Autodesk discussion group maintenance this weekend

According to a notice on the Autodesk discussion groups, they will be down for maintenance for a while this wekend. The scheduled downtime period (in terms of GMT/UTC) is 7 AM Saturday, 15 November 2008 to 5 AM Sunday, 16 November 2008. Fingers crossed for some big improvements, they are desperately overdue!

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Autodesk discussion groups – signs of life?

After an extraordinarily long period of total silence about the dreadful state of the appallingly-updated Autodesk discussion groups, it seems that the sleeping monster has raised an eyelid. Although it unfortunately indicates that Autodesk intends to try to patch up the new system rather than throwing it away, there is now a “sticky” post at the top of each forum containing the following text: Your continued patience is appreciated as we work to resolve the discussion group issues you have been reporting. We understand the impact these issues have on your productivity, and want to assure you we are continuing to troubleshoot and resolve. We’ve posted an update under “Help” to provide awareness and status of the issues we are working on. We’ll regularly update this as improvements are made. Never mind the glacial nature of the response, it’s good to see that an acknowledgment has finally been made of the problems. However, picking on the Help link reveals that there’s a long way to go yet before all the problems are even fully understood by the team responsible, let alone fixed. Only three “Known Issues” are listed, and four issues are allegedly resolved. At least one of those, shown as resolved on 7 October, is still very much broken right now. At least one of the FAQ items, “Why can’t I stay signed in?”, gives false information. Discussion group team, you will find a lot more than seven issues listed on this blog alone. To see them, just click on the Newsgroups link in the Tags section on the right. Alternatively, you could use the Search box at the top and enter something like “discussion groups”. A search that actually finds everything? There’s a novel idea.

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The Autodesk discussion groups are awful

Yes, the Autodesk discussion groups are still awful. In other breaking news, the Pacific Ocean continues to be wet. I seldom visit them any more, but I just hopped on to the Autodesk discussion groups to see what progress had been made in fixing the many problems that have been pointed out here, on the groups themselves, in official problem reports, and elsewhere. Little or none, it seems. Search? There are still apparently only 188 uses of the word “autocad” in the tens of thousands of posts in the AutoCAD groups, ever. Editor? It not only still vacuums, when I just tried it out it vacuumed even harder than before, with delays of over a minute when switching between tabs and nasty screen formatting issues when the switch eventually occurred. Attachments that can’t be viewed? Check. Visible email addresses? Yup, still there. Everything I looked at was just as bad as it was last time I looked. Maybe something has been improved somewhere, but I gave up looking. I know there’s an Autodesk cultural tendency to pretend problems don’t exist for the sake of saving face, but that just doesn’t cut it here. (Actually, it doesn’t cut it anywhere, but that’s another story). What kind of face does this debacle present to the world? What does it make Autodesk look like? A company that doesn’t understand the Internet. A company that doesn’t know how to write software that works. A company that fails to seek user feedback on changes until it is too late. A company that can’t fix things that are broken. A company that doesn’t care about its customers’ privacy. A company that refuses to listen to customers who point out problems. Now I happen to know that this is not a fair and accurate representation of everyone…

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My autodesk.com site survey experience

I just tried out the new discussion groups to see if anything has been fixed. After entering my password (yet again), instead of placing me back in the discussion groups with my 100-topics-per-page settings, I was transported to the main Autodesk page and given the chance to provide feedback. I was informed that a new browser window would be opened, and then… nothing. I waited a while, but still nothing. Or so it seemed. Actually, the new browser window appeared behind my existing browser window, so I found it eventually. I clicked on it, it opened another, bigger window and the survey started. Here are the questions and my responses: Which of the following best describes your primary purpose for today’s visit? . Other To see if the discussion groups are still broken How often have you visited Autodesk.com in the past 6 months? . 6 times or more A question about my industry group that didn’t want to copy and paste… . Other Question is not relevant Do you currently own an Autodesk product? . Yes Are you planning to make a purchase decision related to an Autodesk product? (I don’t know what choice to make here, none of them really fit. I’m on Subscription but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in purchasing decisions; I am. I don’t know when the next purchasing decision will be, though. I picked:) . No. Which of the following titles best describes your role in your company? . IT Manager From which region are you accessing this site? (Can’t you tell?) . Australia / New Zealand / South Pacific How would you rate your overall experience with Autodesk.com today? . Very bad (Actually, I don’t really know because because I haven’t yet got to the discussion groups I asked for, so I’m…

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Slight improvement in discussion group search

While almost all of the problems with the Autodesk discussion groups remain, there are some signs of movement in one area at least. The search facility, which until recently refused to find anything from before the update, now finds some earlier posts. It would appear that some kind of search index is very slowly being built, but it’s a long way short of being finished. For example, if I do the standard default search for “autocad” in all the AutoCAD groups, there are 83 found in the last 90 days. This seems plausible, but I don’t trust it. Changing the time option to “All” now does actually return something rather than nothing at all, so I guess that’s an improvement. But 188 messages containing “autocad”? Since 1998? There should surely be thousands. Also, there are apparently no messages at all containing the word “it”. Or “is”. Ever. Some way to go there, then. If the people fixing the search happen to be reading this, please note that a maximum possible number of 30 results per page is much too low and makes it very hard to work with the search results. 100 would be better. There are still email addresses being exposed to the spam trawlers, but I guess by now that horse has well and truly bolted. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of post frequency, it looks to me as if the discussion groups are now significantly less active than they were before the update. Given the slightly functional search, the persistence of the awful editor, and the terrible runeverythingintooneline formatting of the existing message database (particularly important for the many posts containing code), I can’t say I’m surprised at the exodus.

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The John Walker interview, and other observations

I have been thoroughly enjoying Kean Walmsley’s interview of Autodesk co-founder John Walker, which he has now finished. Kean’s link to part 4 is currently broken (edit: now fixed) and that broken link has been picked up by others (edit: also fixed in Between The Lines), so here are the correct links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. One of the best things about the interview is that it contains some frank criticism of Autodesk (and Microsoft, for that matter). On an Autodesk blog. Think about that. OK, it may be criticism of some stuff that is now ancient history, and it was made by someone who isn’t actually an Autodesk employee any more, but when was the last time you saw even that? It’s refreshing to see just a tiny crack appear in the never-say-anything-negative Autodesk facade. I remember a time when Autodesk people were allowed to speak reasonably freely in public, often did so, and were even known to make admissions that not everything always smells of roses. John’s fellow Autodesk founder Duff Kurland once wrote this wonderful, wonderful response to a question of mine on the CompuServe ACAD forum (it was about Autodesk removing Visual Basic support without warning, if you’re curious): We screwed up. We screwed up twice. He then went on to explain the detail of how and why Autodesk had screwed up and exactly what they had learned from the experience. Can you imagine any Autodesk person saying that now? If they did, can you imagine that person remaining an Autodesk employee afterwards in anything other than a sweeping-up capacity? Nor me, and that’s a real shame. It would be easy enough to justify it by saying Autodesk is a public company and has a glossy corporate image to preserve, but…

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Here’s a couple I didn’t mention earlier

The Autodesk discussion group editor inserts spaces into URLs longer than a certain size (about 70 characters, it seems). It will insert spaces in one place for the URL that it says is displayed on the screen, in another place for the URL that’s actually invoked when clicked, and sometimes in even more places on the URL that really is displayed on the screen. Sometimes the space appears as a space and sometimes it appears as %20. The editor will cunningly allow you to apparently fix up these errors in the places they occur, and then the fun-loving little sprite will reintroduce the same or similar errors as soon as you save the changes. Multiple edit attempts will get you nowhere (except a padded cell, perhaps). Somebody must have had a wonderful time writing that one. Another bug relates to the display of quoted messages. Admittedly, this was always going to be a difficult task to get right in the new environment, because of the many quoting styles that exist in the messagebase. No surprise, then, to discover that quoted text frequently displays in such a way that makes the message author look like a clueless dolt. In related news, I’ve added a poll that asks what you think of the recent web update. I’m not making my usual attempt to remain neutral and avoid influencing the poll results this time, as it’s a bit late for that. Everybody knows my views by now, but I suspect it wouldn’t make much difference in any case. People are angry enough about this mess without any influence from me. However, it’s always good to see a wide range of views expressed; somebody thinks the update is “Fantastic”.

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Discussion group search – partial workaround

The Autodesk discussion group search facility is still impersonating an industrial suction pump in a puddle. It sucks very hard and produces little useful output. In addition to the problems already mentioned ad nauseam (apparently there have never been any posts made containing the word “AutoCAD”, but 34 have been made in the past 90 days), here’s another one I spotted today: picking on Search Tips will give you a 404 error. However bad the discussion groups are, at least the Subscription site is working (for me anyway, I know there are still people with login ID problems) and my helpful Indian chappie came back to me with a workaround. It’s not a very good workaround, and it only applies to Subscription customers, but I thought I would pass it on anyway: Log in to the Subscription Center, pick Search in the top right corner, then fill in your search details or pick Advanced Search for more control. This search method does find messages that date back before the recent web update. However, there are a few problems with it. There’s no way to restrict it to just discussion groups. Even if I restrict it to just “Communities”, it returns results that include various blogs, and to threads that have been moved or deleted. If more than one page of results is found, there’s no way of going directly to a given page, it’s Next > Next > Next > Next > repeatedly. If I try to restrict the search to AutoCAD 2009, for example, it returns nothing. Finally, it’s obviously only any good for Subscription users. Another workaround is to use Google Advanced Search and set the Search within a site or domain field to discussion.autodesk.com. However, I know of no way of restricting the search to AutoCAD 2009, for example. Enough…

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How not to do a web update

If you’re a major company and your various web-based services have evolved over time, you may have a proliferation of user IDs and some other issues to tidy up. You may be tempted to have a major overhaul. If you think your reputation among your customers isn’t low enough and you desperately want this update to be an unmitigated disaster, what should you do? If you’re dropping subtle hints about moving towards a Software as a Service model, how can you remind people about the excellent reasons that exist for avoiding dependence on on-line services in general, and on yours in particular? Here are some suggestions: Do everything at once. Don’t be tempted to divide this task into manageable portions, or you may have some prospect of success. Close down everything for several days. If your customers might have to rely on some part of your web services to keep their products working, make sure you close down that part in particular. Let ’em stew. Give the update job to a clumsy intern in your office that has never been allowed near a computer before. Failing that, outsource the job to the lowest bidder. Ideally, have it done in a country that has a first language other than your own, to maximise the potential for misunderstandings. When the user ID merge is done, make sure it is still broken for some people. Have multiple users with the same ID and multiple IDs with the same user. Some people’s existing user IDs will fail, so encourage them to make new ones and then refuse to allow it on the grounds that they already have an ID. Make sure random people’s user IDs work in some places but not others. If they are paying for a maintenance contract, do your best to prevent them from using it. Update your…

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Autodesk discussion group links – feedback and bookmarks

The Autodesk discussion groups are currently working. They are also still irresponsibly displaying people’s email addresses as visible user names. If you’ve posted to the discussion groups in the past, I suggest you check to see if your email address is out there for the spambots to pick up. There is now a feedback form for the discussion group and Community sites, so if you’re having problems you could try that. Hopefully, Autodesk won’t need a thousand feedback reports to work out that it’s running as slow as a wet week, the search is broken and that people’s privacy has been violated. If you have links to product categories that no longer work properly, you can modify the format as shown in this example, which is for the AutoCAD category. Old: http://discussion.autodesk.com/index2.jspa?categoryID=8 New: http://discussion.autodesk.com/forums/category.jspa?categoryID=8

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Autodesk discussion group alternatives

As I’m typing this, the Autodesk discussion groups are down for maintenance again. Let’s hope that when they come back up, some of the problems are fixed. In the meantime, if you’re an AutoCAD user and have something to ask or say, where can you go? Here are a few suggestions. I like the AUGI forums. It’s an even more modern, more graphical and less space-efficient web interface than the new Autodesk one, but there’s a good community there and, hey, the search feature works. Mike Perry and colleagues run a tight ship, so please read the rules and be good. If you have something to tell Autodesk and want practically no restrictions in the way you say it, submit a new message on dear Autodesk, or vote for the existing messages you like. It’s looking a bit bare and empty at the moment, so go fill it up. As a Cadalyst person, it would be remiss of me to avoid mentioning the Cadalyst forums. The Swamp is biased heavily toward CAD programming, so if you have a LISP question then head there, but it also hosts general CAD discussion. In this community, you are expected to be courteous and professional. Old-timers like myself will remember that the CompuServe ACAD forum’s Take 5 section was carried over into the AutoCAD discussion groups. It was kept going for a few years before Autodesk felt it was getting out of hand and killed it. That community refused to be killed, and actually still flourishes for newsgroup (NNTP) users at the t5 dot dynip dot com server. R. K. McSwain suggests the CADTutor forums. If you wish to point out any other sites I’ve missed, please let me know and if they’re relevant I’ll edit this post to include them. While I was…

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More Autodesk discussion group angst

When you start using the new AutoCAD discussion groups, in addition to the broken search facility, you will have other issues to deal with. There’s a new editor with lots of features and lots of problems. Quoting formatted messages results in a mess. Switching from one tab to another messes up your text. Submitting your message results in an error page like this: Autodesk Discussion Groups Discussion Groups Oops! Server Error 500. The resource you’ve requested is not available.       © Copyright 2007 Autodesk, Inc. All rights reserved. Legal Notices & Trademarks — Privacy Policy Despite this, the message does actually get submitted. People are unaware of this (possibly because the list of topics, and the popular discussions pane’s “last post” displays are not being updated as new posts are made) and re-posting their messages, resulting in duplicates. There is some confusion about what constitutes a category in the discussion group structure. If you go from the top level to the AutoCAD level and then into AutoCAD 2009, picking the “Up one category” link takes you right to the top. The speed of the web interface varies from quite acceptable to something rather less than that. People are reporting problems with losing their old watched threads, and not being allowed to watch new threads without email notifications. There’s nowhere obvious for people to report problems, so people are just starting complaint threads in random locations. What if you report problems directly to Autodesk? According to a poster in one thread, this is what he got in reply to his report that search is broken (which it still is): Thank you for contacting Autodesk Support. Here is the recommended resolution to your Support Request: Discussion Group is just a BBS for all Autodesk Customer. This BBS is not product support…

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Autodesk newsgroup changes

As I mentioned yesterday, the Autodesk newsgroups have been overhauled. After spending yesterday going up and down like a whore’s drawers*, the site is now up, albeit still not 100% of the time. At this stage, newsreader users appear to be generally unaffected by negative issues, which is a pleasant surprise. The space efficiency for Web users has improved since yesterday, and while it’s not as good as it was a week ago, it’s now good enough for me. I’ve now managed to log on, and was impressed to see that it had retained my old settings of 100 topics per page and no limit on the number of posts per page. Unfortunately, the new control panel imposes a limit of 50 topics per page and 50 posts per page, so I’m not going to be able to change any of my other control panel settings for fear of forever losing my long-page settings. Autodesk, please add options for 100 topics per page (more, if you like) and unlimited posts per page. The litttle blobs to indicate read and unread posts may look cute, but they’re not much use to me. Before, I could open a long thread such as this one and look for “NEW!” within the page using the browser search to find the new posts. Scrolling through the page looking for brown blobs is seriously inferior to the mechanism I had last week. Autodesk, can I please have an option to have easily searched words like “NEW!” instead of blobs? Oh, and “NEW!” is much more useful than “new” because the newsgroup is obviously scattered with large numbers of words that begin with those three letters. Search? Still broken. Autodesk, you know what to do. Also, it logs me off every so often. What’s up with that? So, what do…

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Some Autodesk web stuff now coming back on line

Right now, the Autodesk Subscription site is back up, although some people are experiencing problems. As an Aussie, I approve of the new Subscription slogan that starts with “No Worries”, even if it’s not yet accurate. Product Activation is requesting a logon, but I haven’t gone any further than that, so it may or may not be working. The Autodesk Discussion Groups are up and down by the minute. Links that once led directly to categories (e.g. AutoCAD) currently lead to pages with sub-category headings, but no links. The discussion groups themselves, while they’re up, have a new, much more modern look, but are unfortunately vastly less space-efficient than the old ones. My existing password no longer works and I haven’t seen an email about a replacement yet, so I haven’t been allowed to log on yet to see if I still have the option of improving the efficiency of the interface (e.g. by having 100 topics per page, not 15). The Search facility looks unfinished and fails to find stuff I know is there. There are various user-related issues, such as the user name links failing and multiple users with the same name. The Autodesk University site is up, but registration is still disabled. The Autodesk Labs site is up, but contains some links that no longer work. At a glance, the Alias Design, Civil Engineering, Impression and Manufacturing Community sites all appear to be up and running.

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Lots of Autodesk web stuff broken right now

Autodesk is in the middle of a big site overhaul at the moment, with many services unavailable. For example, attempting to log into Subscription Support gives me this: The Subscription Center is currently undergoing maintenance. You will not be able to access the Subscription Center during this time. Support Request is also undergoing maintenance. Currently, you are not be able to submit, view or manage settings for your Support Requests. The Subscription Center and Support Request will become available at the date and time shown in the chart below. Time Zone/Country Date Time GMT Tuesday, September 23, 2008 5.00 am Eastern Time (EST) Tuesday, Spetember 23, 2008 1.00 am Central European Time (CET) Tuesday, September 23, 2008 7.00 am Japan Tuesday, September 23, 2008 2:00 pm Korea Tuesday, September 23, 2008 2:00 pm Singapore Tuesday, September 23, 2008 1.00 pm India – Bangalore Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10.30 am We appreciate your patience while we work to improve Autodesk Subscription. That’s a relatively useful message; some direct links I have bookmarked give me this kind of thing: The server you are trying to access is either busy or experiencing difficulties. Please close the Web browser, open a new browser window, and try logging in again.[05:09:00] This also means your resellers are unable to provide you with license codes until the server is back up again. So if you were going to rely on that, don’t. The various Autodesk blogs seem to be unaffected at the moment, but links on those blogs may not work correctly. For example, signing up to be placed on the AU blogroll from the link at Between The Lines seems to work, but then right at the end gives me the message below, leaving me in the dark about whether I need to repeat the process…

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Firefox 3.0 Download Day

I use the Firefox web browser when I have a choice. I’ve tried Safari and it’s fine once I turn off the horrible fuzzy text, but whatever I try I always come back to Firefox. Today, FireFox 3.0 is released and the Mozilla people are hoping to set a world record for downloads. I’ve done my bit (it was a surprisingly quick download), over to you. http://www.mozilla.com/

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Blogger? Journalist? Whatever!

Roopinder Tara has raised an interesting point about how different CAD vendors treat journalists and bloggers. Ralph Grabowski has responded with a “Who cares“. Now you have more CAD blogger navel gazing to put up with as I have my say on the matter. As a traditional magazine journalist (Cadalyst, 1995 – present) and now as a blogger, I’d like to say I agree with Ralph. The label shouldn’t matter, content should be king. From a reader’s point of view, that is. Where it does matter is from a vendor’s point of view. How to dish out the freebies? Should Autodesk fly every blogger out to San Francisco, put them all up at Nob Hill hotels and shower them all with gifts? Or just the traditional journalists? Or journalists and major bloggers? If so, what’s a major blog and what isn’t? Is is based on how active the blog is, the quality of writing, the number of visitors, how vendor-friendly the articles are, or some other factor? Every vendor’s PR team has to draw the line somewhere. Some invite only traditional journalists while others invite a host of bloggers to their events. It all comes down to how much coverage the PR people want to see and how much they are prepared to invest to make that coverage happen. Their budget, their choice.

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This blog is ugly…

…if you’re using Internet Explorer 7. Thanks to Rick for pointing this out. It looks fine in other browsers, including IE6 and my own preferred browser, Firefox 2. Now I have to try to work around the IE7 bugs (which include splitting and misplacing images) to get the blog looking reasonable for everybody. Sigh. Thanks, Microsoft. Anyway, this means you’ll probably see the layout change around a bit more over the next few days. Do not be alarmed.

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Thinking of registering a domain name? Just do it!

If you are thinking of putting yourself or your company out there with your own domain name (e.g. cadnauseam.com), there are many, many sites out there that allow you to enter a domain name and see if it’s available. Don’t use them. Why not? Because some of those sites will then immediately register that domain. You won’t be able to register it until that company decides to release it, which of course it will do if you choose to use that company’s overpriced domain registration services. This particularly unethical practice is known as domain tasting and is now the subject of a class action law suit. It was the case that a domain registration company was legally entitled to hold a domain name for up to 5 days, before releasing it without any cost to itself: the 20c cost was refunded. Now that cost is set to become non-refundable, although there is some doubt as to exactly when this will take effect. When it does, that will put a big dent in this practice at the very least. Even if domain tasting continues for the time being, there is no reason you have to become a victim of it. First, find a company that you trust that will register your domain for a reasonable cost, and which is prepared to give you complete ownership and control of the domain. There is no shortage of low-cost domain registration options out there, but check the fine print. I’m a very satisfied customer of Saratoga Hosting for both domain registration and web hosting services, and in the future I’ll go into more detail about exactly why that is. Having found your trustworthy company, don’t bother with a special search. You could do a WhoIs search or just type your desired URL into your…

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