Livin’ the Dream

March 19th, 2013

Twenty years ago tonight, I had a dream I was flying. It was a lucid astral-projected dream—I believe a visit to a possible alternative reality.

I was visited by a goofy looking, long-haired guy who said he was me in 20 from a future parallel universe! He gave me a magazine with messages from the future containing images of inventions in two and three dimensions. It was called Cadalyst.

"Open it," he told me, laughing. "I wrote you a letter." So I opened the magazine.

Beginning of letter

You're just starting a journey that will last a lifetime … AutoCAD®! Get excited knowing that you will help design and draft many AutoCAD drawings and "how to" documents assisting many others make their dreams reality. Throughout this letter I will CAPITALIZE some important AutoCAD commands for you to research later.

Twenty years into the future you're lucky to be still practicing and learning AutoCAD. It will connect you to drafters and designers all around the world.

Be prepared for change as the look and control of AutoCAD will change with each release, every year. New releases may be exciting at first, but over the years it can be a challenge to relearn some of your favorite tools and commands. One way is to learn your favorite AutoCAD variables. SYSVDLG will help with that. And load your favorite LISP routines using the "Startup Suite" in your APPLOAD dialog box.

Read your command line when pushing those buttons, hit the F2 key and remember some of those interesting commands. Creating your own shortcut keys using the ALIASEDIT tool will eliminate having to remember or learn. This will help as tools move from pull-downs to toolbars, buttons, auto-hiding palettes, and now interchanging ribbons (which you will slowly begin to like).

You can prepare for these new features by learning about them ahead of time. You will find experts on the Cadalyst team and the many Autodesk websites. Friendly people at the AUGI discussion boards and various CAD blogs will also be ready to help when you have questions. Don't forget about YouTube, your local user groups, and Autodesk Authorized Training Centers for training help.

Becoming more social will help you learn many AutoCAD tips and tricks. Shadow fellow drafters as they work with AutoCAD. Notice the things they do differently and don't be afraid to ask questions. There are many ways to skin a cat in AutoCAD, so you must be patient and open to new ideas or commands. Some things might take you longer to accomplish at first, but become easier to execute over time.

Try to share and help everyone—tips and tricks are everywhere. Many people can teach you methods and shortcuts that should not be overlooked. Learn to look at your drawings in 3D views to see what happens to an element with a THICKNESS or ELEVATION. Find out why I try to only use BURST instead of EXPLODE and all the differences between the two. What are the results you get when using the FLATTEN command and how can OVERKILL help? Why is it sometimes not enough to use PURGE and why might LAYDEL or WBLOCK work better when you need to scrub clean or minimize file size?

Throughout your journey don’t miss opportunities to ask as many questions as you can. You don't want to overwhelm or bother one person, so ask when would be a good time to get together. Spread your questions out to many team members and make sure to learn from people from different regions. Along with questions about a project, be sure to learn the company standards and workflows. It is good to approach all AutoCAD users as teachers and students learning and sharing when possible. Wait until you have multiple questions minimizing the number of times you're interrupting your teammates' workflow.

I like to use blue highlighters on hard copies for questions, highlighting completed remarks in yellow to assure all the engineer's edits are accounted for. A couple of great drafters engrained in me that I should always know every object I draw and what it is doing in the engineered detail. Similarly, a great engineer told me to always ask and understand the load path of the designed detail.

When you begin a new job, the company CAD standards are typically the first thing you'll want to learn. In college you'll learn ASME Y14 Drafting Standards, which are a good baseline set of drafting standards that cover a wide variety of topics. On each project, be sure to inquire if there are similar or sample projects that can be referred to for utilizing details, notes, and ideas to stay consistent with the company or project standards and requirements. These can be tough to learn, so first verify if the CAD manager or company standard consists of standard specific templates, layer translators, or custom AutoLISP routines that may be available.

Be sure to keep in contact with past team members from companies you've worked with. You'll meet many people who share your excitement for learning and are more than willing to help others keep up with the latest AutoCAD design and drafting trends. Building your own contact list will be useful as you remember working with helpful, interesting, and inspiring folks. Meeting AutoCAD artists, drafters, and designers in other states and countries is one of the most exciting experiences ahead. Learning design techniques of the past, present, and future from people in different regions of the world and how they all can be researched, tested, and integrated has endless possibilities.

Learning programming languages such as AutoLISP, C++, or .NET can seem overwhelming, especially if you're not excited or aware of the possibilities. After researching ideas and taking a few classes from other experts you'll decide what percentage of your life you'll want to spend as a user versus developer. I tend to create just enough programming to make me dangerous, but I should push myself more. Much of the AutoCAD geometry can be driven and displayed many ways through live circular use of external references, clipping planes, Excel linking using DATALINK, TABLE, and TABLESTYLE. The use of FIELDS, and much of this hierarchy linking of geometry, is making it become easier to drive AutoCAD geometry in multiple ways.

You should never stop learning and being aware of all your continued education options. Autodesk University is one of my recent favorite techniques of learning, which involves taking multiple classes at a large convention held annually for three days in Las Vegas. You'll be learning what other experts are doing around the globe, sharing ideas across disciplines, across oceans, and across platforms. Also consider attending your local junior college to learn and share industry trends with other instructors. I also try to attend at least one or two webcasts a week regarding work-related techniques and then share relevant research and development with my team.

You'll slow down playing video games, possibly getting overwhelmed with button combinations and AutoCAD variables, but you will need to pick up video games again. I see those roads will run closely together and become even more intertwined into the future. AutoCAD will open many possible pathways and doors for careers from helping with inventions, to buildings and bridges, to special effects for movies, and video game design. You can even find AutoCAD in many medical fields—helping to create tissue and bones in 3D.

I will leave you with this: It is important to find a team to work with where you can control a low stress level and have a balanced life.

End of letter

The goofy looking, long-haired version of me finished by saying this:
"Do not mistake lucid dreams for nightmares. Take control of your dreams. These dreams can help you learn from and figure out problems during your waking life. If you do not choose a dream, you may walk through life ignoring coincidence and dismissing déjà vu."

I'm happy to be visiting myself tonight in a dream and I will deliver the message as it was delivered to me 20 years ago. This AutoCAD drafter from the future would like you to remember something Socrates and Confucius both said along these lines: "Knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

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