Graphisoft ships a cheaper version of ArchiCAD -- it's ArchiCAD START Edition 2008. All that's missing, according to the press release, is the group collaboration features. Price is US$1,995.
Graphisoft ships a cheaper version of ArchiCAD -- it's ArchiCAD START Edition 2008. All that's missing, according to the press release, is the group collaboration features. Price is US$1,995.
I felt compelled to sort through my massive collection of cables. Dozens and dozens of cables collected over my 25 years in computers.
I came across an odd one: USB plug at one end, mini power connector at the other. Hmm.. I wondered if...
I plugged it into one of my computer's USB ports, and plugged the other into a portable CD player I still have. It worked!
That solved the problem of listening to CDs while not taking up the computer's CD slot for more important tasks. I'm currently listening to "By Request," sort of a greatest hits collection of "The Academy of St Martin in the Fields" (that's the name of the orchestra) under the direction of Neville Marriner.
Or maybe I should've named this post, "Just Try and Copy This."
I have Bricscad Pro running on my Vista notebook, and decided to installed Bricsad Classic on my wife's new Vista PC. All I needed to do was copy the 38MB download file from my computer to hers over the network. No can do.
First time I tried, I realized I hadn't set up her computer's C: drive for sharing. Did that.
Used two copies of Windows to drag the .exe file from mine to her computer again. Same error msg, about not being allowed to.
Fiddled some more on her computer, trying to figure out why a shared drive could not be accessed over the network. Never did.
Both are running the Home version of Vista, and I would assume the security precautions of home computers would be much lower than for office computers. For one, my wife and I want to share files -- no badies around here. But Vista won't let us, because Microsoft knows better than its customers.
Okay, get out the 1GB USB key (memory stick, thumb drive). As I drag the .exe file from one Windows Explorer to the other, I brush by My Sharing Folders. A dialog box curtly informs me that I am not permitted use the My Sharing Folders until I activate Microsoft Something-or-Other-Software-Tied-to-Live that I never use. And then it freezes. The OK button on the unwanted dialog box is deactivited.
The only way to recover is to perform the following seven-step process:
1. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del.
2. Wait some time for screen to appear, and then choose Start Task Manager.
3. Wait until the dialog box appears, and then choose the Applications tab.
4. Hunt down the folder name displayed by Windows Explorer, and select it.
5. Click End Task.
6. Wait until the Are You Sure dialog box appears, and then click OK.
7. Wait until the offending Explorer shuts down, and then restart it.
The worst of it: Microsoft chose to not let us erase My Sharing Folders to rid ourselves of its annoyance. Clearly, the "My" does not refer to Ralph Grabowski.
(I dragged the file a second time over the misnamed My Sharing Folders to see how long it remains disabled. After 3/4-hour, I gave in, and employed the soft reboot method described above.)
Yah, so I dragged the file again, carefully avoiding the time-wasting My Sharing Folders, and then walked the USB key around the desk to my wife's computer.
Why is it that using a network to share files is too insecure for Microsoft to allow family members to do -- but it's perfectly safe to plug in USB keys that contain who-knows-what virii?
I knew about TTF and PostScript Type 1 fonts, but learned of another format that's actually supported natively by Windows.
My youngest daughter is becoming a designer. She asked how to install a font she downloaded from an online source, such as DaFont. I told her to put it into the \Windows\Fonts folder. But she got stalled, because the download was a ZIP file.
I opened the ZIP file for her, and found an OTF file. "Wha?" I wondered. A google search quickly informed me that (1) OTF files are open text fonts, and (2) are supported by Windows. Sure 'nough, was true, and my daughter went on to happily design a T-shirt.
The OpenType format is an extension of the TrueType SFNT format that also can support Adobe PostScript font data and new typographic features. OpenType fonts containing PostScript data, such as those in the Adobe Type Library, have an .otf suffix in the font file name, while TrueType-based OpenType fonts have a .ttf file name suffix.
Does CAD support OTF?
I tried out AutoCAD 2008, but its Style command does not recognize .otf files. Its Compile command converts PostScript fonts for use in drawings, but it also does not recognize .otf files.
Non-CAD programs do, such as PaintShop Pro and the Atlantis word processor.
The Vista varient of Windows is able to rollback device drivers. That means that if you install an updated driver for a graphics board or whatever, and if it screws up your system, then you can ask Vista to uninstall it and use the previous version.
That happened to me yesterday.
HP periodically offers updated drivers and other software for my TX1120 tablet-like notebook computer. Problem is, the updates they offer are offered with no explanation. I have no idea whether the update does me any good.
There was an update for the nVidia graphics board. After I gave permission to download and install it, I noticed something strange. The image of the second monitor looked fuzzy, a sure sign of resolution mismatch.
(Speaking of which, I noticed that our local FutureShop pulls that stunt. On their cheapest monitor, they do a resolution mismatch to make the image look worse than it really would be -- a means by which to dissuade customers from spending that little, perhaps.)
I went to change the resolution back to 1440x900 -- but found I could not. The closest was 1440x1024. After scrolling through all available resolutions, I realized that nVidia's latest update eliminated the resolution needed by my new monitor.
In the meantime, the displays were freaking out, shuddering in black flashes each time I tried to find that ellusive combination.
Then I hoped that rolling back the driver to the previous release might work. As so much in Vista, Microsoft chose to make this difficult to access:
1. Rightclick the screen.
2. Click Personalize from the menu.
3. Click DisplaySettings in the dialog box
4. Click Advanced Settings button.
5. Click Adapter tab.
6. Click Properties button.
7. Click Driver tab.
8. Click Rollback Driver button. (If this button is grayed out, Windows cannot rollback the driver.)
The rollback worked, and I have my 1440x900 resolution back. No more driver updates!
Problem is, I cannot complain to nVidia, who created the problem and wasted my time. Even though their utility software has a Contact nVidia button, they want nothing to do with us; it's HP to whom we're to take our woes.
My collection of hardware was coming together:
-- keyboard, check.
-- keyboard drawer, check.
-- 19" LCD monitor, check.
-- 1TB Firewire 800 external hard drive, nope.
FutureShop was advertising the LeCie drive, but did not have them in stock anywhere. "Our shipments arrive Mondays and Thursdays," the salesperson told me.
But I was running into another problem: cables.
Or, more accurately, lots of cables to unplug each time I wanted to make my notebook computer with me. Then I recalled seeing an port replicator for my TX1000-series notebook computer laying abandoned on a shelf at Staples in Coquitlam. It had a "Reduced" sticker on it. "Oh, that's because it was opened," explained the manager. "You get an extra 5% off."
The expansion module (HP calls it a "Quick Dock") uses a single proprietary cable to feed nearly all data and power between the computer and QuickDock. It replicates nearly all ports, and it adds extras that were missing from the computer, such as 6 more USB ports, and extra video connectors.
However, it fails to replicated the Express slot, and there is no FireWire. That means I'll have an extra wire to disconnect, the one between the external hard drive and the Express/34 Firewire 800 port.
Another drawback is that the QuickPort connector is located on the rightside of the computer, so it interferes with the mousing area. The connector has a huge plug and fat cable, so it does not tuck out of sight very well. It would have been nice if the connector was right-angled.
Still, it does the work of reducing the number of items to unplug down to one, for even the power goes into the QuickDock.
Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate
by Tom Peters
When it comes to enthusiasm, Tom Peters is #1 in the business. "Design" is one of the Tom Peters Essentials series, a slim volume that colorfully condenses concepts from his older book, "Re-image." (The other titles in the series are Leadership, Talent, and Trends.)
Designed in the bright Dorling Kindersley manner, the pages of this book explode in color, graphics, and overlaid text -- as a book about design should do.
As CAD users, we appreciate design. There is functional design, where we make sure it works. As engineers, we l-o-v-e functional design with its precise equations, tables of allowable values, and tolerances.
Then there is the badly-named industrial design, the other half, the surface that covers the functional design, the curves and sheens that make people lust after iPods and iPhones. This is what Mr Peters is writing about.
It is his contention that design is the future. Design is no longer an afterthought, no longer a cost center, no longer a frown. It's now the heart and soul, the value generator, the smile.
Design is everywhere, even in areas you may not have thought of; but Mr Peters has thought of it. "Why," he asks, "do hotel beds have to give him a backache?" (One hotel chain is now so proud of its excellent beds that it will sell them to you.) Other examples: Starbucks is not about coffee; Porsche is not about commuting.
In short, your customers have an experience when they deal with you. What do you change to make their experience wonderful? From the moment they drive into your parking lot... until they leave, purchase(s) in hand. And afterwards.
I'll throw out some words that occur in large, bold text throughout the book: Uniqueness. Alter. Adventure. Obsess about beauty. Design = Soul.
If you love design, this book will perk you up. After reading it once, remember to go back in six months to read it all over again.
Published in 2005 by Dorling Kindersley
In paperback for $10.20 from Amazon.com; also available used. Click for more information about Design (Tom Peters Essentials)
If I was going to get me that "free" LCD monitor, I needed to get that DOS-era "German for Everyone" program running on Vista. I finally figured it out:
I initially installed the software just like normal, but the first sign of trouble came when the old version of QuickTime (provided with the German CD) displayed an error message during the install, and then seemed to freeze. Running the German program showed just a black screen.
I got a Vista-compatible version of QuickTime, installed that, but the German program would not work with it.
I deduced that the problem was that (1) the German program ran only with that old version of QuickTime, and (2) the old version of QuickTime did not run with Vista.
After detouring through a fruitless attempt to install Windows 2000, I recalled Vista's compatibility mode. Right-click a program or shortcut, click the Compatibility tab, and then choose an operating system. I picked Windows 98/ME.
Running the German program in compatibility mode still didn't work. Then a thought struck me: what if I install both components in compatibility mode?
I uninstalled QuickTime and the German program.
I right-clicked both icons on the CD, and set them up to be compatible with Windows 98/ME.
I first ran the QuickTime installer, and this time it installed successfully. I followed that by installing the Germany program.
Finally, I ran the German program in compatibility mode. It worked!
(If it hadn't worked, my next step would have been to buy the cheapest hard drive in town in order to install Windows 2000, side-stepping the Microsoftian imposition that prevented me using whatever OS I want.)
Now that German for Everyone worked, I could swap in the old LCD and keyboard to the new computer, and then steal the new keyboard and LCD for my notebook computer expansion.
... and it's only January, 2008.
A mere 24 days into the new year, and SolidWorks knots our brains by talking about software named "2009."
Lots of photos and commentary on SolidWorks 2009 at Mike Puckett's Blog: Solidworks 2009 Sneak Peak. Some of the new features are:
- sliders show more or less parts of an assembly.
- geometry is dimensioned automatically as it is sketched.
- BOMs from 3D solids.
- automatic unfolding of solids into sheetmetal.
- reverse bird's eye view (heh: available for AutoCAD since the late 1980s, thanks to Artist Graphics).
Let the race begin for users of competitor products to mock, "Yah, well, OUR software did that 4 versions ago!"
Dassault's Web page for PLM 2.0 (the new cover name for its V6-series of CAD and adjunct software) is labeled "Teaser." And what a tease it is:
Reminds me of my time growing up in northern Canada, where wry jokes like "polar bear in a snow storm" were common.
Reality = Asynchronicity
The grand plan for Dassault's V6-line of software is to merge the real and virtual "in an immersive lifelike experience" -- never mind that the real is already lifelike. Although, for computer-immersed people like myself, the virtual is our real world, and the real is inconvenient.
"Working globally around the clock is necessary in today’s business climate. V6 enables people to work together concurrently in real time via a simple Web connection." [See press release.] Sorry, but this doesn't work: we can't all be working globally and concurrently, because both of us have to get sleep at some point. 24/7 was just a catchy sounding phrase; don't take it seriously.
I know, because I am currently working with an overseas project, which runs like this:
Monday: I send an email to my contact, asking for clarification on the project's scope.
Tuesday morning: His reply is received by me.
Tuesday during the day: I respond.
Wednesday morning: His reply is read by me.
And so on, at a speed of one email exchange per day. Others who work with overseas clients in the opposite direction of the globe report late night telephone conference calls and other sleep-inconvenient forms of communication.
When working globally, there is no round the clock, there is no concurrent working, and there is no real-time. Instead, it consists of ten-hour-days, handing-off work, and delayed communications.
I had been using FireFox with Google Mail, but today I noticed that GMail finally works with Opera. Before, I would get warnings that my favorite Web browser would not work with GMail, and then it truly wouldn't work.
But now it does. So that's good.
Cadalog has a beta of an IFC plugin fore SketchUp 6. It directly imports IFC-formatted models and their BIOM data into SketchUp, such as from Revit, ArchiCAD, VectorWorks, MicroStation, and AutoCAD Architectural.
The research department of Secom and Cadalog are looking for beta testers, particularly those using Revit, ArchiCAD, Microstation, or Architectural. You can download the free IFC2SKP beta from ohyeahcad.com/ifc2skp.
The team that puts on the the annual conference in Davos must be working with a marketing firm more in tune with the CAD world. This year's theme is: "The Power of Collaborative Innovation."
Can't you just imagine reading that tag line in press releases from CoCreate or think3?
As I noted in the previous post, I gave up looking for a cordless, Bluetooth keyboard after learning that it cannot work at the same time as a Bluetooth mouse purchased separately.
As I was mulling over my options, the FutureShop flyer came out, and there was the answer for much of the equipment I was looking for:
-- the 1GB triple-interface LeCie hard drive was back, priced at $329.
-- an Acer bundle with computer, 19" monitor, keyboard, and throw-away mouse for $429.
My wife's computer needed replacing; I wanted the monitor and keyboard. It was perfect! Checking the computer model online, I found that FutureShop (and maybe Acer) were essentially throwing in the monitor for $29.
Or, as I explained sheepishly to my wife, the computer was "just" $200, because the monitor is normally $200, and the keyboard-mouse combo $29.
I also learned that this was an ultra-cheap mode produced by Acer for low-income parts of the world. The specs are modest, but good enough for my wife, who just does email, Web browsing, and some word processing:
-- 4000+ AMD 64-bit CPU
-- 160GB hard drive, split into two equal-size partitions (curiously enough)
-- 1GB RAM (256MB shared with the integrated ATi graphics)
-- card readers, USB ports, and sound connectors on the front panel
-- super DVD drive that burns dual-layer DVDs
Missing was any sort of backup for the Windows Vista Home Basic operating system. No spare copy on the partitioned drive, no ability to make a restore DVD, no discs included. Instead, you have to pay Acer $40 for the discs.
I did want to replace Vista with Windows 2000, since (1) that would be a speedier system; and (2) it would let my wife run her "German for Everyone" language program. Naturally, Microsoft cannot conceive of anyone wanting to backgrade their WOW-inducing OS, so after several attempts to fool the system, I gave up.
My wife was ready to keep the old computer just to run the German program, but that would defeat my master plan: grab the "free" 19" monitor and keyboard for my notebook system.
Olympus now has a digital camera with 20x zoom, which works out to a 26 - 520mm range. Remember, though, that 20x is not as nice as it sounds, because part of the range goes down to wideangle.
The reference point is 50mm: this is the normal view, no zoom, no wide angle.
* Wideangle -- from 50mm to 26mm.
* Zoom -- from 50mm to 520mm.
Thus, the actual magnification is 10.4x (= 520 / 50).
Still, that's pretty good. All those common cameras with their 3x "zooms" provide just 2x, because of the wideangle factor.
Many binoculars enlarge the image by 7x, so this camera dispenses with the need for binocs, and has the added benefit of recording what you see closeup. With one exception: binoculars provide stereoscopic vision, not done by digital cameras.
But this new Olympus is still not as good as camcorders, which now have optical zooms of 35x. How can camcorders do what still cameras cannot? Smaller lens and image size allows for larger zoom ratios.
You can read more about the Olympus SP-570 UltraZoom digital camera at The Imaging Resource. It's just $500; the primary drawback, however, is that it uses xD memory cards, instead of today's standard SD memory cards. Since xD is smaller than SD, you can't even use an adapter to reuse your existing collection of SD cards.
My newest notebook computer has Bluetooth built in, and I like it.
I like using the Bluetooth mouse -- no dongle, as with other wireless mice. I like hotsyncing my Palm TX -- no cable. And so I wanted to get a Bluetooth keyboard too, but the only ones I could find were keyboard-mouse combos that cost in excess of $150. (And I didn't need a second Bluetooth mouse, after spending $60 on one already.)
In my search, I stopped at a messy, independent computer dealership near the corner of Broadway and Main in Vancouver. The proprietor explained that I would have a problem: Bluetooth is single-tasking. It can handle only one thing at a time.
"Ah!," I exclaimed. That would explain why the Palm hotsync wasn't working lately. It complained about the port already being in use. It would also explain why Bluetooth keyboards were sold with a mouse; the vendor had to figure out a way for them to work cooperatively.
As soon as I got home, I checked the proprietor's claim. I turned off the Bluetooth mouse, and then started hotsync on the Palm. This time it worked.
So, Bluethooth is no USB, which can handle 128 devices at a time. It's only one activity for Bluetooth at a time.
I have now given up my search for the Bluetooth keyboard, since it would not work anyhow.
The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea
by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge
This is a small hardcover book that briskly took me through the history of the corporation. The idea is that investors pool their money, hire a manager to employ the money, and then enjoy the profit. The concept goes back to Babylonian times, but not until the 1700s do the British add a twist: that those who invest the money should not be liable beyond the amounts they invested. The practical outcome was that you could loose all your investment funds, but not your house.
Despite being a short book, the two authors thoroughly describe the slow development of the corporation -- as more rights were granted it, and as it became easier to incorporate. In some countries are artificial persons, who have rights and obligations, can be sued, and pay taxes.
The authors are even-handed, both praising the largess and condemning the greed of corporations. Corporations tend to be ahead of governments in providing workers with benefits, such as health plans and pensions. But Enron-like greed can be just as likely.
The oldest corporation in the world is/was the Hudson's Bay Company, now a chain of department stores in Canada owned by an American private investment house. (Mr Micklethwait is also the author of The Right Nation: Why America is Different.)
Published in 2003 by The Modern Library
Now in paperback for $10.17 from Amazon.com; also available used.
Click for more information about The Company[amazon.com]
Two weeks ago, I wrote in upFront.eZine about Changing the Guard. The article provides a longish list of attributes that define the old and new ways to writing and marketing CAD software.
A couple of items related to that article:
BTW, IDX is a new division of IMSI/Design that is is writing plug-ins, add-ons, and stand-alone utilities for AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT, and Google SketchUp.
The trackpad of Apple's new portable Air computer permits these multi-finger controls:
* Two-finger rotation to rotate objects.
* Two-finger pinch to zoom in and out.
* Three-finger navigation swipe.
See the application to CAD? I wonder which CAD vendor will be first to support these -- perhaps the finger motions are native and so a VectorWorks or Archicad can use them immediately?
I am in the market for a keyboard. I want to turn my Tx1120 notebook computer into a workstation, and so I am slowly adding the components:
-- keyboard drawer (purchased from IKEA)
-- 19" monitor (price is down to $170 currently)
-- external 1TB hard drive with Firewire 800 interface
-- Firewire 800 Express/34 card (ordered through eBay)
(There is no need to upgrade the internals, for it already has 2GB RAM, 4GB "ReadyBoost", and 200GB hard drive.)
I need an external keyboard, because the one on the notebook computer is hard on my hands: the throw is too short. Short, I suppose, to save space in this subnotebook.
I would like to get a Bluetooth Keyboard to go along with the Bluetooth mouse that I already use. It's nice not having to plug and unplug cables, or even wireless dongles.
But the only two I have found so far are outrageously priced: $195 from Logitech and $170 from RocketFish. Thus I am leaning towards a corded backlit keyboard that I have seen at London Drugs for $50.
But those high-priced keyboards have dreadful keys -- especially the RocketFish, as well as those from Microsoft. Thus, I am glad I happened to buy the $17-on-sale Benq keyboard last year: the keys depress so softly that it took a while for me to get used to them. Now I appreciate it.
I just read that Logitech's sales softened recently. Serves them right for selling overpriced keyboards with cheap key mechanisms. For $195, I want a Rolls Royce feel to my fingers.
The story of Nokia closing the last cell phone manufacturing plant in Germany is fascinating to me. As a self-employed businessman operating in Western Canada, I launched and operate my business with no government subsidies -- except for one: this small business pays a lower corporate tax rate than do larger businesses.
(Even that tiny assistance is seen as a distortion to the marketplace, because it could inhibit growth in small businesses should owners not want to pay the higher tax rate.)
Keep that in mind when you read about the closing of this plant:
-- Finland's Nokia is the last cell phone maker to move production out of Germany to a lower-cost region; Germany labour costs are 10x more expensive than Romania (although labor is a small portion of the cell phone's manufacturing cost).
-- Up to 2,300 employees may lose their jobs; they are in shock, because many worked overtime in December.
-- "Boycott Nokia," says a leader in the Confederation of German Unions, which will be losing up to 2,300 dues-paying members.
-- German government threatens to block European Union aid for relocation; EU says corporations no longer receive any, after the fallout from when the uber-government paid AEG to move production from Germany to Poland.
-- Politicians are calling for Nokia to repay the e88 million it received in subsidies; however, the EU's agreement with Nokia has expired.
-- A conservative EU parliament member wants the EU to cut corporate subsidies from e50 million down to a maximum of e20 million; Hungary pays up to 50% of high tech company's relocation costs.
-- EU president Jose Barroso admits, "If a shift from Finland to Germany is possible, then a shift from Germany to Romania also has to be possible."
In summary, European politicians are shocked, shocked! when corporations follow the rules set up by the EU and member governments.
In related news, I was pleased to read the Canadian government refuse Ford Motor Company's request for a $30 million subsidy to re-open a engine manufacturing plant in Ontario.
CAD Schroer Group adds a Sheet Metal Design module to the free Personal version of MEDUSA4 2D/3D CAD software. It runs on six Linux variants -- CentOS, Fedora, Mandriva, RedHat, SuSE and
Ubuntu -- as well as two varients of Windows, 2000 and XP.
The Personal version has these limitations:
-- different sheet file format.
-- watermarked print output.
-- import DXF/DWG but not export.
-- no customization.
Start the process here for downloading.The software is locked to your computer's MAC [media access control] address, which means it has to have a network adapter, either wired or wiresless.
Today is the annual analyst and media day that PTC holds at its headquarters near Boston. (Not attending this year is me, for I had prior commitments here at home.)
This morning's press release headline reads, "PTC Introduces Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 4.0 with New...." At last year's event, PTC vowed to remove the "Wildfire" tag from future releases, because it was just the code name during the time that the software company transitioned Pro/E to a more modern CAD program. I suppose Wildfire was just too exciting to drop -- and perhaps there is a useful name-link to a successful program in another field, FireFox.
New in v4 is:
-- Auto rounding.
-- Improved large assembly performance -- there's one everyone's working on.
-- Automatically display dimensions in 3D drawings.
-- Directly edit surfaces.
-- Remove rounds and hole geometry.
-- Analyze geometric tolerances and variances in the CAD model.
-- Convert imported geometries to features.
-- Improved repair of imported data.
-- Handles JT, 3D PDF, ProductView files.
-- Enhanced simulation.
I can see competitors going over the list and saying, "Yup, already go that one. And that one, too." Perhaps this item is unique to Pro/E:
New Pro/ENGINEER Rights Management Extension -- persistently and dynamically protect intellectual property when collaborating through additional levels of security.
There's also these improvements to verticals:
-- Manufacturing tooling.
-- Factory equipment design.
-- Electromechanical design.
The software is due to ship by the end of January, either on CD or as a download.
When I helped my mother-in-law buy her first digital camera last Christmas, I also got her the de-rigueur 2GB memory card. "How many pictures can I take," she wondered. 1,500.
Her camera, a Canon SD100, also supports SDHC (secure digital high capacity) cards, which can now be purchased in 8GB capacities locally for just over $100.
One of those 8GB cards would hold six thousand photographs. With the large LCD screen, I suddenly realized that her greatest worry (how to get the photos from the camera onto the computer) was rendered moot. She didn't need to deal with her computer and its mysterious ways.
The computer is no longer required:
-- keep all photos you've ever taken on the camera's memory card(s).
-- print direct from the camera to a 4"x6" printer, which are now under $100.
-- backup the photos by getting a dedicated device that combines a portable hard drive with a card reader.
Now I read that Samsung has shipped a CompactFlash memory card that holds 40GB. That's 30,000 photographs. Or twenty hours of high-definition video.
How much does that represent? I've been taking digital pictures since the summer of 1999. I now have 60,000 photographs taking up 56GB of disk space. But then I typically take 100 photos on days when I am active in picture taking, like on vacation. My mother-in-law tends to take a few photos at a time.
Sony now has a camera with 4GB memory built in. Maybe 40GB will be the future.
TurboCAD users can now employ 3Dconnexion's line of 3Dmice with the budget-priced CAD software:
-- TurboSketch Studio ($99; includes SketchUp)
-- TurboCAD Deluxe 14 ($149)
-- TurboCAD Pro 14 ($1,295)
... can work with...
-- SpaceNavigator Personal Edition ($59)
-- SpaceNavigator Standard Edition ($99)
-- SpaceTraveler ($199)
-- SpaceExplorer ($299)
-- SpacePilot ($399)
The other day I was out looking for dual-layer DVD discs. (These are useful for backing up large amounts of data, because they hold 8.5GB each.) They are hard to find, and pricey -- about 5x the cost of regular blank DVDs.
You know what else was hard to find? Blank CDs. There's stacks and stacks of DVD spindles in the stores, but not too many CDs.
Which leads into Steve Jobs' keynote this morning. He showed off the new Mac Air notebook computer. One of its compromises is no CD/DVD drive. Mr Jobs says its no longer necessary, what with music, movies, software installations -- all being downloaded.
Or, it can "borrow" the CD drive on a networked computer, if you need it.
(In many ways that's true: for the most part, I use my DVD drive for burning backups. And re-installing Logitech mouse drivers.)
But here's the flashback. After Mr Jobs was pushed out of Apple, he launched the NeXT computer. Like the Lisa, it was over-priced and under-compatible with the rest of the market. One of its flaws at the time was that it had only a CD drive -- no floppy drive, which was the standard at the time.
Today he announces his first computer with no drive at all.
In that way, Mitac Computers beat him to the punch. About a decade ago, I bought my first notebook computer with a color display. (Monochrome was the budget preference in those days.) It was a cute little sub-portable that even my wife liked. Being so small, it had no floppy or CD drive built in.
But then it also had no built-in modem, networking, etc. So, by the time I added all those devices to make this ultra-portable computer complete, it wasn't so portable anymore.
My Mitac still runs (Windows 95) but the screen sometimes goes weird. Also, it's not 0.17" thick.
Get ready for the Ribbon -- Microsoft's broken word.
(When it was first being marketed by Microsoft, one of the promises of Windows was that a consistent user interface would increase productivity. And so pretty much all software these days uses toolbar, menus, keyboard shortcut, right-click menus.... By knowing where things are, you work faster. One item that broke the consistent UI rule was toolbar flyouts.)
But now the Ribbon breaks the rule of consistency, and the UI we have become used to over the last 15 years.
It's in SpaceClaim 2007, SolidWorks 2008, and is coming to AutoCAD (according to public statements made by Autodesk employees).
Due to the nature of work I am doing for a client, I had to install Office 2007 last week, and got to experience the Ribbon firsthand. Talk about an initial hit on productivity!
After spending some time with Word 2007 -- wasting time, actually -- looking for everyday items, like Options (to turn off all that irritating stuff that Word does automatically), and finding it renamed "Advanced."
I think the primary flaw in the Ribbon is its width. Menus are short, toolbar tend to be a half-screen-width or less. Even the keyboard is split in two, with one hand operating on either side.
But the Ribbon goes full width across the screen, and scanning that much becomes a problem. I recall reading once that the largest number of items the human brain can grasp at once is 3. When the Ribbon goes on and on with option after option, it overwhelms.
And then there is the apparent randomness of size: some buttons are large, some small, some are text. And the complexity. The Page Layout tab has five panels, each panel has 3-7 buttons -- some stacked, some side by side, and most mixed -- with many buttons also being flyouts.
It's not good.
Reports by bloggers from SolidWorks World 2008 show the ribbon being a much complained aobut topic in front of executives. Sources include:
It seems that companies may be in denial over the negative aspects of the ribbon, just as they were when we first learned that Microsoft deprecated the all-important-to-CAD-users OpenGL in Vista.
later, I found that the VideoSpin install also killed HotSync, needed for backing up my PalmPilot. After a reboot the services were working again.
VideoSpin is just like Pinnacle's Studio, with small differences -- such as the white background color, and the constant parade of ads, intermingled with tutorials.
Because I am already familiar with Studio, I didn't need to spend any time learning how to use VideoSpin. Plus, I quickly found the limitations. For example, while I can set a default length for photos and transitions, but I cannot tell how to change the duration.
In the end I gave up on VideoSpin because of the flashing ads dead center. If you need a free video editor, simply use the free MovieMaker included with Windows XP and Vista. It's more capable than VideoSpin and it is ad-free.
I would find it interesting to learn about Pinnacle's (owned by Avid) thinking behind releasing a less-capable, more irritating product than its identically-priced competitor.
Autodesk is not keen on the Open Design Alliance and its DWGdirect libraries. (The world's largest CAD company even doesn't care for ODA using DWG in the names of its products, even though ".dwg" is merely an extension for files, like ".xls" for Excel spreadsheets.)
But here is one reason to cheer on the efforts of ODA: their DWG API supports more operating systems than does Autodesk's own API. This allows users on many more computers to access files saved in the worldwide standard for drawings:
-- Linux X86
-- IBM AIX
-- Windows CE
Oh, and also desktop Windows, bot 32- and 64-bit. Autodesk's RealDWG API runs on Windows Vista, XP, and 2000.
If you need to access DWG files on Linux, who you gonna call?
After Robert X. Cringely wrote "Why Apple Will Buy Adobe" , I saw the various linkages that made it all make sense. To me in a personal manner. At 5:12am. This morning. Very early.
-- Apple has tens of billions in the bank; Adobe can be purchased for $21 billion [yahoo.com].
-- MacWorld 2008's slogan will be "There's something in the air," reports Daniel Dilger.
-- Adobe's next major initiative is named AIR, "Adobe Integrated Runtime." [edutechwiki.unige.ch]
-- Both company despise Microsoft for what the convicted monopolist has done to them over the years, both are headquartered in California, and both names start with A. It's a fit that's just that natural.
Cringely's reasons are not as good as mine, however. His list includes the IT market, kicks to the heads to Apple competitors, enterprise sales, digital content dominance creation and distribution on global scales, and dongles. He eplains "For those who don't [know what it is], a dongle is a sort of electronic key that plugs into a PC to enable the use of some expensive software application like AutoCAD."
Adobe and apples. They go together like AutoCAD and dongles.
Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip
by Jim Rogers
The ultimate road trip this was, as Jim Rogers and his new wife Piage drive spend three years driving through 116 countries -- as well as fly or barge, as necessary. The total would have been higher, but there were a couple of countries that would not let them in, such as Iran. And no stop in Antarctic.
They were fortunate in having Mercedes-Benz custom make their vehicle for them: a bright yellow SLK built onto the chassis of the G-500 SUV. On his previous around the world trip on motorcycle, Mr Rogers found (1) diesel fuel is universal, and (2) every country has a Mercedes dealer, due to the love that dictators have for the vehicle. The idea was to create such a unique and highly visible vehicle --yet one that could be repaired and fueled anywhere -- that the couple would have an easier time getting through countries. In just about all cases, the tactic worked.
The book is an enjoyable read as a travel adventure book. I learned a little bit about 116 countries. But the book falls down in its tag-lined promise: "Profitable lessons from a record-setting drive around the world." Mr Rogers is a global investor, and I hoped to get some investment lessons from him. No such luck: the best he could come up with was, "Buy low, sell high; but don't immediately buy something else after selling."
Towards the end of the book -- about half way up South America -- it seems that he is getting tired of writing. There are fewer exciting stories, more lists of cities driven through. The second largest country in the world is reduced to a single page -- and half of that is about the Alaska highway. Canada was his last country before returning home to the USA.
By the end of the book, he admits that the number of disinvestments equaled the number of investments. Repeatedly, he is disappointed at what he hoped would be a newly developing country with ground floor investment opportunities.
So, don't read this book for investment advice, read it for the adventure. (His most recent book, published last year, is A Bull in China.)
Published in 2003 by Random House
Now in paperback for $10.17 from Amazon.com; also available as a downloadable audio book.
Click for more information about Adventure Capitalist [amazon.com]
VideoSpin looks much like Studio (also from Pinnacle), but with a white background instead of gray. If you know Studio or MovieMaker, then VideoSpin will already be familiar to you.
Being free, VideoSpin has these limitations:
-- no capture from (or control of) video cameras (with the exception of some that use a hard drive); read from files mainly.
-- it cannot burn DVDs; it can write only to files.
-- you can bring VideoSpin files into Studio v1.08 or higher, but not from Studio to VideoSpin*.
-- no tech support from Pinnacle; you help each other through a "community" page.
(*) I wonder about this point. You would be able to move video files back and forth, so perhaps this refers to Pinnacle-specific files, such as scenes.
Online documentation is here.
Why Use VideoSpin?
In contrast, the free MovieMaker that Microsoft includes with Windows XP and Vista does not suffer from those limitations:
-- can capture from (and control) digital video cameras, as well as read files.
-- can burn DVDs, as well as write to files and digital video cameras.
In the next installment, I'll try using VideoSpin to see if it has any benefit over Moviemaker.
The Australian Centre for Visual Technologies has worked out a way to generate 3D models from multiple frames in a video.
The user interacts with VideoTrace by tracing the shape of the object to be modelled over one or more frames of the video. By interpreting the sketch drawn by the user in light of 3D information obtained from computer vision techniques, a small number of simple 2D interactions can be used to generate a realistic 3D model.
Makes sense to me. As the video camera moves around an object, it captures the object from many viewpoints in 2D. The tricky part is combining many 2D views into a single 3D model -- although it seems to me that this technology is not particularly new.
What might be new is how compact the hardware could be. 3D capture hardware has tended to be bulky. But now even my less-than-1"-thick Samsung digital camera could be used (through its 30fps 720 video mode).
VideoTrace is in the prototype stage. The center is looking for employees, as well as applications for industry. Contact them by email here.
Late last year, Adobe cut the price of its Flash server software drastically by 90%. Today I learned through their PR firm, ar-edelman, that the price of Acrobat 3D 8 is also cut, but not t-h-a-t much:
Reason? "Adobe does ongoing pricing analysis of its products, and based on recent research believes the new price of Acrobat 3D will help make the product accessible to an even larger set of individuals and organizations in the manufacturing and AEC markets." Okey-dokey.
CAD translation just got cheaper.
After Randall Newton wrote about "Chinese Citizens Rise Up in Protest Against Placement of Maglev Train", his AECnews.com weblog received 40 comments, most of them from Chinese Citizens Rising Up in Protest Against Placement of Maglev Train.
A swarm of 40 comments must be a record of sorts for a CAD blog. Curiously, the same article that Randall posted to his 3D CAD News blog has 0 comments.
I guess Dassault will see the light, and not permit their design software to be used for this project any longer.
This is an issue I've discussed before: what should CAD vendors do when their software is used to design morally questionable projects? One approach is to be agnostic about it. But then their marketing departments are hardly agnostic when it comes to positive-sounding projects, like green-colored roofs and better wheelchairs.
Kind of like politicians: they take for themselves all credit for the good, and hope no one finds out about the bad.
Here are my ten of my favorite shortcuts for using computer software:
1. Assign the Double-click function to the middle mouse button.
2. Double-click the title bar of an application to change the window between normal and maximized (and back again).
3. To quickly save and exit an application, click the X button at the right end of the title bar. This causes the app to (2) ask you if you want to save the file (Yes) and (2) then exit -- saving you the extra step of doing File | Save.
4. Instead of using the mouse to move the cursor to the File menu, clicking, moving the cursor down to Save, and clicking, just press Ctrl+S. Much faster.
5. Press Ctrl+W to close a window. (This is easier than remembering Ctrl+F4).
6. Press PrtScr to copy the screen to the Clipboard; in a paint program, press Ctrl+V to paste the image.
7. Use Alt+PrtScr to capture just the topmost window to the Clipboard.
8. Press Alt+Tab to quickly switch between applications. Pressing Alt+Tab a second time gets you back to the first app. Hold down Alt+Tab long enough, and Windows displays a dialog box listing the current apps running; select one to switch to it.
9. Press Ctrl+Tab to quickly switch between documents within an application.
10. To quickly check a date on a calendar, double-click the clock at the right end of the taskbar.
I'm starting to investigate the drag that USB puts on computers. I first clued in when I read about the difference between external hard drives that use USB 2.0 or Firewire. USB is dreadful for external drives, because it puts the processing load on the host CPU; in contrast, FireWire offloads, and thus is more efficient. (That's one reason why FireWire drives cost a bit more.) Nearly all my external drives are FireWire.
USB is fine for printers, because typically your computer's CPU has to do all the work in generating the bitmap data for the printer anyhow. But I began two wonder when my kids were complaining about the slow speed of their computers and we couldn't find a cause...
In particular, my daughter's relatively notebook computer has been running very slowly. It can take minutes for an app to load. I checked for common problems, but found none: (1) disk still 50% free; (2) no viruses and so on; (3) CPU utilization was less than 10%; (4) hard drive was not being accessed excessively; (5) no apps running in the background.
The sole difference seemed to be whether a USB card reader was plugged in. Later, when she removed it, the computer seemed faster to her.
I had noticed a similar problem with my desktop computer. I recently moved the keyboard from the PS/2 port to a USB port. I noticed that the keyboard ran slower; for a high-speed touch typist, like me, this is an issue. It's easy to show: open a word processing document, and hold down any key, like "A". The stream of As should be continuous; but when the keyboard was plugged into USB, the As came in bursts. A half-dozen As, then a pause, and so on.
As well, functions were disabled on this keyboard. The volume control and horizontal scroll no longer worked. This morning, I moved the keyboard's plug back to the PS/2 port, and it's working properly again.
These events led me to wonder just how much of our computers' slowdown is due to the many USB devices we have plugged into our computers, each one demanding some CPU time for itself.
Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion condems the lazy blogger in The Lazysphere and the Decline of Deep Blogging. He wonders why tech blogs have devolved from "...people who used to work hard creating and spreading big ideas resorted to simply regurgitating the same old news over and over again..."
It's almost like we stopped the real work of reading, thinking and writing in favor of going all herd, all the time.
I think the regression to lazy blogging results from two factors:
-- the need to generate content to keep the AdSense dollars flowing. No new content, fewer visitors, fewer ad clicks.
-- the hard work it takes to maintain a blog, which is no different from the hard work it takes to maintain any publication.
The pattern is well known: create a new, easier way to publish, and many new publishers emerge. After some time, it's no longer new, and no longer fun, so the multitude drop off. This occurred with the penny-dreadful press in England in the 1800s, with "easy" DTP in the 1980s, Web sites in the 1990s, and now blogging in the 2000s.
IMSI/Design's TurboCAD Pro 14 software accepts plug-ins for extending its capabilities. Available is this impressive sounding list:
-- IDX Beam Analysis Tool ($249.00)
-- Architectural Design Tools ($99.95)
-- Mechanical Design Tools ($99.95)
-- CAM Plug-in ($299.95)
-- AnimationLab 4.1 ($199.95)
Makes me wonder what they'll come up with next.
(A free trial of TurboCAD Pro and the IDX plug-in is downloadable from here, following registration.)
This headline from Larry Digna's Between the Lines...
...got me wondering. Will this trigger search consolidation in the CAD world?
Searching CAD drawings is a tough problem; it's not just about locating text strings or database fields. The problem is trying to identify shapes of objects similar to the one being sought. Never mind similar; it can be tough for an algorithm to find ones that are identical -- given that CAD systems define entities differently from each other.
OTOH, searching CAD drawings is not as difficult as searching raster images, which contain almost no useful content at all -- other than an orderly pattern of numbers that means little until expressed as an image. (I find it interesting that Visio has the same problem: its spreadsheet-like file format means little until displayed as a diagram.)
So, no triggering of search consolidation in the CAD world, for there is little searching to consolidate.
(As for the $1.2-billion price tag Microsoft paid for an enterprise search engine from Norway, consider that eight years ago it paid about the same amount for all of Visio.)
SpaceClaim does it for $695 (LT) or $895 (LTX). Differences:
-- imports STEP, IGES, DXF, DWG, BMP, JPG and PNG.
-- exports DXF, DWG, XAML, STL, VRML, BMP, JPG and PNG
-- imports the same, as above.
-- exports STEP and IGES, plus the formats listed above.
Difference with SpaceClaim 2007+? Not clear from the press release, and the Web site has not yet been updated.
SpaceClaim's pr people tell me that the LT-versions lack the following 2007+ features:
-- extra export/import capabilties.
-- add ons.
Otherwise the products are the same.
Pinnacle Systems is offering its VideoSpin software free -- or nearly so.
(I figure the software is a long-delayed reaction towards MovieMaker which Microsoft includes free with Windows XP and Vista. And it is pretty good software; I've used it myself.)
The basic software is free from www.videospin.com . The download consists of two parts: (1) first a 2.3MB setup file is downloaded; which then (2) downloads the rest of the software to a folder on my computer -- 146MB worth.
Install was not without its problems. It requires shutting down all apps, following which they are relaunched automatically. Following the restart, I found these problems:
-- a randomly-selected image was displayed on my desktop.
-- my mouse lost its definition for the middle button (double-click).
Changing the background in Vista is tedious:
1. Right-click desktop, and select Personalize.
2. Click Desktop Background.
3. Click the wrongly-named Picture Location.
4. Choose Solid Color.
5. Click More.
6. Choose the color.
7. Click OK.
8. Click OK.
9. Click X.
All those steps because VideoSpin chose to change the background without asking me for permission. I wonder what it does on the sly?
Oh, and then the hassle of getting the mouse's center button to work correctly again...
Not Entirely Free
But there are numerous codecs that require royalty payments, and so you have to pay if you want to work with files that use the following formats:
-- MP3 (in DivX files)
-- Dolby Digital AAC audio
The codecs are included free for two weeks; by then Pinnacle hopes you'll have worked them into your productions that you'll have to pony up US$15, which isn't very much at all.
(Codec is short for "code-decode." This is software that converts your videos from and into formats used by specific recording/playback devices. MPEG-4, for example, is very popular for small devices, such as iPods, PalmPilots, and PSPs.)
Desperate to distinguish itself from the all too me-too world of SD memory cards and their plunging prices, SanDisk has relabeled some of its SDHC cards with a "High-Definition Video" sticker. (How plunging are the prices? Our local Wal-Mart has three 2GB SD cards for $44 a pack -- $14.67 each.)
The only difference on these "new" cards: the label, which shows how many hours of high-def video fit on. For example, an 8GB card holds 2 hours of HD video. But in fact, the memory cards can be used for any device that supports the SDHC format -- newer cameras, camcorders, digital VCRs, and computers. The 8GB card's price of US$140 is a $10 premium over the non-HD labeled SDHC card's price ($130).
But then, what do prices mean anymore? SanDisk's Web site lists its 4GB SDHC card at $80, but I picked one up at the London Drug's Boxing Week sale for $30.
What do prices mean? SanDisk lists the 4GB card without card reader for $80, but with the card reader it's $80. (You'll need that card reader if your computer can't read SDHC cards.)
Also available in Sony's MemoryStick PRO Duo format.
A pair of Apple press releases from today...
...and got me wondering. Which is better: having the fastest computer? Or the most powerful one?
Both boxes run on two 3.2 GHz Intel Quad-Core Xeon processors. Perhaps the difference to Apple marketing is that one is a "Mac," the other a "server." The Mac should do graphics fast; the server should process data (hard drive) requests quickly.
Canon, Et Tu?
In similar vein, Canon tries to make two products equally great. Which is better: a complete experience or an ultimate experience?
Canon U.S.A. Announces New Lineup of Standard Definition Camcorders for a Complete Consumer Recording Experience
I suppose it is possible to have an ultimate experience (like bungy jumping or reaching the peak of a mountain) without feeling complete.
Technically, Canon marketing has painted itself into a corner: by declaring its VIXIA camcorders as "the ultimate," it can never produce a consumer camcorder with better specs.
Earlier I tried installing the latest release of Ubuntu (Gusty Gibbon) on the old Toshiba notebook computer, but the graphics didn't work right.
I'm now booting the earlier release of Ubuntu v7.04 on my new HP notebook. (The earlier release, because it is the 64-bit version.)
It locked up during the boot, so I tried again. But it locked up again at the same point: "Configuring Network Interfaces."
No go. Now I'll try Ubuntu v7.10, the gutsy one. It got through loading all the drivers and other text-based messages. But upon switching to graphics mode, it stopped stone cold. No cursor, no CD drive activity, just a black screen.
That's too bad.
Alienware is showing off a prototype of a very wide widescreen monitor. The 'Crysis' uses OLED technology, and has a slight curve so that you can see all of it.
(Update: It uses not OLED, but four, small rear projectors. Due to ship later this year for an unknown price.)
Good-bye gaps between multiple monitor setups. You can see a picture of it at Engaget.
If two LCD monitors take up too much space on your desk, Staples is selling a double-monitor with a single support. The Double-Sight has two 19" screens next to each other with a ho-hum resolution of 1280x1024 and an over-the-top price of $730 -- steep, because 19" LCD monitors are now under $200 each. (Feeling old alert: the first 19" monitor I used, a CRT model, was around $2500 back in 1988 or so.)
Speaking of cheap, our local Wal-Mart is selling a 3-pack of 2GB SD cards for $44 -- $14.67 each. My daughter, upon seeing it, was ticked off: "I paid that much for a single 256MB memory card last year!"
SolidWorks Labs extends its DrawingsNow app to work with the iPhone.
You upload SLDDRW (SolidWorks drawings), DWG, or DXF files to the Drawings Now site, and then email the link to whomever. The Apple cell phone and other devices can then view the drawing files.
Since the Fedora 8 Live CD ran too slowly on my old Toshiba notebook computer, I thought I'd try it on my new HP notebook. It has 2GB RAM, plenty of room for Fedora Live to store its cache.
Whereas F2 allow me to change boot order on the Toshiba, I needed to press Esc on the HP. But, it turns out, I didn't need to do that, because the HP first attempts to boot from the CD drive.
Except that it stalled partway through the boot process, giving me a blank screen with just a blinking underline cursor. I tried it a second time, and this time it worked. The resolution was full.
But there was a serious problem: the input device didn't seem to work -- neither the built-in trackpad, a three-button wired mouse, or the Bluetooth mouse. (The Bluetooth mouse would need to be configured, which I could not do without a mouse -- catch 22.) There was no cursor.
Curiously, the right-mouse button worked. I pressed Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to restart the GUI. This time, I could see icons dimming as the invisible mouse pointer passed over them. This allowed me to perform some navigation. That let me check out the Bluetooth configuration: Fedora had detected the Bluetooth mouse.
Still lots of CD access. But Red Hat software has an alternative to solve that problem: I can copy the Live CD onto a USB drive using an arcane-looking command line prompt. If I can figure it out, then Fedora Live would run faster.
USB Boot Drive
I made a sidetrip through the HP's BIOS settings, and found that dual-boot possibility: the HP apparently can be made to boot from a USB drive.
If this works, then I could install Linux on the 120GB external drive, and then plug in the drive anytime I want the HP notebook computer to boot up with Linux -- leaving the main hard drive unaffected and unpartitioned. I have had sufficient problems with partitioning that I don't ever want to do it again.
I'll have to investigate this further at a later time.
I wondered if Gusty Gibbon would work better on this computer.
Using timelapse photography lets you notice things that you might not otherwise; same with slow motion photos.
Casio is blowing us away by showing their new $999 super-high-speed digital camera, the EX-F1. It is capable of the following speeds:
-- 1200fps at 336x96 resolution.
-- 300fps at 640x480 (VGA)
-- 60fps at 6 megapixels (full resolution).
-- 30fps at 1080i in H.264 movie format.
Engaget has photos and video here.