Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Quality Instructors

Some of you reading this may have taken one of my classes either in person in Roanoke or through my years with the AUGI ATP free on-line training program. If you have, you may have noticed that I don't fit the normal mold of instructors. If you haven't, let me explain briefly.

To me, education is everything. I confess that I'm a junkie when it comes to learning. I'm a professional student. I love taking classes in anything at all that interests me from web page design to woodworking. I love reading non-fiction books to improve myself or learn new skills or outlooks on life. I don't want to die rich or even beautiful. I want to have people say at my funeral that I was full of knowledge.

Because of my stand on education, I've made it my personal mission to help anyone I can to become the best they can be with AutoCAD (and more recently Autodesk products). That's why I taught the AUGI classes for so many years. That's why I volunteered with the AUGI Guilds way back when to help users. I didn't want to just give them a short answer to their questions, but to explain the how's and why's so they'd really learn from the experience. I also wrote for the old AUGI Paperspace newsletter "back in the day" for the same reason.

I read an article today by someone in the Autodesk community that really bothered me. It is someone that I have met and respected. The article talked about the value of training and quoted many ideals that I share about actually learning and using new features when you upgrade and not just upgrading software year after year to continue with your old R13 habits.

Then the article took the turn to the opposite of my beliefs. It touted the Autodesk training centers and obtaining training from only Certified Autodesk Trainers. Baloney! A good trainer finds and uses different methods to reach each individual student. A good instructor doesn't just read about the software and do canned demos with the software like a traveling vacuum cleaner salesman. A good instructor is someone who has been in the trenches with you and knows first hand just how you use the software in the real world and what challenges you face daily.

I have seen plenty of "certified" instructors or "degreed" teachers that were terrible. They taught solely out of the Autodesk Courseware. This method often had no learning benefit at all because the datasets used in this material had nothing at all to do with the types of drawings they create.

I hear from users frequently that are against training associated with any Autodesk facility (Training Center or reseller) because of a bad quality experience they've had in the past. I've re-trained several companies now that have had this training elsewhere and the comments have always been very complimentary towards my style.

What is my style?
I learn everything I can about the user or company. I want samples of their drawings to discover their techniques and skill levels. I use their drawings to create custom exercises to aid them in learning to do what they will be doing when they return to their office.

I teach them why AutoCAD works the way it does. I explain all the options in the Options dialog box and what they mean as well as how error reporting, beta, service packs, object enablers, product registration and other items work.

I teach them to help themselves when they get in a jam or to continue to improve their skills. I provide everyone with several pages of references. These include books that I recommend, screen captures of where to find content on the Autodesk website and how to use and blog and website addresses that they may find helpful. I even take 15 minutes and give them an actual tour of both the Autodesk and AUGI sites so they know exactly what to expect.

I am not a certified instructor and I do not intend to become one. I might even be inclined to resist if asked to after this article.

I teach so that YOU can become a better user. If that means one-on-one training for two hours a week for the next two months, then so be it. I write most of my own training content in my own words with screen captures. I include my sense of humor, an important part of training in my opinion. Training should not be a boring experience. I tell you the good and the bad. I give you tips and tricks I've learned from my experiences as a user. And I continue to be a user so that I won't fall into the category of those instructors that were users "once upon a time."

You'll find me in Roanoke standing here on my soapbox should you like to discuss your training opinions or comments.

Thanks for listening!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Autodesk DVD Warning

If you are an Autodesk subscription customer for Architectural Desktop (ADT) or Building Systems (ABS), you probably have received previous product releases on 3-4 CD's. You need to be aware that the new 2006 releases will be shipped on DVD by default.

This might not seem like a big deal. If you have a fairly new computer, you may have a CD-ROM that also reads DVD's. But I have found that many companies have computers that they specified hardware, they only ordered CD-ROM's. An added problem is that we tend to pull out the DVD and think, "Oh, a CD", even though in small print it states DVD.

There is a solution. If you're ordering a new product, be sure and ask your reseller to order the appropriate media. If you're a subscription customer, if you haven't visited the subscription center on line, you should. If you're paying for subscription, you should take advantage of the extra services other than just getting the new releases automatically.

By visiting the subscription center, you can set preferences including type of media you receive. Ask your reseller for help if you've never access subscription center.

DVD's are great so you don't have to switching CD's through the install process. Just be sure you are prepared to accept them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Autodesk 2006 Products Officially unveiled-3/15/05

Today is the day. Autodesk releases information officially about the new 2006 series of products. They also have a new look. Check it out and find your latest product.

Even Shaan Hurley has joined the image change bandwagon with a new look on his blog.

Now if Spring would just arrive. There are signs, but many parts of the country are still under heavy snow or rain. Beware the Ides of March! And don't forget to wear your green on Thursday for St. Patrick's Day, the 17th. You won't find this double Irish redhead missing it!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Create Easy PDF's

As much as Autodesk tries to get everyone to jump on the DWF bandwagon, it's just not meeting PDF. I use DWF and I like it. Some of the customers I have that frequently mark up drawings I send them have purchased the DWF Composer and love the mark up capabilities. The rest of my customers use the free viewer that they can download from the Autodesk website.

I've talked to a number of Autodesk clients about why they continue to use PDF and the answer is fairly simple. In most cases their clients have specified that they must provide finished drawings in PDF format. This is written right into the specifications and/or contract. So they are forced to use PDF. Why is this? Because for some time now PDF has been the standard for sharing documents electronically. Virtually everyone has Adobe Acrobat Reader now. And PDF can be plotted fairly easy.

One example that I was given is that Kinko's had large format plotters, but does not have any capability to plot .dwg or .plt files. I did check with Kinko's and found this to be true. So if someone wanted to have an AutoCAD drawing plotted they would have to go to a more expensive plotting service. I've used these services for a couple of years before I had a plotter and still have occasion to use one for a customer who is traveling and needs something plotted remotely. Prices range from $12-20 per sheet if you send a .plt file and can be more if you send the .dwg file and someone has to open it in AutoCAD to plot it. (I guess you're being charged extra since someone has to be trained how to use AutoCAD.)

So, I see the place for PDF in our CAD world. Now the question is, how to get it in PDF format?

Well, what many users seem to do is purchase the full Adobe version which can be a bit pricey.

I've seen Bluebeam advertised on the AUGI website and in AUGIWorld magazine and HotNews, both AUGI publications. The Sept/Oct issue of AUGIWorld contained a feature on Third-Party Applications. You can read that issue here, but you'll need to be an AUGI member. There are other PDF applications out there. Some are free. Since Bluebeam supports AUGI, I chose to support them and try their product.

Bluebeam Review
I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with what an easy program this was. I've never really used a PDF program. I have used built-in faxing in which you choose the fax from your printer list. Using Bluebeam was the same. You use your pull-down list of printers and choose it as you would another printer. You are then prompted with a dialog box that is very intuitive should you wish to change options.

Upon installation, you will notice a small toolbar appear in AutoCAD and MS Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel). The toolbar allows you to use other features such as Batch printing to PDF. I have a library of standard details that I'd like to distribute to customers so I'm going to try that one soon. I'll let you know how it works when I do.

I have used the basic PDF printing and it really works great. I can set resolution very fine and have a lot of control. It also works with LT (many applications don't) and supports full and half-size paper which is pretty amazing.

I'm preparing to teach a class next week and am organizing and writing training materials. I normally have several different pieces of material that I like to include in my classes and often times one document gets missed. I think I'm going to test this out by creating one PDF of all my material so only one document will need to be printed. I also could more easily share this document with students.

You can try Bluebeam free for 30 days to see how you like it. So far the customer service staff has been really outstanding too. That's hard to find today.

Monday, March 07, 2005

AutoCAD 2006!

Yes, it's time for another AutoCAD release. I have to admit; when I started using AutoCAD with R11 in DOS (with a digitizer) I was always excited about each new release. In recent years, the new releases have failed to excite me as much. The 2004 release was a big deal because the interface changed entirely with the tool palettes. The 2005 release made me sigh with some boredom. I have been using the 2006 beta version for a couple of weeks now and must confess that it's exciting again!

The first big question you'll want to know is whether the file format will change. Can you read 2006 files with 2004/2005? There is NO file format change and you will be able to share files with any 2004 user. (2004 was the last file format change) That's very good news. One reason that people fail to upgrade is if there is a format change and they have to share drawings with other users on previous versions.

I think my favorite feature is the Dynamic Blocks. I see lots of possibility with these. The sample that was given to me was a conference room table. If you make a block of a table or table and chairs, you insert it into a drawing and there is your 10' table say. What if you want the option of a 12', 14', and 16' table, since the vendor sells the table in these sizes? Normally you would have to insert 3 additional blocks of these table sizes. Now, dynamic blocks will allow you to have one block with all sizes.

If you use any other Autodesk product you may be familiar with similar tools. In ADT we have Styles. You could have a door style that has all the available widths programmed into it so you can widen it incrementally by standard door sizes for that model.

In Revit we have families, which I believe work very similar.

I see lots of uses for dynamic blocks. In the drafting field, my specialty is petroleum equipment. I've drawn plans for gas stations and other types of fueling for the past 13 years. If I do a tank elevation showing the equipment installed in the tank, I have blocks for this equipment. I was happy with the block edit-in-place that came out in 2004 (I think) as I could edit the block in just that drawing and stretch it to the appropriate length for the tank diameter. Now I can go back to my original blocks and make them dynamic blocks. The same thing goes for a plan view of an island where the fuel dispenser is mounted when you go to fill up your car. Those come in a wide variety of sizes. Dynamic blocks are going to be great!

I realize that there will be some set up required up front. That is to be expected. Anything that you want to streamline needs to have proper planning and implementation. It will be well worth the time to properly create some of your blocks as dynamic blocks.

To read more about 2006 and some of the other features, visit Shaan Hurley's blog.