We have more coverage of this year's Bricsys International Conference over on upFront.eZine's Twitter feed:
Also, consider following #BricsCAD2017 for comments from other CAD media at the conference.
We have more coverage of this year's Bricsys International Conference over on upFront.eZine's Twitter feed:
Also, consider following #BricsCAD2017 for comments from other CAD media at the conference.
The Louvre, Paris, France
These are exciting times for AutoCAD workalikes, as they take advantage of Autodesk stumbling over its self-imposed road blocks of forcing subscriptions, writing desktop software for being eventually cloud-only, running the corporation to please Wall Street, and slowing down development of flagship software AutoCAD.
As a result, the way forward for AutoCAD workalikes is clear: do the opposite of what Autodesk is doing.
No one is more excited about Autodesk stumbling in the AutoCAD market than Bricsys ceo Erik de Keyser, as shown by this slide behind him at this week's Bricsys International Conference in Paris. (Photo credit: Steve Johnson @SteveJohnsonCAD).
Now, to be fair, Bricsys is not the only one excited by Autodesk accidentally opening up the market for the workalikes. Other companies like Graebert of Germany, ZwSoft of China, and IntelliCAD of USA are reminding potential customers of the pitfalls of expensive subscriptions, et al.
One might ask why Autodesk seems to be on this path. The key is in a claim made by former Autodesk ceo Carol Bartz, who declared that Autodesk can make 10x more off a customer on 3D than on 2D. Hence, the company's efforts to expand customer access to the two primary 3D disciplines: mechanical and architectural design.
Not that the workalikes are all weak on 3D. ZwSoft has its Zw3D software it acquired from the USA, and Bricsys is moving aggressively into BIM, as well as generic 3D. How agressively? They have 3D constraints, something AutoCAD lacks. They have BIM that uses DWG (and support files), instead of a proprietary format, like RVT. They have a 3D UCS icon that slides along curved surfaces until you lock it into place.
The primary stumbling block for the workalikes, however, is market awareness. I find it remarkable the lack of awareness of alternatives at design firms. That is the primary problem they still need to solve.
New in BricsCAD V18
BricsCAD V18 is in beta, and at the conference today we are seeing some of the new features. One is the new editing widget that lets you move and rotate entities in 3D. (Admittedly, the widget first appeared in IronCAD and has since migrated to other MCAD programs.) See image below.
Some other new features in V18 include the ones shown in the following slides:
V18 is due to ship in November. www.bricsys.com
[Disclosure: Bricsys provided some of my travel, accommodation, and meal expenses.]
Bricsys likes holding its annual user conference in a different city every year. In the past we've been to places like Brussels, Barcelona, and Munich. This year, the event is being held near the center of Paris. I know, because the price of a Caesar salad at the adorable, tiny French restaurant is $22 or so.
Day 1 is the developer conference, and so we are hearing about items of interest for third-party developers, less so for users. (Tomorrow is the user conference.) Here are some of my notes of what is being said:
Bricsys CEO Eric de Keyser held the keynote and emphasized the Bricsys eco-system. He noted that it went well to be an Autodesk third-party developer for two decades. But Bricsys offered insurance, in case something would happen to Autodesk. People thought Bricsys was too small to survive, but it is still here, today a credible platform after 15 years.
He first thought that offering a good API was sufficient. But then Autodesk became a competitor to their own partners by buying up the best several, becoming a competitor to the others. "Are you ever invited to be a developer on Autodesk's cloud? I don't think so," Mr de Keyser asked rhetorically.
De Keyser argued that Bricsys offers a community that competes on all levels with the big giant.
He said that Autodesk has an old interface as a result of 30 years of development, and so there are hundreds of settings, some of which are set just once. Bricsys says it can replace many settings and dialog boxes through its smart Quad interface (their unique at-cursor control). He hinted at a new software program, to be introduced tomorrow, that would eliminate the need for many settings through AI.
"BIM is there is stay," he declared. The $100-million question is, however, how to get everyone using BIM. IFC is not the best technology but it is a standard, and so it has to be used for model and data transfer. The good news is that BricsCAD BIM is certified for IFC imports and exports; as well, the new Civil program supports IFCs.
Bricsys 24/7 is the new name for Chapoo, and can be a model server. You can use Dropbox but it is just for storage; compare with what we do with collaboration.
Marketing for Developers
The App store on the Bricsys Web site is free for third-party developers. Tip: resellers can find add-ons here that might be useful for customers. Views have more than doubled over last year.
OEM for BricsCAD (BSB)
BricsCAD Solution Build is the full version of BricsCAD for OEMS. It features a customizable installer, silent activation, new versions of BricsCAD do not affect the add-on. Windows only for now but will be available for MacOS and Linux. Can choose when to upgrade, no forced upgrades. All languages keys. Pricing same as native BricsCAD for end users, but developer gets 20% discount.
Bricsys is introducing a new level of third-party developers: Titanium. At this level, you get mentions on the Bricsys corporate blog, mentions in Bricsys marketing, VIP access to conference such as application booths, get boosted in the Bricsys App store, and be part of in-product promotion inside Bricsys.
To become a Titanium developer, see the list in the slide in the figure above. As always, membership in the Bricsys partner program is free, even at the Titanium level.
[Disclosure: Bricsys contributed towards my transportation, accommodation, and some meals.]
Five of many
The mobile version of ARES, Touch, get many updates during the year, as is typical for mobile software. Here at the Graebert conference, we are learning about five new functions:
Onboarding -- guides new users in five minutes how to use the mobile CAD software, which is different from desktop CAD software
Properties window -- will be shipping soon, aka Properties palette, shows and changes properties of entities; see figure below
Free Sketch -- quick custom notes and sketches with your finger or pen, if supported by device; placed on its own layer, and so can be hidden
Get inquiry -- results displayed in dialog box, which can then be copied to the Clipboard; applies to GetArea, GetDistance, and so on
Kudo -- is directly supported in Touch's file manager
This new software was requested by an OEM partner, who did not want to develop it himself. ARES Sketch is floor plan sketching for tax assessment, especially in the USA where property tax is based on square footage and what each square foot is used for: patios, fireplaces, offices, etc.
It uses Graebert's CAD experience from SiteMaster, GIS from ESRI. It is meant to be integrated into CAMA, computer-assisted mass appraisal systems. It will be released by the end of the year.
It is not a sketching program like SketchUp, but does offer a simplified user interface. As a rectangle is drawn (which snaps automatically), it represents a floor area, like a room and a dialog box pops up for you to select the use. The goal is to add room areas quickly, including rooms within rooms. It can access online geographic images, on which you can sketch the rooms. It outputs in DWG.
The drawings tab of Onshape uses technology from Graebert that then formed the basis of Kudo. Both Onshape and Kudo work inside Web browsers.
Here at the conference, Onshape listed the top improvements made to Onshape Drawings in 2017:
Now we are hearing from an Onshape customer from Munich that designs flow meters, Vectoflow. They redesigned them to make them more robust, make a wide variety of shapes, and so on. They use powder 3D printing to make the flow probe any shape that a customer wants. The tip is 0.9mm in diameter, with five channels of information, such as flow speed and directions. A ceramic prove can handle 1800C, hotter than a volcano.
They designed a wind tunnel that fits inside a standard 40' container, and can generate wind speeds faster than the speed of sound. When they 3D print the probe, there are just two steps to the finished part. Lots of proprietary methods. For them, it is important that two or more people can work on a single model at the same time -- hence Onshape. It can be confusing when two edit at the same time, so the more common use is one person to edit, the others view and comment. The main reason they went with Onshape primarily, because there is one version of the drawing for everyone. Customized problems are branches from the main geometry.
Corel is best known for CorelDraw, but it also rebrands ARES as CorelCAD. The primary user of CorelCAD is a CorelDraw or CorelDraw Technical Suite illustration users, who need access to DWG files. Corel adds a converter to bridge the two sets of programs.
Apparently CorelCAD has brought hundreds of thousands of new users to Corel. The company also licenses ARES Touch as CorelCAD Mobile.
There will be a CorelCAD 2018, although it is not being announced today. It will have all the functions announced for ARES 2018, including 3D editing, something CorelCAD users have been wanting. CorelCAD Mobile currently only works on Android, but an iOS version is scheduled for next week. The licensing from Corel will be different from Graebert, one that is "better suited to Corel users."
Dassault Systemes licenses ARES from Graebert, changes some of its functions, and renames it DraftSight. It has worked with Graebert since 2010, and is finding that the 2D side is exploding. Dassault itself is focusing on cloud-based CAD but also desktop-based CAD. And so products by Graebert fit into this.
DraftSight has a G-code module, which is needed to communicate with computer-controlled machines.
DraftSight Floorplanning works with smartphones that have 3D scanners to scan the world, turn it into a point cloud, and then into DWG. Import that into DraftSight as planes and surfaces.
Geovia is integrated with DraftSight to record mining. Delmia is integrated with DraftSight to document yacht design and manufacturing.
DraftSight 2018 is available today for download with the enhancements from ARES 2018, but also adds smart dimensioning that adjusts dimension placement, plus additional DraftSight-only functions.
Naturally, DraftSight's purpose is also to tempt users to Solidworks.
Dassault is assessing Kudo and Touch, and at some point in the future will offer tablet and browser-based CAD, along with verticals.
ARES Kudo is Graebert's CAD software that runs in Web browsers. They've been talking about it, showing it for several years now, but over the last year it became available in a roll-out method.
Getting 2D CAD to work fast in a Web browser is a challenge and so Graebert got the DWG load process to speed up by 4x to 5x recently. But more performance improvements are to be expected in the next year.
Here are the functions that Graebert is working on:
Graebert has licensed the real-time physics-based renderer from Unicorn, for only its 64-bit Windows version of ARES desktop. Price is 149 pounds or Euros. Until now, Graebert had been using the render engine from Artisan.
Now, there are two versions of the rendered available, quick and full. Graebert licensed the quick one so that customers get a rendering fairly quickly. We were shown the full render, which took about 30 minutes to fully render the bathroom scene.
Recommended are 8GB RAM and an nVidia graphics board, but it can also work with 4GB RAM and CPU-based rendering.
More than just desktop CAD
I've mentioned earlier that Graebert OEMs their software to several other software companies. It is rebranded as CorelCAD by Corel, DraftSight by Dassault Systems, and so on. The OEM versions can have different functions; as chief technical officer Robert Graebert told me, generating a custom version of ARES for an OEM customer involves pushing a few buttons and it is generated in five minutes -- that's how finely tuned they made their OEM business,
I'll talk more about OEM customers later, but for now I want to list all of the software Graebert offers:
@GraebertCAD here at the annual conference announced the features that will be added to ARES 2018. The #1 feature is that anyone can download the beta software as of today:
Plus several new system variables to support the new functions: CMLeaderStyle, MLeaderStyle, UcsDetect, and ColorTheme
ARES, et al
Alright, here we are waiting for the start of Graebert Annual Meeting 2017 here in Berlin, Germany. The conference got its name from history, in that it began as literally an annual meeting for staff of Graebert Gmbh. A few years ago -- maybe five years ago? -- they decided to start inviting the CAD media to better publicize the company and its software.
Partners who OEM the ARES software or its technology -- Corel with CorelCAD, Dassault Systems with DraftSight, Onshape with the drafting component, and others -- present, and this year for the first time third-party developers will be presenting their add-ons.
The conference is a day and a bit. Today are the formal presentations, while tomorrow is devoted to one-on-one (or one-on-many) meetings. There is time for the CAD media to interview the ceo of Graebert for an hour, something that is appreciated by the CAD media, as many CAD ceos don't have time to speak directly.
One of the features of this conference is that it is held each year in a spectacular location. This year it is in the Axica conference center, located in a bank right next door to the American Embassy. In the figure above, we see the exterior of the conference center inside the walls and windows of the bank, Being inside a bank, the conference center is smallish, but remarkable, having been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. You know the drill: he crumples up a piece of paper, and his staff has to replicate it in CAD. See figure below.
Graebert is the #2 CAD program in Japan, after AutoCAD. The company is also concentrating on India, with a roadshow planned for December. The company itself is growing through hires and geographically.
"Trinity" is the name of the unique approach Graebert takes to CAD:
Three of the top 5 construction companies in Japan use ARES, but when they learned of Trinity, they realized that Graebert was more than just a me-too product; that it is a viable competitor to the market leader. "AutoCAD is being replaced when new employees join the company, and when computers are replaced." Just yesterday, one of them said that they are replacing 2000 computers, each with ARES. On the other end, some firms have thousands of old laptops, on which ARES runs more efficiently than AutoCAD.
[Disclosure: Graebert provided some of my travel expenses, accommodation in Berlin, and some meals.]
Sibolan S1 portable monitor
I was envious of editor Roopinder Tara having a second monitor for his laptop. I believe that it was an add-on from Lenovo, who also made the laptop. When we editors are into serious writing and editing, two monitors are a must! Some guys use the LCD tv screen in their hotel rooms, but they aren't particularly portable.
And so year or two ago, I looked into getting one, but they were priced like $1,500 -- shocking, given that it is basically a laptop-less screen!
On a whim, I last week checked again on eBay to find that laptop monitors are a more reasonable US$200 or less. I picked the S1 model from Sibolan, because I wanted a screen roughly the same size as the one on my HP Spectre laptop, 13.3", and with HD resolution (1920x1080). It's a handsome unit. See figure below.
The frame is aluminum to help protect it during travel, and it comes with a neoprene case to protect it further. The weight is 800g (1.8 pounds), excluding all the accessories.
Side and Back. It has its ports along the edge. In the figure below, from top to bottom, these are:
(Because HDMI carries both video and audio, this monitor is able to play back sound through headphones or its speakers. I did not test the sound capabilities.)
A series of buttons on the back of the screen toggle the power and control the menu. The buttons are really awkward to use, so it's good the monitor includes a remote control. The back also sports two threaded non-VESA-standard screw holes -- for a stand or wall mount? -- the vendor does not say.
Accessories. Speaking of accessories, the package includes the following items. In the figure below, left to right, these are:
Here is what I learned using the monitor:
Power. I can power the monitor with the included power supply, but there are two portable alternatives Ican use in the field.
Mystery USB Port. There is a USB port in the monitor, whose purpose the minimal instructions don't explain. I plugged in a smartphone, and it began to charge it. I checked the vendor's Web site on eBay to find that it warned against plugging in a smartphone to charge it! I suppose that it would draw so much power that the monitor might not work correctly.
The Web page indicated that the USB port was a OTG port, short for "on the go," a not-so-clever name for being able to plug in portable storage devices, like thumb drives and portable hard drives. I attached a thumb drive, but the monitor did not react to it. So I really don't know what the port is for.
Remote Control. The remote control makes it easier to change settings (like volume, brightness, and menu) than the rear-mounted buttons. I had to supply the two AAA batteries. I wish the remote were a mini one, sized like a credit card, and not full size, for greater portability.
Using with Cameras. The vendor notes that this monitor can be used with any device that outputs HDMI, such as gaming consoles and cameras. I can see it being useful for photographers and videographers to preview their work in the field.
I tested it with a Nikon DSLR. Digital cameras have a miniHDMI port, usually, and so I found an adapter for the Nikon -- miniHDMI for both the camera and the screen. It was wonderful viewing images from the camera on a large, bight screen -- as compared with the small, dim screen on the back of the back of the D3100. Given that the monitor has two HDMI inputs, a photographer could switch back and forth (with the remote) between two inputs, such as camera and laptop.
- - -
I am using the monitor right now to help write my latest book, and it works well. I was able to match the color and brightness quite closely to that of my laptop's screen. I'll take it along when I next head to Europe to see how it travels. But there sure are an awful lot of accessories to haul along!
I was able to save some space by substituting accessories. The bulkiest item is the power supply.
These kinds of portable monitors are available in other sizes, such as 15" and 17", and other colors, such as red and blue. The best way to find one is to search eBay for Sibolan.
HP Z8, Z6 and Z4
It used to be that workstation makers made their own CPUs. I suppose Oracle-owned Sun is the only one still doing so, called the SPARC. Integraph was the most interesting, as in the 1980s they designed their own CPUs to power their own workstations on which to run their own CAD software. An Apple before its time. (Intergraph benefited financially later in its post-hardware era when courts in USA and Germany found Intel stole intellectual property from Intergraph for use in the wildly-popular Pentium CPUs.)
By relying on Intel and AMD, workstation makers limit the power of their machines to whatever Intel and AMD decide to offer. It also means they cannot announce new computer models until Intel and AMD give the OK, and so that means we see a rush of releases from all the vendors at roughly the same time. Very monolithic.
And so last week it was HP's turn to brief the press on their latest hardware: three updated workstations plus a curved monitor. Even though HP is helpless when it comes to advances in CPUs, their design center in Fort Collins USA can keep improving nearly every other aspect of workstations.
The new top-of-the-line model is the Z8, of which HP boast "Users can run 3D simulations and edit 8K video in real time with up to 56 processing cores and up to 3B of main memory, 3x the capacity of its predecessor." The price starts at $2,439 and you can imagine that those three terrabytes are going to multiples more in cost. For the official brochure, check out http://h20195.www2.hp.com/v2/GetDocument.aspx?docname=4AA7-0863ENUC
Looking inside the Z8
(all images from HP)
The new wide monitor from HP
Q: Are Thunderbolt ports supported at all?
HP: Thunderbolt 3 add-on cards will be made available after launch; USB-C ports are standard on the front and rear of the chassis.
Q: Do the new computers support u.2 drives?
HP: We are investigating them, and exploring customer demand. We already support m.2 drives. [U.2 connects solid state drives by using up to four PCI Express lanes.]
Q: How many slots can take a single-width card?
HP: Up to 4 single-wide PCI cards, depending on the model.
Q: How are PCI cards mounted?
HP: There are rails for the cards with clips. The raisers are a kind of proprietary method for how we attach cards to the bus.
Q: What use are the two blanking panels in the front?
HP: They are standard 5-1/4" bays, so they can be used for anything: more internal drives, external access ports, high-end audio cards, and so on.
Q: Was the Nautilus [cooling system] designed in-house or did you partner with an external firm?
HP: It was designed by our in-house mechanical and thermal engineers, and I am very proud of them.
Q: Is the new monitor display matte or glossy? Is the panel a true 10-bit display?
HP: Matte, and it is a 8+2 panel that emulates a 10-bit display.
Q: Which ethernet controller does it use?
HP: Intel's 10Gb/sec chipset.
Q: Which operating systems does it support?
HP: Windows 10, 7, and multiple flavors and distributions of Linux. We have a strong Linux team here at Fort Collins.
Q: Will AMD's CPUs be supported?
HP: These ones announced today run Intel CPUs, so we are not making any announcements regarding AMD.
Day 2 of the Teigha conference traditionally has been for 1-on-1 meetings, where members can meet with ODA programmers. This year, we have a spillover, however. Several vendors are holding side conferences to talk technically about their software: C3D Labs, LEDAS, and Visual Solutions.
C3D Labs offers a 3D modeling kernel to ODA members at a reduced price. This is, in fact, the third solid modeling kernel available to ODA members. The ODA has one it developed on its own, a free stop-gap that is good enough for simple 3D modeling, but not good enough for real 3D. Second option is to license ACIS from Dassault Spatial, but it is rumoured to be expensive, partly because the license involves royalties. I don't know.
The third option arrived recently is from C3D Labs of Russia. Their license involves no royalties, and is free for evaluation and educational use. A one-time fee costs $1,000 for non-profits, $5000 for commercial use, and a few other price levels. See figure below. If the price seems high, but apparently is low compared to competitors and considering that updates are delivered every four weeks.
C3D Labs touts how easy it is to get the license: go to the ODA Web site and add it to your shopping basket. Pay, then download.
Note that the ODA version is different from the standard C3D modeler, which we will hear about later this morning. The company also has a converter (translator) and a solver (constraints) which are not available through Teigha, but could be, if customers demand.
As a reminder, 3D solids are mathematically represented by b-rep, short for boundary representation. This represents 3D solids by their surfaces (the part we see), also known as the boundary -- and their insides, which we don't see. The C3D modeler sees the boundary as a series of faces, as illustrated below.
Nikolay Golovanov was instrumental in writing the C3D kernel for KOMPAS-3D some 20 years ago. More recently, the kernel was spun off as a subsidiary company, C3D Labs, whose job is to market and commercialize the software. His thinking on 3D kernels was collected in the book, Geometric Modeling.
One of C3D Labs' customers is here at the ODA conference. MKA Software and Engineering Solutions is from Turkey, and their software generates drawings for steel, one-story buildings. I say "generate" because the user enters parameters, such as area and roof style, and the software generates all of the drawings. The crucial part in steel design are the details of the connections between beams and columns.
This firm used the Open Cascade kernel, but found it was not very fast. They tried a number of other options, but then as new members of the ODA, they decided to switch to C3D Labs. It is so new, it is still under development, and so we didn't get to see a demo.
Difference Between Two C3D Versions
C3D Modeler for Teigha consists only of the modeler and some of the translator. Missing are constraints, rendering, and the full translation unit. See the figure below for the full list of differences:
Nevertheless, C3D modeler handles:
It runs on all operating systems, including Android and iOS. The API is open for customers to build on top of C3D.
Another software firm using C3D is LEDAS of Russia. They are a developer, so use C3D to develop software for other CAD firms. Their most prominent customer is Dassault Systemes, for whom they worked 12 years.
Today, we are hearing from Nikolay Syntnikov, coo of Ledas. He is describing some of the projects that they are currently involved in. One is for a new CAD program meant for use in Asia, backed by a large investor. He could not name it, as the software is still under development. But the slide below shows some of the parameters of the project.
Also big announcement here is the new LEDAS Cloud Platform, still being developed. It is meant for customers who are loathe to store their drawings on servers hosted by the likes of Autodesk or Onshape. They hope to ship LCP in a couple of months.
[Press F5 to refresh this page.]
[Disclosure: ODA paid for my airfare, hotel, and some meals.]
(For coverage of Teigha Publish SDK for 3D PDF output, see my twitter stream at @upfrontezine .)
Switching over to the Teigha Cloud presentation, this is for viewing and editing drawings in a Web browser, where the code is stored on a remote server computer. It uses Web Assembly format, which reduces the size of files needed: Library size is half the size, initializes 10x faster, and parses data, such as a 5MB drawing, 30% faster.
The Update Manager opens large drawings on any client device, meaning PC, tablet, or phone. As the user zooms and pan, the Update Manager shows more or fewer entities on the screen -- as shown by the trucks below.
When bandwidth is limited, smaller objects are removed from the screen. This improves the performance. To see the missing details, zoom into an area, and Update Manager sends along the small, missing entities to the screen. To know when to do this, the Web browser code needs to keep sending the server "camera" updates, the camera being the 3D viewpoint.
Teigha Cloud supports the revision manager, as shown below. It can compare different revisions. Revision data is stored on the back end; the front end only sees the revision list. Also supported: grips, markups, works with Teigha Visualize, and support for ACIS, Parasolid, and Revit files.
Coming soon: multi-threaded analysis and combined metafiles for optimized GPU rendering.
Teigha Cloud is offered by the ODA under a fixed fee license, meaning no royalties. Some functions cost extra, such as Revit support.
Sergy Stepantso, cloud team
The Open Design Alliance has been leading Autodesk. The CAD vendor initially refused to release a DWG read/write API, saying DXF was sufficient; but when it saw that ODA was doing well, it countered with its RealDWG API. There is no stand-alone API for dealing with Revit data, until the ODA began developing it; Autodesk has not (yet) responded to it.
Now the ODA is extending DWG's capabilities with revision control. This is essentially an unlimited undo-redo system but with a few more functions -- such as check-out, submit, merge, and update to revision.
The idea is to be able to save progress of your work, restart from any state, develop two or more versions of drawings in parallel, work collaboratively. See the image for an example.
Version keeping data is stored in the DWG file, but the version history and .dwg data is kept in a repository file. The oldest version is at the bottom, the newest at the top.
This allows multi-user editing, because an unlimited number of branches are permitted. Going a step further, it allows distributed working, where engineers are working in two different locations, with the database being in a remote location. It also handles conflict resolution, such as the same circle is changed by one user to 30mm and a second user to 15mm: the conflict is displayed for users to chose one.
Branches are shown in different colors, along with a description of what changed and a time stamp. If this seems to be similar to Onshape, that is no coincidence. ODA has worked with Onshape to figure out how to apply revision control to DWG.
Each branch has a name: there is a master drawing to which branches can be merged. You can compare what was done between revisions, like drawing compare in other software. During collaboration, both users see the same branch pattern.
Sergy Slezkin, Core team lead
The core of Teigha DWG has been split into Kernel and Drawings. Kernal is the file-format independent part.
On the Drawings side, it now supports DWG 2018, digital signatures, and large objects that are bigger than 256MB, associative center marks and center lines, new kinds of associative dimensions, associative surfaces, and .rcp file format for point cloud data.
RCP is the point cloud format used by ODA. It consists of a preview image and data in XML format. DGN now supports read-write and render of terrain model elements, as well as tables (r/w, create, render, and edit), and item types. (Tag and tag sets are deprecated.)
Ivan Serbinovsky, team lead
Prague castle, world's largest, overlooking the Vltava River
We're back from the break and now getting a look at how to bring custom geometry into the ODA's new Teigha BIM API.
TIP: Remember to read our Twitter stream at @upfrontezine to learn about other new functions from ODA. And pictures!
Teigha BIM is a stand-alone SDK. It has nothing to do with DWG, despite the similarity of name. It consists of high-level classes that access all BIM entities, all file data, and can filter database objects. It converts 2D and 3D geometric BIM representations to Teigha's objects, and provides access to b-rep geometry. It reads RVT and RFA from 2011 through 2018, but writes only the 2018 release; ODA is working writing to 2011-2017 formats.
It is, however, currently limited to non-parametric geometry, but initial support for parametric entities is due to appear by the end of this year. Renderings are generated by Teigha's rendering framework, as shown below.
At the conference here, we are being shown visual styles, split faces, annotation elements -- these all work in the Teigha BIM environment.
Alexander Federov, senior software engineer
So now we get into the nitty-gritty details of new APIs from ODA. The first is the new Visualize API. It is a file-independent module meant for handling display duties. It is not tied to DWG or any other file format.
It handles the following tasks:
The Visualize API is implemented in object-oriented C++ and works with all common compilers found in Linux, MacOS, and Windows.
It does the following renderings:
Visualize can output to 2D and 3D PDF files.
In summary, Visualize is meant to speed the development of software that might or might not work with DWG files, such as markup software and file viewers -- as well as CAD systems. We are seeing examples of how it can be used as an ACIS SAT viewer, a point cloud viewer, and a DWG viewer.
Sergy Vishnevstsky, Development Director
John Lennon wall in Prague
Sergy Vishnevstsky's question to us is, What is necessary to add new functions to software? For instance, engineering workflow improvements involve data exchange, data representation, onsite field inspection, and collaborative work.
Interoperability is the key aspect of ODA, which has proven its ability to support five formats: DWG, DGN (Microstation), RVT (Revit), RCS (point clouds), and PRC (3D PDF).
In addition, ODA supports a number of export formats, and extensions for architectural, civil, and mechanical.
In addition, ODA supports five Web browsers and three operation systems. The result is 300GB of code that is updated every two weeks.
For 2018, ODA adds digital signatures, associative elements, and 2018 support in DWG; graphics export to RVT; and new elements in DGN.
Keynote: The Evolving Mandate
ODA began in 1998 with a crystal-clear mission to work with .dwg files, to keep pace with new releases of .dwg, and set up as a non-profit. "We take care of member needs, and respond to their needs," says ODA ceo Neil Peterson. The first release was R2000 .dwg in 1999 based on Marcomp code, but the quickly began a rewrite. By 2003 it was no longer just .dwg but now had complimentary functions like importing other file formats and displaying drawings.
TIP: ODA uses the word "rendering" to refer to displaying drawings in wireframe on the screen. It does not mean photorealistic rendering. As you will see later, ODA is starting to use the word "visualize" instead.
By 2011 most bugs were erased, and now there is a proliferation of Teigha-based CAD programs, with millions of users. There are 1,200 members. To create ancillary products, members need to fund it themselves, such as Civil, BIM, and Mechanical specialties. Some new members have joined only because of the Revit work, and have no interest in Teigha.
"There was some strong talk a few years ago, with the cloud replacing the desktop. We don't see that happening. There is a healthy market for cloud applications, and a healthy market for the desktop market. Interest in the cloud is fluctuating." The ODA is not replacing the desktop with the cloud; they are porting the features to the cloud so that it is easier to develop for both. For the ODA, the cloud is a technology, not a service. They aim to provide visualization (display), markup and full editing, and a client-server setup for other applications.
The ODA sees development in AutoCAD slowing, with the last change in .dwg taking five years. As well, the feature list for recent releases of AutoCAD is getting smaller and smaller.
"We have been here for 19 years, and we want to keep this data accessible for another 50 or more years. We don't know what will happen in 50 years -- operating systems might go away, programming languages might go away -- but we want to keep up with it." The ODA is working on making the code base more modular to make it easier to maintain.
DWG is fundamentally good technology, says Mr Peterson, with few limitations. ODA is working to overcome the limitations, such as version control, multi-user editing (two users can make changes to the same drawing at the same time), and so on. ODA is planning new technology with no extra fees for the cloud, visualization, and publishing.
Back in Prague
Alright, here we are in Prague, just waiting for the annual Open Design Alliance conference to begin. This is my fourth time in the city, and I am starting to feel like a local. Even the occasional tourist mistakes me for a local, asking for directions to such and such.
TIP: When visiting Prague, the best thing to do is wander down side alleys to avoid the hordes of tourist groups that now plug up the pedestrian-only streets of the old city. Admire the beautiful buildings and scenes on the nearly-empty back streets, get yourself lost by taking random turns, and then use Google Maps to find your way back again.
About 130 are expected at the 1.5-day conference this year. ODA president Neil Peterson tells me there was a flurry of additional attendees in the last few weeks, forcing him to find a larger meeting room at the hotel.
The Rise of the Clones
This comes as no surprise to me. As some people worry about Autodesk losing its way, customers are looking for alternatives to being locked into subscription-only, (eventually) cloud-only environment that's indifferent to their actual, real-world needs. Competitors to Autodesk large and small depend on the ODA to provide the transition away from Autodesk software -- whether with DWG and RVT files, or with APIs and proxies.
The ODA has become the Microsoft of the CAD world. Most software relies on APIs provided by Microsoft and Apple to make new software development easier. Using these APIs means programmers have a lot less work to do. They don't need to write the code that draws a dialog box or saves data to a file; Microsoft and Apple have already done that for them.
In the same way, the ODA provides APIs to CAD vendors, and the programmers have less work to do. If you CAD software exports models to 3D PDF, opens point clouds, or edits proxy objects, then you probably have the ODA to thank.
Pilgrimage to Prague
And so it is that the competitors to Autodesk come each year to Prague to find out what the ODA has developed this year, for them to add to their CAD programs next year.
An aspect to this conference that I have not seen at any other is that attendees can talk one-on-one with the ODA's programming team -- solve programming problems, work through a bug, or suggest a new feature. All of day 2 is devoted to this one-on-one time.
As the ODA grows in importance, the groups that want to represent their services grows. And so this one-day conference has become a 1.5-day, with a couple sessions for the second day from third-parties who license their code to ODA members at a reduced price.
The conference begins at 9:30am European Central Time (12:30 midnight Pacific time), and I look forward to reporting on it for you.
ANSYS yesterday released details of its new GPU-based simulation software, Discovery Live, which, the company says, runs faster on a desktop computer than in the cloud. It is an application of HPC [high-performance computing] that uses parallel processing to simulation programs very quickly. Special computer hardware is not needed, just any reasonably recent NVIDIA graphics board that supports CUDA [compute unified device architecture], and most do. HPC on GPUs has long been a dream of the CAx industry, and now it appears to have become reality.
Following the demo they gave me (see XXXXXXXXXXX), I had some questions for the firm.
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Ralph Grabowski: How long did it take ANSYS to develop the Discovery Live software?
ANSYS: A few years. It's hard to answer this question, as this product brings together work done over many years from different parts of the organization. It was not developed from a blank slate, but instead standing on the work and shoulders of our development teams.
Grabowski: What are the kinds of simulation that Discovery Live can handle?
ANSYS: Discovery Live can simulate four types of physics:
More physics will be added in future releases.
Grabowski: Is there a limitation to the model size? For example, could it handle a skyscraper?
ANSYS: There is no limit on size or complexity, but there is a limit on fidelity depending on your graphics card. The larger your card [with more onboard RAM], the more detail it can resolve. You could simulate airflow around an entire city, for example.
Figure 2: Discovery Live performing real-time heat flow analysis as a heat sink is edited
Grabowski: How is meshing done automatically? I assume it ignores small parts automatically.
ANSYS: The simulation methodology is proprietary to ANSYS, and so we do not share details about how it works.
Grabowski: Does the software assume the material, and which material does it assume?
ANSYS: The software assigns a default material every time you start a simulation. Because material is usually one of the first items you want to specify, we make it direct and simple to change or define your own materials.
Grabowski: The graphics board named in the presentation is a GeForce, which is associated with computer games, and not the Quadro, which is traditionally associated with CAD. Why is this?
ANSYS: We leverage the power of GPUs through CUDA. CUDA allows us to use the horsepower of whichever type of card you have available.
Grabowski: AMD can support the CUDA programming language through its HIP API [heterogeneous-compute interface for portability]. Does Discovery Live run on AMD boards?
ANSYS: Discovery Live currently runs only on NVIDIA GPUs.
Figure 3: Fluid flow analysis (in this case, air) of one truck passing a second one
- - -
Discovery Live is available now in beta and is due to ship in Q1 of 2018. More info from www.ansys.com/discovery
Massively-parallel computing on the the desktop
In the minds of engineers, simulation is an afterthought. We concern ourselves primarily with solving designs geometrically, and many of our designs don't need to be tested against failure, anyhow. For those that do, we let someone else worry about it after it fails.
And so companies that sell simulation software (and those that want to expand into the realm) are frustrated by our insufficient use of their software. The idea expressed by companies like ANSYS (which sells simulation primarily) and Autodesk (which sells it on the side) is this: if we can make simulation easier to use, then more people will use it (and buy more). This leads to phrases like "anyone can use it" and "software democracy!"
There is, however, the counter-argument from experienced engineers: simulation is sufficiently critical that if designers don't understand what the are doing, then the designs can screw up badly -- like a spreadsheet with a bad formula. The most critical aspect is load assumptions. Get them wrong, and the structure fails, no matter what other loads it resisted successfully. And so we engineers prefer that simulation specialists do the work.
ANSYS is nevertheless hopeful that one day the number of designers using simulation will eventually reach 1 in 1. They quote the following trend line from one of their customers:
ANSYS Discovery Live
To reach the 1-in-1 goal, ANSYS created software that doesn't need geometry that's been "fixed" for simulation, does not need users to apply meshing, and offers users no waiting for solving. Discovery Live performs simulation tasks in real-time, reducing the time hours to seconds. See figure 1.
Figure 1: ANSYS Discovery Live doing real time fluid flow analysis
Discovery Live integrates its real-time simulation with a history-free modeler, SpaceClaim, which ANSYS owns. It operates on the desktop, not in the cloud; it gets its speed by running on a single CUDA-compatible GPU from nVidia.
To use Discovery Live, the designer needs to specify only the inlets and outlets (for fluid flows) or forces and attachment points (for stresses):
The software makes assumptions for nearly everything, like velocities and temperatures, and then shows the results in a cross-section view, automatically so that designers don't need to take the time to set them up. You can adjust the assumed values, of course.
How It Works, and Where It Doesn't
ANSYS wrote Discovery Live to run on GPUs, a process that took several years. GPU is short for graphics processing unit, the chip that powers graphics boards, such as from AMD and NVIDIA. The fascinating part is that GPUs contain an excess capacity of computing power, largely untapped in the CAD world.
It is untapped, because GPUs process data differently from the CPU that runs CAD, Windows, and MacOS on our computers: GPUs process data in parallel, running as many as 3,500 operations at the same time -- a.k.a. massively parallel. (CPUs do between only one and about a dozen operations at a time.)
This makes GPUs suitable for processing graphics used for real time 3D rotations and renderings, but is unsuitable for most other software. This is because most software can only do one thing at a time. In order to do 3,500 things at once, the program needs to split the task into 3,500 threads, run them in parallel, and then put together the result afterwards.
The catch is that programs need to set up this task-splitting ahead of time, which means the program needs to know ahead of time what the user wants to do. In CAD, only a very few operations lend themselves to task-splitting (a.k.a. multiple threads), such as loading a drawing file from the hard drive or generating a photo-realistic rendering.
Another task in CAD that benefits greatly from multi-threaded operations is FEA, finite element analysis, the technology behind simulations. FEA breaks up models into tiny chunks, and then operates on each chunk in each thread. This make FEA an ideal application for GPUs.
AMD and NVIDIA have long dreamed to mainstream software running on their powerful GPUs, because that would boost sales of their boards; most users have no need for them, because the graphics that Intel throws in for free is good enough for most users.
To use Discovery Live, your computer needs a graphics board that runs the CUDA [Compute Unified Device Architecture] engine -- nVidia only, not AMD. For example, a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics board (see figure 2) has 3,584 cores, meaning it can run 3,584 operations at the same time, each at a speed of 1.5GHz. This is like running one operation at 5.4THz (5,400GHz) -- that that, Intel!
The graphics board carries 11GB of its own RAM running at 11gigabits per second, moving 352 bits simultaneously -- 5.5x the 64 bits in Intel CPUs. The price is a reasonable $699, but it needs a desktop computer with a 600W power supply. https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/products/10series/geforce-gtx-1080-ti/
Figure 2: GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics board from nVidia runs certain software about 1,500x faster than an Intel CPU
And so Discovery Live gets its extreme speed by running in parallel on a GPU:
There is a cloud option for those who do not have the right graphics board, "but the best experience is running it on the desktop," says ANSYS senior product marketing manager John Graham.
The other part of Discovery Live is SpaceClaim, the direct modeler that shook up the MCAD industry when it was introduced in 2005. (I say shook up, because in the aftermath PTC released Creo, Autodesk released Fusion, and Siemens released Synchronous Technology.) The SpaceClaim part lets you edit models interactively during the simulation, as well as build new models from scratch. You can watch the simulation interact as you add and subtract elements.
The software assumes a default material, but you can assign a specific one. Meshing is done automatically through a proprietary process developed by ANSYS.
A simple line graph cleverly tracks the change in efficiency as you make changes. Another part of Discovery Live is, however, manual: you have to repeatedly make changes in order to approach some optimum.
"Simulation is not cheap, but in Discovery Live model-complexity is free," says Mr Graham. Fillets, sharp edges, and other details are a problem for meshing, but not for Discovery Live. "Start learning physics instead of simulation, " he adds.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
My first thought following the demo went into the future: "This does away with the need for cloud computing." And so I wrote an editorial on the implication of using a GPU for edge computing, and how the cloud suffers from a slow data bus speed. See http://www.worldcadaccess.com on WorldCAD Access
Another editor put it this way: "This is the most impressive software demo I've seen in two decades."
Now, this software isn't for everyone, and even ANSYS says so. It is meant primarily for use at the start of the design process, and somewhat in the middle. Discovery Live is accurate in a certain direction, but should not be used for final validation. It is fine to ensure a product doesn't break, but is not suited for validation where human lives are involved. For studies that require deeper physics, ANSYS will sell you AIM. (See http://www.ansys.com/products/3d-design/ansys-aim .)
The hidden advantage of running software on GPUs is that as more cores are added to graphics boards in the future, the software just gets faster. It scales upwards automatically.
Discovery Live will be free during the beta phase, and then is due to be released and sold in the first quarter of 2018. ANSYS plans to add more simulation analyses to the software in the future.
A bus runs over Autodesk's future
When I wrote last week here on WorldCAD Access about how edge computing will replace cloud computing for certain applications, I could not know that a week later I'd be given a demo from a large software company about edge computing for 3D design.
The idea behind edge computing is this: the Internet as the data bus that connects the CPU with the display is too slow. The examples of edge computing I wrote about last week were for autonomous automobiles, drones, and robots -- they can't wait for data to arrive slowly.
A week on, and I've just learned of a new real-time program from ANSYS that runs on your desktop computer and laptop. The demo jock told me that there will be a cloud version for those who don't have the specific hardware, "but the best experience is running it on the desktop."
This is the sort of application that Autodesk all along has been telling us works best on the cloud. However, whether it is cloud-based rendering, simulation, or translation, Autodesk runs them all in batch mode: we submit a job, we wait for the results, and for some apps we pay for every run.
The cloud really is little improved over the computing environment of the 1970s-early 1980s when I ran programs on a terminal connected to the Amdahl mainframe computer at the University of British Columbia: we submitted the job, we waited, we paid.
The personal computer was greeted with such excitement by we engineers precisely because of the freedom it gave us -- freedom from paying for each computing job, freedom from waiting, and, back then, freedom from driving out to the computing center! This new technology from ANSYS moves the fastest simulation runs from the cloud back onto the desktop.
If the former Autodesk CEO blew a gasket over the claims by first-MCAD-on-the-cloud Onshape, I'll be interested in the reaction from the new CEO to this edge technology that starts to drive a stake into much of what Autodesk has been working towards: regular income derived from (eventually) locking all their software to the cloud.
The disrupter will be announced by ANSYS September 7. More details here on WorldCAD Access that day, and through an ANSYS Webinar: register at http://www.ansys.com/products/3d-design/discovery-live-registration
Reviewed by Ralph Grabowski
When the public relations firm for Benq asked me if I would want to review one of their new 27" and 32" monitors aimed (in part) at CAD users, I asked for the smaller one of the two. That's because a couple of years back I reviewed the first-ever 30" monitor from Lenovo, and was unpleasantly overwhelmed by its size, but even more so with its weight. Sure, once placed on my desk, the 25-pound weight was no longer a problem, but the huge size was overwhelming for my desk and the adjacent monitors. (From what I can tell, it seems that Lenovo no longer sells monitors that big.)
I have been looking for a possible replacement for my primary monitor, a 23" Samsung with the rather unusual resolution of 2048x1152 that has served me well for many years now. The resolution is a bit higher than the standard HD [high definition] resolution of 1920x1080. For me, it is ideal, as it lets the InDesign typesetting software that I use a lot to display full width of pages; they don't quite fit an HD screen.
Benq sent me the PD2710QC model. It is a 27" (measured diagonally) monitor with a top resolution of 2560x1440, aka "2K." See figure 1. It is very new, have begun shipping in late-July.
Figure 1: The "27" in the model number alerts us that this is a 27" monitor (All images sourced from Benq)
After the FedEx man hauled the box to my door, I slid the styrofoam-encased monitor out from the cardboard shipping box. The monitor came in three pieces:
At 15 pounds net weight, the entire unit was not too heavy to lift onto a spare spot on my desk. The base is the largest I've ever seen on a monitor, the size of a laptop and indeed designed to store laptops. At first, the base disconcertingly rocked forward and backwards, but then I found the headphone hook had gotten underneath; Benq provides it to stores a set of headphones on the back of the monitor.
The stand uses friction fit to slide the monitor up and down by five inches. I find the height adjustment handy in placing it in-line with my other monitors, both of which need extra supports to reach the eye-level height that I require. The Benq monitor tilts up by 20 degrees and down by 5, swivels side-to-side by 45 degrees, and rotates into portrait mode by 90 degrees. This last action can be limited by the length of the cables attached to the monitor.
It used to be that you had to buy a monitor that precisely matched the output of the graphics board: resolution and synchronization. Install a different graphics board, and you might need a whole new multi-thousand-dollar monitor. NEC solved that problem in 1985 with its MultiSync technology, but even there it was limited to 20 changes in graphics boards specs.
With modern monitors, graphics boards, and drivers, synchronization is a problem of the past. Today the problem is the multiplicity of connectors; the VGA standard established by IBM (and updated by VESA) is not longer sufficient. And so today the most important part of a monitor is the number and style of ports. Cheap monitors tend to have just one, or maybe two.
Figure 2: Ports on the back of the monitor
The back of the Benq monitor has these inputs and outputs:
One power button powers down the monitor, while the second one puts the monitor to sleep -- which it would do anyhow when the computer orders it to do so.
The package includes a useful converter cable with HDMI at one end and miniDP at the other. The base has a plethora of ports. See figure 3. Don't read the printed instructions, as they are mute on the subject; instead, insert the CD (if your computer still has a CD drive) and read the manual you find there.
Figure 3: Ports in the base of the monitor
Here's all the connectors that the base provides us:
If your laptop has a USB Type C port (mine does not), then you can connect it to the base and then use the base as an expansion box -- complete with ethernet network connection. Benq includes a USB Type C cable, but you need to manually connect the base to the monitor using a miniDP-microDP cable (included). When connected, the base charges the laptop through USB-C.
I first plugged an HDMI cable between the new monitor and a DisplayPort adapter attached to my desktop computer. When I turned on the PD2710QC, I was pleased to see the on-light is a discrete tiny white LED. (When it goes to sleep, the LED is an equally discreet orange; no bright blue flashing LEDs, to my relief!) My Windows 7 system immediately recognized the new attachment, but limited the top resolution to HD. Nevertheless, the aging Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics board easily supported the new monitors and the other two I use every day.
I asked Benq tech support why their 2K monitor wasn't. They explained that the resolution deficiency problem was due to me using an adapter. (The Nvidia graphics board has no HDMI ports.) When I instead hooked up the microDP-to-miniDP cable that Benq provides, the monitor immediately switched to 2K resolution.
Benq is quite proud of the color calibration and even includes a certificate in a serious-looking black envelop to certify the monitor was calibrated at the factory. In my line of work, however, I have no need for color calibration, and I was unable to appreciate the effort they made.
I can adjust the monitor's display for several modes. One is called "Darkroom" for photo editing, another is for animation creation, and a third for CAD/CAM. The first two modes lighten up dark areas; the latter darkens them. Naturally, I was primarily interested in CAD/CAM mode.
BenQ says CAD/CAM mode "offers superior image contrast, allowing for lines and shapes of technical illustrations to stand out." Its monitor is certified for use with Solidworks. The "How to Set Up CAD/CAM Mode" instructions link, unhappily, to a YouTube video with bouncy music. Basically, it told me to go into the monitor's menu, and then choose CAD/CAM mode.
But the menu buttons are positioned on the right-rear of the monitor. I suppose this is meant to be ergonomically easier on right-handed people than buttons mounted on the front. With the unlabeled buttons on the rear, however, I am working blind, and huge monitors usually are located more than an arm's length away. Left-handed people may have to twist their arm by 180 degrees. There was no remote control included, as I saw one time at the Benq booth for another model. Three of the menu buttons can be customized to directly switch modes. I never needed to, but assigning a button to input switching would useful when more than one computer is attached to the monitor.
The monitor package includes a CD with utility software named Display Pilot. While I was disappointed that Display Pilot does not control all of the menus, it does provide access to some functions, such as turning on CAD/CAM mode. (A word about Display Pilot: it is written by a third-party, uses a Windows-95-era-looking installation program, and runs slowly.)
It turns out that CAD/CAM mode merely cranks up the gamma correction to 5, making dark areas, such as lines, very dark, while leaving light areas alone. The opposite happens with Darkroom and Animation modes: gamma correction is dialed down to 0, so that dark areas are much lighter.
I fired up BricsCAD V18, but I could see no difference between Standard and CAD/CAM mode on the monitor. Finally, I tested the Benq monitor with InDesign. I was curious to see how much of a page its 2K resolution would display. Well, I was impressed: two full pages are seen clearly. I could work with that! See f
Figure 4: InDesign clearly displaying two pages on the 2K monitor
This monitor is brand-new, and it shows by having a plethora of ports and being very bright. I like the easy-sliding stand, which is useful when I turn the monitor to view it (for online streaming) from the couch.
If you want a generic expansion base for your laptop that sports a USB-C port, then this monitor might be for you. Check out the laptop compatibility list at https://benqimage.blob.core.windows.net/benq-img/PD2710QC_compatibility_list.pdf . I was, however, unable to test the base, as I have no laptop with the USB-C connector. (The CD includes an ethernet driver, so I suppose that has to be installed.) I've never actually found any expansion base useful, as the only thing I occasionally plug in is an external monitor. (Even there, I could perhaps use Miracast to connect wirelessly to the monitor.)
$600 for this monitor seems steep, given that Benq's slightly-older PD2700Q monitor has exactly the same specs, but without the expansion port base, and is onlt $330.
If you have no need for the expansion base, then check out that PD2700Q, which is available in 24", 27", and 31" sizes in 2K and 4K (3840x2160) resolutions Given the choice, I would probably go with the 24" one at 2K, as my eyes don't do well with ultra-high resolutions!
Panel Type IPS
Maximum resolution 2560x1440
Display area 596.7mm x 335.7mm
VESA wall mounting 100X100mm
Display screen coating Anti-Glare
Flicker-free rechnology Yes
Preset color temperatures Normal (6500°K), Reddish (5700°K), Bluish (9300°K), User Mode
Low blue light Yes
Brightness 350 nits
Native contrast 1000:1
Dynamic contrast ratio 20M:1
Viewing angles 178 degrees
Response time 5ms(GtG), 14ms
Color gamut 100% sRGB/Rec.709
Technicolor Certified Yes
Color depth 8 bits
Supported by Windows 7, 8, 10, MacOS
Power saving mode 0.5W
Voltage Range 90~264 AC
ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom
Cell phones used to have great battery life, lasting weeks. Credit the low-res, monochrome screen for that. Then a decade ago Apple came up with a power-sucking full-screen phone where most of the innards consisted of a battery that might power the phone for most of a day.
It is sad that technology crucial to our daily lives can't make it through a single one of our daily lives. Recall the post-iPhone launch scenes at airports of desperate-looking business people squatting next to precious power outlets -- assuming that the airport made any available to the public, or wasn't suing its customers for theft of power.
Even the simple solution of removable battery packs has been taken away from us; for designers, catwalk-thin phones trump Walmart jeans. Admittedly, double-power batteries are annoyingly fat, doubling the thickness of any phone lucky enough to allow them. I got them for two phones. The Mugen 4400mHr replacement battery, for example, makes my Samsung K Zoom phone 20mm thick -- over 3/4". (That phone, by the way, sports a 10x optical zoom.)
The advent of cheap, lightweight portable battery chargers partially alleviates the problem today -- although they become just one more thing to take along.
But then something changed. I haven't read about it in the tech press, so I don't what is involved. The Umidigi Super (which I owned earlier this year) came with a 4000mAh battery, yet is a fraction of a millimeter thicker than an iPhone. The battery lasts comfortably all day, which means Android never, ever squawked at me about that 15% danger level.
Now I own the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom (see figure at left), whose signature feature is a second camera with a 2.3x optical zoom. Its battery is rated at 5000mAh, yet is thinner than the Super. See table below.
What's it like to carry around a phone as thin as an iPhone 6 Plus yet has a monster battery capacity? At the end of each day, it typically has 75% battery life remaining. The projected life span by the battery app is 2-3 days. (See figure at right.) One night I didn't plug it in properly, and so the phone did not charge. It ran all the next day to about 45%.
The battery is so strong that the phone's USB-C port can be used to recharge other devices. Suddenly, that ten-year-long worry about phones dying is gone -- poof!
Thickness of 5.5" Phones
Apple iPhone 6 Plus (2900mAh) 7.3mm
Umidigi Super (4000mAh) 8.5mm
ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom (5000mAh) 7.7mm
I've argued in the past that technology reaches a peak after manufacturers are done with seeing how much better they can make a product. Price competition kicks in, and they start removing functions to make the product cheaper to build, and less useful to customers to operate.
ASUS reached peak technology with the ZenFone 3 Zoom. Even as I write this, ASUS is announcing its ZenFone 4 Pro model (not to be confused with the ZenPhone 4 it released three years ago), which has worser specs in areas that I care about. The battery is down 3600mAh, the optical zoom is reduced to 2.0x, yet the thickness is similar at 7.6mm. Who knows what's going on inside?
The CAD industry is incestuous, with people wandering from firm to firm, starting new ones, joining old ones. The software itself tends to work and look the same, no matter the source -- with a few exceptions. Even without knowing the inside story, it is possible to speculate over the lines of heritage. Sometimes we get it wrong.
One factoid concerns the source of Revit, which seemingly came out of nowhere, helped by $50+ million in funding, and whose founders came from PTC -- a firm solidly based in MCAD, not AEC. (A factoid is speculation reported often enough to become accepted as fact.) The lineage of Revit was traced back to Sonata, which is not true.
Revit co-founder Irwin Jungreis writes to correct the factoid:
The article about Bricsys in the May 1 issue of upFront.eZine stated that Revit's "code pedigree goes back to Pro/Reflex and before that to grand-daddy Sonata".
In fact, neither the concepts nor the code base of Revit were derived from Pro/Reflex. The most recent issue of AEC magazine included my letter revealing the real relationship between Revit and Pro/Reflex. It may be seen here: http://aecmag.com/59-features/1352-celebrating-the-history-of-bim.
I hope you will find it interesting and informative.
It is worthwhile reading the details in AEC magazine of how Revit came about. Here are some highlights:
"Soon after leaving, we agreed to provide PTC consulting services in exchange for a non-exclusive development license to Reflex, which PTC had recently acquired [under the name of Pro/Reflex].
"After receiving several hours of instruction in the software architecture of Reflex from Reflex developers, we decided not to use it as our starting point, because of several important differences at the very foundations of the software. At that point, we put it aside and never looked at it again.
"Reflex components are created using a specialized programming language (VEL), whereas Revit components are created in a graphical family editor.
"No code from Reflex was used... In fact, we found the most inspiration from a $50 product called 3D Home Architect (a home version of Chief Architect), which had a clean, simple user interface."
Can you say, "Pivot," again?
Software companies like Autodesk, Graebert, and Onshape have gone all-in for the cloud. Others, such as Siemens PLM Software, Bricsys, and PTC, are cautious about jumping on a bandwagon. Dassault Systemes is a straddler, with V6 being cloud, but V5, Solidworks, and DraftSight firmly on the desktop.
The development was logical: Computing moving from standalone PCs to proprietary local area networks (office-wide networking), to standardized LANs (twisted-pair ethernet), to Internet (worldwide networking), to WiFi (untethered networking), and finally to cloud (multiple servers online).
But design offices are not homogeneous, as much as some marketing departments wish it were so. In fact, PTC stated it bluntly in a recent conference call: only new companies and large companies are interested in the cloud; everyone else isn't.
On the other side of the equation, CAD vendors aren't necessarily able to deliver a cloud-based program. While Onshape has a full-ish MCAD system working in the Web browser, it started from scratch with the assistance of $168 million in outside funding.
The more common experience, however, is that legacy firms are hitting barriers, as much of the desktop code is locked to Windows APIs. A decade after it launched V6, Dassault says only 2/3 of its V6 software is ready for the cloud. Autodesk is also well behind, failing its former CEO's goal to be all-cloud by 2015 or 2016.
Maybe hesitation and delay are good things. Because now comes news of the next advance in computing, edge computing. "Edge" means computing at the edge of the network, such as in drones, robots, cars, and the "sheer volume of the Internet of Things." General partner Peeter Levine of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz warns:
Cloud computing is soon going to take a back seat to edge computing, and we will very quickly see the majority of processing taking place at the device level.
To understand why, consider how data is moved around inside your computer between the hard drive, memory, CPU, and graphics board -- very quickly over high-speed buses with pretty much perfect reliability. (Most crashes you experience with your computer are not the the fault of the computer, but due to the software running on it.)
Now think of the Internet as a data bus between your computer and remote servers -- a slow, unreliable bus. My hat goes off to companies like Onshape and Graebert that work very, very hard to make it seem like the Internet's fast and reliable.
As Mr Levine points out, computing moved from server-client once before, albeit slowly (in the 1980s). With the quickened pace of technology, the second move from server-client (cloud) will happen in less time. "If a car needs to a make decision, it needs the information instantly and no amount of latency is going to be acceptable."
You may argue that designing a widget is not a task that needs edge computing. Actually, it does. The graphics board in your computer is a high-speed powerhouse that makes real-time rendered 3D motion possible. It's an example of simple edge computing. Preliminary work has been undertaken for years now to make that GPU perform more computing, except that it works best on parallel operations, of which CAD has few.
Nevertheless, CAD vendors can take heed of Mr Levine's warning that the cloud is not the be-all end-all utopia that some executives insist it is.
With data breaches operated even by governments formerly considered trustworthy, I can already hear the marketing line pivoting in a few years from now: the cloud is slow and insecure; only legacy companies still trust their data there.
- - -
Three strikes and you're out
I was pretty enthusiastic about the Umi (since renamed Umidigi) Super smartphone, with its big battery, high-end smartphone specs, and an under-$200 pricetag. I've written about it three other times on this blog. It's a beautiful-looking phone (see figure below; image source: gearbest.com), runs stock Android 7, and, while it worked, I loved it.
The last time I reported on it here, the glass had smashed after falling on an uneven ceramic tile floor. No worries! Due to circumstances, I had a second one. Half-a-day and I had replicated the apps and widgets on the new one.
After a month, I got fed up, and got a different phone. Here's why:
Unfixed Crashes. The Super phone has a bug that causes it to crash randomly and then perform a soft reboot. ("Soft reboot" is one that does not take as long as when starting off cold.) The latest update in June fixed the problem. My second Super, however, would not download the update. Even yesterday, it said my phone was "up-to-date" with the March update. And then crashed.
No More Updates. Reading the Umi forums, it sounds to me that the Super is getting no more updates. Umi is instead working on their own version of Android (boo!), UMI OS, which will not work on the Super. This means that two remaining problems will never be fixed: the camera cannot focus on infinity, and the slow GPS acquisition time.
No Safe Cases. The glass cracked because the official case from Umi for the Super does not protect the screen properly. Just short plastic protrusions at the far corners; see figure below. No third-party cases that I have found protect the screen, either. Which got me thinking that the glass will break again, inevitably.
I looked into replacing the broken glass, but there are two possible and incompatible replacements, and Umidigi does not specify which glass to use with specific serial numbers.
I tried manually to install the June update, but the phone complained the file was invalid. That was the final straw. So I now use the ASUS ZenPhone ZOOM 3 with its 5000mAHr battery. Here's a teaser: by the end of the day, the ZOOM 3's battery is still 75% full.
Z VR Backpack G1 workstation
It's being unveiled to the public today at Siggraph, but about 100 journalists got an online preview last week of HP's new Z VR Backpack G1 workstation. Yah, it's a backpack onto which we clip a small Z workstation, don VR [virtual reality] goggles and navigation controls, and then walk about in a synthesized 3D environment.
The people are real, the car is not
The backpack, workstation, and batteries are said to weight little more than ten pounds (4.6kg). "Batteries" in the plural, because there are two, so that we can hot-swap one out when it dies after about an hour's worth of of use.
When we need to get back to generating VR scenery, we unclip the workstation and set it into a docking bay on our desk.
Seeing double on the desktop desktop display display
The idea behind the portability is to have a very powerful VR viewing system that needs no cables running back to a desk-bound computer, as is the case with Facebook's Oculus viewer. The display is 1080x1200 per eye at 90 fps [frames per second].
The Z workstation boasts an i7 CPU running at speeds as fast as 3.9GHz, with up to 32GB RAM, and up to 1TB disk space running Windows 10 Pro. It holds NVIDIA's new Quadro P5200 GPU with 16GB of memory. Built-in Miracast lets others see on their screens what we see wirelessly. We can use any HMD (head-mounted display), although HP recommends HTC's Vive BE or their own HP Mixed Reality Headset. The box has no expansion slots but lots of ports, including 4x USB 3.0 and a Thunderbolt port, HDMI, miniDisplayPort, and HMD power port for the headset.
The starting price is $3,300 and the backpack system is due to ship in November.
Who Is This For?
By way of introduction, HP claims that VR already has millions of users. Well, not quite. The statistic they quote is more nuanced: "Games make up 76% of all virtual reality content, with tens of millions of users." The company does not, however, source the statistic, as I believe the number is much smaller as tens of millions of headsets have not been sold.
Nevertheless, they feel the commercial VR market will be even bigger, a claim I find even dubiouser. Nevertheless, HP sees opportunities in theme parks and product showrooms, among custom designers, in training centers, and with faster prototyping. They see CAD users designing products with HP's Z workstations, creating VR, and then experiencing it -- all their their hardware.
To supplement the new equipment, HP is creating a dozen or so VR Immersion Centers, kind of like an Apple store for trying out HP's VR system.
To further supplement the new initiative, HP got together with a few other hardware and software vendors to imagine human life on Mars in buildings and on farms -- with a population of one million "in the not too distance future." I suppose that real-world challenges on back on Earth, such as housing and farming to prevent mass starvation in the South Sudan, is too realistic to solve here at home.
VR is, after all, about what isn't.
Thibault de Tersant, cheif financial officer, Dassault Systemes
So I cannot resist the temptation to speak a little bit about Boeing, because in fact I have been associated with this story for the last 30 years as an inter-office point for Boeing for commercial and legal topics, and it's a customer I respect very much.
[Our deal with Boeing is for 30 years, with a four-year ramp-up, and is] a very significant transaction in the scope of it because it includes not only commercial aircraft but also Boeing Space and Defense divisions. So that's quite significant.
They are still using our design solutions, but here they are adopting manufacturing across the board. So Boeing is going to use our manufacturing solutions in all factories in order to improve production rates.
And they are deploying the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform. The vision at Boeing is that they want to store actually all historical data, all newly created data, make sense of them and use them in order to improve all value streams. All value streams at Boeing: for innovation, for manufacturing, for after-sales, for customer experience, and the supply chain. So it's a very significant decision in favor of our 3DEXPERIENCE platform.
We have been benchmarking for 18 months at Boeing, and they have been reviewing essentially all data and big data infrastructure available and selected the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. So the ramp-up is going to start in 2018. Simply to say that it's -- there is no change in 2017 because there is work, of course, in order to prepare the solutions.
Let me do a quick reminder of Boeing. Boeing is a kind of pioneer actually in the worldwide industry because today people speak a lot about Digital Twins. I'm sure you have seen that. In reality, Boeing started the first Digital Twin in 1989, and they did the 777 digital, with a full digital mock-up in 1994 or 1995. So it's 25 years ago that Boeing did the first Digital Twin.
And it was followed by the rest of the industry, as you know. So today, when Boeing decides to adopt the 3DEXPERIENCE platform for manufacturing and PLM and also post sales. This is a very critical decision, a very critical decision, which, I think, we can guess safely is going to be followed by others. And it's a nice validation.
You have to bear in mind is that it's certainly the largest scope of deployment of our solutions ever in all our history, which is going to happen with Boeing. It was a very competitive process, and the digital continuity and the analytics capabilities that are brought by our 3DEXPERIENCE platform made the difference.
A financial analyst reminded Mr Tersant that Siemens PLM Software signed a ten-year agreement with Boeing in 2012.
James E. Heppelmann
[Year-to-date Japan bookings are down $20 million versus last year.] If you go back more than seven years, PTC was struggling on and off with Japan. The main problem we had is that we always relied on an expat, partly because we never had a local Japanese leader with good enough English skills whom we trusted, who trusted us, who could communicate effectively with us. So the easy answer was send an expat over there.
Now Japanese culture and Japanese business culture is very different than anywhere else in the world, and Japanese companies and executives only do business with people they deeply trust. They do not trust expats. They see them as temporary solutions, they can't build a relationship with, because in two years this person won't be here anyway.
So the guy we hired seven years ago was a Japanese national. We poached him out of Oracle at the time; he was the #2 person from Oracle. He has decent English skills. He quickly built a good strong relationship with the PTC management team here in Boston and quickly built good strong relationships with the customers in Japan. And we then had a period of pretty decent stable consistent growth in Japan, at which point, we more or less promoted the guy.
He wanted and we wanted to give him an international experience and so forth for career development reasons. And he backfilled with a person that we didn't know as well, because we always had this great executive standing between us and this person. And we collectively missed an understanding of what was happening and didn't catch it until it had bit us. But now we've got it, and again reverted back to the previously successful configuration. We think that's a winning recipe, proven recipe, we should be able to fix it.
We have a problem we have to go fix. We do think it's a very fixable problem. We don't have to find some saviors from the outside. We just have to reinstall the proven savior we have, and we think we're going to fix this problem. If we fix this problem, then we're right back where we were kind of in the first half of the year.
Ubiquiti UAP-AC-LR wifi access point
I live in a "BC Box" home, a rectangular house designed to maximize the interior space. These homes put the natural gas furnace and hot water heater in the center of the house, in the basement, with sheet metal ducts and copper piping spreading tentacle-like throughout the home.
My Internet service arrives via an ADSL cable in the basement, at a corner -- the worst possible location. For more than a decade, I battled to get a strong, reliable WiFi signal past all that metal in the middle of the house. A few years ago, I installed four WiFi access points, roughly one near each corner, with three connected by ethernet cables, cables that mostly are out of sight by snaking them through utility and storage rooms. The fourth one is a WiFi repeater.
(When we renovated the basement, I was clever enough to run a network cable through the ceiling, from one end of the basement to the other. But not clever enough. The year was 1999, and the network cable was coax with BNC connectors -- useless today.)
One drawback to four WiFi access points is that they employ four different SSIDs. Devices such as smartphones will disconnect from one, once the signal is too weak, and then automatically connect to the strongest one, but only once the first signal really is weak. So, I began looking for a single-SSID solution.
Another drawback to WiFi is that the network occasionally disappears as we watch streaming video (such as Netflix). My wife waits patiently as I work to reconnect. The access point second-closest to our entertainment room has a reliable signal, but isn't strong enough as it is just a bit too far away; the closest one has a strong signal, but isn't reliable. So, I began looking for a strong, reliable solution.
And then there is the son-in-law problem. When he comes to visit, he uses my otherwise-unused XBox 360 to play online multi-player games. WiFi speeds don't cut it, and so he strings an ethernet cable from the nearest access point, over a couple of doors, to the XBox. Thoughtfully, he unplugs the cable when he's done. So, I began looking for a wired solution. (I think I found one, but the equipment has not yet arrived for me to report on its success or failure.)
I first looked into mesh WiFi, which offers the benefit of a single SSID, but these systems are really expensive, ranging from CDN$400 to over $500 for a set of three access points. I read in reviews that the hand-off between access points is not necessarily smooth. I suspect it's not as bad as using WiFi at the airport, where I'm forever having to manually reconnect, but still.
While researching mesh WiFi, I came across commercial-grade access points. These are ones used by businesses. You may have seen white boxes or UFO-like shells with blue lighting mounted near ceilings. That is them. Commercial-grade WiFi is much stronger than consumer-grade WiFi (I want signal strength!), provides far more granular control over settings (which I don't care about), and isn't all that expensive (bonus!).
Commercial-grade access point mounted on a ceiling
Now, commercial-grade WiFi has a bit of a bad rap, given the poor WiFi experience we have in hotels and airports, and on airplanes. This can be excused by the number of people putting a big load on the system; or the system being too weak to handle the numbers of users. It is just like an insufficiently-strong air conditioning system.
When it came to picking one to buy, I found it confusing, as the names are awfully similar between models that have awfully similar specs. Do I choose a "Pro" version (the most expensive one) or the "Long Range" version (it sounded more attractive to my needs, and it cost less). I puzzled over why the Pro would have a shorter range.
I finally picked the Ubiquiti UAP-AC-LR, I hoping it would provide a strong, reliable WiFi signal. Its claim of a 600-foot range (for my 50-foot house) promised strength, while the commercial nature promised reliability. Its multi-character model number translates as follows:
UAP = Ubiquiti access point
AC = newest WiFi band it supports (a, b, g, n, and ac)
LR = long range
I ordered the UFO-looking device for CDN$129 from Amazon.ca with free one-week delivery and it arrived in a Prime-like time of the next business day. (I noticed then the list price rose to $131, perhaps reflecting that price changing tactic Amazon is being accused of.) The price was $170 at BestBuy.ca.
Commercial access points use PoE, which, when I came across it first, I nodded my head at knowingly, noting to self, "Yet another TLA [three-letter acronym] that means something to the network guys." Then I clued in that PoE was important to me, because it meant "power over ethernet." I panicked: did I have PoE?
It turns out it's a clever solution to providing power to network devices without needing to run two cables -- power and network -- through walls and ceilings. Ubiquiti provides the PoE adapter in the box. Excuse me: it's not an adapter; it's called an "injector". A regular power cable plugs into one end, and the box transforms the 110V to 24V. The other end has two ethernet plugs:
Incoming (LAN): one plug is for the network cable coming from your router or Internet modem.
Outgoing (PoE): the other plug is for the network cable going to the Ubiquiti access point; this cable carries the 24 volts and the data signal.
I was relieved: no special network cable is needed; in fact, Ubiquiti includes no network cables in the box, and just a short power cable. But attaching the network cable to the Ubiquiti is difficult, as the unit is round, the cable end is a long rectangle, and Ubiquiti squeezed the port into a tight location. Eventually I wormed it in.
In short, the unit is hooked up just like any other access point: by plugging a network cable into your router (or ISP-supplied modem). The only tricky part is where to locate the access point. The ideal location is in the center of the house, on the top floor. This is because the signal radiates like a sphere; having it in the basement loses some of the possible range. But I can't do that. Mine has to be in the basement, so I fitted it close to the ceiling, centered in the house as much as possible. In my wife's shoe closet, as it happens.
A mounting plate is included for wall and ceiling installation. Mine rests on the upper shoe shelf. Installation instructions are provided on a single sheet of paper printed in 6pt font (I figure), almost big enough to be legible.
There is no on-off button, just a reset hole. The unit turns on when the power is plugged in. You will experience panic, as the device does not react for nearly a minute. Then, finally, a circle of light begins to glow. (I had a bonus duration of panic, as I had not fully inserted the power plug.)
The device is configured through any computer connected to the network. (You don't attach a network cable directly to the access point to configure it, as with some other brands.) Software runs in a Web browser, and so works on any operating system. It has a ton of configuration and monitoring details, which quickly become overwhelming, and some functions are available only when you have other Ubiquiti gear.
Me, I was concerned only with a very few options:
The first two were straight forward, although the software wanted yet a third set of uid and password for an account with Ubiquiti.
Guest mode is a nice addition. It has no password, so guests can access the Internet easily while visiting here. It provides access to only the Internet, with no access to the rest of my network and its computers. I could even set up "hotel mode," where guests are limited in the duration during which they have access, but I have no need for that.
This device broadcasts WiFi at two frequencies, which is standard these days for access points:
2.4HGz is the older, more common frequency, sometimes called G2 nowadays
5.0Ghz is the newer, faster frequency ("G5," not to be confused with 5G), which delivers data twice as fast as 2.4GHz, but has the drawback of a shorter range (due to the shorter wave length). Another drawback is that a surprising number of devices do not support 5GHz.
Among the myriad of options, I could not find where to change the channel number. By default, the WiFi signal is on channel 1, which is pretty crowded in any neighborhood. Moving it to an emptier channel allows the signal to run faster, without interference -- kind of like a football rush. At one point I needed to turn off the access point, and when I turned it back on the WiFi had moved to nearly-empty channel 8. So I suppose it figures it out itself; I could find no online help on this topic.
TIP: The Android app WiFi Analyzer is very helpful in seeing which channels are crowded and for monitoring signal strength in realtime.
Ubiquiti has an app that runs on Android and iOS devices, but it is in beta and so failed repeatedly on me. It has a much simplified interface, with just a sprinkling of options.
This one unit replaced an older WiFi access point in the closet, as well as the repeater I had elsewhere in the basement. It is strong enough to reach even my shed at the far side of the yard (where I use an aging Android as my boombox). I have not had the Ubiquiti unit long enough to confirm whether the signal is reliable. Guest mode is handy addition. The number of options is overwhelming, and so I hope the simple phone app gets working soon. The price is half of what I would pay for a strong consumer-style access point.
Global data roaming
One of the headaches of traveling internationally is how to communicate using our cell phones in country to country. Roaming access (as it is known) can be expensive, whether to make phone calls, send text messages, or connect to the Internet.
In the early days of the Internet, we would visit Internet cafes, or borrow the use of an Internet-connected computer from family and friends. With the advent of WiFi, we could tap our laptops into their home or office network systems, assuming they knew the password (some did not!). Today with our phones, we can access the Internet just about anywhere, even on trains and airplanes.
But connecting with WiFi is uncertain. Systems may be very slow (too many people accessing it at the same time), the login procedure onerous (at Beijing airport, you first need to scan in your passport), the terms too much of a fail (around here Telus offers a mere 10 minutes free after handing over your email address, waiting for an email from them from them, clicking on the link they provide...), or the system is tied into the country's spying bureaucracy (as was revealed to occur at Vancouver International Airport).
As a result, I prefer to access the Internet using my phone's cellular data connection when I travel outside Canada. One login for the entire trip, no matter where I am. Here's what I've done about it.
Roam With Your Home Phone
You can use your cell phone in any country it works in, but the charge for roaming is horrendous, as in the old days of long distance phone calls. Hence the horror stories of $1000 phone bills upon arriving back home. Most cell phone services now send warning texts when usage exceeds your normal limits.
You can pay your cell provider an extra amount to use your phone out of country, at a lower cost, but this still is not cheap. Here in Canada, cell providers charge you typically $5/day for USA and $10 a day for international -- but with severe limits. You can do this only if you are on their most expensive monthly plans, and the amount of data is limited to the regular limits of your local plan.
Europe, as of mid-June, banned roaming charges among EU-member counties, although there is a long list of bureaucratic conditions to be met. It is of no benefit to tourists, as the most restrictive restriction is that you have to live in a country for at least six months a year to use that country's SIM card cheaply in other countries.
The advantage to roaming is that you can keep your phone number, and so people reach you easily. If none of the solutions I've listed so far work for you, then read on.
Roam with a Foreign SIM
I live in Canada and travel mostly in the the foreign areas of USA and Europe, and so I have SIM cards with USA and German phone numbers. The US one I got through Canadian firm Roam Mobility, which uses T-Mobile's network in the USA.
Once you get the new SIM card, through the mail or from a retailer, you register its ID number at Roam's Web site, which then assigns you the new phone number. In some cases, you can choose the number. Then you need to set up the access point name (aka APN) on your phone. The APN tells the phone how to connect to the service provider. The provider's Web site will give you instructions for different phone models, as at this page: https://support.alwaysonlinewireless.com/hc/en-us/articles/115001590323-Mobile-data-APN-settings-for-AOW-Data-SIM
To top up the card before a trip, I go to their Web site, select a plan, specify the start date and time, and then pay. Once a plan is set up, I can extend it by a text message, if need be. For Roam Mobility, unlimited talk, text, and data is CDN$5 a day.
Once you arrive in the country, it can take up to half an hour for the phone to connect with the local service provider. This is the only headache I have experienced with data plans. In some cases, you can get help by texting the service provider, such as getting help in setting up the APN, extending the plan, or wondering why there is no connection (yet).
One limitation is that Roam Mobility is meant primarily for calling in the USA and back to Canada. Other countries, not so much. The other is that your phone has to be compatible with the foreign service provider; these days, most are. To check ahead of time, look up your phone's capabilities at this site: http://willmyphonework.net/ . Here are the results for one of my phones:
The German SIM card I got online through Holiday Phone of Sweden. Allow a few weeks for the SIM card to arrive by mail. For Germany, they provide the SIM card from the discount brand Blau.de. Topping it up through Holiday Phone's Web site is, however, cumbersome, as it does not cater to data users. I have to submit sufficient payment, and then contact them by email to specify data use. As they are Swedish, sometimes misunderstandings arise.
As Holiday Phone provides a service, it is more expensive than buying the SIM card and top-up time in Germany directly. The problem with buying the SIM card in Germany is that German law requires you to provide a local address when registering the SIM card. One workaround is to use the address of a friend or relative who lives in Germany. Holiday Phone provides their own address, and so amusingly I receive emails from Blau.de addressed to "Mr Holiday."
To save money, I now buy e15 topup cards from retailers in Germany, and then through Blau.de's Web site specify I also want data (e10 for 1GB for a month). Blau.de's Web site is, unfortunately, only in German and so can be difficult to navigate; Google Translate is helpful here. As a daughter lives in Germany now, I get her to buy me top-up cards before I leave home; she sends me a photo of the topup coupon (often spat out by the local drug store's cash register), and then I have cell service as I step off the airplane.
In both cases, the problem is that I am assigned American and German phone numbers, so now I have three mobile numbers to give people. The advantage is that the talk, text, and data terms are much more generous than what you get through a roaming plan from your local provider.
Roam with a Data SIM
Before I traveled to Japan, I looked at getting a SIM card with data before I left, but what I found would cost me around $100 for a week. Too much! I needn't have worried, as there was plenty of free WiFi where I was in Kyoto. In addition, Kensai airport bristles with booths offering WiFi tethering rentals.
I no sooner arrived back home from that trip when I received an offer from Roam Mobility: their parent company was offering SIM cards for data-only plans in 90 countries (including Japan, ironically) for 75% off, so I ordered two. AlwaysOnline Wireless offers data by the hour (useful for airport layovers), the day, or by the week. Prices vary, depending on the country. For the USA, prices are as follows:
For me, these amounts are generous, as I find I go through 100MB-200MB a week when traveling, primarily checking email, using Google Maps, and sometimes visiting Web sites. No Netflix movie watching!
I have a dual-SIM cell phone, so I can put in, say, the Blue.de card for talk and text in Germany, and then use the global roaming card for data. The phone lets me specify which SIM card to use with which service. The data plan can also be used with programs like Skype and WhatsApp to make phone calls and send texts. When I put $5 on my Skype account, I can call regular phone numbers. (Some service providers block use of "free" services like Skype, but AOW does not.)
For my upcoming trip to Prague, I have set up a five-location plan with AOW:
The total came to US31, which I consider cheap for peace-of-mind. For each location, I set the date and time when I want the service to begin. I can top up, when when the plan is empty, using the SIM card to access AlwaysOnline's Web site.
It will be interesting to see if it works out.
Set Up Nearby Device
The worst thing in life is being punished for doing a good deed. I spent most of four days last week stripping wallpaper and painting my mother-in-law's bathroom. Listening to Radio Paradise on my smartphone, it fell by itself five feet from the window ledge onto the ceramic tile floor below, smashing its Gorilla 3 glass spectacularly.
I found that the UMI Super phone and its display still worked; only the touch aspect was gone -- plus the glass featuring dozens of cracks. Why did the glass smash -- even though it had an extra protective glass overlay? I had a case for it, but it did not extend to the front of the phone, so there was no bumper action to protect the glass. The Super is thicker than most phones, due to its 4000mA battery.
It was irritating, but not a horrible loss. My mother-in-law gave me her Motorola G, which she never used (and we were getting her a flip phone replacement anyhow, which she now loves). I had a spare UMI Super back home, which I would now employ.
Touching a Touchless Phone
I needed to get all my files off the broken phone, so I connected it to my laptop. From file manager, I accessed all its files, and copied them over
TIP: It is much faster to copy each folder, one by one, than to copy all folders in one action. For some reason, copying all stalled something, causing Windows to proclaim the process would take 23 hours. When I copied the files folder by folder, it took just ten minutes over the USB3 connection.
But there were still other files to copy, once I made back ups from inside individual apps. How to use the phone when the screen no longer responded to touch?
To control the phone, I plugged in a USB-C to USB-A adapter, and then plugged in the wireless transmitter plug that Logitech provides with its wireless keyboards. (See figure 1.) I probably could have used a wired keyboard, but I keep a couple of spare Logitech K400 keyboards around, because they include a trackpad (for mouse usage).
At bottom right, an adapter allows the wireless transmitter to be attached to the smartphone
Android recognizes the mouse/trackpad as if you were touching the phone's screen, but there are some differences. For example, it shows a cursor arrow when the keyboard is attached.
The tricky part is dragging. I found I could do it by holding down the trackpad's pick button (left button), and then dragging my finger along the trackpad. Not easy, and sometimes there are mispicks, but it is doable. Google does have some keyboard shortcuts, such as for going to the Home screen, but they require I first press a Search key, which I don't know about.
Copying From Old Phone to New One
Google includes a utility to copy settings and apps from your old phone to the new one. It is found in the Settings app: swipe down until you reach Google, and then swipe down again and tap Set Up Nearby Device. It uses Bluetooth to locate the nearby device, sends some code numbers back and forth so that you can confirm it is the correct one, and then uses WiFi to install all the same apps.
It does not, however, copy all settings, which I would have expected. Most irritating one of these is the settings my my K-9 mail app. Other settings are also not copied, such as ones specific to the phone, as customized by the manufacturer; for example, the UMI Super lets me switch the locations of the (soft) Back and TaskManager buttons. Google cannot copy over settings for Opera Web browser, because Opera stores those itself on its own servers.
To solve the problem of settings missing for apps like K-9, I can go into each app, use the app's backup option, save the settings file to the smartphone storage memory, and then copy the file to the new phone. (Repeat these steps for each app that allows you to save its settings.)
There are a several ways to copy the settings files:
Once you have the files on the new phone, move them to the folder used by each app to store its settings.
For example, K-9 has a menu item named Settings Import & Export, which saves its settings to folder /storage/emulated/0/com.fsck.k9 in the file settings.k9s. Naturally, you need to have a file manager app on your new phone to move the file to the correct folder. I use File Manager HD from Cheetah Mobile.
TIP: Sort files/folders by Most Recent (or by Date>Descending) to easily find the folder in which the settings were saved.
Once I imported the settings file into K-9, all it needed from me was the password to my email account. Some email accounts use two-factor authentication, like GMail, but K-9 does not; in this case, you can get Google to generate a one-time password that bypasses the limitation:
Copying over the settings for the launcher app left out widgets. My todo software doesn't appear to have an export function, unhappily. So there is still a few hours ahead of me to make the new smartphone as smart as the cracked one.
And this is one of them
There is one Android name for the operating system that runs on smartphones, tablets, and even a few laptops. But there are four versions of it, something iOS users are unaware of. Google releases two versions, and then smartphone makers sell hardware with four different kinds.
There is the official Android operating system from Google that includes Google's own software for downloading apps (Play store), search, and so on. Then there is the AOSP version, the Android open source project at https://source.android.com, which Google makes available for anyone to use, tweak, and reuse for any kind of hardware.
Both of these Android versions then can be modified by smartphone makers. They can change the UI and they can add their own apps and functions. The best known example is Samsung, which overlays the native Android user interface with its own, and adds in all kinds of apps it developed itself -- to the point that storage space is greatly reduced. Some of these vendor-developed functions make their way back to the official Android, such as the Samsung-developed split screen that arrived in Android 7.
(I find it interesting that most new phones were running Android 7 by the start of 2017, but no tablets did, event hough split screens would benefit tablet users more than with phones.)
Me, I prefer unadorned Android, but this can be hard to track down. Vendors feel compelled to make their phones stand out by changing the software, as there is not much they can do about the hardware. Specs these days are all within a narrow range, varying only by price; a cheaper phone only has a slower CPU, a lower resolution screen, and less memory. The external design of smartphones has become standard these days, due to the problem of maximizing the space inside even while minimizing the thickness of the case.
And so almost every vendor has its own take on what the UI should look like. I, however, suspect that most customers don't realize that the Android they see is not the true Android. If all you've every owned in a Samsung Galaxy, you would be just as naive about UI variations as the steady Apple iPhone owner.
Leeco Le2 X620 Smartphone
My first Android phone was from Samsung, because in the beginning it was the only company mass producing Android phones. In 2010, they were so rare in Canada that I had to buy mine from eBay. Since then, however, I've used pure Android smartphones from Google (twice) and now from Umi, who also doesn't add to the UI. In fact, by not spending money on programmers to develop custom UIs and apps is a way to keep down the cost.
By accident, I bought last fall a smartphone from Leeco. See figure 1, below. The company (also known as LeTV) was the first to go public in China, and then spent way too much money trying to get a toehold in the USA (cf. http://www.androidauthority.com/leeco-brief-history-demise-774749/). At the time, I was so excited to find a superphone (a smartphone with high-end specs) for just $200 that I ordered without much thought. But, as I waited for it to arrive, I realized it was lacking in some areas. It required nanoSIMs, and I did not want to chop mine up; its storage RAM could not be expanded; it had no headphone jack. (Also, the specs implied it lacked a notification LED, but it has one.) I subsequently ordered the Umi Super, which has proven to suit my needs.
It took 4 months for the Leeco Le2 X620 to arrive, and after it did, I was glad I got the model from Umi instead. Leeco is proud of its EUI (emotional user interface) software based on Android 6, but I find it bizarre. In fact, they copied elements from the iPhone UI. As a result, I will not buy a phone with a custom implementation of the UI. These creative manufacturers include the following:
Asus has ZenUI
HTC has Sense
Huawei has EMUI
Leeco has EUI
Meizu has Flyme
OnePlus has Oxygen
Oppo has ColorOS
Vivo has Funtouch
Xiaomi has MIUI
ZTE has nubia
Here is a tour of Leeco's strange EUI and my list of its primary problems.
The Top 4 Problems
The #2 problem is that the Back - Home - Taskview buttons are reversed. An option in Settings lets me correct the problem, but the buttons then still are labeled wrong. This causes a "huh?" delay each time I tap Taskview to go back.
The #1 problem is that EUI has a notification pull-down, but that's all it is. Android users live'n die by the notification pull-down, because it also accesses the most important support functions. To access these other functions in EUI, I need to drag up from the Taskview button. In this way, it seems to mimic iOS. See figure 2. It can, however, be customized.
Figure 2: EUI's notification screen
The #3 problem is the EUI launcher, which also mimics iOS, in that the icons for all apps are all on the home screens; there is no separate All Apps drawer. Android users consider it normal to see only the icons of the apps we actually use. Fortunately, there are dozens of launcher replacements on the Google store to fix this problem; I happen to use Atom launcher these days on all my Android devices. (Sucks to be an iOS user!)
The #4 problem is Leeco's desire to link me to its cloud and link together its products. (See figure 3.) The first time you use Leeco's apps, they ask permission to track you -- from the headquarters in China. Creepy. Leeco's master plan was to sell smartphones cheap, and then make back the cost by selling us products, like movies and services. Another for instance: the Le 2 has an IR (infrared) blaster, but it remotely controls only Leeco TVs.
Figure 3: Leeco wanting to bind me into its ecosystem
The Settings app is quite different, but not sufficiently bad for me to call it a problem. (See figure 4.) Once I got used to it, it was alright to use. Again, it looks like iOS settings, which creates problems. For instance, here are the differences between changing the default app:
Android: Settings > Apps > Gear (at top of screen) > [App type] > [App name]
EUI: Settings > App Management > Default Apps (at bottom of screen) > > [App type] > [App name]
The problem is that when apps ask for permission to be the default, the mechanism does not work, because the expected link is broken. I have to change the default setting manually.
Figure 4: Part of the main settings screen in EUI
Dialog boxes slide up from the bottom unexpectedly, instead of appearing in the middle of the screen.
Not So Awful
Not that the Leeco phone to totally awful, as it has some geek-friendly functions. The status bar reports the data transmission speed. Screen grabs are much easier to make than with standard Android, where we hold down the Power and Volume buttons, and then hope for the best. (It doesn't always work.) With Leeco, we hold down the Home button; the built-in screen grab software then lets us crop the image before saving it. I really like that. See figure 5.
Figure 5: EUI's screen grab interface
The major flaw in the Unidigi Super is the camera, which takes poor photos. The Le2, however, takes wonderful pix.
So what do I do with this otherwise unwanted device? When it failed to arrive on time, the seller refunded me the cost. When it arrived after four months, I offered to refund the refund, and the seller lowered his $198 price to US$180. (It now sells for as little as $150.) It is cheap enough to keep.
Since the screen grab is pretty wonderful, I run on it all the Android CAD apps I write about. I'll also use it as an MP3 player for listening to talks when we go on our summer driving vacation.
Leeco Le2 Specs
For a phone that is now 14 months old, its specs hold up quite well:
You can read the full specs at http://www.gsmarena.com/leeco_le_2-8053.php
Live from Graphisoft Key Customer Conference 2017 in Kyoto, Japan
[Our coverage of this event earlier in the day was curtailed due to the WiFi failing to connect to the rest of the Internet.]
BIMx is the name of Graphisoft's mobile app for viewing 3D models. It has probably the nicest user interface of all the ones on the market. It uses what Graphisoft calls a "hypermodel," which contains the 3D model, 2D drawings, viewpoints, and so on.
Hypermodels can, of course, be brought over from the desktop to the mobile device using a cloud storage service (like Dropbox) or a direct connection. But to share models with others, such as the on-site construction manager, BIMx now supports NFC [near field communications] and so will send the model to nearby devices (like sending a file via Bluetooth).
But this is practical only for a one-time transfer. What about when the model is updated the very next day? The new BIMx Model Transfer service now solves this problem: upload file to Graphisoft site, and then after this Graphisoft's patented technology uploads only changes.
Everyone gets access to public storage; subscription users get private storage. Push notifications are generated when changes are made to the model. With the notification, you can optionally download the updated model.
BIMx and ArchiCAD can send each other messages. On mobile devices, push notifications alert users to incoming messages, sorted by model (project).
3D models now get a kind of watermark in form of architectural credit. It displays full screen as the model is being opened, and then glides to the corner of the screen.
BIMx now supports split screens on iOS and Android devices running the newest version of the OS. For instance, in a Web browser select a model and it is opened in BIMx.
Future Release of BIMx
Graphisoft recognizes that mobile devices are limited in the amount of RAM, and so are limited in the size of 3D model BIMx can display. This is particularly true with iOS devices, which typically sport a mere 2GB RAM, although iPad Pro has 4GB. The latest high-end Android devices offer 6GB RAM. So, how do mobile apps display very large models?
Graphisoft is working on the next version of BIMx to handle all buildings in a complex or a city -- instead of, say, just one building. This will be done with streaming, where it displays only the portion you are looking at, such as looking westward, or inside a building, or under water. All other polygons are discarded.
[Disclosure: Graphisoft provided me airfare, hotel accommodation, some meals, and a corporate gift -- a bottle of sake.]
It's been three months since I got my latest smartphone, a $200 Umi Super that has the specs of phones 3x the price, and so I thought I'd update you on my experience. Was it worth buying a phone direct from China to save $400 or so?
As a reminder, this is a 5.5" Android 7.0 phone running at 2.0GHz, with 4GB operating RAM and 32GB storage RAM (24GB free) with room for two microSIM cards, and a 4000mAhr battery. Umi has since renamed itself Umidigi.
Was it worth it? It is now.
The first two months were a bit rough, primarily due to a bug that caused the phone to spontaneously reboot, repeatedly. Frustrating. I finally learned to control the problem by holding down the power key long enough to force a hard reboot. The problem was, fortunately, solved with an over-the-air update that arrived in mid-April.
There are two problems that linger:
The camera still does not take excellent photos, despite the Sony-branded sensor. The thinking is that the Umi programmers have not tuned their software to work properly with the camera. One problem is the blurring when focused at infinity (see images below); the other problem is that Pro mode does not retain its settings. I am hoping these will be fixed by a future update, although any more updates are not guaranteed.
Above: full-frame photo; below: zoomed in portion at infinity
The other problem does not affect me, but may affect you. The phone does not work fully in the USA , especially not on the CDMA networks used by Verizon, Sprint, and others. This is a function of the hardware and so cannot be fixed through a software patch.
Based on my experience, the phone works excellently in Canada and Europe. I could not get it to connect with T-mobile in the USA, and so I continue to use my old Nexus 4 phone when I am in the USA.
About the only remaining downer is that it is not bright in sunlight. I notice that the price has increased recently, from under $200 to about $225.
What I love about the phone:
So, do I recommend this phone? Yes, after you install all of the over-the-air updates, and you are not on those USA cell phone systems.
James Heppelmann from last week's conference call
There's been a lot of buzz about augmented reality [AR] generated recently by Facebook and Snapchat. That technology is fun for consumers, but it'll be transformational for enterprises.
You may not have thought of it this way yet, but if IoT [internet of things] brings data from the physical world into the digital world where it can be analyzed and understood, then augmented reality takes the resulting information from the digital world and overlays it back on the physical world to put it in context. Because AR is not very interesting without a source of real-time digital content about the physical world, IoT and AR make a great combination together.
As I've highlighted over the past few quarters, we're really excited about the new [PTC] ThingWorx Studio offering, which allows authors to use drag-and-drop techniques to create dynamic AR experiences driven by live IoT content. This closed loop happens in real time so that by simply looking at a connected product through a smart device, you see everything you need to know about it. Essentially, we can put a heads-up display on anything using your phone, tablet or HoloLens or other smart glasses.
With the addition of studio into ThingWorx, you can think of ThingWorx as being in IoT system with an AR front end or you can think of ThingWorx as an AR system with a dynamic IoT content pipeline.
There's a definition of augmented reality that, in most people's minds, doesn't include IoT. Personally, in the enterprise business, I think they belong together. I think that, generally speaking, most forecasts for the AR market have even higher growth rates than the IoT market. So if nothing else, this should accelerate either the market or our opportunity relative to the market. I think there's a huge amount of interest.
Now I think this is a much earlier market, AR is not quite as far along as IoT. And in particular, one thing that would break the dam open would be better wearable smart glasses.
What PTC Thinks About HoloLens
The HoloLens from Microsoft is a huge step forward, but I could think of a couple ways to improve them further. It's rumored, and Mr. Zuckerberg's fueled that rumor a little bit more yesterday, that there are much better glasses coming.
And so for me, we want to be ready because we think that the glasses are uninteresting without content to show in them. And getting the content ready and the engine to feed content in the glasses is its own project. And we want to make sure that by the time the glasses are ready, that we have an unbelievable engine to feed content into them.
So that's why we're pushing on it so hard. And the day that you find a pair of glasses that looks like the ones Zuckerberg was showing yesterday, I'm going to be pretty excited. But I think, if nothing else, it's a tailwind to say as this IoT business gets bigger and bigger, are we confident PTC can sustain our growth rate, and this is something that ought to be helping us.
- - -
Lots of new cables
The supremacy of miniUSB was wonderful while it lasted. One connector to rule all of our portable devices. A USB cable and charger everywhere -- car, bedroom, kitchen, office, airplanes...
Then it was improved, and made incompatible to our singular system. The new one, dubbed USB-C, was reversible and powerful. We no longer need to squint to figure out which side is the fatter one. And the new standard is power-full enough that it can be used to charge even computers. The 'C' in USB-C can be thought of as third generation USB, or as charging USB.
Never mind the advantages. I marked up one side of all my microUSB cables with a felt pen .The old microUSB standard also charged devices like cell phones, large tablets, and cameras.
But the technocrats in SillyCon Valley don't care about us, only to sell us something. Switching USB-A and microUSB ports to USB-C means more profits. Well, at least for cable makers.
My new cell phone uses USB-C. How to deal with the new interface, on top of all the microUSB charging stations scattered through out the house, office, and car?
Example of a stubby female microUSB to male USB-C adapter (image credit Alex NLD)
My solution was to create a parallel system: a USB-C cable wherever there currently is one for microUSB. Or else use adapters. I bought many:
I bought 3-6 of each, and so solved the charging problem. At least until the USB consortium decides USB-C is inadequate. Well, I should not complain. Most of these new adapters and cables were a couple dollars each -- nothing like the $100 I paid for the parallel cable I needed for my first printer.
Most Android smartphones need 8GB of storage to handle the operating system, the cache, data storage, and so on. When you buy an 8GB model, there isn't much storage space available!
And that's how a 32GB can be 3x more than 16GB.
The symbolism of Pixlr
The same week that Bricsys held its press-only Insights conference, Autodesk announced that it was selling off one of its software packages, Pixlr acquired during the Carl Bass era. This otherwise innocuous announcement made a startling admission: "As part of our ongoing business model transition, Autodesk has decided to focus development resources on our core product portfolio." Autodesk is retrenching.
I'll have more about what this means in a future edition of upFront.eZine.
By coincidence in the same week, Bricsys is holding its first-ever conference for members of the CAD press, a two-day event. They are showing off their confidence as a suitor suitable for the affections of disaffected Autodesk customers (and other CAD users, of course). The conference is taking place at the headquarters of Bricsys in Gent, Belgium, housed in the office tower shown in the figure below at the right (image source xavier-donck).
Bricsys designed BricsCAD with the following attributes:
Bricsys designed themselves to run lean, with just 135 employees, 90% of which are programmers. By contrast, Autodesk has about 9,500. Running lean also means a mammoth CRM [customer relationship management] system that automatically handles many processes, such as assigning downloaded software to the nearest dealer or tracking bug reports submitted by users. Things are handled through the Web, as much as possible.
Bricsys operates on the franchise model, so it owns no dealer network. Nevertheless, it supports hundreds of dealers in nearly 80 countries.
Bricsys Technical Russia
"Our philosophy is dramatically different from other CAD vendors, and so we decided to spend some time on the details of this," we are now hearing at the @Bricsys Insights conference, which is running 30 minutes ahead of schedule -- Randall Newton wants you to know.
Bricsys had the chance to start something new as it began seven years ago to add 3D, etc to BricsCAD, so that the mistakes of other CAD firms would not be repeated. The CAD world is different from 30 years ago when parametrics were first introduced [by PTC]. So they implemented new approaches for...
When I say "they," I mean the programmers at LEDAS, who were more recently acquired by Bricsys. When writing a new 3D CAD system, vendors like SpaceClaim, Onshape, and Bricsys are not tied to the way things were done decades ago, such as in Pro/E, Solidworks, and Inventor. The list of modern needs include:
(The needs of designers is not the same as CAM users, but most MCAD vendors don't know that.)
BricsCAD does not do history, as this information is lost anyhow during translation to other MCAD systems. Instead, it infers design intent, which is important when importing 3D models from MCAD systems.
Bricsys had contacted Intergraph ten years ago about porting some of its software to BricsCAD, but frankly BricsCAD could not do it at that time. Once it matured, Bricsys contacted Intergraph again (now owned by Hexagon).
This time Intergraph agreed, but did not want to port just some of their software: they wanted all their software running on BricsCAD at once:
Intergraph wanted a single codestream for BricsCAD and AutoCAD (on which it was running already), the same user interface and workflow, and the same degree of performance.
There were 60 developers working on the porting project, which began in May 2016. There were requests from Intergraph to addition and changes to BricsCAD -- useful for Bricsys filling in holes of the APIs. Examples include overrules, b-rep API, new AcGsGraphicsKernel and AcGsView for 2D and 3D graphics.
CADWorks for BricsCAD was announced 6 April, 2017.
Live from Ghent, Belgium
Alight, here we are in the heart of Belgium, the beautiful town of Ghent (also spelled Gent and Gand), the home town for Bricsys, the CAD software company that's invited a dozen CAD media in for two days. We are here to learn about the company, its BricsCAD software, direct modeling, mechanical design, sheet metal, BIM, and future technologies. The last bit will be under NDA (non-disclosure agreement) -- sorry!
Bricsys CEO Erik de Keyser (at left, in image below) is recounting his company's history, with notes like Bentley being a one-time shareholder in Bricsys, which ended with Bentley buying TriForma AEC software, and then Bricsys began again on IntelliCAD. There was a key-high rocketing of share value in 2001, which crashed with the Internet crash, and Mr de Keyser resigned as CEO.
He needed to do something and so restarted Bricsys with some of the old staff in 2002. They helped improve IntelliCAD but then realized that they could work faster than the ITC. There is a secret agreement that allowed Bricsys to split off its own development. ITC has the right to check the new code, and agrees that today's BricsCAD is completely ITC-code free.
Bricsys almost rebuilt AutoCAD using Teigha from ODA, and reverse-engineered nearly all APIs code-compatible. But Bricsys was determined to no longer be a big corporation; run lean.
Another new bit of history: Bricsys had a contract to interface SpaceClaim with BricsCAD to give access to direct modeling, but after six months or so interest lagged on both sides. Then Bricsys uncovered LEDAS, and bought their software portfolio, which includes direct modeling and 2D/3D constraints -- forming a new division called Bricsys Technology Division based in Russia.
Its online service, Chapoo, was spun off from Bricsys in 2010 so that it would not be seen as CAD-only. The Brussels airport is apparently managed by Chapoo. This year will become a moder server for BIM.
BricsCAD already has BIM, 3D mechanical, translator, and sheet metal design available from Bricsys. Now they are adding another category: civil engineering design.
The company currently spend 40% on R&D, but may reduced that in the future. They want to maintain 25% profit on EBIAT (earnings before interest after taxes).
[Disclosure: Bricsys provided me with transportation, accommodations, and some meals.]