Five Simple Tips for AutoCAD

As my forced change to a different blog theme (thanks IE7) has meant the demise of my random AutoCAD tip feature, you may as well have the tips in a blog post instead. Here are the first five. These are fairly simple tips that apply to all recent releases. You probably know most of them, but just in case…

  1. If you need to draw circles, slots or rectangles around multiple text objects, use the Express Tools command TCIRCLE (Express > Text > Enclose Text with Object).
  2. When using the TRIM or EXTEND command, you don’t have to select any edges. Just hit Enter and AutoCAD will assume all of the visible objects are to be used.
  3. The TRIM or EXTEND commands can be used in place of each other by using the Shift key. When picking an object in TRIM, hold down Shift and the object will extend.
  4. The MULTIPLE command will force the next command you enter to repeat until you hit Esc. In CUI or menu macros, you can do something similar by starting the macro with *^C^C instead of just ^C^C.
  5. You can fillet or chamfer all vertices of a polyline at once. Use the FILLET or CHAMFER command’s Polyline option and pick just once instead of picking every corner twice.

That’s it for now, five more tips later.

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 9 – Docked Toolbars

If AutoCAD 2009’s floating toolbars are the best ever, what about when they’re docked? As a starting point, here is AutoCAD 2008 with the Express Tools toolbars docked.

AutoCAD 2008 Docked Toolbars

Here is the same thing in AutoCAD 2009.

AutoCAD 2009 Docked Toolbars

So a few pixels have been shaved off in one direction and added in another. The end result is that they use about 99% of the space used in 2008. Not too bad, but I think it could be better. Here’s my suggestion:

AutoCAD 2009 Docked Toolbars Suggestion

That uses about 80% of the space. In addition to shaving off a few more pixels, I think this looks a lot neater. I find AutoCAD 2009’s dark grey bars between toolbars ugly and distracting. Not at all cute, unlike their floating counterparts. The bars don’t seem to serve any useful purpose, so hopefully they will go away in a later release.

My own personal preference would be to shave off even more pixels, but the above would do as a compromise between compact efficiency and a pretty face.

There are many other areas of AutoCAD 2009’s new interface that should have the razor applied, with both practical and aesthetic benefits. I will return to those areas later.

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 8 – Vista Startup Times

I’ve now tested startup times of various AutoCAD releases under Vista. Here are the results, alongside the XP results for ease of comparison:

Release First
Startup
Subsequent
Startup
XP Vista XP Vista
12 8.6 8.2
13 2.6 1.8 1.3 0.8
14 2.1 0.5
2002 3.2 2.1 0.6 1.1
2004 4.3 1.7
2005 7.9 4.5
2006 14.9 8.7 2.6 4.4
2007 13.8 11.9 3.5 6.6
2008 14.6 10.5 3.6 6.0
2009 28.9 17.3 7.2 13.3

Same caveats as before, plus the following:

  1. Some AutoCAD releases were not installed on both XP and Vista partitions, hence the gaps in the table.
  2. The Vista tests were performed on the same PC as the XP tests.
  3. The system had a 1 GB USB key hanging out the back, giving Vista a theoretical startup benefit over XP.
  4. It’s very difficult to get meaningful performance results out of Vista because its SmartFetch and ReadyBoost technologies are doing their best to improve performance without user intervention. I may be a geek, but I’m not a good enough geek to be able to tell what Vista was doing behind my back during these tests.
  5. Repeated startups of AutoCAD 2009 revealed a gradual improvement in startup performance. Startup times went 17.3, 13.3, 12.5, 12.5, 11.0 seconds.

Make of that what you will. In short, in my tests AutoCAD 2009 startup time in Vista is still roughly double that of its recent predecessors and about ten times longer than older releases like R13 and 2002.

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 7 – Subsequent Startup Time

This table shows both the initial and subsequent startup times for various releases. Most of the qualifications and caveats from my AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 6 – Initial Startup Time post still apply here.

Release First
Startup
Subsequent
Startup
12 8.6 8.2
13 2.6 1.3
14 2.1 0.5
2002 3.2 0.6
2006 14.9 2.6
2007 13.8 3.5
2008 14.6 3.6
2009 28.9 7.2

AutoCAD 2009’s subsequent startups are much less slow than its agonising first startup, as to be expected. Windows XP is doing that by caching and reusing recently used parts of memory. Release 12’s old code, running in 16-bit emulation, is not able to take advantage of that. It’s definitely an unfair test of Release 12 on this system.

In my tests, AutoCAD 2009 startups (both initial and subsequent) are about twice as slow as other recent releases. Users of older releases on modern systems can enjoy startup performance over ten times better.

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 6 – First Startup Time

One thing you’ll notice (and dislike) right away with AutoCAD 2009 is that it takes a lot longer to get started. How much longer? About twice as long as recent releases, or about ten times longer than ancient speed demon Release 13. (I bet a 1994 AutoCAD user transported forward in time would be shocked to hear that description being used). Here’s a video that shows what the first startup looks like in a collection of releases from Release 12 to 2009:

AutoCAD First Startup Time Comparison

Now for the qualifications and caveats:

  1. Tests performed on a Core2Duo E6600 PC with 4 GB RAM, under Windows XP SP2 32 bit.
  2. This is not a strictly scientific comparison. Only one system restart and settle-down period was performed prior to timing all releases one after the other. Strictly, each test should get its own restart and settle-down period.
  3. Anti-virus and other security software was left on, but was not performing a scan, during the tests.
  4. This is the first startup time only. Subsequent startup times during the same Windows session are quicker, and this subject may be the subject of further coverage.
  5. Vista startup times may be better, particularly if you leave a spare USB key hanging out of your PC and allow Vista to use it to improve system performance. This may also be the subject of further coverage.
  6. The AutoCAD 2009 time is for the Release Candidate, not the shipping product. It’s possible that Autodesk managed to wring more performance out of 2009 before the code hit the manufacturing stage.
  7. Application startup time should not be used as an indication of overall performance. It’s just one aspect of it.

If you only start AutoCAD once a day, it’s not a significant issue. If, like me, you start AutoCAD dozens of times a day, it becomes rather wearing.

Advertising Oops!

I just spotted this image flash up on a banner advertisement on a CAD-related site. At first glance, I thought it was a nasty Autodesk ad promoting Revit (it’s on top, after all) and unkindly suggesting that Bentley software is only fit for disposal.

Bentley Bin

Then I spotted Bentley logos elsewhere on the ad and worked out that it was supposed to say BENTLEY BIM, not BIN. Even if you blow it up, it still looks more like an N than an M.

Bentley Bin

That’s the trouble with trying to fit a meaningful attention-grabbing image into a small space. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

Customer Service 3 – On Hold

What’s the longest you’ve waited on hold? I broke my own personal best last week when I rang my bank. I phoned up, went through the menu system, typed in my account number and was advised that there could be “some delays” due to “technical difficulties”. I left the phone on speaker and went about my other business.

I did some actual work, prepared the evening meal ingredients, made sure my kids had showers and music practice, greeted my wife as she returned home, cooked the evening meal, served it, ate it, cleaned up, did some more work, and after all that my phone was still telling me, “We apologise for the continuing delay. We appreciate that your time is important and will ensure that your call is answered as soon as possible.” For the hundredth time.

After two hours, I was ready to give up. I would normally have given up much earlier, but my perverse streak made me want to go for the record. As the phone timer display hit about 2:01:00, my finger was poised over the “Off” button when an actual real human started speaking!

Fortunately, this person spoke in an accent I could understand and was very helpful, so I was able to sort out my business to my satisfaction in a few minutes. Because of that, and because this was a one-off, I will refrain from naming the guilty in this case.

Here’s the phone display immediately after hanging up:

Can you beat that? Anybody who has tried to contact MD Web Hosting in the past three weeks could beat it, I’m sure. (More on that later). What’s your record?

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 5 – Floating Toolbars

There are many areas of AutoCAD 2009’s new user interface that pointlessly waste your screen space. Floating toolbars do not. You have probably already noticed that AutoCAD 2009 concentrates on the Ribbon as its primary screen-based user interface, with the default state lacking any toolbars at all. So it’s somewhat ironic that AutoCAD 2009 sports what are easily the best floating toolbars in the history of the product. Ironic but very welcome.

Why are they better? Because they’re smaller. Let’s compare the number of pixels taken up by a typical small group of floating toolbars in different AutoCAD releases. These are the Express toolbars, which I mocked up in Releases 13 and 14 to show the same number of buttons and dividers (the Release 14 Bonus toolbars had more buttons than shown here). This provides for a totally fair comparison of the interface itself.

Floating Toolbar Comparison

Using Release 13 as the base for comparison, Release 14 uses 103% of the number of pixels, AutoCAD 2000 to 2008 use 93%, and AutoCAD 2009 uses only 43%. That is, it’s 2.3 times more space-efficient than Release 13 and 2.15 times more efficient than any recent release. Good stuff!

This space efficiency is gained at the expense of having a visible toolbar label. So how can you find your way around a bunch of floating toolbars as you get used to things? Hover over the dark grey area to the right of the toolbar and a tooltip will show you what’s what.

Floating Toolbar Tooltip

Thanks for the welcome

A belated thank you to Kiwi Robin Capper for his welcome to the CAD blog world. Here’s a snap I took of Robin at Autodesk University 2006:

Robin Capper

Similarly, thanks to Lynn Allen for linking to my post about her famous Cell Phone Story. Here she is, also at AU 2006, presenting me with a signed copy of her excellent book AutoCAD: Professional Tips and Techniques which I won by skillfully (ahem) waving my arms furiously at the right moment during her presentation.

Lynn and Steve

Finally, thanks to Shaan Hurley for welcoming me to the blog fold. Here is one of the more sensible shots I have of him at AU 2006. You really don’t want to see the others.

Shaan and Steve

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.

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.

Customer Service 2 – Don McMillan

My last customer service story was about McDonald’s. This one is about Donald Mc., but there the similarity ends. After I returned from Autodesk University 2006, I decided to buy a DVD from the comedian that Autodesk put on before the Blue Man Group, Don McMillan. As you’re reading a CAD blog, you are probably geeky enough to appreciate this man’s funny engineeroid slant on life. The likelihood is actually 93.6%. (Did you know that 74.7% of statistics quoted on the Internet are made up?)

I wanted to show my wife this funny guy and re-live some of the moments from his show, so I visited his web site and attempted to order the DVD. Unfortunately, his on-line shopping company would not accept orders from Australia, so I dropped him an email. He asked for a US$ money order, but they’re an expensive pain here. I happened to have some cash left over from my trip, so I sent that to him instead. As soon as I informed him that the money was in the mail, he sent off the DVD (which comes with a bonus CD too). My money (it was actually $1.05 too much because of the US$ denominations I had handy) and his DVD crossed in the mail, arriving at about the same time. We trusted each other, and it worked.

I was surprised and delighted to discover that Don had shipped not only the DVD with its bonus CD, but another different bonus CD too! With a hand-written note from Don which was, amusingly, on a Post-It note.

The DVD and both CDs were, as expected, very funny. Top service, top product, thank you Don!

Artist site: www.technicallyfunny.com

AutoCAD on Linux – Video

Lots of people get excited at the prospect of AutoCAD running under Linux. I’m not one of those people, but for those of you that are, here’s a video from a Linux enthusiast that shows AutoCAD running in an environment that’s doing all kinds of cool geeky stuff. It’s not mine and it’s from October 2006:

YouTube Link

Cool if you like that kind of thing, that is. I think the effects would drive me mad after a short period of dorkoid enthusiasm, but of course being Linux it would all be under complete user control.

Before you get too excited, I should point out that this is AutoCAD 2000, that is, software from last century. It’s running on Ubuntu Dapper with XGL installed and it required the copying of DLLs around from a Windows installation. It’s not supported (of course), and there’s no way of seeing what the real-world drafting performance and reliability is like. It’s a cool fun exercise for somebody with far more nerdish street cred than myself, but it’s not an environment I would use to earn a living.

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 4 – More on the Status Bar and Layouts

Here are a couple more tricks AutoCAD 2009 has up its Status Bar sleeve, this time to do with layouts.

You may love the new Quick View Layouts feature or you may find it too slow. You may wish to use it sometimes and at other times use the traditional layout tabs. How do you quickly switch from one to the other? Right click, as shown in this animation. The left clicks are red, the right clicks are blue.

As you can see, when the layout tabs are visible, the model space button and most recent layout button are replaced by a traditional PAPER or MODEL label. Something you can’t see in the animation is that when you hover over a layout tab, a preview of that layout is displayed at the cursor, thus:

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 browser and see if it is already occupied, but you don’t even need to do that. Just go ahead and attempt to register the domain. If the name is available it will be yours.

AutoCAD tip – persuade Open to highlight your drawing

In AutoCAD, when you have a drawing open and you go to open another, does Open automatically scroll down and highlight your current drawing?

This can be very handy when you’re working your way though a set of drawings. If this isn’t happening for you, here’s how to make it do so.

In Explorer, go to Tools > Folder Options > View tab and turn off the toggle for Hide extensions for known file types. (Windows XP shown). This is the first thing many people do when setting up a new Windows system. If you fit into this category, you have probably never seen this problem yourself, but you may still be able to use this knowledge to help others.

AutoCAD 2009 – The Prequel Part 3 – Status Bar Right

Having covered the left side of the status bar, let’s move onto the other side. Some of it is familiar, but much of it is new or modified. Let’s have a look:

This animation shows the following:

  1. The first icon switches to the model space layout.
  2. The next icon switches to a paper space layout, but which one? The one you were in most recently.
  3. The third icon gives access to the new Quick View Layout feature. Shaan Hurley has covered this quite extensively, so there is not much point in me going over the same ground. However, I will add that in AutoCAD 2009 Release Candidate at least, it’s not particularly accurately named. Yes, you can View Layouts. No, it’s not Quick. If you’re happy using these first three buttons, you can turn off the layout tabs and save some screen space.
  4. The Quick View Drawings feature is similar to the Quick View Layout feature, except it applies to currently open drawings rather than layouts. No, this one isn’t Quick either.
  5. Pan. I’m not sure why this is here, as I can pan perfectly adequately with my middle mouse button. Maybe having it down here means it doesn’t always have to be available in the Ribbon?
  6. Zoom. See Pan.
  7. The Steering Wheel is a new view controlling mechanism that Lynn Allen has covered nicely here. According to Lynn, Autodesk is going to be using this interface in its other products soon. Hopefully, it will actually have some useful purpose in those other products, because I don’t see much point to it in AutoCAD. File under, “We did this because we can”.
  8. ShowMotion is a new feature that allows you to use AutoCAD to create animations. This feature is potentially useful to users who need to visually impress clients, and deserves a much more detailed overview than I can give it here.
  9. The Annotation Scale control isn’t new, but the menu that lives underneath it shows two welcome changes. First, there is a toggle (on by default) that hides all those silly _XREF scales that have been driving AutoCAD 2008 users crazy. Note that it doesn’t kill the scales, it just suppreses the display of them. That is, it’s hiding the problem rather than solving it, but this is much better than nothing. Second, in a new metric drawing (that is, one in which the system variable MEASUREMENT is set to 1), there are no imperial scales. However, this doesn’t do anything for your AutoCAD 2008 drawings, which will remain infected by imperial scales until you explicitly remove them.
  10. The Annotation Visibility button isn’t new.
  11. Neither is the Annotation AutoScale button.
  12. The Workspace Switching button is, though. This is a very welcome change. Previously, workspaces were controlled using a toolbar. If you switched to a workspace that had this toolbar turned off, this made things rather difficult. Also, different workspaces (including those created by Autodesk) tended to have the workspace controls in different places, leading to general confusion. This little button does away with all those problems. Nice one.
  13. The Interface Lock button does what it has done for the past few releases.
  14. The penultimate button, the little down arrow thing, provides access to turn all the status bar buttons on and off as required. As before, it controls the left and right sides of the status bar, but the left side is now down one menu level. I would prefer it if it wasn’t. There’s a Drawing Status Bar available, as before. I can’t see many people opting to use it.
  15. Finally, the Clean Screen button works as before, removing user interface elements to enlarge your drawing area. You will be pleased to know that it turns off the Ribbon, in addition to what it turned off in earlier releases.

Overall, there are some real positives on the right side of the status bar. There are some features that don’t do much for me, such as the Steering Wheel, but in most cases I can just ignore or even turn off those things. That leaves me to enjoy the ones I do like, such as the Workspace Switching button.