the business of CAD
Issue #816 | April 29, 2014
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In This Issue
1. What I Learned at COFES 2014
Techno-optimists clashing with techno-pessimists
2. Letters to the Editor
What Duff Kurland actually said
What I Learned at COFES 2014
Fortuitous circumstances allowed me to again attend COFES. For 15 years, the event planners at Cyon Research changed neither the location nor the schedule, and so everything was instantly familiar to me after a decade-long absence. (See Figure 1.) The name, by the way, is the acronym for "Congress On the Future of Engineering Software," and this year's theme was thinking ahead to 2020. (Not sure how to say it? Organizers pronounce it "cof ez," I say it "co fez.")
Figure 1: A view instantly familiar to all attendees of COFES: the courtyard pool in Socttsdale around which some social events take place
The point to the 3.5-day-long event is to talk about CAD issues without interference from marketing people (although marketing people do attend but are identified easily because of the way marketing people talk); it's not about us being talked to (although this happens, too, such as at the keynotes). It is the opportunity to speak one-on-one with CEOs, of which there were 38.
International Audience Listening to American Speakers
You will attend the event only by invitation, however, and so COFES is kept small (222 attendees officially). I found it interesting that this year there was a large contingent from Russian software firms (no visa problems, yet...), but none from China, another software powerhouse. Sergey was nearly the most common name, second only to Tom. Overwhelmingly, the audience is from USA, as are msot keynote speakers.
As a Canadian, I noticed that certain agendas crucial to Americans are near-non-issues in other countries, and vice versa. For example, one American keynote speaker harped on his country's conservative-liberal acrimony, something that isn't as shrill in most other countries. American keynote speakers universally assume -- assume! -- universal Internet connectivity, but 90% of India's 1.2 billion lack it, for instance, a datapoint they need to keep in mind for their next talk.
As a result, brilliant points assertively made by keynote speakers were blunted sometimes by their regional outlook as non-Americans in the audience were left thinking, "Yes, but..."
Techno-optimists Clashing with Techno-pessimists
I appreciated the clash between techno-optimists (who alternate between "the technology you are looking forward to is already here!" to "all the technology we need is just x years away") and the techno-pessimists (who alternate between "our current technology ain't working" and "future technology won't work any better"). I appreciated it, because the clash needs to take place, to be heard by both sides.
I spoke of the yawing gap between the one-percenters for whom technology works, and the 99% for whom technology barely works. One techno-optimist claimed to hear grandmothers comparing which Web browser they run on their smartphones; I only hear grandmothers asking me what a Web browser is, as they puzzledly stumble along hoping that they can get through this session of GMail on their desktop computer.
At a roundtable discussion on the future of hardware, a techno-optimist asked why we still used laptops that were optimized for desktop applications, when all the software we need can now be run from the cloud. When I countered with "So why then aren't we all using Chromebooks?", I got silence as the response.
How do techno-optimists differ from techno-pessimists? The techno-optimists tend to treat technology as theoretical constructs, and their numbers include analysts, marketing people, and CEOs -- those whose jobs depend on technology succeeding. Techno-pessimists tend to work with technology in practice, such as software programmers, CAD users, and nearly everyone else -- those whose jobs depend on technology working.
Me, I optimistically keep hoping that technology will enthrall me one more time (as it did with PalmPilot, Android, and Windows 7) but more often I am pessimistic for its future as regressions like a yet-another-new human-computer interface, Chromebooks, and Windows 8 let me down.
Did We 2020?
So, how did we attendees do, thinking ahead to 2020? During an elongated debate over which is better -- to look ahead at technology for one, three, five, ten, twenty, or thirty years -- it was a Russian who brought us back to reality. "Given the chaotic state of affairs in my country, I can only plan ahead for one week," Maria said.
Next year, COFES 2015 is April 16-19 in Scottsdale Arizona. http://www.cofes.com
Oh, and I learned at COFES about the next release of IntelliCAD 8 (read about it tomorrow on WorldCAD Access), Lagoa's trojan horse (read about it on Roopinder Tara's blog at http://cadinsider.typepad.com/my_weblog/2014/04/logoa-announces-3d-mcad-modeler.html), and a new Japanese CAD program optimized for fast machinery design (read about it next week in upFront.eZine).
For more coverage of CFOES 2014, see my reports on WorldCAD Access:
Live blogging: COFES Day 2
Live blogging: COFES Day 2 in the Afternoon
Live blogging: COFES Day 3
[Disclosure: Cyon Research provided me with free admission to COFES.]
And One More Thing...
Paul Schuepbach of Sparepartsplace.com wrote to update me on his firm's progress: "Lot of things happend during the last few months: we launched this month a complete toolkit for users to create their own spare parts catalogs using our Sparepartsplace.com platform. The tookit is based on Inventor OEM and supports native CAD data from all major engineering CAD Systems, such as Inventor, Catia, Pro/E, Solidworks, NX, as well as the standard exchange formats, such as Step, Iges, Sat, and Parasolids."
Videos on how it works and evaluation versions are available from http://www.sparepartsplace.com/Home_EN.html.
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Letters to the Editor
Re: Icons vs Text
This longwinded missive is in regard to Bill Fane's comments in issues 813 & 814. I have seen Bill many times at CAD conferences and much respect his opinions. I doubt he has the slightest familiarity with my own insignificant name. Bill commented in his disdain for icons vs text:
"Icons are great for showing objects but terrible for showing concepts. They should be used sparingly." This is as close to a direct quote as I can remember from the AutoCAD manual somewhere around Release 11 or so (mid-1990's) when they introduced user-customizable image menus.
Here is the full quote, as seen in the Release 12 AutoCAD Customization Manual on page 98 about preparing slides for icon menus:
Remember the main reason. Don't get carried away. Icons are primarily useful when the user must select a graphic symbol. Don't overuse icons attempting to encode abstract concepts into cryptic symbols. It doesn't work; ask any archaeologist.'
That's Duff Kurland's work, and I'm sure it appeared much earlier, but I have only a few of the auxiliary hardcopy manuals from R10 and R11. I even poked around on the accompanying floppies. Yes, my otherwise modern computer with solid state drives, 16GB of RAM, RAID array of 2TB drives, and two Blu-ray writers still has drive A: for 3-1/2" diskettes. (I long ago dubbed all my old 5-1/4" floppies to 3½ or CD long ago.)
I happen to like icons, especially the ones I create or adapt myself, though some of my favorites have text characters in them. As I write this using Word 2003 as my email editor for Outlook, I have several hundred icons in two thrifty rows at the top of my screen. Here are some mostly customized icons from the set, a few of which use VBA to work magic. They are fairly decipherable, especially after once seeing what they represent.
- Steve Wells, president
Re: The Certainty of Rational Knowledge
When this fails, I will retire.
- Phil Kreiker
The editor replies: You're retired, right?
Mr Kreiker responds: Right.
A favorite story of mine was that while at Penton (as a CAE staffer) I was offered a PC card that could do crude character recognition. Rather than leave the digitzing tablet to key in a command at the keyboard, you could "draw" the character on the tablet.
The card was developed for the PC/XT; too bad I had a PC/AT. The backplane distance was shorter and XT card did not fit the AT. I spoke with a few marketing folk at Pencept and they assured me that board would fit. I then asked another question: "Could you please ask the engineers if I should use a two- or a four-pound sledge hammer to insert this $1,800 card?" Sometimes you just have to ask the right question!
- Jim Finkel
The Crane People
The editor replies: Yah, those early compatibles tended to have hardware incompatibilities. A vendor sent me a RAM drive designed for IBM/AT but not the NEC we were using at CADalyst magazine. (We jhad bought the NEC, because it came with a 30MB hard drive for the same price as the BIM PC/AT's 20MB drive.)
Good article. Thanks. I've enjoyed reading it.
- Bernhard Valnion, editorial head
Economic Engineering, Germany
My company CAD Systems Unlimited, in the early 80s was one of the first dealers of the Victor 9000 in the San Francisco Bay Area. I even used to travel to their headquarters in Scotts Valley.
When I was developing AutoShapes, a font compiler for AutoCAD fonts, and Fsimplex, the first fixed spaced simplex font for AutoCAD, I even visited the programmers at Autodesk in Sausalito for technical discussions.
- Robert Pantangco
I almost purchased a Victor 9000 in the early 80s, but ultimately came down on the side of the NEC-APC, advanced color graphics, 8" 1.2 Mb floppies, 640MB RAM, and was happy for several years. Compatibility finally became an issue, but an external 5-1/4" floppy solved most of those. Enjoyed the Byte article but it was way to detailed for anyone, except an engineer!
- Larry Brock
The editor replies: In those days, NEC was a respected name in desktop PCs. Eventually, I also purchased an external drive to read and write IBM PC-compatible diskettes for my Victor 9000. I think it cost around $600 and it felt like it weighed a ton.
Very good article! Thank you again!
- David Stein
Thanks for the trip back memory lane. I got my start a few years after you on a Compaq "portable" with, what, a 9" diagonal screen? -- and AutoCAD Release 9, of course.
Seem like good questions to ask, too. "Job security" is such a self-deception. Like freedom, financial stability seems to require eternal vigilance. So often, in the technology world, the victory goes to the strongest in market share, which is arrived at through a complex puzzle of war chest size, selling price, gimmick, advertising, placement, attrition, but rarely the best innovator or product.
- R. P.
The editor replies: "The trouble with innovation is that it breaks compatibility."
R.P responds: "That, too. It always has been a factor in my CAD decisions."
"What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?"
- Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons
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