Happy Birthday Pier 9

Today was #TremendressTuesday at Autodesk, in celebration of the 1 year anniversary of the Autodesk facility at Pier 9 in downtown San Francisco.  Pier 9 houses an AMAZEBALLS workshop as well as several of Autodesk's consumer-facing product teams like Instructables, Sketchbook Pro and Spark just to name a few.

We were all encouraged to show our creativity through what we wore to work today. Not one to pass up an opportunity to dress in costume, I broke out the same shirt and custom Converse shoes I wore when I ran Bay to Breakers earlier this year. 

My office is a few blocks away in the 1 Market Street location of Autodesk.  However, I happen to be a docent at Pier 9, meaning that if someone wants a tour I can take people through and show off all of the insanely cool tools that are available to Autodesk employees and Artists in Residence. To use any piece of equipment, users must be trained. Safety is the #1 focus. Depending on the tool, training ranges from several hours to several days. There's also a test kitchen with a commercial-grade Wolf range that I drooooooool over.

In addition to the test kitchen there are four main areas of the workshop. There's the 3D print shop, digital fabrication shop, woodshop, and metal shop. Less glamorous, but just as cool (to me anyway) is the industrial sewing equipment and an electronics lab.

Many people ask, "Why does Autodesk have all that stuff?" Pier 9 is part test facility, part makerspace, part R&D operation and part playground. People are fabricating art, gadgets and customer models with much of the same equipment that would be used in a production facility. Walking through Pier 9, one cannot help but get excited and inspired to make cool stuff and think about design in a holistic way.


Civil 3D 2013 Underground Hotfix

This is not an official hotfix.

This fixes a pretty gnarly, insidious little issue where object names and styles look weird. The worst part is that, unchecked, the problem spreads between open files. 


A fix for Civil 3D 2014 was released OFFICIALLY via sp2
A fix for Civil 3D 2015 was released OFFICIALLY via sp1

The good news is that I have files to fix the problem for 2013. Imagine me passing this to you in an unmarked manila envelope in a darkened parking structure. 

This issue manifests itself in several ways.  Users may see one or more of the following affects:
·         AutoCAD Civil 3D object names may appear corrupt.  The most frequently affected objects include surfaces, alignments, feature lines and site names.

·         Anchor components of the label styles may display an error, as seen here with an example surface style.

This is a known issue in Civil 3D 2013.
To resolve, follow this procedure:

·         Confirm AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 service pack 2 (SP2) is installed by launching AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 and typing “about” in the command line
o   The product version will be followed by “SP2” if the service pack has been installed
o   If necessary, download SP2 for AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 from the Autodesk Support Page
·         In windows explorer, under C:\Program Files\Autodesk\AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013, back up the following files: AeccLand.dbx, AeccNetwork.dbx, AeccPressurePipes.dbx, AeccvBase.dbx
o   Unzip the provided folder with .dbx file versions dated 7/23/2014
o   Close AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 if it is still open
o   Copy and replace the four .dbx files from the unzipped folder to the Program Files location stated above
·         Launch the affected file in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 with SP2
·         In the Settings tab, under General, Label Styles, the anchor component can now be set to “<feature>” and the default naming convention is restored.

Important Notes:
·         Everyone using Civil 3D 2013 must have this service pack installed or the object names will revert to the pre-fixed state.
·         This fix applies to Civil 3D 2013 sp2 only!
o   If you use Civil 3D 2014, the official service pack Civil 3D 2014 sp2 will prevent the same behavior.
o   If you use Civil 3D 2015, the official service pack, Civil 3D 2015 sp1 will prevent the same behavior.
·         Note that object names will not be restored to their pre-corrupted value, but you can rename them in the object properties.
·         This fix is language neutral
·         This is not an official hotfix. I am providing this to the public out of my sense of goodwill and duty to the user community.



Book Recommendation: The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway

Readable books about engineering topics are few and far between. Some of my favorites include:

  •  The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, as well as other books by Samuel C. Florman that encourage engineer types to think and be well-rounded.
  • Devil in White City, by Erik Larsen - this one's focus was the Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer, but in my mind the hero is the structural engineer who invented the Ferris wheel
  • Inviting Disaster, by James R. Chiles - the book that inspired Engineering Disasters on The History Channel. I confess that I'm a bit of a sucker for a good structural collapse (assuming no one gets hurt, of course).

I saw a review for The Race Underground, by Doug Most, in Boston Magazine while was on a recent trip to the Autodesk office in Waltham, MA. This book is about the history of urban transportation in Boston and New York, with interesting offshoots into London and Paris. The publisher's summary oversells the concept that the Whitney brothers' rivalry fueled the development of the subways of their respective cities. When you get into it, there was little rivalry and more two guys that happened to be in the right places at the right time when electricity, need and money came together to make a subway happen. Another misnomer is the concept of a "race." Nothing about these projects happened quickly. It took enormous will and money to overcome the fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

My favorite bit was about William Barclay Parsons' involvement with New York City's subway. He and Henry Steinway (yeah, the piano guy) designed the first few tunnels of what is now the IRT line of the New York subway system. Parsons went on to found Parson's Brinckerhoff  and became *THE GUY* to dig tunnels all over the world. What tickled me about his story is that at age 32 he was considered nearly too young to be heading up a project as large as the New York subway tunnels.

Gotta love civil engineering - the only field where being over 30 can still be considered young.

It does get a bit dry and protracted in parts, but overall a worthy read. 


SCCM: Advanced Deployment Tools for Autodesk Products

SCCM (or System Center Configuration Manager) is a Microsoft tool for deploying products and managing systems from a central location. Many organizations use this product for doing everything from distributing software to tweaking the registry to managing security updates. There are similar tools by competitors to Microsoft of course, the most common ones I bump into are Alteris, Zenworks and LANdesk to name a few, but Microsoft SCCM seems to rule the roost.

Autodesk products deploy nicely with SCCM, and full instructions on how to do this can be found here.

Depending on the task you are trying to perform with SCCM, you may need product ID numbers. These are the crazy-looking alpha-numeric codes used by Windows to uniquely identify installer and uninstaller resources. You can find these codes after a deployment is created in the text files located in the SMS_SCCM Scripts folder.

If you are trying to create a fancier script than what Autodesk deployments make for you, it can be tedious to gather the information from each product, add-on and service pack. I found a tool that will provide these numbers for any product MSI file. This is not an Autodesk tool, a colleague pointed me to it in an IT forum.

I've tested it to verify that it works and does not do anything harmful to the files.

The link will take you to a zip of a VB script. Extract the VB script to a convenient location, such as the desktop.  Drag and drop any MSI file onto the VBS icon.  The result will be a text file (automatically saved to the same directory as the MSI) that shows the product code at the bottom. 

Odds are, you have no idea what I'm talking about. Count yourself lucky! For those of you have been hoping to find a published list of product ID numbers - this tool is even better.

Happy Friday.


Mastering Civil 3D 2014

A few people have told me that the files for the Mastering Civil 3D 2014 Quickstart is missing from the Wiley download. Here is an alternate download link:

oh you need the book you say? 
Buy it here:


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).