Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2014 Product Launches Start Today!

It's the silly season - time for Autodesk to roll out new software. David Light, as always, doe sthe best job of detailing new features, so here's his link:


But in my little part of the world, which includes AutoCAD MEP, Revit and more, I'm keenly interested to see how Autodesk 360 is going to work out. Norb and I have been actively working to develop the Revit dataset for Autodesk, putting in some non-traditional HVAC systems to show how it handles more challenging designs. One tool we've used a lot is BIM 360 Glue, a great tool for sharing files via an extension. But the fact that you can upload and markup Revit files to 360 is what really got my juices going. You don't have to strictly depend on AutoCAD WS for collaboration, which doesn't let you edit AutoCAD Architecture or MEP objects anyway. So this pushes Revit further up the food chain for us when it comes to picking the tool for the projects.

The two big Revit MEP enhancements include the ability to place an air terminal directly on a duct face, and embed CSV files into families for part selection.

I'm also glad to see you can divide systems now - how many times have you tried to connect a chemical feed to a primary pipe line? If this works the way it should, then tapping a makeup air system to a primary supply air system should work much easier.

From an energy analysis standpoint, I like the fact that you don't have to have spaces and zones defined to create an energy model. While this may stymie some of the Trane Trace users (which still requires spaces and zones), maybe we can get better results inside of Revit - we'll see...

AutoCAD MEP has a couple of neat new things - for starters, you don't have to add property set definitions after the fact. When they reside in your template, they're automatically assigned to objects as their placed in a model. This is based on how you define your definitions, and especially your classifications - don't miss this step.

And finally - irregular shaped viewports - about time!

More to come - maybe the strength of AutoCAD 14, will rise again in 2014 - could it be....?

Friday, March 8, 2013

BIM and Hoops...March Madness is upon us...

Yeah, I haven’t posted in a while, but geez…I’ve been busy. But now that March Madness is upon us, office work is about to get pushed aside for what really matters in life – the NCAA tournament…

I'm not sure how much I ever talked about this, but I volunteer for a local non-profit that offers youth athletics in my hometown. For 13 years, I coached basketball, baseball and soccer, served on their board of directors, and ran their basketball program for 10 of those years. Last year, the town, in an example of a monumental government mistake, decided to stop working with the association that ran these programs on their behalf (and at no cost to the town) and run a smaller, non-competitive athletic program.

Another great example of a bureaucrat thinking they know better how to raise children than a parent (just ask our Wake County school program, who believes fundraisers should only sell healthy snacks such as carrots and celery instead of Krispy Kreme “hot and fresh” doughnuts…if you’re from the South you know what I mean…some folks have no concept of what a fundraiser means).So after 4 years of retirement, I'm back running the basketball program. It’s been interesting, but the season wraps up this weekend. We had 511 kids in our program (compared to about half that much in the town’s), and for the most part, we accomplished the goal of keeping the program afloat long enough to regroup and work on a new program using county facilities instead of the towns…their loss.

And that's where this story starts. So how does this tie into BIM? It’s actually pretty easy – you can take anything you learn in real life, and turn it into an object lesson. I came up with three of them that relate to both hoops and BIM.

1 – You can’t win if you don’t play…

Lottery players know what I mean…well maybe that’s a bad example. Whether is volunteer work or regular work, you're going to run into challenges and frustrations. But you never know how things will turn out if you at don’t at least put in some serious effort to succeed. How you deal with those frustrations is no different, whether you’re trying to move an old school architect into BIM or trying to get a coach to stop yelling at his kids.

So I’ve got assigned tasks for all the coaches, and one of them is that they have to stay and clean up after a game. I also deal with a lot of complaining about officials, parents, and more. I got an email from one of my coaches frustrated with the officiating, and complaining about the parents a couple of days ago. When I could finally rewind, I remembered that I was at his game, the last game on Friday night…and he left without saying anything, leaving me and the other coach to clean up. It ticked me off that here this guy was, complaining and leaving, so I had to call him.

We talked about the officials, about players getting techs for cussing, and the “rough” group of parents he had sitting behind his team where they weren’t supposed to be. After going through this, I brought how having to clean up behind coaches was a pet peeve of mine – so what was his excuse.

He told me, “I’m sorry, I hadn’t told you…I’ve been getting treat for a form of leukemia, and I had chemo all this week…it was just starting to get to me…”.

I had to stop – dead in my tracks.

That caught me completely off guard.

Here was a guy, volunteering to coach his kids and others in a game that everyone loves to play, and loves to complain about.

He’s dedicating his time to working with kids not just how to be better at the game, but work better as a team. He’s a great example of being in the game – he’s there because he was committed, not just to his kids, but to himself.

And he’s doing this while undergoing medical treatments that are tough enough, much less deal with the mental aspect of fighting cancer.

I didn’t really know what to say.

I stumbled through a discussion about a couple of friends of mine, and a parent of kid I coached who later passed away from leukemia. And I remembered how hard it was on his son and wife, and how young they were when he passed.

At the end, we talked about his upcoming chemo treatments, which he has at the end of the month – right when our tournament starts. He was positive about the potential outlook, and was ready to be on the court and lead his team. All I could think of to tell him was I’d be happy to help him with his team if had any problems that weekend, or just needed the support.

All too often we get caught up in what we’re doing, and don’t realize how fortunate we are to live in this life, in this country, in this time, where in just a decade, the survival rates from cancer have increased dramatically, but still paint our immortality in bold letters. We think we’re doing the right thing by clinging on to what we’ve done for years, but get to the moment where we wished we’d done something different when your clock shows up.

And I thought about how hard I’ve hammered some of my co-workers about not moving forward, when compassion and a little patience would have gotten me further. I still believe that improving your skills, working to better your process, not to make more money but to gain more time, with family, friends and loved ones, is what this is really about. I remembered the long days and nights I used to work (and that some of my co-workers still do), and it drives me more to make their lives better.

But ultimately, it boils down to a simple thing – if you choose not to participate in the game, then you’re just an observer. Basketball and BIM have a lot in common this way – if you want to be successful, you have to put in the time and effort.

2 – My new motto – Learn to Earn!

While all of this is going on, I’m starting to get frustrated with my nephew. Family is family – you love ‘em all, no matter how nuts they (or you) are. We got into a big discussion about entitlements, where he made a statement that every person should be “entitled” to a good job, food, healthcare, etc. And I wasn’t raised that way – neither were my parents, who I still consider to be a part of the greatest generation.

It’s funny how the new town program is built that way. Everyone gets the same playing time…nobody keeps score…so it can all be “fair”. After all, isn’t that what sports is about? And man, I couldn’t disagree with that more. Sports is like work – you only become successful when you can do something better and smarter than anyone else. That’s what kills me about the entitlement mentality – you shouldn’t have to earn something to get something. So does that mean that even though we’ve made a substantial investment in technology, worked hard to train our staff, spent countless personal hours honing our craft so we can be better prepared to support those who need us…that another company, that’s still stuck back using thirty year old technology, be given the same consideration as those who have made the investment? All in the name of being “fair”…

It kills me to see owners and facility managers that go strictly on price when quoting a job. To me, design is a relationship – and BIM is a tool that’s used to improve that relationship. I can probably go give somebody a cheap price just to upfit a single room, but if I’m not talking to my clients about the big picture – about how BIM, when used in the entire lifecycle, dramatically reduces and simplifies to overall cost of designing and maintaining a structure. When you don’t work to train your client, then you’re no better than the parent or coach who doesn’t teach the kids the value of effort. Reputations are earned – good or bad – by the actions you take.

What Learn to Earn means to me is not being guaranteed a successful outcome, but rather the value of effort, hard work and desire…all things needed to be successful in life. In order to win, whether it’s contracts or basketball, you have to learn what it takes to earn the business or the game. Failure is a critical part of learning, so when you take failure out of the equation, then desire gets lost. Ask any 9 year old how they feel after they lose that close game – and instead of coddling them, teach them what it takes to get past it.

In BIM, it’s earned by time. You have to use the tools and be invested in them to be successful. We are always telling our managers that you can’t get there by doing tiny little bits and pieces. The entire job needs to be modeled, as much as the software can handle it. And the data has to be integrated, down to a single source. Giving up their old defense, and learning new ways to win is always tough – but you never stop learning.

3 – The officials never affect the outcome of the game…

Try telling this to the coach who just lost a game because the kid didn’t hit the rim on his free throw, but one of his teammates grabbed the rebound and made the basket that won the game. The rule is that you’ve got to hit the rim, but the official missed it. I heard about officiating all year – how “unfair” it was, how many missed calls, how they did or didn’t manage the game.

The funny thing about it, the bulk of the coaches that were complaining were the ones that weren’t winning. Somehow they misconstrued their success with another person having the ability to affect their outcome. Basketball – as much as any other sport – is a team effort that boils down to execution. Are you able to execute a game plan, within given parameters, to gain a successful outcome – the win? It doesn’t matter how many fouls are called, if you don’t make more shots than the other team – you lose. One play only has a minimal impact. The outcome is a result of the whole body of work, so if you were lazy on defense, turned the ball over too many times, didn’t square up before taking a shot…these were more likely the reason why you lost.

We had a game against a team from another town, which turned out to be a travel team made up of 16 and 17 year olds. Playing against them was one of our 13-15 year old teams. They were getting pounded, as our team obviously wasn’t in the same class. After the game, one of the parents I’ve known for a long time came up raising Cain, asking me if this was what FVAA was boiling down to.

I told him he missed the whole point. What he hadn’t noticed in the game was the smallest player, a 13 year old named Demarcus. He was constantly hustling, harassing the bigger players, getting called for fouls, taking and making long shots…he never quit. I had coached his older brother, but even he didn’t have the fire in his belly the way Demarcus did. That’s a kid that I will go to bat for a million times…because he never accepted defeat, but instead fought all the way through it.

The parent missed the whole lesson – no matter how adverse your situation is, you never just quit. You don’t give up on yourself, your team, your players…when you do, then you become part of the problem. It’s easy to quit – that’s why so many people do it. Look at all the “CAD” guys that are having a hard time finding work. It’s because they quit working on themselves – they stopped trying to learn, stopped putting in the effort, to make themselves better.

It’s the same way with BIM. It’s not easy – in fact, it requires much more initial effort than just throwing lines on paper and calling it design. But the rewards are immense, because eventually, you do get that time back. And we won’t ever quit – working to improve our process, our work conditions, our impact on the environment, and more – not because it’s not easy, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Wrapping up this way-too-long article…

Technology and life moves forward inexorably, improving in many ways, but you have to recognize, and accept it, in such a way that you can better yourself and your life. This coach, this player and this opportunity to serve others helped remind me that recognizing the work and effort of others that take the thankless job, deserve the recognition and thanks…and our gratitude. And that quitting on yourselves and others is never the right thing to do. And that getting and staying in the game is the only way to be successful and happy in life. Observation is for the jealous…

Find that technician that’s been working overtime to get your project out the door, and learning how to use new software every day, and tell them thanks. Talk to the older engineer, the close to retirement project manager, and learn from them – they’ve got an entire lifetime to share.

And don’t forget to contribute to the office pool and make your picks early. Go with your gut and you’ll win every time.

Enjoy the tournament!

David B.