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...


Blogger Steve said...

Nice, thanks for sharing!

11:33 PM  
Blogger RobiNZ said...

You're not a caveman as have emerged into BIM world and evolved! Many have yet to venture outside the 2d cave.

4:48 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Since I'm older than you, my memory may not be as clear on the details. But I seem to recall that the Compaq 286 I bought us only had 640Kb of memory, not a MB. The PharrLap Extender technology which allowed AutoCAD to use that extra 384K of memory was introduced later (2.6?). I went with Compaq rather than the IBM AT because the Compaq used a blazing fast 8MHz processor and the IBM had a 6Mhz chip. Additionally, the 20MB hard drives used by IBM had a high failure rate that year. The Autodesk Reseller we bought AutoCAD 2.17g from made me sign a document stating that I understood AutoCAD was not certified to run on a Compaq. We used AutoFlix to show rendered walk-thrus of your models to clients. I remember you just about wet your pants when you first saw a Nth Engine graphics adapter at the Texas AutoCAD Organization meeting one night. You should write about Buzz using his architecural scale on your monitor.

7:21 PM  

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