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DesignProcessTechnologyValue, A Conversation

Conversation regarding the architectural design process, and the technologies used.

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Faster? Stronger? Harder? Yeah, Right.

The first rule of Fight Club: you do not talk about Fight Club.

Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Dead men tell no tales.

Kids say the darndest things.

Keep the family business in the family.

There are some things you just don’t talk about; today, I can’t help myself.

In IT, what’s being developed is always in the forefront of the news, reviews, and opinion pieces. We have traditionally lived in an era where advancement of speed, power, bandwidth, and performance have been things we not only could look forward to but count on. This appears, for the current time, to be no longer.

What has happened to fast, powerful computers getting faster, more powerful, and handle larger bandwidths?

What has happened to Apple and Windows continuing to deliver hardware that are rockets compared to the previous year (or years’) models?

I write this as part of our design/technology conversation after great frustration, angst, anticipation, and repeated letdown from what I will call “The Big Two.”

I know the market these companies are looking at – my kids, my grandkids (there are 5 and 8, respectively) –  and understand where the quick money is.

The thing is, we as a design studio constantly and consistently need stronger, more powerful machines. Most of us are using computers that now are on-par with technology that is 7-10 years old. Operating systems have changed, software has changed, but the hardware we are loading it on is, for the most part, same-old-same-old. It’s tiring.

Consider this an open letter to The Big Two:

If you make some computers that will rock the design world with power, RAM, GPU, processing power and speed, performance, compatibility, upgrade-ability, power, speed, oh and power and speed, and you will blow your competitors away.

Why do I say this? Because I’m living it.

First, Apple appeared to not focus on computers, iMacs, or Mac Book Pro’s much anymore.

Then, they confirmed it with upgrades that border on gimmicks – a touch bar at the top of the keyboard that “enhances the user’s ability to access software controls.” I’ve been told “not so” by many users and I am about to confirm this myself with a new purchase. But the computer is no more of a processing machine than that of the generation I am currently using – now 2 generations old. That makes no sense – or cents – right?

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Did you see the latest Keynote? Totally mobile devices. I get it, I own several, including the Apple Watch and iPad Pro (that this is being composed on). But come on, selling a watch by skateboarding to your favorite song in a terminal is off the mark – I’m 58 years old and looking for hardware to help my business – and my clients’ businesses – succeed. Or perhaps I’m not the mark anymore? Get real, Apple.

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But Microsoft (or should I say Windows? sometimes it’s hard to know) is doing it, too:

Studio machines show great promise with a control knob of sorts that magically attaches to a tilting touch screen (touch screen! you, listening Apple?), but the performance of the best machine they offer is a marginal top-end performance at best.

Now they are offering a laptop with a softer feel – velvety, or something like that – on the surface your hands rest on…really? This is why I should buy their new machine, because it feels good? Come on. Does it make my design process better? Faster? If not, I’ve got no time for it.

What results is a search for an alternative. We have found some hardware alternatives and they are making valiant efforts in performance (64 GB’s RAM, incredible GPU’s), but glowing keyboards and logos and tricks that make gaming fun don’t necessarily make the design studio – or your clients conference room – so fun.

In the midst of the hardware development drought, we are at a crossroads: do we replace hardware and keep the software we are used to with less performance or replace software that will allow us more flexibility in our hardware purchases?

I’ve been told I’m an Apple guy – I’ll buy that.  A very frustrated Apple guy, who, when working on discovering an alternative, found some interesting – and not cheap –  alternatives,. But there is always a catch.

The architectural design process used to be full of names like Mayline, Rotring, and Stadtler. I can’t help but wonder what folks will have trouble remembering in the next ten, twenty years?

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I hope Apple is not one of those names.

I hope Windows is not one of those names.

We’ve come too far now to give up on each other.

Step up, fellas. Deliver, or someone else will.

I know this post can end on a positive note, so as a final word of encouragement to Apple and Windows:

Go ahead and keep making thin, sexy, sophisticated, velvety-smooth, tilting touch screens. We do look forward to the next iThis and AppleThat, but do it with some transparency. Don’t forget about the power, speed, bandwidth, performance, processing, capacity, capability, and service that everyone is looking for.

You do this, and we will knock your doors down to get them.

Now get on it.

The IT Factor

For the past few months I have been blogging about technology in the design process: the apps we use, the operating systems employed in our adventures, and the struggles, challenges, and opportunities we encounter to make this process better – for ourselves and for our clients.

As part of this effort I experienced something that hit a nerve – not something that has sent us spinning in a direction that distracts from the overall blog, but something that rang a bell of sorts and caused me to pause, take a breath, and offer a bit of a sidebar  regarding  IT services.

In full transparency, I want you to know I have one son who holds a degree and is working in IT and another who, as a graphic designer, has had his hand in IT by association – both now for about 10 years.

Observations and conversations with both of them have already prompted some of my posts, but a recent LinkedIn post sent me here. My colleague Angela posted that someone made a jab at her job title in an effort to make her think less of herself, referring to it as a “little Beetle Bailey desk job.”  Her response was a great – she sees the value of the IT help she can provide  no matter the task – and I joined over two thousand others in commenting on the post while another thirty-four thousand liked it.  I wanted to take this opportunity to offer some thoughts on IT services and how to use them.

Allow me to offer the following points to consider:

First, understand this IT thing is a new field and it is changing, morphing, and growing as fast as and as complex as the field of computers you are using. Those of us over forty can probably remember when there was no IT. If you think you have a lot to keep up with, think again. How many of you click “Remind Me Tomorrow” when your devices prompt you to update their systems? IT folks can’t.

My first experience with this notion was in Dallas and our IT guys were in the office and doing it by necessity. Tony, one of my fellow architectural designers in the office, was the first, learning on the fly and doing a bang-up job of it. Explaining, training, fixing, updating – doing whatever was needed. When Tony was no longer able, Eric came along as a dedicated IT resource for us; he ended up working nights so when we arrived in the morning things would be working for us. Eric worked hard and, for the most part, no one saw it. I did as we needed to discuss things as new computers came in (I usually had the beta test machines – lucky me).

Later, in another office, Doug kept the IT wheels turning and still does, I understand – patience of Job, that guy. Seems all offices try to get by with a guy in the office as much as possible.

Locally, in my office, I’m by default that guy. But I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have all the answers.

What then?

Call someone! Now. 

That person used to be Chris and Jonathan, now it’s Drew and Thomas. Used to be Drew and Ben – one was Apple and the other Windows (remember, we use both OS’s…great resource, those guys.)

You can see things change over time. Go through these changes carefully. Know your network and systems as best you can – we will touch on that shortly. Changes can be very painful – do them carefully and with purpose.

So, who to use? THAT depends upon you, your level of training, your office, and your resources.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, I suggest you find a good – no, a GREAT – IT person and get to know them. Let them get to know you. Insist they get to know you. If they aren’t interested in that, move on to someone else. Interview them. Feel good about them. Get their cell phone number and let them know you may need to use it (don’t abuse it, though). When you call they need to understand it is serious and valid for them to return your calls. The point is, they may not be on the payroll, but they may be your most important expense at times (hopefully for very short periods). You two are going to be working together on some really important stuff – your IT needs.

We have a phrase in the construction industry – I don’t really like it very much –  that goes like this, “How much and when?” When you call, you need to be able to clearly represent how much you need done and when you need it completed. Depending upon the timing of your call, your need and the intensity of it, the answers are likely EVERYTHING and NOW! Be careful with this, as they don’t need a “sky is falling” attitude every time they hear from you.

Plan ahead – and give them a heads up at all times. I called once and didn’t get an answer so I called again, insisting I get a return call. Again, no answer, so I called a third time, indicating they needed to either be in jail or the hospital. I did get the return call – and he was in surgery….you never know. Either way, we connected. (He’s now gone on to medical school – he was in studies, not under the knife. Thanks again, Jonathan.)

How to work with IT?

Think about these things as you communicate with them:

  1. Respect them. They are trained (one was actually a computer scientist and did things others told us later were not possible – so there). Appreciate what they can offer you and listen to them. Speak to them as though they are smart – they are. They could be doing far more interesting things than re-setting your passwords.

2. Consider them a resource. 

Not as a servant or otherwise someone who is less than you are – they are far from it. These folks do things most of us cannot imagine how to get started. Upon completion, it may seem like a simple thing they did – but they know how and what to do – AND what the resulting affects of their actions may be. All the more reason to communicate with them and let them get to know your system, your methods, softwares and processes – being able to work in your specific system is critical.

3. Learn from them.

Let them show you everything they want to and record it. Write it down, draw it, photograph it. Remember it so you don’t continually pester them with log-in resets and can later have an intelligent conversation about what your software/hardware is doing.

If they aren’t wired to share much with you then ask them to. If they aren’t willing to do so, start looking for another resource –  you need to know as much about your system as you can for future reference and decision making. Be sure you work with an IT resource that knows and appreciates this.

4. Help them help you.

In addition to the above, do everything you can to help them help you. What does this mean? Any number of things can be done to assist them in helping solve a problem. Many times I capture screen shots of error messages, record screen events, even video what is going on if a screen shot won’t do it – pick up your phone and shoot video of what’s going on. Then show it to them – at their visit, in an email – or TEXT it to them with your request for assistance! This allows them to come prepared, not needing to recreate what the problem is – they will have already seen it.

5. Oh, and keep records.

Record passwords, logins, versions, everything you can. There are a variety of softwares to keep record of passwords and such – these can be life savers and the convenience and piece of mind is great. I currently have a document of some 66 pages of records regarding software and it’s nowhere near as complete as I wish it was.

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The take away? Think: if you were the IT response team representative serving you,what would you want to understand from your client? Give them that and more, they can cypher through what they need. Communicate.

Learning these things over the years has helped me understand what they put up with from the rest of us.

Bless them.

Thank you to all the folks who have been a resource to us.

You have no idea how much you are appreciated. We need to continually work on THAT.

Love ya, mean it.

IT: they are a-changin’

 

New. Improved. Upgraded. Special. Custom. Tailored. Smarter. Happier. Faster. Stronger. Higher. Cheaper. Prettier. Smoother. Younger.

We’ve all heard these.
We have all desired these – for ourselves, and in the products we have purchased.
Things change.
This is inevitable and cannot be ignored. However, it appears things are changing FASTER, stronger, QUICKER and at a frequency that only appears to be getting faster, stronger, and quicker. What to do? KEEP UP!

When this blog started I stated that as things progressed through the year, they would probably change and be different than what was posted earlier in the year. Well, I think I said that – if not, I’m saying it now. Things ARE changing and are in flux – not only about what I am blogging about but what we are trying to use. This is what today’s post is about – change and options. The pace is quickening – so read this post fast.

Remember the increasing rate of technological change?

Let me illustrate it this way:
Think about the lifespan of wax and vinyl records. What about magnetic tape? Reel to reels? Cassettes? 8-tracks? CD’s? MP3’s (which are now declared dead)?

How about “IT” as we know it?
Remember software from a big-box store?
Downloaded software?
Streaming software?
Now it’s web-based software. No store, no disk, no install, “no nothing” as they say…
What’s next?

If you recall your experience with any of the above, you will note the introductions of replacements for each came faster and faster. Not just more powerful – MORE – and faster and quicker and more frequently. It’s not going to stop, only change.

When you are through changing, you are through. –Bruce Barton

I encourage you to acquaint yourself with Moore’s Law if you aren’t familiar with it. There are those who don’t believe it – let them.

In addition to the technological rate increasing, we must remember that everything changes. Here is an example of why it appears to be doing so – this illustration is based upon an FTE, or “full time equivalent,” that we consider with some of our projects. These assist in understanding cycles of a project – annual, seasonal, or otherwise.

Example: a church. If you consider FTE’s on an annual basis, a church will have birthdays, deaths, pregnancies, and celebrations in the lives of each member. If the FTE of said church is 1, then the church “ages” (goes through all the above annual life events) in one year. If you up the membership to 10, then the rate increases 10-fold, and appears to occur much more rapidly, appearing to age at a rate of ten years to every year (going through all the annual events 10x more). With the number going to 100, or 1000, the  life events would be overwhelming (hence the need for a church staff – lots of life events going on and we all want our birthdays remembered – right, kids?).

Ok, take that example and think about software and hardware. How many licensed copies of software do you have on your machine? Here’s an example of one of mine:

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101 installs of software – AND THIS IS A NEW MACHINE.
How many of these apps do I single out? Maybe 20.
How many ask for monitoring, updating, licensing and otherwise ask for attention sometime in their “life” of a year? You guessed it – 101. All of them. Oftentimes, more than once a year – some quite frequently.
Not one is unnecessary.
Between the OS, networking, apps, and other softwares it added up really quickly.
101 apps asking for attention. If each needed attention only once a year, that’s still almost two requests each week. That results in apps asking for attention in some way every 2.5 working days! Good grief. Luckily, some of this attention is automatic, but you still see it. It slows you down, asks permission, and otherwise gets in your face in some way or another. And this is just software.

Change is inevitable. Except from a vending machine. – Robert C. Gallagher

Hardware has to support all this stuff – and THAT’S where the wheels can start coming off in the setup.

Example we are wrestling with right now:

Sketchup – it now requires an OpenGL of 3.0 to run. Do you know exactly what that is? Me, neither. But I do know it references the structure of the software – and therefore the software is GREATLY dependent upon this structure – and this new incompatibility has created a limitation in how we can use Sketchup.
Does Mac support it? Yep.
Does Windows? Yes.
Do virtual machines? Noooope. At least, not with Parallels – yet. Who knows when? Your guess is as good as mine.
Point is, change happens. Count on it. Are there other options? Oh, yes. We are studying those, hence my new machine – a Razer with a 1080 GPU and processor that is a rocket – it’s fast upon fast, but no Mac stuff, please – Windows 10 only.
So, again, change happens – and it’s changing right now.

We are considering going to Windows only, or Boot Camp for Mac. In the process, I’m discovering apps in Windows that do similar functions as those we have used in Mac  so I’m planning to post about those, too.

You must welcome change as the rule, but not as your ruler. –Denis Waitley

FYI: There may be a replacement for Sketchup, AutoCAD 2D, and Revit – we are looking at Archicad. It does some pretty amazing things, so why not at least be conversant?

The take way?
Apple: you guys needs to step it up. Make some hardware you don’t need to make excuses for. Make a rocket again and set the bar. Come on – get back in the game.

Windows: you guys are bringing it. We are using a Razer for the moment, but honestly, the new stuff you are delivering is really impressive. But you are slacking a little like your fruity counterparts – bring a workhorse to the table. Make a Surface Studio that can run the powerful software architects need and you will have plenty of takers.

Stay tuned for options as to where this goes. No longer is there just one good camp – they both have their merits and limits – as does my patience and funding for office machines and software. Choose wisely.

Remember:
The times, they are a -changin’.

Sketchy is the new black.

What softwares do you use – daily?

What apps can you not do without – daily?

I’m sure some apps come to mind that you WISH you could do without, but need, despite  their “features” and intuitive interface. But wait…

What about the apps you are happy to use? Do some come to mind? Some you enjoy using? This post is about one of those…Sketchbook.

Autodesk nailed this one.

Kudos to the geeks at Autodesk for this one. I tip my hat to you folks there.

Sketchbook – this is definitely one of my keepers.

Need to sketch and doodle with a client? It does that.

Need to draw over a Google Earth image? It does that.

Need to sketch over a photo you just took? Explain a detail to a contractor? Compare information in a series of overlaid images? Combine images? Create a graphic image?

Yes, yes, yes, and YES!

This one does that, too.

Sketchbook is one of my go-to apps I have referenced before and use every day. With a little time upfront to understand the basics and capabilities, it proves to be a fluid, intuitive, and incredibly flexible app.

You can find tutorials – there are probably thousands of great tutorials on techniques, applications, and videos of people doing incredibly realistic, stylized, and generally great looking illustrations and images.

While this is all well and good, I seldom work in this app ALONE (almost all of the blog images I use are altered or otherwise created for these posts in Sketchbook). Generally speaking, most of my experience in this app is with an “audience” – with collaborators, in meetings, with clients – and sometimes tethered to a big screen in a conference room. I am able to take their site, their plan, images of their space, and converse with them about THEIR project – right then and there.

When this happens, we find clients take ownership in the project, have buy-in, and understand how and why things are the way they are. What could be better?

I cannot encourage you enough to try this app. Plunk down the subscription price and go Pro – you get loads of brushes and abilities that you (understandably) do not get in the free version. Students: take the money you would otherwise waste on some emoji app and spend it on something seriously good. It’s reasonable and professional – you will not be disappointed. College/Architecture school professors:  learn this – teach this – the offices of your graduates will be the better for it.

Couple of things I wish it did: collaborative drawing with more than one stylus at a time on a screen. How sweet would that be? Also: drawing to scale. So all you folks out there go ahead and tell me about TRACE. I hope to get to that one soon in a post. For now, Sketchbook.

I don’t have a YouTube tutorial because there are so many great ones out there already – go check them out – but I DO have a short video illustrating how it integrates with other apps on my iPad Pro – magic, I tell you.

This is but a sampling – I’m sure you are a quick study – see what you can do with it. Let me know.

Oh, and as Mr. Jobs used to say, one more thing. It can record your sketches, creating a video file of your sketchbook creation. If you are interested in that sort of thing, it’s great to work into a video presentation about your projects, making them truly conversational. See how that word keeps coming back?

Did I mention it also has a desktop version?

Yes, yes it does.

The mobile app and the desktop version are all licensed under your one account with Autodesk. What are you waiting for? The desktop app does even more than the mobile app (draw in perspective with straight vanishing lines!).

Let me know how you use the app’s features and how it affects your process, conversations, and design efforts. I predict you will find a place for this app in your inventory of software.

AND if you are in an office NOT using this app, be the first to do so. Set the bar – if they shoot your efforts down, we are always hiring…just saying.

Look it over. Enjoy.

Breath deep, design is in the air. (I recalled that from years ago – thanks, Dave).

Surveying the year so far.

This post finds us about 1/3 the way through the year.

What have you done regarding technology and your design process this year?

Updated versions of software?

Purchased new software?

Gone rouge and threatened to go off the grid and do everything analog (hand drawing, drafting, etc.)?

We have considered all of the above.

Leases wrap up, trade show booths at professional conventions tempt us, CEU lunch sponsors entice us to consider their offerings, and last but not least, new tech comes along (or doesn’t come along -AAARRRRGGGHHHH!). You consider going to the dark side, whatever you consider the dark side to be – Mac, Windows, open source. I hear it’s nice. Supposedly they have cookies (the chewy kind).

Nevertheless, where are you regarding the concept or element of design tech? This blog, by nature, is a one-way conversation and I truly appreciate the data I’m getting of various countries reading  in addition to the encouraging words from friends and past workmates – truly wonderful. BUT, I’d like to know a little more about where you are – so I’ve created a survey.

We are 1/3 through the year and, whether you know it or not, the latter parts of the year are approaching fast. What are you planning for? New software? Updated versions? Training? Learning a new software – personally or company-wide? How long do you expect this to take? Are you ready? Why are you doing this?

We have pledged among ourselves to learn some new software – and here we are, months later, yet to start. Why. We are busy – I get that – I AM that – we all are, but this adventure does not let up. Don’t let up – remember, it’s easier to keep up than catch up.

Please consider taking the survey below and answering just a few questions to give me a picture of where you are in this world of Design/Process/Technology/Value. I’ll share with everyone what you let me see and shape where we go as we proceed through 2017.

Survey-Button

 

I hope this is not a frustration, but rather a break for you to give some feedback.

One of my favorite surveys is from a local restaurant that is one question with two choices: frowning face or smiling face. While this one isn’t that simple, it is designed to be quick and direct.

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Thank you in advance for stepping into the conversation.

You are always welcome here.

Training Day.

Last week I offered a series of  questions that you should consider when purchasing software.; this week I’ll consider you have purchased software and now plan to use it. You saw, evaluated, and purchased. Now what?

Press on! Learn it, use it, benefit from it!

Whether you are formally trained or you like to learn as you go, you need to get up and running as soon as possible in order for the new purchase to not be too much of a distraction. Pleasant, frustrating, or perplexing – any distraction for productivity is not good.

So, before you get started, how many are in the training? How long will the training last?

Let’s look at two examples:

When I was much younger, a colleague and I went away for three days of training in Versacad design software. We did our training, came home to the office, and proceeded to document the largest and most involved project that office had ever known – two young guys who did not know what they did not know. We figured the “not-knowing” part out quickly and, with support from each other, delivered what came to be a great project in our careers (thanks to Randy for going through that experience with me – it was quite a ride!).

Now, as an owner of an architectural firm, the thought of that scares me to death!

Another:

I recently heard of a large firm who decided to go with Revit in their office. I’m sure reaching the decision was much more involved than this, but it was described to me as one Friday they went home and when they returned Monday, only Revit was installed on everyone’s machine.

No 2D software.

No pre-emptive training.

No going back. 

It was added that they experienced quite a learning curve – a frustrating, painful curve – but now they never want to go back.

Both examples are frightening to some extent. Both mean a complete buy-in. Both have no alternative – and that was the point. At some time you have to decide – deciding is sometimes the hardest step in the process.

So, what about my own firm?

Now, we are learning Revit.

We are still hanging on to 2D, as well. We debate at times on which to use – what is most productive, efficient, valuable to the project. At times I wish we did not have the choice.

A process like this takes longer, brings everyone (including me) along at a slower pace, and gives you the opportunity to second guess.

This post is preaching to me. Remember, this is always personal.

Whether you are the guy cutting the check for the software, the designer trying to learn a new trick, the instructor who cannot understand how thick these new users are, or an IT guy trying to get everything installed and ready for everyone – it’s always personal to everyone.

So let me encourage you to discuss training, integration, and how success is going to be defined with everyone. 

Also understand this – training and learning never stops. If you think otherwise, consider how often technology changes, updates, and gets re-issued. Failing to keep up is devastating.

If you intend to not grow in technology, be prepared to go the way of dial phones, fax machines, 8-track tapes, and broadcast TV. While these older technologies may be novel and refreshing at times (I myself have a set of classic 70’s stereo equipment), they cannot process, deliver, nor promise what today’s tech can – old software is no different.

In earlier posts I referenced ZORK. How many of you got those references? How many of you went to your stash and pulled out your copies of ZORK and played?

I didn’t either.

Point is, keep up. Catching up is so much harder.

Some challenge this, but I am living Moore’s Law these days. If you want to nerd out on the pace of tech change let me refer you to Coursera.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 11.16.11 AM

Remember, this is fun – or it should be.

Enjoy the discovery, training, and new abilities.

Keep the old tech if you want – it can always come in handy one day. Knowing not only how something got here but also why is a great thing.

So back up your junk. Save often and update as needed. And let me know if you have any vintage stereo equipment you need to get rid of – I’m looking for a particular Pioneer turntable. Vinyl is back, baby!

FTP VPN OMG!

You likely have at least a simple understanding of how you connect in your office: wireless, Bluetooth, CAT 5, etc, but don’t forget or overlook other methods of connecting to your office and to your client – or how they connect to you.

VPN,

FTP,

& Dropbox to name a few.

How do you share files, information, and ideas? How can you share something with a client that is over the 5 or 10MB limits they probably have?

  • Email? Probably not.
  • Burn a disk? Those days are swiftly passing…going, going, soon gone?
  • Thumb drive? Sure, if you are okay with giving away a thumb drive every time you want to give a large file to someone (they say they’ll return them – they don’t).

We have utilized several options to connect and share files with others outside the office, with ourselves within the office, and with our mobile devices wherever we are.

Let’s consider FTP for a moment – File Transfer Protocol has been around for awhile. It lets you host a drive in your office (or in the cloud, I suspect) where you can control access of others as they retrieve files from you or upload files to you for design purposes.

But my firm  utilizes Apple devices. Guess what? Apple doesn’t allow or accommodate FTP hosting with their operating system.They may now, but it would be through some APP that you then have to purchase and maintain – it is in my opinion this has just not been something Apple has wanted to participate in.

That was one of the lessons we learned as we converted and drank the Cupertino kool-aide.

All in all, it has not been a problem.

We did host an FTP site at one time – in our Windows world – and as a result had to:

issue instructions to log-in,

access and

use the site with established permissions and protocols.

While it was a bit high maintenance, it did allow us to monitor, control, and otherwise be the gatekeepers of who saw what, when, and where.

We utilized a software called Cute FTP and, despite the very non-technical name, it worked great. This was a good system that worked well  through monitoring efforts and management of access log-ins and passwords. Now things are a little simpler – or so it would seem.

Enter Dropbox. 

Free(!) Dropbox.

Regarding the design process, Dropbox has been the answer to the maiden’s prayer for years. Dropbox allows for sharing files in a multitude of ways – from attaching file links in emails, sharing folders that allow download and upload, and apps that link automatically into your dropbox account to files located there.

One word of caution:

Dropbox loads up your computer if you are not ready for it. We use it a LOT in our office and have found whatever you have in your dropbox account, you also have on your hard drive.

YES. That’s right.

While Dropbox is in the cloud and extremely flexible, it is ALSO resident on your computer…this means every file in your account.

EVERY file – yours and those that have been shared with you. I’m not saying this is wrong, just a little known fact. The capacity of your account also needs to be accounted for on your hard drive – don’t accept invitations to large shared folders if you don’t have the space in your dropbox account AND your hard drive.

We have found it historically does not like to transfer really large files – we’re talking giga-bites of information – because they are suspected to be pirated movies. While we completely respect this concern, we have never found a way to get a large file we created to successfully transfer to other devices (specifically iPads, iPhones, etc.) through Dropbox.

But there is work around, so for now we enjoy Dropbox.
In all fairness, there are a variety of competitors. More power to them. We have tried some – OwnCloud and Citrix to name two – but we have found there is almost always a limitation or a catch – a required OS or difficult user interface (you shouldn’t have to know how to code or work in DOS to set these things up).

We have found Dropbox to be the most intuitive and universally known software of this type – and used by our clients as well – to the point that this is where we have landed for now.

VPN. Virtual Private Network.

The acronym is generic enough, the actual name doesn’t explain much to me at all, but it works great…basically providing the ability to log-in to your office and connect to all the files, printers, computers, etc. you would need as if you were in the office (which you aren’t if you are utilizing VPN connectivity).

Have you ever needed to access files from your office at home, in a hotel room in another city? VPN.

Have you ever needed to print something in your office while you aren’t there? VPN.

It does require some geekiness to set up and establish protocols. Find the nerd in the office, wind them up, let them go, and get out of their way.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-8-47-49-amWith establishment of a VPN router (hardware), VPN gateway (software), and established protocols (user accounts, log-ins, passwords and permissions – choices in software setup) you will be working in your office while you are not IN your office – it’s really quite cool.

It also lets you be productive at all times: business trip, vacation, home…your’e still “in the office.” So try VPN – you’ll be plugged in all the time.

With some caveats:

  • Windows does VPN really well.
  • It typically requires internet access – you will need that.
  • Apple used to do VPN – then quit. Literally, without warning.

We updated our OS to Sierra on our Apple computers and discovered they no longer “do” VPN. Just like that, the ability was gone.

Their answer? You guessed it – an app. This one is called Shimo and was (after about 30 frustrating minutes) immediately  purchased, installed, and working. We have had some update needs to keep things current, but all this is to say there is apparently always an app for that.

VPN is great.

Management of the protocols and permissions allow everyone to access the office/design process and be plugged in – literally – at all times.

Bottom line:

  • There is no reason why you have to be disconnected from the office, or your clients, or your design process.
  • Ideas happen when they happen; they are not 9 to 5 – they never were, they never will be.
  • Design is not a sterile “only in the office” process, but you can literally now take the office with you if you desire to.

VPN, FTP, Dropbox et al – all allow flexible, intuitive, 24/7 access to your design process, not just for you – but your clients as well.

This design process truly now has no limits – no down time.

What are you waiting for?

Hooked Up, Plugged In.

How connected are you?

Are you hooked up, plugged in?

These are all terms we have heard before – but regarding IT? Do you know how you are using your connections?

Wireless? Bluetooth? Hardwired?

Hopefully these are things you don’t have to worry about, but you better know the ways you are “connected” – otherwise you will find a time when you discover you have been functionally illiterate, working and productive until you suddenly aren’t, and you don’t know why.

Usually the timing of events are not convenient or beneficial to anyone. Making a presentation, downloading or uploading a large file, or needing to allow a client to connect as part of a design meeting – times when you need everything to run smoothly. Events like this seldom have a great recovery – keep them as few and as far between as possible. We have one client that I swear has bad IT juju and brings technology  – almost no matter what kind – to a screeching halt. Does that sound familiar? Be prepared for anything. Know what your reaction will be if connections won’t work – Plan B, C, and D.

Nimbleness in connectivity and command of at least the concepts of your software and hardware is critical. Sure, you can have someone be the gate keeper of things, but at least know the basics of how your devices are working with each other – or not working – so you don’t find yourself in a tight spot with no idea of how to wiggle out.

Can you diagram your IT world – your software and hardware? And their connectivity? Do this. Share it with your office. Have your IT folks correct you – and they will.

Recognize the difference between a router and a switch.

Know which devices need restarting, what passwords and admin log-ins are for those devices. Do you share access with others? Be ready to assist them in connecting.

Regarding the basic means of connections, I suggest you know the following:

Hardwired:

There are several versions: Cat-5, USB, HDMI, VGA, MIDI, RCA, etc – most are falling away as time marches on, so for now we will focus on CAT-5 (CAT-6 is out there as well and coming on strong).

Always – always go hardwired if you can. For what will soon become evident if it hasn’t yet, hardwired connections are the most reliable connections you can have. No dropped signals, no interruptions of other devices  – one pipe of data quickly moving from one machine to another. Speed is king. KING, I tell you. If you want fast and reliable, go hardwired. In your office, in your conference room, even in your hotel room.

Drawbacks?

The hard. wire. It cannot be denied.

A physical connection restricts. You have to conceal it, step over it, sometimes even pass it around like a joint…in meetings it seems like the Little Feat song, “don’t bogart that joint, my friend…” Sometimes you have to share the hardwire.

Do you know how to make a cat-5 connection? With the purchase of a few items you can be the master of your connectivity.

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Parts needed:

  • Wire (CAT-5 or some better version)
  • Crimping tool (beware, the knife blades are sharper than sharp).
  • Instructions and patience

Look at your devices – make sure they are all at the fastest speeds you can get. If one is slow, they ALL are slow. Check your switches and routers to make sure they are coordinated in speeds. Differences can be in factors of ten, so it makes a real difference.

Look at the wiring demarks and switches – are the different network cables labeled and marked? Are they organized? How about the data ports you plug into? Label these – keep record of them and you will be able to plug-n-play, swap, and adjust as needed. If you don’t, you will be forever trying to figure out what “they” did as they placed your lines.

Seriously, knowing this makes you much less dependent upon others. It’s not that complicated and it makes communicating with your IT staff much easier.

Wireless:

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This is the connectivities club’s sexy, cool kid. Everyone wants wireless.

Wireless wants to be as dependable as hardwired, and it almost is.

Wireless is infinitely more flexible and accommodating, allowing almost endless combinations of applications of hardware and devices. But beware of conflicts and surprises…

We use wireless to connect everything in our office from computers to our network, computers to Apple TV, and computers to our stereo, but it is not without its problems. You don’t want your Pandora station to start playing on your Apple TV during a meeting in the conference room…unless it’s a really cool station and a really cool client.

Wireless is probably the hardest working connectivity we use – it connects each user to our 3D printer, Pandora, Spotify, Stereo, and Apple TV. But we have to make sure it’s secure.

Case in point: I have had my dry cleaners down the street ask if they could jump on our wireless signal.

Ever use a hot-spot on your phone? Wireless. Protect it. Turn it off when not in use! Your data plan will thank you.

Keep it secure. Keep it secure. Keep it secure.

Consider the clients connecting in your office. They can – and should – be able to go wireless in order to have meaningful conversations and access info they need. But keep it secure! Maybe it’s a separate guest wireless account or other security measures (additional log-ins to go past guest-level access). There are several possibilities.

Then there’s BlueTooth.

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I never paid much attention to Bluetooth, it has been the lesser of the methods of connectivity until now. You have an Apple Watch? You are probably utilizing Bluetooth. How about an Apple Pencil? Bluetooth. We utilize Bluetooth mainly on a personal level with personal devices.

If I could have a wish for Apple and Bluetooth, I’d wish that iPad Pros could be drawn on by more than one Apple Pencil at a time – collaboration is stalled slightly when you realize you can’t draw on someone else’s iPad with YOUR Apple Pencil – c’mon Apple, allow piling on here.

All this is to say the flexibility, redundancy, and options for connectivity make your network for design processes a web. Simplifying and managing this web will make you design world cleaner and efficient. You’ll be the better for it.

Wonder how involved this can be? We are an office of 8. And have 70+ connections of wireless and Bluetooth systems. Each device has an IP address, MAC address, and other qualifying information to keep track of. To see this in action in your world let me suggest FING as an app to consider. We have it and use it to organize and troubleshoot conflicts, disconnects, etc.

Knowing the basics of connectivity, the nuances between them, and how to mange them will keep you working, your work flowing, and the conversations going.

When was the last time you looked behind the curtain of your connectivity? Check your speeds, organization, and security. You’ll be glad you did.

Now we can start conversation about what to do with all this connectivity…stay tuned.

Aunt Bee was right.

How long do you use your current versions of software?

It seems there is always some update, some new thing that needs to be loaded and installed. Have you noticed?

Have you measured what it costs to update versus not? How many machines do you have – one or one hundred?

In one of my previous employments, we ended up with a full-time IT guy who worked nocturnally.  He did all he needed to do when no one was around, having things ready when we all came to work the next day. And he ended up needing an assistant! I remember when an architectural firm’s needs were limited to clean and working drafting equipment, clean pens (anyone remember vibrating pen cleaners?), and having lots of scummex on hand. No longer. Sometimes it appears our software owns us.

Are you going to the Cloud? Why? Because it was your idea and you can’t wait? Or is it because the software product is pushing you there. 

What happens if – no, when – you lose internet connectivity?

My point is, it’s all getting complicated.

And with this complication comes the need to simplify.

If you cannot diagram your IT world and how you use it, you need to. This can be a chart or a spreadsheet – something that makes sense to you and the others in your office. Something that your IT guy can reference when he is called in to help.

It’s a frustratingly numbing process, but it’s vital to begin and maintain. Our record of licenses change at the software provider’s pleasure and it’s never just one piece of information to keep. License codes, authorization keys, email records of activations, user/ account records, versions past and present, machines these softwares are being used on, what virtual account the software was purchased on – and, of course, passwords. The list goes on.

For example, when you look at a computer today, if you see a simple operating system and let’s say 5 software programs, you are probably looking at a user account that has at LEAST the following:

1. a username

2. password

3. authorization

4. probably credit card info as well ( with name, billing info, security code, card number – all the stuff the bad guys are looking for). This is just to get the OS purchased and running…

Now add 5 software programs that also need:

1. a user account

2. email account

3. login

4. license code

5. authorization Code

6. version

7. I’m sure I’m missing something…

Seven components of vital information regarding ONE account of software. Multiply by 5 and you get 35 items, plus at least 4 for the OS…39 items of vital information to maintain ONE COMPUTER…how many computers do you have in your design world?

Add my little friend, the virtual machine, and all this compounds into multiples of the above – for ONE MACHINE.

The take away?

Keep records of everything regarding your software.

EVERYTHING.

Have a system that tracks the information of purchase, install, and update. If the software developers decide to update things (do you let this happen automatically? Oops!) you start to lose your handle on EVERYTHING regarding your software licenses.. There really should be an app for this. If you know of one let me know.

Our solution?

Spreadsheets. 

Numbers spreadsheets, in fact.

Software companies update (“to serve you better”) at their discretion – not on your schedule. How often do we receive an email to update our programs?

Annually.

The anniversary of your license subscription purchase.

Product update.

New version launch.

“Bug fixes” (this covers a gamut of things they really don’t want to share with you).

All provided – forced on you in an automatic update – without regard for the other softwares you are using. Provided without knowing details of the compatibilities of the other softwares you are using. Of course, they have no knowledge of what you’re using. But you do. 

Manage your software. Only YOU know it best in your process, your flow, your deadlines.

Did I say never update before a deadline? NEVER DO THIS.

Manage your software – updates, installs, accounts, versions, account locations, or do not at your peril.

Protect your software – always save .exe files or .dmg files within your system so you don’t rely on the software companies to save legacy versions for you.

In the old days you kept your scales and triangles clean, your drafting table surface dent-free, and your pens clean and unclogged – for good reason. Treat your software no differently.

As David Wagner reminded me 34 years ago, Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show said, “Take care of your things and your things will take care of you.”

Remember this. Live it.

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