Using VMWare Fusion to create Windows Worksheets

I’m still a teacher, at least for the next few weeks.

And one of the tasks I need to do is create a series of worksheets to enable the other guys in my learning area to teach the stuff I am an expert in - most notably AutoDesk Inventor. I generally just teach from my head. I provide the kids with some sheets with drawings on them, sometimes go through a couple of the steps on the projector, and then just wander around helping out those that are stuck.

This is a fine way to teach, for me, anyway. It gives the kids a heap of independence, and it means by part way through the semester, the kids are pretty close to being able to work without my assistance. Setting relief lessons is a piece of cake (Continue with your <whatever> project). It also makes my classroom mostly fun - I can actually often get other work done while teaching.

So, not being able to rely on there being a specialist CAD teacher next year, I’ve had to start writing explanatory worksheets for the kids, most notably for the new Year 8 course that is running next year. I’ve done this in the past, on a Windows PC (which Inventor requires), and using OGrabIt, a screen capture application that is okay.

But not as good as the built-in screen capture with OS X. I’m finding my workflow is much better with VMWare open, running Inventor, and Pages open on the same screen. I just do the CAD steps, press ⇧⌘3 at each step, and I have a series of files I can then crop to size.

Even better, if I have a static screenshot, I can use ⇧⌘4 to grab just the area, or press the space-bar afterwards to grab a window. This was possible with OGrabIt, but required switching of applications, and, IIRC, only allowed for grabbing of the screen to the clipboard. Meaning a paste was required after each step of a process.

Of course, if you hold down Ctrl, you can grab to the clipboard in OS X, too.

The next thing that makes my life easier is being able to work in Pages, rather than Word. Word has these nasty habits like making objects jump around when trying to fine-tune their position. Pages’ guidelines are a bit annoying at times, when it tries to align the centre of two similarly sized objects instead of the left-hand side, but at least when you use the keyboard arrows to move stuff, it doesn’t reach a certain point, and then on the next press jump right up to the very top of the page. I’m fairly sure I blogged about this in the past, it is possibly the most fucked-up-and-annoying thing about Word.

Pages is a lot faster, too. No more waiting for spinning beachballs. The only bad stuff is related to positional incompatibilities when converting back to Word, which I haven’t really checked out that much yet. That won’t really be my problem, though. I’ll give my colleagues a PDF, which they can use to print out, and if they need to make any major edits, they’ll also have a Word document version, but then it is up to them.

Having said all of that, it still takes quite a long time to generate a worksheet for students. I spent at least 3 hours today on one task, that will probably take the kids about 45 minutes to complete. Still, it’s not as long as if I’d used Windows+Word - the rule of thumb there is 10x the student time.

Google Sketchup 6

I have used a number of Computer Aided Design and CAD packages. Today, I used Google Sketchup for the first time.

It has some differences, and could be an excellent program, but it just does lots of things (IMHO) wrong.

For instance, it allows you to place a dimension on a line, and then change it. But it doesn’t actually change the length of the line. If it did this one thing, giving it parametrically controllable dimensions, then it would do most of what I want. Instead, I need to create a line or box, (change tools to) place a dimension, (change tools again to) resize it until it is close enough to the size I want.

To make it a bit better to use coming from Inventor, I set up ‘D’ as a shortcut key for Dimension, and F5/6 for Previous View/Iso View. Much better for my muscle memory!

It uses a different paradigm than Inventor, rather than using a series of parts, it really is just a sketch. Having said that, here is an accurate representation of my house. Accurate in some ways, not all.

And the best thing over Inventor? It runs native on OS X.

Parallels for Mac

I’ve finally gotten access to an Intel Mac, and have installed Parallels on it. Pretty snappy, and easy to install. Currently installing AutoDesk Inventor, as that’s the only PC-only (other than Eve!) program I use. Actually, running Eve in a VM would be great, as then if it crashed my system the whole machine wouldn’t go down. Not that I’m sure it was Eve causing the crashes anyway…

VMWare startup time and flakiness

I don’t know why, but just recently VMWare has been performing rather badly for me. It used to start up to a saved session of Windows in a matter of seconds, but now takes minutes before I can start work. Selecting Unity mode takes another minute or so to get all set up.

Working on anything while VMWare is running is bad news - everything in the system slows down to a crawl, especially during the startup phase, but even whilst running. I used to be able to switch around with ease, and even though Inventor was sometimes a little laggy, it was quite responsive. Now, I need to wait seconds for every operation in Inventor to complete (which may be a Network licensing issue, since the same thing appears to be true of Windows machines on the network, too), and it affects my OS X software, too.

Finally, I had a crash today, where VMWare shut down. I think I’d saved all of my work, but I can’t be arsed waiting for it all to load up again to check. I’ve only got 20 mins to work on the stuff I need to use VMWare for, and I think I’ll just do something else instead of waiting for half of that for it to boot up.

I don’t know if it is an OS X issue, a VMWare installation issue, an Inventor issue or a VM image issue. I only need to keep using Inventor for a couple of weeks, and I have to use Access to write my last lot of school reports. After that, I may be able to remove VMWare and Parallels from my system entirely.

Actually, I think I’ll do a complete reinstall of OS X and all of my applications when I get Leopard. And perhaps I’ll have several partitions: OS, Applications and Data. That way I can have separate backups, that are restorable easily.

Inventor Crashing: Access Violation

In one of the PC pools at work, I am getting some pretty serious Autodesk Inventor crashes. Basically, the error is occurring randomly, every couple of minutes or so. The temporary file that the crash reporting program wants to send to AutoDesk indicates that it is a read error in the same memory location each time:

1    <Exceptions>
2        <Exception code="C0000005" text="ACCESS_VIOLATION" address="0x77E7CA0B">
3            <AccessViolation type="Read" address="0DB33888"/>
4        </Exception>
5    </Exceptions>

It’s annoying the hell out of me - as it’s only happening in one pool, not the other. I don’t think it’s a licensing issue, as it seemed to happen a few times when I was the only user on the system, not just when there were twenty other users upstairs in another pool. Things I’m going to try:

  • Getting the software reinstalled. Each machine was ghosted from an image, so I’ll try a fresh installation.
  • Running without others using the other pool.

Dunno what else to do at this stage. Update: an even more impressive crash, this time with an extra dialog box:

Inventor Projects on Removable Media

I teach _AutoDesk Inventor _at school, and I love using it. I have come across what I deem to be a major issue. I work from a USB Drive, for a couple of reasons - the main one of them is that most machines I work at are shared machines, and the second (the reason I cannot just work from the network storage) I sometimes take work home. Finally, the USB device seems somewhat faster to access than my network drive. However, my USB Drive doesn’t always mount as the same volume letter. On most machines, it mounts as E:\, however, on the machine I am on now (a different pool), it mounts as J:\. Normally, this doesn’t matter, as files tend not to refer to one another. What’s not cool is when these locations are hard coded into a Project file. And moving machines means I need to go through and change each location. And then repeat this when I go back to the original computer.