Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 13, No. 24)

30 Jun, 2008

This Week's Software Tips

Dynamic Block Visibility States
Gordon Reichhardt wrote to say, "When working with dynamic blocks, the visibility parameter can sometimes be overwhelming when there are too many possible visibility states. The user would have to read each visibility state from a drop-down list before deciding which one to use. One trick I use is to embed detail in the block at a very minute scale relative to other parts of the block. I then link the tiny detail to a linear parameter and a scale action and display the choices in a look-up table. This technique simulates an on/off switch behavior.

"For example, I have a dynamic block of a square weld symbol that contains attributes. The symbol allows the user to select many different options, including field weld, weld all around, welding note, weld size, weld length, weld increment, and contour profile. The symbol displays horizontally, but it can be flipped from left to right or right to left. The problem is that the block could have as many as 32 possible visibility states to display the various combinations of symbol designations, making the block extremely difficult to use.

"To help alleviate this problem, I decided to use the technique of scaling to the contour profiles. I embedded the profiles near the center of the block at a very tiny scale so that they would not normally be visible when the block is plotted to proper scale. I then linked them to a linear parameter and a scale action. When the user selects the contour from a look-up table, the tiny detail displays at a normal, visible size.

"Another technique I use in the welding block to eliminate the need for more visibility states is using a flip parameter and action to display the square weld symbol on the arrow side or far side of the weld. I've included the block. You can check how this works by opening the block in the block editor. Before using the block in a drawing, make sure that the MIRRTEXT system variable is set to 0 (zero)." Download DYNA_SQUARE.DWG.

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Very useful tip for dynamic blocks with multiple views! One caveat, as Gordon mentions: Be careful if plotting or printing the detail. At the wrong scale, it may look like a blob on the paper.

Architectural Desktop Tip: Dimension Style Fix
Mark Northcott sent this tip for dimensioning in older versions of Architectural Desktop (ADT). "'I'm currently using ADT v3 like a lot of other smaller companies still do. I noticed that every so often (usually at an annoying pace) the dimensions would become really, really large. When I looked in the Dimension Style window, I saw that the dimension had overridden itself to a scale of 96. I would reset the dimension to its normal style and go on drafting, only for it to happen again a minute or so later. Some companies may have created an AutoLISP program to stop it from being so annoying, but there is a much quicker fix.

"The problem is a result of the drawing scale. Go to the Documentation menu / Set Drawing Scale, and you may notice it is set to 1/8" = 1'-0" or a scale factor of 96. Set it to 1'-0" = 1'-0" (a scale factor of 1) and the problem will never occur again."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Considering that ADT v3 was seven releases ago, we can safely assume that such a feature has changed locations in newer versions. In ADT 2006, it's under Format / Drawing Setup / Scale Tab. Keep in mind, this tip changes only the text height, not the dimensions. Practically all 2D formats are based on a full-scale drawing in model space. To assemble the drawing for plotting, switch to paper space. Thanks for the reminder, Mark!

MicroStation Tip: Level Display
Right Click Level Display (PDF) shows how a useful pop-up menu in the Level dialog box of MicroStation v7 and v8 allows you to quickly turn off or on all levels. You can also select the level you want turned off by selecting an element on the screen.

Today's MicroStation tip courtesy of The Envision Group.

Note: These follow-up tips have not been tested by the Cadalyst Tip Patrol.

Align Crosshairs to Odd Angles
Readers submitted what could be a record amount of feedback following the Align Crosshairs at Odd Angles tip in the June 23 edition. The tip suggested using the UCS command and typing in 3 to get the three-point option, an old approach that seemed to disappear from newer versions of AutoCAD.

Brian Hand reminded all of us about an "AutoLISP Solutions" routine from 2001 by Cadalyst author Tony Hotchkiss, UCS-ROT.LSP. "I have used this LISP program with AutoCAD 2004 for several years now, and it works extremely well and appears to carry out the function as described in last week's tip." Rotate UCS to Match Any Line rotates the UCS to line up with any selected line or polyline entity. The entity may be part of a block or xref.

Mike Toolen wrote, "There is another one that has vanished from the UCS options that I use that's even easier than the three-point option: E, for Entity. It's a one-click alignment for the UCS for quick alignments and changing the view on Plan view -- and like the Tip Patrol added, by using the P option to get back to the previous UCS is an easy and quick type-in command. (Or just type in UCS and Return twice to get to the world UCS.) On a side note, it's also good to use the UCS, E command to quickly fix hatches (like the concrete hatch) when the hatch is in world coordinates and the hatch looks like a bunch of random dashes. Pick on a line close to the hatch with UCS, E and then change the rotation angle of the hatch in properties. Just retyping in 0 will work also. Now your hatch looks correct. Then type in UCS and Return twice (or P if using another UCS) and keep on working."

Skyler Mills reports that the UCS command still has the three-point option; it's now buried under the New option.

Peter F. Kane says, "One of the major advantages of using this method is that the UCS view can be named with a logical identifier. In a layout with multiple buildings and associated parking areas, the names of the saved UCS could correspond with the name of the proposed building. Using this command with the named view command (available since AutoCAD 2007) makes it very easy for users to do detail site layout, including adding text annotations normally added parallel to a building."

Juan O. Alvarez wrote, "I only use the 3 command for 3D design. E does not work on xref'd files, so a temporary line (your alignment entity) is needed if working with xrefs. Just remember to select on either side of the midpoint of such line for the right direction of the x-axis. Type the Plan command, Enter twice to select the default, Current, and your crosshairs are shown at their normal alignment. This works great on viewports, so I typically leave model space at World and work in the viewport. It also works perfectly if you dimension on the viewport and places leader text at the right orientation. Going back to World and Plan is easier too. By the way, some of these 'vanished' options are still shown on the old Screen Menu, an old Display option that I turn on sometimes when I can't remember an option. Ahhh, the old Screen Menu days!"

Colin D. Gilbert, who uses AutoCAD 2007, wrote, "Whenever my e-mail pops up with the latest Cadalyst Tips and Tools Weekly, it doesn't sit long before I read it. This week I read with interest the tip on setting crosshairs to odd angles, and thought I would add to that by mentioning another method that works as quick, maybe even quicker for some of us. At the Command line, type in UCS, press Enter, then type OBJ. Then merely pick the line you wish to align your crosshairs on. Then, as the TIP Patrol stated, the P option will always get you back to your previous UCS."

Robert L. Zipprich says, "I'm always aligning my crosshairs to lines at different angles, so I wrote the following menu items to allow a quick pick."

Saves the current snap base and lets me pick a line or polyline, establish a new snap base and rotate my snap angle to it:

ID__1 [_Button("Snapper", "snapper.bmp", "ICON_32_BLANK")]'setvar
orthomode 0 'setvar snapang mid (setq snpbse (getvar "snapbase")
p1 (getpoint)) \end !p1 'setvar orthomode 1

Resets the crosshairs back to snap angle 0 and snap base back to the previous snap base:

ID__2 [_Button("SnapperR", "snapperr.bmp",
"ICON_32_BLANK")]'setvar snapang 0 'setvar snapbase !snpbse

Lets me establish a new snap base:

ID__3 [_Button("Snap Base Pt", "snapperb.bmp",
"ICON_32_BLANK")](setq snpbse (getpoint)) \'setvar snapbase !snpbse

Resets snap base back to 0,0 and snap angle to 0:

ID__4 [_Button("Snap Reset 0", "snap00.bmp",
"ICON_32_BLANK")]'setvar snapbase 0,0 'setvar snapang 0

Martin Swords, who uses AutoCAD 2006, wrote, "You can make SNAPANG easy by creating your own commands. To create a SNAPANG icon use the macro ^C^Csnapang;. Then you can simply enter the angle you cursor. You can also make an icon turn the cursor back to 0 by using the macro ^C^Csnapang;0;."

Submit Your Tip button

Submit Your Tip for your favorite CAD software. If we publish your tip, we'll send you a Cadalyst T-shirt, and each month Cadalyst editors randomly select one published tip and send a $100 gift card to its author. Please remember:

  • Submit only code and other tips that are your original work (or provide the original source so we can include proper credit).
  • Tell us which software version you use.
By submitting code, you grant Cadalyst the right to print and distribute your code in print, digitally, and by other means. Cadalyst and individual authors retain all rights to the code; published code is not to be used for commercial purposes.

Tips & Tools Weekly software tips for AutoCAD are reviewed by Cadalyst staff and the Tip Patrol before publication. Use all tips at your own discretion, please, and watch later editions of this newsletter for updates and corrections. We're sorry, but editors and Tip Patrol members cannot provide assistance with technical problems; please refer to Cadalyst's Hot Tip Harry-Help discussion forum.

Sincere thanks to our volunteer Tip Patrol members: Brian Benton, Don Boyer, Mitchell Hirschklau, R.K. McSwain, Kevin Sawyer, and Billy Wooten.

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Resources Launches Engineering Blogs announced the launch of its member blogs. The blog feature allows registered members to start a blog on any engineering subject so they can share their knowledge and opinions with other engineers and gather feedback. This reportedly is the first open community of engineering bloggers.

Viracon Launches New Sustainable Design Tools
Viracon, an architectural glass fabricator, has recently enhanced its Web site with the addition of a Green Building Design area. Viracon offers new tools, including a climate zone map and chart, to help architects, designers, and specifiers select the right glass for their green building goals.

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Deals & Freebies

ArcGIS Explorer 480 Available for Download
ArcGIS Explorer is a free, lightweight, downloadable application from ESRI that is used to access and fuse local data and imagery with a variety of 2D and 3D mapping services as well as geoprocessing services for spatial analysis. The software reportedly has been updated with new data support, increased performance, and better map display. Read more

Free Report on Construction Project Management Software
Meridian Systems commissioned FMI to conduct an independent user study to analyze the impact on organizations using construction project management software from Meridian Systems. The report, titled "Utilizing Construction Project Management Technology to Create Best-in-Class Organizations," represents responses from a random sample of Meridian customers. Read more

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Opportunities & Honors

Siemens PLM Software Named a Best Diversity Company
Siemens PLM Software has been selected as a Best Diversity Company for 2008 by Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology (Diversity/Careers) magazine. Diversity/Careers magazine readers and Web site visitors selected the winners from organizations employing technical professionals and also carrying out best-practice-level diversity programs and initiatives.

ArchiCAD User Wins New Zealand Institute of Architects Supreme Award
Patterson Associates received a Supreme Award for the Hills Clubhouse at Arrowtown. The Auckland firm has been using ArchiCAD for a decade, and the architects say that ArchiCAD's comprehensive 3D modeling was key to the Clubhouse project's success. The firm also won New Zealand Awards for the A.J. Hackett Bungy Centre near Queenstown and the Mai Mai house in Ponsonby, Auckland. Read more

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

Hardware/Software: 3D Review Station
System from Mechdyne Corporation uses HD televisions for interactive 3D viewing. Read more

General Software: Adobe Acrobat v9
This new version includes the ability to unify a range of content in rich PDF Portfolios. Read more

AEC: AecBatchStylesEditor 2009
CADaptation's software utility enables editing of multiple AEC styles and definitions in a single batch process. Read more

GIS: ArcGIS 9.3
Software suite from ESRI designed to improve organizational workflows. Read more

MCAD: RTT DeltaGen v8 and RTT PictureBook v4
Realtime Technology (RTT's) DeltaGen v8 facilitates working with virtual models. RTT PictureBook v4 enables database access for updating the status of various materials. Read more

MCAD: aesthetica v3
Icona Solutions application is designed for auditing and improving perceived quality in manufactured goods during the digital product development process. Read more

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Mark Your Calendar

PAUG 25th Anniversary Celebration
July 16, 2008
Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
The Philadelphia AutoCAD Users Group (PAUG) 25th Anniversary celebration will include a special presentation by Lynn Allen, exhibitor tables, catered food and beverages, door prizes, and more. Read more

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on

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