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:

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., 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. lives! Plus a web browser tip

I have registered the domain name because:

a) it will stop anybody else grabbing it; and

b) it will make it easier for people to remember the URL if they don’t have me bookmarked.

No changes are required to your bookmarks or links, I just redirected to and will continue to use

That leads me to a web browser tip. I’m sure most of you already know this, but if one or two of you go “Ah! Cool…” then it was worth typing it up. When entering a .com URL, you can save time by just typing the main part of the domain name and hitting Ctrl+Enter. Your browser will then add the http://www. prefix and .com suffix for you.

Putting the two parts of this post together, that means you can type blognauseam into your browser, hit Ctrl+Enter and you should end up right here where you started.

Customer Service 1 – McDonald’s

I have a few customer service stories to share. Most are about bad service, but one is about very good service indeed. This isn’t that story. It’s a rant, but it’s true, and it is offered here for your amusement.

A couple of years ago I took my eldest daughter L to a school friend’s party at a local fast food outlet. (It’s McDonald’s Melville, actually. I see no need to protect the guilty). As second daughter E would have been left out, I took her too. They could play on the playground together. L was being fed at the party, but I was looking after E myself. I don’t particularly like feeding them that kind of stuff, but once in a while doesn’t hurt too much.

The party was from 11:30 to 1:00. I went to order food for E and myself at about 11:55. There were queues (that’s lines to most of you) and I eventually got to the counter at about 12:05. Bear in mind that I had a four year old girl out of sight in the playground while this was going on, and although there were plenty of school mums I knew out there, it was still uncomfortable not having direct supervision. I wanted to get back out there as soon as I could, preferably with E’s food so she didn’t start getting ratty, as she does when she’s hungry.

I ordered E’s chicken nuggets & chips kid’s meal, and my double beef and bacon value meal, without any trimmings. At the same time, a woman who also had a kid at the party ordered some other stuff, including a McOz burger with extra tomato. A couple of minutes later, my tray had some of E’s stuff and my chips sitting on it. After five minutes, it also had some drinks on it. Another five minutes later, the girl said there was a delay on the burger and that she would bring it out to me, and proceeded to hand me the tray.

I put my hand on the skinny little large-surface-area fat-and-salt-magnet excuse for chips (that’s fries to most of you) that they serve at McDonald’s (“Australia’s Favourite Fries!”), and they were of course stone cold. I said, “Excuse me, do you think I could please have some warm chips?” She said “Oh, OK”, as if the idea of food going cold when left out was some kind of novelty she had never come across before, and proceeded to take away my chips and replace them. I then said, “Do you think I could have these replaced, too?”, pointing at E’s chips. Another surprised , “Oh, OK” and those got replaced too. I don’t know what the training is like at McDonald’s, but “Getting a Clue 101” obviously isn’t one of the subjects. I didn’t bother with replacement nuggets, as I just wanted to get out there to feed and supervise my child. Likewise, I also didn’t ask for my now-partly-flat Coke to be replaced. It always comes out of the tap partly flat anyway, so what’s the difference?

So, I informed the girl that I’d be outside in the playground area and took my tray out there. E and I ate our lunches (at least as far as I could), and when we were finished there was still no sign of my burger. The woman who ordered her stuff at the same time was also waiting for her McOz with extra tomato when she finished her lunch with her kids. After a bit more waiting, I eventually decided to go back in and chase up my order. Mrs McOz asked me to follow up hers while I was in there.

I got in there to find it packed out with people waiting, and employees doing their stuff behind the counter and avoiding eye contact. Not wishing to barge in, I waited off to one side, as I could see Manager Woman with her back to me, dishing out chips into bags. I thought she would be done soon, so I waited. And waited. After she had done about 304 bags of chips, she turned around and I managed to attract her attention. I told her politely that I’d been waiting for 25 minutes for my burger, and that there was another woman outside in the same situation. She asked what the orders were for, and then she went into the kitchen to find out what’s going on. She came back out and told me she was going to have fresh ones made and brought out. I told her that I was near the playground, and that Mrs McOz was too. So out I went again.

I could see the drive-through customers being served reasonably quickly, orders coming and going even before I got to place my original order. If I had any sense, I should have abandoned the queue right then, got in my car and driven round and placed the order. So much for hindsight, on with the story.

The kids were playing away happily enough, but by the end of the party at 1:00, it was time to go. Neither missing burger had turned up. However, the clueless girl who took the order did come outside and say the Manager was sorry for the delay, the burgers would be out soon, and if we went inside we could have a free sundae. By this time, neither Mrs McOz nor myself were in the mood to hang around any longer, and certainly weren’t interested in joining the queue in the hope of eventually getting a large cup of lamb lard with added sugar, so we both declined and both requested a refund. Surprisingly politely, given the circumstances.

Another five minutes later, Miss Clueless came out with a $3.95 refund. However, she seemed completely baffled by the concept that there were two people who both needed refunds, despite the fact that she had been told about that 5 minutes earlier, so she couldn’t work out who it was supposed to be for. Eventually, I took the money, politely declined a second offer of lamb lard with added delay, and left with my kids. Mrs McOz was still waiting for her refund when I left. For all I know, one day in the distant future they will discover her skeleton and those of her kids, still sitting on that bench waiting for their $4.25 refund.

If the manager had any sense, given that she had two customers already annoyed by a 25 minute delay, she should have either done the orders herself or stood over the guys in the kitchen for the 2 minutes it takes to assemble a burger, then brought them out herself, with profuse apologies and vouchers for free stuff. The fact that she didn’t do that, and she quite astonishingly allowed the situation to repeat itself immediately after having had it brought to her attention, shows that she was even more clueless than the girl who took the order in the first place and then forgot about it. Some degree of cluelessness isn’t unusual in a 16-year-old girl working in a busy Macdonald’s, but Manager Woman was supposed to be the manager. Well, she managed to get a lot of chips into bags, so maybe that’s all that is required in that position.

Actually, that’s not quite true. She also managed to annoy not only two customers-of-the-moment, but two customers with five kids of Macdonald’s party age between them, who had actually held at least two kids’ parties there in the past, and who never will again. Plus, the other parents saw what was going on and won’t be too keen on going back. They will tell other parents, and so on. Plus, it’s now on a blog. How to lose bulk customers in one easy step.

McDonald’s Melville – The Place Where It Takes Over An Hour To Not Be Served With A Burger. Twice!

As I was leaving, we Hungry Parents had this little exchange:

Steve: “They call it fast food.”
Mrs McOz: “Faster than what?”
Steve: “Faster than starting with a cow and a field of wheat.”

Autodesk University 2006 Video

I didn’t make this video and it’s old news, but as I contributed some photos and I’m in it, I guess I’m entitled to link to it in my blog now I have one. If nothing else, you can use it to see what I look like (unfortunately). Except I now look different.

By the way, I meant everything I said in this video. Autodesk University is an awesome event.

Created by Helge Brettschneider, originally posted on Between The Lines by Shaan Hurley.

YouTube Link