10 September, 2015

Google Earth Pro: Gratis but not so Free

Some months ago, Google Earth Pro went from a significant $399 per year to exactly zero. For architects like us, the enhanced measuring tools and the significantly higher resolution compared to the (already free) standard version can be invaluable.

Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts over several days in February, the installer failed and there was no useful error message of any kind. I didn't have time to pursue it back then, so I just continued using the already installed standard version of GE. Still, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what was wrong.

For the last year and a half, I've been using a 120GB SSD for my C: drive where Windows and my Program Files are located. Of late, though, I found myself hesitating to install new software because I was running out of space; it was time for a bigger one.

Anyone who has used SSDs will tell you how blazingly fast they are compared to the old spinning hard disks. ARCHICAD starts up in a fraction of the time, as does Windows itself. But SSDs are still a lot more expensive which is why people like myself continue to archive data on the cheaper (and much larger capacity) traditional HDDs.

I picked up the best-selling Samsung 850 EVO which has an excellent 4.7 star rating on Amazon and a pretty good price too. And now that I have two SSDs, I'm using the smaller one for my current project files as well as office library so that opening a .pln in AC is even quicker than it was earlier. I toyed briefly with the idea of going for the Samsung 850 Pro which has a 10-year warranty but wasn't interested in paying almost double. Besides even if the drives do last the full ten years, their capacity will seem really puny long before that. My first hard disk was barely 40MB and that was just over 25 years ago. The rate of increase has -- and always will be -- exponential. Okay, so now you know I'm an old goat. Back to the subject...

After duly loading Windows, it was time to reinstall all the software as well and here's where I come back to the recalcitrant Google Earth Pro. I downloaded the installer all over again (incorrectly assuming that the previous one was buggy) but faced the same problem as before. It would neither work nor tell me why it wasn't working! $#@%!!

Searching for a solution led to suggestions about using the "offline installer" but the download link on that page gave a 404 error, indicating a file not found. Even then the penny didn't drop. Then I noticed a mention of someone in Vietnam having the same problem; and that's when I got my first glimmer of what was wrong. I tried the same offline installer link using a free VPN plugin for my browser and bingo!

Long story short: the Google Earth Pro download seems to have been blocked in some countries including India. I don't know if the blocking is being done by ISPs in the countries themselves or whether they've got Google to do the dirty work for them (I suspect the latter) but either way it's stupid and short-sighted.

Once you've downloaded and installed GE-Pro, it should run normally and I'm happy to finally have it working. One last thing: the software itself is legally free but it still asks for a license key at first start, so use GEPFREE along with your email ID.

I hope this article helps some people.  Thanks for reading.

Hit the comments:
  • Is Google Earth Pro blocked in your country?
  • Do you have an SSD and if not, why not?
  • What was the capacity of your first HDD?

25 July, 2015

Sintex Underground Tank -- GDL Object

Sintex Plastics is probably the largest manufacturer of tanks in the country and certainly one of the oldest. Here's one of their products that is not really seen much on a site--not because it's never used but because almost the entire thing is buried.

For a couple of projects I simply used two primitives--a octagonal block and a flat cylinder to show the part above ground--but that wasn't really ideal and there was always the question on a steeply sloping site of whether some part of the body would stick out.

As you can see in the image below, there are very few parameters so I've not wasted time making an interface. If you choose any of the six standard sizes from the list, you won't have to touch anything else except the elevation. In fact, all the dimensions will be locked to prevent error.

If you want to change the dimensions, though, there is a "custom" option. Note that I've not restricted any of the parameters so if, for example, you make the manhole wider than the tank itself you'll get errors in 3d view.

Incidentally, I recently discovered that one series of Sintex septic tanks have the same outer shell as these underground tanks so this object actually represents both products. I've never used the latter, though. Not yet, at any rate.

Ah, yes, one interesting thing is that you can choose to cast a shadow with the entire object (unnecessary in almost all cases), only the part that sticks out of the ground, or not at all.

Finally, a disclaimer:
Apart from basic sizes, no dimensions or drawings are provided on the Sintex website so please do not expect this object to be a perfect representation of the actual product.

Download it here | ARCHICAD 18+

13 May, 2015

Need a füssball object in your ArchiCAD project?

Füssball & TT Tables at the [ShKo] bungalow
A couple of years ago, I needed a füssball (called foosball in some places) GDL object for a project. The clients wanted me to put it alongside a full-sized table-tennis table at their bungalow, which I was designing at the time.

The TT table object has long been part of the built-in library but, of Füssball, there was no sign. It's possible the German library has one but I'm unaware either way. Rather than import a static object from Sketchup, I decided to write the code over a weekend because I wanted better control over the materials (surfaces) used.

Füssball Table Settings
At the time, BIMcomponents had just been launched alongside, so, just to see how it worked, I shared the object there and promptly forgot about it.

Recently I happened to visit the page and found that a number of people had downloaded it--although there were only three comments. Two people complained that they couldn't download the object. I have no idea why--and can do nothing about it--but the comment by Kosuke Masuda from Japan embarrassed me. He'd noticed that one of the teams had 12 players in 2D.

Umm... ahh... oops!

The extra player has been red-carded and will take no further part in any games.  In other words, the object has now been corrected.

It is available at this link.

06 May, 2015

ArchiCAD 19 has been released

ArchiCAD 19
Image © Graphisoft
ArchiCAD 19 was released yesterday and I can't write anything original about it because I wasn't part of the beta program (hint, hint). Instead, I'm going to point you to a bunch of links that you must visit if you haven't already.

Your starting point should be the actual announcement.

Next up, the ArchiCAD channel on YouTube. A number of clips have been uploaded already and they'll give you a very good idea of what's new. Check back for more videos in the coming days. Better still, subscribe to the channel.

If you're interested in seeing how ArchiCAD has progressed over the last few years, this chart has a matrix of features from v.14 to v19.

Finally, here's the story behind the ArchiCAD 19 signature building by Bond Bryan Architects.

From what I can see, there are no template-shattering features this time, which is a bit of a relief actually. Instead, we see a number of useful enhancements across the board. Enjoy.

30 April, 2015

BIMcloud over Dubai

Two days ago, I was part of a BIMcloud event held at the Canadian University of Dubai. BIMcloud was launched by Graphisoft just over a year back in Japan. Why Japan and not in the US, Europe or even down under? Lachmi Khemlani explains in this blog post from April last year.

The process began a few weeks back when Djordje Grujic contacted a bunch of us on email and asked us if we would be willing to take part in this event. I think every single one of us jumped at the opportunity and, for me, it was not simply a learning experience but a very enjoyable one as well. I was being given a chance to, literally, plug into a small part of the global ArchiCAD community and interact with them in real-time.

Initially, all our discussion was carried out via email but as the date got nearer, we moved over to Skype. This proved useful in the end because Teamwork messaging was iffy an my end at least -- any message I sent from within ArchiCAD took about twenty minutes or more to reach the intended recipients although I could receive messages instantaneously. Gábor Kovács-Palkó and Márton Kiss over at Graphisoft were discussing something about a local proxy so I cursed my internet service provider (wrongly, as it turned out) and we used only Skype to communicate during the event.

Graphisoft was hosting the file on their BIMcloud server in Hungary so, essentially, the data sent from my computer was bouncing across the internet from Mumbai to Budapest to Dubai - a total distance of about 10,000km. It was similar for Shivang Rajvir in Ahmedabad. In comparison Victor Arcos in Bogotá, Columbia, was sending his data around 14,000km. Marin Račić and Gordana Radonic in Croatia and Serbia respectively had relatively shorter hops for the first leg but must still have been closing in on 5,000km each. The guys in Dubai and Egypt (we didn't interact with the latter) must have been clocking about 8000km with the data going to Budapest and back.  These are straight-line distances of course. If you try to calculate the undersea cable routing and the satellites out in space, the distances would be many orders of magnitude greater.

The file we were working on was large. My project files never cross 100MB so this one, which weighed in at a whopping 1.2GB was many times larger. Shivang couldn't load it on the first PC he tried but, on the second one with twice as much memory, it did open.  On my own system, I found that I was consuming about 65% of available RAM. Of course, there were a bunch of other programs running at the same time.

Before we began the exercise, we downloaded and installed the BIMcloud Proxy to our machines. What this does, essentially, is cache the project data so that after the initial download, subsequent data transferred over the net is limited only to the changes being made. At first, I thought this would only be needed in an office where multiple computers were accessing the same project but I learned that it was necessary even for my single machine.

Mohannad Altabbal of BIMES
A couple of days before the event we had a discussion so that we all knew what was expected of us and there was a dry run as well. As a solo practitioner who has never even used Teamwork before--never mind BIMcloud--it went surprisingly smoothly and the process was intuitive. Yes, the teamwork palette does take up screen space if you keep it open but that's what my second monitor is for!

On Tuesday, we gathered online before the event and first Abdullah Shanmugam and then Djordje walked us through it, giving us Skype updates on what was happening at the venue even as he did his part of the project and found time to post the photos he was taking, to Facebook. That, girls and boys, is known as multi-tasking.

There were about fifty people in the auditorium but given its massive size, it looked somewhat sparsely populated. When the event was done--or at least when our part was done--we disbanded; and heard the next day that it had gone on for three hours in all.

But it wasn't all over for me. The guys over at Graphisoft spent yesterday figuring out why the messaging was so tardy from my computer (they'd asked for certain log files). This afternoon, I had a Skype session with Márton where he asked me to first, change a registry value, then revert back to default value and finally he asked me to replace a dll file on in my program folder with one that he sent. Messages were sent each time and, finally, it worked! What had been so utterly unreliable earlier was suddenly purring along like a Rolls Royce. I am told, this new dll will be part of the next program hotfix. No software is ever completely free of bugs but it's the commitment of the developers in squashing those bugs which makes all the difference. For my part, I'm extremely pleased to have played a small role in it.

Oh, and I've made a few new friends along the way. Thanks, each and every one of you.

11 March, 2015

Additions to the Custom Search

Image Source
Note: This post has been edited multiple times instead of starting new posts each time an addition was made.


Graphisoft US, ArchiCAD SADC, BIM6x and Patrick May's Tumblr as well as his WWA BIM blog are now part of the custom search engine, as is CJMW Architecture.

Hit the comments to let me know about useful blogs/sites that are missing from this list.

As it stands today, it is:
  1. Graphisoft
  2. ArchiCAD Talk
  3. Onland
  4. Shoegnome
  5. Self GDL
  6. Open GDL
  7. Archispectives
  8. Cadimage Blog
  9. Graphisoft USA
  10. ArchiCAD SADC
  11. Patrick May's Tumblr
  12. Eric Bobrow's ArchiCAD Training
  13. AECBytes Tips & Tricks
  14. BIM Tricks
  15. Skewed Blog
  16. Walker Warner Associates BIM blog
  17. BIM6x
  18. CJMW Architecture
  19. Bond Bryan BIM

06 February, 2015

Some thoughts on ArchiCAD in India

A recent thread on LinkedIn got me thinking about ArchiCAD in India and how it can do better. What comes to mind is, I am sure, by no means comprehensive but, it should give us a decent starting point for discussion about the future of our beloved software in the subcontinent. First, though, a little history.

ArchiCAD officially came to India about a decade ago. The then distributors gave me a disk with a 30 day trial of version 9, at the expiry of which I was asked if I wanted to purchase it. It was certainly impressive enough for me to put down my hard-earned money and I was promised two days of training and a free upgrade to the next version as part of the package (in those days nobody here ever talked about SSA). Anyway, as it turned out, the trainer, after spending a few minutes with me decided that, since I knew what each of the construction tool icons stood for, I already knew everything of consequence, so he packed his bags and disappeared! Hello?

In those days, there were few, if any, YouTube tutorials so my initial progress out of flatland and into BIM was slow and rather unsteady.  Often I found myself reverting to 2D-CAD for quick drawings or details. It was around this time that the internet started to open up in India and I would scour the net looking for tutorials and tips from users worldwide. Most of all, I followed the ArchiCAD-Talk forum and, although I rarely posted anything there, I learned a tremendous amount from the veterans who freely gave of their time to guide others.

The resellers/distributor in India did little more than simply sell the software. This struck me as being in stark contrast to what seemed to happen in some other countries where they had highly trained ArchiCADders on their staff--not merely to troubleshoot--but also to develop region-specific templates, objects and addons.

Things went on unsteadily, for a few years until, abruptly, ArchiCAD was no longer available here in India. For whatever reason, things had broken down between the distributors and Graphisoft so users like myself were stuck on our last version even though we wanted to upgrade.  I tried getting in touch with other users in India and came up short. Essentially, I knew exactly zero! No, wait a minute. I knew one but his firm had dropped out around because he had come to believe that ArchiCAD had no future in India. Additionally, he told me, he didn't have any staff who were properly trained to use it so it had become a white elephant. By all accounts, he was hardly the only one to make this decision.

I tried to get information from what turned out to be the temporary distributors based in Calcutta but they were non-responsive to the point of rudeness.  Finally, just over a year ago, a new distributor was appointed and those of us who were keen on it, got to upgrade.  As it stands, I've paid my SSA in advance for the next three years and I'll see v.21 before I have to shell out again.

Okay, so here's what I think we, the users, and Graphisoft, need to discuss in the context of the Indian market:
  1. Be the First-Mover:

    Most architects in India have at least heard of Revit even if they know nothing at all about what it does. At job fairs in colleges, students tell prospective employers that they "know Revit".  I get online job applications from youngsters looking for internships and some of them say they've never even heard of ArchiCAD. Thankfully that number had dropped substantially in the last few years but the change is because of increased tech-savvy among students and has little to do with awareness created by anyone in India.
    In a country where most firms are still stuck in flatland it is imperative that ArchiCAD lead the move into BIM and define the segment. Once a firm invests its time and money in an ecosystem, it needs a very strong argument for them to consider migrating elsewhere. Autodesk will, as usual, try to project themselves as the default mainstream choice so, if they get first-mover advantage, ArchiCAD will permanently be an also-ran. It is very important that Graphisoft be seen as committed to going the distance because a prolonged break in their presence (as happened last time) will be pounced upon and exploited mercilessly.
  2. Marketing:

    Autodesk has a powerful marketing machine and is naturally trying to associate BIM with their own product. Graphisoft, on the other hand, may not have the same budget, so they have to rely--to a greater extent--on guerilla warfare. The strongest weapons in their arsenal are the users themselves. I'll expand on that a little later but it must be remembered that, although users have a role to play in publicity, they alone are insufficient. There still needs to be some level of consistent mainstream marketing--otherwise it sounds as though we're telling people ghost stories.
    Apart from focusing on trade publications, Graphisoft should also consider sponsoring relevant events where architects are invited. Have, say, a small kiosk there with someone from the distributor/local reseller's side presenting what ArchiCAD does and answering questions intelligently. Maybe s/he can distribute disks with trial versions along with how-to videos that are on YouTube anyway. Yes, people can go to MyArchiCAD and YouTube themselves but most people are lazy. A little spoon-feeding is inexpensive and the impact quite out of proportion.
  3. Online Presence:

    If you look at other regions where ArchiCAD had a presence--North America, the European countries, South Africa, the Middle East and, especially, down under--they are extremely strong online. The fact that they are also always active inspires confidence not just in existing users but in potential customers as well. In a connected world, it is not enough to merely put up a "please contact us if you are interested" message. A website has to be one of the major points of interaction between distributors and users and to be seen as such by others as well.
    What also needs to be done on this web hub, is to transparently post pricing, have productivity calculations, publicise special offers and to give news updates on what is happening within the ArchiCAD community of that region. Unless such a hub is alive and active, you are out of sight and out of mind. Of course the hub must maximise the use of social media. That's the easiest way to punch above your weight.
  4. User Groups:

    This is something I've tried to push with the previous distributors and with the current ones but have been singularly unsuccessful till date. Satisfied users can promote ArchiCAD better than an entire marketing campaign. It's all very well having a Facebook or a LinkedIn group but unless there is substantial interaction, these remain paper tigers. Our Facebook group has 325 members at last count but only half a dozen of us post anything at all. Most of us don't know each other so that makes it kind of lifeless. It could change if we met, though but real-world interactions cannot be organized by users alone--architects usually have neither the time nor the inclination for that--so the onus is on the distributor or the reseller for that region. Such groups also serve the function of assuring users that they are not alone and that they have the support of their peers. A user-meeting can also be a great publicity vehicle to convert invited non-users to users.
  5. Catch them Young:

    This one is a no-brainer so it hardly needs repeating but if students are made aware that they can get if for free, and they can be be helped to explore the potential of of the software, then we'll have a whole new generation of users to push ArchiCAD to new heights.

I'm sure there's a lot more to be said but I'm afraid I'm out of ideas at the moment so I'll shut the hell up and throw the floor open to comments.

02 February, 2015

Masters of ArchiCAD Summit

It's halfway around the world--and it runs through the night for many of us--but it promises to be a worthwhile endeavour. Almost all the speakers are well-known gurus in the ArchiCAD world, with a wealth of knowledge and experience--not just in ArchiCAD but in BIM as well.

If you want to know more, go to the website and register. And if you can't stay up through the night, you can still access the recordings in the morning. Well, maybe not the very next morning...

Here's the schedule:

Click here to see full size
Click here to see full size

30 January, 2015

Update to the Tile Objects - v2.0-18

Back in ArchiCAD 13, I'd made four objects for tiling bathroom floors and walls but, what bothered me was that they didn't have the option to make cutouts for doors and windows. It wasn't all that hard to do in the end, so I'm wondering why I put it off for so long!  Each of the new objects now supports up to ten openings and you can adjust the sizes and positions using hotspots.

These objects, which are made in ArchiCAD 18, have a consistent User Interface--which may not be the prettiest but it is a lot easier than scrolling through parameters! More importantly, they now respond to standard Model View Options wherein, their display can be (optionally) suppressed if the MVO excludes finishes.


Oh yes, they are free.

Single Colour Tiles
RGB colours or an existing surface in the loaded library

Variegated Tiles
RGB colours with user-controlled % variation or
up to 10 existing surfaces from the loaded library

Gradient Tiles
Gradient in RGB colours with user-controlled % variation

Chequered Tiles
RGB colours and/or an existing surface from the loaded library

Hit the comments if you like them or have suggestions.