Don’t be a technology lemming

In response to Shaan’s variant on the old “if you question the value of any change you must be a Luddite” argument, I was going to write a lemming-based parody. I didn’t, mainly because I didn’t want to perpetuate the lemming mass-suicide misconception. Instead, I’ll answer the point more directly. Autodesk will acheive better success in convincing customers about Cloud computing and other concepts by actively and interactively engaging with them. Addressing their specific and legitimate concerns has a chance of success if the concepts have merit. Insultingly likening customers to allegedly stupid animals isn’t going to convince anyone. Besides, the point has little validity. Armadillos have 20 species, are currently dramatically increasing their territory in North America, and have been around rather longer than humans. Maybe we should wait until we’ve been around a few tens of millions of years longer before we get too cocky about how terrible those stupid armadillos are at surviving. Edit: Shaan has responded to this post on his own blog, deleted my reply and closed comments. He seems rather upset about something. Edit: …and has now restored my comment and opened comments again.

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Why owning stuff is still important

Let’s start with a few questions: Do you own your home or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? Do you own your car or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? Do you own your TV or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? Do you own your computer or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? If you’re like me, you answered the same for most or all of those questions. I own all of the above and rent none of it. I prefer owning all of the above. Why? Three Cs: Continuity. If I own my home, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be able to go on living in it as long as I like. There are exceptions (wars, natural disasters, etc.), but ownership is generally much safer than renting if it’s important to retain access in the long term. This is because it removes the significant possibility that the owner may eventually terminate the agreement for reasons of their own, or make the relationship financially impractical. Control. If I rent my home, for example, there are strict limits on what I can do with it. I can’t just install an air conditioner if the place gets too hot in summer. The owners or their representatives can come calling to make sure I’m looking after it as they desire. If I want to keep pets or smoke in the property, my options are severely limited. Cost. There’s a reason people invest in property to rent out to others, or run profitable multinational businesses hiring out cars. It makes sense to be on the side of the relationship that’s taking the money rather than the one that’s paying it out. In other words, it usually makes…

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AutoCAD Help suckage to continue – confirmed

In a recent post on Between the Lines, Shaan passed on the following response from the AutoCAD Team: There has been some recent discussions about the built-in help system in AutoCAD 2013, both positive and some criticism.  As our longtime users know, AutoCAD help has been through many evolutions. We are particularly proud of the new AutoCAD 2013 online learning environment we recently released (AutoCAD Online Help Mid-Year Updates.) This update addressed several user requested fixes and changes, and we will continue to take our direction from our user’s feedback. We do recognize that the online learning environment may not be the solution for every user, so while we are focused on creating a rich and personalized online experience, we will continue to maintain our current basic offline experience. (The emphasis is mine). This statement, although couched in marketingspeak, confirms what I’ve had to say on the subject. Here’s my translation into plain English: AutoCAD 2013 Help sucked, the customers said so, the recent update improved matters somewhat for online users, but the awful old system stays in place for offline users. The offline system is in maintenance mode, and the experience will continue to remain basic (i.e. it will suck long-term). There’s no mention of correcting this situation; it’s clearly a matter of policy rather than some unfortunate accident. Today, I was using Autodesk Navisworks Manage 2013. As you might expect from an Autodesk product, it’s powerful but unstable. In addition to the lockups and crashes, it has various bugs and annoyances. In looking for a way of working around one of the annoyances, I delved into the Help system. Strangely enough, this product (much younger than AutoCAD) uses something that looks remarkably like an old-fashioned CHM-based Help system. It worked offline. It was quick. It had contents, search…

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Autodesk’s Kean about moving to the Cloud

Autodesk’s API guru Kean Walmsley is the second Autodesk person I’ve seen who has been brave enough to stick his head above the parapet by discussing the Cloud, in writing, and in a medium that allows for public comment. Kean has always seemed like a straight shooter to me. Please note that his blog represents his personal opinions rather than an official Autodesk position. He’s after your comments, so please go and let him know what you think on his post. Add your comments here if you’re more comfortable with that, and I’ll make sure Kean sees them.

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Repost – how to get your picture next to your comment

This is a revisit of a post I made about three years ago, and repeated a year later. This has become more relevant recently because I changed the default avatars displayed next to comments to use random faces rather than random patterns. If you object to being portrayed as a grinning loon, read on. You may have noticed that some people’s comments have an avatar picture next to them (no, not the film with the Roger Dean visuals), while others have a randomly assigned pattern. On this blog, the avatar picture is a gravatar (globally recognised avatar), and you can have one too. Once you set it up, you will find that it works in all sorts of places, not just this blog. Some other blogs may use other avatar standards, though. Here’s how to do it: Visit gravatar.com and pick a sign up link. Provide a valid email address; the same one you provide when adding comments to blogs. I have not received any spam as a result of doing this, which is no surprise because Gravatar is owned by Automattic, Inc., the highly reputable WordPress people. You’ll be sent a confirmation email; click on the link in that and follow the prompts to set your password and so on. Choose your gravatar image from your hard drive, the internet, a webcam or a previously uploaded image. You can point to any size photo and will be prompted to select a cropped square area to display. That’s it, although you can manage your account to provide multiple email addresses and images if you wish. Wait 5 or 10 minutes, then check out this or other blogs and web locations where you have made comments in the past. Those blogs with layouts that support gravatars should now display the picture…

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Cloud concerns – security again

It’s probably worth pointing out that if you you have no problem emailing your designs around the place without some form of protection or encryption, there’s little point in getting all worked up about Cloud security. Email isn’t remotely secure. FTP isn’t exactly watertight, either. If you’re still interested in Cloud security issues, this post includes some relevant links you might like to peruse. First, here’s what Autodesk’s Scott Sheppard had to say about Project Photofly (now 123D Catch Beta) security last month: Project Photofly FAQ: What about the security of my data? This covers some of the same kind of stuff I’ve already discussed, but from an Autodesk point of view (albeit a pretty transparent and honest one, as you might expect from Scott). Here are some selected quotes: In essence, we don’t want to accept liability when we don’t take money… We intend to have a reasonably secure service, better than email, but less secure than a bank account. We store your files on Amazon’s S3 service, and they maintain their own physical and data security policy that is considered robust. Next, here are the 123D Terms of service, which raise many of the same alarm bells I mentioned before. Selected quotes: We reserve the right to change all or any part of these Terms, or to change the Site, including by eliminating or discontinuing the Site (or any feature thereof) or any product, service, Content or other materials, and to charge and/or change any fees, prices, costs or charges on or for using the Site (or any feature thereof). By uploading, posting, publishing, transmitting, displaying, distributing or otherwise making available Shared Content to us and/or any Users of or through the Site you automatically grant to us and our sub-licensees…the worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, fully paid-up, irrevocable, non-exclusive,…

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Autodesk Cloud-based structural engineering software review

As I’ve already discussed, one of the areas where CAD on the Cloud shows potential is in handling specific tasks that require performing intensive calculations that are suitable for sharing among many processors. That sounds great in theory, and a lot of Cloud marketing (e.g. Virtually Infinite Computing) emphasises that point. OK, that sounds promising, but how does it pan out in real life? One problem dissuading me from finding out is that Autodesk is being very restrictive with access to many of its Autodesk Cloud products (I’d probably throw a few sample render jobs into the Cloud and compare the performance, but I’m not the right kind of Subscription customer so I’m not allowed). Another problem is that I’m not qualified to review things like structural engineering software where the greatest computational potential appears to lie. Fortunately, Alex Bausk is qualified, so it was interesting to read his review of Autodesk’s Project Storm software. It’s important to point out here that anything Autodesk with ‘Project’ in the name is not a finished product. It’s an Autodesk Labs thing, designed to attract feedback rather than use in production. I very much approve of this process. It’s one area in which I’m happy to endorse the way Autodesk is approaching the whole Cloud thing, and has several benefits over the flawed private Beta process that Autodesk uses for its mainstream products such as AutoCAD. The downside for Autodesk when it comes to doing pre-release things publicly is that the criticism can be public, too. For example, selected from Alex’s review: …the product is, for reasons unknown, available only in selected countries… …utterly meaningless popups… Options for analysis settings are, to put it short, appalling. Project Storm is nothing more than a web envelope for our good old ARSA package. It is basically…

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CAD on the Cloud according to Autodesk’s Jim Quanci

In all of the Cad on the Cloud discussion so far, both here and elsewhere, there have been a lot of anti-Cloud comments and very little in the way of response from the pro-Cloud crowd. Participation in the debate from Autodesk people has been minimal. In one way I can understand that, because given the current atmosphere, who would want to stick their head above the parapet? On the other hand, Autodesk wants to position itself as a Cloud leader and obviously needs to bring its customers with it. It is unlikely that many hearts and minds will be won over with press releases and other forms of corporate self-praise. Therefore, it makes sense for someone to get their hands dirty and engage with the plebs. Step forward Jim Quanci, director of the Autodesk Developer Network. In the last edition of upFront.eZine, Jim was brave enough to enter the fray with a “letter to the editor” response to Ralph’s The Cloud is Dead position. I appreciate that Jim went to some length to compose his epistle and I thought he deserved more of a reply than Ralph’s one-liner. There will probably be a few letters in reply in next week’s upFront.eZine, but I’m placing my own response to Jim’s arguments here. It’s quite a lengthy tome and it would be unreasonable to expect Ralph to publish the whole thing unedited. I have quoted parts of Jim’s letter for the purposes of comment and criticism; for the full context you should read the original in upFront.eZine. You’ve been at this CAD thing a long time; use more of that long term perspective you have. Think past that time you and I have retired. I think of my two kids in college. My younger son (in engineering school) believes having valuable data…

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“The Cloud is Dead” is not what I said

I guess most of this blog’s readers also read WorldCAD Access and upFront.eZine, so it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that in the latest upFront.eZine, Ralph had procalimed “The Cloud is Dead” and referred to some of my recent posts here as supporting evidence. I’d just like to point out that it’s Ralph announcing the death of the Cloud, and not me. Personally, while I agree with some of Ralph’s points, I think there’s life in the Cloud yet and the obituary is somewhat premature. My own attitude toward the cloud matches that of most of you, judging by the poll results here. I see pros and cons, and have strong concerns about many of the cons. However, I intend to cover both sides objectively. Look out for more coverage soon.

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Taking control of your command line history

Thanks to Kean Walmsley’s post on his Through the Interface blog, I have learned something that would have been handy to know for the last decade or so, but which somehow escaped my knowledge. I learned how to increase the size of AutoCAD’s command line history cache. It defaults to 400 lines, which isn’t enough for me. I think this information deserves a wider audience than the ubergeek developers who frequent Kean’s blog, so here goes. Although it’s not directly mentioned on Kean’s post, you can find the current command line history cache length setting like this: (getenv “CmdHistLines”) This will return a value showing the number of command lines AutoCAD remembers, e.g. “400”. Although this is used as an integer value, it is passed to and from the Registry as a string. You can set a new value as shown below. Again, use a string, and note that values outside the range 25 to 2048 will be ignored: (setenv “CmdHistLines” “2048”) Also, if you don’t like AutoCAD repeatedly stopping during a long listing (e.g. SETVAR ? *), you can turn off that feature by setting the QAFLAGS system variable to 2. Don’t set it to 8191 as suggested in Kean’s post, because that will change a lot of other settings, few of which are documented publicly.

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Why do you comment here?

One of the things that most pleases me about this blog is the amount of comments it gets. I’m sure there are several AutoCAD-related blogs that are much more frequently visited than this one, especially the Autodesk ones. However, I’m not aware of another AutoCAD blog with the volume of comments I see here. On average, each post here receives just under 5 comments, and the most popular subject for discusssion is now not far short of the 100 mark. I recently went four complete calendar months without making a single post, but comments kept trickling in anyway. When I returned to normal posting, the commenters returned as if I had never been “away”. What’s up with that? I’m curious. Why do you comment here and not so much elsewhere? Or am I mistaken and there’s an AutoCAD blog I’ve forgotten that’s a hotbed of commentary?

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AutoCAD for Mac Update 2

As reported on Without a Net, there is a second update for AutoCAD 2011 for Mac. This will be welcome news to those of you who have discovered that AutoCAD crashes when using Copy/Paste after installing the 10.6.7 OS X update. If you haven’t applied Update 1 yet, you will need to do that first. As always, read the readme before applying the update itself.

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Vernor v. Autodesk – right decision, wrong reason

As I have stated before, I believe Autodesk to be in the right (morally, not legally) in its battle to prevent Vernor’s resale of old, upgraded copies of Release 14. In the latest installment, Autodesk has won its appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. There will be be further legal moves yet, but Vernor’s chances of winning this case are now more slender. So the right side has won (at this stage). I should be happy, right? Wrong. Although I think the latest court to look at this has picked the right side, it has done so for entirely the wrong reasons. (Again, morally wrong, not legally. I have no qualifications on legal matters, but I can spot an injustice a mile off). In a diabolical, dangerous, far-reaching decision, it has concluded that the doctrine of First Sale does not exist at all for products where the copyright owner merely claims not to sell its products, but rather to license them. So all those programs, games, maybe even CDs, DVDs, books etc. you have at home and thought you owned? How about that laptop with its pre-installed Windows? Or that iThing with its iOs? If you’re in the jurisdiction covered by this ruling, you quite possibly now don’t own them at all. Check out the fine print on each of those items; if it includes the magic word “license”, then you may not legally own it, or be allowed to sell it if you no longer need it. If you’re not outraged by this attack on your private property rights, you should be. What’s more, the Court ruling explicitly rewards companies for making the “license” terms as ridiculously restrictive as they can: We hold today that a software user is a licensee rather than an owner of a…

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Executive summary of Deelip’s AutoCAD for Mac interview

Deelip has just published an extensive interview with several Autodesk people about AutoCAD for the Mac. Deelip had a good set of questions and I suggest you read the whole thing, but if it’s all too tl;dr for you, then here is the lazy reader’s version of what Autodesk had to say: The AutoCAD code was split up into 3 sections: the core CAD engine (platform-independent), the Windows-specific (MFC) parts and the Mac-specific (Cocoa) ones. AutoCAD for Mac is incomplete. Choosing which features to leave out was done with the aid of CIP (oh, dear) and Beta feedback. (Hang on a minute, I thought CIP said most people were using the Ribbon…) No comment on when or if AutoCAD for Mac functionality will catch up with its Windows counterpart. No comment on the stability or performance of the Mac version. Buying Visual Tau wasn’t a complete waste of money. If Mac users want Windows-level functionality, they should use Bootcamp. The Mac version is intended to expand the AutoCAD market to those Mac users who are frustrated by Bootcamp or who find it too hard. Some mind-blowing spin was attempted in a valiant but vain attempt to explain away the Ribbon = productivity, Mac <> Ribbon marketing problem. You will really have to read it for yourself, as I can’t do it justice here. But “just because 2+2=4 doesn’t mean 4-2=2” will give you some idea of what to expect. The Mac version is the same price as the Windows version, despite being incomplete, because Mac users won’t know or care about the missing stuff. There are no plans for a Linux port, or any other platforms. Autodesk will wait and see how AutoCAD for Mac does before porting any of the vertical products. (Very sensible). Autodesk closed off the AutoCAD…

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AutoCAD 2011 Update 1.1

As I described earlier, Autodesk recalled AutoCAD 2011 Update 1 because it killed AutoCAD under certain circumstances (e.g. plotting with the layer palette open). Now there’s a fixed version available for AutoCAD and LT. There is no news yet about Updates for vertical AutoCAD variants. If you have installed Update 1 and the hotfix, you don’t need to do anything. If you have not installed Update 1, you should install Update 1.1. If you have installed Update 1 but not the hotfix, you can either install the hotfix or uninstall Update 1 and then install Update 1.1. For the full story, I suggest you read Tom Stoeckel’s Without a Net post. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (remember those?), make sure you read the readme before installing or uninstalling anything.

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Apple – Autodesk history revisited

In a post on WorldCAD Access, Jay Vleeschhouwer makes some reasonable observations. However, the timing of the 1990s Autodesk / Mac history looks all wrong to me. Jay quotes himself from a 2008 note: …until about the mid-1990s Autodesk did have a reasonable presence on the Mac … commitment waned when Apple’s fortunes faded a dozen or so years ago The last of the original Mac AutoCADs was Release 12, a 1992 product. Apple market share continued to increase after that; indeed, 1994 was a bumper year. However, Autodesk’s commitment had already vanished by then, and its 1994 product, Release 13, had no Mac version. Apple’s fortunes did indeed fall away “a dozen or so years” before Jay’s note, largely as a result of the success of Windows 95. But this decline could not have been the cause of Autodesk’s lack of commitment to Apple; by that time the parting of the ways was already well in the past. What did cause Autodesk’s commitment to vanish? According to what Adeskers told me at the time, Apple did. Because of the relatively tiny Mac market share, Autodesk relied on Apple to effectively subsidise the Mac AutoCAD development work by providing significant development resources. Apple, which in the early 90s was in a state of internal turmoil, decided to cut back on those resources and expected Autodesk to go it alone with Mac development. Instead, Autodesk killed it off as an unprofitable distraction. Although at the time I was critical of Autodesk orphaning its recently-acquired Mac customers, it was almost certainly the right thing to do from a business perspective. It would be interesting to know how much Apple is subsidising Autodesk’s current Mac development effort, but I guess we will never know.

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Why we keep upgrading

In a comment in response to a Deelip post yesterday, Brad Holtz pointed to an article he wrote in 1999. It’s interesting to note that while much of the computing world today bears little resemblance to the scene at the end of the last century, this article remains almost completely accurate and relevant. Indeed, it’s so right that you might even be tempted to think, “Duh, isn’t that obvious?” One section that stood out to me had this to say: Many software systems never even get beyond the acceptable stage …. vendors of these systems are continually coming out with new versions, never stopping long enough to fix the problems with the existing systems. It’s fascinating to me that this observation came at the very time that Autodesk was switching from a company that wasn’t exactly like that to one that very much was (and still is today), thanks to the 12-month release cycle.

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Autodesk user community survey

Autodesk is running a web survey to try to find out which user communities (including blogs) its customers find valuable. If you are interested in participating, the survey is here. If you want to specify any blogs, you will need to type or paste their names into various “other comments” boxes. As the number of blogs I read far exceeds a reasonable type-in requirement, I couldn’t accurately give an idea of my web habits. So I’m not sure how much can be accurately read into the results. (Source: CAD Panacea). I saw Shaan asking about this kind of thing a while back, but not getting much response. It looks like Autodesk is trying to work out exactly where its customers go these days for support, discussion, networking, training, etc. I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I’d be happy to provide my site statistics on request. Anybody can also get an idea of how much of a “community” a blog is by the number of comments. One point I found strange in the survey was the order of “valuableness” in one of the questions. It went something like: Not at all valuable Not very valuable Valuable Somewhat valuable Very valuable Exceedingly valuable (or whatever) The ordering of “somewhat valuable” and “valuable” was the opposite to what I would have expected. What do you think? Is “somewhat valuable” more valuable than “valuable”, as the survey suggests?

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