Back to the Software: AutoCAD Command Line Shortcut Cheat Sheet

The shortcuts listed in this graphic are all out of the box.  You can always change or customize them by modifying the acad.pgp file.  The easiest way to make the edits is from the Express Tools tab > Tools panel > Command Aliases. The Command Aliases tool is an interface that modifies the PGP.  You can always modify the PGP file manually by opening it in Notepad.  

By default, the PGP is located in...
 C:\Users\-user login-\appdata\roaming\autodesk\-Autodesk software version-\enu\support\acad.pgp


Note to Hippies: Make Love, Not Roads

This post has gotten a frightening number of hits in the last few days (over 500). I've decided to clean it up a tad and clarify a few points. The intent of this post was to point out issues that I did not find adequately addressed in either the website or the Indygogo page.  Photovoltaics have a place in energy production - just not under the tires of an 18-wheeler. 

What follows is strictly my opinion.

My buddy posted this on Facebook today and I'm pretty sure I'm like one more pedantic comment away from getting "unfriended."
"Solar roads? Where do I even start with this?!"

At first glance it seems like a no-brainer, right? In general, I am a huge fan of solar energy. A big area that is static and often empty could easily be filled with PV panels.

The world needs dreamers to push technology forward and challenge innovation. All due respect to Scott and Julie Brusaw, I see many problems with this concept.

Problem 1:  Solar energy needs a smooth, clean surface for optimal efficiency. Roads get really really dirty. Dust, tire schmutz, oil and smeared raccoon carcasses cloud the issue.

Problem 2: Speaking of clouding the issue, think about the glass. The same roughening they used to make the stuff non-ice-rink-like also impedes sunlight from hitting the PV cells.  Additionally, they are talking about using recycled glass. Recycled glass contains impurities that would also impede efficiency.  Even if the recycled glass were purified they should not use mixed color glass. Also, to make it nice and thick for load bearing - again, less light hits the cells.

Problem 3: References, please? I couldn't help but notice that none of the magazines where this was featured are scholarly or civil engineering related. The FWHA funds a lot of wacky stuff in phase 1 so that is not an indication of feasibility. I want to see the university studies. I want to see the Booz Allen Hamilton data*. I want to see a serious article in ENR or ASCE Journal.

Problem 4:  Want to get a snowplow driver excited? Ask him his opinion on embedded reflectors. He will probably curse up a storm and tell you stories of damaged plowblades or laugh and tell you how he pulled up 10 miles of reflectors in the blizzard of 2011. The reason is that it doesn't take much for mother nature to push up a little corner of a modular object (known as frost heaving), therefore making it non-flush with the road surface. Expand this headache to every square hexagon of roadway, and you see this is going to be an issue.

Problem 5: Drainage, in my opinion, is one of the biggest problems. Note that all of the prototypes are planar surfaces with a trench on either side. Supposedly, one trench is for electrical and data and the other is for storm water. The geometry of one of today's roads is such that water drains to both sides. They are going to need to re-think the shape of the modules to accommodate for changing crown conditions. Either the cross-section of the road will need to change or they are going to need water-proof channels for electrical components. A good way to get around this problem is to put the stuff overhead, which they say is unsightly. Also, nobody treats highway runoff.

Problem 6: This technology does not preclude potholes. The cause of a pothole is usually the sub-base getting washed out by water or that pesky frost heave I mentioned earlier. You'll still get potholes and some county worker is going to level it out by throwing a scoop of asphalt on top of the panel.

I know I'm being totally pessimistic but I will run down one of these for its entire length butt nekkid if I ever see one installed.

*Booz Allen Hamilton is the engineering research firm that contacted the Brusaws about conducting feasibility studies. No data has been made available to the public (that I could find).


Civil 3D Version Comparison

Civil 3D 2013 through 2015 are interoperable with each other (mostly).  This post outlines some of the key differences in the software packages. I've hit the important stuff, but this is by no means a complete list of all the new features or interoperability quirks.

Where major interoperability limitations exist, they are noted below the comparison table.

My little green Y's mean yes, the feature is available!

Civil 3D 2013
Civil 3D 2014
Civil 3D 2015
Corridor Tools
Simplified Corridor creation tool
Create Corridor Solids 2
Corridor Target Through XREF 1, 5

New tools for corridor section labeling 5

Profile geometry point locking 4

Additional corridor Frequency creation options 3

Create Pressure Networks
Data Shortcuts for pressure networks

Tables, improved labels and sections for pressure networks 5

Create Pressure Networks from objects

Pay items in Pressure catalog

Survey Database query
Survey Query save, import and export

Background imagery from Bing maps plot 3

General Tools
Project objects to sections
Improved Section Projection of solids 3, 5

Data exchange with Infraworks

Export to DGN 2

Export to Google Earth KML/KMZ


Interoperability Notes:
1.      Important: AutoCAD Civil 3D 2014 drawings that use corridor targets from xrefs cannot be edited in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013. All entities in such a drawing will be displayed in a proxy state in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013.

2.      This feature is available as a subscription add-on in previous versions.

3.      If saved in a previous version, the behavior of this function will revert to the previous version settings / behavior.

4.      Free vertical curves that are created with the new Free Vertical Curve (Circular) and Free Vertical Curve (Parabolic) commands and which use a pass-through point as their constraint type will not be displayed if the drawing is opened in a prior version of AutoCAD Civil 3D. These curves must be converted to use a different constraint type such as length or K value if you intend to use the drawing in prior versions. To streamline the conversion, you can use the new Convert Free Curve (Through Point) command which is located in the Profile Layout Tools toolbar.

5.      These objects will be displayed as a proxy object in previous versions, and will be restored and updated when re-opened in a newer version.

Important: Version interoperability only applies to AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 through AutoCAD Civil 3D 2015.  Interoperability does not apply to the respective versions Autodesk Subassembly Composer. Subassemblies created in subassembly composer are not backwards compatible between versions. If you are planning to use custom subassemblies, make sure they are created in subassembly composer 2013. 

Additional Information about interoperability between versions 2013-2014 can be found here:


The Scourge of the Educational Plot Stamp is No More

Disclaimer: I am not a legal representative for Autodesk. For all questions regarding license compliance, check out this website or refer to your product's EULA

Autodesk provides educational versions of its software at reduced rates (often free!) so that students, teachers and other non-commercial entities can learn without worrying about trial licenses expiring.

Educational software is strictly intended for non-profit generating activities. Files generated with educational versions have an embedded flag that the software can detect. When you plot from these files, "Produced by an Autodesk Educational Product" will appear on the output.

However, students often become interns and interns have access to companies that have traditional paid licenses. If the student decides to work on a file at school or insert that really cool tree block he created for his midterm project - BAM - you're polluted. I truly believe that the vast majority of plot stamp issues are due to innocent accidents rather than nefarious intent.

Working with these files in a production environment is a bad idea. Do you remember the pink spots in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back? Every time the Cat and his buddies try to clean the pink stain, they only succeed in spreading it further, until the whole house and yard are covered in pink spots. The educational plot stamp is a lot like that. Once a file has it, it will cause any file it touches to have the plot stamp!

Things that will cause the education flag to spread:
  1. Any file created or edited by an educational version of the software
  2. Or contains a block edited or inserted from an educational version
  3. Or Has/had an xref from an educational version.

In the past, it was darn near impossible to remove the plot stamp. For a short window of time, if you aligned the correct forces (something like: your reseller, no fewer than two Shamen, a blood sacrifice, and a gross of rubber chickens - but don't quote me on it) you could remove the plot stamp with a one-time-use tool from Autodesk. When that got the kebash, your only option was to recreate the file from DXF.

Ugh. Damn interns!

If you receive files from a contractor that contain the education flag, the contractor is in violation of the end user license agreement (EULA).  It is completely within your right to decline acceptance the files (which I recommend). Odds are, the other company is unaware that the drawing has been polluted with the educational flag.

Lately, the behavior of AutoCAD when it detects educational files has changed dramatically.

The good news is that as of AutoCAD 2014 sp1 (and related vertical products), the educational plot stamp is noted (see above dialog box image) but not plotted (yay!). AutoCAD 2015 will not only ignore the educational plot stamp, it can remove it!

If you need to work on an AutoCAD file in a previous version of the software, you can save it in AutoCAD 2015 (or TrueView 2015) and save it back down to the version you wish to work in.

Here’s the updated Technical Solution for the educational plot stamp, including new 2015 functionality (plot stamp removal).

Other than a few out-of-work Shaman types, most people are very happy about this change. As long as you are running legit, full licenses of 2015 Autodesk products you no longer have to worry about the unwanted plot stamp.  If you think the company who sent you the education file is using the software in a shady way, you can always narc on them to our license compliance folks.



The Secret Lives of Files

Here is a fun, broad-scope trick that can help you troubleshoot problem files*.
Rename the file so that it ends with .ZIP.
I've used this trick on:
  • DWF (Autodesk's design web format)
  • PKT (Civil 3D subassembly file)
  • DOC (Microsoft Word file)
  • XLS (Microsoft Exel)
This trick allows you to look into the guts of a file*. If the file type allows it, you will see folders and XML pointer files. It probably works on formats that are not listed above, but I have not had the occasion to hack into others. (Note that this does not work on DWG files.)

Windows likes to assume we are all dumb, so when the warning message pops up about changing the extension, just click yes.

When would one do this?

Renaming the file to ZIP can be a troubleshooting tool. For example, I once had a customer with a DWF that wouldn't open.  The easiest thing would have been to plot a new one, but we did not have the original file to do so.  So, I renamed it to zip in order to see what it was missing. The manifest.XML told me what should be there, so we were able to cobble together enough of it to get it to open.

The slickest use of this tool is for recovery. Renaming a Word doc to ZIP will allow you to see text, and images in their raw form. The following image shows the guts of a renamed word document.

Inside the word folder you will find even more folders and a bunch of XML files.  All of the images are packed together in the Word > Media folder. You'll notice that all of the images are renamed based on the order in which they appear in the document.

 The text of the document is stored in document.xml file that is in the Word folder. Granted, the formatting is whack, but if this is your corrupt master's thesis or greatest novel of your generation that won't open, it's way better than retyping.

Now let's talk subassembly composer PKT files.

A PKT file is really a package of the following:

  • ATC: an XML based file that lists the parameter names and default values. 
  • CFG: A tiny little version flag
  • DLL: The real guts of the subassembly - this is the compiled result of your efforts in sub-assembly composer (SAC), or Visual studio (if you're a stud)
  • EMD: more parameters and codes
  • PVD: preview values
  • XAML: shape, point and links codes as well as data type definitions. 
You might also see:
  • XML: This file will only be present if you created the PKT with SAC. 
  • PNG (or other image format): Thumbnail image of your subassembly as defined in subassembly composer
  • HTM: Help file, if it was created and defined in subassembly composer 

There are two reasons this trick is on my mind, especially with regard to PKT files.  In one tech support case, a client had uploaded all of the individual files (ATC, DLL, CFG, etc). The person who initially responded made his own PKT from the files simply by zipping up the individual pieces and renaming.

In another case, a user emailed a PKT file to a coworker but the PKT would not work on the receiving end. After renaming it to zip and looking at the result, it turns out that an aggressive anti-virus program stripped out the DLL; a triumph in IT security, but not so great if you are trying to build a corridor. They transferred the file using FTP and bypassed the anti-virus.

Use this trick in good health. Don't forget to name ZIP files back to their original extension so they will open in the intended application.

*Make a backup first! I am not responsible for corrupt files. Use this trick at your own risk, blah blah blah.


Autodesk Recap via Remote Desktop (RDP)

I learned a new trick today and it works pretty slick. One of my users was trying to do a presentation in a conference room using Autodesk Recap. Recap works great on his workstation, but since he has a machine that is physically big he doesn't want to schlep it around the office for a presentation. Unfortunately, when he tried to run Recap through Windows RDP, he kept getting the message "Autodesk Recap needs graphics card with driver that supports openGL 3.3 or newer." Recap simply won't let you run it without the supported version of openGL.

It turns out that RDP uses the client machine’s graphics card (i.e. the not-so-powerful laptop in the conference room). If the client machine has an unsupported graphics card, Recap won't run.  The good news is there are a few workarounds to avoid programs like Recap from crashing.
  • The first workaround I found kind of falls into the “duhhhh” category  J  : Open the product on the host machine before initiating remote desktop.  That way RDP doesn’t try to change the graphics driver. This would only work if you were physically in the same office or was able to get one of your minions to launch the program for you.
  • If you are not in the office, you could create a little batch file that forces the client machine into console mode. Log into the remote machine normally, and then run this little 2-liner “kick me out and start Recap” script. You need to run the batch file as administrator. 

tscon 1 /dest:console
start "C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Autodesk ReCap\recap.exe"

where tscon is the tool to force a remote desktop session to act like a local session (using the local video card).

1 is the session number (your session number may vary – check the Users tab of Task Manager to verify)

  • tscon will kick you out of the remote session. Reconnect to the remote machine and (in theory) Recap will have launched with the graphics hardware of the remote machine.
  • You need to be a bit careful using this trick, since it leaves the remote PC unlocked for the remote desktop session.

This trick will work for any graphics-intense product that requires openGL.

If you try this – let me know how it goes!


A Club that Would Have me as a Member

The following is the edited and condensed version of the 1200 word essay I had prepared (and decided to spare the world from):

This is the "hey I work at Autodesk now" blog post.  I vow to keep it real.

The end.

Here's my kick-ass new desk(full disclosure, it has gotten much messier since this photo was taken):

I'm now working as a Premium Support Specialist in the Enterprise Priority Support team. For companies who are on one of these "Cadillac" support plans I act as technical concierge. I'm matched up with a just handful of ginormous civil engineering firms and make sure their technical support issues are addressed. If a question comes in that isn't in my wheelhouse, I find someone who can answer it.

This form of tech support is the kind I've always wished for at the reseller level. For most resellers, tech support is free (or ridiculously cheap). Frankly, you get what you pay for on this front. With a small number of customers, I can focus on actual solutions, not just closing cases to keep my metrics up.  If needed, I can escalate needs/wants/desires to developers. (Oh yeah...)

So if you are in downtown SF hit me up, I'll give you a private tour of the Autodesk gallery.