Revenge of the Annoyances (Bug Watch AutoCAD Tutorial)

31 Dec, 2007 By: Steve Johnson

Nine more ways in which Autodesk got scale lists wrong and other annoyances.

Scathing about Scale Lists (2008 to 2008 Service Pack 1)
In the November 2007 "Bug Watch" column, I described a bug where AutoCAD 2008 polluted drawings with huge scale lists full of _XREF_XREF scales. I showed how Service Pack 1 provides a partial fix for this problem and explained what else you need to do to fix up the infected drawings. Unfortunately, that's not the only problem with scale lists. A whole range of issues remain in AutoCAD 2008 Service Pack 1 that indicates that the whole thing wasn't really well thought out. Let's hope these are addressed soon. To be fair, I should point out that most of these are annoyances and design oversights rather than bugs.

Hardwired default scale list. AutoCAD 2007 had scale lists too, but they weren't stored in the drawing. They were stored in the registry and could be modified. In AutoCAD 2008, the default scale list is embedded in the program code and cannot be modified.

Unfortunate default scale list. That wouldn't be too bad, but the unchangeable set of scales Autodesk chose for the default list is unlikely to please many. In particular, metric users are annoyed by half of the scales being nonstandard and thus permanently irrelevant, and many standard scales that these users might expect to see are conspicuous by their absence. The same is true in reverse for users of Imperial scales, but to a lesser extent. AutoCAD drawings have a long-standing Measurement system variable that could have been used to provide more meaningful default scales, but for some reason this was ignored. Even the AutoCAD 2008 metric template drawings have Imperial scales.

Infectious default scale list. Why does this matter? Surely we all can just set up our own template drawings to give us the scales we want. Well, not really. Open any drawing in AutoCAD 2008 for the first time, and it will be given the default list. Insert any pre-AutoCAD 2008 drawing and AutoCAD will bring in with it the set of default scales. Attach any pre-2008 drawing as an xref and another set of the unfortunate scales is introduced, together with the _XREF suffix.

Persistent scales. Worse, the scales stay behind even after the xref is detached, which is why some drawings created before Service Pack 1 still have thousands of _XREF_XREF_XREF scales. Even with Service Pack 1 installed, attaching and detaching such a drawing will still infect the parent drawing with all those scales, and they will stay there until you explicitly remove them.

Pointless _XREF suffix. At least with Service Pack 1 installed, you only get one set of _XREF scales when you attach a drawing, but it's hard to see the point in that. If you have a 1:8 scale in your parent drawing and you attach another similar drawing, you will get a 1:8 scale and a 1:8_XREF scale. Attach another five similar drawings, and you will still have one 1:8 scale and one 1:8_XREF scale. It appears as if the intention is to keep an xref drawing's scales distinct from the parent drawing's scales.

Meaningless xref scale names. It's not clear why you would want to distinguish between different drawings' 1:8 scales, but let's assume there is a valid reason for doing so. In that case, the design still fails, because in my example, I have one 1:8_XREF scale with no indication of which drawings form the origin of that scale. It's inconsistent, too. With layers and every other named symbol in AutoCAD, those that originate in xrefs have names that have the xref name as a prefix. For example, a layer called SitePlan|Wall is usefully distinct from one called Floor05|Wall. Having a scale called 1:8_XREF tells me very little.

Lack of filtering. If I don't want to see xref layers, I don't have to. I can easily filter them out. Such a facility is absent from scale lists. It would be nice for metric users to be able to filter out scales containing the inch symbol, too.

Awkward interface. If you have a large-scale list and you are trying to choose a scale, that task isn't made easy for you. Although the order of the scales doesn't follow any obvious logical pattern, the non-xref scales you generally are after are usually placed at the bottom of the list, off the screen. There is no scroll bar that you can grab to move quickly down to one end of the list, just a triangle to pick at the top and bottom. If your drawing has a very large number of scales, it's a hopeless task.

Programming black hole. Unfortunately, there now appears to be a standard practice with new AutoCAD features of skimping on the API. In other words, there is an almost complete lack of LISP and VBA programming support for those of us who need it. ActiveX support is AWOL, and documentation is absent. It would have been much easier to provide tools to work around the above problems effectively if this part of the job had been done properly, but it looks like it wasn't even attempted.

Annoyance Episode II -- Attack of the Readers
This month I have again let you do all the hard work by handing over most of "Bug Watch" to your own pet peeves about AutoCAD. If your annoyance didn't make it, don't be too despondent. Rest assured that I have passed it on to Autodesk anyway. "Bug Watch" will return to normal next month, but for now here are your favorite failings.

Bound to annoy. When using the Boundary command (formerly Bpoly), you have to manually turn off the Island Detection setting each time you use it. Why can't it remember your last setting?

Anchor anarchy. The anchored palettes don't stay in any particular order. Yesterday, the Properties were second from bottom. Today, they were at the top. It's not such a big deal that it moves, it's just that all day yesterday I looked for it at the bottom, so I now go automatically to the bottom and then have to stop and think, "It moved."

Riled about recovery. After an AutoCAD crash, the "Drawing Recovery" palette opens Docked. Because I have other docked palettes there, it is shrunk to a tiny space where it can't be seen. I have tried dragging it off, which would make it a floating palette, but it doesn't remember that it's floating. I looked for a setting in the CUI, but one doesn't exist for the Drawing Recovery Palette. In my opinion, this dialog should open center of screen. Is anyone going to keep it docked while working?

Picking peeve. When clicking on a toolbar button, if you're too fast it won't open the tool. If you click and quickly move the cursor away from the button and back toward your drawing space, the command doesn't run. The problem seems to be that if the cursor moves away before the button pops back up, it won't work. The workaround is to click more deliberately and pause briefly before moving back to the drawing space. This problem is quite irritating, as it slows me down.

Steve says: This is actually a Windows rather than AutoCAD behavior. I don't think Autodesk is likely to override this behavior, but it's certainly technically possible because it's one of the features of the AutoCAD shareware utility QuikPik.

Chprop chagrin. I've had this pet peeve ever since AutoCAD 14 brought us the Measurement system variable and the ACADISO.LIN file. It still survives to this day in 2008. Let's say you are working in a metric drawing (measurement = 1) and you enter the command Chprop. If you change the objects to a linetype that isn't already loaded, the Imperial linetype is loaded from the ACAD.LIN file (instead of the metric linetype from ACADISO.LIN). The linetype will not look or plot right until you explicitly load the correct linetype in from the correct file and overwrite the wrong one in the drawing.

Text trouble. The unsupported Express Tool Txt2mtxt can't figure out what the width should be when the Text object is rotated. This means that when you convert rotated text to mtext, the text wraps round and gets all messed up.

Steve says: I've noticed this happen sometimes even with unrotated text.

Sheet set stumble. Let's say you want to change names or anything else in the Sheet Set Manager. As long as you have any drawing open, even a new blank one, you can make any edits you want. However, if you have closed the current drawing and have none other open, you can see the drawings, but you can only open them and nothing else. It's minor, but it gets me sometimes.

Steve says: The same sort of restriction applies to all sorts of things; when no drawings are open, your options are very limited. I'd like to have some programming control within AutoCAD when no drawings are open.

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