Saturday, July 26, 2014

What can i say that hasn't been said already?

Well its been a LONG time since ive felt like writing.  About Revit, about BIM, about the community of people that we all work in and with, and all that it entails. Its actually been over a year since ive logged in to the blog, and wanted to write.  I've had plenty of topics i wanted to cover, but i guess there is a certain amount of Burnout that comes with some of the *hardships* of being a Design Technologist and a Support Technician.  That could be a topic in and of itself (What do we call ourselves, and what does that mean we do?)

I've spent a fair amount of time on the road, having traveled to Australia for RTCAUS (which included a phenomenal road trip to Sydney from Melbourne, courtesy of our RTC Father, Wesley Benn. RTCAUS remains one of the highlights of my year.  The vibe is just *different* from the conferences in America.  I cant really explain it.  But, ill save that for another post, that i hopefully stay motivated enough to write in the near future.  Regardless, the trip was amazing. Seeing #VividSydney was epic.  What a heartstopping show.

Between the Australian event, and the North American RTC, i had the privilege of presenting 4 different classes, and helping with a few others (truth be told, 5 of us from Beck Group taught a total of 14 classes between the two events!), and it was an honor to see my colleagues do their thing.  Unfortunately, because im a constant over-reacher in terms of scheduling, a lot of my materials (all of them) were extensively late, getting to the committee members.  Thats my bad. Without a justifiable excuse in sight, i mentioned on Revit Forum that i would post them here.  Some of them were great conversation (i thought), but perhaps that's my unwavering desire to talk about the nuances of the unsexy stuff in Revit, and not focus on the new shiny toys.

RTCAUS- Abusing Groups in Revit (A Healthcare Project)

I saw this class as sort of a follow up to a 2010 class i did at Autodesk University, on Links and Groups and Documentation, and making it all work.  Back then, hardware was a real concern for the projects we were doing.  Now, the computers have caught up enough that- even as extensively as i intentionally hyper-model (over model implies its too much), were able to stuff the whole building in one model, and have it perform admirably. The extensive use of Groups help to propagate similar situations throughout the building, but using Revit Groups is never without incident.  It can be- however- without much difficulty, *IF* you know a lot of weird tricks about what revit Groups like and dont like.  For instance, there are rumors that Groups cant be mirrored, and cant be rotated. It turns out thats not true at all, its just that Revit wants them set up a certain way to BE rotated or mirrored.  Want to know what that means?  Check out the handout.  Ill bet the "One Hosting Face for each Face Based Family in a group" will solve a lot of your problems.  The materials are here:

This was my favorite class to teach, because i had a lot of fun with it.  Was also a treat to get the model in to Revizto. Weve been using it more and more, and this coming week its getting installed on EVERY architecture machine in the company (more on that later).  The gents from Vizerra even presented some of our models in their class in Chicago, which was fun to watch. We dont buy massively powerful GPU cards for our computers, and even so- it runs like a champ.

RTCNA- The Fireproofed Revit Model (A Collaboration with LA Fuess Engineers)

Another class i was proud to be a part of, surrounded the collaborative efforts of a Structural Engineer i work with pretty closely (Scott Wilson, of LA Fuess Engineers (  Without being too promotional, LAF is a Structural firm thats always willing to help us push the envelope, and take things a bit farther if its beneficial to the project downstream.  Scott and i got together to see about a Data Exchange setup, where they could Model the applied Fireproofing on Structural Steel content, but then have a vehicle for our Architects at Beck Group to control the specifications, locations, and thicknesses, of the Fireproofing. 

While the workflow wasnt *sexy*, Scott and i live and work in the real world, and this is reproducible and works reliably.  Weve shown it to the staff at Beck Group already, and we are showing it to the rest of the teams at LAF shortly.  It hinges on some simple API data exporting and importing.  While that isnt sensational in terms of the wow factor, we can ask software vendors to make new functionality all day long, or we can take what we have and make it work.  A very special thanks goes out to 3 people, for helping with some last minute API troubleshooting we had with out toolset:  Adam Sheather, Jason Howden, and Frank Fralick of Beck Group. Ironically, once they fixed the app, i had a typo in the parameter name, during the live demo.  Well, thats what i get for not staying in Powerpoint Safety Land. Always good for a laugh, right?  Thanks for presenting, Scott. Check out the datasets and the handouts here:

RTCNA- God is in the Data

God, i had a riot teaching this class. If im being honest, i only got 90 minutes of sleep the night before. I was petrified at the concept of teaching Excel in front of the Revit Community.  I am *not* an excel genius, and most of what i did in this class was taught to me by a former colleague Cory McDermott, while we collaborated on making Room Data Sheets and FFE Packages out of Revit. Hes a bit of a badass, and he taught me some psychotic things in Excel.  Many thanks to you, buddy.

So lets just get this out of the way:  I know doing this stuff in Excel and Mail Merge sucks.  I know a real database is better.  I know there are tools that are better.
Ironically, we did this in house because we HAD to.  Buying software isnt always in the cards.  Setting up a database or deploying Access (its not on our machines) requires IT and/or Management, and i like to say:  Im in this for the users.  Sometimes you have to use what you have, for the short term.  I submitted the class after sharing our workflow on, and at the suggestion of several users there.  I was surprised at some of the snide and haughty comments on twitter, about it.  Its like... Im good with it, if you are too good for our workflow or if you have unlimited budgets and IT control to deploy a better solution.  But dont flex on me because youre a twitter badass.  Thats why i practically hate writing now. Its not enough to want to share and help people, you have to worry about internet tough guys. What a joke. What can i say?  I know of at least two offices that have now adopted the workflow.  Which means even if its hacky, it helped someone.  And thats all i ever claimed to want to do.

What would Thomas Jefferson Do?  AKA Classical Architecture in Revit.

I got to talk one last time, about our project at Old Parkland, while i was in Australia.  What made me more proud, was that the person responsible for most of the modeling and actual detailing/Documentation, was able to lecture about the class in Chicago at RTCNA.  Its one thing for me to get in front of people and talk about how the content was built, and how we kept the model functional at a hefty 800MB of a lot of individual bricks and stone work, but id rather an actual user get up there and talk about their experiences.

Im proud of our Parkland Team, and we even had a Happy Hour that followed a Jobsite tour of the current state of the project, last night.  Its coming together well.  A lot of people have hated on this project as well, and i concede that Classical Architecture isnt for everyone. In the end, however, its the clients satisfaction were after.  And that trumps more twitter tough guys. :)  Classical Architecture lends itself very well to the parametrics of 3D Modeling, and it was a trip to get to make it work for us in the detailing of this building.  I know i have a new appreciation for the classical architecture education i DIDNT get, ha! In Mia's class feedback, someone mentioned they were disappointed that the nested parametric radial array wasnt explored live in the class, to talk about how to build it.  Probably the one thing Mia forgot to mention in the class, is that those families themselves are included in the dataset (of both lectures, AUS and NA).  We proposed an entirely separate class on the Parametric Radial Array, because unfortunately those families can eat up the entire 75 minutes, without the rest of the Building. LOL.  We threw the Cycloid in for good measure.

If you want to check them out, check out both class sessions Materials here:

More fun with Deployments and User Experience.

So ive been home for a month now, since RTCNA in Chicago.  Were late as heck, deploying 2015 this year.  Thats due (mainly) to some disappointing infrastructure struggles, aside from my travelling.  So getting a late start, i got to work (for the third year in a row) with Gordon Price's Pragmatic Praxis Deployment toolset.

Gordon took on a pretty serious endeavour this year, as he stripped his entire product offering from last year down to nothing, and rebuilt it on a Powershell backbone, instead of a VBS backbone. The switch made a lot of things more graceful, but it also meant MANY more possibilities, and options in the scripts. Some of the biggest changes (for us at Beck Group) are the inclusion of:

1. Machine Conformity.  You can now create "Software Package Sets" (lists) that reside on the network. Then to update any machine in the future, you no longer even need to kn
ow which script to run.  You simply run one called "Conform" to every machine, regardless of which Software Package Set it uses, and it can uninstall platforms, or addins, or install platforms and addins, to conform to that master Spec.

2. More User side customizations.  Where last year we were running certain addins from our Networked Locations (which causes a performance hit on revit startup time), this year we were able to come up with a better solution with his tools:  I keep a current "copy" of the current addin version on the network, and daily at each login the Px tools copy it in to UserRoamingAppData Addin locations.  Meaning EVERYONE runs addins locally, but they're automatically updated whenever i change the copy on the network.  Were doing it with Family Browser, Beck Points, and.... Dynamo. :)

3. Machine Relocations. For the offices like Beck Group that dont have a DFSR or unified and identical file structure in every office, Gordon now how included "Location based" tools.  It means several thousand lines of code less in our Definitions file, and it means to "repath" all software from one office to another, i change one variable, and tell the machine to "Conform."  And its done.

You know, Design Technology Software Support is so much more than being an expert user.  Its being an expert user, knowing the ins and outs for installations, deployments, configurations, for setting up a positive and predictable user experience.  Its 100% possible, using these tools, to keep every machine tidy, and keep every machine identical, for a predictable experience.  Thats worth its weight in gold, in a large company.  We've been using them for three years, but i am a BIT dismayed this year at how hard im having to fight some "internal struggles" to want to keep things organized, and deployed in a predictable fashion.  If it turns out i lose the 'good fight,' and the powers that be decide to handle their software configurations and deployments through some other means (and other staff), than so be it.  But, you should look at this stuff now.  This file may read like gibberish, buts its a log of a trial run from this years deployment.  Yep, a single click.  And while i typed this, it assured removal of all programs 2011-2014 (except revit), and deployment of all 2015's, and REconfigurations of 2013 and 2014 revit, for our new addin setup.  Thats a lot of mileage with a single click.

Not only that, but its deploying Revizto, Archvision Dashboard, and Dynamo, too.  And its disabling the Autodesk Application Manager, since some platforms force install it.  Not bad for a double click, eh?

So yeah.  Between that, and helping some project teams get some kickass work Designed and Built, ive been plenty busy this year, and haven't had the time or energy to write much. Hopefully i wont be such a stranger to my own blog the rest of this year. =)