Friday, January 28, 2005

Disturbing Anti-SpyWare Article

The latest "Windows Secrets" newsletter has an article in it by Brian Livingston that gives a thorough and somewhat disturbing report on some popular anti-spyware applications. You can read more here:

Anti-adware misses most malware, By Brian Livingston

You might need to scroll down a bit to get to the article. The gist is that many of the popular Anti-Spyware programs we've all come to use regularly, including SpyBot and Ad-Aware, aren't too good these days at ferreting out those dastardly little applets that unscrupulous companies sometimes install on your system without your knowledge.

Fortunately, he also rates some newer programs that score better. In particular, Microsoft's AntiSpyware (Beta) scored well. I downloaded it myself and tried it - it found a rather nasty little Internet Explorer hijaaking program that both Spybot and Ad-Aware could not remove completely. In 20 minutes, the little booger was removed and my IE settings restored to normal.

Download the program and try it out. You will need to validate your legal copy of Windows by inputting your certification number (located either on your Windows CD package or on a tag on your PC if it was factory-installed).

I give it a Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Automating Project Startup in Architectural Desktop 2005

When you create a new project from scratch in Architectural Desktop, several things happen to cause your initial project structure to be defined. Most of these are based on files that are already in place on your system. The project, when created, will be instructed to use some of these files directly; others will be copied into the project folders. The key to automating the creation of a new project and ensuring that it gets started according to your company standards without any extensive modifications on the users' parts is not well documented. However, if you know which files are being used, and where the data is coming from it's not too difficult to set up.

1) The first thing you want to do is to get your basic drawing templates established. Make sure that the drawing templates that you want to use for constructs, elements, the three types of views ("General", "Section/Elevation" and "Detail") and your sheets are set up the way you want. In the sheet drawing template, create a layout AND saved page setups for each of the ways you typically plot. Creating saved page setups in that template should not be overlooked. Even though page setups are not absolutely required to plot successfully in ADT 2005, they give you more flexibility for overriding things later on.

2) Next, you need to set up some basic Project Defaults. Using the OPTIONS command, navigate to the "AEC Project Defaults" tab of the OPTIONS screen. There are four categories of file paths and file settings here, but the one you're interested in to get things standardized is "Default Project Template Files". Expand this out and note that this is the place where you specify the default drawing templates for constructs, elements and views. Make sure that these items indicate the files that you set up in step 1. Remain in this screen for the next step.

3) Still in the "AEC Project Defaults" tab of the OPTIONS dialog, note that you can also specify the default Sheet Set Template file (.dst file) and the default Project Details Template File (.apj file). The sheet set template file is what stores the information regarding the sets and subsets you have, as well as what sheet template file you use and which specific layout/page setup you will use for plotting (these are set as a default for the entire sheet set, but each subset can override them - all of this information is stored in the .dst sheet set file). The project details .apj file stores all of the information that you see when you access the Project Properties from either the Project Browser or Project Navigator. The Project Details information is completely customizable. (Note - what is NOT stored in the .apj file for propogation to new projects is level and division information, or folder structure for constructs, elements and views. We'll address that later). Taking note of the files being specified currently for the sheet set template and the project details template (and their locations), make no changes yet, and select "OK" to save your previous changes to the template files and exit the OPTIONS dialog.

4) Create a new .apj file. If you don't have an XML editor, there are several available for download on the internet - I use Microsoft XML Notepad, which can be downloaded for free at Execute your editor and open the default .apj file that was noted in step 3 (you may need to change the file type listing to "all files", as the editor may be looking for files with an XML extension). Once you have the file loaded you can edit any of the "Details" entries to standardize non-graphical information about the project (for example, information that you might want linked to your title block via fields). Once the .apj file has been created, return to the OPTIONS command and specify it as your default project details template in the AEC Project Defaults tab.

5) Take a moment to note the other types of files you can specify here - specifically the image file that appears in the upper left corner of Project Browser and the Project Bulletin board (typically an HTML file) that appears in the large window on the right side of Project Browser.

6) Finally, it's time to set up the sheet sets the way you want. Again, find the sheet set template file who's name and location you noted in step 3. Copy the file and create a new one. Double-click on the new sheet set file that you just created and you should be placed in AutoCAD 2005's Sheet Set Manager. Right-click on the very top entry in the "Sheet List" tab, and select "Properties". In this dialog box is where you can add sheet set and sheet custom fields, etc. But the most important entries are in the "Sheet Creation" section. Here you specify which template to use for sheets, and which specific layout in that template to use. Under "Sheet Set" you can specify the Page Setup overrides file, which should be the same file as your sheet template - this is the file in which all of the page setups are stored that you might want to use as overrides later on. Do NOT change the setting for "Sheet storage location", "Label block for views", "Callout blocks" and "Resource drawing location(s)". The sheet storage location will automatically get changed when you actually apply this sheet set template to a new project. The other three settings are irrelevant in an ADT project scenario. Select "OK" to save your changes to the DST file and exit the dialog. Now create/delete/rearrange sets and subsets as desired, then close Sheet Set Manager.

7) Go back to OPTIONS and in the "AEC Project Defaults" tab set your new DST file as the default sheet set templet. Select "OK" to save the changes and exit the dialog.

8) Test your settings. Create a new project. Go to the "Sheets" tab and you should see the subsets arranged the way you left them in step 6. Create a new sheet and you should be using the template and layout specified in step 6. Go to the Project Details and you should be looking at the fields and values specified in your new .apj file.

To copy levels, divisions and folder structures for a project, the only option in ADT 2005 is to copy a project structure. You can use your new default settings to establish a "seed" project, in which you establish your basic folder structure, levels and divisons. Using the "Copy Project Structure" feature of Project Browser, you can use this empty project to create new projects with pre-established settings.

Monday, January 17, 2005

NewForma Strives to Address BIM Interoperability Issues

As reported in Jerry Laiserin's "The Laiserin Letter" this week, NewForma is a relatively recent venture by several AEC professionals to address interoperability issues between the various platforms currently contributing to the BIM process. Read more about their efforts (and how you might be able to be involved) on their website.

If you're not currently subscribing to "The Laiserin Letter", follow the link below to do so:

Subscribe to The Laiserin Letter

In his latest edition, look also for the BIM Whitepaper link from Newforma. A great synopsis of recent developments, case studies, successes and limitations of BIM in practice!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Troop 285 Hikes Pike Davis

Just a short overnight trip. The boys packed in about 8 miles, doing some orienteering exercises on the way (map and compass work). I came in late, so I cheated and hiked in the back way - only about 3 miles. It was a COLD one - once the sun went down, the temp dropped rapidly. By 3 AM it had dropped to 20 degrees. For these Texas boys, that's COLD! But we were prepared and everybody had a good time regardless.

We brought along another troop from Houston who had never backpacked before and they all had a great time as well!

What a great warmup for the upcoming Philmont High Adventure trip this summer!

My oldest - getting ready to cook up some (believe it or not) beef stroganoff on his backpacking stove. Posted by Hello

Packing out after "The big freeze" Posted by Hello

Friday, January 14, 2005

Two Door Schedules in "Stock" ADT Content

If you're using ADT's project management capabilities along with the standard door schedules that ship with the product, you may have noticed that the door schedule that is on the "Stock" Schedules tool palette doesn't display the door number correctly.

In other words, if you're using the project-based door tag, you're getting a different number on the door than what actually appears in the schedule. The reason for this is explained in David Koch's recent blog article on the door tags that come with ADT (there's two types) - read more about it here:

David Koch's Article on Door Tags

Now, once you've figured out what's going on with the tags, you can find the Project Based Door Schedule in the ADT Documentation Tool Catalogs. That schedule style is identical to the one that comes on the default Schedule palette, except it is set up to use the door number that is referenced by the project-based door tags.

Happy Scheduling!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

ABS Users - get some free training

Don't miss next week's free webcast on plumbing design in ABS - this is NOT a sales-oriented presentation. You'll get some hard information on how to use the plumbing component of Autodesk Building Systems. It's free, and you don't even have to register. Just click on the link below a few minutes before showtime (maybe a bit sooner if you've never used Placeware before), and log in! Showtime is 1:00 PM CST, Tuesday, January 18:

Link to ABS 2005 Plumbing Design Webcast

AU 2004 Video Compilation

Weren't able to go to AU this year? Hey, no problem - experience four days in about 2 minutes!

Check out the video compilation of Autodesk University 2004, put together by German AU 2004 attendee Helge Brettschneider.

You can find the link over on Shaan Hurley's "Between the Lines" Blog.

Turn up the volume!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

NavisWorks Releases new Real-Time viewer

NavisWorks has released Jetstream 3D, an interactive real-time viewer for 3D models. The benefit of NavisWorks is it's support for multiple platforms, and it's ability to allow non-CAD users to view the model as well. It supports ADT data, as well as other formats, and will also perform clash and collision detection. This is an excellent collaboration tool for team members of BIM projects.

NavisWorks' web site has more details...

ArchVision Releases 2.5d Moving People

From the ArchVision web site:

"Lexington, Kentucky, January 11, 2005 -- ArchVision, Inc. announces the immediate availability of two new RPC (Rich Photorealistic Content) Moving People libraries. The new Moving Casual People Volume 3 and Moving Business People Volume 2 each include 16 people clothed in traditional casual and business attire respectively. Each RPC contains a 20 second motion loop that provides seamless integration into animations. As with all RPC Content, users of these new collections can take advantage of the RPC plug-in interface for ease of placement and editing. "

Read more at ArchVision's web page - download the full press release.

0 Byte DST Files - Confirmed

Several users, including some of my own customers have reported periodically running across 0 byte DST sheet set files. In many cases the sheet set is virtually useless, even after rebuilding the DST file. Autodesk has been able to reproduce this issue and has a possible cause/prevention methodology, posted by Chris Yanchar to the Autodesk ADT discussion forums. Hopefully there will be a true fix soon - perhaps in a service pack or later release of the software, but in the meantime - you can read Chris' post to see what steps you can take now:

ADT Discussion Forum Post by Chris Yanchar concerning 0 byte DST files

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

BIM - What is it, why do I care, and how do I do it?

"BIM" or Building Information Model(ing) is perhaps one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in the architectural industry today, on several levels. The term "BIM" is sometimes used anytime someone generates a 3D model of a building, or a part of a building, whether that model has any non-graphical information or not, or regardless of the level of detail that the model may be done at. Part of the problem is that Building Information Modeling is an evolving concept; one that will continue to change as the capabilities of technology and our own ability to manipulate that technology improves. It's hard to tie it down with a simple definition. Yet more and more people are jumping on the "BIM Bandwagon". So rather than try to define Building Information Modeling, I'll try instead to lay out some of the issues and benefits to be gained by pursuing the holy grail.

First, emphasis needs to be placed on the "I" in "BIM" - "Information". That information can be either graphical or non-graphical, either contained directly in the building model or accessible from the building model through linked data that is stored elsewhere. If you really think about it, in some ways, at a basic level "BIM" doesn't necessarily require that the geometry that describes the building be a 3D model at all. A data model is just as valid a model as a geometric model. Be that as it may, when we think of a Building Information Model, a 3D geometric model of the building is at least part of what comes to mind.

So what kind of information can we put in a model today, and why would we want to?

1) Geometry: Obviously the more we can get into a 3D model, the more we can communicate our ideas and design intent graphically. Additionally, most BIM technologies today allow us to generate elevations and sections directly from the 3D model, and in most cases, allow for those 2D representations to be directly linked to the model. When a change is made to the graphical model, the views generated from that model can be updated with no further editing, cutting down on errors. Additionally, creating a 3D building model allows us to identify design issues at a much earlier stage in a project, resolving them before they become potentially expensive change orders.

2) Non-graphical information: With today's object-oriented technology, the graphical model components can themselves contain non-graphical information that further define their function and structure. For example, a wall in Architectural Desktop can have any number of non-graphical "properties" assigned to it that contain information about fire rating, framing parameters, estimating information, etc., that would not be obvious from simply viewing the model or a 2-dimensional view. This information can be displayed in a schedule or exported to a 3rd party or complimentary application for downstream use by another discipline.

3) Linked information: Information related to the model, but not contained directly in the model, can be linked through hyperlinks. Examples are manufacturer's cut sheets, Gandt charts for construction scheduling and specifications just to name a few.

Why would I want to include that information? Who would use it?
While many architects are a bit hesitant to put too much information out there due to liability issues, it is my belief that the adversarial nature of the construction industry in the United States will inevitably change. The costs of building these days are becoming more and more inflated due to legal issues and malpractice insurance. At some point, the industry will be forced to change, or nothing will be able to be built. In fact, I think we're already seeing the beginnings of that change, with more and more design-build firms coming into existence, and more owners who realize where the real costs are and who are looking for ways of eliminating them.

So, liability issues aside, putting more information into your model has the potential to benefit your consultants and collaborators during the design and construction processes, and can further benefit your customer, the building owner or manager, once the project is complete. The term "Building Lifecycle Management" goes hand-in-hand with "Building Information Modeling". Are most of your consultants, collaberators and customers capable of using the information to it's fullest extent today? Probably not, but they are becoming more and more so. For example, a structural framework can be exported from ADT as a 3D "stick" model with connection nodes included. This stick model can be processed with structual analysis software for correct sizing of structural members. With the powerful API (Application Programming Interface) of ADT, it's not too much of a leap to visualize an application that then puts the results of that analysis back into the graphical ADT model as correctly sized structural members. There are already several third party structural products for AutoCAD that can communicate with Architectural Desktop. Additionally, estimators can utilize the combined non-graphical and graphical information to generate cost estimates faster and more accurately, as well as react to design changes in a more timely fashion. The list goes on. Consider facility-management software that can plug into the finished "as-built" building model data to assist the owner in the long-term operations of the building.

And consider further the prospect that the building owner, recognizing the value of this information, may be willing to pay for it, over and above the standard architectural services fees.

What are some of the barriers or issues that I need to consider if I want to start moving toward Building Information Modeling?

First, realize that you won't simply start "BIMing" tomorrow. It's an evolutionary process. And one that you may be ongoing for the foreseeable future. Again, "BIM" is still an evolving concept - who knows where it will lead, or if it will ever stop changing? Also realize that most, if not all of the issues surrounding and barriers to the adoption of Building Information Modeling are technology independent.

Processes will most likely have to be studied and, in most cases, redesigned to fully realize the potential of Building Information Modeling. Most of today's firms are still relying on traditional 2D design and documentation processes. Even though we're using powerful CAD technologies to get the work out, the paradigm is not much changed from the days of manual drafting with T-Square and Triangle. Building Information Modeling will change these processes. Design problems will have to be resolved at an earlier stage. It will be harder to define the lines between schematic design, design development and construction documents. In fact, there may be no firm line between design development and construction documents - the two processes will become more and more concurrent as the evolution progresses!

Changed processes may very well lead to staffing changes. In the past a Project Architect, with extensive knowledge of building construction could oversee a "pool" of drafting technicians and interns with less knowledge of how a building goes together. With Building Information Modeling, anybody who is contributing to the model will need to have a good understanding of how that building really fits together. The need for 2D drafters will become more and more a thing of the past. At the same time, architects who in the past may have shunned CAD and similar technologies will have to become more comfortable working in a digital world. Additionally, you may find that your current CAD support staff is inadequate to handle the expanded needs of an office involved in model-based design.

Culture is, without a doubt, the biggest issue that is faced by most firms attempting to change their processes and make the move toward Model-Based Design (that would be the first step to Building Information Modeling). Users are dealing with change, sometimes large-scale change, to the ways they are used to working and dealing with technology. The normal human reaction to change is to resist, and the more change we're faced with, the more we try to resist. There are no panaceas for dealing with these cultural issues besides patience, perserverance, and most importantly, commitment by upper management. Without firm and unwaivering upper management commitment, the endeavor will be doomed to failure.

Level of detail is another issue that you'll be dealing with constantly, no matter how far along the BIM trail you are. Some questions you should ask yourself whenever you are adding geometry to a model are:
1) Should I model this in 3D? What is the benefit of modeling a component weighed against the effort required?
2) How much detail should I put in the 3D model? This is a question you should consider frequently. As technology (both hardware and software) improves, and your ability to manipulate the model improves, the amount of detail that you'll put in a model will grow. As a general rule, I've found that anything that would only show at a scale of around 1" or 1 1/2" inch equals a foot is something that you probably would not bother to put in a 3D model. There is still a need for 2D details, and this is where these types of components would be shown.
3) Should my details be model-based? I like to categorize details into 3 main groups. Model-based details would be sections and elevations that are linked directly to the 3D model and that update with the model. Hybrid details are details that might have their major components generated from the model (such as a wall section), with smaller components (framing, fasteners, vapor barriers, etc.) drawn on top of the model-based elements. 2D details are created completely from 2D geometry and have no real link to the model. Things that you detail at a scale of around 3"=1'-0", for example, will frequently be purely 2D in nature.

Technological competency on the part of most users will have to increase greatly. Users will need to be able to deal with the model and the model output at a level to which they are most likely unaccustomed. The term "work smarter, not harder" could apply here, and that means that users will need to become more knowledgeable about and more comfortable with the technology that they're using.

Content is another huge issue facing anyone who is involved with model-based design. The task of developing symbols - especially symbols that have a plan, 3D and elevation representations will be a never-ending one, and one that you will have to budget resources for on an ongoing basis.

With an understanding of these issues and barriers, how do I go about moving to Building Information Modeling?

Start slowly. First, make sure you have a good set of standards in place, and that all participants are educated in those standards and abide by them. If you're using Architectural Desktop and are practicing in the United States, the Imperial templates come with layer standards and a display system that is compliant with the National CAD Standard version 2.0, and have pen style tables to match. Additionally, many of the annotation symbols are compliant with NCS. You can either adopt that standard and use the templates and other content that is provided, or you can take the time to develop your own and set up the templates and content to suit your standards.

Contract with a knowledgeable source for training and ongoing consulting. It's doubtful that you have all the expertise in house to get your users up to the level of use of the software that is necessary for model-based design, or you probably would already be doing it. You may very well also benefit from an objective third party analysis of your current processes and suggestions for change that are free of bias towards "established traditions". The term "If it ain't broke don't fix it" may need to be changed to "If it ain't broke, break it."

Phase your evolution. Begin with gaining more productivity with 2D aspects of your software and utilizing more of the "I" in "BIM". For example, if you're using Architectural Desktop you might start using the scheduling capabilities and some of the drawing coordination features (which would entail diving into the world of the Project Navigator).

Once you have gained familiarity, productivity and comfort with those tools, then you can begin to work on basic three dimensional models and try to carry them as far into the construction documents phase as possible, utilizing the automated sections and elevations. These initial models will probably be at a lower level of detail, but again, as you develop your organization's skillsets, as the technology improves, and as you develop your content libraries, you'll find your models increasing in detail as well as longevity into the design/document/build/manage processes.

Building Information Modeling and Model-Based Design are potentially the biggest changes to hit the AEC industry since the advent of computer based design, and should not be undertaken lightly. As a collegue of mine says frequently, "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!" That said, more and more people are moving to BIM, and are beginning to realize the very real benefits that it offers. Will you join the movement now, while it's still in it's infancy? Or will you wait until it becomes more mature and find yourself playing catch-up with your peers?

For further reading on this subject, I offer the following resources:

BAA Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 Project - of special note here - the owner, BAA, absolved it's contractors from all risk, allowing them to focus on the teamwork necessary for a successful true BIM project.
Navisworks Case Study - BAA and Laing Industries - more on the Heathrow project with additional BIM links.
The Lean Construction Institute - Non-profit organization dedicated to disseminating information related to project management with lessons learned from the manufacturing industry.
Graphisoft's Virtual Construction Modeler - Although not an Autodesk product, this is of note. Read about an application geared for the construction industry to model a building at a construction level of detail to assist contractors and suppliers with estimating, phasing, ordering and staging of materials and trades. This is not a competitor for ADT or any other Autodesk product currently on the market, but has huge potential to be complimentary as part of a total BIM solution!
Building Information Modeling Debate - Debate between Phil Bernstein of Autodesk BSD and Keith Bentley - co-founder of Bentley Systems. Hosted on Jerry Laiserin's web site.

Autodesk Recorded Webcasts

There is a whole library of recorded webcasts on the Autodesk web site, related to the BSD (Building Solutions Division) market. Some are instructional - for example, there is an ongoing series of training webcasts for Autodesk Building Systems 2005 - the recently completed "Electrical Design with ABS" should be posted up there shortly for those of you that may have missed it. As an architect, I typically don't get too fired up about conduits, ducts and air-handling units, but I found this one, in particular to be most informative. There are also a lot of purely marketing webcasts - watch at your own peril!!! And of course, the notorious BIM debate with Phil Bernstein and "those other guys"...

Autodesk BSD Webcast Archivies

Monday, January 10, 2005

While you're waiting for some REAL content

I finally figured out enough HTML to get some links over on the sidebar (over there ---->) without them looking like garbage, so I'll be posting some hard content soon. In the meantime, check out what my oldest kid did last March with his Boy Scout troop!

Boys Life Cover Story - October 2004

(Give it a minute - it's a big PDF file)

Cover story of Boy's Life Magazine, no less! (That's him in the middle of page 22 :-) - and that's my truck behind all the bikers on the first page (that blurry thing at the bottom of the hill).

This coming weekend we're backpacking into Pike Davis Ranch - it's supposed to be a cold one, too. I like camping, but when it get's below freezing, it stops being fun anymore...

Stay tuned...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Welcome to "Breaking Down the Walls"

Welcome to my blog! Stay tuned. I hope to add content shortly to provide resources for users of Autodesk Building Solutions software!

Matt Dillon