Friday, January 27, 2006

How Prepared Are You?

The news lately has a lot of topics relating to a possible pandemic. It reminds me of the panic that ensued right before 1999 turned into 2000. The world was concerned that life as we know it would cease to exist because of eminent computer failure.

While I don't spend time worrying about all the things that could happen to disrupt our world, I've always tried to be a prepared person. Maybe it was Girl Scout training or maybe it was just the way I was raised. I try to be prepared for any situation and not be caught off guard.

I am often teased by family members by the things I keep in a car. I have basic tools, a first aid kit, blanket to be used either for hauling something that needs protection or to be used if stranded in a snow storm. My glovebox is an array of objects such as straws, mints, plastic spoons and such that I always say may be handy "if stranded in a snow storm". I used to keep a sleeping bag and change of clothes in my car in years past.

I try to keep plenty of stock at home and fill bottles of water that I keep in the basement and freezer. Even if it is not distilled drinking water, you need water to flush toilets, wash dishes, bathe, and more. I generally stock up on items on sale or with coupons. Things like toothpaste and band-aids don't go bad (that I know of) and it will be used at some point.

O.K., so I'm a packrat! Now you know my number one flaw. What does this have to do with CAD? me.

How prepared are you? You're working along fine today at this moment in time. I can almost guarantee that this won't last. I've seen it too many times.

What happens if...
  • You get a computer virus?
  • You have some computer RAM that is starting to fail?
  • Your CD Drive goes out?
  • Your hard drive fails?
  • You upgrade to a newer version of AutoCAD?
  • Your IT Department decides to rename all network drive letters?
  • Your office sprinkler system turns on and soaks your computer?
  • Your office is struck by lightening and (a) burns down or (b) fries everything electronic?
  • You have an employee leave who uninstalls AutoCAD and deletes all drawings on his last day?
  • You have a server that fails?
  • You lose all your email?
  • You get a new plotter?

You get the idea? I could go on for pages, believe me. The point is, how prepared are you?

Do you have backups, virus protection, written procedures, screen captures, documentation, and the knowledge to handle anything that can be thrown at you?

The first mistake people make is that they depend on "Benny", whom they believe knows everything and can fix anything. Not to be gruesome, but what happens if "Benny" gets hit by a runaway gorilla on a stolen moped? How will you survive without "Benny"?

The second mistake that I see is that people get too comfortable in their environment. You know AutoCAD 2000 inside and out and use your favorite commands found on your toolbars in your exact spot like you have been for the past five years. Now management brings in a new computer with AutoCAD 2006 and doesn't migrate any of your settings. What do you do?

After you are done complaining, sulking, and looking for a pitty party see how prepared you are. Here are some tips.

  • Use Profiles. I've written about profiles in the past. Be sure that you or your company has a profile saved somewhere other than the local machine. If you are a company with several users, create a standard profile as a starting point for everyone. For small offices or where allowed, set your workspace the way you like and export it to a safe location other than the local machine. That way when you get a new computer or new version of AutoCAD, you can quickly get up to speed with the way you work.
  • Document what you do with screen captures. If you were not sitting at your workstation, could you successfully choose the right plot style or set up a new template? Often when you've done the same thing for years you "think" you know how to do it, but actually you have trouble remembering if you are sitting in front of a brand new machine. Create screen captures either with a screen capture program such as SnagIt or by holding down the Ctrl button and pressing your Prnt Scrn button. This sends whatever is on your screen to the clipboard. You can then paste in a Word document to save what dialog boxes should look like.
  • Spread your mind and try other ways of doing the same thing. Just because you always have typed "C" for the Copy command doesn't mean that it's going to work elsewhere. Maybe this system was customized and now the same "C" starts the Circle command. How do you get the Copy command? "Oh, No, Mr. Bill!"
  • Surround yourself with resources. You can't be an expert about everything. The President of the U.S. has a Cabinet of experts and you can too. Have people that can offer you positive help. You don't need the type of person that is always using every problem as a means to blame Bill Gates, Microsoft, exported support to other countries or society as a whole for the problem. You need people that can give you information and support. This could be co-workers, your reseller, a user group, or even your dog if she's an AutoCAD expert. Look for topics in discussion groups and have some favorite blogs listed to reference. Remember that if your resources are electronic, you should print out reference list on a monthly (or at least quarterly) basis. Print out a list of your shortcuts and your email contacts. You could also use a variety of online sources to store contacts such as Plaxo and I have recently seen a service to store bookmarks or links online as well.

There are volumes more that I could tell you to be prepared. Right now I have my own crisis to deal with as I broke my glasses while cleaning them this morning.

I hope this blog entry will at least start you to thinking and documenting as much as possible. Another reference when things go wrong is this previous post on troublehooting.

Friday, January 20, 2006

AutoCAD & Architectural Desktop Beta...Get ready for 2007 Release

Shaan Hurley recently made a post about Beta testing. Shaan is the Beta Programs Manager for Autodesk.

If you would like to be a part of beta testing and give input to the next version of AutoCAD, you can sign up here.

Currently AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop have beta available and I have downloaded and started using each. Because of a non-disclosure agreement I can't talk about any of the new features yet. Even if I could, there is no guarantee that features that are in the beta version will make it to the final version. Some features that are tried are cut for various reasons.

Friday, January 13, 2006

CAD Standards

CAD Standards have been my number one soapbox topic for almost as long as I’ve been involved with CAD. They naturally made sense to me because I am such an organized person. I set standards of sorts for everything and was always known for creating and documenting procedures even when working in an office as a temporary employee decades ago. I’ve been accused of being anal retentive on multiple occasions.

CAD Standards enter into almost any discussion of CAD or any CAD class and you’ll find references in every discussion or user group on the planet (and maybe beyond…do Martian’s have CAD Standards?). The reason is while CAD Standards are important; there is no one real CAD Standard.

There is a National CAD Standard and you’ll find information on related pushes for a true national CAD standard, but not everyone uses it so I am not considering it national.

CAD Standards can be as simple or as complicated as you like. You must have some form of standards though.

You may have CAD Standards and not even realize it. Do you begin your drawings by using a company template? I sure hope you do. Your template contains the layers, dimension styles, and text styles as well as other items that you use. The reason for using a template is so that you don’t need to set all these settings each time you start a drawing.

Here is my top 10 list of the most basic areas you should have defined in your CAD Standards and your template. Please feel free to comment on these. They are in no particular order of importance.

Beth’s Top 10 CAD Standards

· Layers
· Dim Styles
· Text Styles
· Linetypes
· Units
· Options (CAD Program)
· File naming
· Drawing organization
· Titleblocks
· Network location

My former position as CAD Manager was my first experience at creating CAD Standards and a CAD Manual. This was the outline for the CAD Manual.

Beth’s CAD Standards

1. General Information – Contacts, decimal conversion charts, version

2. CAD Standards – System Variables & Settings (options)

3. File Storage, Retrieval & Transfer – When & where files are backed up, where to find backed up files, how to handle final versions of files

4. File Naming & Drawing Organization – Directory structure for saving drawings and file naming structure

5. New Drawings & Outside Drawings – AutoCAD templates, what and how to send drawings to outside sources and how to handle incoming drawings

6. Titleblocks – Which titleblocks to use for which size and types of drawings, editing titleblock data, xref or insert

7. Text Heights, Styles, & Dimensioning – All specifics of text and dimensioning

8. Details – Layers, scales, general information on creating details and using details in drawing set

9. Layers – List of layers both in written and graphical form and description

10. Hatches & Linetypes – Specific hatch patterns and linetypes to be used with descriptions and graphic uses

11. Plotting – Plotting sizes, pen settings

12. Miscellaneous – Other information such as tips and tricks, how to send plots to service agency, area for personal notes

CAD Standards create a winning situation for your firm, even if you are only a one-person office, no matter how you look at it.

· All drawings look uniform no matter what user completed these. Be careful, you’ll have some renegade users who want to have their drawings stand out as “unique” with their own custom arrowheads or fonts. Be prepared to enforce your standards once you set them.

· Time savings is a benefit because users are not trying to guess what to use.

· Training is much easier since you can hand a new employee your CAD Manual and the user will be able to know exactly what is expected.

· Outsourcing or working with subcontractors is more efficient. You can share your CAD Standards with them and they’ll know what to expect.

CAD Standards should not be like a crock pot. You can’t set them and forget them! CAD Standards should be reviewed annually. New technology may be the reason for a change. For example, you may consider updating your titleblocks with fields in AutoCAD 2005 or 2006. You may decide you no longer have a need for some sheets in your drawing set or may need additional sheets now that you have better scheduling features available in ADT or ABS.

CAD Standards are best set by a CAD Committee and enforced by a CAD Manager. Most of the newer versions of Autodesk products have CAD Management tools built in so you can create a file of standards and run a check against drawings to see if any standards were broken. If standards are being broken, then you need to handle it appropriately. If you have a user that continues to be a problem after several warnings, then that employee may not be best for your organization. Yes, I am strict…just ask my son.

At the same time, if you are seeing a lot of CAD Standards broken you should ask the question of whether your CAD Committee is really functioning. Do you have a method for users to post requests for review of possible changes? Does your CAD Committee meet frequently enough? Do you have the right mix of people in the CAD Committee? Is the CAD Committee effective at reviewing and deciding CAD Standards? Consider having an outside member on the CAD Committee to offer input and ideas outside from outside of your organization.

The worst thing that can happen to CAD Standards and/or a CAD Committee is for either to become stale.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Back In The Groove

It was great to have both Christmas and New Year's on Sunday and have two long weekends, but it sure makes it hard to get back in the groove again.

I did make the trip to Oklahoma
and stopped to see a great once-in-a-lifetime display of lights that you drive through at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, TN as well as a unique old gas station designed to look like an airplane.

Autodesk Subscription customers can how download the Autodesk University 2005 material. If you've never looked at any of the material, it is a great resource on all products and user levels. I use it to learn new methods all the time.

Previous years of AU material is available at the AUGI website as well.

If you are a Subscription customer or know your company has its product under subscription, you should have the ability to log into the special Autodesk Subscription website. Companies have a person that is listed as your subscription contact. That person is your administrator and has the ability to add other employees as users with access to the subscription site.

The subscription site really offers you a lot of good resources for your money. You have some excellent elearning lessons that help you to learn a specific part of your software. I can say that I have done some of these and even written some before my current job. They are far better than a tutorial because there are a variety of types of questions and presentations of lessons so you don't get bored.

You can leave off a lesson at any time and when you log back in you will see exactly where you left off to resume your lesson. You also have a quiz to test your learning and you can see what you missed and why.

There are a number of other areas offering resources such as support and a central location for information on your product.