Let me get this out of the way upfront, I LOVE GRIPS! I don’t think I would be able to function in AutoCAD if I lost my grips. Being able to point at a grip and see the length of a line. Grab a bunch of things, grab a grip, hit the spacebar and you’re moving them. THAT’S AWESOME!

So, what is my gripe with grips? Well, in 2011, AutoCAD introduced the “Dynamic Grip Menu”. The concept itself is great, I’m just not a fan of the implementation of it. There are a couple of problems as I see it. First, I don’t need something else that pops up in my drawing every time I stop moving my mouse. I use Civil 3D so it gets even worse. I grab an object, the Quick Properties is displayed. I select a point that has more than one possible object to select, the Selection Cycling pops up. I end up leaving my crosshairs sitting on top of an object, the Rollover Tooltips pop up. I leave my crosshairs nowhere near an object and the Civil 3D Tooltips pop up. It just seem that something is always popping up where I really don’t want or need any information.

Having all that stuff pop up is just kind of an annoyance and not really worthy of a blog post. The thing that I can’t stand about the new grip editing tools is that when your crosshairs are on a grip (don’t select it, just hover over it) a menu pops up. Now, you may be asking yourself, “What’s so horrible about that?” I’m a keyboard junkie. As I like to tell my students, if I could get rid of my mouse, I would. Using the keyboard to run AutoCAD is by far the most efficient way I know of. The problem is, when that menu is displayed, YOU CAN’T TYPE ANY COMMANDS AT THE COMMAND LINE!

I’s a menu just like any other menu. Bring up any menu you want in any program you have and type. Windows will try to find the command on the menu that corresponds to the key you just typed. I use this all the time to access my Object Snap Overrides (perhaps that would be a good blog post at some point).

Here’s a perfect example: I have a group of polylines that I want to erase. I use a crossing window to select them and when I finish selecting them, my crosshairs just happen to be right on top of one of the grips. Now, because I like to type commands, I’m going to type E to erase the polyline and then hit the space bar because, as we all know, the spacebar acts as an enter.

Grip Menu

Because the menu is being displayed, when I press the E key, Windows tries to find the menu entry that has a hotkey “E” assigned to it and, in this case, there isn’t one. Hitting the space bar just does nothing. So, now what use to be a very fast way of erasing objects is no longer a fast way to erase objects. If I had, instead, typed out the entire command ERASE, the E does nothing, but the R will activate the menu for removing a vertex. Trying to erase a polyline ends up only removing one vertex. Definitely not what I wanted to happen.

What to do? Personally I like to turn off the menu for the grips so that when I hover over a grip, I don’t get a menu. “But Brian! How do you add a vertex to a polyline then?” This is where the control key comes into play. When you select a grip that has multiple functions, simply press the control key and it will cycle you through all the options that are available for that grip.

In AutoCAD 2012, and even more so in Civil 3D 2012, there are more and more of these multi-function grips. Because of this, I would recommend that you run the software for a while until you get a good grasp on the grips that have this multi-function property and then turn off the grip menus.

Let me know what you think!


Yes, I know Civil 3D 2012 is coming out soon and yes, I’ll probably post about the tools that I think will be the most beneficial (I’ll let everyone else post the “Hey! Civil 3D 2012 is coming out!” posts) but sometimes things slip through the cracks and you find out there are cool new things available for what you already have.

Now, my question is; How did I miss this? Did this just come out? I did a search online and I can only find one reference to this outside of the Autodesk website so I’m assuming this is something really new (please correct me if I’m wrong). I probably missed it because of all of the focus on the announcements of the new AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012 that will be coming out soon.

One of the fine folks I follow on Twitter just posted a link to the Transportation Extension for AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011. I had never heard of such a thing so I went investigating and I found some really cool tools are available to everyone that has Civil 3D 2011. It’s not on the subscription site so I’m pretty sure it’s for everyone. Go to the home page for Civil 3D (http://www.autodesk.com/civil3d) and click on the Support link, and then the Utilities and Drivers link (a direct link to the page can be found HERE). Under AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011, you’ll see something called, “AutoCAD Civil 3D Transportation Extension”.

“What is this?” you may ask yourself, well, let me tell you what I’ve found out so far. It seems to be a bunch of additional tools that will run on top of Civil 3D 2011, and there looks to be some great tools in here. Allow me to list them for you and then later I will get into greater detail about them (at least the ones I’ve figured out so far):
1) Check Alignment Geometry
2) Quick Cross Section
3) Surface High/Low Points
4) Import Raw Data
5) Create Surface from Photogrammetric Data
6) Export Civil Data
7) Show/Hide Labels
8) Export Layout to DGN
9) Eleven New Reports (according to the readme)

Transportation Extension Tools

That’s a lot of cool stuff they’ve given away for free (remember, this isn’t on the subscription website). So, let’s take a peek at what these tools will do.

1) Check Alignment Geometry

Have you ever created an alignment from existing entities and later found that those lines and curves that you received from the planner or surveyor or whoever weren’t tangent? Well, worry no more. This is a great little tool. In testing it, I created a polyline with a line segment, a tangent curve off the end of it, and then a line from the end of the curve that I drew so it looked tangent to the curve, but wasn’t actually tangent. I created an alignment from this polyline and then ran this tool on the newly created alignment. After running the command, it prompts you to select the alignment and then asks you to “Enter gap tolerance”. I’m not exactly sure what the gap tolerance is but probably has something to do with gaps in the alignment. There is no help so I can’t do any research on it and the little bit of testing I’ve done has helped me figure it out either. Next, it’s going to ask you to “Enter angle tolerance”. Again, I’m not exactly sure what the angle tolerance means but every time I’ve run it, I’ve used the default setting and it does something. So, what does it do to our example of a non-tangent line connected to an arc? Well, it makes them tangent. In addition to that, it place a PI at the point of intersection of the two lines (very convenient).

Alignment Check

2) Quick Cross Section

This is an interesting one and I’m not sure how useful it will be but, I’ll explain what I know about it. The Quick Cross Section command works very similarly to the Quick Profile command. I want to see what my cross sections will look like (real quickly) created from a line between here and there. Well, run the command and it will create them for you, all you need is a drawing with a surface in it. Once the command is run, it will prompt you for the surfaces you want to display in the sections and then it will prompt you for “Enter an option [3p/Multi]”. I haven’t tested the 3p option yet but Multi will allow you to pick points on the screen that will basically define the alignment you want to create the sections for. It will then prompt you for the sampling interval, the left and then the right swath width and where you want the sections to be displayed in the drawing. After you have entered that, a dialog box will be displayed that will ask you for the appropriate styles, Section Style, Section View Style, and Band Style Set (apparently there is no option for labels). Once you hit OK, the sections will be displayed in your drawing. Like a Quick Profile, the Quick Cross Sections are temporary. Unlike the Quick Profile, the Quick Cross Sections will immediately disappear when you end the command, rendering it (in my opinion) fairly useless.

Quick Cross Sections

3) Surface High/Low Points

This command looks pretty cool. It will analyze a surface and place points at the high points and at the low points. You can then use the Low Point points as the starting point for the Catchment Area command. Basically, just run the command, and then select the area of the surface you want to be analyzed (if you want it to analyze the entire surface, just hit enter). It will also create two point groups, one for the high point points and one for the low point points (pretty convenient, huh?). You can then use these point groups to control the display (as well as the description) of the points.

High/Low Points

High/Low Points

4) Import Raw Data

I wasn’t able to test this one out as I didn’t have any file types that would be needed for this command to work but, here is what I THINK it will do. It will take a Star*Net .dat file and convert it into a fieldbook file (for more information on Star*Net click HERE). From the import dialog box, there seem to be quite a few options.

Import Raw Data

5) Create Surface from Photogrammetric Data

This one looks cool. I haven’t tested it out completely yet but, basically run the command and it will ask you what layer your data is on. Select the layers for both the linework and the point data (you have to give them names), select the surface you want to add them to (or have it create a new surface for you) and you’re done. I tested it with a bunch of contours and it didn’t give me the option to minimize flat faces (apparently they didn’t think that you could use this for contour data).

Create Surface from Photogrammetric Data

It appears there seems to be a slight issue with the dialog box. The bottom of it is cut off and no matter how you re-size the dialog, it doesn’t seem to fix it. If you are familiar with creating surfaces in Civil 3D, you shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out what is being cut off.

6) Export Civil Data

This is another one that I haven’t been able to test out as I don’t have any survey equipment. According to the readme file that comes with the extension, “Export Civil Data (to survey formats – RD5 and TP5) – enables users to export Civil 3D alignments, profiles, and corridors to a TDS .rd5 roadway file and/or .tp5 template file.” The dialog box asks you to select the Alignment, Profile, and (or?) the Corridor and it will create the .rd5 and the .tp5 files for you.

Export Civil Data

7) Show Hide Labels

This is another one of those tools that looks pretty cool. Have you ever been looking at a drawing and though to yourself, “Man, I wish I could just get rid of those labels temporarily. It sure would make it easier to see what was going on!”  Well, now you can. Simply run this command and the select the label types you want to hide and the ones you want to no longer be hidden. There’s even an option at the top to hide all labels or show all labels. Pretty slick in my opinion.

Show/Hide Labels

8) Export Layout to DGN

Pretty self explanatory here I would assume. It allows you to export a layout tab to a .dgn file. Again, I can’t truly test this one as I don’t have Microstation installed and I don’t have a “seed file”. It seems straight forward though. It will export each sheet (or just the ones you select) from a Sheet Set Manager file (.dst) to a .dgn file

Export Layout to DGN

9) New Reports

According to the read-me, there are 11 new reports. Well, I have no reason to doubt that but, when you install it, there is a new report category and it only shows one new report so the other new reports must be included in the other report categories somewhere (I don’t have a list of them or of the originals that come with C3D to compare my current list to). The one that does show up (Corridor->Slope Stake Report) is pretty slick as it will actually display the cross sections in the report for a visual confirmation of the data.

Slope Stake Report

Wrap Up

As I said, there are some pretty cool new tools here so go out and try it for yourself. Let me know what you think, what reports you like that are new with this, etc. Also note that when you download it, you can also download the CalTrans Content Kit after you install these tools. Looks like I may have another post to write up about that.

Tomorrow I’m doing a presentation and I was hoping to show off some of my Civil 3D drawing in Navis Works. Open the drawing in Navis Works, and all I get are boxes. Oh yeah! I need the object enabler! Go download it, and it’s not available. Call tech support, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and they say, “It’ll be available, with the magic word behind it, ‘soon'”.

This afternoon, I get a follow up message from tech support, “I hope you don’t mind, but it’s available today”. Looks like I asked a couple hours too soon!

If you need it, go get it! http://www.tinyurl.com/C3D2011OE

I love data shortcuts but one thing that’s always annoyed me is that in order for them to work well, you need to have all your projects in the same directory.  Many of the people I work with group their projects by client.  For example, their server might be something along the lines of p:/client number/project number.  Data shortcuts in this environment don’t work all that well because in order to work on a different project, I have to change the working folder (client number) and the data shortcut folder (project number).  Read on to find out how Civil 3D 2011 handles this. (more…)