Guillermo Melantoni’s 3D blog

What a Mesh is another new Autodesk blog, this time from Autodesk 3D guru Guillermo Melantoni. You may remember Guillermo mentioning his forthcoming blog in my A gaggle of geeks video, and now it has arrived. You can also see Guillermo in action in several videos about AutoCAD 2010’s new 3D mesh capabilities on AutoCAD Exchange.

Guillermo is very, very smart, he expertly uses the products he develops (the building on the AutoCAD 2010 packaging was done by him), and it’s great to see him interacting with users in this way.

New Autodesk blog for AutoCAD support

I’ve added a link to Without A Net, a new blog on support issues, technical solutions, fixes, and tips for AutoCAD. It’s run by Tom Stoeckel, global technical lead for AutoCAD product support. In my limited experience, I’ve found Tom to be a fine fellow with his customers’ needs at heart. This blog promises to be a worthwhile addition to the existing AutoCAD support mechanisms, and I commend Autodesk and Tom for introducing it.

More on ODA, Autodesk and click-through agreements

Evan Yares has provided more information on the incident I mentioned in my last post. Here it is:

It was years ago. My guess was that the person who did it was just trying to spider the website pages, for marketing research, and didn’t realize he got all the libraries too.

In any event, I said hey you did this, they said no we didn’t, I produced download logs, they said there was no agreement and even if there was we hereby cancel it, I said if you want to see our libraries I’ll send ’em to you no strings, they said no thanks, then I just let it drop. Of course, I’m paraphrasing.

I wasn’t going to get in a fight with Autodesk. Trying to trick them into joining the ODA would have been both futile and dumb. I’d been trying for years to get them to join (I was an optimist, once upon a time), and it caused no damage for Autodesk to be able to see the ODA libraries. There wasn’t anything in them that they didn’t know better than we did.

Don’t read too much into Autodesk’s belief in the enforceability of click-through agreements based on this incident. I knew the guy who downloaded the files, and knew that he didn’t have the authority to bind Autodesk to an ODA membership agreement (it would have taken at least a VP to do that.)

This is interesting for more than just the amusement factor; it raises a serious point about the enforceability of click-through agreements. In this case it was a web-based membership agreement, but I’m more interested in software license agreements.

In most cases, the person doing a software installation is unlikely to be a Vice President or higher. It’s quite possible that the installer doesn’t even work directly for the company that is supposedly agreeing to whatever terms may be hidden behind the “I Agree” button. In fact, that’s the situation I’m regularly faced with when I install software for a client. The client certainly doesn’t view the “agreement” and may not even know that it exists. The client hasn’t authorised me to negotiate a contract with anyone, only to get some software working. There’s no “meeting of the minds”. The software vendor may think that the client is bound up tight by the terms of the EULA; the client hasn’t agreed to anything and either doesn’t know the EULA exists or doesn’t consider it to have any validity.

Does it matter? Maybe not. It only really matters when one party or the other doesn’t do the right thing. Fortunately, I have honest clients and I’m confident that they will act in an ethical way on an ongoing basis. But will the software vendors do likewise? I don’t know.

Evan Yares, ODA, Autodesk and click-through agreements

I’ve always found it entertaining when the lawyers of CAD companies do their best to make their clients look like total jerks. The opening shots as presented by Evan Yares in his proposed ODA class-action lawsuit indicate that there is another rich source of recreational reading on its way. I’m sure it’s no fun for the lawyer-paying people involved, though.

You would think that Autodesk would be rubbing its corporate hands together at the prospect of the ODA being distracted like this. Or maybe not, if the bunfight throws up more little gems like this:

Autodesk had at least once gone to the ODA website, agreed to the click-through membership agreement, received their access password via email, downloaded each and every library on the ODA’s website, then denied they did it. (The ensuing conversation about this, between the ODA and Autodesk, was pretty interesting, to say the least.)

If that’s true (and I would welcome evidence from either party) it certainly puts an interesting slant on what Autodesk thinks about the enforceability of click-through agreements.

On a related subject, see the polls on the right. There has been one running for a while about whether you even read such “agreements”, and I’ve added two more. They ask if you feel morally and legally bound by the terms that lie under that “let me get on with the installation” button.

Buying 24″ monitors – is now the right time?

I’m doing my bit to reduce the impact of the global financial crisis. Yesterday, I went out and bought a couple of new 24″ monitors to replace my perfectly functional pair of 19″ LCDs. It now looks like I’m facing a huge wall of pixels and I don’t quite know where to look, but I felt like that after moving from my old 19″ CRT to the pair of 19″ LCDs, so I’m sure I will get used to it soon enough. The 19″ LCDs haven’t gone to waste, they are now adorning an older PC which was previously attached to the old and now slowly-dying 19″ CRT.

Why was it a good time for me to buy new monitors? Because of the way monitor aspect ratios are going. The “sweet spot” for monitors right now is 22″ or 23″, where a serious number of pixels are available for very little cash. Trouble is, the pixels are in the wrong place. Almost all monitors of that size have a resolution of 1920 x 1080, a ratio of 16:9, same as a full HD TV. A vertical resolution of 1080 doesn’t provide a significant advantage over an old 19″ 1280 x 1024 (4:3 ratio) monitor.

When I’m not doing CAD or image manipulation, I’m generally doing things that involve lots of vertical scrolling; word processing, reading web pages, that sort of thing. Often, those web pages have a fixed-width design (e.g. AutoCAD Exchange), so adding extra screen width gains me nothing but extra wide stripes on each side. With more and more software having a deep horizontal stripe dedicated to user interface elements, there’s not much point investing in only 56 extra pixels (5.4%) of height.

From my point of view it’s better to pay a bit extra and go for an extra 176 pixels (17.1%) of height: a 1920 x 1200 (16:10 ratio) monitor. These are available in various sizes, but the cheapest ones, and the ones that will fit side-by-side on my desk, are 24″. But these are becoming less common. Even as I’ve been looking over the past few weeks, the number of 24″ 1920 x 1200 monitor models available in my area has dropped off significantly. Unless you’re very careful, if you buy a 24″ monitor it’s likely to be 1920 x 1080.

Why? Many of these monitors are now being used for games consoles; 1920 x 1080 is all they will use. Same with HD TVs; 16:9 is the current fashion in LCD panel ratios, and it looks likely to stay that way. It makes sense for manufacturers to make 16:9 panels, so 16:10 panels are only going to get rarer.

That may make sense for the manufacturers, but it doesn’t help me as a vertical-pixel-hungry customer. Unless I’m prepared to go for much bigger, desk-hogging and expensive monitors, all I’m going to gain with a 16:9 screen is a bunch of width. Even a 27″ monitor I considered, at roughly twice the price of a 24″, offered “only” 2048 X 1152.

I made the decision. I bought a pair of 24″ 1920 x 1200 monitors while I still could. I found a good-value model I could view in the store, with a small enough bezel (important if you’re using them side by side), a height-adjustable stand, and an excellent warranty (3 years pixel-perfect). For me, it was the right time. Maybe it is for you, too?

AutoCAD 2010 – Turning off InfoCenter

I generally avoid the still-awful Autodesk discussion groups these days, but I do hop in from time to time in the vain hope of seeing some improvement. In doing so, I occasionally pick up a gem, and that happened today. I think this one deserves a wider audience, so here it is.

In AutoCAD 2010, you can disable the InfoCenter toolbar by opening the
registry, and going to the following key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Autodesk\AutoCAD\R18.0\ACAD-8001:409\InfoCenter

In that key there’s a value with the name “InfoCenterOn”.

Changing that value from 1 to 0 will disable the InfoCenter toolbar.

Source: Tony Tanzillo in this thread. Note that the “ACAD-8001” part will be different if you use a vertical variant of AutoCAD.

Why would you want to do this? To improve startup times and reduce annoyance. Autodesk should have provided a better mechanism for doing this. The absence of convenient, designed-in off switches for new features is something I’ve complained about on many occasions over the years. Autodesk’s response has been patchy.

Edit: I just noticed Owen Wengerd has posted about this, including a LISP routine to simplify the process of turning it on and off.

Autodesk to more than triple upgrade prices

As reported at Revit3D.com, next March will see a major change to the way Autodesk prices its upgrades. All upgrades will cost 50% of the full retail price rather than the much smaller percentage that is currently charged. If you upgrade yearly, that means the cost of doing so will be about 3.35 times greater than it is now. Clearly, Autodesk doesn’t want you doing that, and would much prefer you to be tied into the Subscription program, and is introducing some subtle encouragement to nudge you in the right direction.

Here is the rationale according to an Autodesk spokesperson:

I can confirm that after March 16, 2010, a streamlined upgrade pricing model will go into effect–all upgrades, cross-grades, and retroactive Subscription fees up to three releases back will be priced at 50 percent of a full license.

We are doing this to better match the needs and buying behaviors of our customers. A significant number of our customers have already moved to Autodesk Subscription. Only a small percentage of customers who do not have Autodesk Subscription purchase upgrades every year. Most of those customers upgrade every three years.

We believe that simple, straightforward pricing will help make it easier to do business with us. We also believe the new policy will make it more convenient and cost-effective for customers to keep their Autodesk software up-to-date.

So now you know, it’s being done for your own good. Happy?

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 of like my independence, and if a company wants space on my blog they can pay for it. Anyway, the widget is available in three sizes and here’s what the largest one looks like:

I’m likely to appear in one of those little interview videos soon, as they were shot during the bloggers’ visit to San Fransisco in early February. When you do get to see it, yes, that’s really me (and Melanie Perry) saying nice things about AutoCAD 2010, it’s not computer generated. Except for the background, that is, which is computer generated. It was bright green in real life. Other than that, no deception, lies, arm-twisting or bribes were involved. Oh, unless you count the free trip to San Fransisco as a bribe. I interviewed Autodesk, they interviewed me, and I actually had positive things to say about AutoCAD 2010. More on that later.

AutoCAD Exchange is an important and potentially very useful site for AutoCAD users. Check it out, and if you feel like it, report back. You can pretty much say what you like here.

Bug watch – identify this insect

No, not the Bug Watch, just a bug you can watch. Does anybody know what this insect is? It is the second one of these we’ve found in our home in Western Australia. It’s very active and it smells horrible.

YouTube Link

For those of you who can’t access YouTube, here are some photos of the bug:

Mystery Bug

A higher resolution version of the above picture is available here. This is the bug about to be given its freedom:

Mystery Bug

On release, it buried itself in our lawn:

Mystery Bug

In 25 years in Australia, I had never seen one of these until recently. Any ideas?

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 was no hint of a delivery van, ring on the doorbell, or box left at the door. Even if the stated time was for the UK rather than my local time, I was in then, too.

So I used the Contact us link to ask what was going on. I filled in all the details requested (including the tracking number) and received an automated response fairly quickly:

Thank you for your email.

This is an automated acknowledgement to your Email, please do not respond to this message.

We will aim to reply to your enquiry within the next two working days. Our business hours are Mon-Fri: 8am to 7pm and Sat 8:30am to 12.30pm. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience that this may cause.

I have no problem with this kind of auto-response. It confirms to me that my query is in their system and they have my correct email address. However, two working days is an excessive amount of time to wait for a response for this kind of service. What if I had needed the parcel urgently? As it happens, I didn’t, so I waited patiently for the real response.

In the meantime, the parcel was actually delivered on 1 March, about 24 hours after the tracking system had preemptively claimed. On 2 March, I received this follow-up email:

Dear Steve Johnson

Thank you for your enquiry.

Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused to you as a result of this delay. I can understand your disappointment that the parcel was not delivered on the due delivery date.

Hmm, how can you understand my disappointment? You didn’t understand the problem. There wasn’t a due delivery date. There was a false delivery recorded in the Parcelforce tracking system, which is altogether different.

At present I am unable to arrange for an investigation into the whereabouts of your parcel until I have received the information listed below:

Sender’s details (name, UK address, *contact telephone number)
Recipient’s details (name, address, *contact telephone number)
Posting date
Description of item
Parcel contents (Mandatory – search cannot be initiated without this information)
Value of item

*Please note our Search Team require telephone numbers in order to contact either the sender or the receiver of the parcel. A search cannot be initiated without this information.

To ensure that you receive the quickest response to your enquiry, please could you forward the above information to [removed]@parcelforce.co.uk we will then be able to commence the search.

I am sorry I cannot deal with your enquiry at this stage but can assure you that once the above information has been received, our Search Team will do all they can to resolve this for you.

Really, WTF? The email subject included the tracking number, which leads directly to most of that information in the Parcelforce database. The information that isn’t readily available in that way is information that I, as the recipient, would quite possibly not have available. For example, what if the parcel is a gift? This list of demands looks like a deliberate attempt to hamper communication with customers.

Kind regards

Tracy [removed]
Parcelforce Worldwide
Customer Service Email Team

Hmm, Tracy, I don’t think you’re real. You’re a computer-generated response, aren’t you? Now I have my parcel, I don’t think I’ll bother trying to communicate with you any more.

Why do companies like Parcelforce and Yahoo! insist on sending out useless robo-responses like this while attempting to maintain the obvious fiction that they are human responses? Maybe at a superficial level it appears to save money? Maybe it does, but that doesn’t allow for the lost income from the customers it drives away. Customers who need real support but don’t get it. Customers who object to being lied to. Even customers, like me, who are just trying to inform a company about failures within its systems? Failures that won’t now be addressed, because nobody human is ever going to read about them.

Gaahl’s Tr00 Life Adventures Week 10, and Peter Beste

Time for my own bad Photoshop. Truly, truly awful work here. This is the tenth and last (so far) edition of Gaahl’s Tr00 Life Adventures. Click the thumbnail to see the full size image.

Gaahl Week 10

This one contains a few in-jokes (e.g. “many Norwegian countries”) from the Mike Portnoy forum community that was the original audience, so much of the original amusement will be lost. I am posting this one mainly to complete the set.

The original Gaahl photograph is by Houston documentary photographer Peter Beste, who has this to say on his site:

In the last two decades a bizarre and violent musical subculture called black metal has emerged in Norway. It’s roots stem from a heady blend of horror films, extreme heavy metal music, Satanism, pagan mythology, and adolescent angst. In the early-mid 1990’s, members of this extremist underground committed murder, burned down medieval wooden churches, and desecrated graveyards. What started as a juvenile frenzy came to symbolize the start of a war against Christianity, a return to the worship of the ancient Norse gods, and the complete rejection of mainstream society.

I have spent the last 7 years photographing in this insulated and secretive community.

I am pleased to report that Peter has no objection to his original photograph being (ab)used in this way. If you’re intrigued or amused by these black metal guys, check out his site for more images. There is even a book called True Norwegian Black Metal, available (of course) in a limited edition of 666 copies.

Peter has taken photographs of other subjects, including similarly confronting ones of Houston rap culture (some include nudity), with a book due to follow on that subject later this year.

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.

A gaggle of geeks

Time to lighten things up a bit, I think. While attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch in San Francisco on 5 February 2009, I conducted a series of micro-interviews with a collection of AutoCAD bloggers and Autodesk employees. One geek asks 14 other geeks if they are geeks; nothing too serious here. I hope Shaan enjoys my tabloid journalist editing job right at the end.

YouTube link.

Thanks to all the interviewees:

Heidi Hewett, Autodesk blogger
Lynn Allen, Autodesk blogger
Melanie Perry, blogger
Robin Capper, blogger
Brian Benton, blogger
Todd Shackelford, blogger
Jon Page, Autodesk person
Matt Stein, Autodesk person and personal blogger
Shaan Hurley, Autodesk blogger
Donnie Gladfelter, blogger
Ellen Finklestein, blogger
David Cohn, blogger
Mark Douglas, blogger
Guillermo Melantoni, Autodesk person (still waiting for that blog, Guillermo!)

What is the collective noun for geeks, anyway?

Autodesk answers – 4 of 4

The final question is from metis:

Q: why is program size increasing and performance dramatically decreasing as hardware specs dramatically increase? as features “improve” and are added functionality should not be removed, and code should be streamlined.

seriously aren’t there any real programmers out there anymore? this thing isn’t written in java by a bunch of scriptkiddies (although 2009 sure is skinned like it was).

A: We made a number of performance improvements in AutoCAD 2010 over the previous release, and would appreciate hearing from you if you are encountering significant performance slowdowns with this latest release. If so, please send us details on what you were doing at the time, sample files if possible, and details on the machine you are using. This will help us improve performance further in upcoming releases of AutoCAD.

Autodesk answers – 3 of 4

The third question, courtesy of Earl Kubaskie, is:

Q: I would ask why there seems to be so little cooperation between the development teams. Vanilla, Map 3D, Civil 3D, each seem to be separate little empires. ACA might be in there, too, but I don’t use it, and thus I don’t apply for the betas.

I would think that closer interaction (and consolidation of beta testing teams) would smooth out the process – and maybe help get Matt his wish re bonus packs.

A: This is an ongoing area of focus for us, and this year we are making further changes that we believe will help bring the AutoCAD family of products closer together. In this release you’ll see consistency between the user interface as well as some of the new features, such as hatch enhancements, that behave similarly across AutoCAD products.

Autodesk answers – 2 of 4

In a comment on the first of these posts, Ralph G raised the possibility that these answers have been edited by marketing people. I have checked with Eric Stover and he assures me these answers come direct from the program managers concerned and are unmassaged by marketers. That ties in with the partial email trail that came with the answers. It also ties in with the impression I have formed recently that Autodesk is starting to open up a bit. That’s a trend I’m happy to encourage.

There’s one thing that clinches the marketing-interference matter for me. Despite Eric being on vacation when I sent in the request, the answers came back in days rather than weeks or months.

Enough of that, here’s the next question, courtesy of Matt Stachoni:

Q: Why haven’t the latest Subscription Bonus Packs been released for AutoCAD Architecture Subscription customers?

A: This year was the first time we released bonus packs continuously throughout the year to AutoCAD subscription customers, and we had a lot to learn about how to best deliver the bonus packs, and how often to release them. Based on our learnings from this year, our plan for the coming year is to ensure that AutoCAD Architecture (and other AutoCAD vertical product) subscription customers also receive any AutoCAD updates and bonus packs we deliver.

Autodesk answers – 1 of 4

At the end of January, I asked for your questions to put to Autodesk product managers. My intention was to pose your questions in a video interview format while attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch, but for logistical reasons I was unable to make this happen.

Autodesk’s Eric Stover kindly arranged for your questions to be answered anyway. The delay in getting these answers back to you is my responsibility, not Autodesk’s. The answers come courtesy of the following product managers:

  • Diane Li – lead manager on AutoCAD;
  • Guillermo Melantoni – 3D and Parametrics expert;
  • Kathy O’Connell – customer requests, quality improvements, and 2D improvements.

I will post each question and answer a day apart, to give you chance to comment on each issue separately. Here is the first question, courtesy of Chris Cowgill:

Q: With the current release cycle being so short, has anyone considered suspending a new release for a time, to spend an entire release cycle working on improving/restoring functionality of existing features and fixing bugs, why, or why not?

A: With any given release, we aim to deliver a healthy balance of new features & functionality along with improvements to existing functionality, so we can help enable new ways of doing design, but also provide more efficient ways of working the way you do today. We plan to continue this balancing act for future releases, but have also started delivering regular product updates (formerly known as ‘service packs’) throughout the year. So, rather than requiring you to wait for a new release of the product to get product improvements, this year we delivered 3 product updates that included hundreds of bug fixes to existing AutoCAD features and functionality.

Older AutoCAD loses (part of) the plot

I know there are plenty of people still using AutoCAD 2007 and earlier, so this bug warning may save some of you some grief. I have no idea how widespread or isolated this problem is, but under some circumstances I haven’t worked out yet, AutoCAD 2007 fails to plot all of certain dynamic blocks. Some attributes have a habit of being plot-shy. Even if you don’t use dynamic blocks yourself, you could receive a set of drawings, check them on-screen, approve them, plot them and send out paper drawings without all of their parts. Unless you’re carefully manually checking the paper plots, this situation is obviously a little dangerous. Fortunately, Plot Preview also shows up the problem, so it is at least possible to check things without wasting trees.

Here’s an example. This is part of such a drawing displayed in AutoCAD 2007, with all of its parts in place. One of the dynamic blocks is highlighted:

Drawing in AutoCAD 2007 with all its parts in place

Here’s that drawing plotted using AutoCAD 2007, showing the missing parts:

Drawing plotted in AutoCAD 2007 with parts missing

Earlier releases do the same, including pre-dynamic block releases. As DWF files are just electronic plots, the same problem applies to them. Yes, I’ve checked for non-plotting layers and looked into the visibility states within the dynamic blocks. An audit of the drawing indicates no problems. Attribute visibility settings are not an issue.

Here’s the same drawing plotted using AutoCAD 2009 (2008 and 2010 are fine, too):

Drawing plotted in AutoCAD 2009 with parts intact

What to do? Using a later release would solve it, but might not be a practicable solution in your office right now. Instead, you could consider using DWG TrueView for your plotting. That may not be ideal either, but it could be better than risking the consequences of an unknown number of your plots containing an unknown number of missing parts in unknown places.

Have you come across this problem? If you have any more clues about the circumstances that trigger it, please add a comment.