Goverlan Remote Administration

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Part of my role as Digital Design Manager involves coordinating installations of new & updated software programs. It’s the main area where I overlap with IT — they can handle a lot of the legwork, but keeping up with new releases (and deciding when to roll them out) is mine.

For a long time, we were small enough that we could get away with “sneaker-net” installations…actually walking around to each computer to run the install or start the deployment. But at 140 people, that method is a little ridiculous — not to mention that it provides absolutely no means of inventory control.

So to save us all a lot of time & headaches, we use Goverlan Remote Administration. Goverlan is an all-in-one IT console for management, installation, and inventory. You can control network machines remotely (with more flexibility and convenience than Windows Remote Desktop), set up packages to deploy software, uninstall old software, and manage network properties.

I don’t get into the last item very much (my IT managers are better at that than I am), but the remote control & installs have been an amazing time-saver. This morning, I pushed out a new version of SAP 2000 to 30 machines in about 10 minutes — counting time for setup & testing. And before I did that, I ran an inventory query (in about 2 minutes) that told me which machines needed the update.

Having remote control capabilities means I can quickly see another machine from my desk, either to test a remote installation or launch something directly (if for some reason we don’t have a deployment package). It is SO much easier than walking over to the other machine (yes, I’m a little lazy), and if I’m using it for troubleshooting, my colleague can see her screen at the same time, so it’s easier to figure out what’s going on. Once or twice, though, I’ve checked to see that someone was out of the office before taking over his computer…only to find out that he was logged in from home. (“Hey, why is my mouse moving by itself?” Oops.)

I know this is probably very basic compared to the setups some of you have. And I’m sure I’m not using what we have to its full potential. But Goverlan is very user-friendly even for those of us who aren’t IT professionals. And when you compare it to what we used to have, we’re happy with it. It’s pretty cheap too, as far as these things go, and I think it paid for itself in the first few months in terms of IT time saved. (And to be clear, my only relationship with Goverlan & PJ Technologies is as a customer.)

Anybody else out there using Goverlan? Or something else you’d like to recommend?

Standards: Process vs. Outcome

One of my (many) projects these days is wrangling our long-standing CAD standards and much-newer BIM standards into a single, unified “Graphics Standards Manual”. As I try to get a grip on this spaghetti bowl of topics, I’ve started to divide them into two categories: process and outcome. You could also call it screen vs. plot. Or, in complete sentences: “How does it act?” vs. “How does it look?”

Today, these two halves of a model or drawing are about equal. I suspect, as we continue to move closer to IPD, the “process” side will begin to prevail. Today, however, I’m more likely to see a QC comment complaining about the symbol representing a kicker than about the fact that it’s a faked-in detail component when it should have been modeled.

This philosophical division also helps categorize standards topics into “CAD”, “BIM”, and “graphics”. The first two are process-based, such as project setup procedures for each system. The last is outcome-based, such as our typical abbreviations and acronyms. Some topics span all three categories, like the information contained in a graphical column schedule. What that schedule looks like is part of Graphics, but getting it there is part of CAD/BIM.

I’m still working on the best way to organize all these discrete yet related topics. My ideal scenario would be a fully-linked searchable database or website. For now, we have OneNote. It’s pretty good, but harder to lock down against inadvertent editing than I would like.

As I keep writing things down, I’ll post the categorization here, but in the meantime, how do you handle unified standards for separate software solutions?

Insert screenshot in MS Office products

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Okay, so this is not really BIM-related at all, but I haven’t posted here in over two months (sometimes life gets in the way of blogging) and when I found this I just had to share it. And if any of you have to create presentations, write training materials, or just put a lot of images in emails, you’ll like it as much as I do.

Here it is: Open up just about any Microsoft Office 2010 product (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint) and check out the Insert tab.

InsertScreenshot

Did anyone else miss the fact that there’s a screenshot option right in plain view? I guess my gaze usually stops on “Picture.” And to be fair, if your window is small enough the icon may get collapsed into the mini-version:

InsertScreenshotMini

Click on it, and you’ll get images of every open program you have. Pick one to drop in a full-size image of that window, or choose the “Screen Clipping” option to define your own area. (Note that the current program will minimize while you take your clipping.)

Is that cool or what?

Working vs. Sheet views

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When I first came back to working in Revit, I wasn’t convinced of the need to separate “working” views from “plotting” views. I’d never used them in AutoCAD, why start now? Can’t you just hide stuff you don’t need?

Gotta say, though, I became a fan pretty quickly. What changed my mind?

Working Sections 

When you’re working in 3D, a 2D view doesn’t always tell the whole story. (Or even half the story.) Want to see what’s really going on in your plan? Cut a section! Didn’t quite answer the question? Cut another section! Before you know it, your view is chock full of section cuts that you don’t actually need as part of your set.

WorkingView

Rather than letting section cuts clutter up your views, at our office we change them to a “working section” type and use a filter to turn them off in plotted views. We’ve found it helps eliminate confusion between what’s a “real” section and what’s not.

PlottingSection

“Real” (a.k.a. plotting) section

WorkingSection

“Working” section

Temporary Annotations 

I was modeling an existing structure the other day, and I needed to keep track of the top of caisson elevations. The easiest way to do this was to tag them all with spot elevations — but I did not want that information on the actual plan. Instead, I hopped over into the working view and tagged away.

WorkingView2

They didn’t have to look pretty, because they’ll never appear on paper. I like to think of working views as the digital equivalent of scratch paper. You can scribble all you want, knowing you won’t mess up your sheet. And if you decide later that you do need some of those annotations or sections on the plotting sheet, you can easily copy the annotations or change the section back to a regular type.

Watch out for real objects

The one caveat I would give for working views is that if you change something real, like a wall or a door, you’d better go back and check that in your plotting view to make sure it still looks the way you want it to. Real annotations such as dimensions and spot elevations should follow their hosts, but detail components might not and text notes definitely won’t.

Don’t blame the software…

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Have you ever noticed that people tend to blame software for project problems? Or worse, for people problems?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and decided to post after I read Robert Green’s Cadalyst series on the “tool worship trap“. These articles describe how easy it can be to get caught up in the promises of new software (and yes, I’ve been there!), and the reality checks you need to be sure your expectations don’t get out of hand.

But this attitude has a flip side: fear of new technology. Or if not fear exactly, a transference of existing issues onto new software. I’m mostly thinking about Revit today, but there will probably be more examples in a future post.

  • “We’re over budget because we did this project in Revit.” (Are you sure it’s not because of all the client-driven changes?)
  • “Revit should have notified us that the slab openings moved.” (Maybe. But how would we have handled this in AutoCAD?)
  • “I thought coordination would be easier now.” (Well, it can be. But you still have to talk to each other.)

Basically, whenever I hear a complaint or an objection to a Revit-based process, I try to find out if it’s an issue now anyway, regardless of software, and whether it’s something that we could fix if we just talked to the person on the other end.

Revit’s not perfect. (Far from it…although it is getting better all the time.) But I don’t think it deserves all the blame it accumulates for problems that are either long-standing collaboration challenges — that could be just as true for two people working on a Word doc — or that can be traced to other project management issues.

Just some Friday musings…

Drag Listening Dimensions

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If you’ve used Revit at all, I’m sure you know what a listening dimension is, even if you’ve never heard the term before. They’re the temporary dimensions that show up when you select an object.

Listening1

They’re GREAT to have — I use them all the time when I know what the distance should be between two points or objects.

But the listening dimensions don’t always show up where you want them. In the image above, maybe I need to set the distance from the selected beam to grid 6.

Before I learned the trick I’m going to share with you, I would have added a dimension from the the beam to the grid, changed my measurement, and deleted the dimension. But no longer!

Instead, I learned (I forget where, sorry) that you can just adjust the listening dimension. Grab the blue dot (the tooltip will say “move witness line” and drag it to your preferred reference.

Listening2

Voilà!

And what’s more, this relocation is sticky — the listening dimension will appear in the same (new) place the next time you select that object.

RAM and Revit: First thoughts

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A large part of my role as Digital Design Manager is getting multiple software platforms to play nicely together. Frankly, getting one at a time to behave is often a challenge, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the compatibility of two programs that see a lot of use around here: Revit and RAM.

Revit to RAM

The first time we tried to link the two systems, we started in Revit. This was an existing structure, steel framed, that we were modeling for seismic analysis purposes. The goal was to start in Revit (so we’d have a documentation model ready to go for a later design phase) and then export to RAM Elements.

Unfortunately, it turned into a complete mess. We discovered (too late) that the ISM translator only pulls the physical model from Revit and ignores the analytical elements. This meant that our steel joist roof didn’t connect to the beams it was supported by, columns missed their connections to beams, etc. It was a real disappointment, after all the work we’d put in to making sure our analytical nodes were connected.

We eventually were able to get the model to run, but it was a real headache.

HOWEVER, I have not given up! This was only our first attempt, and involved RAM Elements instead of RAM Structural System. I hope to find a good test project soon for Round 2.

RAM to Revit

Our next experiment went the other way — from RAM Structural System to Revit. This was another steel-framed structure, and when documentation started the engineer had already built a RAM model for some schematic design calcs. It seemed silly to start from scratch in Revit when we could at least try the import.

And this one worked beautifully.

All the elements came into Revit right where they should be. The beams had physical and analytical components. (I haven’t figured out that quirk of ISM yet.) Anything that looked off, like a grid line that stopped halfway up the building, could be traced back to the RAM model element’s definition, not the import process. I estimate that it saved us at least 3 solid days of drafting/modeling time, if not more.

The catch with this second project is that it’s historic steel, not modern. So the RAM model had lots of substitutions for archaic shapes, which had to be swapped out in Revit to be properly displayed & tagged. So I don’t know yet if we’ll be able to round-trip the model. There might be some tweaks we can make to the mapping file to accommodate the historic shapes, but my research hasn’t gotten that far yet.

It’s a good start, though…onward and upward!

Quick Rotate Objects

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When you’re inserting objects or components into a Revit view, you may have noticed the “Rotate after placement” checkbox below the ribbon.QuickRotate1

It’s handy, I suppose, but personally, I haven’t used it since I discovered the quick-and-easy way to rotate objects before you place them: with the space bar.

By default, pressing the space bar before you place an object rotates it 90 degrees.

QuickRotate2 QuickRotate3

But if you hover over an existing object first, your new component will rotate to match its alignment.

QuickRotate4 QuickRotate5 QuickRotate6

I use this ALL the time for placing breaklines along braces and sloped beams, or to align columns with non-orthogonal grids.

Just a quick tip to tide you over while we wait for Revit 2014 to appear…

Autodesk Revit 2014

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Autodesk will be holding a webcast in about an hour (http://autode.sk/webcast) to announce the launch of their 2014 family of products, including Autodesk Revit. But some of the details are already out, and the product pages have been updated, so…let’s talk new software!

I wasn’t in the beta program this year, so I found out about the new features the regular way…through Twitter.

My lack of advance knowledge means I didn’t have a post loaded and ready to go for today.  But I’ve read enough to identify three quick favorite new features, all in the small-but-significant category.

  1. Non-rectangular view crops & callouts. This one will solve a problem that literally came up yesterday.
  2. Temporary view settings.love view templates, and loved that they were made “sticky” in Revit 2013. But they can be annoying too, if you just need to see something briefly and turn it off again. Sounds like that annoyance is gone now.
  3. Multiple Bring-to-front/Send-to-back. Another annoyance removed. Now you can select multiple detail elements and change their view order, instead of working with one at a time.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I actually get the new version loaded on my machine. But if you’d like to read more today, David Light has excellent in-depth coverage, or you can visit the official Revit home page. Here’s a link straight to the structural new features.

Z-direction vs. Start & End offsets

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When you’re modeling structural framing in Revit, you often can just assign it to a level or reference plane to set its elevation.BeamOffset1

But sometimes you need to move a beam up or down — maybe to accommodate a slab step, architectural element, or other framing condition.

BeamOffset2

There are (at least) two ways to achieve the above image.

The first is with the z-Direction Justification and Offset. If you change Justification to “other”, you can then specify a single value to offset the beam up or down.

The second is with the Start and End Level Offsets. You can use these to give the two ends of the beam different elevations.

Which to choose? Well, it depends. Here’s what you need to know:

z-Direction Justification/Offset

  • The analytical line for a beam adjusted in the z-Direction stays put on the original reference level or work plane. This might be what you want to have happen, if you’re going to be exporting your analytical model to a program like RISA, or it might not. You’ll have to decide.BeamOffset3
  • You can only set one value, so it’s no good for sloped beams.
  • The z-Direction is relative to the beam, not the project. This means that if you have a beam with a rotated cross section, z-Direction offsets might not give you the result you’re looking for.BeamOffset4

Start & End Level Offsets

  • With this method, the analytical line follows your beam. Again, this may or may not create the desired effect with your analysis software.BeamOffset5
  • Each end can have a different offset, so you can create sloped framing.
  • HOWEVER, setting a start or end level offset AUTOMATICALLY detaches your framing from its work plane, and as far as I know you can’t get it back, even if the effect of the offsets keeps your framing parallel to its original plane.
  • Start/end offsets are relative to the level, so rotating your section keeps it more or less where it started. (Laterally, at any rate.)BeamOffset6

Combined Methods

  • You can actually use both methods at the same time for even more control over the location of your framing. Here’s the beam above with Start, End, AND z-Direction offsets.

 BeamOffset7

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