ESRI acquires Procedural – Master Planning & Urban Design just got easier?

Yesterday at ESRI’s annual user conference in San Diego, Jack Dangermond announced the acquisition of Procedural, the maker of an “up and coming” piece of software called CityEngine that I’ve talked about quite a lot on this blog…

My reaction to this news is enthusiastic I already use ArcGIS in our Urban Design and Master Planning projects extensively.   I’ve been also looking at using CityEngine to speed up the process of master planning as well as other related urban projects.   Better integration with ArcGIS will be great for us.   I’m also looking forward to a more mature product at the next release with support for GeoTiffs at the top of my most wanted list.

From the moment I downloaded the trial of CityEngine (thanks to blog post in DigitalUrban) I saw that this program had huge potential on many levels for my industry.   The key to its usefulness, for me, is it’s ability (or potential ability) to deal with the macro to micro scale of planning.  For example I can get it to grow a region wide street network from obstacle maps and an existing network, but within that and dependent on your rule files I can zoom into building level and have a particular piece of street furniture outside a building.    The possibilities are endless, honestly, and the complexity of your model is only as complex as your rule files.    I can quite quickly make a convincing looking city for master planning purposes provided I put the time into the rule files that govern your model.

At it’s simplest level you can specify lot sizes very easily (provided your area is bounded by a road network).   This means that for some traditional ways of working (I’m talking AutoCAD plotting), has been dramatically reduced.   For a small company like the one I work for, where everyone has multiple jobs (I’m the CAD technician as well on master planning projects!) this is essential for us to remain competitive.

The future of certain urban based modelling, especially in master planning I see as two fold:

  1. Most of the drawing of urban areas will now be governed by text based rule files and drawn automatically using CityEngine methods.   Much of the time consuming processes involved in designing a new city will be reduced to a tiny amount of the project time.
  2. Design becomes more prominent in the process as time freed doing the manual work of plotting cities is replaced by CityEngine.   I think what we will see is design codes and planning standards used as templates to create rule files that can be changed very quickly.   When it comes to, for example, detailed studies for a master plan we as master planners will have much more time to actually design.   By that I mean instead of putting time into plotting in AutoCAD lots, plots and districts we will actually be able to design key buildings and other pieces of the urban fabric.
All in all this is a great piece of software not so much for it’s usability or stability (there needs to be some work done there in places!) but for what it represents which I believe is a complete change in the way we think about urban modelling especially in relation to the master planning industry.

Attending the ESRI UK Conference

Okay why a post about some weird acronym type company?  Well in the world of GIS (Geographic Information Systems/Science), ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) a software/consultancy company is a big player.

Yes they are a big corporate entity but in some ways they feel more like a movement, so when their yearly conference comes round I get excited.   Not content with just advertising their products to their customers it feels as if you’re at an event for the GIS industry as a whole.   Whatever issue you might have with ESRI’s software ArcGIS etc… you can’t fault the staff’s enthusiasm and professionalism (well that’s my experience anyway) especially at events like this.

Why the blog post this year? Well because I submitted a paper about using some software in our workflow called CityEngine and was asked to do a presentation on both days.   You can find out more about ESRI here and ESRI UK here, I would also recommend some Wikipedia research on GIS.
You may have come to this post because I mentioned you somewhere, if you want to add something more (links, information etc…) or correct something contact me or add a comment to the relevant post.

  1. ESRI UK Conference – Day 1
  2. ESRI UK Conference – Day 2
  3. ESRI UK Conference – My Presentations
  4. ESRI UK Conference – People I met
  5. ESRI UK Conference – Thoughts for the Future, suggestions for ESRI UK
  6. Back in London – not really related to the conference more musings of visiting our nation’s capital.


Quick Tip: Images into AutoCAD LT (2006)

Word+AutoCAD = productivity?

Do you have a copy of AutoCAD LT (2006 or other) and  need to insert an image/photo into your layout or data view?  Do you not want to purchase a full version of AutoCAD?  Well you’re in luck as there is an easy way to do it!.

First you need the following :
  • AutoCAD LT (I have 2006 but this may work with other versions)
  • Microsoft Word (I have version 2007 but other versions or alternative office programs may well work)
  • A photo or image (jpg or otherwise) that you want to insert.
  • Some knowledge of Microsoft Windows…
Follow these steps to get images in your AutoCAD drawing:
  1. Open Word and preferably create a new blank document. 
  2. Insert or copy+paste (crtl+c then crtl+v) an image into the Word document.
  3. Select the newly pasted image in word and …
  4. Either 
    • right click –> Copy or 
    • Ctrl+C or 
    • Home Tab Click ‘Copy’
  5. Open or switch to AutoCAD LT and the data/layout view you want the image in and….
  6. Either
    • right-click –> Paste or
    • Crtl+V or
    • Edit Menu –> Paste
Simple, yes?   
As usual if this doesn’t work for you or there is a better work flow just add a comment to the bottom of this post!

ArcGIS : Using Query Builder to display certain features (multiple)

The Power of SQL & Query Builder

I know this post covers something probably very obvious to many technical users of ArcGIS.   However some of us ArcGIS users are not necessarily aware of Query Builder and it’s uses.  So this advice is for people like us/them.

You may have noticed the “Definition Query” tab in your “Layer Properties” dialog box (right click on your layer and select ‘properties’). As ESRI says in the ArcGIS helpfile:

Query expressions are used in ArcGIS to select a subset of features and table records.

Clear as mud to those not familiar with standard SQL expressions!   Anyway why would you use? Or more importantly why would I use it?

Here was my problem, for a particular project I have imported into a Geodatabase an AutoCAD file that has many layers and a lot of features.  So I am displaying each former AutoCAD layer with different symbology but using the same feature class in the geodatabase each time (clear enough?).

How did I select you? You’re not there!

Using the Symbology tab in the Layer properties I can display only those features that I am interested in.   Now I can make some nice paper maps and the like!   The trouble is when I want to now edit that layer I keep on selecting for some reason the features that I haven’t assigned symbology to.   Very annoying and very frustrating.

So what the Query Builder allows me to do is select only the features that are in this case by layer name field (it’s from AutoCAD) to be used.   Now when I go to edit this layer only those features I have given symbology to are selectable.    Okay I apologise if this doesn’t make sense to you but then perhaps you haven’t had the same issue I have.

Anyway say you have three features types (formerly layers in AutoCAD) that you want display these are:

  • Primary Road
  • Secondary Road
  • Track
All you need to do is type (or construct) the following code into the Query Builder:

“Layer” IN(‘Primary Road’ , ‘Secondary Road’, ‘Local’ )

I’m not here to explain how it works as to be honest I’m not sure and its probable that you can do this another way.   However this works for me, if you have any suggestions as to a better code, I’m all ears so please add a comment after this post and I’ll amend the advice!

I looked for help on the ArcGIS forums beforing writing this post and used the following discussion thread:
Mulitple NOT expressions in query builder? 

Suggested Reads (I guess): Getting to Know ArcGIS Desktop: The Basics of ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo Updated for ArcGIS 9 (Getting to Know series) and SQL For Dummies

Game changers? Any suggestions?

Does this do anything for you? Source: Wikipedia

Warning a more than slightly geeky post is about to happen! This list is not in any particular order… (warning most of the list below is linking to wiki)

  1. Commodre 64
  2. PC 1512
  3. Microsoft Windows 3.1
  4. Microsoft Word for Windows
  5. AutoCAD
  6. InkJet printers
  7. iPod 
  8. SketchUP
  9. Freedom of Information/OpenData
  10. GIS
  11. PlanningPortal and Planning Delivery Grant
  12. Kindle
  13. Twitter
The items on the list above all have something in common, yes they are technology related but that’s not necessarily it.   It is an incomplete list in many respects and depending on who you are and your interests you may wish to add and subtract from the list.

So what do they have in common?  As the title of this post suggests they are technologies, software and ideas that I consider to be ‘Game Changers‘ and by that I mean that these have changed how we do things or think about things completely.   I must stress this is a personal list and is based on my bias towards technology, but I think you’ll get the point.

The idea for this post really started with me thinking about how best to produce drawings and display boards in the office where I work.  In the past AutoCAD has been more than adequate, but now I have more choices than I know what to do with and I don’t necessarily have to choose AutoCAD!  The trouble is a lot of people’s mindsets are stuck a few years behind and if its always been done a particular way it’s difficult to change that mindset.  For example I could produce a display board entirely in AutoCAD or SketchUp or combine it with Photoshop and InDesign to get something really special.

So there you have it, a silly little idea for a blog post but one that I hope makes us re-evaluate the jobs we do now and look at things different;y.

Below is my reasonings for each item on the list, would you like to comment on any of them?  I would appreciate it!

Commodre 64 – Okay my family had the Commodore Pet and Vic20 before it, but this was what made computer ownership an integral part of the family environment.   Not just good at games it could Word Process as well!   (some might add ataris, amigas and bbc micro here too).
PC 1512 –  The first computer that looked like something we might have today in our household, with a pre windows DOS (I think MS not DR, but I could be wrong), it was mainly for business.   Working at home using a computer became a reality for us.  I first experienced Elite and pinball on this beauty as well as weird things
Microsoft Windows 3.1 – What can I say a graphical pseudo OS running that made using a PC easier for more people.  Gone was most of complexity of command line DOS and hello to world of icons, windows and desktops!  Game changing because Windows basically hasn’t changed an awful lot since then.  (I am aware of other graphical OS out there, but windows I have used throughout)
Microsoft Word for Windows – (more specifically 2.0)  Up until my first contact with Word I really had no use of anything else for I was to young.  But I’ve only ever used Word in Windows, I have been known to dabble in WordPerfect and OpenOffice but these have never come even close to the familiarity and ease of use I get from Word and all its incarnations.  Word processors allowed people to be free from typewriters and correct errors before they were printed.  Once you could do that the nature of how people worked changed, drafts could be perfected and seen by many more people for instance!
AutoCAD – My first dabble in the world of work was at an architects office where my mother worked, drawing boards and the smell of ammonia for the copier are what give me very vivid memories. Combine that with the ‘salty’ language of the resident architects and the smell of cigarettes and pipes (not from my mother on either account)!!  Here a computer was purchased and after school I got to play on it, it had AutoCAD (release 11 I think) and digitizer, there was also a plotter which used real pens to plot drawings!  Some didn’t see the writing on the wall, but the days of using razor to get rid of mistakes on your drawing were long gone as the result of AutoCAD.  My first job outside of university was using AutoCAD and every subsequent office I’ve been to has basically been at least 2 or 3 versions behind the latest release, which shows how useful AutoCAD can be.

InkJet printers – Printing at home anyone, and cheaply?  Enough said.
iPod – Not so much the device but the whole ecosystem.  The shockwaves of this product are still to this day upsetting the music industry who until Spotify came along were playing catchup to a technology and product which changed the business model entirely.   I see the iPod as having basically reduced recorded music to next to valueless in monetary terms.   Real money can be made by artists but this is from live performances, and advertising (tv/radio or to sell a newspaper).   With an electronic format why are artists not looking more at getting away from the traditional album format?  
SketchUP – 3D modelling software that is the easy to use, if you are even remotely CAD/computer literate this product is amazing and for most people free!   With its layout tool and easy export to many formats this is the way forward.   Forget AutoCAD, it is too expensive, difficult to train someone in and for the most part far too powerful for most uses.  SketchUp means anyone can make a 3D model that looks professional.

Freedom of Information/OpenData – The concept of being able to access government held information freely sounds so reasonable one wonders what we did before to discover what our elected officials and government got up to…   Forget the naysayers that dislike the amount of time which is wasted chasing up ‘stupid’ questions from the public, this has made people think about government differently.  As to OpenData well, as soon as someone figures out how to make use of the flood of data from government and make it usable things will be different.  Which brings us neatly to :
GIS – Geographic Information Systems, before this it was called a map.  Nowadays you can’t escape GIS, its everywhere and that’s why you don’t notice it.  Google/Yahoo Maps? = GIS, SatNav? = GIS, postman/courier? = GIS, rubbish/trash collection? = GIS, Planning Applications? = GIS.   Had enough yet?
PlanningPortal and Planning Delivery Grant –  A bit different this as it relates more to my profession.  The planning delivery grant in the England and Wales forced and encouraged Planning departments to get more efficient and go online by offering financial incentives to meet various Pendleton Point criteria.   Before this came in very few councils made it easy for the public to find the planning departments section of their website.   Pendleton made it a key requirement.  
Is that important to have a link on a council’s frontpage I hear you all ask?! Well yes considering that residents often need the planning department and are consulted by them as well.  Hiding your consultation documents and planning applications is hardly open and transparent is it?   Yes a paper register is kept that you can see if you visit the council offices, but who can take time off from work to do that?  Suffice to say I think the Planning delivery grant was one of the few government schemes that has increased participation of residents in the democratic process.  As to the Planning Portal, heaven forbid that us professionals are forced to stop spending money on printing and delivery of planning application documents!   
Kindle –  Yes, yes my blog post and radio debut due to a kindle blah blah…  Hang on a minute though, the Kindle like the iPod has challenged a long established industry of paper, bricks/mortar and publishers.  Yes other eReaders are available, but Amazon’s delivery method and their Kindle (hardware and software) is amazingly simple.  

Publishers must get a grip on this and innovate with the technology and not just sit there like the music industry did until it’s too late suing ‘John Smith’ for allowing his children to download music that they can listen to for free on radio…  

Oh sure there are deep meaningful conversations to be had about the nature of book reading, and the relationship between publisher, authors and the consumer.  But just remember technology and in particular the consumer adapts.   For instance I didn’t know this until recently but you can’t purchase legally any Harry Potter book for an ereader.  Why? Because of the fear of piracy?  Sorry but that ship has sailed if I want a copy of any Harry Potter book electronically I can get it now with the help of a search engine… result one lost sale for publisher and author.  I’m not advocating stealing (that’s what piracy is often) but there are ways to get good profits out of digital sales of books (not just film rights!).

Twitter – I’m not going to be a typical twitter advocate here,  after my initial scepticism and resistance I came late to Twitter.  Perhaps it was the constant twitter this, and twitter that from radio DJs (I’m looking at you BBC) but I hated the idea.  Why on earth would you share with the world your life’s smallest details??!  Who the hell cares if celebrity A is drinking with celebrity B.  

Oh and an endorsement from Stephen Fry a person I respect and admire greatly didn’t do it for me either, as far as I was concerned Twitter was for patting famous people on the back.

Then for some unknown reason I caved completely, I think I had searched for something to do with GIS and then realised a whole community for GIS users were on twitter. Damn it!  I joined up and have slowly realised that twitter is populated almost without exception with polite helpful people.  Of course this is a product of who I follow and what I’m interested in.   

The fact is that now news and information I would not have found otherwise comes to me.  Yes I still use Google and my main sites but for the most part I sit in front of Hootsuite (a twitter client) soaking it all up.  As to it being a game changer think of it this way:  

If you are in a small business advertising is a bloody nightmare and expensive too.  What if by being yourself you could talk to your potential customer base directly.   For the most part you only follow people who interest you, so my contacts are mostly GIS and planning related (as well as localgov).   This works in reverse so people will follow you and look at your links because they are interested in what you have to say.   This brings me to state the bleeding obvious “content is important” give people interesting articles or weblinks and they will trust you further and look more closely out for your ‘tweets’.

All I can say is try it out and get involved, you will see pretty quickly that twitter, far from being a social tool is a simple and potentially effective tool for communicating with prospective clients as well as gaining knowledge.

So that’s my list apologies for its length, but now I would really like your comments, anything I’ve missed out or that you agree/disagree with?  I won’t be offended, but I will be interested!

Photomodeler and creating a 3D model of a Historic building

I’m not just a planner or a GIS man!   As part of my work at Garsdale Design Limited, I help in the assessment and survey of historic buildings (in conjunction with our Heritage Specialist).   One such building I am working on at the moment requires a nice measured and detailed drawing, as part of a planning application.

We’re using a piece of software called Photomodeler to build up an accurate 3D (and 2D if you really want) model of this lovely old farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  The process invloves calibration of your chosen camera (preferably a good quality one), then the taking of a large amount of photos from at least two opposing angles of all parts of your building.  

Once imported into Photomodeler you need to mark the same point one each photo, and if you’ve done it correctly you will get yourself a pretty accurate model.   We also do a good amount of measuring to ensure that the model does indeed remain accurate…

We’ve used this method before and I have to say the software is excellent and relatively easy to use.   Creating a 3D model is also great fun and once finished is incredibly satisfying.    Photomodeler allows you to do accurate drawings without spending as much time on site (which can be a cost saving!).

We then export our model to a DXF format (3D or 2D), but you can export to kml and a variety of other formats (see screen capture to the left).    Photomodeler also allows for the photos to be projected onto your surfaces.

Anyway I really recommend that if you are interested you give it a go, Photomodeler isn’t just for buildings as their marketing will state! 

You can also view your new model in stereo view if you have those nifty 3D red/blue glasses…ooooo

Photomodeler Website is here
We bought our software and subsequent training from Photarc

HP DesignJet 500 and Windows 7: Yes it does work even without the HPGL2 card!

Updated (04/12/2012): To include information about how to get the 450c to work with Windows 8 after a conversation with @AlbanyDriver on twitter.   I also think this technqiue will probably work for Windows 8 as well.

Updated (22/June/2012):
Updated (08/May/2010): this post was partially rewritten to clarify which file you should download.

Unbelievably this is the most popular post on my blog, I honestly get 1000+ hits a month just on this page.   If you like it and have more to add please send me a message or add a comment below.   Thank you for reading!


Okay this is a quick one, if you have a HP DesignJet 500 without that HPGL2 card and want to upgrade to Windows 7 (or 8) or have done so and can’t seem to get it to work, try the following.

We use our HP DesignJet for all things GIS and AutoCAD so it’s important we have this working!

You may have noticed that HP only has Windows 7 drivers for the DJ500 with the HPGL2 card in the driver package called either:

  • HP Designjet 500, 510, and 800 HP-GL/2 and HP RTL 32-bit Driver or
  • HP Designjet 500, 510, and 800 HP-GL/2 and HP RTL 64-bit Driver

So don’t download those drivers, make sure you download the drivers from Vista equivalent (in my case Vista 32bit).  This file is called either:

  • HP DesignJet 500 PCL3GUI 32-bit Driver  or
  • DesignJet 500 PCL3GUI 64-bit Driver

Click here to go direct to the HP DJ 500 driver download site.

Add your printer in the usual way in Windows 7, (if you are adding it over the network you may want to look at my previous post).

After the install it will ask if you want to Print a Test Page, it was here that I was getting an error message (about the HP driver not being able to connect to the printer) and just assumed it wasn’t working. If you get an error message and no test page try this:

  • Select the printer in the printer browser, and view the printer properties.
  • On the page with the print test page button there is another button next to it called printing preferences, click on this and it should bring up a dialog box stating that the printer is now connected.
  • Now try to print that test page.

Okay so I don’t know why I couldn’t print the test page straight off but accessing the designjets plotter preferences did help.

Again if this post is not clear, or you require any help, just let me know.

Have you got an HP 450C and want it to work with Windows 8 (32bit)? @AlbanyDriver got in contact and asked me if I could help, after some searching on forums about making it work on Windows 7, I suggested he used the Windows XP 32bit drivers which seemed to work!

Updated Link Added for my previous post adding printers over a network: