Have you seen Shaan shorn?

I was intrigued to see Autodesk personality and fellow blogger Shaan Hurley posting a photo with his long-standing facial fuzz removed. Shaan may be moving in the opposite direction to myself (I’m getting hairier with age), but personally I don’t think he has gone far enough. I would like to see Shaan sporting a chrome dome. What do you think? Original image © 2008 Shaan Hurley.

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AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”

Note: there are updated versions of this post for AutoCAD 2010, 2011 and 2012. One thing that’s regularly asked whenever a new AutoCAD release hits the streets is how to make it work like the last release. I think you should give any new features a fighting chance before turning them off or ignoring them, but that’s entirely your choice. Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to go back to the future; how do you do it? Menus and Ribbon. You can turn menus on with MENUBAR 1, close the Ribbon with RIBBONCLOSE, and so on. However, there’s an easier way; just switch workspaces. In the bottom right corner there is a little button that looks like a gearwheel. This is the Workspace control. Click on it and pick the item called AutoCAD Classic. Dashboard. The Dashboard is gone, but you can have a vertical Ribbon instead. If the Ribbon is not visible (it won’t be if you just selected the AutoCAD Classic workspace), enter RIBBON to bring it back. In the tab title row (the bar with the word Home in it), right-click and pick Undock. Now you can place and size your Dashboard-like thing as you see fit. As before, you can right-click on things to change the various settings. However, getting the contents exactly the way you want it usually involves using CUI, and that’s well outside the scope of this post. Background. Many of you will want a black background, of course. Right-click on the drawing area and pick Options…, then pick the Display tab. Don’t be tempted to choose Color Scheme and set it to Dark, because that just changes the appearance of various user interface elements. Instead, pick the Colors… button. On the left, choose a context you want to change (e.g. 2D model…

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Reaction Part 1

Some people have now received AutoCAD 2009, or at least downloaded it, which you can do (legally!) here, as long as you’re in the United States or Canada. I’m closing the AutoCAD 2009 speculation poll. Other than a small blip on “Very bad”, the poll follows a typical bell curve nicely, with the peak very clearly on “OK”. I will poll on AutoCAD 2009 later, once you’ve had a chance to play with the new product. What is the initial user reaction like? So far, not good. For example, have a look at Autodesk’s AutoCAD 2009 discussion group. I fully expected an initial adverse reaction to the new user interface, but it will be interesting to see if it persists once the shock of the new has worn off.

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequels Are Over

It would appear that AutoCAD 2009 is now shipping. I intend to hold off on any further comments until I get my hands on the shipping product, which I expect to be fairly soon. In the meantime, maybe have a look over the 24 AutoCAD 2009 Prequel posts and see if there’s anything you missed. If there’s something in particular about AutoCAD 2009 you want clarified or would like to see covered in future posts, feel free to add a comment here or email me.

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Advertising, ethics and editorial freedom

In a recent blog post, Roopinder Tara included this throw-away comment: Pure bloggers don’t do advertising, so no worry about advertising pressure — the secret and unstated fear of us all in the trade press. I respect Roopinder, but this kind of “pure blogger” label irritates me. I have an ad on my blog for geeky T-shirts, so I’m an impure blogger? Somebody please explain the reasoning behind that distinction, because I don’t understand it. Even if I accepted (say) Autodesk advertising, the idea that it would have any influence on what I choose to write is ridiculous. Yet I see even more extreme viewpoints presented by some bloggers as the absolute truth. For example, how about this from Matt Lombard? Advertising a product means that you are beholden to that company for cash or other rewards – you have in essence sold your right of free expression about that product. This is why most ‘professional’ journalists that work for ads don’t have much of value to say, they are whores to corporations. So, if you accept advertising, or you write for somebody who does, you can’t possibly write impartially? Rubbish! Not just rubbish, but downright insulting rubbish. Maybe Matt would find it hard to remain impartial for fear of losing some pocket money, but I don’t. When I’m writing, advertising never even enters my head. Matt, please stop projecting, it’s not a good look. Back to Roopinder Tara’s comments about advertising pressure in the trade press. As a writer, all I can say is, what pressure? For a dozen years, I’ve been writing a Cadalyst column that has been known to contain uncomplimentary comments about Autodesk (a major advertiser) and its products. I have never been asked to remove or even slightly tone down any such comments. Not once.…

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 24 – Menu Browser Keyboard Access

You may be used to accessing pull-down menus with Alt-key combinations, e.g. Alt+F to get at the File menu. You can still use those keystrokes to get at menus in AutoCAD 2009, whether or not the pull-down menus are in place. If the pull-downs are visible (MENUBAR=1), they are given priority over the Menu Browser. One difference is that if the pull-down menus are visible, you can either press the keys together (e.g. Alt+F), or you can press and release the Alt key, then choose the menu (e.g. Alt, F). With the pull-down menus turned off, you can use only the former method; just pressing and releasing the Alt key is ignored. Here is a list of the Alt-key combinations that will work with either the pull-down menus or the Menu Browser: Keystroke Action Alt+F File menu Alt+E Edit menu Alt+V View menu Alt+I Insert menu Alt+O Format menu Alt+T Tools menu Alt+D Draw menu Alt+N Dimension  menu Alt+M Modify menu Alt+W Window menu Alt+X Express menu Alt+H Help menu Of course, the above only applies in the standard AutoCAD environment. In a custom environment, things could be quite different. The following key combinations apply only to the Menu Browser. Unfortunately, they are ignored if the pull-down menus are visible: Keystroke Action Alt+R Recent Documents Alt+C Open Documents Alt+A Recent Actions Alt+S Open Menu Browser with focus on Search The last combination can be used as a prelude to searching the menus, or simply as a way of exposing the Menu Browser without having to click on the red A.

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 23 – Recent Actions

Like Recent Documents, the Menu Browser pane also stores a Recent Actions list. Like Recent Documents, the length of this list defaults to 9 and can be set to up to 50 in Options. Similarly, you can pin actions in place to prevent them slipping off the end. Unlike the command line recall (up-arrow) method of retrieving recently entered commands, this feature only remembers commands you selected using the Menu Browser. Even if you use pull-down menus, those commands will not be placed in this list. Also unlike command line recall, the list is remembered between drawing sessions and even AutoCAD sessions (i.e. you can close AutoCAD without losing the list)

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 22 – Open Documents

One more feature that’s crammed into the Menu Browser pane’s limited space is the Open Documents list. This allows you to switch between the drawings you currently have open. It has a similar interface to the Recent Documents list, including the persistently pale preview: Unlike Recent Documents, the filenames are displayed in the correct case, although this is not true in the preview where the name and path are all in upper case. Another glitch in the preview can be seen above, where it says Currently Oper instead of Currently Open By:. This only happens intermittently and doesn’t concern me greatly. In the same way that Recent Documents doesn’t eliminate the equivalent feature in the File pull-down menu, Open Documents doesn’t eliminate the equivalent feature in the Window pull-down menu. Note that this applies only to the traditional pull-down menus you get if you set MENUBAR to 1; the File and Window menus in the Menu Browser are missing the lists of documents. If you want to switch between open documents quickly without looking under the red A, the Ctrl+Tab and Ctrl+Shift+Tab keyboard combinations still work in AutoCAD 2009, as they have ever since the multiple document interface was introduced by AutoCAD 2000.

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 21 – Recent Documents

Another thing you will find lurking under the big red A is the Recent Document list. This is a mixed bag too, but most of it is good. It differs from the traditional list that still lives under the File menu in several ways: Although the default maximum list length is 9 items, you can allow up to 50 items into the list by changing a setting in the Options command’s Open and Save tab. If the list exceeds the space available, a scroll bar appears. This has the same problems as elsewhere in the menu browser: more clicks are required and there is no auto-scroll. If you hover over a document in the list, it displays a preview image along with some other useful document information. Unfortunately, that preview image always has a white background, despite the fact that the first thing most of you are going to do in AutoCAD 2009 is turn the background black. The file and path names are ALL DISPLAYED AS UPPER CASE, NO MATTER WHAT CASE THE NAMES ACTUALLY USE. THIS HARMS READABILITY AND MAKES THE WORST POSSIBLE USE OF THE LIMITED SPACE AVAILABLE. SORRY, AM I SHOUTING? Is that better? Using the cute little push pins at the right of each document name, you can pin documents in place to prevent them being pushed off the end of the list. You can change the order in which the documents are displayed using this menu: You can also change how the documents display using this menu: Using the last three features together, your document list could end up looking something like this:

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 20 – Menu Browser Search

So if the Menu Browser isn’t much use for browsing menus, what is it good for? Searching menus, for one thing. Let’s say you’re a very occasional 3D user trying to make a 3D model look pretty. You want to access commands for placing lights, putting the sun in the right place, and changing visual style settings. You don’t really know where to look in the Ribbon or menus. What to do? Click on the red A and just start typing what you think the command is called. With a bit of luck, the appropriate menu item will present itself and you can click on it. This video shows three successful Menu Browser searches by typing in “light”, “sun” and “vis”. The whole thing is over in 14 seconds. That’s quite impressive in comparison to a manual click-and-hunt search. It’s not foolproof, though. It’s a menu search, not a command search. That means the command you’re after has to be in the menus before it can be found. If you type in something like “osnap” or “oops” you’ll be out of luck, even though they are both valid AutoCAD commands.

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 19 – Menu Browser

You have undoubtedly noticed the large red A in the top right corner of the AutoCAD window. Personally, I don’t like the look of it. The concept is rather Fisher-Price and the execution is poor. No competent graphic designer would align the top of the red A exactly with the top of its surrounding button area like this: There are so many examples of poor graphic design in AutoCAD 2009 that the overall visual effect is close to that of a rather amateurish shareware product. That’s not what you might expect of a multi-billion dollar company that can undoubtedly afford to pay talented people to do much better, but it’s a relatively trivial matter. You probably want to know how it works, rather than what it looks like. What’s living under that big red A? It’s called the Menu Browser, and it’s a mixed bag. There’s some useful new stuff under there, which I’ll cover later. In this post I’ll just describe using it to browse menus. Frankly, it’s not very good at that. The video below shows you why, and here are some notes to go with it. On a fast machine, the reaction times are slightly sticky. Users of slower machines will experience some frustration; I have waited over three seconds for a reaction. Just like the Ribbon, it’s the initial click that hurts the most, with subsequent clicks on the red A being rather quicker. Because the menu structure is one level deeper than traditional pull-down menus, you need a minimum of one extra click to do anything. Because the Menu Browser is artificially limited to a small section of the screen (no, you can’t resize it), the menus don’t all fit. That means you not only need to perform extra actions to select certain commands, you…

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 18 – Another Interface Option

There’s one screen-based user interface mechanism in AutoCAD 2009 that you probably won’t see bragged about in Autodesk marketing materials. That’s a shame, because it has some strong points: It can be docked on the side of the screen or allowed to float free. While floating, it can be resized to the desired width and height. If you do dock it on the side, any unused height can be used to place either docked or floating toolbars. Out of the box, it provides access to a large number of the most commonly used AutoCAD commands. In default form, it is context-sensitive, providing you with the options relevant to the command you’re using. It can be modified (using CUI, unfortunately) to provide access to any commands or macros you like, using a tree or sequential structure as you see fit. The interface reacts more quickly to user input than the Ribbon or Menu Browser. Rather than cryptic graphics, it uses plain text labels that are easily understood. This is particularly useful if you have a block library where part numbers are used to identify parts that are visibly similar to each other. It provides an interface that users of old AutoCAD releases will be instantly at home with, and I mean old. Have you guessed yet? I seem to remember first hearing about the imminent demise of Screen Menus around the Release 12 timeframe. I wonder how long they can survive into the 21st century? Autodesk deserves credit for keeping stuff like this going after all this time, a long time after it has gone seriously out of fashion. I’m sure the amount of resources it consumes is minuscule compared with the more modern interface elements. I know there are still some people who have a use for screen menus, and…

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 17 – Ribbon Performance 2

Testing performance under Vista can be an interesting experience. The trouble is, Vista tries to improve its performance by observing what you do and caching it for later use in case you do it again. This leads to something akin to the observer effect in science, where the very act of observing something has an effect on what it is you are observing. Every time I test Ribbon tab switching performance in Vista, the results improve. In XP, the worst tab switching time I saw on my Core2 PC was 1.6 seconds for the first exposure of the Tools tab. In Vista, the same thing took 1.2 seconds the first time I tried it, but subsequent attempts (after closing and restarting AutoCAD but not rebooting) gave results in the 0.5 to 0.6 second range. I tried turning off Vista’s pretty Aero interface and saw improvements of about 0.1 seconds in every measurement. With Aero off and testing a second time, I saw first tab switches from 0.2 to 0.6 seconds and second tab switches between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds. Most switches were around the 0.3 second mark. While I hesitate to base any firm conclusions on such shaky ground as these rather unscientific tests, I can say this with some confidence: it is possible to have a system running AutoCAD 2009 under Vista where the Ribbon tab switching performance meets in most cases, and is close to meeting in all cases, the 0.3 second mark that most users perceive as instant response. However, your mileage may vary. Correction: your mileage will vary.

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 16 – Ribbon Performance 1

One of the things I like least about AutoCAD 2009 (at least in Release Candidate form) is that I find it very “sticky”. That is, I find myself having to wait for an instant here, then again there, yet again over there. Most of my testing has been on a middle-aged Pentium 4 (3.0 GHz dual core – not too ancient), and it is particularly noticeable there. On my newer Core2 machine, things are better. When AutoCAD 2009 starts shipping, I suspect your perception of it will be strongly influenced by your hardware. Top gun users on slow machines are going to feel frustrated; slower users on fast machines will wonder what the problem is. I made a video that shows Ribbon tab switching performance. This is an important aspect of the new interface. Because the Ribbon hides tools behind different tabs, quick access to those tools relies on near-instant tab switching. How well does AutoCAD 2009 do at that? Let’s have a look on a fairly quick PC (Core2Duo E6600 with 4 GB RAM, under Windows XP SP2 32 bit). I intend to do the same in Vista later. Measured on a faster machine and viewed objectively, it looks rather better than my perceptions from the slower machine had led me to believe. The real problem is the first exposure of each tab, because after that the tab contents can be retrieved from cached memory. The Tools tab is tardiest; 1.6 seconds here translates to 3 seconds or more on an older PC. For the most part, the tab switching speed is acceptable after the tab has been exposed for the first time. For most users, a delay of 0.3 seconds between input and response is quick enough to be considered instant, and most tabs switch in a time…

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Grammar and AutoCAD

I have a lot of posts about AutoCAD and a few about grammar, but I expect this will be the only post I ever make that combines the subjects. Autodesk founder John Walker, a very prominent figure in AutoCAD’s history, has written an article about the correct use of the apostrophe. While I enjoyed it, I think it’s too insulting to be useful. People struggling with the correct use of the apostrophe are unlikely to get past the part where they are called morons, to read the useful advice below. If you just want simple apostrophe advice without being belittled, I suggest you look at the main page of the The Apostrophe Protection Society instead.

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AutoCAD tip – more on the Oops command

In a comment on my Five More Simple Tips for AutoCAD post, Jeremy had some questions about the Oops command. I thought I would explain the command in more detail in another post so more people will see it. The first thing to understand is that Oops varies from Undo/U in that it only reverses those commands that erase objects. The Erase command is obvious, and the same applies to pre-selecting objects and hitting the Delete key, but the Block and Wblock commands can also erase the objects that go to make up the block. In such cases Oops can be used to restore those objects without undoing the block creation step. Another difference is that unlike Undo, you can only go back one step with Oops. If you erase one set of objects and later erase another set, issuing two Oops commands will not restore the first set of objects. Where Oops has the advantage is that it can unerase something that you erased 100 commands ago, without undoing the intervening 99 commands. What happens if you use Oops when there is nothing to unerase? Nothing. Oops simply returns to the Command prompt. Also, there is no short form of the Oops command in standard AutoCAD. O invokes Offset, OO does nothing and OP invokes Options. Finally, the U and Undo commands interfere with Oops. I suspect this is what Jeremy was seeing when the command wasn’t working for him. To see what I mean, select and right-click > Copy the following commands. In an empty drawing, right-click > Paste them into the Command prompt area: _.Zoom _Win 0,0 10,5 _.Line 1,0 1,2 _.Line 2,0 2,2 _.Line 3,0 3,2 _.Line 4,0 4,2 _.Erase 1,1 2,1 _.Line 5,0 5,2 _.Line 6,0 6,2 _.Move 5,1 6,1  5,3 7,3 This command sequence zooms…

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 15 – Background

You may have noticed that the default AutoCAD background is an off-white shade. In a comment, Tim asked if this is the same as the Block Editor background. No, not quite. This image shows the different backgrounds and some linework, with black as a comparison: Paper space is pure white (Red, Green, Blue is 255,255,255), Model space is very pale cream (254,252,240) and the Block Editor is a slightly darker cream (255,252,229). In common with most people in my experience (and most people who need to use drawings with yellow linework), my backgrounds are all going to be 0,0,0 (black). I don’t want to make a big fuss about this, because it’s very easy to change, but I find it kind of funny how this has flip-flopped over the years. There’s a poll about this to the right if you haven’t already seen it.

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AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 14 – What do you think?

I’m interested in people’s perceptions of the forthcoming AutoCAD release. Based on what you’ve seen so far, how good a release do you think it will be? Please speculate using the poll on the right. If you feel the poll doesn’t give you the opportunity to adequately express yourself, feel free to add a comment here. I intend to follow this up in a few months with a similar poll when people have had a chance to use the shipping product. It’s not scientific, but it will be interesting to see if actually using the product changes people’s opinions.

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