a publication from
Issue #485 : : August 1, 2006
C o n t e n t s
The World is Flat
And a very few other regular columns.
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Access nearly-daily CAD commentary at our blog: WorldCAD Access.
Every year at this time 'upFront.eZine' takes its annual summer break. The next issue comes out Monday, 11 September. See you then!
In the meantime, CAD news and opinions continue to be churned out at my WorldCAD Access blog. The following news items were posted at the blog during the last week < worldcadaccess.typepad.com >:
Landing in Chicago, the stewardess proclaims triumphantly, "Another early arrival for United Airlines!" After which our plane sits on the tarmac for 3/4-hour, because no gates are available. The captain blames the weather; looking out the window, I see only an overcast sky.
Hurrying to make our tight connection, my daughter Heidi and I get into the lineup under the digital sign reading "BOSTON." Except the lineup is for New York; our Boston flight is delayed another two hours. The large ad in the holding area reassures us that this is a 'Business1' flight, meaning guaranteed on-time arrival -- "on time" defined by United as up to 30 minutes late.
Arriving in Boston, the weather is threatening. A storm off the Atlantic coast brings heavy downpours, thunder, and lighting. The hotel's outdoor pool is closed. Hot, humid, on-and-off rain showers, lightning strikes around us. This could have been the worst business trip ever, except that the one to CAD Camp '92 was even worse.
Friday morning, a limousine picks me up from the Holiday Inn Government Center, a Select hotel whose primary marketing feature is the fog-free mirror in the shower. Part of the sink had been crushed by a disrespectful guest, the damage covered over by a rough chunk of 3/8" plywood. None of the drains are in any hurry to drain, the bedside phone doesn't work, and we clearly hear the kids screaming next door. At 1 a.m. For this, Holiday Inn has the grace to charge $250/night. At least the wireless Internet is free.
The limo driver has a Compaq notebook computer propped up beside him. The color screen shows a part of Boston, along with this necessary instruction: "Please plug in the GPS device." As we drive, he keeps fiddling with it, finally explaining that a friend had borrowed the computer, dropped it, and now the USB ports didn't work. The Compaq repair center said it would examine the computer for $150, and then repair it for $500. Cheaper to buy a new one.
The roads are plugged, because thenew tunnels are closed -- except for busses. A concrete ceiling panel had fallen from a newly-opened tunnel, killing the newly-married wife of a driver. He was going to the airport, and at the last minute she decided to come along, the limo driver tells me.
The driver changes his mind and doubles back to take a different bridge out of Boston. We pass by the hotel again. Along the Charles River, past Harvard University, and then into the rolling countryside. Three-quarters of an hour later, I'm in Concord, where I first meet with Mike Volpe, director of SolidWorks' marketing operations.
YouTubing and Me-Blogging
"Mvolpe70" has YouTube.com on his computer screen, and immediately shows me videos placed there by SolidWorks < youtube.com/results?search=SolidWorks>, the most popular of which is "Trek Bikes Designed in SolidWorks" (1,372 views).
He's pleased with video tutorials posted by third parties. One is Mountain Wave, a Canadian CAD trainer with videos like "Batch Rename in Solidworks" (40 views). Contrast those view numbers with YouTube's most popular: 29,892,166.
SolidWorks has its corporate blogs, and now four or five independent blogs have popped up, some of which are by SolidWorks dealers. Mr Volpe is clearly keen on this grass-roots marketing for his company's products. It's marketing that's nearly free, it's easy to post (no layers of paperwork), and "hundreds of millions" are exposed to it.
The Long Tail Effect
Except they're not, I explain. Millions of people view YouTube videos, read blogs, and otherwise amuse themselves through the Internet. Millions of people upload videos, update blogs, and otherwise express themselves publicly. But millions don't view SolidWorks videos; barely anyone reads CAD blogs -- relative to the larger scheme of things.
As technology makes entertainment pervasive (or "democratic," to misuse the word), the Long Tail theory comes into effect. The more choices, the fewer viewers. Only a very few outlets receive the disproportionately large number of viewers; everyone else settles for crumbs off the floor.
The stats for the Top 5 videos on YouTube illustrate the dramatic drop-off that defines the top end of the Long Tail:
#1 - 29,892,166
As a marketing effort, sure, put your items on YouTube, MySpace, and the blogs. It won't hurt your effort. But don't expect much in the way of sales. After all, only one in 14 million wins the lottery.
Planning for the next version of SolidWorks begins 13 months before each mid-summer release. Fielder Hiss demo'd 2007 to me, noting that his company still needs to push the envelope of 3D design.
SWIFT is one attempt to unlock the power that's "hidden" inside software programs -- you know, the 80% of features we rarely use. SolidWorks Intelligent Feature Technology automates some of the tasks that are tedious or non-intuitive.
For example, creating fillets in a history-based solids modeler like SolidWorks requires rolling back the history, applying the fillets, and then restoring the history tree. The SWIFT Feature Xpert does that automatically: You pick the edges to fillet, specify the radius, and the Xpert rolls the history.
In SolidWorks 2007, SWIFT is available for creating and editing features, sketches, mated parts, and dimensions. For example, when applying dimensions, SWIFT knows the difference between dimensioning circles and slots. It knows when drawings have too many dimensions (over constrained) and too few (under constrained).
Also new is the now-nearly-mandatory saveas 3D PDF, scan to 3D input, along with 50%-smaller file size, the drag'n'drop insertion of AutoCAD blocks (drawings), and more features than I have room here to describe. The software was due to become available to subscribers last week.
SolidWorks, The Company
Jeff Ray, the chief operating officer, took me for lunch in the SolidWorks building. His concern is the physical plant and the employees. How can SolidWorks maintain its employee-friendly feel as it grows to become much larger? That's a question that keeps him awake at night. I suggested that the feel might not be maintainable with growth.
While SolidWorks has just 600 employees in Concord, he considers the 3,000 or so employed by dealers just as important. As PTC and UGS are finding out, dealers are more important than direct sales. They understand local conditions; they get the foot in the door of the potential customer. Ultimately, dealers make CAD companies more money than do direct sales. SolidWorks continues to invest in its dealer channel, rather than in direct sales or Internet sales.
Mr Ray pressed home the point that "customers need to drive down their manufacturing costs, increase quality, and come up with innovation. SolidWorks seeks to serve these needs." How low are costs going? Consider the Chinese manufacturer of socks (11 cents a pair, wholesale cost) who complained in 'Fortune' magazine of being undercut by his rival down the road.
Engineering's a Yawner
While in Rainer Gawlick's office (he's head of worldwide marketing), I briefly met newly-hired Marie Planchard. She's in charge of making engineering exciting to students -- beyond attempts like the FIRST robotics competition.
There is concern about the lack of interest by high school students in engineering. As a former P. Eng., I see the problem has several parts:
[Another reason: while doctors can kill only one patient at a time, civil engineers can kill thousands at a time. Even worse, there is no statute of limitation in my jurisdiction, so the estate of guilty engineers can be sued. That level of liability made me wilt.]
Thus, director of education marketing Planchard has a tough job ahead of her. I recommend targeting high schools, starting in Grade 10 when students get the first glimmer that they need to start thinking about their future beyond the cocoon of high school.
This Summer in Mongolia
My last meeting of the day was with ceo John McEleney. He told me his company is not into PLM [product lifecycle management]. "Too many companies are losing money on PLM, beating each other up." Instead, he's content to offer PDM [product data management] in two flavors: Enterprise for multiple sites, and Workgroup for single offices.
He likes the relationship SolidWorks has with Dassault Systemes; the two pretty much ignore each other, DS being like a shareholder whose main concern is that SolidWorks make a profit each quarter.
What SolidWorks is lacking is an early design component, and I recommended he download Triple Squid's brand-new MoI software.
Each year, Mr McEleney goes with friends on The Big Trip. This year, it's horseback riding in Mongolia. First though, he had to learn to ride horses; lessons were due to begin later that week.
[Disclosure: SolidWorks paid the airfare and limo ride.]
These are some of the books I'm reading this summer:
- - -
'The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century'
An explanation of how the Internet and collaboration software erases time zones, oceans, and borders in business. A good introduction for those who don't already understand these concepts; for the rest of us, Friedman's repeated repetition of these concepts is as welcome as nails scratching on blackboards.
'The One Percent Solution: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of
Its Enemies Since 9/11'
A non-fiction that reads like a thriller. A description of how the American president, his advisors, the CIA, FBI, NSA, et al had to change their thinking from battling known countries with human leaders armed with unused nuclear weapons, to skirmishing against vaguely-defined groups with inhuman leaders armed with the ultimate in nihilistic weapon, the suicide murderer.
'Italy Out of Hand: A Capricious Tour'
The lavishly illustrated and quirkily-written follow-up to the lavishly illustrated and quirkily-written 'Paris Out of Hand.' These travelogue books are not meant to be read as much as experienced. It's my dream to one day create a book as wonderful as those output by publisher Chronicle Books.
- - -
Fiction that updates 'Microserfs' to the Age of Google. I generally dislike fiction, but Coupland is one of the few authors whose fiction I enjoy, because he dispenses with adjectives. I don't care that the character has long, wavy, unwashed, brown hair with a hint of delightful, sassy yet subtle, red highlights, pushed to one side or the other, never successfully uncovering both blue-green, penetrating, darting eyes at once. I do like the post-modernism of the first line in this new novel: "I feel like a refugee in a Douglas Coupland novel."
'The Devil Wears Prada'
Last week, I saw the movie; this week, I'll read the book. After five years at a magazine, I related to 'Runway' magazine's "this is the most important work in the world" attitude, along with the politics, the back-stabbing, the vendor love-ins, the deadlines. At least we had no dress code to worry over.
- - -
Tip to Canadians: buy your books across the border in the USA. You'll save 20-30%, because Canadian book prices have not yet caught up [or down] with the new 10% exchange rate. Plus, you help out authors (like me), because we make double the royalty on books sold in the USA.
Re: When Blogs Go 404
is not one of my actual job responsibilities or a required task
of mine. Whoever mentioned that is what I get paid for are incorrect.
I was given the ok to blog provided it did not interfere with my
real job responsibilities and so far things have been great and
the grass roots experiment has blossomed as a hobby."
Letters to the Editor
Re: Triple Squid MoI
"Michael Gibson wrote a simple but elegant faceted 3D modeler (informally called Mike's Modeler, but better known as Sculptura) when he worked for McNeel. At the time, McNeel was working with Applied Geometry to integrate AGlib (a 3D modeling kernel) into AutoCAD. Rhino became Sculptura grown-up.
"Having done work on pen-based interfaces, I can understand the difficulty in retrofitting them to existing products, and I think tackling the problem with a start-from-scratch project, as Mike has done, is absolutely the right approach.
"I also think Mike is on-the-mark in using OpenNURBS and in licensing Solids++. Yet, he still has challenges in front of him:
"It's a major leap to go from where he's at, to a fully functional product. Even things that seem trivial can be major projects. Take annotation for example: If you don't deal with Unicode and compounds glyphs from the start, they're truly difficult to add later.
"As for getting to 'SketchUp for MCAD users.' I think that's
going to be near impossible with just NURBS. Still, Michael Gibson
is one very smart programmer. This is his third CAD product, so
he has some experience with what works and what doesn't. It's going
to be interesting to watch his progress."
Spin Doctor of the Moment
"PLM and PDM don't create products."
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