upFront.eZine #1,122: Old Timers on New Technology
Guest editorial by Leo Schlosberg
Happy Valentine’s Day! | 14 February 2022
I received a call from a roofer who needed a price on some GFRC [glass fiber reinforced concrete] fascia for an addition to a school. Neither GFRC nor fascia was normally in his scope of roofing work, but he was stuck with it in his bid package. He’s been at this for 40 years and so we chatted.
We went over some of the known industry issues. He said he was glad he did not own the roofing company, because he did not see how he could his price work high enough to cover all the assorted risks. He has been around so long that he could complain about the decline of drawings as the industry moved to CAD.
I had forgotten that people could still complain about that. I had commented on this two decades ago in Ralph Grabowski’s newsletter, when he mentioned my words on the occasion of the newsletter’s 20th anniversary. My post was the most controversial editorial he had in those 20 years. (See https://www.upfrontezine.com/2015/05/857.html.)
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I follow constructech news loosely. I mostly get veiled sales pitches. Forty years ago, when I was a minor pioneer in a different industry (IT – focused on what was then called “office automation” or word processing, integrating text and data, and so on) it became clear that sales efforts focused on the benefits of new technology and glossed over, or omitted, the steep implementation costs. This is still true in tech sales.
The big issue in much of constructech, especially in the segment related to design (CAD, BIM, generative design, and so on), remains knowledge, or rather the lack of it, embedded in designs. The complaint that CAD made drawings worse is based on the observation that the knowledge embedded in the drawings has declined. This is undeniably true.
When I used to work on restoration projects, I would be struck by how the original drawings of century-old structures were so much more detailed and in better correspondence with what was actually built, than modern drawings. The challenges created by all the complex knowledge embedded in the built environment are typically underestimated by those who have not spent a lot of time and effort in the muddy swamp water of the physical realities of materials and structures.
I clearly recall, with fondness, an engineer who was a salesman of admixtures (chemicals) for concrete, sitting me down at lunch one day and patiently explaining to me that “sand” is not one thing, not a simple homogeneous material, but a source of lots of relevant complexity. Everywhere we turn in this business, we run into that sort of complexity.
Software people are not used to complexity, because “data” is an abstraction and computing is full of wonderfully controlled interfaces. By contrast, construction is a collection of physical realities that may not be nicely consistent and homogenous; that change with changes in moisture and temperature; and are subjected to environmental forces (wind, rain, hail, lightning, earthquakes, soil settlements, and so on). In turn, these complex materials have to interface with other materials. Some of the interfaces are well understood and standardized; others are not, and so become a common point of failure. Data does not have to deal with this sort of thing.
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In conjunction with an extremely seasoned and knowledgeable fabricator, I delved into the school renovation project manual and searched for photos of the existing school to better understand the limited information in the contract documents. Turned out the documents made little sense. There was zero correspondence between the detail (called out as one kind of GFRC, but we thought it should be another type, or maybe even cast stone) with no spec for the GFRC.
Before becoming mostly retired, I dealt with this regularly. Now I am astonished and reminded that industry has made so little progress in the problems of design-bid-build as it exists in the real world.
Leo Schlosberg was the founder of Heavyware.com and is now the retired owner at Cary Concrete Products.
[Reprinted with permission from planetcommercialconstruction.wordpress.com/2022/01/26/new-technologies-what-an-old-timer-said-today, with some edits.]
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And in Other News
Siemens released an NX With No Name, calling last week’s update to its flagship MCAD program “latest release” sans version number (although captioning during the launch video seems to label it NX 2007). New functions include
NX topology optimization
Design space exploration
NX voice command assistance
Part orientation optimization
The official launch video can be viewed on YouTube.
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Solidworks ceo Gian Paolo Bassi is promoted sideways to executive vp of 3Dexperience Works. Taking his place as ceo is Manish Kumar, who takes on the double role, as the press release put it, of being “in charge of Solidworks R&D [research and development] since 2018, adds ceo of Solidworks to his responsibilities.” Mr Kumar has worked at Solidworks since 1999. Details at 3ds.com/newsroom/press-releases/dassault-systemes-taps-gian-paolo-bassi-lead-3dexperience-works-promotes-manish-kumar-ceo-solidworks.
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Agacad launches Sandwich Panels for Revit to handle design and documentation, quantity takeoffs, logistics planning, and precise cut lists. Learn more about it at agacad.com/products/bim-solutions/sandwich-panels/overview.
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Here is one of the posts that appeared recently on my WorldCAD Access blog:
You can subscribe to the WorldCAD Access blog’s RSS feed through Feed Burner at feeds.feedburner.com/WorldcadAccess.
Letters to the Editor
Re: 500 New Things in Solid Edge 2022
I’m a little biased, since I sell Solidworks, but everything “new” you described in Solid Edge has been available in Solidworks for several years. I’m not sure I understand why any company would choose Solid Edge over Solidworks.
- Sam Scholes, senior account manager
The editor replies: The reluctance could be due to a number of reasons:
Political — they don't want to buy from Dassault
Top-down — they've been told to buy Solid Edge
Compatibility — the customers they deal with also use Solid Edge
Checkboxes — Solid Edge does things competitors do not
UX — they might prefer the way Solid Edge works
For me, UX is the #1 concern in the software I select, followed by checkboxes.
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Thanks for the article on Solid Edge. I already used (giving you credit) the comment [below] to some of my colleagues about our need to learn our interdepartmental processes better so that we can develop better programs that solve the right problems.”
“Solid Edge benefiting from their use of its CAD in its own engineering projects and how that offers insights into development of functions that are otherwise hard to program and that many of their rivals can only dream of offering someday”
Also, Jeremy has a good eye. Thanks for the Dogbert. Scott Adams is another of my favorite authors!
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I used to work for one of Siemens’ divisions. The engineers weren’t very happy when word came down from the Mother Ship that they had to start using NX, instead of pre-Wildfire Pro/E and ancient seats of AutoCAD. The story everyone heard was that the NX sales force was tired of hearing the question, “So, what CAD software does Siemens use themselves?”
It’s a good example of how weirdly unscientific the sales world is. That question about the software the parent company uses is exactly the kind of question I like to ask of salesmen, just because it’s fun to back them into a corner and watch them flail. But trust me, what software companies use has absolutely zero impact on my buying decisions.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this stuff, too, and remember having to design an optional set of wide tracks for a piece of machinery, on a salesman’s insistence that the customer said the only reason he was buying Deere, instead of ours. was because their tracks were an inch wider.
The older, wiser salesman tried to explain to me that it was just an offhand comment to get the pesky salesman to go away, and that it didn’t matter what we did, the customer wasn’t buying our machines. (He had a large fleet of exclusively Deere equipment).
We did the wide-track option, tested it, and ordered parts for production. As far as I know, those sets of tracks are still on their pallets, twenty years later, slowly rusting into the ground.
Great write up on Solid Edge. It’s one of those options that doesn’t seem to get much attention.
- Jess Davis
The editor replies: I worked at a consulting firm before the transition to CAD. They had a look at Intergraph, but $100,000 per seat was too much. Civil engineering is, after all, not all that complex.
Next, they had AutoCAD demo’ed, but when the salesman suggested that a 10MB hard drive would be needed for AutoCAD to work properly, the added cost was deemed prohibitive, about $2,000 at the time. (Later, I found AutoCAD v1.4 worked just fine with two floppy drives.)
They decided on Anvil CAD as their first CAD system, which, as you might guess, was not the best choice. I have no idea how that came about. Some years later, they bought into AutoCAD, but then found they were now somewhat incompatible with Microstation, which the Ministry of Highways used.
Mr Davis responds: I worked for some years at a trencher manufacturer. When I started, they were using Intergraph on Interact workstations. What a strange world that was! I remember the tech replacing a graphics board that was the size of pizza box. He mentioned it was $12,000 or something like that.
I heard about a gigantic inter-departmental war where the IT priesthood locked horns with engineering, they being natural enemies. When it was finished, engineering triumphed by going with a CAD system that ran on a DEC mainframe instead of the IT department’s beloved IBM mainframe, which is what the rest of the company ran on.
By the time I left five years later, they were on Intergraph Microstation PC [written by Bentley Systems, marketed by Intergraph], and at my next job I instituted CAD with a copy of Microstation on a PC that I got from our in-house buyer, because he didn’t like it, and wanted to go back to his green-screen terminal.
I remember harassing the poor guys demo’ing Pro/E with questions like “So, if we buy your software, can we still run in on hardware from Wal-Mart?”
As an electronics and computer tech for > 40 yrs I’ll explain a few things that people don’t get [about erratic cursor movement caused by poorly-located mouse dongles].
No, it’s not Microsoft’s (or the mouse manufacturers’) fault with driver updates. The problem isn’t software, it’s hardware. These devices are radios. Unfortunately (or not, lol) we can’t “see” radio waves. So we can’t see what’s happening, but there are so many devices transmitting in the frequency range used by mice that there can be countless combinations as every environment varies. This is totally a radio interference problem.
It’s not the receiver’s fault, nor faulty design. The need for such small receivers (nano) came from our need for small portable setups (laptops). People hated the large receivers we used to have, they often hit them and broke them. Since the nano receiver is so small, it has a tiny antenna. Larger antenna are less likely to pick up interference. People wanted small. They gave it to us.
USB plugs are usually grouped. They’re always placed in clumps. That means the device plugged in next to it can interfere, as it’s right beside the mouse receiver. I’ll give you a real example: my Logitech MX mouse’s nano Unifying receiver is plugged directly in the front USB port of my large tower. Worked great. But when I plugged a USB DVD player into the next port, it went nuts! As it’s not unusual to have four or six ports next to each other, your odds aren’t good.
The standard technician’s response to naughty mice has always been “change the port.” While this works, most techs don’t understand why, as they’re computer people, not electronics people. It’s radio interference.
“But it worked for years like this!!” Your environment changed. You got a new printer that’s plugged in next to it. You got a new cellphone or cordless phone, etc, etc, etc. You can’t see radio waves. Something changed, not the mouse.
The batteries are low. A strong signal can cut through the interference, but as the batteries get weaker (or in the case of built-in rechargeables, they’re aging and aren’t as strong), that lowers the power and raises the interference effect. Your mouse isn’t shouting loud enough to be heard.
It’s money! Yep, the good ole $$$. Not the receiver’s fault. The USB plugs next to or near it are not shielded. Virtually all wires nowadays are fully shielded or our electronic world would grind to a halt with interference problems between devices. Unshielded wires act as long antennas and everything would be interfering with every other thing that had a cord. However, it’s expensive and difficult to shield the plug, and the bean counters object to a pair of $0.50 plugs on a $1 wire, so the engineers are overruled and they ahve to use a $0.10 plug that’s not shielded. Guess what’s right next to your nano receiver? Yep, that unshielded plug.
So there you go. It’s spelled “i n t e r f e r e n c e!” This is the solution: moving the receiver away from the interference allows it to be heard. Awesome fix, Ralph!
- RM (on WorldCAD Access)
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