Monday, December 17, 2012

Is it autocorrect - or is it you?

I've probably bitched about people who can't fucking type, spell, use anything resembling grammar (or otherwise give a fuck about how unintelligible their e-mails and texts are) more than once before, but it seems to be getting worse.

Despite the occasional hilarious result, the trend in blaming 'auto-correct' is far from funny, and has quickly devolved into being a crutch for lazy people who cannot be bothered to pay attention to details.

When you spend your days in an occupation where even the (seemingly) tiniest details can make or break a project - then you try to do whatever you can to dissuade people from thinking that they can take a 'laissez faire' attitude when it comes to dealing with you.

I will obviously take into account if someone is attempting to slip me a piece of information in the middle of a meeting, while driving, etc., in order to give me the fastest possible heads up - but not if they insist on constantly sending apocryphal messages that can be interpreted several different ways (which is almost certainly their attempt at reiterating something that someone told them, but which they didn't actually understand well enough to know that there were important details that needed to make their way through the game of 'telephone' intact).

In short - I always go back to communication as the key to everything.  When people are too busy (which happens  - trust me, I know), lazy, scared, or simply don't understand the importance of communication or passing along accurate information, then everybody suffers.

Oh yeah - and fuck the people who continue to labor under the delusion that Revit in any way eliminates the need for communication and coordination between disciplines.

In fact - fuck 'em twice.

Revit doesn't have a fucking calculator.

I know Revit is supposedly capable of incredible things with databases and spreadsheets, but what kind of respectable engineering software doesn't have a goddamned calculator built into it?

Despite having an incredibly powerful calculator in it, the vast majority of people - even those who had used Autocad for quite a while, very rarely ever actually touched 'quickcalc', and there is a good reason for that:

The vast majority of people are incompetent when it comes to mathematics, engineering, and science.

This would appear to include the people at Autodesk responsible for 'developing' the electrical portion of Revit MeP.  The program looks and operates as if someone put together a list of electrical 'buzzwords' and shoehorned them into a database that they had developed for entirely different purposes.

They made a program that is the equivalent of what you would get if you were to describe a car to someone who had never seen one before - and then they built something based on that information.  You might get four wheels, doors, and a few other features, but you probably aren't going to have a car - at least not a functional one.

Instead, what you will be left with is a half-ass attempt to quantify something that far exceeds their understanding.  If you tossed a calculator to most people, they might look at it with an amused smile, (maybe type 'S8008', turn it upside down and show their co-worker), but despite having all of those buttons, it doesn't hold their attention because it doesn't 'do' anything.

Most people don't have one (or if they do, it's the scientific calculator they were required to get for high school or college math, never used, and is sitting in a box somewhere), don't know how to use one, and since most aren't actually doing any kind of engineering work, they won't ever need to.  You can obviously get calculator apps for phones - 'realcalc' is a decent free one, but there are plenty of others.

The calculator built into Windows is pretty formidable as well, and gets quite a bit of use - but this is no excuse for Revit not to have an integrated calculator, because having to switch out of a program to use the Windows calculator is annoying, and anything handheld doesn't have the interactive component (even a smartphone which could technically run calculations and then e-mail them to yourself).

There are also plenty of online programs for running calculations, conversions, and various other functions necessary for detailed electrical design work.  They vary from excellent, to so bad that they actually make Revit look good in comparison.  I tend to trust the ones that are aligned with widely recognized industry names - however, even then I don't take for granted that they didn't farm the programming out to someone else who (again) didn't have the actual understanding necessary for their program to be reliable.

Some of the simplest ones are the best - often programmed by people who might be amateur programmers, but who have real, practical experience, and a more intimate knowledge of the subject matter.  I'm a big fan of minimalist program interfaces that mask powerful tools (otherwise known as function over form), but even the best of these can have their limitations - especially if they were only designed to take into account very specific (or limited range of) conditions, and many are only intended to be for rough estimation.

They can also be horribly misleading if someone doesn't understand what they are supposed to actually accomplish.  For example - there are a number of programs online for sizing wire based on various of factors (distance, max voltage drop, minimum ampacity, .  However, many leave out key factors (most commonly minimum ampacity - which means that it might tell you a size that will give you acceptable voltage drop, but the size it is spitting out might be too small to handle the load that it is feeding).

Obviously someone who is intelligent, and paying attention can take this into account and size accordingly - or toss those programs, and find one that takes into account all of the factors that they need.  To the best of my knowledge, Revit has not attempted to address this - apparently it would've been too close to actually having an electrical design tool.  Now, this would be fine if someone told me 'this program is for slapping together half-ass drawings', but instead, I was told that this is the software that I'm using now for electrical engineering/design.

Unfortunately, at least in the humble opinion of someone who has been doing electrical engineering and design work for over a decade (in addition to having a wide variety of real-world experience with computer systems, electrical and mechanical systems, multi-axis motion, software, electronics, automotive, and industrial), it is sorely lacking in basic functionality.

The people responsible need to go fuck themselves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Revit MEP Faceplant Part II

So I've got this happy-ass little Revit model detailed out with some power/comm./fire alarm/lighting shit and some magical self-calculating panels.  Woo fucking hoo.  I actually felt good about it for a few minutes - then found out this morning that the HVAC system will be increasing in size (considerably), but actual information was not available yet.

It's only because an awesome guy took the time to inform me of this, AND stopped by with a copy of the schedule that they would be using to select units (from a previous project) - and I noticed they had the wrong voltage.  Now when I get the new information it will be correct, and I'll see if Revit will behave.

This brings us back to one of the first lies I was told in regards to Revit (right after I was told that it would 'calculate panel schedules' - but prior to the program actually being able to break loads down by type, fit more than two schedules per sheet, or work correctly), and that is how (in theory) Revit would assist me in anyway when it came to getting mechanical information for a project into my drawings.

First, it requires all of that information to be entered, correctly - but apparently the schedules in Revit suck just as badly on the mechanical end (even after this many years/releases), and so this information does not get entered - and the designers opt for schedules (which I'm all for - as long as I'm not being told that information is going to be somewhere, and not have it be there).

I've had (in the past) mechanical designers to all but shove my face into the Revit model (assuming that just because I refused to do electrical design in Revit that I hadn't checked to see what they had done), and been told 'you need to look at the Revit model, blah blah blah' and come to find out that the information that I would get by looking at their 'drawings' is missing, or worse - completely wrong.  I laughed directly in the face of at least one guy (and gave another one a little good natured hell) after they tried that shit on me. 

Fuck that shit - fortunately real engineers/designers are professionals and don't usually try to pull it.  Architects, on the other hand, will never pass up a chance to throw me under the bus by claiming that something was fucked up because I wasn't Reviting, only to find out it was their shit that was fucked up, and in a lot of cases - I'm the one who gets to point it out, because they had been staring at their model instead of their drawings.

Or more accurately - getting skullfucked by Revit instead of being productive.

The Revit MEP Faceplant

Success at last!  Something that resembles Electrical Design drawings - almost completely done in Revit!

It only took 4-5 years, 4-5 releases of Revit, 3rd party content, and considerable effort to get to the point where I can put together a very small scale project.  The fixture schedule was imported from ACAD, and the power riser diagram was modified in Revit from a detail imported from ACAD - but those were the only things I had to fall back on.

The fixture schedule doesn't sound like it will be a problem, but the riser still seems to be a sticking point.  Even the 3rd party content pack points me at a 3rd party program (SKM) for doing single-line diagrams/electrical distribution.

Now that's just fucked

Even the people who went through the trouble of figuring out Revit well enough to put together a comprehensive package of content for it have determined that it is not capable of producing power riser diagrams (or does it so badly that spending more money on software is preferable).

Every person that has tried to sell me on the 'but.. but.. it calculates panel schedules' bullshit doesn't know (or care about) the importance of having an electrical diagram that shows all of the various panels, transformers, disconnects, service entrance equipment, and the conduits/conductors that tie it all together.

I have probably seen thousands of riser diagrams in the time I have been doing electrical engineering work, and they vary widely in how easy they are to interpret.  When you go into an existing building, the existing drawings you get (if you get any) might be 20+ years old, drawn by hand, be third generation copies of copied blueprint copies (and may or may not actually bear any resemblance to what has been installed in the field - but you have to start somewhere).

Not all projects (especially renovation projects) have a budget for a complete on-site electrical survey, and in a lot of cases I'm lucky if I ever see the place (and even then only from pictures that an architect took - which are always amazingly just to the right or left of where I need to see).  Even if I get to do a site visit, it can be difficult to get everywhere that I need to get, or see what I need to see due to locked rooms (it doesn't matter how many people you contact or coordinate with - there will be a locked room that nobody seems to have a key for, and it will be a very important room), and obviously because most of the conduits/etc. are concealed in walls, ceilings, etc., and that's before you get into buildings with multiple layers of security that require you to get clearances, be escorted, etc.

Even spending a lot of time at an existing location can leave you with barely a basic understanding of how everything is tied together - especially if the building has been re-purposed several times over the years.  I have watched experienced engineers or contractors spend considerable time and effort (and expense - because we don't run a charity here) carefully go through a building, and continue to find things that challenge their assumptions (and the existing drawings).

Old schools are a good example - I have been in several that had main distribution panels that were 50+ years old.  Depending on the conditions in the electrical rooms, they can range from totally rusted out, to serviceable (although impossible to get breakers for), to heavily modified (I've seen some pretty impressive fuse holders rigged from various types of clamps.  At one location, they didn't have any way of shutting off the main power (short of having the utility to cut off power to the entire area), and when fuses blew, they literally blew - clean out of the panel.  They would have to basically jam a new one in, and pray to the deity of their choice.

Many school electrical rooms were afterthoughts - slapped onto the outside of the building, and/or sharing rooms with boilers, coal rooms, and various related equipment/pumps (I've seen at least one pump mounted directly over the MDP), with decaying walls/ceilings, some of which were basically exposed directly to the elements - or (in the worst one I've ever seen) literally start to fill with water when it rains.

Combine this with the fact that back when the distribution was sized for these buildings there was no HVAC (boiler heat and fans only), and there were no computers.  This means that as modern HVAC systems and computer labs/classroom computers/servers were added, they usually had to be scabbed on to the existing panels - leading to some fairly inventive techniques (such as tapping onto the service entrance conductors before they hit the main panel - or cramming two sets of wire into one set of lugs to feed multiple panels).

In rural areas, where the electrical inspector is probably the contractors brother or cousin, and where the money simply isn't there for expensive electrical upgrades (nobody ever wants to spend money on boring gray boxes to sit in unused rooms - school spending is almost always prioritized like this: 1) Sports programs, facilities, field lighting, uniforms, etc., 2) Better offices, equipment, etc. for administrators, 3) Literally anything else, and coming in last at 142) Education.

It's usually only when catastrophic failure occurs that anything ever gets fixed, and only upgraded if fixing it is impossible - or if money becomes available for upgrades and there is some left over after relighting the gym, sports fields, etc. - that's when we get to go out and find the panels that were scabbed on over the years, and re-feed them properly from new breakers in new distribution equipment, upsize feeders, etc..  All you know is that there are conduits going everywhere, and disappearing at the earliest convenience.  Some might not actually go anywhere anymore, or be attached to anything, but until you start pulling panel covers off, crawling into every dark, dank corner of the building, and when all else fails, turning things off, and/or ringing out wires to figure out what feed what from where, and how horribly undersized it is.

One time I sketched a riser diagram from an old hand-drawn piece of parchment that I swear had some calculations to take into account 'aether propagation'.  I took with me when I went on-site, and promptly flipped it over and drew new one completely from scratch on the back.  The drawings had obviously been little more than a 'go by', and 'as built' drawings were never done (or were not provided to me).  Even after considerable hunting, I still wasn't confident that I had it completely figured out, and it wasn't until after they had begun upgrades that a few things didn't jive (fortunately that time it was pretty simple to straighten out and didn't run into additional costs).

Anyway - I say all of this to make a point.  The power riser diagrams that I do on nearly every single project that I put out are FUCKING IMMACULATE.  Rather than putting the focus on the interiors of the panels as many people (and programs) do in order to make their diagrams look all technical - mine focus on putting as much information in as simple to read format as possible.  Mine are similar to elevations, but are purely schematical.

Starting off with a riser diagram template that somebody developed prior to my working here (or with one from a previous project that has similar equipment (generators/transfer switches/emergency panels/etc.), I can show the exterior equipment starting with a riser pole with pole or pad mounted transformer, primary and secondary conduits, meter/ct cabinet, and then start going into the building - starting with the main electrical room, and then detailing out each room that has electrical equipment in it.  The result looks sort of like an elevation - but is really more of a grid, showing multiple floors, with several equipment rooms on each, with keynotes for equipment and feeders.

In my mind, a set of software that costs as much, and gets raved about as much as Revit - when I put a panel into my drawing and start a schedule, a third thing should happen as well - that panel should show up on a riser diagram.  When I do the electrical connections to show a panel being fed out of a 480V panel via a transformer, all of that equipment should pop up in that diagram as well.  Hell, with as much as this program costs, and as much of a pain in the ass as it is, it should automatically size feeders based on the information I give the panel (and automatically upsize if the run will cause voltage drop to exceed a value that I am allowed to enter).

But then - that might actually start to be electrical design software, instead of a glorified spreadsheet program.

And we can't have that.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I'm using Revit!!! Somebody fucking stop me!!!

So I decided to spit out a small tenant office space finish out in Revit, just to show I'm a 'team player' and all.  I can't even count the number of ''ultimatums' I've been given, usually by people who don't understand (or can't comprehend) the design process.  I had imported 2d linework into a

I could've been halfway done with the project in ACAD by the time Revit got done loading, but I figured everyone else has said 'fuck productivity' and are all wasting time staring at their dicks until the last minute when someone goes 'holy fuck!  none of the 3d noodling we've been doing has gotten this project any closer to completion' and they have to cram all of the necessary additions, subtractions, and modifications into the last day or so (or for a following week, month, year, or more after the project is due - and I'm not fucking kidding) dragging everyone else along for the ride as their bad planning becomes our emergency.

I started a new project, linked in the Architectural model (just linked in the Mechanical model too - because eventually they will have information that I will need).  Managed to actually get the level set to where I could see the floor plan, and then went to work.

The first thing I needed to know was the load on the panel - because we were having to feed it from an existing panel, in a building where power is running out quickly (it's amazing how developers will take a space that was designed for offices and attempt to shoehorn in multiple medical facilities that use equipment with ridiculous electrical loads).

I started with the existing panel (that I had gone on-site to verify), and got it filled out, estimating loads for the existing breakers.  Slapped a panel into the new space, and fed it from a breaker in the existing panel.  So far - so good!  Well - other than that the new panel seems to want to attach to the centerline of the wall rather than be recessed (the wall might not be thick enough - but I can get someone to fix that).

I slapped receptacles and data throughout the space.  It took me a few minutes to convince it of how I wanted things to look (settings that seem to be unique to each project, and can't be preset in the template - hell, some won't even stay set from session to session).  I wasted some time trying to figure it out, got some tips, and eventually had something vaguely resembling an electrical power layout - complete with homeruns w/tags, wiring, circuit number tags on all of the receptacles, etc. - woo hoo!  I couldn't figure out how to get it to tag receptacles with their height, or to denote them as 'GFCI' type, but I accomplished that with some text.

Next I moved on to lights - I couldn't see the grid in the ceiling plan, so I went to a 3d view and laid out all of the lights in the grids that someone had slapped in them.  I was surprised when an Architect almost immediately came down to actually coordinate - since of course, their ceilings had to be adjusted.  I got everything re-aligned to the grid, figured out how to convince the ceiling plan to show me the ceiling, and wired up those lights too (I had already circuited them in 3d - why you can't lay out 2d wiring in a 3d view is beyond me - fuck, you should be able to do 99% of the job in the 3d view.

I'm about to tackle switches for the lights, then it's on to fire alarm devices.  This has actually been a long time dream of mine that I would come across a small scale project (that wasn't due at the same time as three other projects of varying scale/scope) that I could use as a 'proof of concept' to either say 'nope - Revit's still not ready' or to finally make the plunge (face first into the pavement).  I have to say, compared to all of my experiences trying to accomplish something with Revit, this has been the most productive, but (lest you think that I am now a brainwashed Revitbot), I can still say, fuck this fucking software, its developers, and its cheerleaders. 

For what is supposed to be Autodesks flagship BIM software, this thing still runs, functions, and looks like total ass.  I finally had to flip the background to black (I had done this in previous versions) to keep it from burning out my goddamned corneas, and I'm still working with the color settings to make it to where you can tell what is fucking what (done it previously too, but can't seem to find the setting right now... grr...)  Even if the damn thing can't plot correctly based on color, it can at least have more contrast that black and fucking white (or grayscale/transparent).

I found a guaranteed way of crashing Revit the other day, unfortunately I can't remember what it was now (I'll run across it again, and write a whole article on it, and stuff it up Autodesk's ass).  It had something to do with selecting multiple instances of something and trying to change something - it just ate itself.  No error messages, just 'bang' and it was gone.  Fortunately I didn't lose much work, or my computer case, along with the drive containing my copy of Revit, and anything still attached to it by cords would have been through my window and laying in the parking lot, while I used my phone to book a one way plane ticket to wherever Autodesk keeps its Revit 'development' team.

Now - the fact that I have been able to produce 'something' resembling electrical drawings in Revit is actually not due to anything I or Autodesk did.  A large amount of credit goes to the developers of the 'productivity pack' that my firm purchased in order to finally provide much needed Revit content that all works together.

See, Autodesk includes some content with the program - all of which sucks.  Many vendors and manufacturers have attempted to develop content of their products - most of which sucks.  The idea (I guess) was that everyone would develop their own content on an 'as needed' basis.  I have given the 3d editor some credit - but the 3d model is only a tiny piece of making a family that will insert, move, and function in all (or at least most) instances where it is needed.

The content that I have now is far from perfect, but at least it is something.  This was a shortcoming that I (and just about everyone else) complained about from day 1, and were roundly ignored, or told 'oh - it's coming'.  If they were going to put out a set of software and claim it is 'electrical design software' they needed to cover more than just the basics.  Hell - I never even touched the MEP portion of ACAD, but it appeared to be full of useful stuff for anyone that decided to use it (not sure if it was actually useful or not - but it was *optional*).

The only thing that has happened with the current project that was promised from day 1 is that it calculated my panelboard schedules (note: the schedules came from the content pack - not from Autodesk or a manufacturer).  While this is nifty, I can honestly say that I have never had a project delayed because of panelboard schedules - not once, not ever.  I can fill out and calculate schedules, while annotating electrical devices and lights in my sleep.  I can adjust and fix annotations just as easily, and while I won't claim to be impervious to making mistakes, I have never had one come back and bite me.

People who sit there and nitpick every watt in a panel - yes, they will have problems completing projects.  Someone who has determined a process for doing it quickly and easily (without resorting to spreadsheets or programs) will not.  I have said it several times, but when I am going through and circuiting/re-circuiting is when I find completely unrelated issues that need my attention because I AM INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS, rather than allowing it to be automated.  As I use Revit, I might become more sure of its ability to automate, which is when I will have given myself over - and it will promptly bite my fucking legs off.

I can fucking guarantee it.