Solid State Drives (SSD) – What are you waiting for?

Sample pricing, courtesy of recent email - this promotion has expired

Sample pricing, courtesy of recent email - this promotion has expired

Time is money.

We recently passed a milestone in market saturation of Solid State Drives (SSD). Entry level drives in reasonable sizes can now be had for less than $1 per Gigabyte (even before those annoying mail-in rebates).

That’s my “buy” trigger.

Lest we lose perspective, I recall we paid $3 per Megabyte for the 200MB hard drives in early PC CAD systems. Yep – a $600 line item for internal storage that wouldn’t hold today’s version of Windows Operating System. Don’t even get me started on RAM prices…

Solid State Drives provide noticeably superior performance over spinning, magnetic disks. Higher resiliency, along with lower noise emission, heat generation and power consumption are just icing on the cake.

They are now truly “no-brainers” for laptop devices and a very strong argument can be made for converting all your desktop boot drives to SSD. Their next best application is as Caching drives for Autodesk Revit Workstations.

What’s the drawback?

Well, price, for one. They’re still more expensive than equivalent magnetic disk drives and aren’t yet available in larger volume sizes. Folks who have gotten in the habit of storing Terabytes of information on their local drives (shudder!) won’t be able to fully utilize SSD technology. But, Local “Data Hoarding” is a topic for another day.

Second is the finite number of writes an SSD can endure. Technological developments have rendered this less of a factor, as the theoretical limit now exceeds what we would consider normal life spans for computers. That said, I would monitor SSD’s used in Caching applications on an annual basis.

So, what are you waiting for?

Changing a boot drive from magnetic disk to SSD may be our last opportunity to experience a truly dramatic performance boost. Everything else is incremental.


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Will 13 be lucky…this time?

Get out your lucky charms!

Get out your lucky charms!

“Lucky” 13 … this time?

Disclaimer #1: The following is simply a whimsical musing. Purchasing decisions should NOT be made based upon it.

For those of you who didn’t experience AutoCAD Release 13, perhaps this analogy will help:

AutoCAD Release 13 was to CAD software what Windows Vista was to Operating Systems.

Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head when Release 13 of AutoCAD went live. Whatever could go wrong, did. And, seemingly, at the worst possible moment. System crashes were routine, as was the resultant loss of work. Early adopters soon regretted their decision. At our firm, we held steady on AutoCAD Release 12, not updating until Release 14 was publicly acknowledged as stable.

In short, 13 was NOT their Lucky Number.

All this has me wondering if Autodesk will continue with their current naming convention when it comes time to unleash their next round of products. Will 2013 be a lucky number…this time? Or might they just as well call it “AutoCAD Vista”?

Granted, no logical connections can be drawn between Release 13 and what will probably be called AutoCAD 2013. This is more a quandary for the good folks in Marketing, should any of them have that historic awareness. There is no reason to expect AutoCAD 2013 will have technical issues. But, why chance it?

We wouldn’t want a case of Déjà vu all over again.

What would you recommend Autodesk name their next release?


Disclaimer #2: I’ve been using Autodesk products since version 2.18, back in 1986-ish. Just having some fun with word play, Autodesk. No need to unleash the (legal) hounds!

Disclaimer #3: Did I mention how much I love Autodesk Products (starting to sweat under the collar now)?

Disclaimer #4: Forget I said anything….please!

Disclaimer #5: Ditto, Microsoft 🙂 .

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A “Crossover” Computer?

Dell Inspiron Duo "Crossover" Computer

Dell Inspiron Duo "Crossover" Computer

Go ahead – touch it.

“First time, you get a warning. Second time, you lose a finger.”
– attributed to an anonymous IT Leader cautioning users against touching their display screens.

It wasn’t so long ago that fingerprints on computer screens were the bane of many IT people’s existence. That was then. This is now.

My first touch screen adventure came with my smartphone (Android based). As I’m the “frugal” type, it wasn’t the most expensive device available and touch performance was unpredictable in cold weather (not a good match for outdoor use in Minnesota, for more than half of any given year). But, the productivity improvement was immediately evident.

It spoiled me quickly. I found myself trying to navigate my wife’s Blackberry via its non-touch screen. Not unlike the scene in one of the Star Trek movies where Bones reminds Scotty he must use the keyboard, rather than voice, to interface with a computer when they are stuck in “ancient times”. Scotty’s “Ach! Keyboard…” was my “Ach! Joystick…”.

Bolstered by my acceptance of fingerprints on glass, I began a search for the “perfect” road companion. Something more portable than my boat anchor equivalent, “desktop replacement” laptop without sacrificing too much power or functionality.

You may recall my trials and tribulations when HP bungled their TouchPad sell off (see ). I’d have bought one of those 32GB models if I’d been able to get one at the $150 “fire sale” price (remember, I’m not cheap – I’m frugal!). Ebay opportunists and HP rethinkers rendered that an impossibility.

Even then, I had reservations of relying upon a tool that didn’t have a keyboard. So, I kept looking.

Dell’s Inspiron Duo “Convertible” caught my eye. A 10” laptop whose touch screen rotates in its frame to allow operation as a tablet. At a street price of over $500, though, I wasn’t ready to plunge straight in.

Two weeks ago, when my wife and I were looking at iPad accessories at a local MicroCenter (yes, we’re a multiple platform family), I inquired about the Duo. A salesperson said they’d been closed out. I checked MicroCenter’s website and found there was one open box model left, at a discounted price of $270. At half price, I’m in!

So far, I’m impressed with this new tool. The keyboard feel is great, the 1366 x 768 display looks nicer than my “serious” laptop’s 1440 x 900 screen and performance is really quite good (2GB RAM / Intel Atom Processor / 320GB Hard Drive / Win7 Home Premium).

Drawbacks are similar to any device built with portability in mind. There are only 2 USB ports and no optical drive. In order to conserve the USB ports, I snagged a Bluetooth mouse. Optical drawbacks are mitigated when you consider that “thumb” drives hold more data than DVD’s plus the on board hard drive provides storage for entertainment files alongside business apps and data. All one needs to do is plan ahead or rely on WiFi when on the road (isn’t HBOGO great?).

Oh, there was one disappointment. Dell’s online manual for the Inspiron Duo claims the device has one full and one half size media card slot. After peeling away the layers of my Duo to install a GPS card (an operation not for the faint of heart), I discovered only the half size slot had a socket (and was used by the WiFi / Bluetooth card). The motherboard has leads, but no full size socket or GPS antenna.

No full-length socket - Online manual is inaccurate

No full-length socket - Online manual is inaccurate

Bummer. I was looking forward to having a big GPS display.

I’ve been trying to go the full immersion route with Google Apps on this machine. In fact, this will be my first blog post composed using Google Docs. So far, so good.

Wanting to see just how far I could push this machine, I installed Autodesk Revit. It does run. Definitely not something you’d want to spend all day working on. But, if caught in a pinch, it can run native Revit. Interesting to note, Autodesk’s splash screens are taller than 768 pixels and do not allow resizing. So, installation can be a “hit Enter and hope for the best” exercise. AutoCAD WS, which was written with tablets in mind, is a breeze.

Duo in Table Mode - Running Revit

Duo in Table Mode - Running Revit

I’m not trying to sell machines for Dell. In fact, there are conflicting indicators about the Inspiron Duo’s future (it’s not promoted on Dell’s site, yet I could google to a link that would allow me to buy one from them). All I’m saying is that this has the potential to be a pretty handy tool and, if you can find one for the price I paid, I’d recommend adding one to your arsenal.


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SE Magazine Structural Technology Series

SE Magazine 2011-11 Cover

SE Magazine 2011-11 Cover

(Back on topic): Forgot to mention that I’m consulting with Lisa Willard and Brian Quinn, of SE Solutions, on a multi-part series of articles about Structural Engineering Technology for SE Magazine.

The first installment can be viewed here:

Technology for the structural engineering office (Part 1):

I’m putting the finishing touches on “The Cloud” article now. Stay tuned – I’ll let you know when it goes live.

Or, you can subscribe to SE Magazine at this link and be the first on your block to read it:

Subscribe to Structural Engineer Magazine

Links to the other installments (added 02 July, 2012):

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Farewell to a Friend – Jeff Johnson 1963-2012

The late Jeff Johnson (guitar) and the late Pat Farnand (drums) circa 1990

The late Jeff Johnson (guitar) and the late Pat Farnand (drums) circa 1990

Yep, another music-related post. Forgive me, but I found out this morning that a friend of mine, Jeff Johnson, passed away Sunday:

Jeffrey Todd Johnson

I met Jeff when I was hired on to manage the Combo (guitar, amp & drums) department of a music store where he worked back in the mid 80’s. Even though I was “officially” the manager, it was clear that Jeff was the guy in the know. We never squabbled over control and I, like many, was won over by his charisma, clarity of vision and what seemed to be an acute sense of fair play.

Jeff was beginning to focus more on his band, “Tatters”, which was in the process of evolving into “Another Carnival”. I had recently gotten off the road after a decade of playing cover music, so we had some things in common. I admired Jeff for his courage to play original tunes. It was the more difficult fork in the road as far as immediate livelihood went, but the only one with a potential future. And, I liked the songs he wrote.

Another Carnival had a video played on MTV (back when MTV was actually about music). Fortunately, someone has salvaged the long lost archives and posted them on YouTube (my sincere thanks to sevenlines1987!):

Watching and listening to ‘Still’ brings back good memories.

Another Carnival dissolved in dispute too soon. Somewhere along the line, Jeff took a wrong fork or two and wrestled with his fair share of demons. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a great guy. And, by anyone’s estimation, 48 years isn’t long enough on this planet.

Jeff, your “Unca Dave” will miss you, will think of you fondly and hopes you’re at Peace.

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You can take the boy out of the music,

The early years - someone should have warned me!

The early years - someone should have warned me!

…but you can’t take the music out of the boy.

The Information Age being what it is, I figured it was only a matter of time before this picture, taken around 1970, was used against me in an extortion attempt. Better to fall on the sword.

The last time I recorded in a studio, tracks were laid down on 2” magnetic tape. Only one studio in Minneapolis was digitally equipped and reviews on the finished product were mixed. It was a moot point anyway, as that studio was far too expensive for working musicians such as ourselves.

My, how things have changed.

This weekend, I was invited to stop by Drum Farm Studio ( ), as I was passing through my old stomping grounds in northwestern Wisconsin. Drum Farm is owned by a new friend, John Richardson (drummer with Gin Blossoms, Joey Molland’s BadFinger, Tommy Keene, Shoes, etc.).

Randy Forte ( ) was in the process of recording his upcoming album. I walked in just in time to be handed some farm implement to begin rattling as part of a “rhythmic cacophony” track. The line for autographs starts over…..there.

Instead of discrete rows of faders and knobs and big machines with spinning reels, there is now a keyboard, several monitors and a Mac.


Oh, c’mon, Dave – they’re still using real guitars and drums – and NO pitch corrector/shifter gadget – give it a chance.

Besides, the organic ambience of John’s converted machine shed harkens back to the era in which some of Rock’s best recordings were captured and masks the neutered ones and zeros written to disc in the control room.

Here’s what hasn’t changed:

The invigoration received from a creative and collaborative environment.

The camaraderie of artists/musicians.

The latter is much more common in, shall we say; more “mature” musicians, when testosterone is no longer the governing agent. Contests and escapades in the past, it’s really nice to hang out with a group of fellow survivors.

Case in point were Producer Ken Coomer (drummer with Wilco, Swag, Uncle Tupelo) and Engineer Jonathan Pines (Fingerprint Audio, Rupert Neve Designs, Private Studios), neither of whom I’d met prior to that session. In some ways, it was like “old home week”, as we knew people in common or had crossed paths with people who had crossed paths with them.

Also added to my list of newest, bestest friends are bassist (and web designer) Marvin Forte ( ) and guitarist Mark Charles Kelly (who was born in Minot, ND shortly after the last time my band played at “The Torchlight” there – but don’t draw any conclusions from that!).

What was going to be a simple meet and greet wound up being over 7 hours of rejuvenation. I only got to hear our HI-TONE amp ( ) used on the last two tracks, but that didn’t matter. Those hours were way more enjoyable than what I’d had planned for the day.

Not exactly sure how to bring this home, other than to say I didn’t realize how much I missed that environment until I was re-exposed to it. Maybe if there’s a lesson here, it’s that we should bring more of our own personalities to our daily processes and act a little less like we think we’re “supposed to be”, as “Professionals”. I bet there’d be less stress, our work product would improve and our Clients could benefit as a result.


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@DragonTattoo: Come for the depravity, stay for the soundtrack

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

#DragonTattoo: Come for the depravity, stay for the soundtrack

On New Year’s Eve, my wife and I finally got the opportunity to see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (MGM Studios 2011). She’ll watch anything with Daniel Craig in it – even dragged me to that ridiculous “Cowboys and Aliens” thing. Dragon Tattoo is difficult to watch in parts, but was one of the best cinema experiences we’ve had in a long time.

If you’re up for it, make sure your theater of choice has good projection and sound systems. We got a great viewing at the Rave Cinema in West Chester, OH ( ). The movie is very dark (literally, as well as figuratively) and requires superior resolution. The audio needs to be crystaline….and LOUD. At Rave #6, it was all of the above.

My wife had read the book and handed it to me afterwards. I got as far as the pressed flower birthday presents and Mikael Blomkvist’s legal difficulties before getting sidetracked. Just as well – I prefer to let the story unfold on the silver screen (i.e. surprise me!).

The world doesn’t need another movie reviewer, so I’ll spare you. But I just have to say:

the Title Sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

Not since “The Sopranos” has there been an intro so gritty, gripping and exhilarating that sets the stage so well for what is to come.

Led Zeppelin III was released during my formative years as a guitarist. In general, I am against messing with the Classics. But, when the low drone evolved into a darker, techno-industrial rendition of “Immigrant Song” (crafted by Karen O with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), I immediately became a fan. They had me at; “come from the land of the ice and snow”.

A compressed version of said intro (sans titles) can be viewed here:

Do yourself a favor and see Dragon Tattoo in a proper theater. Blu-Ray and Surround Sound are all well and good, but this movie demands a big presentation.

Can’t wait for the next installments!

Lisbeth Salander, as portrayed by Rooney Mara, is my hero (if only she’d quit smoking…). And, if there’s an Academy Award for on-screen piercings, she’s a shoe-in.


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2012 – It’s Clearin’ Up!

It's Clearin' Up!

It's Clearin' Up!

2012 – It’s Clearin’ Up!

It’s our slogan for the coming New Year. How do you like it?

This past year’s was; “2011 – Don’t Look Back”. At times, that was difficult, as there wasn’t a whole lot happening in front of us and a fair amount of “old business” vying for our attention.

On the bright side, 2011 was a bad year for Dictators and a good year for the Spirit of Freedom – both abroad and in our own back yards. Other than that, it’s probably not a year we’ll miss.

The origin of our slogan goes back to a week we spent on the island of St. Croix, in the mid 1990’s. It was a gloomy December for what was to be a bright Caribbean getaway. At the slightest appearance of a sunbeam, my wife (ever the optimist) would declare; “It’s clearin’ up!” – and we’d both laugh. That has become our metaphor for “There are better things ahead”, which is why it’s been elevated to annual slogan status.

From a Technological perspective, I feel we are on the verge of some “sunshine”. Tablets, more robust wireless data connections and, ironically, “The Cloud” have allowed many to leave the confines of a traditional workspace and walk in the sun.

Unfortunately, at least in the A/E/C field, what should be virtually seamless still involves too many steps. Many of the requisite dots are in place, but connecting them requires more effort and investment than many firms and end users can afford.

That, I predict, will change in 2012, following some mergers/acquisitions and new product releases. My advice is to pay close attention (or have someone watching on your behalf) and be ready to act quickly when the first rays of opportunity break through. The way we go about our daily business will look much different this time next year.

On a personal level, I hope that 2012 brings you, your family and your firm Health, Happiness and Prosperity. Remember, “It’s Clearin’ Up!”.


P.S. Shameless New Year plug: If you know of anyone looking for an IT / BIM / CAD / Digital Design Leader, either on-board or on a Consulting basis, let me know. Thanks!

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Autodesk, the benevolent.

AUVirtual 2011 - Autodesk University for the rest of us

AUVirtual 2011 - Autodesk University for the rest of us

Give Credit where Credit is Due.

Autodesk (publisher of AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, etc.) deserves kudos for some of their recent moves. Although they have, at times, acted like the 800 pound gorilla they are, Autodesk has been displaying a “kinder, gentler” approach toward their customer base of late.

Two examples:

1) Autodesk has made Educational versions of their software available to Industry workers displaced by the current economy. This is a great benefit to unemployed Architects, Engineers and Designers who want to keep their skills current. It’s a class move – and one I’d hope more publishers would emulate.

2) Autodesk University Virtual Classes are available, free of charge, to AUOnline members. If you have attended an Autodesk University in the past, you know how incredibly exhilarating and beneficial attendance can be. Autodesk has acknowledged that not everyone has the financial support to travel to Las Vegas to attend the full Conference and are making some of the sessions available over the internet. Although nothing can compare to the experience of attending AU in person, AU Virtual is the next best thing.

Registration for AU Virtual Classes opens (tomorrow) November 15, 2011.

This year, offerings have been expanded to over 250 classes, in English, Spanish and Portuguese languages. The Classes themselves will go “live” on November 29 and 30, during AU2011.

I encourage all AU Online members to take advantage of this great opportunity to expand your knowledge of Autodesk’s Industry Leading products.

And, thanks Autodesk!

“See you” at AU Virtual,


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…for whom the bell tolls…

Let Freedom Ring

Let Freedom Ring

…for whom the bell tolls…

At the time of this writing, we are awaiting confirmation of Moammar Gadhafi/Khaddafy’s capture (and/or death) in Libya. Without passing judgment on people or movements, let’s look objectively at these, and other similar, recent developments.

I believe that lessons can be gleaned from political events (such as the “Arab Spring”), without promoting any particular political agenda – and will attempt to do so in the next few paragraphs.

If the past decade has taught us anything, it is that Actions without Ownership are difficult to sustain. Sure, one can send in a “Special Ops” team, dispatch the “Dictator du Jour” and claim “Mission Accomplished”. But, what happens without clear Ownership of the Action is that a void is created and a chaotic period often follows.

It’s much better to have a Grass Roots Movement, with a vested interest, work toward an Action, having time to develop Concepts, Logistics and Leadership along the way. If the Action should be successful, a Structure to Manage it will be easier to put in place.

Another corollary to this topic is that “the Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend” approach seldom stands the test of time. Alliances should be forged based on long-term ideals and objectives.

So…what the heck does this have to do with Architecture/Engineering/Construction, BIM and/or IT?

If you are the firm’s “Tyrant”, it might be in everyone’s best interest for you to solicit – and sincerely consider – input from “the masses” (i.e. your loyal staff).

If you are in the “Proletariat”, formulate your ideas into plans and reach out to both your “Comrades” and your “Ruling Class”.

If you are in a position to issue Mandates without obtaining buy-in from the people who will have the opportunity to make them or break them, just DON’T.

Treating the Contributions of others as Commodities and failing to deliver a Consistent Message are two of the quickest ways to undermine Support.

Change (and Growth) can be a positive for all involved. It needn’t be a “Win-Lose” proposition. Reflect on the above and you can avoid being the next “Government” toppled.


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