Monday, June 17, 2013

Tool Background

I think it makes sense to give you some background of the type and quantity of tools I'm talking about.  To do that, I'll share with you a look at one of the tools I've developed for my firm.  It's one of the only apps that I developed on the company's dime, so I'm not as free to share the code, but I can give you a look at what it does.

I built it to answer the question of how to connect our project team to the large number and variety of CAD tools created and acquired throughout the years.  There's been hundreds of apps that we've either made or found online and stored on our network to use.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard people on the project team say, "I wish I would've know about that tool last week!"  A drop-down list from a menu item just doesn't cut it when you've got more than a handful of tools to share, and a monthly CAD workshop can only benefit those who happen to attend the day you talk about the tool that they're looking for.  Enter the "Project Toolbox".
It's a searchable interface for tools that shows an icon, a tool name, and a description.  It also allows the user to simply double-click on a tool they want to try and it runs in the active CAD session (in this case, MicroStation).  It's essentially "Google for project tools".  As you can see, we've logged nearly 300 custom tools that automate smaller tasks like labeling the length of all lines in a file by level, and larger ones like generating a 3D utility model by draping a 2D file onto 3D digital terrain models.

I'm currently pursuing a way to share a lot of this content with you, as well as enable you to share your tools with me and the rest of us.  A wiki site of sorts for us to post our tools to.  Feedback is welcome!

If you have a question or interest in a particular type of tool, please let me know.  Otherwise, I'll be thinking about what and how to share some of the things I've learned about tool making with you.  I'm not a professionally trained programmer.  Everything I've learned has been trial and error and online resources (which are amazingly rich).  It's amazing what you can do with the will and a bit of the ole Google search.  That is to say, I look forward to learning a lot from you as well about better and more elegant ways to automate.

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