Diary and notebook of whatever tech problems are irritating me at the moment.


Tedious Engineering

Spent last week doing more design work on a company's latest project for one of their automotive customers. Mostly working with AutoSketch 7 for creating basic 2D machining drawings for enclosures, Adobe Illustrator 10 for creating overlay labels for the enclosures, and Altium Designer 2004 (aka DXP 2004) for PCB design. I don't really like any of them but it's what the company uses.

AS7 is primitive but adequate for simple 2D drawings. It is useless for graphical design of labels because it's font handling is inadequate (although v9 may be better) and label manufacturers can't import it's SKF files. I usually export a DXF and import it into IA10 but its tricky and there are usually odd round-off errors. I suspect AS7's DXF format is the problem because it will often export DXFs it can't later import. Qcad can't read it at all, SagCAD shows some of the objects but endpoints of many lines are set to the sheet origin, but the VariCAD viewer shows most of it. I would consider buying the full version of VariCAD but I would have to be able to convert drawings to something AS7 likes which is unlikely. AS7 can be installed in Wine but there is a problem with the format of numbers in dimensions which may be related to bug #4348. I'll investigate more later. In Vista it functions but is unstable and often crashes during panning or messing with printer settings.

IA10 is annoying to use if you are from a drafting background. I'm used to drawing everything on a grid with precise absolute or relative locations of everything and IA10 is difficult to use that way. But the label graphics and cutouts need to match the enclosure cutouts so precision is required. It functions in Vista but I haven't tried it in Wine yet. The AppDB reports indicate mediocre results.

Altium DXP looks a lot nicer in a brochure than reality. It is a perfect example of a product from an acquisition-focused developer in that lots of new broken toys are merged in with every release. It works as "exceptionally" on Vista as it did with XP. It still throws exceptions all over the place but they only occur half as often on Vista. This is not from Vista's improvements but because Vista is half as fast as XP and it takes twice as long to encounter one so effectively the error density has gone down (along with productivity). The new feature Vista provides is that doing anything with the output job BOM report generator (and reportedly print previews) will kill it every time. I have to run it on XP in VMware. I've been meaning to try it on Wine but I need to free up some space and want upgrade to Gutsy first. According to the AppDB reports version 6 works partially. The company will probably upgrade to the new version at some point in order to take advantage of new features and bugs.

While this part-time contract work pays the bills I find it generally boring. Having to do network administration on Windows systems doesn't improve it any. At least it's a small company that doesn't require centralized e-mail and document sharing so I can continue to ignore the SharePoint and Exchange services. There are a few benefits in that I occasionally get obsolete office computer junk to play with and I have learned about a few useful tools. One in particular is Perforce, a cross-platform version control system. I don't know what benefits it brings to management of software development as compared to other solutions but it is rather useful for keeping track of my design-related files.

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About Me

Omnifarious Implementer = I do just about everything. With my usual occupations this means anything an electrical engineer does not feel like doing including PCB design, electronic troubleshooting and repair, part sourcing, inventory control, enclosure machining, label design, PC support, network administration, plant maintenance, janitorial, etc. Non-occupational includes residential plumbing, heating, electrical, farming, automotive and small engine repair. There is plenty more but you get the idea.