Author Archives: Sean

Tesla home Battery not all its charged up to be


The newly announced Tesla Powerwall home battery is purely a luxury item. Surprised? That’s what Telsa does well: introduce a sexy object that only the wealthy will buy. So far it’s worked out well for them and a tiny fraction of the potential customers out there excited about electric cars. They are not Apple, yet. Apple sells affordable luxury. Tesla will get there when they make their money, so long as they don’t pour it all back into R&D for their next big thing or a “city on Mars”.

The real buyer of these 7kWh and 10kWh batteries will be Elon Musk’s other company, SolarCity who currently lease to own solar panels with no money down. Pairs well with an efficient battery that is comparably priced to the much bulkier and obsolete lead acid batteries.

It makes almost no sense to buy these to expect a significant savings of money and change nothing in the house – the same insulation, the same equipment and appliances. You can see that without some incentives for energy saving improvements this is purely becoming a status item. It would have to be seen as also an emergency backup after an outage. Easier to use and maintain than a generator. There is an extremely long payback for simply using off peak electricity – the big selling point for this device. My household’s total shared electric bill is $60 per month. Even if I theoretically save $20 per month, it would take 12.5 years to break even. By then the battery would be long retired.

Some utility companies don’t even have variable rates for residential customers and Washington state has the third lowest rate (6.9¢ per kWh retail before taxes) in the country – so long as the hydro plants keep churning.

If you’re a U.S. resident, check to see if your location makes more sense for this new thing. Certainly places that have expensive nuclear power plants to feed and pay off have higher rates: http://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/

The year of the Dynamo

Dynamo

Dynamo*, of the 1987 sci-fi movie, The Running Man.

Ah.. Springtime. It is such a great time to celebrate new things. This Spring is no different. Snows are melting, trees are blooming, or soon will be. It’s a wonderful time to start something new. Plant garden. Take on a new hobby. Build a Tiny House. One thing I wanted to announce was a new role I will now have at NBBJ – that of Performance Analysis Lead. While this may seem like a big shift, it’s still in the realm of BIM, and gives me even more excuse to continue dabbling in the Design Computation world.

I’m at Midwest University 2015, which you can follow on Twitter with the hashtag #MU2015 (which incidentally, oddly also happens to be the hashtag for Miss Universe 2015. Who knew?). And this week, I am presenting a class titled: “Working Smarter in Revit with Dynamo”. Preparing for this class has made me think about the value Paradigm Shift brings to the AEC community. There tends to be a technology cycle. With it, I am going to be taking a slight bend in the road. Here goes…

I plan to write more about Dynamo. A lot more. Dynamo is a visual programming language to help make your own tools for doing all the things you wish your software did out of the box. Still don’t know what it is? I’ve written a little about tit in the past… however now, it will be a main focus. Stick with me and I promise you will find some value if you use Autodesk software, especially Revit. Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 9.42.39 PM

Above is an example script that takes all the Revit walls and colors them according to a variation in the Fire Rating Parameter. I’ll explain it more in my next post. Using tools like Dynamo includes concepts revolving around, automation, model checking, Design Computation, Big Data, Performance Analysis and how the “i” in BIM can really be leveraged in new ways. I hope you will all join me in this transition and I look forward to the new roads ahead. Dynamo will be huge this year and I want to share with you all ways it can help you be more productive and happy in your work.

Cheers!

* not the actual Dynamo

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Screencast is dead. Long live Screencast.

I’m amazed that some folks still visit older posts of mine, such as this one on Exploded 3D Drawings from 2009! I’ve decided to end my account on Screencast.com due to the incredible amount of spam and no way to filter for ‘humans’. So, as much as I like using Camtasia and Jing to capture video, those videos are thus, gone. Poof. They need to be updated for new capabilities in Revit anyway. The articles will still exist, however a handful of my older videos will be broken links – until I can connect to the YouTube versions on my channel.

I would like to start making more videos soon, if I can ever get time away from building my Tiny House. If I do, I will begin using the new Autodesk Screencast tool instead of hosting on Screencast.com. Wow, those names are awfully similar for a similar product. Did someone do their legal homework, or are we in for another name change since this amazing new service was released? Hope not. Anyway, Autodesk has made this tool available for free, and you can upload to the community site

You can check out all kinds of screencasts here, sorted by the (at the time of this writing) nine Autodesk applications that are supported.

You can also see some of my latest work as well on Autodesk University Online – where both presentations on Dynamo and FormIt in which I co-presented are now available for your viewing pleasure. A free Autodesk sign-in is required to view AU classes. Enjoy!

How to Survive Autodesk University

Realizing that this Autodesk university is a special milestone for me. It will be my tenth conference. I started attending these in 2004, missing only one in 2006 – oddly, the years I joined Autodesk. Since then, many new things have happened in my work and home life. Today, I would like to share with you my top 10 tips for surviving the week. These should be helpful to veterans and newbies alike. This is really just a list for myself so I don’t forget anything. See you next week!

Tip # 1

How many business cards should you bring?

ALL THE CARDS!

IMG_2300-0.JPGNo matter how hard I have tried to remember in the last few conferences, I always seem to forget this and am telling people in the middle of breakfast on day one that I’m out, because all I had was three or four in the paltry card holder already in my bag. Grab your cards now. Like, right now.

It’s likely that you won’t be coming back to the office between Thanksgiving and the conference. If you are in the United States and have to work this weekend, I will pray for your soul.

 

Tip #2

You don’t really need to bring your laptop.

1004981_662667670432848_1981346585_n_by_kakasasu4eva-d6sdku0Yes, you should have some way to communicate. Bring your phone or other lightweight mobile device. There is little desk space to open your 21″ mega workstation replacement laptop lid, and if you think you’ll be doing real work remotely, you should ask why you are at the conference in the first place. This is a place to learn, network and share ideas. Designate someone else to cover the help desk while you are away. Reward them handsomely when you return, perhaps with a nice bonus or free software for them to play. Ask the boss if they can go to AU or some other event next year as a thank you for saving your back. If you must bring a laptop, because you are presenting and haven’t’ finished putting together your presentation, join the club and prepare for some very sore shoulders. Also, check out the spa at The Hotel. I hear the hot stone massage is very relaxing.

Tip #3

Its gotta be the shoes

pTBL1-14087926enh-z6While at the conference, and if you are me, you will find that you will walk more than any other time in your life. Things of it like spending an entire week trying to find the giant jar of whatever at Costco. Wear comfortable shoes, and hey while you are at it – get those things polished. You want to look casual, but sharp. If you really want to wear your Jordan’s from 1991, just do it.

 

Tip #4

Need a bag, take a bag

DRBPR1As we learned in Florida, rollerbags are a terrible idea at a crowded conference, leave yours at home. More importantly, don’t trip those around you. Put it on your back if you decide you like it.

After realizing I had four AU bags of all configurations still kicking around at home, it was time to make a conscious decision to carry the one I know works for me, holds everything I need and will be comfortable carrying around for 10-18 hours at a time. I have opted out of the gift bag when registering for AU this year – just in case that rollerbag returns. Messenger bags work well, however they tend to be bulky. The vendors at the exhibit hall will have lots of books, brochures, and tchotchkes. You’ll need a place to stow these.

Tip #5

Register early

Calendar_0Save this one for next year. Register early, like in the first two days. No one likes staying at a distant hotel where it would take an hour to get to your room and back. This is one thing I do not look forward to, given my late acceptance to register – I am in the MGM Grand 1.4 miles the way the crow flies, and certainly much further given the need to walk through casinos and down long corridors.

Tip #6

Walking outside

racetrack__blue_jaguar-wallpaper-1680x1050Pedestrians do not have the right of way in Las Vegas. Watch the signs, and always pay attention to the speed demons racing up and down the strip. Also, be aware that while the average city block is between 250-300 feet approximately 20 blocks per mile, the distance between hotels is about 1300 feet, or 1/4 mile. It may be the desert, however it gets really cold at night. Dress appropriately.

Tip #7

Backup battery packs

$_57No matter how efficient your device’s battery, this is no regular day at the office. You will run out of juice. Finding a free outlet for the unseasoned traveler means hanging out in the back hall somewhere sitting on the floor.

We like staying connected, and even more so when there are 10,000 people that need to coordinate ad hoc meetings, check office email, find where the heck you have to go next, and the all important in-class tweckle (v. conjugation of “Twitter” + “heckle”).

Backup batteries are your best bet. I don’t recommend the BioLite CampStove for indoor use, however get one for your next camping trip unless you want to use human energy.

Tip #8

Hydrate

Front image_drinking-waterThere is a significant amount of moisture vacuum everywhere, indoors and out. Unless your classes are at the pool, you might want to bring a family pack of lip balm and a refillable water bottle. There’s also a significant amount of free flowing alcohol at this conference (shhh, don’t tell the boss). Drink responsibly – 7:00am comes around faster than you might imagine.

Tip #9

Meet new people

make-friendsSit at a table with strangers. Go to a class that’s outside your normal area of expertise. You never know who you’ll meet or how fascinating their work is. It might lead to new ideas and a radically different approach to how you solve problems at the office. You might meet someone who becomes a life long friend. I have met so many people at AU, and will spend hours chatting with someone I’ve never met before, all because of a common purpose and our profession. AU is how I recharge my batteries. It is here, in the middle of an artificial desert oasis, that I and thousands others complete their annual pilgrimage in order to find and renew my passions for this amazing intersection of art and technology that we at NBBJ like to call Digital Practice.

Tip #10

Have fun!

 

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The VDC Cycle: Leveraging the “I” in BIM

For quite a while now, I’ve been considering having some guest posts on the blog to help liven up the conversation and add some new perspectives. I was contacted by Elijah recently and after reading other examples of his work on The Iterative, I thought it would be great to give this aspiring student a chance to share his voice. I’m pleased to present the first in what I hope to be a new collaborative approach to sharing insights on technology trends and advances in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Please, give us your feedback. We’d love to hear from you. – Sean

Elijah Gregory is a high school senior who’s interest in architecture software and BIM has lead to him becoming a fount of knowledge in this evolving field.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an industry review on a relatively new Trimble product, Vico. Vico is a VDC, or Virtual Design and Construction, software which bridges the gap between the BIM guys and decision makers in a company. In the two-day introduction to the product and the product’s capabilities, a common construction cycle became clear to me: receive concept of a proposed structure, design, estimate, schedule, and deliver.

A Brief History

Initially, BIM and VDC originated from CAD software. The original goal of CAD was to increase productivity and accuracy hand-drawing lacked. From there, simple 3D models arose to display a more comprehensible visual to both designers and clients. And following simple 3D models, BIM was created to derive information from drawings and models. Finally, VDC has been created to leverage the information created by BIM software to make accurate estimates and schedules as well as do statistical analysis on various aspects of the structure.

Advantage?

VDC essentially takes a project from the design to delivery checkpoints in the construction cycle and by doing so, quickly breaks down projects so decisions can be made quickly and appropriately. The VDC cycle follows the same steps as the construction cycle by reaping the information produced by BIM software, provided BIM managers follow best practices during design–a key issue not so uniformly answered, but that’s for another article. Provided best practices have been used, when a model is loaded into VDC software–Navisworks or Vico or whatever your preference may be–a tremendous bank of values should be at the tips of your fingers and the click of a mouse. Who said being a computer nerd wasn’t cool?

VDC in Practice

Today, the amount of information which can be leveraged from this initial model is up to three variables: the quality of the model, the level of skill of the VDC software user, and the desired amount of information to be leveraged. From the initial design, material and quantity takeoffs are created, which can be used with known labor rates, overhead, and profit to generate an estimate. From the estimate, budgets are established. On the same work plane level as estimating and in collaboration with the model, schedules are created, which can be projected from inception to delivery of the structure. These three parts allow the decision makers of a company to look at accurate information graphically, via modeling, and by hard numbers which act as a facilitator to the most important element in construction: decision making. But wait–there’s more: The VDC cycle takes the construction cycle a step further by integrating actual values produced into future projects for an incredibly accurate projection of costs and scheduling. In other words, the company can analyze decisions made in the past to add curves in the road to making decisions in the future. BIM-ception? Diving into the current BIM and VDC software lineup from front-runners offer a promising glimpse into the future: collaboration with all stakeholders from inception to delivery.

Elijah can be found on Twitter – @ElijahGregory97

~ More of his recent writing can be found here:

labyrinth-jareth-ball

RTCNA Enables Glimpses into the Future

I have a bunch of posts related to the Revit Technology Conference North America (RTCNA) in draft. I thought it was time to get one of them out there for you. RTCNA was held in Schaumburg, Illinois a week ago. While it was near Chicago, it certainly wasn’t an easy trip from one to the other. I’ll have to see that city another day.

Peering into the Future

I have so many things to tell you about, not the least of which involve Dynamo and complex form-making in the Revit environment. That’ll have to wait until next time. In this post, I want to bring your attention to some shiny things. Shiny, as in new, or soon to be newly available to incorporate into your digital practice. Apologies in advance for the blurry photos. Looking into the future requires a lot of computational power, and the images we receive back are a bit degraded – OK, the real reason is I don’t have the latest and greatest smart phone (snicker).

Coming soon to a BIM platform near you

One of the benefits of attending conferences is the occasional unexpected announcement of future things to come. While this was only my second RTC, I was amazed how much Autodesk let us peak behind the curtain. Some of the announcements were sprinkled among regular sessions, and others featured in keynotes.

This also marks the first year Autodesk has become a significant sponsor of the RTC worldwide. RTC North America , a conference for users – by users, is an excellent place for learning and networking with peers, it’s also seem to become a good litmus test for Autodesk to observe reaction to possible strategies. Almost passing quietly, as I’ve seen no one else write about these topics below, there will certainly be more fanfare later this year, at that ‘other’ conference put on by the vendor themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I like both events for different reasons. RTC is certainly a more intimate setting, and as it’s name suggests is more of a concentrated, Revit ecosystem focused event.

Before getting started; a little housekeeping. All of what I’m about to say is: a). subject to change, b). was announced publicly in front of the sold out 500 person event and c). that I have no special inside scoop which I am able to comment on beyond this article.

Blocks

blocking diagram

Anthony Hauck, Senior Product Line Manager, Building Group at Autodesk, had several future industry trends to discuss, more on that later. Pretty colors. What to make of this? Notice the indication of an egress stair? Could it be the long sought after jackalope err, Conceptual Space Planning tools? Is it Revit? Hmmm. Is it FormIt, or perhaps some other mobile or web-based environment? Little was revealed about this image and it was still enough to make people stir in their seats, murmur for a bit and then spontaneously cheer and applaud. Although, it was indicated that a handful of people from RTC (whose names were literally picked out of a hat OK – Hauck’s messenger bag) will be testing this new tool later this summer. I am very eager to know more. This has been one area where we have struggled to find the right tool to help with blocking and stacking. Mass families representing departments (jelly-cubes) or rooms (Jell-O shots) have been a partial answer inside Revit – although they have their limitations.

FormIt, All Grown Up

IMG_1167 IMG_1178 IMG_1184 IMG_1185

Staying in the conceptual world, we move toward my favorite little modeler, FormIt. My Tiny House project www.unboxedhouse.com was even featured in the FormIt session. The development of this tool (AutodeskFormIt.com) has really matured since it’s introduction in November of 2012. I discovered that you can export to OBJ file format for 3D printing. It is now on the cusp of its seventh major release, where we will see some very interesting new features and workflows. Just a few of the things to come which we saw in the working demo of the upcoming versions by Scott Davis, AEC Technical Specialist at Autodesk and co-presented by Tobias Hawthorn, Senior User Experience Designer at Autodesk, who joined the session remotely:

V6.6 (available now)

  • Weather Data dashboard – for iPad and Android tablets, pick a site location and the nearest weather station may be selected to see temperature and wind data. Let’s hope more graphs are added soon.
  • Android feature parity – so you have a choice, the Android app now does everything the iPad version can do

v7.0 (mobile coming soon)

  • 3D Sketching – drawing on x,y or z axis in space without creating sacrificial geometry for ‘workplaces’
  • Open profiles – adding the ability to sketch a partial loop, and have the lines remain, for closing later to make a surface or form
  • Reference lines – while sketching, reference lines will display for ensuring your work is easier to create parallel or perpendicular conditions
  • Snapping tools – just like in the big boy CAD modeling tools. There was an indication this may be limited to the web based version, and take a bit longer to appear (if at all) on the mobile apps.

v7.0 (web coming soon)

  • Everything above, plus… it seems like the web will be out of beta.
  • Live collaboration – this was previewed at AU last December as a teaser. Earlier this month, we saw it demonstrated for the first time. It looks very promising.
  • Array improvements – adding the ability to array a line or face, arrays of a form can now be done in 3D.
  • Copy/Paste improvements – control over insertion of pasted elements rather than them popping in unexpectedly. There will also be an added bonus – auto join of faces. This may become a fun thing to experiment with, to see what other games beyond Tetris can be simulated.

Come with me if you want to BIM

terminator_2_1920x1080Perhaps the most exciting announcement, was during Zach Kron’s class “The Day Families Became Self-Aware” – yes that most certainly is a Terminator reference. Zach, a Principal Design Strategist at Autodesk, and long-time blogger at buildz, he is deeply involved in furthering the open-source Dynamo development. Dubbed Project Honeycomb, this technology proposes to embed intelligence into a Revit family, by allowing a piece of code to be injected into it. It is currently a prototype, model 101 if you will.

To illustrate the power of the concept, Zach showed a working prototype as a special build of Revit, and was able to fluidly do what is either extremely difficult or impossible for mere mortals to achieve with today’s Revit. So, say you’ve written this amazing Dynamo definition, or a Python script, or a macro using an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) such as Microsoft Visual Studio. That’s great. Now, take that code and load it into a family, and it will perform the action in the project environment. As shown in the demo, it will perform at the native Revit engine speed, because Dynamo or whatever authored the code is not needed for producing the results.

Complex interactions between families could be possible, and be very, very fast. Those families would also need less complex parameter configurations and formulae to do the heavy lifting, as code like that generated with Dynamo manages the relationships rather than traditional and rather archaic family construction techniques. The other advantage? The democratization of Design Computation, or as I like to call it in this new paradigm – Computational BIM. Anyone, anywhere can use these families that take on superpowers.

The session was very interactive, allowing a great discussion of how we might implement a technology like this and how it should function.

When I described this to a colleague, one who is immersed in design computation daily, his reaction without even seeing the presentation was, “That’s a Grasshopper killer, right there”. I was very surprised hear those words, even though I agree. I can’t wait to see what this new world looks like. I, for one, welcome our new computational overlords.

One more thing

Anthony Hauk, gave a great talk about where the future of BIM is heading, titled ‘BIM: The Next 5 Years’. If this slide is any indication of things Autodesk may be thinking about enabling, we’ll see a dramatically more effective use of BIM than in practice today.

IMG_1106

The last bit I want to leave you with, which was announced last week at the AIA National Convention (also held in Chicago), is Project Skyscraper. While details are still a bit sketchy, this sounds like a very big deal. Autodesk will be rolling out a cloud collaboration toolset as part of their 360 platform to enable remote team members to work simultaneously on the same Revit model, “eliminating the need for firms to invest in costly IT set-ups”. See more about this announcement at: In The Fold

I am so jazzed by what’s around the corner. I’ll see you there soon.

Corrections from original post: Snapping will be in the mobile app as well as the web, and live collaboration will not be in v7.0 for mobile. That feature will be web only in it’s first iteration.

Revit patch… Heartbleed

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 10.57.39 AM

Over the weekend, I was very surprised to see the Autodesk Application Manager pop up. Yes, Revit 2015 was found to have a vulnerability to Heartbleed. — Who names these things anyway? I want that job. — Given the internet connectedness of things and how we use our design software tools these days, this was bound to happen.

Luckily, the process is relatively painless, and this new Application Manager seems up to the task of helping us to both stay informed and current in our software patch state with a few simple clicks. Kudos to Autodesk for rolling out another great feature with Revit 2015, that many people may have overlooked. It’s well done, and works much better than past ‘hot fix’ installs, which were in fact never hot at all as they used to – and of course still require that you close your application.

So, while the new method of installing updates is much improved, I would recommend one more thing: Why not implement a method that downloads when prompted, and only installs when you are done working? That would be even less obtrusive.