Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009

I just want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful, and fulfilling new year.

This photo was taken in Seattle at the Space Needle on New Year's Eve 2005. We're actually spending a very quiet evening at home tonight. Tomorrow we're hosting our second annual New Year's Day Open House and Soup Fest.

And then next week I should be winging my way to India, in pursuit of a very interesting job opportunity. I hope to share more about this with you in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Movie Review: Man on Wire

Maybe it's the writer in me. Or the fact that I watch a lot of movies. But for whatever reason, I felt compelled to write a movie review. At least the movie in question has some link to the other themes of this blog.

To simply say that Man on Wire tells the story of French high-wire walker Philippe Petit's stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center misses the point completely. Most New Yorkers know that on the morning of August 7, 1974, Petit not only walked a wire strung between the roofs of the two towers, he spent nearly an hour walking back and forth, even laying down on the wire at one point and saluting the police waiting to take him into custody. The film's title is a reference to the charges filed against Petit, (tresspassing, disturbing the peace, "man on wire"), which were later dismissed in exchange for him putting on slightly more sedate, free performance for the children of New York.

I even remember where I was that day (although it's not an event so etched in my memory that I remember what I was doing, or anything like that). But that was quite a summer. I was taking summer classes at Syracuse University School of Architecture. A few weeks later, Richard Nixon resigned.

Nor can you just say that Man on Wire is a documentary. Because in spite of the fact that we know what's going to happen, British filmmaker James Marsh delivers a pulse-pounding story that's more like a thriller than many supposed thrillers I've watched recently. It helps that the young Petit had the foresight to film much of the preparation for his feat. Of course, there was also news footage of those preparations, like the time he secretly rigged a wire and then walked between the towers of Notre Dame Catherdral in Paris. He later performed a similar feat between two towers of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia.

The film integrates Petit's "home movies" with stylized re-enactments and interviews with many of the participants as the director documents every step Petit and his team took to circumvent both the security at the nearly completed World Trade Center and the physics of smuggling nearly a ton of stainless steel cable and rigging into the towers and then figuring out how to string it between them.

Thirty-five years later, and with the twin towers gone, the feat, and this film, remain absolutely mind-blowing. When I brought the DVD out to watch the other night, my daughter initially wanted no part. But inertia prevented her from leaving the room and minutes into the film, she was hooked. We even ended up watching all the special features. I think you will as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New HP Mobile Workstation

As many of you know, I am a long-time contributing editor to Desktop Engineering magazine and several other publications. One of my regular subjects is reviewing the latest computers.

I have long been a fan of HP. Their workstations—both desktop and portable—have always been absolutely superb. My own personal computer is an HP Compaq 8510w mobile workstation, which happens to be the fifth or sixth in a series of HP notebook computers I have used over the years. I am extremely happy with my HP portable workstation and recommend it to others whenever the subject comes up in conversations as I travel the country.

So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to reviewing the latest system in the HP mobile workstation line: the EliteBook 8530w. My first impression is a bit more "mixed" than usual. The system itself is quite elegant—much more modern and streamlined than even my relatively new 8510w—but some of the design decisions compromise things I've loved in the older models.

The new HP EliteBook 8530w features an elegant new design.

For example, I've long applauded HP for putting little icons around the keyboard that clearly identify the various ports around the edges of the notebook, making it extremely easy to find the right port without having to tip the system up on its side. This simple touch, present on all the HP mobile workstations I've owned or reviewed in the past, are not present on the 8530w.

Unfortunately, the new design eliminates the handy icons, seen here on the older HP Compaq 8710w mobile workstation, that clearly identified each port located on the edge of the computer.

According to an HP rep I spoke with, these were eliminated in the new EliteBook because instead of the gray finish on all of the previous models, the new EliteBook uses HP's new DuraCase design, which features a brushed aluminum skin bonded to a magnesium alloy chassis. The attractive two-tone appearance meant that to include the little icons would have required two separate silk screening steps and wouldn't be in keeping with the new design. So it seems that appearance has trumped functionality. Too bad.

The evaluation unit I received came with Windows Vista Business edition. I still prefer Windows XP for production CAD work, but I've had no serious issues with least not until now. My first problem involved user rights management. I found it nearly impossible to install and run some of my standard benchmark tests until I finally dove deep enough into the operating system to completely disable the User Account Management (UAM) functions and also create several new directories (explicitely making them writable) that should have otherwise been created by the benchmark's own installation routine. I never had to do this in the past. What else did Microsoft change in this release of Vista?

After finally overcoming the UAM limitations, imagine my surprise when I attempted to run my standard battery life test. That test consists of first setting the system for maximum power conservation, unplugging the power supply (so that the system is running on its internal battery) and then playing a DVD video and recording the time until the battery is completely exhausted.

Apparently, Microsoft doesn't believe that business users watch movies on long flights. Windows Vista Business doesn't include the necessary codec to play videos. While it appeared at first that users would need to either upgrade to a different (more expensive) version of Windows Vista or purchase, download, and install a third-party codec, HP actually includes a copy of WinDVD as well as lots of other useful software. This was not initially evident, however, because none of this software was pre-installed, just pre-loaded. HP calls this a "lean image." You need to run a software setup utility to install this additional software.

I'm still in the early stages of my evaluation of this system, so please do not consider this to be anything more than a first impression. I'm just starting to run my benchmarks. I'm actually going to test this system multiple times. HP graciously sent me a second hard disk containing Windows XP. So after running all my tests using Vista, I'll test again under XP.

Watch for my in-depth review in a future issue of Desktop Engineering magazine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

All of My AU Classes are Now Available Online

As promised, this year I recorded all six of the classes that I taught at Autodesk University. While most of those classes were also recorded as part of AU (and are available on the AU-online website). But not all of my classes were recorded by Autodesk, and only those who have attended Autodesk University have access to the AU-online website.

So, for the sake of completeness, and to ensure that everyone has access to all of my classes, I have posted all of this year's classes (as well as several from past years) on my website. Here you will find not only all of the class handouts and PowerPoint presentations (in PDF format) but also the complete webcasts of all of this year's classes. I've also posted datasets from several of the classes, and will gladly add more materials in response to requests.

So, what will you find? Here's a complete list of the classes that I've posted:

I hope you find these materials useful and take full advantage of them. And I welcome your feedback. I am always working to improve these materials.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Autodesk University 2008 - The Final Day

Friday morning was actually my most hectic morning of the entire week. I had to get up earlier than on the previous mornings, in part because I was teaching two classes this morning. In addition, since I'd be leaving the hotel today, I had to pack and check out of my room before teaching my classes, since I'd still be teaching at check-out time (11am) and the hotel would not arrange a late check out.

I also wanted to have breakfast before beginning my classes. Not normally a late riser, I had neglected to consider one potential downside of showing up early for breakfast. In order to cope with the crowds at AU, the food service folks have been filling the dining area working from the back of the room towards the front. That means, the earlier you show up for breakfast, the farther you have to walk to get that breakfast.

Here's what the room looked like a little after 7am on Friday morning. Without coffee, that back wall looks even farther way.

I'm happy to report that all of my classes went very well. I had been a bit concerned that the lack of paper evaluation forms this year would result in a large proportion of attendees not turning in class evaluations. But that appears to not be the case. Evaluations could be filled in using one of the more than 100 computers in the hall used for registration or via the web. Evidently, most attendees have been submitting their evaluations. Since the data is live, I've been able to check the attendee feedback soon after completing my classes.

BTW. I'll be posting videos of all six of my AU classes in the next few days. These will all be linked via my website at

In what has now become an annual tradition, a small group of AU regulars got together for a well deserved post AU lunch.

You may recognize some of these people. From left to right: Joseph Wurcher, Donnia Tabor-Hanson, Lynn Allen, Lynn's husband Craig, Matt Murphy, Susan Malitzke, J.C. Malitzke, Karen Miletsky, Yoshi Honda, Bill Fane, Robert Bell, and me.

Annual AU Party Rocks

Autodesk University isn't all work. Thursday night was the annual AU party.

Guests arriving at the beginning of the evening were treated to a fantastic display of trampoline stunts, including the women's silver medalist from the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games.

This was followed by a Japanese juggler/contortionist.

The headline entertainment was provided by the incredibly talented engineer-turned-comedian Don McMillan. This is Don's third appearance at AU, and he was once again in top form. I've always loved Don's stuff. You can see more on his website at

Perhaps the most unique addition to this year's event was the AU Design Slam, a digital design tournament in which three teams of professional designers competed to complete a design in just 20 minutes using an assortment of Autodesk software.

The Design Slam was organized by Cut & Paste. Visit their website for additional details.

Of course, the AU party wouldn't be complete without dancing. After the final round of the Design Slam, the crowd stayed and danced to music provided by a great DJ.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Greetings from Autodesk University

It's the first week of December, which means that I've made my annual trek to Las Vegas to attend the 16th annual Autodesk University. As usual, it's a pretty full week. I'm teaching six classes and taking at least that many. In addition, I'm trying to attend a wide selection of industry-specific events.

My AU experience starts with the speaker's reception on Monday night, outside on the roof-top terrace adjacent to one of the Venetian Hotel's many restaurants. Lynn Allen gave us all a quick pep talk and encouraged us to have a great AU.

Although attendance is down this year owing to the economy, you couldn't prove it based on the crowd waiting to get in for the opening keynote on Tuesday morning. It was once again wall-to-wall. What was even worse was trying to get into my first class at 8am Tuesday morning before the keynote. Seems like everyone had enough energy the first day to take one of the early morning classes.
Autodesk CEO helped kick things off on Tuesday morning at the opening keynote, although later in the day, at a press briefing, Carl had more cautious things to say about how our industry would fare in the short term.
It's shaping up to be another great AU. I'll try to report more both here and on my Revit-Up blog. Watch for AutoCAD-specific info here and more Revit-centric information on Revit-Up.