Find us on Google+ September 2009 ~ Inventor Tales

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are Your Ports Under Blockade? Firewalls and Autodesk Network Licensing.

“The only truly secure system is one that is powered off, cast in a block of concrete and sealed in a lead-lined room with armed guards.” – Gene Spafford

For some reason, tech issues seem to swarm. It's like they happen in threes.

Here's one that for some reason, came in one of those little swarms. So I took it as an opportunity to go ahead and blog it.

Firewalls and network licensing and how they work (or specifically don't work) together.

For those of us who aren't sure what network licensing is, it's how software (including, but not exclusive to, Autodesk software) can manage distribution of licenses when multiple users need to share a license pool.

In short, your licenses are maintained on a server, while your software is installed on a client machine. When you start the software, your client sends out a ping to the server. If a license is available, the server issues a license. If not, you'll get a message telling you that a license isn't available.

For example, lets say you have a license pool of five licenses, but you have ten users that need to share the pool (they're only part time users).

If you request a license and one of the licenses is avaiable. You get a license and are on your merry way.

But if you get to work late, and the five license have been used by the five users who beat you to work, you'll get a message indicating no more licenses are available.

You can think of it like checking out a book from the library. If the book is there, you can have it. If not, sorry, have a nice day.

But, what if the only road to the library has be closed because of 'police activity'. You can't get to the library and get your book. It doesn't matter if there's dozens of books on the shelf.

That's what a Firewall can do to the Autodesk Network Licensing Manager (or FlexLM). By no fault of the license manager, it fails to acquire a license.

It can be frustrating for the users and administrators involved. You check your license manger, it's running beautifully. You check the client, everything seems fine. Try to start the software, and 'poof'! An error message. Maybe, just to really confuse things, maybe some of the clients are getting a license, while others are not.

Sometimes, it's as simple as the firewall. For Autodesk software, ports 2080, and ports 27000-27009 have to be open. If not, your hosed (this is the official I.T. term for it).

The licensing daemons (the utilities that pass license packets back and forth) need these ports open to pass their packets. If not, it's like closing the bridge to the library.

By default, Windows Firewall will block these ports (this is the only Firewall I'm personally familiar with, but I'm sure others do as well).

So we know the ports are blocked. How do we open them?

It will vary depending on your version of Windows and your firewall, but this should get most users in the ballpark.

Go to your Windows Control Panel, and choose Windows Firewall.

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Depending on your version of Windows, the screens may look different. The screen shown here is for Vista. Of course the simplest solution is to just turn the firewall off entirely. Many companies do just this. They have other firewalls between them and the 'rest of the world', and don't need a firewall between clients.

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I'm going to assume that for some reason, we can't, or won't turn off the firewall. So now, we have to open up the individual ports that the license manager needs.

So to do this, we choose the 'Exceptions' tab, then choose 'Add Port'.

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A new screen will appear and ask you to name the port, and enter which port you want to open.

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Give the port a meaningful name (so you know what program the exception affects). The capture above is shown for 2080. The steps will have to be repeated for 27000 through 27009 (that means 27001, 27002, up to 27009).

Once you have that done, you shoud be able to start accessing license (assuming there's no other issues with the licensing environment). Bear in mind, that this may have to be done in multiple places (routers, servers, etc). Anything blocking this ports will prevent the license packets from getting through.

So if you have that 'phantom issue', and run into that case where all the systems can pull a file except for 'that one guy'. There's a good chance this could be the culprit.

When in doubt, check it. If those ports aren't open, everything else is for naught.

Good luck!

For additional information on network licensing, check out KETIV's tech tips here!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Importing AutoCAD into Inventor with a Little Style

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things
Jean Cocteau

Autodesk Manufacturing Academy is starting to loom now, and I've been busy trying to get my info put together. It's a little stressful, but it does help sharpen the skills.

Recently, I was working with some 2D AutoCAD data, and needed to bring it into Inventor.

One of the things I like to do when I'm copying and pasting into Inventor is to copy the data out of AutoCAD and paste it into Inventor using Windows Copy (Ctrl+C) and Windows Paste (Ctrl+V).

But there's one small trick I'd like to share that sometimes gets overlooked. This trick can help make AutoCAD drawings a little easier to paste and extrude once it's in Inventor.

First, I'm going to start with this drawing of a fixture base I want to create a 3D model from.

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Next, I'll select the geometry I want to copy, right click my mouse, and choose 'Copy' (or use Ctrl+C if you're a hotkey sort of user).

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With that done, I can switch to Inventor. Make sure you're in a sketch mode (create a new sketch if you need to), right click and choose 'Paste' (or use Ctrl+V).

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Here's the trick, before left clicking the mouse to paste the AutoCAD drawing into Inventor, right click again. A dialog box pops up, with 'Paste Options' being one of the choices.

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Choosing this, I get to the dialog box I'm really after.

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Here's the big secret. This dialog box lets you change the units of the import, just in case you have a sketch drop in and find the scale is off by a factor of 25.4 (it happens rarely, in my experience, but it does happen). I can also choose whether or not contraints are added or not.

This includes coincident constraints. Coincident constraints are probably the most important of all because they help ensure that the profile closes and extrudes correctly.

Once these options are selected, the sketch will paste, and you can extrude it using Inventor commands.

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Of course, there has to be a disclaimer. The better the data coming in from AutoCAD, the better, the output in Inventor. If there are open entites in AutoCAD, they may not heal once their in Inventor. But the option is there, and it's definitely another tool in the toolbox!

As for me and adventures at Planes of Fame.... I passed my museum guides test! Now they'll let me perform floor duty and ultimately guide tours on my own. It's time consuming, but I have to say I'm having a great time doing it.

My next assignment? The women in avation event on the 3rd. I'm looking forward to it!

Then... Back to studying for the Autodesk Manufactuing Academy!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Windows Vista and User Access Control. You're Not Cleared for that Citizen.

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security

Benjamin Franklin

For some reason, User Account Control in Inventor was the absolute bane of my existence last week. I ran into it no less than three times.

I've only recently migrated to Vista myself, primarily because I was waiting on a couple of utilities to swing over to Vista. So at last, I'm on Vista. For the most part I'm happy, then I hit the U.A.C. wall. More importantly, Murphy's law hit, and I ran into several tech issues with U.A.C.

User Account Control is a utility in Windows Vista. (insert 'Psycho' theme here).

So what is User Account Control? To be honest, I'm not sure, other than the fact that it really annoys me, and can really mess up certain softwares (not just the Autodesk Software).

Generally, it makes sure that as little as possible runs as an Administrator, even if it's in a user account, but it's also overly paranoid, and the price paid for that is nag screens, and software that often misbehaves.

So what have I seen?
1) Inventor content partially disabled
2) Gotomeeting acting up when a user was allowing me to remotely operating a computer. Certain screens would disable the drive function, even if the user granted me permission.
3) Installations treating a perfectly valid CD key as incorrect.

It's tough, it's frustrating, and in a lot of ways, totally random. It seems to affect things it should have no apparent bearing on.

So now that I've ranted on it, how do I turn it off?

First, go to your Vista control panel

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Once in the Control Panel, choose User Accounts

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You'll get a second screen, click on 'User Accounts' again.

Now we've found it. Click on 'Turn User Account Control on or Off'.

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Once you hit this, you've found the mark. Uncheck the User Account Control option, uncheck it, and you're home free!

Once that's done, your Vista experience should be a little bit more pleasant.

In other news, the Sheet Metal and Interoperability Autodesk Manufacturing Academy are starting to come together at last. Time to start finalizing and getting data sets ready!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lost in BIM Space. My Second Revit User Group Meeting

There's a lot of space out there to get lost in.

John Robinson (William Hurt) Lost in Space (1998)

So today I attended my second South Coast Revit User Group meeting. I almost thought I wasn't going to make it. I misread the e-mail and went to the wrong place first!

But I made it with a few minutes to spare.

It was good to see some familiar faces and old friends, as well as a few I'd spoken to on the phone but never met in person.

The presentation was by Jim Balding, and he presented on some of the challenges and the responsibilities of Project Managers.

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Granted, there was quite a bit that wasn't clear. Being an Inventor guy, some of the lingo is a little foreign.

But alas, the more that we are different, the more alike we become!

Many of the challenges of the architectural project manager are the same for their manufacturing counterparts.

Things like coordinating teams, customers, and government regulatory agencies keep them awake at night. They have to define what format files are to be delivered in, make sure the correct information flows correctly. In short, they're the air traffic controllers that keep everything moving, and preventing collisions that bring the project to a grinding (and expensive) halt.

So how can this one Inventor guy help this world of Building Information Modeling?

By becoming another link in the chain.

The models created in Inventor are now able to be exported to Revit via AEC Exchange, and now the information created by the designers using Inventor can now become a part of the Revit information stream.

Here's the overview video from the lastpost. I'm working on some data for a bit of show and tell.

I'm planning on getting some data together. I'm hoping to have a nice little data set for the Autodesk Manufacturing Academy!

Happy Inventing!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Codecs, Codecs Everywhere...and Which One to Use for Showcase?

“I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I'll be sending messages on a Ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side” Audre Lorde

A question from a user prompted me to write this post, and while I can't say that I know it all, that doesn't mean I can't share what I know.

Something that I've found is a bit of a mystery in Autodesk Showcase is, which codec to when animating a movie. I can't say I have it all figured out. I can only say that I've learned a few things by trial and error.

First, let's define what a codec is:

It's a small program that compresses and decompresses (that's where codec comes from. COmpressor-DECompressor). Wikipedia has a nice definition HERE

We're all familar with the trial and error method. It goes something like this.

1) Try to create something
2) Fail miserably.
3) Shake your fist and curse your computer.
4) Repeat until you get a desireable result.
5) Repeat step 4 until you figure out how you stumbled onto the desirable result.
6) Promise to take better notes next time.

So which have I used so far?

I've tried most of these at one point or another, of the 'standard' ones, and of the standards, yields the best results.

The downside? The files are HUGE. And when I say huge, I mean really HUGE. I'm talking 50+MB, and it's not that hard to get through the 100MB ceiling.

If you can live with this, it works pretty well.

I've tried Intel UYUC, and although I haven't used that one too much, it seems to work well too.

Screen Shot of a movie using the Intel UYUC Codec. Results are pretty good.
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The one that seems to have given me the poorest results, is Microsoft Video 1. In my experience (which may be subject to user error), it takes really good Showcase videos and produces pretty pixelated videos from them. And when I mean pixelated, I mean Atari 2600 pixelated.

Screen shot of a movie using the Microsoft Video 1 Codec. What can I say. UGLY. I haven't found a setting to improve it.
(click to enlarge at your own risk)

If you don't know what an Atari 2600, think of it as a prehistoric X-box or Playstations. Neanderthals and Prehistoric Humans played them. The Neanderthals lost, and due to the terms of set prior to the games. Neanderthals had to go extinct.

My favorite codec is from Techsmith (the folks who make Snagit and Camtasia). You can download the codec (TSCC.exe) from HERE.

So far, my experience has made the Techsmith codec my favorite.

Screen Capture of a video using the Techsmith codec. My favorite.
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The only (in my opinion) downside of the Techsmith codec? If your sending the files to another person to view, they'll also need the Techsmith codec (so you'll have to send them the file, or link). The file is small, but not everyone is comfortable installing software.

Are there more codecs? Absolutely. More than I know of. I'm still looking for more good ones, but so far, the Techsmith codec has kept me pretty happy.

Still, if you have any suggestions, I'm always happy to hear the input!

Autodesk Manufacturing Academy is back! Check it out HERE

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Showcase vs. Showcase Pro. What's the difference?

“There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell.” G. K. Chesterton quotes

As I'm sitting here tonight, I'm getting ready for a class tomorrow, just running through some of the data sets, refreshing my mind. I'm also thinking of the differences between Showcase and Showcase Pro. Yes, there is a Showcase and a Showcase Professional.

A raytrace from my practice for the night!
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The differences are listed on a PDF file from the Autodesk Website here.

But, for a quick summary, here's the one's that caught my eye:

1) Import FBX files from other programs (Max, Maya, etc) - FBX files are an animation program that can be exported from other rendering systems. You can import them into Showcase Pro and reuse them in Showcase.-
2) Batch and distributed tesselation. - I confess, I've never come close to using this one myself. Probably for the advance user, but if you're importing a lot of files, this might come in handy.

3) Storyboards - Create a quick way to move from different variations of your components

4) Remote Collaboration - Use your Showcase Pro to collaborate across the web. Could be useful for those design 'jam sessions'.

5) Side by Side Comparision - Show alternative designs side by side for quick comparing and contrasting of different iterations and variations

6) Cluster Support - Support showing images across multiple screens or projectors.

7) External user interface - Customize your own interface with html or flash. Useful for putting a 'company face' on Showcase Pro.

So that's the skinny on the difference between the two. Other than the cost of course.

Which one is right for you? Ultimately, it's the one that meets your needs. For some, Showcase will give you everything you need, for others, they get a little 'foamy in the mouth' when the see some of Showcase Pros abilities. Personally, I like having the Storyboards, and Side by Side comparision.

But at least now, you can take a little longer look and decide which is right for you.

That's it for now!

Jonathan Landeros

Monday, September 07, 2009

Creatures of Habit... Even in Inventor, That's Me.

On the other hand, our old ways were once new, weren't they?

Tevye in Fidler on the Roof

Like most people, I find myself to be a creature of habit. When I go to Starbucks, I get the same drink (which the Baristas will now tease be about). I take the same roads to work, and I like the same places for breakfast.

When using Inventor, I'll sometimes do something the exact same way, even when a new way presents itself.

Take templates for example. If you haven't created them, odds are, you'll need to. Even if you've made them, you sometimes need to add to them.

In the old ways, you created your template, and hit some variation of 'Save' (Save or Save Copy As). Inventor would open up a director defined by your project file.

(You are using projects, right? If not, you should! For info on projects, Dennis Jeffrey has a nice article HERE.)

Now this means you have to browse to the location the templates are located in, and it means the nag screen telling you you're saving outside the project file.

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For what it's worth, this is one of the few cases you can ignore this message. Templates aren't linked to any other files, so this is one of the few cases where ignoring this message is okay.

But the screen is annoying, and many users get nervous seeing this message (which is probably the sign of a prudent user).

While the previous method works fine, there is slightly quicker way to do it.

If you click on the big 'I' and choose Save As. If you hover for a second, you'll see the menu on the right side of the screen show the option 'Save Copy As Template' (among other options).

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This will drop you directly into the template directory, no muss, no fuss, no clicking through a bunch of menus until you find the correct location, and no nag screens.

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Is it huge? Probably not in the sense of tools we use in the daily grind. But it will make dealing with templates just a little easier.

And when somethings a little easier, we're a little less likely to put it off. Which can, over time, be quite a big deal!

That's it for this Labor Day!

Happy Inventing!


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

CAD The End, or the Means?

“To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

Oscar Wilde

It's an interview with Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame in Popular Mechanics, and he how he views the use of CAD software on projects. (see link HERE)

Now the astute will point out how he used Solidworks on his project, and you might start poking fun at the Inventor guy for how the 'SWX' word was used on my blog.

Poke away, says I. But it's not the name of the software in the upper left hand side of the applications screen that matters. I happen to agree with him wholeheartedly.

I agree that Mr. Hyneman's got a point whether your using products from Dassault (Solidworks, CATIA), Autodesk (Inventor, Showcase, Revit), or Siemens (UG, Solidedge).

The tool is just translating the ideas of the person sitting in the computer. It may help us get there, but it's not going to make us smarter (darn it).

In any case, there's no sense in me reiterating what Jaime said, I hope you enjoy the link!

Happy Inventing, no matter what the app name says!

And finally, a special thanks to 'Help4Engineers' in Twitterverse for posting this interesting link.

Jonathan Landeros
KETIV Technologies.
It's back. AMA 2009!