T h e   B u s i n e s s   o f   C A D

a publication from
upFront.eZine Publishing

Issue #484   :  :   July 25, 2006

C o n t e n t s

Exclusive Interview: MoI -- SketchUp for MCAD Users
       - Adopting Rhino's File Format
        - Product Positioning
        - The View from Robert McNeel 

Guest Editorial: When Blogs Go 404

 Below the Radar and other regular columns.


Write the Editor.

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Access nearly-daily CAD commentary at our blog: WorldCAD Access.

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MoI -- SketchUp for MCAD Users

Exclusive Interview

Triple Squid last week made public a beta of Moment of Inspiration {MoI] -- a brand-new 3D CAD program that I've dubbed "SketchUp for MCAD users." Programmer Michael Gibson describes the thinking behind MoI:

"I've noticed in the past that many people have difficulty using regular CAD programs with a pen tablet. Requiring constant keyboard access means that they can't sit back in their chair holding the tablet; they have to hover one hand over the keyboard. Even right-click is awkward with a pen: many people have difficulty with the pen moving too much when they shift their finger to try to do the right-click. And a scroll wheel isn't available at all.

"So I decided to break away from the standard approach, and to reconstruct a new interface that solves these problems for pen tablet users. I figured that would give me a niche that could make the MoI program appealing to a particular user base. A lot of people with an art background seem to like the feel of using a pen.

"This meant restricting the design to only work with very simple actions, which I think has resulted in a nice overall simplification that ends up benefiting mouse users as well.

"Anyway, things moved very slowly for quite a long while, but I kept crunching and crunching away and finally I think it's in a good enough state to do some real design with it, so I've moved it into the beta release phase <moi3d.com>.


upFront.eZine: "What's the story behind Triple Squid?"

Michael Gibson:  "Triple Squid Software Design is a single-person company. My history, very briefly, is I worked at Robert McNeel & Associates from 1993-1999, then at Microsoft 1999-2003. In 2003 I decided that the time was right to leave Microsoft and do my own company. Since then I've been working on MoI on my own."


Adopting Rhino's File Format

upFront.eZine: "I notice that the file format is Rhino's. What is the link there?"

Michael Gibson: "There's a big link, because I created Rhino when I worked for Robert McNeel.

"The plan is that having the Rhino file format as the main file format should make it easier to use MoI within existing environments alongside Rhino. Also I benefit from other industry support for the Rhino file format too, such as www.solidworks.com/Pages/products/solutions/Rhino-to-SolidWorks.html.

"I think that Rhino's file format is really the best NURBS-based open file format available right now. At this point I didn't really have anything to gain by creating a new proprietary format. I expect to add some other file format support as the beta progresses. I've licensed the Solids++ kernel from Gary Crocker <www.integrityware.com>."


upFront.eZine: "I am wondering about using the Rhino file format. Is it sufficient to encompass any object that MoI might come up with?"

Michael Gibson: "Currently, yes. All objects that MoI creates are NURBS B-reps, which have a representation in the Rhino file format.

"The reverse is not true, though; there are objects that Rhino can create and save in a Rhino file that MoI does not read yet. Examples are dimensions, annotation text, spotlights, and polygon meshes. MoI doesn't have any of these special objects yet (well, there is one, a point object), because it's focused on creating NURBS geometry, which fits in well with the Rhino file format."


upFront.eZine: "But what happens when McNeel changes the Rhino format in a future release?"

Michael Gibson: "Well, it's not really in their interest to radically change it, since that would mess up all of the existing translators. They have made changes to the file format, but most changes involved adding new special objects (like hatching). They haven't messed very much with the core NURBS B-rep geometry between versions, and I don't really expect them to.

"The Rhino format is an open format. McNeel supplies a free toolkit <opennurbs.com> that makes it easy to read and write the format."


Product Positioning

upFront.eZine: "How do you position your product -- e.g., are you hoping to become a SketchUp for MCAD?"

Michael Gibson: "I think that's pretty close. I should probably play that up, maybe Google will buy me <g>. Definitely the focus is on ease of use and fast, fluid workflow.

"I envision it as something that is used very early in the manufacturing process as a way to quickly model different designs. The name is meant to reflect this -- when you have an actual 'moment of inspiration', you want to express your idea quickly and easily; you don't want to have a tool that disrupts you.


upFront.eZine: "What's the road map for your software?"

Michael Gibson: "The initial release is focused only on creating the geometry for designs. In future versions I expect to add features involving communication and expression of designs to other people, such as some annotation and rendering stuff.

"I think this lines up pretty well with the label Industrial Design -- that's pretty much the target."


upFront.eZine: "And the name Triple Squid...?"

Michael Gibson: "It actually comes from a game of Scrabble I was playing with my wife a few years back. I got Squid on a triple word score and I declared that it was a Triple Squid. Later, I was having a hard time coming up with a company name that wasn't boring, and I just couldn't get Triple Squid out of my head, so there you go.

"One other tidbit about the name MoI -- I'm trying to go with a long-O pronunciation, like 'moo-eye'. [It's also French for "me." - Ed.] This is how you say the name of the big-head statues on Easter Island <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moai>, so one of those guys with a light bulb flashing over his head (showing inspiration) is my mascot-logo."


upFront.eZine: "How do you plan to make $$$ from MoI?

Michael Gibson: "My current plan is to sell the software directly to end users through a Web site, probably offering it as an Internet download only."


The View from Robert McNeel

Michael Gibson used to work with Bob McNeel, and his software uses the Rhino file format. I wondered if Mr McNeel had any comments on this. His response:

"It appears that one of Gibson's targets is the pen/tablet user. I think that is a great idea. We tried to improve Rhino for these users, but found it very difficult. It seems that he may have some great solutions.

 "As you may know, unlike most software companies, we publish our file formats and provide the read/write libraries without royalty at www.openNURBS.com. They are the same libraries that are used in Rhino so other developers can achieve 100% fidelity if they implement everything that is in the 3DM file.

"We also have development tools at www.rhino3d.com/developer.htm for 3D applications, ranging from simple I/O plug-ins to read and write file formats like CATIA, Pro/E, and UG, to high-end 5-axis CAM products. Currently there are just under 5,000 developers using the Rhino SDK and openNURBS toolkit.

"It is always nice to be able to start a fresh new project. Unfortunately, with Rhino having over 150,000 users, we have to focus on the nitty gritty details of getting them the tools they need to get their projects done. Much of that work now is extremely difficult and not nearly as fun as starting something new.

"I guess that is why many startups sell out before they have been around more than a few years."


When Blogs Go 404

Guest Editorial by Tony Zilles

I it a surprise that most Weblog content is useless? Blogs are a popular and cheap means for anybody with time to spare to engage in broad communication. The value of the communication is entirely in the perception of the communicatee. In commercial situations when an enterprise is unpopular, the venture is terminated. In hobby situations, they can go on boring everyone sick for years.

Editors add value to the information supply by sifting through the offerings and imposing their opinion on which new items have something to other. Roopinder Tara's Tenlinks <www.tenlinks.com> model is an ideal example of how an editor's craft genuinely helps others in cutting through the glug and getting to the jewels.

So the expansion of blogs actually makes the editor's role more valuable to their customers.

- - -

Why is it that Shaan Hurley's blog <autodesk.blogs.com/between_the_lines> is more meaty than Joe Average's? Well for one, Shaan is in possession of significantly more interesting information than Joe. That's because the company that he works for (Autodesk) creates information that certain people want. The information is fed to Joe and his mates in a controlled fashion -- through support and through celebrity employee blogs, for instance. Shaan is paid to have a blog and has a significant level of class support in his role. Alright, I know that not all the support might not be class, but it is significant.

Most of the time poor Joe has to work like a navvy to find out what the heck is going on, and any information he has is either the sterilized version fed to him direct from corporate sources or gained from personal experience. The information gained from experience is underpinned by a whole lot of assumptions that he knows what he is doing within his discipline; with the technology he is using; and within the methods he uses to try to fuse this all into a sustainable activity. Simultaneously, he is probably trying to make a living out of all this and is constantly trying to repress thoughts of "Why did I ever get rid of the drawing board and tee-square?" Joe is a human who has justifiable self-preservation behaviors that prevent him from setting himself up as Total Idiot -- which is an amazingly easy thing to do. The upshot is that Joe can never be sure that he is using everything correctly or within its capability, and so is cautious with his blog remarks. Even if he becomes overconfident and thinks that he is competent to present an important opinion, in all likelihood he will not be, because much key information is never available, and even if it was, there are simply too many variables for Joe to manage.

There maybe some that do have sufficient grip on the situation to provide insights and opinions of genuine value.  However, in many cases the really valuable stuff is not for free consumption; it is delivered for a fee. So once again the useful information is shrouded beyond the vision of masses and is retained within the ranks of the initiated.

Weblogs and blog content comes in different grades; most has a readership of some kind. The value-target might be pinpoint and the value-life may be short. That is the nature of the medium.

[Tony Zilles keeps a list of CAD blogs at www.cadinfo.net/blogs  .]


Below the Radar

A summary of CAD industry news you may not have read elsewhere, or that I found interesting:

- - -

Capvidia provides translation between CAD software and Acrobat 3D. Its 3DTransVidia software is a standalone product for translating data from multiple CAD programs. FormatWorks works inside SolidWorks to translate data. FlowVidia is for CFD analysis and multi-physics simulation, while PlanVidia is for and resource planning and optimization. www.capvidia.com

Microsoft Research's TouchLight 3D technology allows you to interact with 3D images by moving your hands across a large, semi-transparent screen. Three projectors monitor your hand movements, while a project displays the 3D model -- rotating, zooming, and changing 3D model states according to predefined hand motions. The technology must work, because EON Reality has licenced it. A video of it is here: www.eonreality.com/video/touchlight/  . And a deeply technical paper is here: research.microsoft.com/~awilson/papers/ICMI%202004%20TouchLight.pdf

Top Systems releases version 10 of its T-FLEX CAD system, with its new module for physical motion simulation, improved FEA, new welding design subsystem, and automatic creation of the parametrically linked construction elements in 2D sketching. www.tflex.com/cad_10.htm

Platform Computing releases Platform LSF for Dassault's V5 PLM software. The press release sounds this warning: "The automation of all CAD, CAE, CAM and PDM operations to form a single multidisciplinary design optimization loop will greatly streamline production and require thousands of CPUs to manage this new aggregate of operations." www.platform.com

AfterCAD Software launches its InSite public demo Web site at insite.aftercad.com  .

Alibre plans to ship Design v9.1 in September with 3D PDF export. Design Expert will fully integrate Alibre Motion, and get a price increase of US$200 to $1,995. www.alibre.com


Seminars & Conferences

Fifth Annual International Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Cities Conference is Apr 29 - May 2, 2007 in Minneapolis MN USA. www.greenroofs.org


People/Companies on the Move

Seemage appoints Bruno Delahaye to the position of vp of Sales. Mr Delahaye was formerly with PTC.

CAD Schroer Italia opens a new office in Bollate, Italy: Piazza Della Resistenza 26, 20021 Bollate MI, Italy, +39 3482720246

Letters to the Editor

Re: Whence Shop Drawings

"I have been in the planning, design and construction business for almost 30 years, 18 as an architect, and I have always strived to be as detailed as possible in my designs. It is impossible to create any design without some form of shop drawings; however, I believe that anyone, whether an architect, engineer, and whomever else within the AEC industry does his/her utmost to make the process as seamless as possible, the world is a much better place.

"And the world is a much better place with BIM, but only if used as it is intended and for all that it is worth. Any BIM system does not take away the responsibility of insuring that the project is detailed in such a manner to allow it to be constructed as intended. If that means that we still have to add manually designed/detailed drawings (and applicable specifications) to do that, then we do that.

"There is now and (I believe) there will always be a need for manual two-dimensional detailed drawings. However, I believe this need will be diminished as we get closer to having, and more importantly using, the appropriate technology. BIM is just one manner of using the appropriate technology."
        - Randall Lewis, RA
        US Army Corps of Engineers


Re: Data Backup - A User's Experience

        "99.9999% of the time I agree with you. But, we must part company on this one. Backup and restoring has nothing to do with the problem the reader described.

"The reader is correct in wanting to check the copies before destroying original data. If the microfiche files cannot be read, no amount of restoring can make them legible. This is an object lesson to anyone contemplating non-paper archives: make sure you can read what is photographed to microfiche or scanned to a digital format before destroying any drawing."
        - Paul Sorensen
        Trix Systems


"I got tired of backing up too, so I now use a pair of external USB2 drives and simply copy files. It might be a little slower than using backup software, but I never have to worry about whether the file formats or anything else match, or whatever else can go wrong with backup software."
        - Bryan Bergstrand


Re: Withering Creativity on the Vine

        "I apologize if I'm going off on a tangent here, but it dawned on me that one of the biggest problems with American culture is that we're dumping creativity and ingenuity for comfort and convenience.

"Remember the old Lego kits? The ones with just pockets of different blocks and you could just figure out what you wanted to make?

"Remember when AutoCAD was 'generic' enough to do almost anything? Remember when it didn't require mortgaging your house to buy enough hardware to run it respectably? When you could build what you wanted/needed on top of it? Remember when it was relatively 'cheap'?  

"Our kids are being spoon-fed a new world where they don't need to figure anything out except for pushing the right button with the clever icon/picture on it. High school kids aren't being taught how to make good drawings anymore. They're being taught how to use 'features' provided by the software that the school board struck a deal to obtain. I'm sure corporate big-wigs relish that concept, but it's undermining everything that America was built with: creativity. I'm not saying other cultures/nations don't value creativity, or leverage it, only that we here in America are letting it rot on the vine. Sad."
        - David Stein

The editor responds: "In general I agree with you. Here in Canada, for example, we are officially metric, even though much is still imperial, such as the entire construction industry. In school, children are taught metric only, and have no idea that there are 12 inches in a foot, or what a yard is -- even though it's needed for their life skills."


Notable Quotable

"If it wasn't for competition nothing would get done around here."
        - Mini-soft



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