, as there are no USB drives to lose or leave in the wrong place.  NOTE: the link that I have IS a referral link.  Clicking on that and creating an account results in both of us getting an extra 250 MB of space with the free account (starts at 2 GB, max for free is 8 GB).

2. Evernote

I take a lot of notes, both on the road at conferences and at the office.  Evernote is what I use to keep them organized.

3. Google Docs

Unless you want to spring for Microsoft Office at home, Google Docs is the way to go.  There are several others including Zoho and Office Online, but I haven't used them.  Google Docs has great collaboration features, document versioning, and its free.  Just make sure to back it up! The only problem: no DBF file support.

4. Notepad++

This is perhaps the greatest text editor.  It understands and does some context highlighting (etc) for many programming languages.  Even better, Colby from Citilabs uploaded his language definition file for Cube Voyager to the user group!

5. Microsoft Visual {whatever} Express Edition

The Express Edition tools have become our go-to tools for new development, particularly MS Visual C++ EE and MS Visual Basic EE.  Since they're free, you can have copies both at home and work.

6. Eclipse

This one's almost optional, but for those working with Java models, this is the standard IDE, and it is open source.

Any tools to add?  Add them in the comments below.

RFPs and RFQs: Legality and Ethics

March 28th, 2010

Recently, I attended a webinar entitled "The ABCs of RFPs and RFQs".  This is one of those things that in my line of work (a manager of a travel model development group), I face occasionally.  I'm not an expert.  When presented the opportunity to get some guidance from some "experts" for free, I jumped on the chance.

I was disappointed.

Three things stuck out in my mind as being flat-out wrong.  The first was "The best case scenario is when you (the consultant) write the scope for the RFQ".  The second was "The best way is sole source contracts".  The third was constantly using RFP as a tool to limit the responses from consultants to only those that you want to respond.

Consultants Writing Scopes for RFQs

Looking at the AICP Code of Ethics, it seems that if a consultant writes the scope for the RFQ (or RFP), I feel it is in violation of Part A, 2a and 2c.  If a consultant is writing the scope for me, where is my professional judgement?  Does that judgement not extend to what I feel my needs (and my organizations needs) are?  Both of those are brought up in 2a.  Looking at 2c, which is avoiding a conflict of interest, it seems to me that if a consultant writes the scope for an RFQ, that is a direct conflict of interest - the consultant is going to write the scope that gives them an advantage (whether intentionally or unintentionally).

Sole Source?

When being audited by the State of Ohio Auditors, you are under extreme scrutiny when trying to sole-source a contract.  The reasons why are obvious.  A few years ago, my department attempted to sole-source a contract because it was a $30k contract and it seemed that there was only one firm that could do the job for that price.  While that may have been correct, there was several firms willing to try.  The job ultimately went to a firm that was NOT going to be the one that would have received the sole-source contract (there is a lot of talk that they may have taken a loss on the job, but I would venture a guess that the others would have as well).  Had the sole-source been allowed to continue, it would have been considered illegal under Ohio law and my organization would have been fined.

I can't type all this without bringing up another big issue that CAN negate the above.  General Planning Consultants and General Engineering Consultants.  The GPC and GEC contracts are always put up for RFQ, and handing a scope to a GEC or GPC consultant is NOT the same as sole-source.  This method is perfectly legal (it is open to public review and open to all consultants to submit statements of qualifications) and is a great way to get smaller (less than $100k, perhaps) jobs to consultants without them spending a lot of money trying to get smaller jobs.  They have to spend their marketing money up-front, but over the 3-5 year span, they have plenty of opportunity to make it back on smaller jobs that have very small marketing requirements.

RFPs Only to Certain Consultants?

Again, 2c, conflict of interest - public agencies cannot perform the work of the public good using the fewest tax dollars without having an open bid process.  Also, it is pretty likely that every state requires RFPs and RFQs to be advertised.  That being said, what's the point?  You're going to send the RFP to 2 or 3 consultants but post it on your website (and for us, the newspaper, state DOT website, and various other locations as required by law and our policy) for all to see?  Sounds like a pretty ineffective way to only target a few consultants.

If you only want certain consultants to respond, find a way to do it, legally, without giving the opportunity for other consultants to not compete for it.

Separating Intent and Unintended Effects

March 21st, 2010

On March 7, 2010 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS), an interesting crash happened in the larger context of NASCAR.  Carl Edwards intentionally got into the side of Brad Kesolowski, causing Kesolowski to spin around, become airborne, and land on his side with momentum sending Kesolowski's car into the wall (video).  This was almost inverse of the Talledega spring race in 2009 where Edwards unintentionally came down on Kesoloski, spun around, became airborne, got hit by another car in the process, and hit the safety fence that separates the track from the stands(video).

The big difference between these two scenarios was intention.  Earlier in the race at AMS, Kesolowski got into the side of Edwards, causing Edwards a long repair and a poor finish.

NASCAR handed down a three-race probation to Edwards after parking him for the remainder of the race at AMS.  The debate as to whether that was the most appropriate disciplinary action have been swirling around NASCAR for weeks (and still is at the time of writing).

This post is not about whether NASCAR made the right or wrong decision, but rather how it relates to management.

You have to understand the history behind the wing.  If you've watched the videos above, you've seen two of three.  The other piece of history is at this video.  The scenario at AMS is the third time that a car has become airborne after being turned around.

The probation that Edwards faces (and no suspension or fine, mind you) was because Edward's intent was to mess up Kesolowski's 6th place finish with a spin to the infield.  Edwards didn't intend for the vehicle to flip, and the vehicle should not have flipped.  In fact, the severe crash was likely caused more by the wing on the back of the car (which has now been replaced with a spoiler), not by Edwards's intentionally spinning Kesolowski.

This is quite a conundrum for NASCAR.  They control the design of the car very strictly.  They also said that the drivers could use a little less restraint after feeling a lot of criticism over the 2009 season where they made rules that limited the drivers actions.  Drivers and teams are not allowed to make decisions as to whether they use the wing or not.  They have to use it.

The important thing here is, as a manager, make the decision looking at all pieces of information and all parts of history.  Look at what you've told your employees.  Look at what has happened in the past that your employees should have been aware of.  Look at what you would have done in that situation, particularly if you weren't a manager.  Discuss the issue with the employees involved.  Do not make rash decisions and do not let emotions be the only thing that guides your decisions.