Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Revit Point of Views – Part 3 – The Demise and Rebirth of Digital Delivery

 I’m sorry to announce (but am going to take credit for) the demise of the sheet. It was killed in a train wreck headed to a digital project delivery meeting on the outskirts of town. Also lost in the conflagration was the CAD standard, widely known for enabling the sheet to be a pain in the butt for owners and designers in the AEC community alike, but greatly respected for keeping layers in line. While their careers were developed in good intentions, they became a financial burden on their parents, costing companies time and money figuring out how to make sure the right font is used so it can be read on a rain-soaked sheet of tree debris in the field. It did enable their offspring (the CAD managers) to create and form a career path we didn’t really know we needed but like today’s social media, fall into the trap of believing we couldn’t live without them. Some of us followed that career path like lemmings, but the Church of Holy BIM Stuff came to the rescue a few decades ago.


I had that poster hanging in my room during my formative high school years, and it still makes me laugh…but it’s still a sheet. Long lost in moves, it’s a relic of the past but still a great memory. I'm sure there are a few business owners and government agencies saying this now as they read this article.

After 36 years of dancing with architects, engineers, owners and municipal managers, I propose a life change. The drawing sheet, a long vestige of AEC design documents for more than a century, has become a drag on projects everywhere, causing project teams to spend untold amounts of time focusing on document appearance more than the quality and content of the design itself.

Why have I taken this drastic step and opinion? Because it’s time. My generation is moving on, and it’s time for the next generation to step up and own the foundation we have built to take design and construction to the next level. 

A few years ago, we had a “life-changing” moment that occurred when we replaced our IT leadership that was bound and committed to the technology and tools of the past, with new leadership that would challenge us to do more, better and take risks where we had been unwilling to do so before. Fear of change is real – while change just for the sake of change can be bad, change made to improve workflows, deliverables and overall quality of life and project are always welcome.

Christian Birch, our Senior Engineering Technology Manager, has been a great example of leadership in managing change in an AEC firm. He’s been able to maintain a good sense of IT integrity while salvaging a relationship with our business lines that had been damaged by years of silos and poor communication. In an early meeting our new IT leadership team, when discussing a content and standards management application (“DDesign” for the Gannett Fleming folks) we had been using for decades that lived in our network that was damaged in a cyberattack last year, we were challenged to use the “Five Why’s” to understand why we needed the tool. It was critical for us to look objectively at what we use and understand its role as well as when it’s time to let it go.

The exercise goes like this – in order to pass the smell test, you should be able to get through 5 “why” questions to understand the need for the tool. All of these started with question, “Why do we need DDesign?”...

My responses went like this:

Because it gives us a local storage solution for our standard content

Because it helps us work when the network is offline

Because Norb and I could push the content to a location where the guy who wrote and managed it…damn, he’s gone and left. Anybody else know how to make that tool work?

Because we can keep it…on our network…and push it across the WAN to the regional LAN servers…damn again. Malware shut the whole network down, and we don't even know where the app is...need to recover projects first...wheels continue to turn...

I never made it to 5, since one of the foundations of the argument was one of the greatest weaknesses we had – our dependency on local and wide area networks that were completely disabled in a cyberattack. While this meant the current state of the content was still available, it couldn’t be updated – and all of our project CAD standards, such as CTB, plot styles and more were also stored there.

At this point we realized that we needed to stop and take an objective look at what we were doing, and research whether there were other solutions available that could solve the problem. But the more I looked at, the more I realized that maintaining standards for every single client we have – into the hundreds – is an incredible labor drag for us and the clients as well. No one client has the exact same standards, even in the age where the AIA National CAD standard that’s been around for decades is uniformly followed and applied…sorry, choked a little on that one.

Let me clarify something for everyone – there’s a huge difference between CAD standards and Drafting standards. CAD standards address software features such as layers, levels, linetypes, fonts, sheet appearance and more. They don’t address what is be presented – like using two lines to represent the inside and outside of the wall, when the complexity of that object is light years beyond that standard. 



But the Drafting standard has been around for nearly a century, where I learned how to create the plan, section and elevation views in such a way that all users, regardless of their standard, could interpret what was placed on the sheet. Born out of the AIA’s Architectural Graphics Standards that were originally published in 1932 (see this link), the series of books explain how to create the views needed to build the structure. Over time, the newer standards for Level of Development have helped the transition from a drafting standard to a modeling standard – which is the key element that makes all of this work. Model LOD is the new lynchpin and key to true digital twin creation.

In the AEC industry, BIM tools and workflows changed all of this by forcing a true 3D representation of the entire object.  Even if it still doesn’t consider all of the studs and components used in the framing, it could be included based on the client Level of Development requirements. But the vertical aspects of the wall previously were a result of the designer’s ability to translate manually from the two lines to an elevation everything that’s going on (and keep it current as the plan changed). In BIM and the 3D modeling world, that’s gone – what you place in the model is used for all types of presentation to explain how to build that wall.

My premise boils down to a couple of simple things. The focus of our tasks has been and always will be the ability to communicate clearly to those that build and manage the structures we live in, work in, and use to provide a better quality of life to all. It’s what should be done to create them in a safe, affordable way, with resiliency and quality. With that being said, the evolution of design authoring tools, such as Revit, Civil 3D, Inventor, OpenRoads, Infraworks, ArchiCAD, and so many more software products we use are taking us further away from the need for a sheet or CAD standard to provide clear and organized documentation…beyond an archaic contract obligation that rests its dependency on paper deliverables…or for pretty linework and text that everyone can read…

The next time you work on a project, put a number on the amount of time you spend adding and organizing sheets, and applying common standards to meet the annotation and appearance requirements of a project. Substitute that number with time spent developing and improving the content used in the model to more clearly indicate design intent and reduce errors, rework and changes on project. Use it to develop more design options and alternatives that could result in a more efficient structure.

So, it’s time to put into place our "5 why’s" on the sheets and the standards. Do this exercise back at your office or with your colleagues and see what you come up with – I’m really curious to hear how it goes on your end. Here are the questions you need to start with, and we’ll review the answers in the next article.

What role does the sheet play in the design process when the outcome is a digital twin?

Why do you need to use sheets on a design project?

What role does the CAD standard play in the design process in the production of 3D modeling-based documentation?

Why is the CAD standard an essential part of the design process?

I challenge every single design firm, contractor and owner to ask themselves these questions. At one point do you walk away from “we’ve always done it this way” and look at new workflows, methods and tools to accomplish the same goal. The cost of not doing it is high – lost time, wasted money and lost opportunity are bits of it. Stagnation and regret are what lets your competition win and you lose every time. But the lost opportunity is the greatest cost of all…so how do you take all of the great progress we have made in technology over my generation, and take it to the next level?

Start here.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Help Yourself...Clean up Your System for Better Autodesk Program Performance!

 We’re all guilty of sticking to old habits, but with the advance of technology in our design platforms, some things you might have done in the past are no longer necessary – and can cause more problems than they save. This series of tech tips are here to help you understand the differences in working in old environments such as our old Windows network, and new locations such as loud-based document management systems, including BIM Collaborate Pro, ProjectWise and Sharepoint.

Understanding How Autodesk Programs Use Temporary Files and Space

Microsoft Windows was first released in 1985, as a first “graphical interface” for the “disk operating system”, better known as MS-DOS. Many of the foundational aspects of DOS remain, such as a computer’s need to have one program be the focus of the computer at the time. The system has evolved to allow other applications to remain running and active, which created the need for “temporary files” to stay open in the background.

Autodesk programs such as AutoCAD and Revit have used background files for a variety of purposes:

  • AutoCAD files previously used their own file locking files to prevent more than one user from accessing a file at a time. While the early vestiges of DOS incorporated “restricted access” to files, it was not until AutoCAD 2000 that Windows took over the file locking service through the operating system. The previous DWL file simply tells the system who has the file open. The files are intended to be deleted every time the program is closed…until it crashes.
  • AutoCAD also has a series of backup files that are created, which use .BAK, .AC$, and .sv$ extensions. While there should always be one backup file (.BAK), the automatic save (.sv$) and temporary (.ac$) files should be deleted when AutoCAD is closed…until it crashes. These autosave files are typically stored in a C:\users\username\appdata\local\temp folder.
  • Vertical toolsets and Civil 3D create even more temporary files that are associated with functions of the features in the program – such as other types of temporary files that could be stored in your local c:\temp folder and project folders.
  • Revit has its own infrastructure of temporary and access files since the project model can allow multiple users to safely access one file (unlike AutoCAD). If the model is based on BIM 360 (BIM Collaborate Pro) or Autodesk Docs, then “cached” versions are copied locally so the user is not dependent on accessing the cloud 100% of the time. Caching also improves file performance by storing and updating the local copies via the Desktop Connector application.
  • In addition to the Autodesk programs, other applications can add variety of temporary files that can quickly fill up a hard drive and cause out of memory errors.

How do you know when you need to clean up? It’s easy – get in the habit of doing it on a regular basis to avoid issues in the first place. Do this at least every one to two weeks. But if you start to get errors such as files being out of date, not saving, changes disappear, and files take a long time or do not open at all. Let’s look at how to complete these tasks quickly and easily.

Hard Drive Maintenance

The best way to handle system clean up is to us the Disk Cleanup tools that come with Windows. This tool takes care of your hard drive and makes sure the overall system is as clean and functional as possible.

To perform a disk cleanup, follow these steps:

Before starting this task, make sure that you have closed any open applications, saving your work as needed. Items on the hard drive that are in use may not be able to be deleted or removed, so always close your applications first.

Open the Windows File Explorer tool. When the program appears, make sure the address bar and view is set to This PC – here’s an example that your system should look like:



You’re looking for the main hard drive on your system. Our computers, for the most part, use one hard drive as the storage device. You can see this under Devices and Drives – the PC Name and Drive letter C: are indicated, along with the available free disk space:



An early habit you need to learn is to change or edit something, place your cursor over the object and click the right mouse button. Context sensitive menus, based on what you have selected, will appear, and provide a list of tools and actions you can use on the device you have selected:



Be aware that this menu will appear differently based on the applications you have installed on the computer. At the bottom of the list, click Properties, which will always appear there. A new dialog will appear:



The General tab provides the key information we need, including the overall capacity of the hard drive in gigabytes, the used space and free space. Keep in mind we always want to make sure that we never go below 20% of the capacity in free space – so cleanup helps us with this habit. The Disk Cleanup tool is displayed on the General tab and is the only tool you need to use for this step. Select Disk Cleanup to continue:



A list of all items you can remove from the system is displayed. Scroll down the list to review the list, and the bold options are the key ones to select:

  • Downloaded program files
  • Temporary Internet Files – to make sure your internet runs efficiently, clean these files often.
  • Directx Shader Cache – if you don’t do a lot of rendering, you can delete these files
  • Delivery optimization files
  • Downloads – this one can go either way – if you are downloading files from other sources, make sure that as soon as you download the file, you move it from your c:\users\username\downloads folder first if you need to keep the files. Don’t hold on to or store files here – in other words, move it or lose it.
  • Recycle Bin – files you’ve already deleted
  • Temporary Files – this is the main one you want to clean up
  • Thumbnails

 As you select these folders, the description explains what the files are used for, so you can better understand their function on the system. Once you have selected the items to clean up, click OK. You will get a prompt asking you if you are sure – select Delete files to complete the step. A status bar will appear and display the progress. Once this step is complete, you will see a difference in the free space for the system. Click OK to leave the properties dialog.

Cleaning Up Your Cloud - Autodesk Docs/BIM Collaborate Pro

Autodesk introduce cloud-based computing for their products a few years ago beginning with Buzzsaw, and are now at the Autodesk BIM Collaborate Pro/Autodesk Docs products for all projects that are primarily based on their software (including AutoCAD, Revit, Civil 3D, Plant 3D and more). At different points in the project, it’s important to perform maintenance on your local system to make sure your system performs at its maximum potential.

To clean up your Autodesk Docs files, follow these steps.

For this first step, you must have the Autodesk Desktop Connector application running, and be signed in to your Autodesk account. You can check this by looking for a white “A” icon in your system tray of the lower right corner of your screen:



If you are not signed in, right click on the icon, and choose Sign In:


After signing in, from Windows File Explorer, locate the Autodesk Docs shortcut – expand it to show a list of all the projects you are assigned to in you business’s project hub. In this case, the example is showing a training project that we want to make sure is cleaned up and current:



Double click on your project – the Project Files folder will appear. Right click on the folder to see the maintenance options:



The two primary tools to use are Free Up Space and Sync.

Sync forces the latest version of the files between your local hard drive and cloud are synchronized – this step should always be performed prior to using Free Up Space.

Free Up Space will remove the local copies of any Revit or CAD files in the project folder. This forces Revit and AutoCAD to download the latest version of the files from the cloud the next time the files are opened.

A couple of rules about this step – this tool will only run on folders and files that you have permissions to access and edit. You can also choose to sync individual files.

Run the Sync command first by selecting that option. A dialog will appear in the lower right corner of the screen, indicating your files are being transferred to the cloud. After the sync has completed, the files in the folders will indicate they are synced with the cloud project files:


Next, right click on the folder and select Free Up Space



A confirmation dialog will appear:


If you return to the folder, the files will now show as online – this indicates that the local copy has been removed, but when you open the file from Revit or AutoCAD, the latest synced version in the cloud will be downloaded again and become the current local copy.

Advanced File Cleanup for Autodesk Docs

If you are a more advanced user, and you are having other issues with project files, you can manually clean up the temporary files that are created with Autodesk docs. Before performing this step, make sure that all changes have been synced, and all Autodesk design applications are closed. You will also need to make sure that Windows File Explorer is set to show hidden files. If you are unsure of any of the steps for performing this task, do not try it alone – contact Autodesk support for assistance.

Sign out from the Autodesk Desktop Connector. Make sure ALL programs are closed (except for this File Explorer).

From Windows File Explorer, browse to these locations (add your username and the version of Revit)

  • C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Autodesk\Revit\Autodesk Revit 202x\CollaborationCache
  • C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Autodesk\Revit\PacCache
  • C:\temp

Delete as many of the folders and files as possible – should any of the files say they cannot be deleted, skip these.

Reboot your system using the SHIFT+Restart option to force a hard reboot of the system. Be aware that a prompt to Continue to Windows 10 will appear – you must select this to continue.

Log back into Windows and check the c:\temp location to see if any additional files can be removed.

Log back into the Autodesk Desktop Connector and resume use of the applications.

Additional Links and Information

For specific directions from the Autodesk Knowledge Network, check out these links:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/search-result/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/How-to-delete-temporary-files-in-Windows.html

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/revit/troubleshooting/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/Collaboration-for-Revit-Finding-local-copies-of-files.html

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/desktop-connector/learn-explore/caas/CloudHelp/cloudhelp/ENU/CONNECT/files/Get-Started-with-Desktop/GUID-714E0D68-6B13-4034-B742-5A91E19EA5B3-html.html

Summary

Using these methods will prevent a project from becoming populated by duplicated and unmanaged versions of the files. Use versioning and the compare tool to review what’s in the files, the sets to replace your old archiving process, and transmittals for sharing – you’ll enjoy a well-formed and managed project.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Help Yourself...Seriously! How To Get Better Autodesk Product Support Online - The System Basics

Several years ago a small group of Autodesk Expert Elites got together with Autodesk and Directly, a third party technical support management site, to help Autodesk resolve more of their open support cases. This program leveraged decades of product experience to provide relevant responses to most support question types. There are some limits - such as we can't reach out to the client during the case and use tools like Zoom or Teams to remote into a system and get more detail. In these cases, we escalate the case to the Autodesk agents, that are allowed to provide this service at a higher level of support.

But it's never easy - there's always a better way to provide these solutions. It's really dependent on the information provided by the user to make sure we understand what is exactly happening on someone's system. Think of visiting your doctor - they're going to ask you a ton of questions before they recommend or prescribe anything, so the more accurate and detailed the responses, the more relevant the solutions will be. And it requires a lot of patience on both ends.

So how do we make this smoother for your typical Autodesk support questions? It's easy - if you're the user posting the question, follow this checklist:

1. Get your software information together first. For Autodesk products, access the program Help page - every one includes a question mark "?" in the upper right corner of the program window. When you select this, you will see the name of the program at the bottom of the drop down menu (it usually says Autodesk Revit, Autodesk AutoCAD, etc. or something similar). Selecting this option will open a dialog, that includes the software version, build number, and versions of any supported vertical tools such as AutoCAD Architecture, MEP, etc. You should see a dialog similar to this:


In this example, the core AutoCAD version is shown, along with AutoCAD Architecture and AutoCAD MEP. Each of these now require separate updates, so make sure you check all three.

This information is critical - we get countless cases where users or their IT departments are not keeping up with the updates, or have not tested them to make they don't cause issues with other applications. But with Autodesk products, the overwhelming number of cases we receive are related to the program simply being out of date, or not the same as other users in the same company or project. These are critical issues that every company needs to address - at a minimum, all users should be on the same build.

2. The computer you are using matters - if it's 10 years old, makes a grinding noise on startup, or is still running Windows NT, it's the problem. But there's a ton that goes on with a computer that every user should be aware of. The key information we need in order to correctly diagnose a case should always include this information:

- The version of Windows - you should be on Windows 10, with version 11 coming out soon. While 7 and 8.1 are supported, they are in  a short life span and are no longer supported by Autodesk (starting with the 2022 versions). You can find the current version of Windows by using File Explorer to locate "This PC" - right click on this icon and select Properties. The right side of the dialog will display a lot of critical information, including the operating system (OS) data:



- The processor and amount of RAM that is installed on the computer - the same dialog for the OS also shows this information under the Device Specifications.

- The size of the hard drive, and amount of free space. It also helps to know if it's not a solid state drive that was used in older systems. To get this, select This PC again - File Explorer will show all installed drives and the total/free space:


When it comes to hard drives, here's a critical item to know - the amount of free space is critical. For example, Revit projects can take up to 10x the size of the file in temporary file space. Add all of the Revit models that are opened, making sure to include the size of the linked models, drawings and more - and you will run out of space quickly if you don't keep up with this. Personally, I don't like for a computer running Autodesk products to have less than 100gb (gigabytes) of free space available. Don't short your computer by buying a smaller hard (500gb or less) - you'll wind up losing time and money when you don't have enough space. Adding a second drive to handle data is also not always a good idea, as the programs typically want to be installed on the C: drive, and adding a D: or second drive can cause configuration issues unless you're knowledgeable about working in this type of environment. Stick with 1TB or larger solid state drives and you'll be good.

- The manufacturer, model and driver version of the graphics display adapters on these systems is also important. Errors with these due to non-supported cards, including old or outdated drivers is a frequent issue. This shows up as graphics on a screen not displaying correctly, crashing when opening or editing views and and other types of fatal errors. To locate what you have installed, from the Windows Search bar, type Device Manager (You can also access this via Settings - when the dialog opens, type Device Manager in the upper left corner of the dialog). When the dialog appears, select the Display Adapters - a list of all adapters will appear that are installed (correctly) on the system:

 


Every Windows-based computer includes a built-in graphics adapter when a system is built - but in most cases, they are not designed to handle the more intense graphic requirements for most Autodesk software. That's why you usually will have a second video display adapter, if the system meets the Autodesk system requirements. 

To make sure you have a display adapter that is supported by Autodesk, along with a recommended driver, see this list in this link:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/certified-graphics-hardware?siteID=123112&id=18844534&results=1&stype=graphic&product_group=3&release=2018&os=524288&manuf=all&opt=0

If your device is not listed, it doesn't mean it won't work - but in most cases you want to make sure you keep your device drivers up to date. Here's a link with directions for updating this hardware:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/autocad/learn-explore/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/How-to-update-your-system-to-the-latest-certified-video-driver-s.html

Overall - when running Revit, always check the system requirements to make sure your computer meets the needs of the program and version you are running. You can find this information based on product and version from here:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/system-requirements

- Every computer should have some form of antivirus and firewall protection installed. In most cases, this is managed by an IT department or service provider. If your system permissions are restricted (meaning that you can't install or update software yourself), then it can cause some specific failures to occur. In this case, we need to know what manufacturer you are using for the antivirus, such as Norton, McAfee or others, and whether or not you can make changes to this software if needed. In most cases, it is the system firewall that can block access to folders, files and sites needed for Autodesk products to run correctly. Microsoft created this video to help you understand how to find out what types of system security you have installed:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/videoplayer/embed/RE3Fq1Y

If you're not comfortable with getting or providing this information, let your support person know so the case can be escalated to an Autodesk agent for a more secure access and connection.

Wrapping up - don't be embarrassed or worried if you don't know this information. In most cases, users really don't have an idea about what's in the computer or how it works. The goal of any good support system is to help you solve your issues, and they can usually walk you through all of these steps to make sure we have as much baseline information as possible. The same rule applies for any support organization you are working with, whether it's your own internal IT department or a software vendor such as Autodesk. 

Hopefully this helps you get the most out of your support - next up, we'll talk about more specific program issues.

Thanks - David B.



Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Revit Point of Views - Interlude for Perspective...

The embodiment of man.

How do you define this? We live in a current world of turmoil, where politics and societal unrest are driving wedges between all of us, and it drives me nuts. Unfortunately, we get caught up in the talking points and miss the opportunities to have real, down to earth discussions and conversations that don’t result us losing friendships, family and more.

So what does this have to do with Revit, or BIM, or PIM, or even technology?

Tony and Mike.

I lost my uncle Tony a few weeks ago, to a sudden illness that ended with sepsis, which his heart could not handle. My dad Carl and Tony were extremely close, which helped all of the rest of my cousins be close with us. We had great childhood experiences growing up, and when we got together, the “Butts Bunch” always had a great time.


We had the family all assemble at the farm, and all of the points of diversity were represented. We have so many different characters and personalities, beliefs, lifestyles that we represent what America really is, a melting pot that is what makes us all family. With Tony and my aunt Marlene, it didn’t matter if it was blood or not – we’ve adopted, adapted and accepted in so many ways that the sum of all of our parts is what makes us a great example of the American experience. It was his rule and his belief that made this all happen, all bound by a huge dinner table laden with biscuits, molasses, and real butter.


And Tony led and loved us all, with no exceptions. He and I were opposites on the political aisle but not polar. We had compromise and worked on what we both believed, argued without attack on what we didn’t, and still ended the day with a hug and good night. He served as a county commissioner, library advocate and community pillar at church. His willingness to help those less fortunate was built on family traditions that valued hard work but used the earnings to support and help others. Countless people stayed at their farm, from power company workers to Wounded Warriors up for a hunt. He loved children that may not have been blood but were his family in no unspoken terms.


The embodiment of man.

Tony served in the US Air Force and was an electrical engineer by trade. Early on, when I started doing CAD work, we talked about design and drafting tools and techniques. In later years, while I was still working for the Autodesk reseller, I would stay at the farm and make the drive to Nashville over staying in a closer hotel. Their home gave me peace and solace during a time where I was struggling with my career and helped me make the decision to move on.


I would show him the technology and tools I was using and talk about driving change and teaching others to overcome their fears and objections. He had plenty of “back in my day” stories that helped me understand where we had come from to where we are today.

As the weekend was drawing to close, Marlene asked us to go through the house and find something we wanted to take home, to take a part of Tony with us. I wandered through the house and went upstairs to his desk. On the back of the desk, I found rolled up blueprints – hand-drawn plans of houses, my grandfather’s “Popwalk” walker that they had both worked on designing before his passing several years before. As I browsed through the pages, it reminded me of how far we had come – and rolled them back up, making sure to leave them in the same place.

The embodiment of man.

I realized that taking this part of the past was not what I needed, but instead settled on a walking stick of his that was left by others. It was a tool that could always be used regardless of where we are in life. It provides support when you need it, and steadiness when turbulence surrounds you. The plans of the past are fulfilled by the man who provides his family the stability and guidance we need. The man who will stick to his ideals, beliefs, and faith, and passes them on to his own children and family.

In my role, I struggle to evoke change. We have some many older users that are happy with the way things are, even as the tools have evolved to create better and simpler designs with more efficiency and accuracy. We also have a new generation that has missed out on the knowledge learned of the past and make so many mistakes when the mentor role is ignored. Coming from a generation where we gave them everything and did not push the overall learning needed, we reap the consequences of permitting today’s distractions from the education needed to move past the plans of the past. I see this in users that struggle even with the basics of managing files on a computer…but even my uncle in his advanced years of retirement never stopped learning.

And yet I’m disappointed in myself that I haven’t adapted the patience he had with such a diverse family. The quiet (ok, sometimes loud) direction of lessons learned and what should be done. I’m working on it – trying to be more patient with my colleagues and not belittle, berate or deride. The softest voices in these times can be the loudest, so do your work behind the scenes without drama or self- promotion. Those are the lessons that I’ve learned from him in his passing, that I hope will make me a better teacher and mentor myself.


I loved my uncle dearly and miss him already, as do so many in our family.

Mike – and Wes…

Wes came into our life as a whirlwind, coming for a day trip and staying for a lifetime. He was a ball of energy, pumping out crazy ideas miles out in the ocean, from underwater GoPro videos to bait suggestions that never made sense and caught all the fish. Spent many days on the water and in the woods with him, hunting, fishing and having fun.


The life was sapped out of me in a New Jersey parking lot a day many years ago, hearing we had lost him. A new born baby and awesome wife that were as much a part of our family as our own sons. The impact of his loss still resonates with all of us. And yet my pity lay not with Wes but with his father, a man of deep faith and love. Yet Mike soldiers on and still leads his family where others would fail. Having to deal with a change this dramatic makes me feel foolish sometimes when I get upset with a colleague, my kids and my friends. I can’t imagine the loss he still feels.


And while I watch, Mike has moved back home, to his family homeplace, and is tackling the changes that need to be made. Remodeling, cleaning, repairing and doing what needs to be done. He had to have a little surgery done recently but was out in the yard cutting grass way before he should have been.

I see in both Mike and Wes characteristics I believe we all wish we had, and should live up to. From the willingness to challenge himself, throw away fear and do it because…well, to Wes, because it was fun. Because one misstep in life is not the end of the world but a challenge to move on to the next one. And a willingness in Mike to have the faith in things that never seem fair, but happen because it’s a part of life. We all deal with change in different ways, but sometime miss these life lessons and fail to learn from them.

The embodiment of man.

Why write about these men that make up a big part of my life? Because from perspective, a willingness to step back, observe and learn, we all gain so much. We realize the value that changes in life bring to us. As a technologist, when I hear people whine and complain about change…it’s too hard…not unless I’m getting paid for it…I’m not interested….and my favorite, I’ve always done it this way.

All of these men have helped me keep what happens in my career in perspective. That passing love and care not just to family but those you work with, who make up such as huge part of your life, is every bit as critical to your success.

I’m currently sitting in the Philadelphia airport after a great few days with my engineering technology team, working on our strategic action plan, values and vision. I’m being challenged to back away from something I’ve invested much in, and take a new perspective. And I think of my role in service leadership, and the importance of being will to stop, listen and gain the perspective of others. What we deal with in our careers is never going to be a constant – change, evolution and advancement are inevitable. At some point, something you love to do will be left behind. The question to ask yourselves, is do you have the “wherewithall” and character to adapt and evolve yourself?


All of these things I believe are what I should strive to be in the embodiment of man. To love. To care. To push and drive when others don’t. To strive for the best you can be. To take the risk, be vulnerable and be proud. To admit the mistake and work to improve. To be excited…that’s what’s really important. It’s not what you’re sold today in the misleading media outlets but all of the things you do, when facing the man in the mirror.

My next challenge was to begin preparing myself for that next stage – for retirement, for health, and for whatever life holds for me. We talked about working towards building my replacement, not because I’m one foot out the door but understanding that in preparation comes well formed plans, goals and objectives. I find myself jealous of what the future holds for my friends at work, and the tools, workflows and environment they stand to inherit. I hope what we’ve learned in my generation helps propel them to enjoying what we do, as much as I have.

So…are you ready for the next generation of work? Or are you still stuck in your own rut? The choice is entirely up to you. Be the embodiment of yourself, and the best of yourself – you won’t regret it.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Revit Point of Views – Part 2 – Clarity of Vision

I know I’m not the only one that’s ever faced a challenge. From my current perspective, I really don’t have much to complain about. Life has been more than fair…I’ve got a great job, an awesome wife, three sons that I could not be prouder of. A professional career that has blessed me with more opportunity and rewards that I could ever possibly deserve. And yet my challenge is not small, but it can’t define me. We have some awesome friends and neighbors, that are pushing me not to let this consume my life, as there were times lately when I thought it would.

Things have been gradually improving, and I’ve had some conversations with other friends in the industry that are facing the same types of challenges, including one of my closest friends in the technical world that also one of the best role models and dads that I could ever hope to live up to. But it’s never the same when it’s you. That mortality that you never think about slaps you in the face, and you finally start to gain what you need…perspective.

Perspective is all about how YOU view things. It’s personal. It’s alignment. It’s yours alone to deal with.

After 36 years of being in this industry, it’s now about wrapping this part of life up and seeking completeness. About finishing what you start and reaching those goals. But if you give up too much of life for work, and not for taking care of the rest of life that surrounds you, then you lose it. Your perspective.

At first, when I started thinking about this class, it was originally supposed to be something simple. It was about how Revit changed my perspective, and how about the “views” were simply reflections of the model we define. It didn’t matter about your point of view, you were really always looking at the same time. So it was supposed to be about different ways to use the view to change your perception of your design, and to introduce new ways of looking at views in a Revit model to create a more complete view that understandable to those who consume it.

Sounds rich, doesn’t it?

February 24th was interesting and challenging day. I spend about 30 minutes at Novant Health hospital in Bolivia, NC. They had just installed the latest GE CT scanning device and was only one of two on the east coast at the time. A CT scan that normally took about 45 minutes to conduct only took 5 and was over before you knew it. And my warped mind at the time was thinking about AR and VR…and how cool my “reality” had become “augmented”. But I was more impressed with how quickly the technology has evolved, within my own lifetime. The ability for us to see inside walls from a design standpoint has always seemed like a dream, but here I was seeing inside myself and gaining a perspective that I had not seen before. And it all seemed so…casual.

I had my first meeting with a pulmonary doctor that explained what a lung nodule was, and how it impacts your health. The shape was good news, but the size was concerning, so the next step was PET Scan, which I had already scheduled for the same day. Same technology but now we’re making me glow in the dark like a uranium popsicle.

February 26th, we’re on our way to dinner when we get the call. Not malignant are the key words to hear. There’s still some work to do, but at least that specter of treatments I was preparing myself to face was going to have to wait another day. There was some celebrating to do, and Mr. P’s in Southport was the best place to do it. Thanks to an awesome waitress and staff, it was great day and date.

It was April and I wasn’t getting better. I finally got back to my favorite nurse practitioner (the real hero in my story, and one that I am indebted to), and started some treatments for pneumonia which has finally cleared everything up. Yesterday, I met with a new pulmonary doctor that laid out a clear plan for addressing all of the items I needed. She helped to restore my sense of direction and goals and gave me back some faith that I had lost.

And is faith that helps you get through times like this. I was raised in a Presbyterian church, where a key tenent is the belief of predestination. That everything happens for a reason, and we are placed here to be in services to others more than self. I’ve had to hand things back to God, and relinquish that control that I wanted to maintain, but never should have in the first place. Everything that has happened in this story is what should have taken place and has reminded me to be more aware of what others might be going through as well.

I mentioned in the last article that I was working with our leadership team to understand why we were getting held up in our digital transformation in some areas from a 2D to 3D environment. One of the tasks I have been working on is interviewing all of our facilities group’s production staff and helping them establish learning paths and goals to improve, refresh and refine their skills. The key element has been the one-on-one interview with each person in the team. I had written an article here last year about OWNing your training – where you have the opportunity and addressing both the want and need of a professional career and taking the personal responsibility we all have for our successes in life. It was a perfect time to put this concept into action.

The cool part? I’m getting to meet and know people on an individual basis. We are talking about their excitement and passion for what we do. We’re catching up on how their kids are doing…listening while they talk about taking care of a parent that’s not doing as well…hearing how they have wanted to take a different career path but never knew what was available…and how they have overcome adversity in their lives. The courses that they are taking are their own choices that they are buying into.

I’m actually making more friends, and it’s making our connection more personal. Are you willing to do this with your coworkers and colleagues? How much do you really know about them? Do you know their dreams, their hopes, their challenges?

And I realize that I am the one being schooled, and learning. Serving. Helping. And doing what I am supposed to be doing in this chance you get only once.

By now, the burning part about getting this class out of my head and on paper was reaching a new urgency. I didn’t want the story to fade without being out there so others could learn what I had learned. That perspective in design is a critical thing. So how do you achieve it? How does it alter what you do? And how do you help others find it?

That part is next. And you were a big part of it.



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Revit Point of Views – Part 1 - Perspective

 

Have you ever had that idea rolling around in your head…something that you needed to get off your chest, out of your system, and cleared from the deck?

Man, I’ve had this one for a while.

December 2019 had rolled into January of 2020. I had wrapped up a series about how we at Gannett Fleming were developing Revit content, and the standards and procedures our users should follow when creating Revit families that were to be used in a project. There’s a lot that goes into this…getting your parameters aligned with your schedules, making sure subcategories for solids are correctly defined to allow more control over what you see, and general best practices for what not to do.

I had also received notice in December of 2019 that I’d won my fourth AU top speaker award for labs, for “Charging Ahead with Revit 2020 MEP Engineering”. Little did I know that it could be the last time I would do a live presentation for Autodesk University…the jury is still out on this, but I can’t tell you how much I love doing these live presentations. It’s easy to feed off the energy in the room, where you have a group of like-minded people that all have the same perspective, to get better at what they do, and increase their passion for the craft that we engage it.

Mid-March rolls in and it has already been a rough start to the year. Watching our government turn into a bunch of spoiled two-year-olds fighting over who gets to be on the top of the hill, with an impeachment that was a true travesty and embarrassment for all of us. Sneaking around in the back of the room was story about a virus that was coming out of China, where I had made some good friends on the Autodesk development team that were helping is improve the electrical features of the program, didn’t really sit high on the radar…but all of the sudden, we were sending nearly 2600 employees home.

Amazingly enough, our fearless CIO, Kevin Switala, had already started having our team begin planning on improving our resiliency, playing out what if and worse case scenarios, including business continuity if we lost key staff to a virus that we thought we knew, but didn’t understand. But yet within a short period of time, we had addressed licensing issues, VPN connections, protocols for sharing files, improving communications with Teams…we were working it out.

June 19. I got a call on a Saturday morning…we were under a cyberattack. Some asshole (yea, I said it) decided to ignite an electronic bomb with extortion in mind. We weren’t the only victim, but at the same time, we were not as prepared as we wanted to be. No company ever wants to admit this happens to them, but in reality, there’s a lot of bad actors out there that want nothing more that to tear down what you build, to take, to steal, to ruin. It sucks that there are people out there like this.

And yet, we came together as a team and grew more as company and family over the next several months. As a liaison to one of our business groups, I had the unenviable role of being the bearer of both good and bad news and wore the target on my chest to take the heat for lost files, lost time, lost work. And yet our resiliency to rebound, to get the job done, to fight through all of it, and change a century-old business model around into something new at the same time…I’ve never seen anything like it. If anything, I got much closer to the people I call my colleagues, who were now like family.

By December we had pretty much completed our migration to cloud based systems such as BIM 360 (Collaboration? Collaboration Pro? Autodesk Docs? I’m still confused…). We had started turning things around, and I was able to get back to focusing on what I love about my job – teaching others.

We had been debating about starting all of our vertical design projects in Revit for the past few years, but with the change of guard on our collaboration tools, the push was coming much harder. We finally got our leadership team together to try and understand what the root causes were and why so many designers were having issue transitioning from 2D drafting to 3D modeling.

January, I started feeling a bit crappy. A cough developed that wouldn’t go away, probably the same bronchitis I get every year with my asthma and allergies. Maybe the stress from the previous year’s chaos was finally catching up with me.

Two rounds of antibiotics and I still felt like crap. Since I had not moved to a new doctor here in Supply, where we had bought a house on the coast and remodeled to spend our next twenty years in, and enjoy retirement, I found myself in a local clinic again, meeting the awesome nurse practitioner who I had started working with a few weeks before.

February 19.



Monday, March 23, 2020

Eyes Forward…The Role of Learners in a Technology Driven Society


I recently wrote an article for AUGIWorld (https://www.augi.com/augiworld/issue/december-2019), that I hadn’t really put a lot of planning to but instead tried to speak from the heart, and from what I’ve learned in the 59 years I’ve been here. The response has been overwhelming, and I’m humbled by all the attention and feedback. I didn’t realize what a nerve it would touch, and how many people from different aspects of the design industry would even be intrigued enough to read it. It’s interesting how different emotions drive what and how we do the things we do, and what spurs imagination and thought.

As I returned to work on this follow up, I’m struck by how quickly our perspectives can change. We are currently in the midst of a societal upheaval, with uneasiness and fear striking out from a virus that we know little about. Playing the “what if” game drives everyone crazy, and if you own a business or manage one, you’re having to make a lot of tough decisions.

And in the midst of all of this, narrow eyes can’t see the learning experience we are all waist deep in…how we work, where we work and the benefits to so many things that can be had, if we simply look beyond these fears. I can’t express enough how happy I am to be working for Gannett Fleming – the response we’ve had from our IT services group, and the support from everyone on the board of directors down to the core staff that makes our firm go, has been amazing.

We’ve pulled off something I never thought would happen – take thousands of workers, and shift them to a remote access, work from home business model, where we can continue to do what we need to and serve our clients. I’ll admit – I was nervous, and so were a lot of us that are responsible for making this happen. But I also have strong faith, that guides us and provides the direction and vision we need. It’s amazing what we were able to pull off – but it was the team approach and commitment that made it work, with minimal issues.

Back to the original article - there were a couple of responses that questioned the premise of the article, and a couple more that pointed out phrases that struck home. All were great points, but one response made me think about the one paragraph that no one said anything about – the personal responsibility of your own growth. As we now sit in our homes, and learn new ways to work, you’re gaining a little time – time not spent commuting, traveling or getting to wherever you think you need to be. You’ve been given this gift of time, so how do you best spend it?

The role of college education in a technical society

With our eyes forward, it’s time for a little prognostication. As I sit here and review what our users need to learn in order to help us adapt to this type of change, it’s time to start being honest with ourselves. Based on my own personal experience (and yea, this is my own opinion – I expect everyone’s experience to be different), I’ve gotten far more use of my technical degree than the 5 years I spent wandering through the colleges. This is not a criticism of the schools, but more of my own responsibility.

We need to be realistic that even with all of the critical items an engineer, architect or scientist needs to know, not everyone needs to be in that role. We’re all in a desperate search for that unicorn, as it’s so often referred when searching for that BIM designer, or design technologists that can effectively use today’s tools. We need that design-oriented individual that can create custom structural shapes, form new types of wall assemblies, define the target and source relationship between engineering systems and coordinate the myriad of infrastructure that lies below the dirt. That can do it with a minimal amount of supervision, but with the faith and trust needed to let them get the job done. They’re the ones that can pull the miracle out on a project and get it out the door on time, under budget and with a happy client. Face it – our issues with getting more people into STEM fields are not so much getting younger individuals into the four-year college programs but become the technology experts that can still assemble the building, the structure and the site.

So what does this have to do with the typical four year school? It’s easy – incorporate what we’ve been doing as part of the two-year associate type degree program as the core for the advanced career fields. We get far too many architects and engineers that don’t have the technical capabilities of today’s design platforms. While some colleges are adding BIM, PIM and horizontal design to their curriculum, it’s not nearly enough. This has led to a shortage of technically capable designers that can get 3D models, systems and more assembled in the most efficient way possible.

We’ve also tuned our path for architects and engineers to move almost exclusively towards higher management type positions, such as the project manager, project principal and general business manager. Where is the technical career path that leads this generation towards the deeper thought process needed for simulation, creativity and expression through the tools we continue to improve? Generative design ought to scare the he-double hockey sticks out of every old school professional. The fact that design automation, which can eliminate the redundant CAD and document tasks that continue to control our budgets and schedule, can create its own concepts of how a wheel, chair or building to be designed, should be enough for the design world to stop. We need to start evaluating and altering both technical and professional college programs to move us to lead concepts like generative design and AI – to shape it and make it so we can create the changes to our world that we need.

Make your OWN path

With all of this being said, there’s only one person who can make the choice about the direction for your life and career. In order to break free of the traditional roles and constraints we place on ourselves in the STEM fields as well as our professions, we need to be able to make an honest assessment about our own career paths. But it’s a choice that we as individuals must make. You must be able to challenge yourself…

One great pointy-eared science officer once asked…“Is this all I am? Is there nothing more?”

This past year, as part of my new role, I’m taking the responsibility of redefining our technical training curriculum and programs. The logic I’m using is simple…where do you want to go? We are obligated to maintain our skills in the roles we take. For example, the architect still has to be the great aggregator, pulling all of the different pieces of the built environment into a cohesive structure. We have the job requirements clearly defined…the classes created…the expectations and goals needed to fulfill the job’s obligations clearly enumerated.

The hard part is getting outside of the role and looking at the right kind of “what if” scenario. Not a negative consequence, but a personal growth, desire or ambition. Let’s say I give you the opportunity to define the role in your own image. What would you do different? What do you need in order to be able to make this kind of a change?

OWN can become a simple acronym…opportunity, wants, needs.

How do you take advantage of the opportunity to define your own path?

How do you clarify what you want to accomplish?

What will be needed to make it to this goal?

By taking some of the gift of time we’re being given to do a little self-assessment, you’d be surprised what you may come up with. With the help of our online training providers at Eagle Point, I’m setting up OWN Learning paths, that each employee in the company can fill out. We’re going to provide them access to all of the training materials we have in our system. No limits. No restrictions. But a chance for them to challenge themselves; document it; and pursue it. The system can hold them accountable for reaching this goal – but it’s still up to them to take the steps. The employee has to be willing to make the commitment to themselves and make an investment of their own time.

The Rule and Conclusion of a Happy Business Life

Knowing the difference between the company’s obligation and your own personal responsibility…that’s a tough one for us to take. If you listen to today’s politicians, which in most cases can’t even be honest with themselves and much less us, one side would have you believe that a “corporation” is nothing but pure evil. But the other side knows that corporations are people. And in some cases, allows them to take advantage of their staff, driving them towards unrealistic conditions that make it impossible to have a satisfying career.

So where does training and career development fit in? Where’s that fine line, the tune that strikes the right note, the right pitch, and makes everyone go…ahhh?

It’s a trade off. It always has been.

So here’s some comments that as an employee, you should never make.
“I’m entitled to free training.”
“If I’m not getting paid for it, I’m not going to training.”
“It’s not my responsibility to learn how to do that.”
“I don’t have time.”
“My clients don’t want it, so I’m not going to do it.”
And my personal favorite…”I’ve always done it this way, and don’t see a need to change it.”

At the same time, the employer can’t carry these rationalizations forward:
“There’s no money in the budget for training.”
“Learn on your own time.”
“I expect you to do this, and I don’t care how you figure it out – just get it done.”
“You should already know how to do this.”
“My way or the highway.”
And of course, my personal favorite…”We’ve always done it this way, and don’t see a need to change it.”

Here’s the big takeaway – in order for a business to have a successful relationship with their employees, it has to be sold and delivered as a partnership. Training, learning, education…should all be part of the employment experience. Great managers know that their role has always been one of service – so from the business standpoint, we have an obligation – and the employee does NOT have a right – to train. I always loved the quote that it’s better to train someone and have them leave, than not train them and have them stay. The greatest way to cripple a business is to become a static point in time, where they no longer see the need or benefit for improving and changing what they do. Ask anyone who still has a boom box or eight track player if they’ve reached the pinnacle of life…if you can still find them.

But at the same time, the employee needs to approach the business as an owner. You have to take the responsibility of owning your skill set.

Of not settling for the static point in time.

Of challenging yourself.

Of taking your own time to learn.

It’s tough to do. Life is busy. It takes. It also gives back what you invest in it.

We blind ourselves to what others need because it’s easy. We cripple ourselves, because we allow others to dictate to us what we’re capable of. But this biggest shame is when we don’t try. When you get to a point in your career when you think you learned all you can, you let yourself down.

But with your eyes forward, the objective is to get past previous mistakes, missed opportunities and failures, where you can stop looking at what’s holding you back, and get to where we all want to be.

I’ve been in it myself now for approaching four decades. And with all that life is throwing at us, the last thing we need to be doing is giving up on ourselves and our potential for what you – and we – can be. I’m not quitting on being a learner…are you?