We are also reporting on the Bricsys Insights press-only event on Twitter. Follow @upfrontezine through https://twitter.com/upFronteZine
I was in the Galino Island bookstore last year when I noticed upfront a display for a new book getting a lot of publicity from the mainstream media. I forget the title, but it was a book that proved to eventually be inconsequential to the ongoing history of mankind.
I noted my surprise to the bookstore owner that this book, whose content is fluff, was so prominent in his store, and that there were so many copies available to purchase.
"We need those best-sellers to stay in business," he huffed.
It's no different for the very different business of computers. It needs a best-seller every so often to boost profits; now it has reached an era were computers and smartphones are mature technologies that no longer excite; worse, they no longer need upgrading.
So every few years, the computer biz bets on a new technology and then hypes it to death -- like Quadraphonic Sound in the 1970s (four speakers instead of two) and 3D TV in the 2010s (three dimensions instead of two).
The purpose behind Qudraphonic technology was to boost sales by selling consumers two more speakers and a new, replacement receiver (an amplifier with an AM/FM tuner built-in). Quadraphonic sound failed because the software never emerged to take advantage of it, software in the form of vinyl records and cassette tapes. But it failed also because stereo systems were relatively expensive back then: when a family purchased one, it expected to keep it for decades to come.
(I still use the Marantz receiver I bought in 1977; it has the obligatory "Quadraphonic-ready" label. With inflation, buying it then was like spending $1,000 today.)
(The music industry was able to force consumers to switch to the new technology of CDs by cutting off the supply of vinyl records. This burn-the-bridge tactic is rarely available.)
From the Quadraphonic example we learn that new technology is not about consumers buying just one new item. Getting into VR(virtual reality) isn't about buying a $600 virtual reality headset only. Industries design a cost-multiplier into new technologies: Quadraphonic sound required a new receiver + two new speakers + speaker wire + new albums. Consumers saw little benefit for a lot of cost.
(5.1 sound succeeded, because it became the default for new systems, which, along with the six loudspeakers, were relatively cheap compared to earlier decades. 5.1 arrived at a time when aging boomers could afford to replace the stereo systems that they had bought in their college days. Most software is in the form of movies on DVDs, which throw in the 5.1 sound effects for free. Unlike music, which we listen to over and over again, movies are a toss-away medium, so consumers were acquiring new software anyhow.)
The hope for 3D TV followed the same history as quad-sound: adding one more dimension to the image was designed to require consumers spend on a new TV + one or more 3D glasses + new software (movies). On the industry side, there was new software for creating and editing 3D movies, tracking equipment and suits for actors to wear -- I saw all this while visiting a Siggraph at the time and was stunned how the players in the industry were congratulating themselves on how big 3D TV would become. "You don't count your chickens before they hatch," as the old saying goes.
The industry made it easy for consumers by throwing in 3D into TVs. Even my digital projector is 3D-ready! It didn't work. Consumers had just purchased big-screen plasma and LCD screens a couple years earlier and weren't about go throw out a perfectly good set in so short a time.
The actual segment killer, however was the wearing of the polarizing glasses. It made people look geeky to each other, didn't necessarily fit properly for the two or more hours of viewing, and was one more barrier to starting the movie. People'll wear them when they are anonymous in darkened movie theaters, but darn-sure not around family and friends! Plus, the faked stereo effect (achieved by quickly alternating the image seen by the left and right eyes) gave a portion of consumers headaches.
In the end, 3D is relegated to an extra-cost option at movie theaters where patrons get to watch digital movies, cartoons usually, at half-resolution.
Why VR Will Fail
History is important, because it helps us understand the future. From the examples I have given, perhaps you can already understand why VR will fail.
If not, then here is why: VR requires a boot-like head-mounted display (that looks stupider on people than 3D glasses) + purchasing the most powerful hardware (very expensive new smartphones or new computers) + new software in the form of VR movies. All these hindrances, plus viewing VR gives a segment of users vertigo.
In return, users get to view something in 360 degrees, when by nature humans want to be directed linearly in their reading, hearing, and viewing of storylines -- or even driving on 1D roads, walking along 1D sidewalks, and through 1D airport security checks. Multiple viewpoints are a no-go for the human brain.
It is a hard lesson for the tech industry to learn that people require 2D interfaces with 1D (0-degree) storylines. This is the way in which brain of the human species operates. For many people, 3 minutes experience with VR satisfies them for the rest of their natural lives.
(Smartphones succeeded, because they provided so much more utility -- cell phone, GPS, music player, ebook reader, text messaging, et al -- often for $0 through telephone provider subsidies. The only ancillary cost was perhaps an optional case. In this example, the cost to the consumer was cheap: smartphone + nothing else.)
The most important reason for VR to fail is to ensure that our children spend more time outside and less time with their faces glued inside a skiboot. The tech industry is left wanting the consumer to want something that the consumer doesn't want to consume.
Q&A with Alexander Spivakov
This year C3D Labs celebrates the 20th anniversary of its C3D geometric kernel. Twenty years ago the founders of ASCON Group made the decision to begin writing a new mechanical CAD system, today known as KOMPAS-3D. To power the system, the company established a team to write a 3D kernel good enough to compete with foreign kernels in operability and functions. This is where the history of the "Kolomna" geometric kernel begins.
During the years that followed, ASCON continuously developed and improved the kernel. New modeling methods were invented, computational algorithms were developed, and additional modules were added such as a parametric solver, the data converter, and a visualization module. Behind all these changes, there always were a special group of people developing the geometric kernel, which recently was renamed C3D.
Today, people take a greater interest in geometric modeling, some of whom keep tabs on who develops what. So to celebrate the 20th anniversary, we decided to conduct interviews with our development team:
In this fourth interview, we shed light on the development of converters in the C3D kernel and so we had a frank conversation with Alexander Spivakov, who is responsible for developing the C3D Converter at the company's Kolomna office. The interview was conducted by C3D marketing manager Arkadiy Kamnev.
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Alexander Spivakov is mathematician and programmer at C3D Labs
Q: Alexander, where are you from? Where did you study and grow up?
A: I am originally from the city of Gorkyin Russia. I lived there until I was 26, and then studied at the Lobachevsky State University in Nizhny Novgorod in a faculty with the tongue-twisting name of “VShOPF.” This is an abbreviation that in Russian stands for “Advanced School of General and Applied Physics.” My first field of study was gas-discharge plasma spectroscopy. My second major was related to solids and semiconductors. After six years of basic training, I had three more years of postgraduate studies at the Institute for Physics of Microstructures of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IPM RAS), but didn't defend a thesis. I left university in 2007, and in 2010 I moved to live and work in Kolomna.
Q: What can you tell us about your work experience before joining ASCON?
A: When I was in secondary school, I managed to work parttime at the Gorky Automobile Plant. The company arranged work opportunities in summer for the children of employees. Children were usually involved in work like watering flowers, looking after flowerbeds, and weeding the grounds. But I was lucky, because after grade 9 I ended up in a department that worked with AutoCAD. This was where I first learned what CAD (computer-aided design) meant, and so for two summers in a row, I worked hard at creating workshop plans and teaching trainees the basics of working with CAD.
Later in my university days, I spent the summers working as a laborer and electrician on construction sites. Well actually the first entry in my employment record states that after my third year at university I worked parttime as a system administrator at a bicycle factory.
Q: It would be interesting to know about the first job you held in your field. Where was it, and what did you do?
A: My first place of work was the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IAP RAS). . By coincidence, this is where I was first involved in scientific research, which dealt with the visualization of microwave radiation in gas-discharge plasma.
Q: What is that?
A: We used electrical discharges in gas to create plasma displays with specific characteristics, and then treated them with microwave radiation. This resulted in a visual image that could be captured by a camera operating in the optical or infrared range. The advantage of this approach is that by using relatively simple tools we can solve problems that typically require much more complex devices.
Q: How could this technology be applied in practice?
A: The first thing that comes to mind is the problem of viewing different spectral ranges at the same time, such as in the centimeter and millimeter ranges. We can take a material that is opaque to the eye and then use microwave radiation to look through it, which allows us to detect metal and other materials opaque to microwave radiation. At this point, I could use stock examples like “searching for illegal weapons, explosives, drugs and diagnosing diseases.” I think you guessed them anyway.
Another application for the technology is studying the output properties of high-power microwave devices to, for example, configure them.
Q: When you first joined ASCON, what your job?
A: Initially I worked on the KOMPAS-3D CAD project, but almost immediately I agreed to switch to the mathematics department. During my probationary period I was given the task of developing a function that builds surfaces from four curves and networks of curves -- my colleagues wanted to see if I could handle the task! After I passed probation, I moved on to work on converters, which is what I do today.
Q: What do you find special about working on file conversion software?
A: The key concern is that converters cannot reject any input data. As each thing comes out of a file, it has to be processed somehow. We have to deal with syntax errors, bugs, and special-case topologies. There are cases specific to different modelers and processors in exchange formats. We have to analyze all of them in a specific way and produce the final output -- or decide that no output is possible, and so notify the user of the problem.
Another issue that occurs is when we recalculate 3D models into the architecture of our .c3d format. The standard algorithms used in the C3D geometric kernel don't always work, and so we added mapping routines to the kernel specifically for converters. It was one of the first problems that I solved working on the kernel together with my colleague Vladimir Latyshev (another mathematician and programmer at C3D Labs).
Q: What do you work on the most at C3D Labs?
A: That's an interesting question! Most of all, thinking. A large part of my working time is spent reading documentation and user manuals. When we import and export data in formats such as STEP, IGES, Parasolid (X_T, X_B), ACIS (SAT), VRML and STL, we need to follow the existing standards strictly, especially for ISO. For tunately, the formats are publicly available and their documentation includes a large number of examples. So I find that usually there are no problems working with them.
The rest of the time I spend fixing bugs and writing new features for the C3D Converter.
Q: While we’re on that topic, let's talk about formats. The C3D Converter will very soon be supporting STEP 242 and JT. Why are these two being added?
A: Exchange formats are constantly changing in response to changing demands. The emergence of software products with new functionality leads to the parallel mergence of new formats. Older formats are forgotten as they become things of the past. Change means that exchange formats like STEP and JT learn how to store Product and Manufacturing Information (PMI). . That's why we decided to teach the C3D Converter how to work with this data.
STEP format with PMI had already been implemented in our converter. But STEP developers decided that PMI was inadequately supported by the 203 and 214 protocols, and so came up with a new protocol, 242. Its main task is to harmonize the two previous protocols so that there is no ambiguity, allowing programmers to more easily exchange data. I found that the most interesting feature of STEP 242 is its ability to work with composite materials: the protocol writes and reads the specific aspects of stacking layers, compounding, and so on. STEP 242 also allows us to write all types of connections, including screwed, glued, welded, soldered, and riveted. We have already implemented the part of this protocol that relates to communicating information on the form of the 3D model in our C3D Converter.
As for the JT format, this is a binary format that is read quickly. JT supports compression and layered loading, which allows it to calculate the triangulation of the 3D model separately with other characteristics, and then quickly display it on the screen. The file recording scheme is very convenient when there is no need to make any changes to the 3D model. But if we have to change something, this requires recalculating all the triangulation and B-Reps of the 3D model, as well as the links between them. The JT developers thought apparently that this would be an operation far less common than viewing data, and so economized on that computing resource. By comparison, other formats typically transmits pure B-Rep data, which is then used to calculate a secondary representation of the 3D model for display on the screen, calculate MP, and so on. Each time we open one of these files, it unfortunately consumes a lot of operating system resources.
Q: Some 3D file formats cannot store the parameters. Can you explain why?
A: Parameterization is a concept from mathematics. But from the CAD point of view, it is better to use engineering terms so that software developers can accurately implement their designs. Another issue is that that the parametric kernels do not always match the geometric ones, so it is not surprising that for geometric kernels one or another parameterization may be simply not available in the exchange file.
Q: But we still have the problem that we cannot store the geometry and history of 3D models in exchange formats. What is the reason for this?
A: The history of building a 3D model is a concept that is too dependent on CAD. In this sense, the boundary representation (B-Rep) transfers information about the 3D model in a much more consistent way from one version to others versions of the software in which the model was created. In principle we can also transfer the history. All we need is the will to do it!
It turns out, however, that this is not a panacea. Let's imagine that we are transferring a B-Rep of a 3D model with the history of building it, overlaid a plane secondary representation and, in addition, with the calculated levels-of-detail. In this case, we need somehow to synchronize all of this data. What we get is a complex computational problem that needs a complicated system to track feedback. There are not many software developers who would like to service such a huge thing. I think this is the answer to your question.
Q: What do you like most in the working process?
A: I really like having multiple work horizons. On the one hand, I can always see where to go and what the system will look like in the future. For me, this is a kind of extreme programming, something I strive for. But in the medium term, I have to plan the work on my own. One thing that I will be dealing with in the near future is multi-threading.
Converters are a great testing ground for code parallelization! This is why the very first results of multithreaded computations in the C3D Toolkit were achieved in our converters. The maximum effect from acceleration is achieved here with lots of large blocks of data. For example, when we receive large and complex multi-component models, often it turns out that each component is an isolated set of data, which can be processed in parallel effectively.
Q: From where do you get the ideas to develop the C3D Converter further?
A: I find it helps to think about what is beautiful. In some cases, we need to standardize the code; in others, we need to create our own objects; or we work on something that could be taken under the full control of the user or left to his discretion. It is the appearance of how the system is built, which reminds me what the idealized converter should look like. It is very important to have a broad outlook; used properly, it can help in any work.
Q: Could you tell us about your hobbies?
A: A few years ago I took up kayaking. In Kolomna, I joined the Ark Tourist Club and began to attend the School of Sport Tourism. When I joined the club, I already had plenty of kayaking experience, but for many other guys this was the first time they had ever seen rafting equipment. We train during the autumn and winter, and occasionally we go out on weekend trips. For our final exam, we took a category II trip on catamarans in the Caucasus, the mountain range that is located in south of Russia.
The Spivakov family kayaking down a river
I should mention that catamarans behave in their own particular way on rapid rivers, and that the experience is quite different from expedition kayaking. A single kayak trip on the mostly lowland rivers of Karelia or central Russia can easily be 200 km long, but in the Caucasus we had to travel in roped teams and make regular crossings between rivers. This gave us a very different experience. On calm water, we can use our own strength to reach our destination. But in white water rafting, we had to be able to use the power of nature, in particular the energy of the stream, to achieve our objective. This is very difficult and so makes it very interesting!
Alexander against the backdrop of Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe
Q: Can C3D Toolkit compete with other solutions?
A: I believe that the converters are products that should be used as a key feature of the C3D Toolkit. The C3D Converter module provides developers of applications based on the C3D Geometric Kernel with greater data exchange capabilities than with any other kernel.
In the very long run, I see the emergence of complex hybrid systems on the market, which create 3D models with a low levels of detail. Such models are used for calculations like dynamics, electrics, strength, fatigue, and fitness for assembly; the results are run quickly through a variety of engineering analysis systems. This is where converters are the key elements that ensure the easy integration of different software.
As for the C3D Toolkit in general, its attractiveness gets a major boost in that software developers can communicate with the solution developers who write the software. If someone finds this important when selecting the kernel, then C3D Labs is ready to offer the best terms. Understanding the needs of each developer and staying in close contact is exactly what we can provide!
Q: In your opinion, what are the current trends in CAD software?
A: Regarding the development of converters, I would like to mention materials engineering, as it is the closest to manufacturing. In particular, converters will be able to transfer the characteristics of various materials, making it possible to provide data for hybrid engineering and manufacturing systems. But everything that relates to complex assemblies will go into long-term storage.
Today, we can use engineering software to create 3D models of products, provide the design documentation and specifications, analyze the scanning results, and record the history of building and assembling the model. One day, we will be able to store all this information in a single file; for this, I think that the most preferable solution is open exchange formats.
I also believe that, in the near future, we will see the emergence of qualitatively new technological processes, for example, in the area of biotechnology, where a living body can be connected to a nonliving 3D model. Who knows, maybe there will even be a "biological CAD" like in science-fiction!
C3D Toolkit http://c3dlabs.com/en/products/c3d-kernel
Trump the Love
Following the results of the recent US federal election, the mainstream media was filled with outrage from the elite whose candidate failed to earn sufficient electoral votes.
PacketSled ceo Matt Harrigan, for example, threatened to assassinate the president-elect. On Facebook, and on multiple times. Following his outburst of freedom of expression, he resigned from his job and his company reported him to the Secret Service, whose job is to investigate threats against presidents and presidential candidates. PocketSled's software -- which does continuous monitoring, threat detection, and network forensics -- apparently did not detect the threat of the founder's bellowing on a popular network.
Others from Silly-con Valley tweeted their post-election outrage and disgust at what democracy had delivered. Tech firms, with their Constitution-free T&Cs and click-or-screw-off EULAs, aren't familiar with not getting their way.
Most elite and their mainstream media fellow travelers knew that it was Hilary's turn to rule the country. At least, that's what they kept telling each other and the pollsters. Unless, of course, they happened to read the L.A. Times' polls, which used a different polling method to find that His Trumpness would win. (Most polls use randomly selected people with each poll; LA Times used the same people for each poll. The difference in margin of errors is a fascinating topic to peruse.)
One assumes this was the poll Autodesk ceo Carl Bass was following when he tweeted his disgust in late September, well before the poll day of early November. The prophetic tweet was recently retweeted by engineering.com journalist Roopinder Tara as a reminder that Mr Bass got the prediction right, but...
The Mercury News is the newspaper of record for Silicon Valley, and it put words to the thought that perhaps the tech industry needs to understand what a Republican federal government can do for it. Since then, the Apple ceo has met with the president-elect, as has the head of BET, and others.
Mr Trump, a fellow businessman, has, for example "proposed a 10% repatriation tax on profits of U.S. corporate foreign subsidiaries, down from the statutory 35%." (Source.) Autodesk would, it seems, benefit from a Republican president, as it keeps 86% of its cash and investments offshore (as of July 2016).
The only SLR I ever bought was a Minolta XE-7 film camera. This is the story of why it is the only SLR I ever bought.
I caught the photography bug in my teens, and lugged around my dad's Zeiss Ikon Contaflex II SLR (built in 1954 or later) around town, through vacations, and on band trips. It reeked of precise German engineering in its stiff controls, black leather wrap and dull chrome look.
Zeiss Ikon Contraflex II is distinguished from other models in the line by its f2.8 45mm unremoveable lens and supplemental light meter
But then at a trade show in our home town, I got infected. At the booth of a camera store, there was the Nikon F-series SLR in its haughty blackness and stark white logo. I needed that camera! I never did get a Nikon; it remained just a dream. My daughter, a professional photographer, is today a Nikon girl, however.
I did the next best thing, and simulated the all-black F-1 look on my dad's Contaflex by painting its chrome parts black with leftover model paint. My dad was furious and demanded I remove the black paint. Bad choice: it looked worse afterwards. The camera still sits on my bookshelf, now 60 years old.
For my 18th birthday, I asked my parents for a Kodak 110 camera (similar to the one illustrated below). I wanted it for an experiment: I wanted to know if it was the camera that made pictures bad or the photographer. That's because I'd seen terrible photos made by middle-aged men who own great cameras.
The regrettable 110 camera from Kodak (image credit www.filmphotographylust.com)
The 110 was probably the second-worst camera system ever invented (Kodak's even smaller disc film might have been the worst), and led to the cheapening of the Kodak brand. The film came in a cartridge (the only plus of this system), negatives were tiny at 13x17 mm and rated a high-speed of ASA400. The plastic camera lens was of worse construction. The result was blurry, grainy photos -- guaranteed every time.
Nevertheless, the experiment provided me with the answer:
One summer I finally made enough $$$ to afford me an SLR. I went to the Lens&Shutter store on Broadway in Vancouver looking for an SLR in the $400-range. The salesman showed me the XE-7, which I did not think I could afford. I had read rave reviews of it in the photography magazines of the time, but it had a list price in the area of $600-800 (I forget exactly). But the camera store's price was only $440, and so I snapped it up. Using a inflation calculator, the price today works out as $1,760.
All-black Minolta XE-7 (image credit www.678vintagecameras.ca)
I couldn't afford anything else for that camera, except the mandatory Vivitar 283 flash, and a lens doubler that turned the 50mm lens into 100mm for a modest 2x zoom. I certainly couldn't afford the Vivitar 70-210 zoom lens that was all the rage during the late 1970s.
Here is a cutaway view of the innards of the XE-7 (not done with CAD but with actual saws):
What was special about the XE-7?
But it was heavy. It was one of the last big, heavy SLRs. Around that time, Canon came out with its record-breaking AE-1, the first small and light, full-feature SLR, and that changed the industry for the next few decades. Later I bought an Canon AE-1 for my dad, and today my daughter uses it as an analog bonus for her professional wedding photography.
While I loved the XE-7, its weight was not practical. For my travels -- hiking, sailing, skiing, biking -- in the sometime early 1980s I eventually went the extreme other direction, buying the tiny Olympus XA2. It was small and light, and made smaller in that the flash could be dismounted. Friends warned friends that I had a "spy camera." The XA2 lasted me until about 1988, when a thief broke into our car (which was in a locked underground garage) and stole it, with our just-completed vacation photos.
Super compact Olympus XA2 35mm camera with removable flash (image credit 35mm-compact.com)
When I married, my wife brought into the marriage her compact Olympus OM-10 SLR, and so in 1985 I sold my XE-7 to afford a zoom lens for the Olympus. But then its shutter speed became undependable, resulting in over- and under-exposed photos, and in 1998 I sold it to buy a compact 35mm zoom camera.
Olympus compact OM-10 film SLR (image credit Alfa img)
In 1999, I bought my first digital camera, the ground-breaking but dorky-looking Epson PC-800 -- ground-breaking, because it was the first consumer digital camera to take photos at a resolution of greater than 2 megapixels.
Epson PC-800, first digital camera with usable resolution
I've since gone through a lot of Canon digital cameras, but a couple of weeks ago nostalgia kicked in and I wondered what a Minolta XE-7 would go for today. On eBay I found one in near-perfect condition and snapped it up for $85. It now sits on my bookshelf, a fond memory of the enjoyment it gave me through my university years.
When marketeers edit
US political Webzine Politico and other American news organizations are getting into hot water after emails released by WikiLeaks showed that American media outlets sent previews of articles to the Democratic National Committee:
Politico admits reporter Kenneth Vogel made a mistake sending advance copy of article to DNC, emphasizes no substantive changes were made before publication
Leaked emails show that CNN political commentator Maria Cardona shared a draft op-ed with DNC before she submitted it
The media in the USA is supposed to be neutral, independent, and the people's guardian against government. At least that's how the myth goes. But at least they shouldn't let a political party edit articles, right?
(I assume that they sent previews to the Republican party as well, but it is Hillary Clinton that Julian Assange hates.)
Let's switch over to the CAD media, which deals with technology, not politics. Here editors are split on whether companies should see articles before publication, when the article concerns the company or its products being written about.
Some are adamant in not sending out a preview. What the editor writes is what gets published.
Some send out every article for preview by the companies affected. What the editor writes might or might not be modified by the company's marketing people.
I'm about 75%/25%. No article that appears on this WorldCAD Access blog is ever sent for preview. When it comes to the upFront.eZine newsletter, I send previews when I do interviews. I do this because I am quoting people, and I don't want to misquote them.
I don't want to misquote them for two reasons:
The interesting part is when I get back one of these interviews and I look over the changes suggested by the vendor's marketing people. Most times, they apply a light touch, such as a spelling correction or three.
I am delighted when they take the opportunity to add more technical details, because that benefits my readers.
Then, there are the problematic ones. Once in a rare while, marketing persons feel they need to rewrite the article wholesale. (Should have become an editor if they want to do that!) Then I have to make a decisions over each change: valid or not?
"Valid" means the change should appear in upFront.eZine. "Not valid" means the change was marketing bumpf inserted into the text, which I then need to extract.
The worst case involved a marketing person rewriting an interview I held with the firm's president, during which the marketing person was not present. The result read like a triumphant press release instead of an interview between two tech-savvy people.
Worse, some technical details were changed. As I emailed back and forth with the marketing person to better understand why the changes were made to the technical details, I began to realize the marketing person did not really understand the subtleties of the firm's technology. Happens.
In the end, however, when it comes to things that editors and other publishing insiders fret over, most readers probably don't care.
Programming inside Onshape
We have an interview with Onshape about their new FeatureScript programming language coming up in Monday's upFront.eZine newsletter. In the meantime, here are ten things to know about the new FeatureScript programming language from Onshape:
9. It is an interpreted programming language.
8. It is the code behind every feature (like fillet, extrude, draft) in Onshape.
7. FeatureScript routines are written in your Web browser, but run on Onshape's servers.
6. It is like AutoLISP, in that it is meant for users to quickly write some code that takes care of repetitive modeling tasks or unique functions.
5. You write FeatureScript code using an IDE inside Onshape, and the code is stored in the current document.
4. You can keep your code private, or share it with others.
3. Onshape has made all of its FeatureScript code Open Source.
2. FeatureScript only works in PartStudio to generate component geometry. (The hint that Onshape might expose more functions is unfounded.)
1. Learn more and download sample code from https://www.onshape.com/featurescript.
Mathematician and programmer
C3D Labs this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of its C3D geometric kernel. So to celebrate the anniversary, the firm is interviewing its staff. The second interview is with Alexander Alakhverdyants, and conducted by C3D product manager Arkadiy Kamnev.
Q: Alex, where are you from?
A: I was born in the very south of Russia, in the city of Nalchik in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic.
Q: How did you end up near Moscow in Kolomna?
A: I got a place in the Faculty of Physics at the Lomonosov Moscow State University studying elementary particle physics. After I graduated, I remained in Moscow region taking post-graduate courses and working at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. It was from there, much to my surprise, that I moved to Kolomna to work as a programmer.
Q: I heard that you completed some of your research internship abroad. Is this true?
A: In Dubna, I worked as a member of the research team searching for quark-gluon plasma in the STAR (Solenoidal Tracker At RHIC) experiment, the largest experimental unit of the RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) accelerator complex. This is located at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, USA. Participants come from all corners of the world, representing 40 institutions. It is the largest experiment in elementary particle physics conducted at BNL, and I was there twice for 3-4 months collecting data.
Q: Did you enjoy working on STAR?
A: Of course! Unfortunately, there are no similar experiments related to my specialty occurring in Russia. To acquaint us with modern elementary particle physics, the university arranged that we went to Switzerland to the European Council for Nuclear Research or CERN to see the Large Hadron Collider.
Q: Have you authored any research papers?
A: I was among the co-authors on the STAR research collaboration, and so all the articles published by the collaborators over the 5-6 years of my participation in the experiment include my co-authorship. They can be found in such publications as Physical Review and Physical Letters. I also had several personal articles.
Q: Let's talk about your work at C3D Labs. When did you join the C3D development team?
A: I started in 2011 with the mathematics division of ASCON.
Q: Did you initially work on geometry or kernel parametrization?
A: In the beginning, we did not have any divisions, and so there was only one mathematics unit. Then the C3D converter and C3D solver groups were created. Alex Maximenko came up to me and asked if I would like to work with him. I agreed at once.
Q: How does the development of a geometric kernel differ from a parametric kernel?
A: The geometric kernel development group is much bigger than the parameters group. This is why at times we may not be fully aware of what is going in various sections of the kernel programming code. In our case, we develop code together with Alex, so we have a good knowledge of the functions appearing in the C3D Solver.
Q: A provocative question: why is the parametric kernel cooler than the geometric one?
A: Because there are far fewer solvers than geometric kernels in the world. Or to be more precise, kernels are few, but parametric solvers are even fewer! I assume they are more complex because there are fewer of them. That's what makes them cooler.
Q: Now you live near Moscow in Kolomna. Do you like this town?
A: I like it in terms of the historical sights. Kolomna has its own places of beauty and its own ancient spirit.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I often program at home, read a lot, and I enjoy self-learning. After all, I don't have a degree in programming; I'm a physicist. So, there are some areas in informatics that I don't know, and I have to fill in these gaps in my knowledge.
Q: What programming languages do you use, and how do you learn to use them?
A: I program in C++ and Python. I study by reading books and I watch video lectures. My colleagues help me an awful lot, too -- what would I do without them? The staff at C3D Labs consists of high-level professionals, and so I learn a lot from them, especially in my early days. You won't find their level of experience in any book. By now, however, it is my own experience that helps me to improve.
Q: What is your favorite literature; do you read fiction?
A: Now I read much less, but in my school years I read avidly. I like classical Russian literature, and I have read some works by my favorite authors Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Nikolai Gogol several times over. I adore The Brothers Karamazov, which I got my head around at the third reading, and Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak for its amazingly beautiful Russian language.
Q: What about hobbies, sport, other pursuits?
A: I've always been into sports, both in my school years and then at university. I played football until the 6th grade and spent days on end outside with a ball. In Dubna, my colleagues and I were part of a mini-football team at the institute and even took part in citywide competitions. But when I moved to Kolomna, I gave up sport. Initially, I didn't know anyone to play sport with, and now I'm simply short of time.
Q: I know you are a big CSKA fan. Are there any European football clubs that you support?
A: I'm keen on Italian clubs! I've been a fan of Juventus and the Italian national football team since childhood. My happiest day was in 2006 when Italy won the World Cup. At the time I was in Switzerland, living in the Italian quarter in Geneva, so I celebrated the victory with Italians ‘til morning!
Q: Let's get back to your work. What are your main tasks at C3D Labs?
A: After the C3D Solver team was created, I took up the 2D solver, in particular the functions that parameterize NURBS curves. I improved or created from scratch constraints like tangencies and coincidence. I added an option to fix the derivatives up to the 3rd order at any spline point for smooth curve mating, such as with G2 curves. A spline is quite a complicated object, and it is easy to make a mistake when working with it. We faced the challenge of how to make it work well and to implement it in a simpler and more clear way.
Spline-dragging is another matter. When developing this function, we had to reconsider the spline behavior model and agree on how a large number of objects (of which a spline is composed and with which it integrates) should behave. Currently, we are focused on the 3D solver, and my current task is creating patterns.
Q: As I understand it, patterns are arrays of components. How are they used?
A: I don't know; it’s up to the user! When we were creating the code, I worked out a requirement that the pattern API should give software developers as much freedom as possible. C3D Solver users can use them as intended (to create arrays of single-type components) but also in creative ways. For example, users can create arrays out of heterogeneous objects and then rotate each array element individually. Users can set individual behaviors, or use patterns to simply find the mid point on an arc.
Back when we were discussing how to implement patterns, I told my manager Alex Maximenko that I didn't want to have any restrictions the use of arrays: let users decide for themselves which tasks they would like to apply, and we simply offer the appropriate tool. I really hope we achieved this.
Q: Some staff told me that you are a big fan of Apple products, so how did it come about that you agreed to compile a kernel for archcompetitor Android?
A: No one asked me to do this. I kind of made it my duty to assemble C3D for Linux and Android just because I liked doing it. I'm not so much a fan of Mac as a lover of Linux. As a matter of personal interest, I started by compiling the kernel, and then to make it easier I wrote an automatic compilation system in Python. (That's how I decided to study Python for an applied problem.) I managed to derive benefit not only for myself, but for C3D Labs as well. And since my technical process was well-tuned, it was not difficult to write a script that assembled the kernel for Android, too.
Q: Have you tried to launch a test C3D application on Android?
A: When one of our Korean customers SolidEng was testing our technology, they noted that Android programming is generally done with Java. So I had to learn the fundamentals of Java to demonstrate how our kernel (written in C++) could be made compatible with this programming language. Later they asked us to show them how to draw graphics using triangular meshes, and again I wrote an application for Android demonstrating Boolean operations and transformations of the obtained body. Though the application is elementary, it was no walk in the park! I hadn’t ever programmed in Java or written anything for Android, but it all worked. Now it has become an sample available to all our customers who want to write an application for Android using C3D.
Q: What do you like most about the working process?
A: Perhaps, like anyone else engaged in science and mathematics, I really appreciate the moments of insight. It's like you have some difficult task to solve, you rack your brain, can't sleep at night, think about it all the time... And then suddenly something clicks in your head and you've found the solution. In such moments, I feel the happiest man alive! Even my wife sometimes laughs at me. She says, “Alex has left this world,” and then congratulates me when I return to Earth.
Q: Where do you get inspiration and ideas? After all, Newton's apples don't fall from down all the time.
A: I don't know what to think about inspiration. Thanks to the training I received from university, its good teachers, and academic advisers, I was taught many methods of task solving. That is why I always first try solving any task myself. To help me, I read specialized articles.
As to ideas, there is one thing that never stops surprising me: you work on a task for some time, and then suddenly you discover that somewhere some other people have come to more or less the same solution. On the one hand, it always boosts your self-esteem — smart people figured it out and so did you. On the other hand, you think that all this knowledge is perishable and insignificant, as so many people can conceive it independently of one other.
Q: There are graduates who are beginning to think about which profession to follow. What might attract them to C3D kernel development?
A: I think everyone has their own interests that they should pursue. I, for one, have always been interested in solving complex mathematical tasks.
Q: Can C3D kernel compete with foreign kernels?
A: Not just "can," but "must." There must be sound ambitions in any working process. I always want to do something to the best of my abilities, or at least at the highest level that I can achieve. I don't see any point in doing amateurish stuff.
Q: Why should engineering software developers use C3D?
A: I believe that our C3D kernel is fast, provides many functions, is easy to use, has good support; in other words, it is one of the world's best kernels. The rest is a matter of taste. I'm totally convinced that those who use C3D in their work will never regret the choice.
Q: How can parametrization change the modern 3D modeling system?
A: It has already changed it. Just like anything in CAD, using parameters has simplified a number of tasks for designers and engineers, relieving them of unnecessary routine, and increasing the number of options. For the future, I would like to see parameter functions for surfaces and curves in 3D that are as rich and diverse as they are in 2D. This will give engineers a multitude of new options.
Q: What are the latest trends in CAD?
A: Judging by the publications I read, much attention is being given to direct variation modeling and hybrid modeling. Our trend is to communicate with customers to understand as much as possible what exactly they need to make the creative process of modeling easier, and to reduce the effort devoted to coding.
It's not Dassault or Autodesk
PTC ceo James Heppelmann this week answered a question from a financial analyst about the company's changing head count:
I know that maybe behind your question, there's questions like, "Are we spending enough money on CAD?" Sometimes I laugh, because companies I think about a lot are companies like Onshape. I say, "How many developers they have -- 20, 30 maybe?" I mean, I "only" have 400.
So I'm worried about somebody who has substantially fewer resources; I'm worried because they might be innovating more.
So then I ask my question, "I'm not going to win the battle by putting the largest army on the field; I'm going to win the battle by innovating more." Now we're back to portfolio management: is it better to write a line of code in Vuforia or in Creo? They're all 3D products.
So, let's look for the way to innovate most, and we can – like I said, we can aim to innovate and grow without aiming to get fat in the process.
Better living through more acronyms
James Heppelmann, ceo of PTC, talked this week about how he sees IoT [Internet of things] working with AR [augmented reality], CAD, and PLM:
We're going to bring to market a technology we demonstrated at the ThingEvent, which was augmented and virtual reality design reviews; [it] will show up in Windchill, and that is just jaw-dropping, sexy, powerful stuff. So that's sort of Vuforia joining ThingWorx in the PLM suite.
And then, of course, all the authoring of this 3D content is done in CAD. Every single demonstration that was done in the ThingEvent and the one that Microsoft did in their keynote was Creo CAD data put to work in the field service scenarios or the HoloLens demo that Microsoft did was actually a sales and marketing scenario.
Let me turn this room into a showroom, and I'll bring whatever piece of equipment you want and I'll put it as a hologram in the room and we'll talk about it. It's really cool stuff. But the thing driving that is CAD data. And, of course, you can't get the CAD data without understanding the configuration, so we have to turn to Windchill [PLM software]. Hey, what's the configuration of that piece of equipment? Turn to Creo. How would you put all those parts together in three-dimensional space? Turn to VR and Vuforia and say, okay, make a hologram of that, and then, Microsoft's HoloLens helps you to see it.
So it's pretty exciting stuff. And I think that the world's starting to really get it that IoT and AR, VR and analytics are peas in a pod with CAD and PLM and ALM [application lifecycle management] and SLM [service lifecycle management].
Over the last year, the most-read issues of upFront.eZine consisted of the following topics. By "most read," I mean the issues that were read the most by subscribers and passed along to others.
#5 upFront.eZine #877:
3D Insider's European Forum 2015, Munich (3DS Spatial's annual conference)
#4 upFront.eZine #886:
Inventor's Dilemma: Remarkable Life of Joseph Gerber (Review of book written by David Gerber)
#3 upFront.eZine #878:
Where Solid Edge is Heading (Solid Edge University 2015)
#2 upFront.eZine #880:
When the Result of CAD is Failure (With Some Solutions)
And the #1 most popular issue of the last year is upFront.eZine #894:
Coming October 1: Autodesk's Future is Different
This year ASCON Group celebrates the 20th anniversary of its C3D geometric kernel. Twenty years ago the founders of ASCON made the decision to begin writing a new mechanical CAD system, today known as KOMPAS-3D. To power the system, the company established a team to write a 3D kernel good enough to compete with foreign kernels in operability and functions. This is where the history of the "Kolomna" geometric kernel begins.
During the years that followed, ASCON continuously developed and improved the kernel. New modeling methods were invented, computational algorithms were developed, and additional modules were added such as a parametric solver, the data converter, and a visualization module. Behind all these changes, there always were a special group of people developing the geometric kernel, which more recently was renamed C3D.
Today, more people are taking an interest in geometric modeling, many of whom keep tabs on who develops what. So to celebrate the 20th anniversary, C3D Labs decided to conduct interviews with its development team. The first interview was with Anna Ladilova, Ph.D., a mathematician and programmer at C3D Labs, and was conducted by C3D product manager Arkadiy Kamnev.
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Anna, I know you are originally from the city of Nizhny Novgorod [east of Moscow]. How did you end up in here Kolomna [near Moscow]?
I was looking for a job, and the only one that suited me at that time was a geometric kernel project in Kolomna. I was more than happy to accept ASCON's offer.
What did you do before that?
In 2007, I graduated from the Mechanics and Mathematics department of Lobachevsky State University in Nizhny Novgorod with my master's degree in mathematics. In the last year of my masters course, I started to teach at Nizhny Novgorod University Mechanics and Mathematics department, and then worked in the IT department of the Nizhny Novgorod State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering. After I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis, I began teaching at the Applied Mathematics department of R.E. Alekseev Nizhny Novgorod State Technical University.
You joined the geometric kernel project in 2012. Were you recruited by C3D Labs or was it initially ASCON?
I first was employed by the mathematics unit of ASCON in Kolomna. My job there was supporting geometric kernel functions.
Was this the kind of work you were expecting to be involved with?
Of course. I wanted to work in an area closely related to mathematics. While it is not difficult to find a job in Nizhny Novgorod related to programming, there are no jobs involving mathematics apart from at educational institutions.
So now that you live in Kolomna, what were your impressions of the town? Do you miss Nizhny Novgorod?
I hardly miss Nizhny Novgorod at all. I really like it in Kolomna! It is a small and quiet town. My work is a 20-minute walk from home -- unlike Nizhny with its traffic jams and so forth.
Left: Anna Ladilova cycling to work in Winter; right: some of the kernel modeling problems she's fixed
Tell us about your job. What tasks do you mostly deal with?
Initially I was involved in surface modeling, doing so-called "surfaces on webs of curves." The problem was that some of the conjunctions [two or more events occurring at the same point in space] were not satisfied. More specifically, they functioned not quite as they should. I managed to correct them. Next I worked on edge and facet filleting operations. There are many other tasks that I'm working on now.
Tell us a few words about the C# project.
The C3D kernel is a library written in C++. At a certain point, the company needed a similar library in C#, and so we had to determine how best to adapt it to the .NET Framework. We decided to write a wrapper for the library in C++/CLI. (Common Language Infrastructure is a C++ extension for .NET.) Considering that both languages -- C# and C++/CLI -- are developed for .NET, the library objects and methods supported by the wrapper can be easily used in C# code. (A wrapper is a set of objects and methods that contain library method calls and library objects.) It was clear that to implement the task within a short timeframe we needed to create the wrapper code automatically. That is why we decided to write a special code generator. Python was chosen as the programming language.
Had you used Python before?
I learned it on the fly.
Unbelievable. You studied at a mechanics and mathematics department that does not even mention computers in its name, and then you learned a new programming language just like that? Had you studied programming at the university?
We were taught C and C++ during the first two years, and we were expected to know numerical methods to some extent. In my fourth year, our department began cooperating with the Nizhny Novgorod Institute of Information Technology. Through them, interested students from the mechanics and mathematics department could take free courses on C++ and study the fundamentals of UNIX. Of course, I was among those students, and a year later I got my certificate.
If you know at least one programming language, then it is much easier to learn another. It's another thing, however, to learn the nuances of each language! That's why for now I can't say that I've become a great Python programmer. Nevertheless, our Swedish customer Elecosoft Consultec like developing their Staircon software with the wrapper we provided them.
Here is a question that interests me: What do you like most in your work?
I like it when I finally get to grips with a task. After all, not everything works after at a first attempt and so I have to try several different tracks. If none of them is any good, it can get annoying! But when I find a solution that works out well, I become enthusiastic, the development process runs faster, and I just enjoy seeing the results of my work.
Who helps you with ideas if you run out of them?
I search the Internet for specific articles that are openly accessible [not behind a paywall], including those by foreign authors. Even though we work in Russian, we at C3D Labs are not afraid of working in English; it comes with the territory.
Do you communicate directly with foreign customers?
Not often, but sometimes I do. They seem to understand me!
Let's go back to your research activities. In 2010, you got your certificate of a candidate in physics and mathematics. What was the subject of your research?
I wrote my thesis in mathematical logic, algebra, and number theory entitled "Deformations of Exceptional Simple Lie Algebra." It was purely theoretical work related to specific mathematical objects, the analysis of their attributes, and the building of new ones. Now, it turns out that most of the work addressed by mathematics are classification tasks. The classification results regarding the Lie algebra are used in physics in, for example, quantum field theory. When physicists discover new mathematical objects in their models, it is important for them to know what kind of objects they are, to determine their attributes. In my opinion, all physics is about building and studying mathematical models.
Do you continue your research activity, and do you plan to write a doctoral thesis?
We'll see. My most-recent article was just published in 2015, and it also concerned Lie algebra [infinitesimal transformations in vector space].
When people arrive at ASCON’s Kolomna office, they often see you fully kitted out on your “iron horse.” How long have you been riding your bicycle to get about town?
Ever since I came to Kolomna.
Why don't you use a car or public transport?
There is no point to having a car in a small town when my work is a 20-minute walk from home, and I don't think that public transport in Kolomna is all that convenient. It appears to me that walking does not take much longer than taking the tram. So, I’m left with going by bike.
Do you ride in winter, too?
Yes, my bicycle has studded tires. I try to ride very carefully!
What is your favorite hobby -- what do you do in your spare time?
I practically have no spare time. After work, I often help schoolchildren and students with math. I regularly take part in academic seminars at Kolomna Pedagogical University; there is no time to get bored! Since my student years I've liked doing system administration tasks. For example, I’ve become a fan of the FreeBSD [Unix] operating system and so I follow its development, innovations, and technologies. Generally, almost all my hobbies are associated with computers, math, or reading books.
Do you read mainly scientific and technical literature, or do you read fiction as well?
Of course I read fiction. I like foreign classics, such as Victor Hugo. Lately, I've been reading books in English and French. When I get tired of sitting all day long at my desk, I go out cycling.
Tell me about your fondness for Gorodets [vivid folk] painting?
The craft is popular in the Nizhny Novgorod region where I grew up. My father is good at painting, and when I was at school I took painting courses. I now mostly work with cutting boards, bread boxes, and so on.
There are many graduates who only consider their future in popular professions. What can be done to interest them in kernel development?
This work would be of interest to graduates specializing in technical and natural-science fields who do not want to forget after just a year what they learned in university, and are not afraid of challenges. Kernel development is a process that is much more interesting than just writing known code for existing algorithms. However, despite it being seemingly simple, my job often involves complex and non-standard mathematical work. There is space for development, flights of imagination, and self-fulfillment -- although an interest in processes and the ability to think outside the box, when needed, are crucial.
Do you think the Russian-built C3D geometric kernel can compete with Western-made kernels?
Of course it can! Our advantage is that with the knowledge gain from our domestic mathematics schools, we can create algorithms that are swifter and more advanced than those of our competition.
The Mother of Modern CAD
IronCAD had a huge impact on the CAD industry, twice. The first time was in 1994, when it launched under the rather unwieldy name of TriSpectives Professional. It astounded us how much interactivity could be possible in CAD software. (Click image at left to read the full-size version of the box.)
The second time was every year since then, as competitor CAD packages adopted the technology pioneered by 3D/eye. Technology like interactive 3D cursors, dragging and dropping parts from a palette into the drawing, and objects intelligently linking with each other. If your CAD package recently added any of these, thank the smart folks at 3D/eye who figured all this out more than two decades ago.
So why isn't everyone using IronCAD these days?
IronCAD 2016 linking a belt between two pulleys semi-automatically
The technology was too soon. Using TriSpectives was such a paradigm shift to users who were still mainly running keyboard-oriented software on DOS or Unix systems. (Windows 95 had just launched, and NT was still targetted at corporations.) It would have been better, I think, had 3D/eye transitioned the technology over time.
It was overhyped. 3D/eye's marketing used a quote from an analyst that was obviously untrue: "The Pro/E Killer!" Really? A brand-new (and hence still immature) CAD package replacing the established Pro/E is inconceivable. Except in this case, using the Wallace Shawn word was unironic, for TriSpectives didn't even include a Pro/E file translator. You're not going to replace a CAD package at a customer site if you're not interested in reading the customer's existing design files.
(If you want to blame -- or credit -- anyone for killing Pro/E, that would be SpaceClaim. Creo was PTC's "get out of jail" reaction.)
3D/eye couldn't sell enough software to survive, and at the end was split in two. Autodesk bought some of the technology, first installing it in Actrix ("The Visio Killer!"), which it killed off after the second release. The smart technology then found its way into AutoCAD's dynamic blocks function.
The other half became IronCAD, today owned by CAXA.
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We interview Cary O'Conner of IronCAD LLC next week in upFront.eZine #889 about the newest intelligent behaviours added to IronCAD 2016. Subscribe here, and then tell all your friends.
Science, technology, engineering, mathematics
With the push to put more students (a.k.a. women) into the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, how can they tell if they are cut out for a career in STEM? Take our 10-second test to find out:
Q. Spend 10 seconds or more examining all aspects of this image. Does it excite you? Can you figure out (on your own) what a lot of it means? See below for what your answer means.
A: No, to one or both questions. This means that you probably will be among the 40% who drop out of a STEM education.
Why This Test Works
As human beings, we need two parameters to be successful in a field of work: passion and ability. Passion means you are excited about the field; ability means that you can execute in the field. Here are the two questions about the image again:
If you got excited about the picture of the thread and its annotations, and wanted to know more about it, then congratulations: you are cut out for STEM!
When you experience only one of the two parameters, avoid the field. For example, I am passionate about music, but have little ability: I listen to and analyze music; I don't perform it.
Another example: You may have the ability to carry out your job, but have no passion for it: leave the job, but only leave it after you determine your passion and ability in another field. Look at endeavors that excite you -- whether helping street people, raising children, launching new businesses, or developing new technology -- and then figure out if you have the ability to carry out your passion.
You know you have the ability when you find the field easy to understand, because answers (or a route to the answers) come to you intuitively.
Happy New Year!
PS: On a practical note, to get into STEM, it is crucial that you pass Physics 12 in high school.
"Interview with the CEOs of Spatial"
by Ralph Grabowski
"Veteran CAD CEO on Staying Relevant and Important in Today’s CAD Market"
by Ralph Grabowski
Well, maybe two clicks
There was a time when PayPal provided us merchants a one-click method for letting customers make payments. Then they took it away, and customers had to log into PayPal, fill out forms, and so on.
Today, they brought back one-click payments, even though the short-memory tech media is calling it "new." No matter. I've implemented it in upFront.eZine for people wishing to donate to my newsletter.
Should you wish to support upFront.eZine through PayPal, then the suggested amounts are like these:
Thank you to those of you who have supported my writing all these years!
Next week's issue of upFront.eZine discusses the resolution of the digitizer on the screens of smartphones and tablets. The reason that the iPhone works only with fingers is that this limitation allows Apple to use a really coarse digitizer, and coarser = cheaper. Other phone makers followed suit.
How coarse? 24x14. That's 14 sensors across the screen, and 24 up and down, for a spacing of one digitizer every 1/6th of an inch (half a centimeter, roughly). This spec is not something that ever gets discussed in the tech world; here is how I measured it.
I had noticed that in bright sunlight the digitizing grid became visible on the screen on my LG-manufactured Google Nexus 4. I wanted to get a picture of it for upFront.eZine #870, but ran into some problems.
A bright light is needed to see the sensors on the phone's screen; indoor lighting is not strong enough. I took the smartphone outside under an overcast sky. The camera, however, kept focussing on the clouds being reflected from the screen!
I tried a few things, like switching to macro mode (nope), switching to manual focus mode (nope), changing the angle of view (nope). Somehow I got the idea to try zooming in. That did it: I got around the reflection problem by taking the picture with the maximum 20x zoom, which minimizes the focal range.
Once the photo was taken, I enhanced the image using controls in PaintShop Pro.
While the screen of my phone has a resolution of 1280x720, the resolution of the sensors is just 24x14 -- 14 sensors across the screen, and 24 up. Each is 0.42cm square in size (0.17"). I got the dimensions by measuring the width of the screen (6.0cm) and dividing by the number of sensors (14).
The capacitive digitizer on smartphones works by sensing the electrical current given off by the finger as it bridges the gaps between sensors. This is why you cannot use a traditional stylus with smartphones or tablets: the stylus is too narrow to bridge the gap, and it does not give off a current.
The type of stylus that works with smartphones has a broad, carbon-infused rubber tip that conducts electricity from your hand. I suspect that the old Palm Pilots could use a simple plastic stylus because the digitizer resolution matched the display resolution, and it relied on resistive (no electricity needed) sensors to record touches.
Tablets that make use of thin-tipped stylii use different technology, usually from Wacom; here's the details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wacom_%28company%29#Technology
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Wondering where the future lies
Dassault Systemes realized some time ago that Solidworks was coming to a dead end. The way it was so smartly programmed in the mid-1990s had made it the run-away best-selling mid-range MCAD program for two decades. For quite some time, the company's programmers expertly bolted on new features and extensions. Running Solidworks on a Windows desktop computer was a sure thing, and for many years it seemed that nothing would derail Dassault's gravy train.
But then boulders began falling onto the tracks. First, a boulder called SpaceClaim happened. Brilliantly marketed, its emphasis on direct editing changed the industry as much as Pro/E did in the late 1980s. Every single MCAD competitor pivoted towards direct editing -- whether dusting off old direct editing software (CoCreate + Pro/E = Creo) or writing new software from scratch, like Autodesk did with Fusion. (For all its impact, SpaceClaim turned out to be mouse-sized, only ever selling about 30,000 licenses.)
Then the mobile and social media boulders rolled onto the tracks. And another one called browser-based CAD. So then users began expecting MCAD to run effortlessly on various kinds of hardware and operating systems -- whether Mac laptops, Linux workstations, Android tablets, or iOS smartphones.
Dassault found itself locked into a quandary:
On the one hand, it had a best-selling MCAD program that it could not simply turn off, as two million commercial and educational users were depending on it for their livelihoods.
On the other hand, the core code in Solidworks was so old and too dependent on Windows to handle direct editing, be involved in social media, run in a Web browser, or be ported to other platforms.
(There are other technical problems that Solidworks faces of which I won't get into here.)
After launching a few transitions that soon became dead ends, Dassault settled on a two-prong strategy that seems doable:
Well, I didn't say it was a great strategy, just one that's one that's doable for Dassault right now, stuck as it is. The plan is ultimately to migrate all Solidworks data to the same master database (called Enovia) as happened with Catia and other Dassault software -- collectively known by the rather generic name "3DExperience."
Dassault now has two special-purpose modules for Solidworks users which offer the following features:
I didn't say they were great features. About the only thing they have in common with Solidworks is the name.
Dassault, I notice, is rolling out the new modules slowly, at a rate of one a year. The slow speed suits Solidworks users, who quite frankly don't care for chatting about their designs on social media, running CAD software in Web browsers, or storing their proprietary designs on someone else's distant computer.
For now, Solidworks users get to keep their software running. Their future, however, is Catia.
[This blog posting comes from the introduction I wrote to an article I am working on for a magazine, but then decided the intro was too long-winded, and I so posted it here.]
I read it on The Interweb, so it must be true
A reader writes:
Did you know that AutoCAD 2017 is available already? And for free? Try googling "AutoCAD 2017 free download" and you'll get a huge pile of hits from a great many sites offering free downloads.
-- F. B.
I did as the reader suggested and found that he was right.
Results from searching on Google for "AutoCAD 2017 free download"
But what was being offered? AutoCAD 2017 won't ship until next March, after all. I decided to investigate. To protect my Windows desktop from virii, I switched to an Android tablet before going any further.
Here is what I found:
No AutoCAD 2017 in sight on Softronic
Site promising to download AutoCAD 2017 but doesn't
I reviewed the .exe file with a hex viewer on the Android, but found only that it was written for Windows and that it was requesting a high security level; see figure below.
Looking inside the .exe code with a hex viewer
Too freaking expensive
For years now, but only about once a year, I get asked whether I would consider providing print versions of my ebooks. I understand the desire of my customers: print has its superior points over ebooks, the 'e' being short for "ephemeral."
The primary reason: I can't be bothered. The amount of time to set this up would not pay for the one time a year a customer wants it. Now, I design my ebooks so that you can print them out yourselves: all my ebooks are PDF files designed to print on 8.5" x 11" paper, double-sided.
Nevertheless, I looked into it further last week after I got this email:
Recently purchased your ebook for BricsCAD V15, and was wondering if you’ve ever looked into having a place print out and bind a hard copy of your books?
I’m not lazy it’s just my employer doesn’t have a color printer and I currently don’t have one at home. I guess being old fashioned that a book in the hand still appeals to me, but if it’s a copyright thing I won’t look into it.
First off, the copyright on my ebooks allows you to make a print copy for yourself, as well as a back up copy. I sometimes even print out one of my ebooks when I need it for reference. Fast laser printer, and it doesn't take too long.
I wondered, however, how much it would cost to have a third-party print the book to which he was referring. Customizing BricsCAD V15 is 522 pages long -- yup, a monster of my own making, and still only $40. (Buy your copy today.)
There are many print-on-demand services out there, and I chose one at random that allowed me to request a quote online. After going through many Web pages of options, I picked a wire-bound (so that it lays flat), 522-page, cheapest color printout. Because I picked the service at random, the final price was in pounds as the service was located in England. Here is the quote:
Translated into US dollars, that's $168. For one copy delivered to my customer. Either that price is way overboard, or else I am vastly undercharging for my ebooks!
Sweet Nothings Whispered for a Fee
Analysis firms are paid by companies to make predictions, who use the predictions to promote themselves, internally and externally. It is a virtuous-vicious circle: when we hear a company boasting that their business opportunity is $X billions by 2017 -- whether 3D printer sales, cloud transactions, or market share -- they paid a firm to come up with the Too-Good-To-Be-True-sounding number.
Naturally, the analysis firms have no way of knowing what iPad-like events will distort the furutre market, rendering their predictions as a fail. So, word of advice: ignore those numbers, 'cause they ain't gonna happen for any reason at all.
How bad are the predictions? Tomi Ahonen writes about mobile phones. He used to be with Nokia, but now is on his own, giving speeches and writing a blog at http://communities-dominate.blogs.com.
This week, he listed predictions made by analysis firms in 2012 about the smartphone market in 2015 (and a few other years), and then compared them with the real outcome. The predictions were made for a mere three years into the future. (Word of warning: he likes to boast about how much he boasts about how accurate his predictions are. I am guessing he picked the worst of a bad lot of predictions by competitors.) Anyhow, here is his list and I quote him:
Mr Ahonen concludes:
It's not easy being in the forecasting business, we all get it wrong from time to time, and sometimes we make big booboos.
But most of my 'peers' do not bother to come back and remind you about how their past forecasts were, nor to try to examine why that forecast went wrong.
To me, the really interesting fail regards smartphone apps. Whereas analysts underestimated the Android sales explosion, the sales of apps were greatly overestimated.
You can read the full blog posting at http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2015/04/reviewing-my-last-4-year-forecast-blog-3-years-in-from-2012.html
Thomas Friedman is out-Friedmaned
Quoted from Wired: "The Guerrilla Tactics of The Racket, and How It Almost Upended Journalism" by Mat Honan. Source: http://www.wired.com/2014/12/life-and-death-of-the-racket/
- - -
“The joke here is that Thomas Friedman is always talking about the benefits of globalization,” says Taibbi.
“We outsourced Thomas Friedman to an Indian content farm, where they produce for pennies a word, any kind of material you want.... I told them I wanted then to write an article about globalization and its effect on the workforce that’s positive about globalization...” said Pareene.
“To show the effects of globalization,” laughed Taibbi. “We can have Thomas Friedman for 1,000 times less the cost.”
Multiplexing cross-selling opportunities
Last week, executives of 3D Systems spoke with financial analysts. One asked about Cimatron, makes of CAM software, which 3D Systems recently acquired.
- - -
Brandon Wright (Stephens): Just want to get a little bit of color on your expectations for Cimatron in '15. Obviously, with being software higher margin, [what] kind of the impact you see coming in there?
Avi Reichental (ceo, 3D Systems): From Cimatron we are looking to immediately have some cross-selling leverage, because they have a very strong [sales] channel, we have a very strong channel, and they are completely complementary in terms of the go-to-market strategy.
Cimatron also opened a very strong door for us into real manufacturing applications on the manufacturing floor. It extends our coverage; it multiplexes our cross-selling opportunities; and it carves out our software interoperability as we begin to look at 3D digital design and fabrication, both in terms of subtractive and additive.
Remember, too, that Cimatron has about 40,000 seats that have already been placed, [and] that could be very attractive targets to us, and a very, very good channel.
Now, let us talk a little bit about our overall software business. We have, in the last couple of years, complete realigned our software go-to-market strategy along the following lines:
We made it easier for users to enter it, so we lowered entry cost for end users and biased our model for annual subscription as we begin to introduce new designs, like our Capture and Capture Mini -- really sophisticated delivery containers for software.
The net result is that our maintenance and subscription revenues for software actually increased 15% in 2014. The overall combination of software subscriptions and devices actually increased 24% for the full year.
That is the kind of projector that we hope to evolve the Cimatron business on field as we begin to integrate it and leverage it throughout 2014, because that is exactly what we have done for our Geomagic and Rapidform businesses in the last 18 months and it is quite impressive outcome.
- - -
Something to do with a Chinese wall
Ken Silverstein's (I actually don't know who he is) non-rant was reported by jimromenesko.com (also unknown to me): "Ken Silverstein Resigns From Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, Blasts ‘Dishonest’ Leadership." I am vaguely familiar with Omidyar (eBay founder who today is worth $6.4 billion). The story Silverstein tells is to me, unfortunately, very familiar.
The story in short: the need to meddle in the world's affairs comes upon a recently-minted billionaire ("the rest of the world should see things the way I do") and so sticks his fingers into gears he knows not of. We see this with billionaires who try to bankrupt the Bank of England, interfere with democratic voting, or destroy publications -- either accidentally or on purpose.
Omidyar decided do his good by giving Glenn Greenwald a full-time job (he was only on a part-time contract to The Guardian doing those Snowden articles) by establishing First Look Media (a pun on the USA constitution's first amendment on free speech) and a series of news sites, such as The Intercept and Racket. His brilliant idea: that lots of money would ensure lots of free speech. Just one year after launch, however, and First Look has gone all The New Republic on us.
There is a vast difference between running a corporation like eBay and running a publication like upFront.eZine: Corporations operate on good news; publications operate on bad news.
To live on their daily diet of happy news, corporations have marketing departments that spin any news as good. They have public relations firms who press good news on publications. Their investor relations folks reports goods news to the fullest extent of the law. They hire corporate lawyers to war against news not deemed good.
Publications, however, operate on both good and bad news. ("If it bleeds, it leads.") We print bad news (like Autodesk 360's failure to display DWG files without corruption) and good news (PTC launching its PLM Cloud). We war against marketing departments, public relations outfits, investor relations, corporate lawyers, and their intense battles to press the line that "the only good news is good news" -- or as we in the publishing industry call it, "puff pieces."
Silverstein gives an example of a puff piece at First Look Media:
...you know what my favorite part of working for First Look was? Last year’s holiday party when two of our fiercely independent staffers “interviewed” Pierre Omidyar and asked him what he did in the morning.
Since you are all hanging on the edge of your seats, he drinks tea and reads stuff, the NYT and other things and then The Intercept was about #5 (he claims).
And for the record, I boycotted this embarrassing affair and sat in a conference room with two other people, one who no longer works there and one who may or may not. It’s hard to keep track. What a joke.
Billionaires whose diet consists mainly of good news have no life experience in running honest publications, which feed on good news and bad. For them, it's mixing oil and water; this is why publications traditionally maintain a Chinese wall between editorial (oil) and advertising (water). Each has a simple, clear role: advertising makes the money; editorial spends it. The two should otherwise be utterly independent.
When the revenues generated by the advertising side are insufficient, then publications have these few options:
Option #1 fails once sufficient readers realize they are being sold advertising under the guise of independence (c.f. HSBC and the The Telegraph).
Option #2 fails when the sugar daddy misunderstands editorial's unique two-prong business model: it is a perfectly regular practice to (1) operate at a 100% loss, while (2) outputting bad news daily. For a normal business man, this doubly-negative model simply does not compute. So he takes a stab at making editorial profitable and the news good. By pushing his idea of success, his publication fails.
No wonder newsmen are traditionally portrayed in books in movies as heavy smokers, hard drinkers, and weary cynics. It's the nature of our doubly-negative biz.
All for one
When I write my books, I use four or five screens. My Windows 7 workstation has three, as illustrated below by the screen grab:
Combo Mac-and-Linux System
Because BricsCAD also runs on Linux and OS X, I have the cheapest Mac mini connected to a separate 23" 1920 x 1080 monitor -- screen #4.
To handle Linux, I have the Mac running the VM Virtual Box software from Oracle (free from www.virtualbox.org). I installed the Mint Linux operating system, which also is free (from www.linuxmint.com/download.php).
In the figure below, the “linuxmint” window is running on the Mac desktop; I outlined the Virtual Box window in green. The Oracle software acts just like another application on the Mac; no need to pay for Parallels Desktop software. Versions of Virtual Box are also available for Windows and Linux.
Windows 8.x and 10 Systems
To check how BricsCAD works with Windows 8.x and 10, I have separate computers running those operating systems.
Windows 8 runs on a touchscreen all-in-one desktop, whose monitor is borrowed by the Mac (screen #4). A button on the all-in-one computer switches the HDMI input between Windows (internal) and Mac (external).
Finally, I have Windows 10 Technical Preview running on a Surface-class Sony 12" HD tablet (with keyboard and pen) -- screen #5.
Sharing Screen Grabs
When I make screen grabs on them or the Mac-Linux system, Dropbox captures the images automatically, and then places them in a folder on my Windows 7 computer for placement in the InDesign document.
In this case, Dropbox uses LAN mode, so that the files are transferred using my office's local area network, meaning the images show up a second or two after I make the screen grab.
If your computer’s graphics board is limited to working with one (or two) monitors, there is a workaround. DisplayLink is a USB dongle that allows you to add a monitor without needing a video port. Windows sees the dongle simply as another screen.
One end plugs into a spare USB port; the other end features a DisplayPort port. Several manufacturers make the hardware for under $70; see www.displaylink.com/shop. Software is included that runs on the computer to redirect the “second screen” graphics to the dongle.
...and take the free iPad mini
A reader sends me this in a brown envelope and asks, "Received this email today. Wonder how many other SolidWorks World attendees will get one?"
"Autodesk believes that the time has come to reimagine 3D CAD from the ground up." Except Fusion 360 runs mostly on the desktop. Could Autodesk be trying to head off Onshape, which is actually new ground-up and written by experienced Solidworks programmers?
Creativity by Hipgnosis
As I was buying a copy of Pink Floyd's newest album at the local store, the young sales clerk stared at the DVD-sized package for a few moments. Finally, she asked me, "Is this a movie or a music group?"
The cover art and included videos of "Endless River" show a man rowing a boat across a sea of clouds. Aerial photography was provided by Bluesky of England, and I'll let their press release explain it all:
... Endless River, the fifteenth and final studio album by the British progressive rock band, features high resolution aerial photography of the River Cam in Cambridgeshire [, England]...
James Eddy, Technical Director of aerial mapping company Bluesky and lifelong Pink Floyd fan added, “It is a tremendous honour; Bluesky aerial photography helping to promote the last ever Pink Floyd album. It was also a great pleasure to work with Glassworks to bring their creative ideas to fruition.”
The aerial photography featured within the commercial video was taken from Bluesky’s nationwide archive of high resolution aerial photography. Available to view and purchase online at www.blueskymapshop.com the images were taken during the summer of 2013 and are offered at standard 25cm resolution as well as higher 12.5 cm resolution.
It depends on the direction
I love checking numbers, and so I was interested when Dell joined Autodesk in announcing a new study. It said that you would be more efficient if you just would spend more money with them. (Had the study found the opposite, it would not have been released, naturally.)
Here's what part of the press release that interested me the most:
The two companies just released a joint study that outlines the productivity gains that can result from upgrading your hardware and design software -- and results found that by moving from AutoCAD 2010 to 2015 and upgrading from a Dell Precision T1600 to a T700 tower workstation, customers can achieve a productivity improvement of 92 percent!
Autodesk has over the years released other studies that "proved" increased efficiency by upgrading to a newer release. Someone once added up all the percentages, and we would now be completeing drawings in something like seconds, if true.
The most infamous one claimed that the ribbon made AutoCAD users 40% more efficient than using menus and toolbars; later, when the Mac version came out, it had no ribbon. I insolently asked Autodesk marketing if this meant that Mac users were 40% less efficient than Windows users, but never received an answer.
When I work through the math in the study, I find that the percentage changes are less dramatic. The study timed drawing activies on AutoCAD 2010 and an older Dell workstation, and then did the same tasks on AutoCAD 2015 and a newer Dell workstation.
Converted to decimals, the timings were 10.18 hours (for the old system) and 5.32 hours (new system). Just by eye-balling it, we can see that the fastest system takes about half the time of the slowest one. Calculating the percentage, it is 48% better.
The study says the improvement is 92%. If the fastest system truly were 92% faster, then its timing should be around 1/10th that of the slowest one.
I think the error resulted from the order in which the results were graphed. The fastest system was graphed first, but was the last result; the slowest system was graphed last, but was the first result.
Percentages are tricky to calculate, because their value depends on the direction of the calculation. It appears the study author calculated up (from 5.32 to 10.18 hours) instead of down (from 10.18 to 5.32).
Here is a site that helps perform the tricky percentage calculations: www.percentagecalculator.net.
A brief article (New at the top: Jeff Ray is chief executive officer at Ellucian) in The Washington Post newspaper carries a brief autobiography by Jeff Ray, the former ceo of Solidworks:
[The experience (at IBM) helped me ultimately land at a company called SolidWorks, where I was named chief executive.] The company had been wildly successful. But I felt that we were reaching the end of what the platform could do and we needed to work on the next-generation technologies. The hardest thing to change is a successful company.
It’s easy to change when you’ve been diagnosed with a challenging disease or some kind of event or crisis is forced upon you. It’s very hard to force change on people when you’re doing well. But that’s exactly the time that you should start questioning what you’re doing.
He went on to become the ceo of Ellucian.
We editors worry about grammar and stuff so that you, dear reader, won't need to. One worry we have is how to print trade names that are capitalized annoyingly, such as "upFront.eZine" and "CATIA 3DEXPERIENCE."
The problem with all-caps (as we in the biz call it) is that it SHOUTS!, which is the intention of the marketing genius who invented it, of course. Now, it took a marketing genius to invent it, because all-caps normally refers to acronyms, like STEP and BIM. The smart reader asks, "What is CATIA 3DEXPERIENCE short for?" But that would be a dumb question.
Now, this screed comes about after a reader called me out for writing "Solidworks" in this week's upFront.eZine. The W is uppercase, he archly told me, as in "SolidWorks." To which I replied, "It is much worse, actually. They now spell it all uppercase, SOLIDWORKS, officially."
He checked, and it turns out we both are correct. Dassault Systemes (not all uppercase, by the way) spells it both ways on their Web site. I guess this is to keep the all-UPPERCASE-haters from hatin':
Two Solutions to the Singular Problem
So, what should be the editorial policy regarding Annoying Capitalization of Trade Names?
My dear friend, Randall Newton, announced at one point that he would spell a trademark the first time it appears in his articles the same way marketing departments want it (just to keep the hounds of marketing at bay -- and trust me, they will bay over mis-capitalized trade names); following this initial appearance, he then spells it the way we all want it to be, and so for the remainder of the article it appears mixed case. I have not, however, checked if he is keeping to his word.
I am not as generous. If the trade name is mixed caps, then I spell it the way it comes to me (solidThinking); but, when all caps, I change it to title mode, such as Solidworks and Catia 3Dexperience -- no first time credit from me.
Further fussiness. When a file refers to the name's extension, I spell it all lowercase, as in .dwg. When it refers to the file's format, then it becomes DWG.
Yah, this is the kind of stuff over which we editors obsess.
P.S. Pet Peeve: writers who capitalize the nouns of commands, such as writing "draw a Line." Ugh.
by Vladimir Talapov
This is a new issue for us. To be honest, it is a very unpleasant one, since it involves an artificial (aggressive) influence upon economic processes painstakingly organized by the business-community -- bilateral, multilateral, and, in any case, mutually beneficial.
Still sanctions are our today’s reality. Thus, I would like to make a few points.
First. Sanctions are introduced by the governments of some countries and not by software developers. I think that to a greater extent, sanctions are a blow against vendors rather than users, but it is rough luck on both.
Second. Formally, sanctions have not yet affected the design-and-building industry in Russia, and so do not threaten BIM adaption, although it may only be a matter of time.
Third. No software firm is going to take back purchased licenses, so day-to-day work is not coming to a halt.
Forth. The time has come to think seriously as to how efficiently available software is used in our design and building industry, particularly because at the time vast sums of money were spent to purchase it. Based on the experience, I dare say that software is employed to no more than 20% of its capabilities. Becoming better at mastering the available programs and optimizing their operational procedures (sometimes even just developing such procedures) coupled with cutting down on the cost of acquiring new programs (as they are already purchased) forms significant resources for advancing design and building industry in Russia.
Fifth (and the most important). Sanctions create truly unique conditions for developing Russian programs, particularly in BIM. I have no doubt that such developments will happen. It is simply a must.
Cloud Technologies and Sanctions
The cloud is entering our lives, but rather slowly. I am aware that many have tried to use them, first of all for visualizing.
I think, however, that in light of the recent sanction wars, we shall have to forget about cloud technologies for several years. It is unlikely that any serious organization would wish to lose control over its information and risk “foreign switching-off” of access to software resources.
[Reprinted with permission of isicad.net]
My Rebuttal to Roopinder Tara
Living the life of a CAD reporter: Atop the Vancouver Art Gallery at a Lenovo-sponsored launch party for media, analysts, and industry friends enjoying free drinks, appetizers, live DJ music, and schmoozing -- along with that fabulous view of Vancouver's Robson Square district
Back in June, CAD Insider blogger Roopinder Tata wrote a controversial item about CAD writers going to events put on by hardware and software vendors, with costs paid by the vendor. (Among some news organizations, like New York Times, reporters can't even accept a free gummy bear.) His controversy: writing about the event is optional. This is something over which we have disagreed for years.
Mr Tara's position is this: when he gets an invitation to an event, he always goes; but he doesn't necessarily write about it.
My position is the opposite: when I get an invitation, I don't necessarily go; but when I go, I always write about it.
I don't understand his position; he doesn't understand mine. We remain good friends, because we disagree amicably. To recap, here are the reasons he gives for not writing about events:
I agree with points 2 and 3. Often vendors will give me off-the-record information to signal future directions -- non-public roadmaps, as it were. Or, I land work writing an ebook or whitepaper for them.
So this leaves point #1 over which he and I disagree. In my case, I work at finding an angle, even when there is nothing "worthy of note." I feel I owe it to the vendor.
Now, there is the larger controversy of CAD writers accepting "bribes" in the form of free air travel, hotel accommodation, ground transportation, food, gifts, and entertainment that sometimes is quite expensive. Typically, it costs a vendor $1,500 to have me attend his media-only event -- a number significantly smaller than the $5,000 figure estimated by Mr Tara.
(The cost is lower for the vendor when we attend his user conference, because 5-10% of rooms are comp'ed by the hotel just for locating the conference at its facility, and one extra plate of food out of thousands is uncountable.)
Some history: Through 1999, we journalists paid our own way, although larger publishers covered my costs from 1985-1997. This all changed with the Revit launch at Harvard University in early 2000, and it was after this event that other vendors began paying for reporters' travels. Since the recession of 2008, however, many vendors cut back by inviting much smaller groups, or offering only hotels (which are free in some cases, anyhow), or relying on Webcasts.
So the question becomes: Why does Ralph Grabowski accept free travel from vendors? I do it for two reasons:
As a freelance writer, I receive zero benefits. I don't receive pay for the days I travel, unlike salaried employees. But I do love the benefit of free travel that my job has given me, sending me to exotic locations I'd never been able to otherwise afford, such as Novosibirsk and Saint Petersburg, Budapest and Prague, Brussels and Paris, Boston and Washington, Tokyo and Manila, Auckland and Sydney.
To solve the problem of perceived conflict of interest, I report a disclosure when vendors pay my costs, and for what. I am pleased to see that several other writers do the same.
When we think about the biggest CAD software companies, we think of the Big Four who make more than $1 billion a year:
#1 Dassault Systemes ($2.6B)
#2 Siemens PLM Systems (?)
#3 Autodesk ($2.3B)
#4 PTC ($1.3B)
(? - We're not sure where Siemens PLM places, as the mother corp doesn't report on its CAD division, but analysts figure its revenues are roughly as large as or larger than Autodesk's. In this article, I use a EUR-USD exchange rate of 1.3.)
What's changed in recent years is that non-CAD vendors have been buying up CAD software, some of whom are pretty big. Indeed, it could be argued Siemens belongs in this category.
Today's news that Hexagon of Sweden bought Vero Software of England reminds us that Hexagon also own Intergraph, the largest CAD vendor of plant design software. At $3.1 billion a year, Hexagon is almost as big as Autodesk and PTC put together. As Shawn Foster (@kcflatlander) said on Twitter, "Plant, mining, etc do not market like buildings and other markets, so many would not know how huge Hexagon really is." The last time Intergraph reported revenues (2008), they were at $0.8 billion.
As of August, Hexagon will own a stable of CAM programs that's nearly bigger than all the Big Four put together. It benefits from Vero's own acquisitions spree that collected together Alphacam, Cabinet Vision, Edgecam, Radan, SURFCAM, VISI, and WorkNC. Hexagon says those seven CAM packages will add about $100 million to its revenues. Only.
The other big non-CAD CAD vendor is Trimble, who we think of as a seller of bright yellow GPSes for surveyors. They own SketchUp and a bunch of BIM software, and their reveues are just under those of Autodesk, at just over $2 billion a year.
Well, then there is Oracle, who many years ago bought out Cimmetry of Canada (and its AutoVue CAD file viewer) via Agile. Oracle's revenues are $37 billion, about half that of Siemens AG. Other "new" CAD vendors include 3D Systems (bought Alibre) and ANSYS (bought SpaceClaim), but both are under $1 billion in revenues, and so don't belong in the club.
So now when we speak of a CAD vendor, it's not necessarially a company that was founded by a group of guys in the 1980s writing a rudimentary CAD program out of their homes. As certain huge corporations recognize the power of the data stored in CAD files, they arise themselves from their slumber, casting about for a suitable prey...
Makes me wonder if Dassault Aviation might reaquire Dassault Systemes. Then there's the strong links Bentley is forming with Siemens PLM.
A reader writes:
On Autodesk's Exchange Apps, I saw that you have an ebook. I thought about making an ebook as I have some exercise made up. (One shows you how to get the true angle on a drawing without drawing an auxiliary view.) I would like to know how you made your ebooks so that no one can copy them.
I didn't, because it is not possible to prevent PDF files from being copied. I have spoken directly with Adobe a couple of times about this flaw, but they tell me that it is not possible to implement this kind of security inside the PDF format. Well, we could add passwords for opening files, but this is irritating to the buyers -- and they can just pass along the passwords to others.
PDF files can be locked only when distributed through a PDF server, but this solution is only good inside a corporation because the locking occurs external to the PDF file -- and so it is no good for sales to individuals.
An alternative is to go with an ebook format such as ePub. Ebook formats can be locked to a reader if you go through sites like B&N, Amazon, or Kobo. The fundamental flaw in ePubs is they make a mess of formatting, whether simple text-only books or content-heavy titles like with CAD.
Copying PDF files is a serious problem in our industry, and it is the reason I have stopped updating my ebooks, except for commercial clients.
To emphasize how little data it collects, the NSA reported to the American people that it collects a mere 1.6% of the 1,826 petabytes of data that flow through the world's Internet pipes each day.
Tiny Numbers of Huge Files. One point six seemed like a small number unti I realized that the spooks were talking about the volume of data, not the volume of messages. Internet data volumes are huge due to the huge sizes of files being moved around. An HD movie is 5GB; Netflix is said to make up 40% of the US's Internet data volume, because its traffic consists primarily of huge movie files. But Netflix takes up a tiny proportion of total message traffic.
Huge Numbers of Tiny Messages. In contrast, messages take up tiny amounts of data. A typical formatted email is less than a megabyte; that's 5,120 email messages per single movie file. A text message takes 160 bytes. That's 26,200 messages per movie. It's mostly those movie, tor, music, and other large files that make up the 1,826 petabytes.
(1 petabyte = 1,024 terrabytes = 1,048,576 gigabytes = 1,073,741,824 megabytes.)
We see that the percentage of messages collected by NSA must be huge, much larger than the 1.6% claimed. They admit as much with their "connections of connections of connections" collection, meaning 100,000 to one million peripheral-persons per person of interest. This does not work out to a mere 1.6%.
This makes me wonder if NSA collects 98.4% of message volume.
We don't know what was happening behind the scenes, but whoever runs Autodesk's official @autodesk account on Twitter posted an image of SolidWorks instead of Inventor. The mistake was perhaps easy to make, as the HSMExpress CAM add-in was first written for SolidWorks and is only now in beta for Inventor.
Reader M.J.S. forwarded a screen grab, because the original post is removed...
The correction tweet with the right CAD program
Binamuse is the Argentinian firm that found a security hole in Autodesk's DWG file format. This week they provided WorldCAD Access with the details of the problem.
The problem is specific to DWG version AC1021, which is used by AutoCAD 2007 - 2009. However, since newer releases of AutoCAD can read and write older versions of DWG, Binamuse says the problem affects the latest releases, including AutoCAD 2014. Autodesk has so far provided patches only for AutoCAD 2011-2014 and related products that use DWG, unfortunately.
In technical terms, the problem sounds like this:
AutoCad is vulnerable to an arbitrary pointer dereference vulnerability, which can be exploited by malicious remote attackers to compromise auser’s system. This issue is due to AutoCad’s failure to properly bounds-check data in a DWG file before using it to index and copy heap memory values. This can be exploited to execute arbitrary code by opening a specially crafted DWG file, version AC1021.
Read the detailed commentary on the DWG exploit at http://blog.binamuse.com/2013/07/autocad-dwg-ac1021-heap-corruption.html. I have alerted Open Design Alliance to the issue, and their technical people tell me they are investing.
It is common for CAD vendors to hold Web-based conference calls. Microsoft Office Live Meeting has a unnecessarily long name, and it works poorly compared to GoToMeeting or WebEx.
Here is the actual transcript of a recent Webinar held using Microsoft Office Live Meeting:
Question: Hey all - is anyone talking yet?
Answer: You need to dial in. Use the information below to connect: Toll-free: +1 (888)...
Question: I cannot hear any sound. My muting is off.
Answer: have you dialied in?
Question: I don't want to tie my phone line for three hours.
Answer: If you can't dial in, you can connect your computer audio via the Voice and Video in the tool bar, select Options->Connect computer audio
Question: That option is grayed out
Answer: You'll have to dial in then, sorry about that
Question: Are we suppose to hear from the video or only call the toll free?
Answer: PLease dial in or connect to the computer audio
Question: Is audio going?
Answer: Connect your computer audio - Vioice and Video->Options->Connect Computer audio
Question: Are you broadcasting Audio online?
Answer: We should be yes, if the option is greyed out please dial in instead...
Question: I think you guys should enable the audio from computers the next time. This is quite mad.
Answer: please try the internet audio again, I have reset it
After 35 minutes, the audio began working over Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
Randall Chase of Associated Press is reporting that software cracked by Chinese and Russians was used in part to design components of Patriot missiles and USA military helicopters..
Prosecutors said Wronald Best, 55, bought more than $600,000 pirated software programs from Xiang Li, a Chinese national who is awaiting sentencing in May. Prosecutors also said Best paid $6,000 to obtain more than 60 industrial software applications, worth more than $2.3 million, from Chinese and Russian sources who "cracked" access control mechanisms preventing unauthorized use.
The list of software sold to Best included the following packages:
CST Studio Suite
Vector Works and Hyper Works
Ansoft Designer, Simplorer, Nexxim, Maxwell, and HFSS
Li faces 25 years in prison, while Best gets five.
This history of Catia is written by its founder, Francis Bernard, and is hosted by David Levin at isicad. The software was launched by that name in 1977, but it was preceded by decade of development work, including a CAM interface in the late 1960s. Like other CAD software of the time, it was developed internally by a manufacturing company, in this case French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation.
The sales breakthrough came in 1981 when IBM agreed to distribute the software worldwide. The primary advantage: Catia did 3D design, while all competitors were limited to 2D; and, Catia was sold by IBM, a requirement for large corporations, like Boeing.
In September of that year, Dassault Systemes broke off from Dassault Aviation as an independent company. In 1984, Bernard Charles was hired for the R&D department, and then slowly worked his way up to president eleven years later. Francis Bernard retired in 2006.
It's been happening since January 22, when the Chinese government finally noticed Ping Fu's book. Bend Not Break was released nearly a month earlier, and described the story of the ceo of Geomagic survivinging the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.
The angry commenters at the book's page on Amazon.com all have this in common: they have never before written a review on Amazon, they uniformly they give the book a single star, they give each other hundreds of Yes ratings on "Was this review helpful to you?" (some get over a thousand), and their names and stilted writing style stem from the region you would expect to find a place like China. Oh, and no other autobiography is being attacked as assiduously on Amazon.
How does this reaction compare with more popular books? The first Harry Potter book in paperback has a mere 394 Yes-helpfuls for the most popular review, as of yesterday.
CAD editor Martyn Day wrote in defense of Ping Fu on Amazon, and for his trouble received 177 angry comments, the first one appearing after just 60 seconds. (See http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A372CJ8A4DVMQP/ref=cm_pdp_rev_title_1?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview#R3DEQKCLLDZV75.)
The Guardian was guarded in its coverage last Tuesday of the controversy, as indicated by the headline: "Chinese cast doubt over executive's rags to riches tale." The British newspaper just wasn't feeling brave enough to allow comments at all.
Later the same day, Ping Fu retorted to her we-are-legion critics in The Daily Beast, "Ping Fu Defends ‘Bend, Not Break’ Memoir Against Online Chinese Attack." No surprise, but in little time 226 mostly negative comments appeared.
(Data point: around 200 watchers are "listening" to comments on the Daily Beast article, continuously. By contrast, other, more popular articles have 40 or 12o listeners.)
The primary complaints are that Ping Fu's story contains errors of history.
If It Were Me
If I were to write my autobiography, there would be errors and gaps, too. It gets hard to remember one's entire life story, even at my young age of 56 -- except for a few stand-out memories and even these might be corrupted by time.
One time as a child driving with my parents, I asked what those clear things were on telephone poles (glass insulators). I clearly remember my mom explaining that if I were lost in the forest, I could use them to light a fire. Obviously I misunderstood and misremember -- the benefit was, however, that after that I was never worried about getting lost in the vast Canadian woods!
I would call the attacks "defensive." The Chinese government's policy is Harmony, and so this book portraying the Cultural Revolution in a negative light would be seen as disharmonious, and in need of attack.
A friend teaches ESL (English as a second language) locally, and last year a middle-aged woman arrived to the class from China. One night she stayed up all night watching tv, for it was the first time in 21 years that she saw what really happened in Tienanmen Square. She was in tears over the deaths -- and the lies the government had told her people for these many years (that only a few student leaders were imprisoned, is the banal version distributed in China).
She called in her young son to watch so that he too would finally know the truth:
Dictators fear competition.
In contrast to those orchestrating the rage over an auto-biography, a contact reported yesterday that "Ping is back on the up and up. She's feeling strong now."
The media is tittering with excitement that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt's visit to North Korea must result in the country opening up the Internet to the rest of the world. Their hope is vanity.
The problem for North Korea's leader is that he (and his father and grandfather) have created a god-like myth about themselves, called Juche. According to the myth, Dear Leader is so amazing that he himself designed all things in North Korea (buildings, dams, etc), that he made North Korea fully self-sufficient, and so he must be worshiped like a god -- even by tourists, who are brought on their first day to the enormous plaza featuring statues of Dear Leaders, and told by their minders to bow.
To open North Korea to the world through the Internet would allow citizens to see that their so-called Dear Leader has feet of clay. When you are a dictator, you don't want to lose power by allowing your followers to know the truth. So, the Internet must remain closed to maintain the lie of Juche (c.f. Iran).
The current North Korean policy is to bring in some expertise for the families of the ruling class living in Pyongyang, such as English and limited amounts of technology, while outside the capital city the bulk of the population is left to live in darkness and near-starvation.
This year's first episode of CSI:New York featured a 3D printer that made a gun used to kill two people. The application of the technology in the episode was uneven. Here is my list of Yeas and Neas:
Yea: the gun was 3D printed from sintered metal
Yea: the 3D printer was a home-made rig
Nea: the gun's surface was perfectly smooth, as was the inside of the barrel
Nea: bullets fired from the gun left no stridation marks
Yea: the gun exploded during its second use
Yea: the CSI team found the files for printing the gun
Nea: the techie called the files "proprietary"
Yea: the CSI techie described 3D printing to his team by showing an apple that had been sliced horizontally many times
Nea: one of the CSI team said this concept was w-a-y to complicated for her
Nea: one of the team commented that creating a gun now was as easy as pressing "Command+P" (but the computers used were Windows, not Macs).
ZDNet's Ed Bott this morning reveals that Chitika's industry trends probably are flawed. This is the ad-server company that frequently publishes headline-inducing research reports, such as iPad usage falling 7% after Christmas.
Mr Bott investigates the firm and concludes, "Put all those pieces together and you don't get a picture of a company whose data should be trusted on its face." But Mr Bott makes his own error in the middle of his piece, Why you should be skeptical of Chitika's market-share reports when he writes:
As any statistician could tell you, simply having a large sample size doesn't mean you get valid conclusions. Garbage in, garbage out. Doubling or tripling the amount of data just makes for a bigger pile of garbage.
Any statistician will tell you that the larger the sample size, the more accurate the result. When you hear a poll result on the radio, the number has to include the number of people surveyed and the plus-or-minus of the accuracy. (Those of us who took statistics know this as the Chi factor.) The larger the sample size, the smaller the plus-or-minus.
(Statisticians have a formula that tells us how large the sample size needs to be for a specified accuracy of result. But larger sample sizes have to be balanced by polling companies against the higher cost of interviewing more people.)
Chitika claims to track a quarter-million sites, but Mr Bott found that 50% of them are dead or junk sites. This means that Chitika's sample size is very small, compared to the billions of Web sites that now exist. It's the small sample size that creates the problem.
When sample size is small, poll results vary wildly. This any statician will tell you. This is why Chitika's results vary wildly. This is why temperature results varied wildly for climate researchers using core samples from only seven trees in Siberia (later found to be the core of one tree).
Chitika made use of the big swings in its survey results to help market itself, because wide-eyed tech reporters naively believed the company's wild-eyed press releases. Thank you to Mr Bott for aiming your keen eye on the company's inconsistencies. But the corrected formula reads as follows:
Small data set = garbage out.
The Verge reported on a DMV (department of motor vehicles) employee who invented a new language:
Naturally-formed languages are messy, and they've long inspired people to search for the perfect, artificial language. It's a quest that a former California DMV employee John Quijada took up as a hobby for three decades to create what he calls "Ithkuil," which has 22 categories of verbs, 1,800 suffixes, and not a single wasted sound in order to make "you say what you mean and mean what you say."
A friend is a phonologist, and these are this thoughts on the new language:
One problem with trying to come up with a language that is completely efficient is that people aren't. We need redundancy in languages because, frankly, we are not all that smart. We don't always get it.
Also, the oral communication situation is not always ideal, and redundancy is needed to help us fill in the blanks when we lose part of the speech signal due to planes flying overhead and lawnmowers passing outside our windows.
What I see of the [Ithkuil] language leaves a lot to be desired in terms of what the human mind processes easily.
ASCON provided this interview with Nikolai Golovanov, the head of the company's C3D geometric kernel development team. ASCON is the largest Russian MCAD software company, and is headquartered in St Petersburg.
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Q: There is not always a clear understanding in the CAD community about where the geometric kernel ends and the CAD program begins. What is a geometric kernel, and what job does it perform in a CAD system?
A:We call the geometric kernel the part of a CAD system that makes the mathematical model of real and theoretical objects.
Our C3D kernel is an independent software component that consists of five groups of functions and algorithms. The first three groups are parts of C3D’s Modeler module:
Q: There are several geometric kernels available on the market today. By which criteria should they be compared?
A: A geometrical kernel is characterized primarily by its functionality. It has to provide all the functions needed by the programmers working on their CAD software. In addition, it needs features like speed and reliability. The quality of the geometric kernel greatly impacts the quality of the entire CAD system.
For us as developers, the important aspects of a geometric kernel are its structure, its simplicity of use, and the clarity of its algorithms. These features enable developers to produce a software product in the minimum of time and with the lowest expenditure of resources.
Q: What role does the geometric kernel play in the final product?
A: In our own CAD system, KOMPAS-3D, we found that the C3D geometric kernel is less than one-fourth of the program code, when measured by the amount of source code and the size of executable files. The complexity of developing the geometric core, however, is significantly larger than the complexity of the rest of the CAD system. This is evidenced by the fact that there are several times more CAD and other modeling systems in the world than there are geometric kernels by themselves.
Q: ASCON is the only software company in Russia to publish a kernel, and one of only a very few in the rest of the world. What does this mean for you?
A: At the end of the last century, almost all Russian CAD systems had their own private geometric kernels. However, the core functionality of these CAD systems lagged behind their global peers. Because of the great complexity of making improvements to one’s own geometric kernel, many Russian CAD companies abandoned their development efforts, and then purchased ready-made kernels.
Our company, ASCON, took a different route. We decided to continue developing our own kernel. As a result, KOMPAS-3D is now the only Russian CAD system successful at competing globally. And, of course, to develop a world-class geometric kernel is not just difficult, but also is an extremely interesting task. We proud of the results of our work, and enjoy working on it!
Q: For a long time, your kernel remained internal to ASCON. Now, any developer can license C3D. What caused you to make this change?
A: It was the demand from international customers that caused us to change our minds. And so today, in our kernel development work, we rely not only on the needs of our own KOMPAS-3D developers, but more importantly on the wishes expressed by our new international customers.
For example, with the kernel being a standalone product, it had to get its own security system and we added component-specific licensing. We are actively translating the documentation into different languages. Other than this, development is proceeding as before: we constantly improve the algorithms, add functionality, and work on advancing the speed and reliability.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the team working for you on the kernel.
A: Our team consists of experienced professionals, as well as new employees. All are graduates of leading universities and technical institutes. The backbone of the team consists of Aleksandr Maksimenko, Andrew Penquin, and Yuri Kozulin. Each of them is responsible for an important part of the work.
Nevertheless, we are constantly looking for talented professionals who can help us develop the C3D kernel in new directions.
To learn more about C3D, go to ASCON's web site at http://ascon.net/solutions/c3d_kernel/, visit them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/C3Dlabs or follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/C3Dlabs.
A reader accessing the database of attendees and speakers for Autodesk University 2012 tells me that it shows numbers are remarkably down from previous years, with just one month left to go.
The number of attendees is roughly half the number of its peak just before the 2008 recession. No doubt the recession continues to bite, as non-attendees consider the $2,000 cost of registration plus airfare, hotel, ground transportation -- easily $3,000. Bosses have to think about productivity lost from employees not being at work that week, and the wages paid for not being at work.
These are the reasons, no doubt, that the online version of AU is much more popular this year. Some tens of thousands are registered to watch proceedings from home or from work.
The following may not be the exact step-by-step procedure, but you should get the idea. I logged in to the AU site & selected the Class Catalog option. It then asked me to log in again (?) & I selected Browse Catalog. I eventually ended up at this location: https://www.autodeskuniversity2012.com/connect/search.ww (see figure) The first time I did it a while ago it only showed the Classes & Speakers tabs. As I recall, at that time I clicked on one of the Class Type buttons and the People tab appeared.
Autodesk has an unusual pricing scheme for its PLM 360 product lifecycle management system: the first three professional users at a site get to access the cloud-based system free, and then each additional one pays $900 a year.
Software researcher Jay Vleeschhouwer of Griffin Securities may have figured out why precisely the first three are free:
Autodesk’s main competitor in the mechanical CAD market, Dassault’s SolidWorks, has an average of three licenses per customer and, as [DS] management itself has noted, the majority of SolidWorks’ customers do not yet have a [PLM] data management system...
Now, why would an office with three SolidWorks users want PLM from Autodesk? Beats me. OTOH, Mr Vleeschhouwer notes that there are 8x as many PTC Windchill PLM licenses as Creo Pro [Pro/Engineer] ones, although he is not sure if this means that there are lots of non-CAD users or lots non-Pro/E CAD users using Windchill.
300,000 or 1.6 million?
In his report, Mr Vleeschhouwer estimates that SolidWorks has 300,000 active [commercial] licenses at the end of 2011, a number vastly smaller than the 1.8 million [commercial + educational] licenses touted last week in front of invited media, but still ahead of Inventor's estimated 210,000 active users.