Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Caveman Reflects on Technology

I was contemplating the recent purchase of Navisworks by Autodesk this evening and it got me to thinking.

I first saw Naviswork when I was in London with Paul Aubin working on a project for Autodesk back in April of 2002. Paul and I were sitting in a briefing by one of Autodesk's UK customers. They were showing us how they had been doing Building Information Modeling to help manage the Heathrow Airport International Terminal project - a huge undertaking that they had begun in AutoCAD R12. That's right - Building Information Modeling in AutoCAD R12. Paul and I were both suffering from some severe jet lag. I remember that during the presentation (a good portion of which involved having the lights out) I was having a hard time staying awake. Not out of disinterest, mind you. My mind was VERY interested in what was being presented. But my body thought it was 2 AM.

At any rate, I remember coming wide awake when they showed us how they used Navisworks to pull all of their disparate and widely disperse "BIM" applications together to form a cohesive view of their 3D model database. Keep in mind, the term "BIM" really hadn't been coined yet (I don't think), but they were already doing it. When they showed us a view of a 3D AutoCAD model of the terminal - to a level of detail that actually showed valve handles on piping infrastructure, combined with ACIS solid models from a non-Autodesk application of complex structural components and equipment, all linked to a non-graphical database with manufacturer's info, maintenance records, etc., it caught my attention, to say the least.

So... here we are, five years later, and Navisworks is now a part of the Autodesk stable. Who knows what this will lead to in the near and longer term future?

When I first started using AutoCAD, it was a 2D tool. This was during the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. A 30 MB hard disk was considered cutting edge and my computer had *gasp* a whole megabyte of RAM. That's MEGA - as in 1024 bytes! We didn't have a fax at the time. Who needed that? Wasn't mail fast enough? (I'm talking real manly-man's mail - the kind you put in an envelope and stick in a mailbox). The internet? Al Gore hadn't invented it yet.

Four or five years later, I was using AutoCAD R10, the first "fully" 3D version of AutoCAD. No. Really - it was... I mean, we had viewports, 3D faces and a UCS! I got a phone call one day from Cadence Magazine asking me if I had done any building models in 3D. I actually had done one; It had taken me weeks to model a small project that we had done out of 3D faces. Not only that, I had actually rendered it in AutoShade! For you young pups, that was the state of the art for rendering back then. We could actually generate 16 color, 320x240 resolution images of our 3D models - what would they ever think of next? I remember the reaction on the other end of the line when I answered the caller with a "Yes, I've done a 3D model". Silence - for at least 10 seconds. Seems that after several calls to various architectural offices, I was the only person they had talked to who had actually modeled and rendered a building! I agreed to send them my rendered image and it was published in Cadence as an illustration for their article - this was in 1990, I think.

I was so proud.

Holy cow, what a primitive, kludgy looking image that was.

Did I mention that shade and shadow weren't part of the capabilities of AutoShade? And materials? Puleeeze... (Of course, you have to bear in mind that the state of the art in word processing was WordStar 2000 - and yes, I used to know what all the function keys did in WordStar.)

I think it was about 6 years or so later when I actually got connected to the internet at work and had an email address.

Now, here we are, 21 years after I turned on my first computer ("The red button? I'm not pushing the red button. YOU push the red button!"). Email is taken for granted. If it's not on the internet, it doesn't exist. I can get email, browse the internet or talk to my wife and kids on my cell phone while I'm sitting in an airport. In fact, I once booked an alternative flight after my original flight got cancelled using my cell phone's internet connection, while my fellow travelers were fighting for a place in the standby line. Now we're routinely modeling buildings in AutoCAD Architecture and Revit Architecture, and we take the geometry for granted. I mean, doesn't EVERYBODY model in 3D now? Now we're more interested in the data that's embedded in the model - you know - that non-graphic stuff that we never even considered 20 years ago when it was just electronic drafting. We post models to Buzzsaw and FTP sites to share our data, and we complain because it's really not that easy to collaborate live, in real time, yet, with someone on the other side of the planet.

I used to send a letter to someone and was pleasantly surprised if I got a reply within a week. Now I send an email, and I'm miffed if I don't hear back in a few hours. Email not fast enough? I'll use instant messaging, then! I can't remember the last time I actually put a stamp on an envelope and stuck a letter in a mailbox. How quaint.

So... here we are. Autodesk has purchased Navisworks - I wonder what things will look like for the building industry this time next year?

Now, where'd I put my Geritol...

Autodesk Purchases Navisworks!

This is HUGE. If you aren't familiar with Navisworks - you can get more info on Shaan Hurley's web site:

Between the Lines

There are some major ramifications for not only the Building Industry in general, but also for collaboration and integration of non-building-related disciplines, such as manufacturing. Imagine downloading a manufacturer's Inventor model of a piece of equipment and being able to view it in context with the 3D model of your building, even though it's a completely different file format, for example (and that's just for starters).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Computer Ergonomics 101

OK - this has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time, so now I'm gonna vent. WHY do they have to put every critical connection on the BACK of the computer - especially "desktops" (which are always UNDER the desk)? And if they're going to do that, why do they make every critical component cord (monitor, mouse, keyboard, etc.) too short to reach behind and underneath your desk?!!!

It's a conspiracy, I tell ya! (Between who and for what I don't know, but I'm on the case!)


I think I threw my shoulder out changing out my wife's mouse tonight.

I hate Compaq...

GO SPURS GO (Minus "Cheap Shot Bob" - what a stupid, no-class move...)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Building Performance Analysis White Paper

A new white paper concerning some critical concepts and procedures for generating a valid building performance analysis (BPE) in Revit MEP 2008 has been posted to the Autodesk web site. You can download it here:

BPE Analysis White Paper

I strongly recommend that if you are an MEP engineer considering or using Revit MEP or if you are an architect who works with one who is, that you download and read it - it's a quick read, but full of good information!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cool Stuff from China

If you haven't checked out Nicolas Mangon's and Wai Chu's blog "BIM and BEAM" yet, you should do so.

For starters, take a look at their recent article from China and the awesome photos of the "Twisted Donut" under construction.

How do they DO that? (Make it stand up, not take the pictures...)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

AIA Convention 2007 - There Still Seems to be Some Confusion...

I had the pleasure of helping out in the Autodesk booth at the AIA convention here in San Antonio this week. I was tasked with showing some of the productivity features of AutoCAD Architecture (formerly ADT), as well as serving as a teaching assistant in the booth's learning lab for a Revit Architecture session and an Autodesk Impression session.

I enjoyed seeing a lot of old friends, including people I went to Architectural School 'lo those many years ago, as well as some of my customers and others that I've met at AU's, on-line, etc.

I was a bit surprised, however, to find that many, if not most of those that visited the booth were still a bit confused as to what the position of ACA (AutoCAD Architecture) was with respect to Revit Architecture. Is ACA going away? Are ACA and Revit going to become the same product? The answer to both questions is an emphatic "NO".

The follow-up question to that (paraphrased here, as it took many literal forms from those that I talked to) was "So, which one should we be using?"

It's not a simple answer - and certainly not one I can answer in a blog post, however I can shed some light on the fundamental differences between the two products.

Revit and AutoCAD are two completely different platforms. Different code-bases and different workflows. The Revit platform (currently consisting of Revit Architecture, Revit MEP and Revit Structure) are geared for Building Information Modeling. They are not CAD programs. They're building modelers and analysis tools, where the data about the building components is equally important as the graphical representations. AutoCAD is a CAD platform, and currently offers AutoCAD Architecture (formerly ADT) and AutoCAD MEP (formerly ABS) as CAD productivity tools for the building industry.

If you are needing to move to Building Information Modeling, then you should be looking at Revit. However, don't just buy it and throw it on your computers, send your staff to a 3 day class and expect to be up and running. Revit will change the way your office works in a fundamental way. Because Building Information Modeling is such a different workflow it will impact everything from staffing to project resource allocation and billing. You need to plan your implementation and you will need help, either from your reseller if they have the resources and expertise, an outside consultant, or from Autodesk. The help is there - it's not free, but it's vital to be successful and profitable with your transition - plan for it, budget for it, and use it!

If you have no need in the near future to move to BIM and you simply need to stay with a CAD product (either for 2D or 3D production - ACA will handle both), then use AutoCAD Architecture. If you're currently using it like AutoCAD, then stop wasting your investment and target 3 to 5 features in the software to get near immediate productivity gains, then go from there. If you need a quick, easy feature to target, consider the Detail Component Manager. Talk about low-hanging fruit! We're talking blocks, polylines, lines, etc. - standard AutoCAD objects - however they're linked to a database that allows you to quickly and effortlessly compose a 2D detail, then annotate it automatically with the keynote database (even if you're not using keynotes, you can use the database for standardized, automated annotation - just turn off the keynote display). As an instructor, I will tell you that I can train someone to be comfortable and productive with the Detail Component Manager in 30 minutes or less. I can train someone to customize it in a half day. It's not rocket science and requires absolutely no programming ability at all.

So... hopefully this helps clear up the confusion a bit. Autodesk is giving you a choice. Figure out which way you need to go and make it work!

To those of you that were at the AIA convention this year and were in San Antonio for the first time, I hope you enjoyed our fair city, and even more, I hope you sunk some tourist dollars into our economy! :-)