AutoCAD 2011 online Help changes – a curate’s egg

As announced by Shaan Hurley, Autodesk has made some changes to the AutoCAD 2011 online Help system. Please check it out and see what you think. After a short time with it, here are my experiences using IE6 (yes, I know). As this is a dynamic system and dependent on browser characteristics, Internet connectivity and any changes Autodesk may make between me writing this and you reading it, your mileage will vary. There are some cosmetic changes,  including a fixup of the Autodesk logo in IE6 that was done a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, my pink Comic Sans logo has not been adopted.  As I can’t do a direct side-by-side comparison with the pre-change setup under identical conditions, I can’t make a definitive statement about performance. I can say that it does appear to have improved somewhat. It now takes about 3.5 seconds from hitting F1 to seeing a complete landing screen. Once cached, I’m seeing it in come up in just under 2 seconds. The main change from a usability point of view is that the Search facility now defaults to searching All Books rather than whatever document you happen to have highlighted over on the left sidebar. That’s welcome. Also, the searches generally appear to give better results. For example, a simple search for LINE in the original 2011 online system gave a list of 199 results, of which the actual LINE command was 26th! Now, a search for LINE puts the LINE command third in the list; much better. The results come up faster than before (2.5 seconds in this example), but I have seen widely varying search times reported so I would be interested to hear about your experiences. The way the search results are presented is now significantly different. Instead of a single line for each result, 4 lines…

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Filling the holes in Autodesk’s CHM Help stopgap

It was good to see Autodesk react to criticism of AutoCAD 2011’s browser-based Help with an acknowledgement of the problems and an attempt to provide a workaround by making a zip file of CHM files available for download. That’s much better than ignoring people’s concerns, denying the validity of those concerns or shooting the messenger, which has been known to happen in the past. However, there are some holes in the workaround, only some of which can be filled. Under 64-bit Windows 7, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases on that platform. This is stated on the download page. Index works well, but Search doesn’t. As Search is one of the worst aspects of the browser-based Help, this is a rather unfortunate. There is no obvious way of making the CHMs provide contextual help. Don’t bother pointing at acad181.chm in the Files tab of Options, it doesn’t work. Edit: See Chris Cowgill’s post on the AUGI forums for a partial workaround. Even without contextual help, no advice is provided for calling the CHMs from within AutoCAD; you are only told that you can set up a shortcut on your desktop and double-click on that when you need it. However, you can set up an alias command in AutoCAD. To do this, edit the acad.pgp file or use the Express Tools Aliasedit command to set up a shell command. The alias name can be whatever you like (e.g. HEL), the command name should simply be the path and filename of the main acad181.chm file. The CHM files are currently available only in English. The set of CHM files is incomplete. See below for more details and what you can do about it. These are the CHM files provided with AutoCAD 2011: acet.chm – Express…

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Had any problems with this site lately?

A couple of days ago, my web hosting server was down. This is pretty unusual with the hosting company I use, but these things can happen to the best from time to time. This site was up again after a couple of hours, during which I received the excellent customer service that is par for the course at Saratoga Hosting. It’s when things go wrong you really learn how good a company’s customer service is. Saratoga’s customer service is the best I have seen from any company in any field, ever. I have had one person email me to let me know that they could not add a comment yesterday. Anyone else have such issues over the past 48 hours? Feel free to use this post to mention any other issues you have with commenting, reading, navigating, searching or otherwise using this site.

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Autodesk provides CHM-based Help for AutoCAD 2011

In a comment in response to my AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular post, Autodesk’s Diane Serda acknowledged the problems, offered apologies and posted a link to a CHM version of the Help. From Diane’s comment: We have posted the zip file for download here: http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/ps/dl/item?id=15068206&siteID=123112&linkID=9240618 Instructions: 1. Download the AutoCAD2011CHMHelp.zip to your local drive (such as My Documents\AutoCAD2011Help). 2. Extract the zip file to this same folder. 3. To access the CHM Help, you’ll need to click on acad181.chm or create a desktop shortcut. You can also point to the locally installed HTML help by turning on the local help checkbox under Options, System. You can also access the PDF’s from the Online Help Home page under Online Resources. http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU Thanks, Diane! That saves people from having to do inconvenient and dodgy things like downloading a demo version of an AutoCAD 2011-based vertical (Civil 3D 2011 has CHM-based Help for the AutoCAD bits) and grabbing the CHM out of there. Edit: when running under Windows 7 64-bit, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases. That’s unfortunate, because searching is a major thing at which the browser-based system is currently very poor. The Index panel works, though, and it’s quick. The PDF link is currently broken for me, but I expect it will be working before too long. In the meantime, the direct link to the list of available AutoCAD 2011 PDF documentation is http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU/pdfs/PDF Documentation.html (beware, space in URL).

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AutoCAD Internet Survey

I spotted this on the AutoCAD Research Twitter feed: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AutoCAD_Internet Autodesk wants to know your views on web content and how it relates to AutoCAD and your work. It’s a fairly big survey, but I encourage you to take part. You can also sign up to participate in user research sessions here. This is a pretty direct way of letting Autodesk know what you think.

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AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular

My poll on this subject is still running (see right), but so far about 2/3 of respondents rate AutoCAD 2011’s new browser-based Help system as 0, 1 or 2 stars out of 5 (total fail, very poor or poor). Frankly, I’m surprised it’s doing as well as that. Have a look at this discussion group thread to get an idea of the sort of reaction I was expecting it to receive. (Kudos to Autodesk’s moderators for allowing the discussion to continue with relatively little obvious censorship, at least so far). There are many good new things in AutoCAD 2011, but Help isn’t one of them. Even if you like the concept of online help, this implementation of that concept is a failure. Even when used offline, this release’s browser-based Help is manifestly inferior to its CHM-based predecessor. Yet another victim of the 12-month release cycle, this feature is horribly undercooked and should not have been included in the finished product. As an advertisment for Autodesk’s ability to provide efficient cloud-based and/or platform-independent software, it could hardly be worse. I intend to pull Help to shreds in more detail in a later post, but feel free to add your own observations.

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Autodesk Knowledge Base – rapid response converts fail to win

Credit where credit is due. Following my rant about the uselessness of using a 16-minute YouTube video as the AutoCAD 2011 system requirements resource, the relevant people at Autodesk quickly fixed it and let me know. Now we just need the other releases covered and we’ll be all set. Autodesk is still officially supporting AutoCAD releases back to 2008, and those people who parted with a big slab of cash a decade ago are Autodesk customers, too. I’m sure Autodesk would like potential new buyers of its current products to know that they will be at least minimally looked after in future. I commend Autodesk’s Leo Casado for reacting politely and constructively to what was undoubtedly harsh feedback. Some Adeskers (by no means all) have been known to get extremely defensive when faced with criticism, insisting that all feedback should be expressed constructively. That’s nonsense, of course. Frank expressions of viewpoints are essential in order to resolve problems. Negative feedback, including harsh criticism, can be among the most useful forms of communication. Congratulations to Leo for showing how it can be handled positively, to the benefit of all.

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Autodesk Knowledge Base – who thought this was a good idea?

This evening, I needed to know exactly which operating systems were supported by all AutoCAD releases from 2004 to 2011 inclusive. I have a pretty good idea, but I needed to confirm that my mental picture is completely correct. So I hopped over to the Autodesk Knowledge Base and entered “system requirements” in the search engine. Only one of the first 50 results was relevant, and that was for AutoCAD 2011. So I clicked on that. Did I get an easily digestible list of system requirements, including a list of exactly which operating systems were supported by AutoCAD 2011? No, I did not. What I got was this: So I clicked on the pretty picture, hoping to be taken to an easily digestible list of system requirements, including a list of exactly which operating systems were supported. Is that where I was taken? No, it was not. Instead, I was taken to a 16-minute YouTube video. As I was not being blocked by a business firewall at the time, I could watch a few stuttery, blurry marketing images flash past during the few seconds it stayed on my screen. There’s a technical term for this kind of thing. It begins with w and rhymes with bank. But I don’t need to tell you how dumb this is. Anybody who is smart enough to read this blog can work that out. But the people at Autodesk who thought this was a great idea? Really, what on earth were they thinking? What were they smoking? Strewth!

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Incoming link: “Important Revit information”

One of the things my blog’s WordPress dashboard shows me is a list of incoming links, i.e. who is pointing to this blog. One line intrigued me: unknown linked here saying, “318 random votes.. http://www.blog.cadnauseam.com/ …” Clicking on the link took me to the Autodesk Discussion Groups, but only as far as this message: Error: you do not have permission to view the requested forum or category. A Google search showed up the link as follows: Important Revit information Saturday, 3 April 2010 9:23 AM 318 random votes.. http://www.blog.cadnauseam.com/2009/09/09/ribbon-acceptance-in-autocad-and-revit/ Call me self-obsessed if you like, but I find this curious. If anybody has any more information about it, please let me know.

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Siemens 0, Autodesk (April) 1

Personally, I find most April fool jokes to be pretty lame. I considered doing one myself, and had what I thought was a pretty convincing idea, but finally decided against it. Maybe next year. This year, there was one definite exception to the lameness rule. It was well set up, clever and funny. Siemens killed it. Or, to be more accurate, they foolishly attempted to kill it. Fortunately, the Twitter CADville app is still alive and even now being tended by somebody with a fine sense of humour, as you can see from tweets like this: Sometimes you will see duplicate messages. That can happen after downtime. You want better, write your own CADville #cadville. Sometimes, the cloud is a big server farm. Othertimes, is a crappy laptop that needs to go to the programmer’s girlfriends house. Back in 1h Once Siemens pulled Mark Burhop’s corporate blog post, in an attempt to protect Mark, Deelip removed his own related post (edit: now restored). But the very idea that you can hide stuff like this once it has been blogged about is plainly ludicrous. Returning wine to a shattered bottle would be much easier. Ralph describes the CADville story here, you can also see it on Twitpic here, and the original FAQ has been reposted here. Now I’m posting about it on a blog that gets about 90,000 page reads a month. I expect there will be a fair bit of comment buzzing around the CAD community for a while, none of which will reflect well on Siemens. If this gag had been left to run, I would have either not heard about it at all, or would have noticed it as a funny little episode that showed how cool it was that Siemens doesn’t fit the ‘humourless German’ stereotype. The…

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Repost – how to get your picture next to your comment

This is a revisit of a post I made about a year ago. 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 that you associated with the email address you supplied when you made your comment. If the image doesn’t show up, do a reload/refresh and/or clear your browser’s cache and try again.

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Full RSS feeds restored

Apologies to those of you who have stated that you prefer truncated feeds, but I have now restored full RSS feeds. I will attempt to deal with the issue of blog scraping in ways that do not have an impact on blog nauseam readers. Thanks to all of you who provided feedback about this change, both in comments and by email. Negative feedback is very often the most useful kind, and this is no exception.

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Autodesk’s cloudy drawing offering

Autodesk’s Project Butterfly is its latest offering in the Cloud (Software as a Service, SaaS, web-based software, whatever) area. This is a Labs technology preview (i.e. it ain’t cooked yet) of browser-based drawing system based on Autodesk’s purchase of Visual Tao. The idea is that no software other than a browser is required to create, edit or just view drawings. To try it out, head to http://butterfly.autodesk.com/ and pick on Try Now. If you’re interested in going further with it, you will need to create an account, which is a quick and painless process. This account is separate from your Autodesk ID. For more details, see Scott Sheppard’s posts here and here, the Project Butterfly blog, and the Project Butterfly page on the Autodesk Labs site, which includes a series of videos such as this one: I’ve had a brief play with it and while it’s not as horribly slow as I had feared (the Ribbon is much quicker than AutoCAD’s, although that’s not difficult), it’s currently an extremely limited environment. Other than viewing and some very crude drawing operations, pretty much everything I wanted to do either couldn’t be done, or couldn’t be done in a satisfactory way. Once I had discovered how to get a drawing out of the clouds and in my own hands (it’s not Save As), the export crashed with an HTTP Status 500 error. Apparently, the server encountered an internal error () that prevented it from fulfilling this request. Teething problems aside, it’s hard to imagine anyone accustomed to full-featured CAD software actually spending all day drawing with this mechanism. In fact, I can’t imagine spending more than an hour on it before tearing my hair out; a few minutes was enough. It’s perfectly adequate for viewing and marking up, but as a drafting…

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Some thoughts on AutoCAD Exchange

I’ve added a link to Autodesk’s new AutoCAD community site, AutoCAD Exchange. As with most things Autodesk, there are pros and cons. Here are my first impressions. I think it looks good in a Vista-black kind of way. I know some of you don’t like the black look in software, but I do. The layout looks a bit cluttered and confused at first, but I’m sure visitors will quickly get used to where to find things. The site appears to be designed around 1024-wide resolution. If you have more than this, as most CAD users do, then there are wide areas of wasted space either side of the good stuff. The front page is basically a teaser. To get to the useful content or do pretty much anything, you need to register or sign in. I don’t particularly like this, and it gives the impression (false or not) that Autodesk wants to own and control you, even if you’re just viewing a site. The registration process is the same as for other Autodesk sites such as the discussion groups, so if you have an Autodesk identity, you’re already registered. As it is a “community” site, on first sign-in you are invited to fill in more details, provide an avatar and so on. Some people might not like this, but it’s optional and Autodesk knows where I live so it makes no difference to me. I know where Autodesk lives, too. It has yet to be seen if Autodesk manages to develop a real community on this site, and if so, how open that community is allowed to be. Autodesk is encouraging bloggers to add an Autodesk Exchange widget to their blogs. I won’t be adding one in a permanent position because this is my blog and not Autodesk’s. I kind…

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Death to robo-responses!

The responses to Carol Bartz’s blog post are an interesting read, and not just because of the astonishing amount of attention being paid to her language. One person pointed out how irritating it was to be “helped” by Yahoo’s dumb automated “support” system: I have never – repeat, NEVER – had a human response to ANY email or form-submitted help request that I’ve sent to Yahoo! NEVER! All my experience of communicating with Yahoo! customer ’support’ is characterised by exchanges such as: Me: Hi, I need help with Messenger on the Mac Y!: Thankyou for contacting customer support. Here are some tips for getting Messenger to work on Windows. Me: Uh, thanks, but I’m on a Mac. Can you help me with Messenger on the Mac please? Y!: Thankyou for contacting customer support. Please follow these steps for uninstalling Messenger and re-installing it on Windows. Me: Um.. haha… good one. No. Really. Can you help me with Messenger on the Mac please? Y!: Thankyou for contacting customer support. Here are some tips for getting Messenger to work on Windows. And so on… I’d like to think the people who actually work in customer support are just as amazing as you say they are, but I’ve never had contact with one so I have no way of really knowing. Not long after reading that, I had a similar experience myself. I had ordered something worth several hundred dollars from the UK, and it was sent via Parcelforce. I used the on-line tracking system to check its progress, and late on 28 February I was surprised to see the following line had been added: 28-02-2009 17:00 Delivery Agent – AUSTRALIA Parcel delivered I was surprised because no such delivery took place. I had been at home at the stated time and there…

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Bartz the blogger

Autodesk’s Executive Chairman of the Board (who has one or two other little jobs, too) has made a Yahoo! blog post in which she promises to kick a donkey, or something. Yahoo! if of only tangential interest to me; I don’t particularly care if it thrives or if it dies. However, it’s good to see Carol communicating directly in this way, and it’s good to see her emphasise the importance of looking after the customer, placing emphasis on efficiency over innovation for innovation’s sake, and promising to do better at listening. Welcome to the blogsphere, Carol.

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A year of nauseam

This is one of those awful self-indulgent blog posts you hate, so just skip it and read the more interesting stuff a bit further down instead. It is now a year since I started this blog and this is my 200th post. Here are the site statistics for 2008: Here they are for 2009: I’m sure there are other CAD blogs out there with much more impressive stats than that, particularly the Autodesk ones. I’m pretty happy with the number of visitors I have, though. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started doing this; maybe a couple of hundred people might be interested, maybe not. I certainly wasn’t expecting 168,000 visits in the first year. I wasn’t even sure I was going to keep it up after the first few weeks. But it seemed to grow in popularity quite quickly so I kept at it. Hopefully, I’ll retain my enthusiasm and keep it going for a while yet. I’d like to thank all of you who find this blog worth reading, and especially all of you who add your comments, whether I agree with them or not. Please continue!

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I’m supporting the New Zealand blackout

Thanks to Robin Capper for bringing this to my attention. http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout.html Disclosure: I’m a software developer, artist (of sorts), copyright owner and part of a company that sells software to allow copyright owners to protect their interests. I’m also the victim of clueless corporations counterproductively interfering with my art. Most of all, I’m a supporter of the fair use of copyrighted materials. This law in New Zealand needs to be turned back now. If it succeeds in Robin’s country, it will be mine next, then yours. I encourage you to support this viral campaign so it attracts some press attention. Excuse me while I go and turn my gravatar black.

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