blog nauseam Terms of Use

It seems that not only EULAs but also web sites must have onerous, unconscionable, ridiculously restrictive and utterly unenforceable sets of rules these days. I don’t want to miss out on the fun, so I have added mine to this site. There’s a link at the top of the page that points here:


Leech marketing by IMSI – Part 2 – A/CAD

The IMSI free CAD product that it is putting up against AutoCAD LT has a very interesting name: A/CAD LT*. Does A/CAD sound familiar to anyone? I vaguely seem to remember some other CAD product with a very similar name. Hmm, let me think, it has a main program file called acad.exe and many other support files called acad.something, it has had its name abbreviated to ACAD by its users for decades… No, sorry, the name somehow eludes me.

I’m not a trademark lawyer (or any other sort), but here’s what I can tell from a quick glance at the USPTO site. It appears that Autodesk had ACAD registered as a trademark in 1986 with a first use in 1983, and that the registration was abandoned in 1987. It was registered again in 1988 and abandoned again in 1992. That may be an unfortunate lapse. I wonder what else may have slipped through the cracks?

Now there is an ACAD logo design registered to a certain ACAD Corporation of California (possibly unrelated), and a trademark application from IMSI, not yet approved. IMSI owns, and is actively using, the domain name. The IMSI advertising materials show the word A/CAD with a little TM after it, which indicates that they are claiming that they own the trademark, but it is not registered. The A/CAD packaging is, to me, rather too close to the style of the AutoCAD packaging. There’s even a Big Red A. Oh, sorry, it’s actually a big white A on a red background. That makes all the difference.

Given Autodesk’s history in using the courts to chase quarry as elusive as an unregisterable file extension that it never actually owned, and having a legal prod at competitors who dare to use orange rectangles in their marketing, what do you think are the chances that Autodesk’s hyperactive legal department is going to let this one slip by without a fight?

IMSI, if you’re going to compete, great. All power to you. But compete, don’t leech; it looks awful. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

While you might get some cheap** publicity (including from me), I’m afraid you miss out on the underdog sympathy factor when it looks like you’re actively trying to get sued. Finally, did you consider what happens when somebody tries to find your A/CAD product using Google? Didn’t think so.

* A/CAD LT Express is the full name of the currently marketed version.
** Excluding legal fees.

Leech marketing by IMSI – Part 1 – AU

A while back, I received an email from IMSI, makers of TurboCAD. The information I gained from that email is now public knowledge thanks to an advertisement in AUGI World and other exposure, so I guess I can let you all in on it. Here it is:

Everyone knows AutoCAD is a fixture in our industry.

But is AutoCAD LT? When is the last time AutoCAD LT has really been pushed?

And how about working with Google SketchUp? Doesn’t seem like Autodesk is too keen on that.

Please join us for a special FIRST LOOK of a new CAD application — that is sure to surprise.

Email for appointment [removed] or call 1.415.[removed].

FIRST LOOK slots on Tuesday Dec 2nd through Thursday Dec 4th at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bob Mayer
Chief Operating Officer, IMSI/Design, LLC
Tel: 415-[removed]
Cell: 415-[removed]

P.S. For those that can participate, there will be a business card drawing for a Dell laptop — of course, loaded with our new CAD application. For all others, evaluation copies will be provided.

The date and location may seem strangely familar to those of you planning to attend Autodesk University in a week or so. So an Autodesk competitor is using the biggest Autodesk event of the year to market its wares.

In one way, this idea makes perfect sense. There will be a lot of Autodesk customers at that event, so that’s the place to be if you want to steal some.

In another way, it makes no sense at all. The Autodesk customers at AU are likely to be the most loyal customers there are. They have just invested a decent slab of money in attending a training event, one which is very well run, very enjoyable and generally likely to make them feel good about Autodesk. Yes, some of those customers may be disgruntled about some things, but I would wager that the average Autodesk customer is about as gruntled while attending AU as they are ever likely to be. Also, the average AU attendee has a very full calendar and is going to be struggling to find the time to visit a hotel room or whatever to look at something they can download anyway.

There’s another way in which this kind of thing makes no sense; tagging onto somebody else’s event is not a good look. It’s tacky when Bentley does it, it’s tacky when Autodesk does it, and it’s tacky when IMSI does it. Tacky, tacky, tacky. I’m happy to see competition for Autodesk from anybody; ultimately it can only be a good thing for Autodesk customers. But leech marketing? No thanks.

I haven’t seen AutoCAD 2010…


That means I’m free to speculate about it in public. There have already been a few hints dropped here and there. Stronger 3D, parametric 3D? Does that just mean adding the missing 3rd dimension to dynamic blocks, or more? What else?

If you’re in the right spot at the right time at Autodesk University, you will probably find out a lot more. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear your speculation about what’s going to be in 2010, and find out what you’d like to be in it. Also, what don’t you want to see?

Please add your comments, but not if it involves breaking a non-disclosure agreement. I’m hoping to hear from people who don’t know what’s in 2010, because I think that would be an interesting exercise, particularly with the benefit of hindsight in a few months’ time.

What a crock!

Just when I thought it wasn’t possible for my Autodesk discussion group experience to get any worse, it has. Much worse.

I stated before that in the 15 November update, some Einstein decided it would be fun to copy my private work email address over the top of my public user ID, automatically making it visible to all and sundry in many places. I should note at this point that publishing somebody’s email address without consent is illegal in some locations, including here in Australia. So to the best of my knowledge (not that I’m a lawyer), Autodesk is not only perpetrating a grossly irresponsible breach of privacy, it’s also breaking the law.

Attempting to fix this myself failed, because of some new introduced bug in the login system. When changing my user ID from my email address to “Steve Johnson”, the screen falsely claimed that the data entered was invalid. I have reported that here, on the newsgroups themselves, and as an official top-priority Subscription support call.

During one of my user ID fix-up attempts, a popup screen asked if I was changing the password (I wasn’t, I was trying to change the user ID) for user “Steve Johnson” or user “my email address”. I tried both in turn, but neither worked. That got me thinking that maybe the update may have created two versions of me; one with the correct name and one with my email address, with the latter being associated with my discussion group messages. So I tried changing the email address one to a name that wasn’t my email address and wasn’t Steve Johnson (SteveJohnson-blognauseam), in the hope that this would at least remove my email address from public view.

I was pleasantly surprised when this change was accepted, but my elation was short-lived. The change process logged me off automatically, and then refused to let me log back on. I can’t log on as SteveJohnson-blognauseam, I can’t log on as Steve Johnson, and I can’t log on as my email address. All attempts are refused as invalid. I can’t log on to chase up my Subscription support call. I can’t log on to erase my email address from the body of a discussion group message, which was automatically infected with my full-text email address when I edited it in an attempt to fix up some of the new formatting issues introduced to the awful editor by the recent changes. Not only that, but after all that, the change of my user ID didn’t “take” in the discussion groups themselves! It was all in vain! Strewth.

I’m stuck in the worst of all worlds. My Subscription access is broken. My email address is still visible. If anyone replies to any of my messages, that email address is likely to be reproduced in plain text in their message, and I’m not going to be able to edit it. I can’t even log on and complain about it on the discussion groups themselves. I don’t have access to my work email account for another 36 hours so I can’t chase up the Subscription people that way, and if they email me with instructions or a request for information I won’t see it. So the chances of this being fixed in a reasonable timeframe (i.e. before the spambots do their harvesting) are slim, to say the least.

Would the dolt or dolts responsible for this SNAFU care to come forward? No, I didn’t think so.

I am struggling to find words that adequately express my displeasure at Autodesk right now. It wouldn’t be quite so abysmal if it wasn’t a repeat of the exact same situation just a few weeks ago, for which I and many others roundly and justly slammed Autodesk at the time.

Autodesk is listening? Yeah, right. In this case, Autodesk is doing a great impersonation of a fence post.

Edit: overnight, my name change to SteveJohnson-blognauseam did actually “take”, so most of the email address instances are gone. Unfortunately, a spambot only needs one instance, and I’m still left with at least one message containing my email address in plain text. I still can’t log on using any of my 3 possible user IDs, so I can’t fix it up myself.

Edit 2: an Autodesk person kindly emailed me (which must have taken significant intestinal fortitude) to inform me they had reset my password, which allowed me to log on and remove what I hope is the only plain text instance of my email address. Other than a few marginal technicalities I described to the Autodesk person, that’s my email address hidden again. Now, what about everybody else in the same boat?

Autodesk discussion group maintenance failure

I must admit that I wasn’t really expecting the November 15 Autodesk discussion group maintenance effort to come up with the goods and make everything all better again. However, it appears that even my lowly expectations were nothing but naive optimism.

Here are the changes I see:

  • The old messages and Plain Text new messages that had their paragraphs stripped out have had them returned. This is the end of the good news, as far as I can tell. If you only ever like reading positive things, particularly about Autodesk, I suggest you stop reading now.
  • Rich Text messages have had superfluous paragraphs introduced, and other formatting issues. The more you edit a message, the worse it gets. Try switching back and forth between Rich Text and Plain Text a few times, it’s a crock.
  • My email address has been newly exposed to the spambots as my user ID, and I’m not alone. WTF? Totally unforgivable! Heads should have rolled the first time this happened. Doing it again is way, way beyond endurance.
  • The Edit Account page refuses to allow me to make changes, falsely claiming that several fields contain incorrect data. This means I can’t fix the email exposure problem myself, and have to wait for Autodesk to fix it. Never mind, I’ve done a lot of waiting for Autodesk over the past few months, so I’m kind of used to it.

Other than that, the discussion group system looks like the same old pile of garbage that it has been for weeks. For example, Search is still broken. Paste is still arcane. Using the indent or bullet items in Rich Text results in text above the selection being indented too. The question evaluation system (of dubious value in any case) causes threads to start with such nonsense as “This question is not answered. Helpful answers available: 2. Correct answers available: 1.” Er, OK then…

Even the Help page hasn’t been updated to reflect any alleged new fixes or to correct any of the errors I pointed out weeks ago.

All in all, I’d say it’s not exactly a major triumph as a maintenance effort.

Autodesk, please give up trying to maintain this steaming pile of pus. It’s not going to work. If the people at Jive Software can’t help you get their forum software working (and there has been plenty of time in which that could have happened), then bite the bullet and throw it away. Really.

Photoshop disasters blog

I love this blog:

OK, some of the “disasters” are a bit nitpicking, but there are some truly awful image manipulation efforts out there, some associated with very big companies. Look back over the archives, there are some real classics. Lesson to large companies: don’t penny-pinch, it’s not worth it.

I can’t remember any Autodesk marketing image disasters, although some of you may remember being bemused by the relevance of the the short-lived Subscription Cow. The BENTLEY BIN image is pretty funny, though. Does anybody have any other CAD-related examples?

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!

AutoCAD 2009 Subscription Pack 2 – PDF Enhancements

Subscription customers of plain AutoCAD 2009 can log on to the Subscription Center and download Subscription Pack 2. This pack improves PDF output (long overdue and very welcome) and adds the ability to attach PDF files. That’s welcome too, but is of largely academic interest right now because of a total lack of interoperability. Unless you only ever provide your drawing files to people who also have plain AutoCAD 2009 with Subscription Pack 2, they won’t see the PDF underlay. However, round tripping is supported, so when you get the drawing back the PDF underlay will reappear.

Here is a brief summary of the features, taken direct from the download page:

PDF Underlays
Now you can import PDF files, attaching them as PDF underlays. Once you attach a PDF underlay, you can use a variety of tools to snap to lines and objects, control the display of layers, move, scale, rotate, and clip the PDF underlay.

PDF Output
Key improvements have been made for publishing PDF files. File sizes have been reduced, making it easier to share designs. TrueType font support has been added, giving you control over precisely how your fonts are displayed.

This bonus pack is only available in English for AutoCAD® 2009, although, if desired, it can be installed on localized versions of AutoCAD 2009. If installed on a localized version of AutoCAD 2009, all new and related commands display in English only.

As usual, read the readme first, which contains much fuller descriptions of the new features.

AutoCAD 2009 – An outsider’s look at the Ribbon

Kirill Grouchnikov is a developer who has a blog called Pushing Pixels. This wouldn’t normally be of particular interest to AutoCAD users, but he recently wrote a piece describing the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon. It is always interesting to things described from a different perspective, in this case the Ribbon from a non-user’s point of view. He pays particular attention to the ways in which the AutoCAD Ribbon differs from Microsoft’s standards. As a non-user, he has skipped lightly over several aspects of AutoCAD Ribbon use, including some drawbacks of the current implementation, but it is still a worthwhile read, as are some of the comments that follow.

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.

Autodesk University buddy offer for existing registrants

There can never be such a thing as too many Autodesk University buddy offer posts, right?* So here’s another one. This time, I won’t mention the year so I can’t get it wrong.

AU Program Development Manager Joseph Wurcher has pointed out that existing registrants can also take advantage of the buddy offer. So if you have already registered and you know somebody who would like to go, maybe you can come to some arrangement with them that ends up with AU costing you less than it otherwise would have. You will need to contact the AU team at the right time; the details are all at the bottom of this page.

* Yes, that’s irony. Have a look at all the “buddy” posts on Novedge Pulse for yesterday. Great minds think alike? Maybe we just lack originality. I guess most bloggers did the same as me; saw the email with the offer and thought, “That’s worth letting people know about.” Result? Attack of the Clones.

The three Fs of customer service

I had another interesting customer service experience at the weekend. We had booked an electrician well in advance to service our air conditioner and change a bunch of light fittings. He was due at 9:30 on Saturday morning. At 9:00 I went round making sure everything was ready for him and sat down with a book while I waited. At 10:15, there was no sign of him so I rang him to see what was happening. He said he had been having weather troubles on the first couple of jobs that morning (it had been sprinkling with rain a little) but he would be there as soon as he could. I accepted this readily enough, although it would have been nice to have received a phone call. The weather was fine from that point on, so I was expecting him to turn up pretty soon after that. Foolishly, I kept expecting that all day.

Now, my family and I had pretty much arranged our whole weekend based on having no power on Saturday morning, postponing various things such as housework and washing to fit in with the time we had been given. When he hadn’t turned up by 11:00, it was time to think about preparing the kids’ lunches before he turned up. He hadn’t turned up by 2:00 when I had to take the kids out somewhere, and he had given up answering his phone, so I just went out. He hadn’t arrived when I returned, and still hasn’t arrived, so I think it’s fairly safe to say he’s never going to turn up.

You might think that this piece of total non-service represents some kind of low point, but it’s actually only the third worst customer service experience I’ve had this year. I have had two much worse experiences than that in 2008; one from an Australian company and one from an American company. I will relate those experiences in later posts.

Anyway, my customer service experiences, along with some other recent happenings, have led me to contemplate such matters, and come up with some (ahem) profound thoughts on the subject. The main point is that getting things right is only the first line of defence against poor customer service. What happens when things go wrong (and they will) is the real test of a company’s service attitude / culture.

What should happen when things go wrong? Three Fs. F— up? Fess up. Fix up. What do these mean?

  • F— up? Find out if a mistake has been made. If a customer is saying that something has been screwed up, assume they are right until proven otherwise. Even if complaining customers are wrong 90% of the time, that’s no excuse for treating the other 10% as if they don’t know what they are talking about, or that they are wrong or unreasonable.
  • Fess up. If a problem is evident, admit it. I can think of no single instance in corporate history where denying the existence of a genuine problem has made a company look better than admitting it. Ignoring a problem, making excuses for it, obfuscating, pretending it’s not there, or even claiming that it’s the customer’s fault, always makes the guilty company look worse. Always. No exceptions. A company representative that acts like that is doing no kind of useful service to the company, no matter how loyal they may think they are being. The same thing applies to politicians, but don’t get me started on that.
  • Fix up. Having established that the problem is real, correct it. Do whatever needs to be done to make the customer satisfied.

I could add a fourth F, “Fast”, because correcting problems that affect customers should be a priority, but let’s keep it to three for now. Easy, right? I expect I will now make a fortune writing a book, selling my ideas to clueless companies that should know better, and/or doing highly paid speaking tours. I think I will call it, “The Johnson Method of Customer Service: It’s F—ing Obvious.”

Autodesk University 2008 two-for-one offer

Although Autodesk University registrations passed 7000 a while ago, the financial crisis is likely to have slowed registrations considerably, so it’s not a huge shock to see Autodesk trying to ramp things up with a special offer. If you’re one of the first hundred registrants on November 5, you can register somebody else for free. If you’re late for that, you can register a second person for US$595. “For a limited time only!” Sorry, no bonus steak knives.

Providing special offers is a tricky one. For the people who can take advantage of this offer, it’s great. Those who have already paid up may be annoyed about it, despite their $500 early bird discount. I don’t see how the AU people can fill all the expected places without doing something, though. There’s no pleasing everybody.

Autodesk University is a fantastic event and if you can afford it, I encourage you to go. In today’s uncertain climate, the networking opportunities alone will make it worthwhile. No, I’m not receiving anything for this unsolicited promotion, it’s what I really think!

Full details are available here.

Edit: never mind what Autodesk calls it’s software, it’s not 2009 until next year. Duh!

Rate Autodesk, vote once

I’ve added some new polls that ask you to rate Autodesk in five specific areas. I’ve seen some criticism of Autodesk in these and other areas, but that doesn’t mean the criticism is valid. I’d like to know what you think. Please be fair, and base your votes on your own experiences. If you have suggestions for similar polls, add a comment.

I have closed several other polls, and will be discussing the results later.

Poll abuse

On the subject of polls, I have noticed that more than one person has been voting multiple times. While this is technically possible for people who have access to the Internet via multiple IP addresses, it’s obviously not desirable. Like the forthcoming US elections, the idea is that you have one vote each. While you might be able to work around that restriction to give yourself a little extra influence on the result, doing so is less than honest and is likely to get you in trouble.

I accept that people who have access via home and work might accidentally vote twice on occasions, but if I perceive a continued pattern of deliberate abuse I will remove the offenders’ access rights to this site. As I respect everybody’s privacy I will not reveal any identities, drop any hints or make any announcements about this, I will just do it.

Just to make the privacy issue completely clear, I will not, under any circumstances in public or private, reveal to anybody who has voted for what. Similarly, I will not reveal to any party any identifying information behind any of the users of this site.

Fortunately, the influence of dodgy votes on poll results has so far been small and in most cases statistically insignificant. That is, it does not invalidate the conclusions that can be drawn from the overall poll results. The more valid votes there are, the less influence the multi-voters will have, so go to it and have your say. Once, please!

Ways in which the crash could be good for Autodesk

No, I don’t mean the sort of crash where AutoCAD stops working. The current financial crisis, I mean. I must preface these comments with a disclaimer. I have no qualifications in finance and make no claim of financial expertise. These are purely a layman’s thoughts. Don’t buy or sell stock based on what I have to say here. Toss a coin instead.

So, what on earth am I thinking? I’m thinking that although Autodesk (along with most other companies) will undoubtedly suffer greatly from the coming economic conditions, it’s not all dark cloud. Here are some potential silver linings.

Autodesk is cashed up. If its competitors aren’t all carrying enough fat to survive the lean times, Autodesk could come out of the post-crash period with greater market share than before. Of course, this is contingent on Autodesk having products, customer service and a customer-friendly outlook that are attractive enough to win over any orphans. Some serious reversal of neglect in these areas will be needed, which involves spending more, not less. So it really is a very good thing that Autodesk has large wads of your money lying around for use in times like this.

Companies with useful technology might become available cheaply. Some smart acquisitions could give Autodesk products some advantages over the competition. (Edit – Between writing this post and publishing it, I see Autodesk has just done exactly that with Softimage).

Autodesk can buy its own shares back while they are cheap. If it needs cash in a few years, it can sell them again at what will undoubtedly be much higher prices.

I don’t really care whether Autodesk does any of the above, but I do care about the next one. Autodesk has been living in a Soviet Russia-style fool’s paradise for years with its yearly product cycles. Practically everybody who knows anything about the software knows that the 12-month cycle is unsustainable because of the significant harm that it is inflicting on the products. But it has been an undoubted financial success, so far. Autodesk is addicted to it, but like any unhealthy addiction it will ultimately be fatal. What to do?

This financial crisis represents a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Autodesk board. Announce the long-overdue death of the annual cycle now, while Autodesk shares are already undervalued. Any negative reaction from a share market that doesn’t know or care about product quality will be hard to identify as having a specific cause while the share price is being flushed down the toilet anyway. Announce it in conjunction with something that will save Autodesk money, like abandoning some of its sillier legal adventures, and it will be even harder for shareholders to apportion blame to any particular measure. In a month or two, nobody will be able to identify specific causes of the stock being at whatever level it happens to be at that time.

Such a great opportunity for Autodesk break out of the yearly rut and rescue its products from a sad slide into semi-permanent sub-mediocrity is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. It’s a nettle; it’s going to sting, but it must be grasped.

Can Carl Bass be Autodesk’s Gorbachev?

A true AutoCAD teaching story

Reading Ralph’s post about going back to teaching reminded me of a time some years ago when I taught some AutoCAD evening classes at a technical college. As Ralph points out, students have a wide range of abilities. Although they were all supposed to have completed a prerequisite introductory Windows course, it became apparent that during that course at least some of them must have been absent in mind if not in body.

Here’s an example, where I was explaining to the class how it was possible to modify toolbars.

Steve: “Move your mouse pointer over any toolbar button and right-click on it.”

Student: “Nothing’s happening.”

Steve: “You should see a menu appear with the word Customize on it. When it appears, left-click on that word.”

Student: “There’s no menu on my computer.”

Steve: “Did you hover over a toolbar button and right-click on it?”

Student: “Yes, and nothing happens. Do I need to press Enter?”

Steve: “No.”

Student: (Presses Enter anyway) “It says Unknown command.”

Steve: (Going over to see what’s going on) “Can you please show me what you’re doing?”

The student did so. I returned to the front of the class.

Steve: “If you haven’t already done so, hover the mouse pointer over any toolbar button, press down the right-hand mouse button and release it.”

The student had been hovering over the button and typing C-L-I-C-K. After all, I had told him to write “CLICK” on it.