STEP files for the masses (29 Jul 2009)

Every now and then, a CoCreate Modeling user needs some functionality which isn't in the product yet, or at least not precisely in the shape and form she needs it. For example, in a recent forum discussion, someone asked for a way to batch-convert CoCreate Modeling package files into STEP format.

The CoCreate Task Agent provides such functionality, but since it is an add-on module at extra cost, only some customers have it available to them. But that's no reason for despair, as it's pretty simple to add new functionality to the product.

Here's my take on the problem. My solution doesn't have any kind of glitzy UI, it doesn't handle errors, it's not optimized for performance - but it shows how the approach works, and that's all I wanted to accomplish.

;; (C) 2009 Claus Brod
;;
;; Demonstrates how to convert models into STEP format
;; in batch mode. Assumes that STEP module has been activated.

(in-package :clausbrod.de)
(use-package :oli)
(export 'pkg-to-step)

(defun convert-one-file(from to)
  (delete_3d :all_at_top)
  (load_package from)
  (step_export :select :all_at_top :filename to :overwrite)
  (undo))

(defun pkg-to-step(dir)
  "Exports all package files in a directory into STEP format"
  (dolist (file (directory (format nil "~A/*.pkg" dir)))
    (let ((filename (namestring file)))
      (convert-one-file filename (format nil "~A.stp" filename)))))

To use this code:

  • Run CoCreate Modeling
  • Activate the STEP module
  • Load the Lisp file
  • In the user input line, enter something like (clausbrod.de:pkg-to-step "c:/allmypackagefiles")

For each package (*.pkg) file in the specified directory, a STEP file will be generated in the same directory. The name of the STEP file is the original filename with .stp appended to it.

In pkg-to-step, the code iterates over the list of filenames returned from (directory). For each package file, convert-one-file is called, which performs the actual conversion:

Step Command
Delete all objects in memory (so that they don't interfere with the rest of the process) delete_3d
Load the package file load_package
Save the model in memory out to a STEP file step_export
Revert to the state of affairs as before loading the package file undo

For each of those steps, we use one of the built-in commands, i.e. delete_3d, load_package, step_export and undo. (These are the kind of commands which are captured in a recorder file when you run CoCreate Modeling's recorder utility.) Around those commands, we use some trivial Common Lisp glue code - essentially, dolist over the results of directory. And that's all, folks big grin

Astute readers will wonder why I use undo after the load operation rather than delete_3d the model. undo is in fact more efficient in this kind of scenario, which is an interesting story in and of itself - and shall be told some other day.


What's in a name? (25 Jul 2009)

This weekend, I finally bit the bullet: I went over all CoCreate Modeling pages on the site, and fixed most references to the old product name "OneSpace Modeling". John Scheffel, who maintains the International CoCreate Users Group site at http://www.cocreateusers.org, had sent me a friendly note about all those dated names on my site - precisely the kind of kick in the behind that I sorely needed to finally get the job done. Thanks, John!

And by the way, John, thanks as well for all your work to keep the user group site going strong! When you, dear reader, stop by at the CoCreate user group forum next time, drop John a line to say "thank you". He deserves it.

I'm not done with all the renaming on the site yet; for example, there are a number of pages which I called "OsdmSomething" (silly me). "Osdm" is the abbreviation for "OneSpace Designer Modeling", which is yet another older name for what we now know as "CoCreate Modeling"...

As you can see, "CoCreate Modeling" was rechristened a lot in the past:

Official name Colloquial Versions When
HP PE/SolidDesigner SolidDesigner 1-7 1992-1999
CoCreate SolidDesigner SolidDesigner 8-9 2000-2001
CoCreate OneSpace Designer Dynamic Modeling ? 11 2001-2002
CoCreate OneSpace Designer Modeling OSDM 11.6-14 2002-2006
CoCreate OneSpace Modeling OneSpace Modeling 15 2007
PTC CoCreate Modeling CoCreate Modeling 16 and later 2008-

This is from memory - corrections most welcome. CoCreate users out there, what's your favorite product name?

I'm not a creative marketeer - just a lowly engineer and therefore not too imaginative. You see, I call my apples apples, my typos typos, and my bugs features. Simple and straightforward, that's what us engineers are like.

So personally, I would never have fiddled with the product name at all. Granted, some name changes were inevitable. After all, we separated from HP in 1996 and became independent as CoCreate, and so we couldn't use the "HP" prefix anymore, of course. And in late 2007, PTC acquired us, and our products needed to be integrated into PTC's portfolio. My own - way too simplistic - engineering approach to branding would have been:

  • HP PE/SolidDesigner (colloquially: SolidDesigner)
  • CoCreate SolidDesigner (colloquially: SolidDesigner)
  • PTC CoCreate SolidDesigner (colloquially: SolidDesigner)

In fact, many of our customers still call the product SolidDesigner; apparently, that name stuck with people. And not quite incidentally, the name of the main executable on disk is SolidDesigner.exe cool!

Anyway - I'll have to admit that I start to like "CoCreate Modeling" as well. It's reasonably short, simple to remember, alludes to what the product does, and it reminds users of our past as CoCreate - which is a nice nostalgic touch for old f*rts like me who've been with the team for almost two decades now...


TWiki, KinoSearch and Office 2007 documents (20 Jul 2009)

Both at work and on this site, I use TWiki as my wiki engine of choice. TWiki has managed to attract a fair share of plugin and add-on writers, resulting in wonderful tools like an add-on which integrates KinoSearch, a Perl library on top of the Lucene search engine.

This month, I installed the add-on at work. It turns out that in its current state, it does not support Office 2007 document types yet, such as .docx, .pptx and .xlsx, i.e. the so-called "Office OpenXML" formats. That's a pity, of course, since these days, most new Office documents tend to be provided in those formats.

The KinoSearch add-on doesn't try to parse (non-trivial) documents on its own, but rather relies on external helper programs which extract indexable text from documents. So the task at hand is to write such a text extractor.

Fortunately, the Apache POI project just released a version of their libraries which now also support OpenXML formats, and with those libraries, it's a piece of cake to build a simple text extractor! Here's the trivial Java driver code:

package de.clausbrod.openxmlextractor;

import java.io.File;

import org.apache.poi.POITextExtractor;
import org.apache.poi.extractor.ExtractorFactory;

public class Main {
    public static String extractOneFile(File f) throws Exception {
        POITextExtractor extractor = ExtractorFactory.createExtractor(f);
        String extracted = extractor.getText();
        return extracted;
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        if (args.length <= 0) {
            System.err.println("ERROR: No filename specified.");
            return;
        }

        for (String filename : args) {
            File f = new File(filename);
            System.out.println(extractOneFile(f));
        }
    }
}

Full Java 1.6 binaries are attached; Apache POI license details apply. Copy the ZIP archive to your TWiki server and unzip it in a directory of your choice.

With this tool in place, all we need to do is provide a stringifier plugin to the add-on. This is done by adding a file called OpenXML.pm to the lib/TWiki/Contrib/SearchEngineKinoSearchAddOn/StringifierPlugins directory in the TWiki server installation:

# For licensing info read LICENSE file in the TWiki root.
# This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or
# modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License
# as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2
# of the License, or (at your option) any later version.
#
# This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
# but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
# MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the
# GNU General Public License for more details, published at 
# http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

package TWiki::Contrib::SearchEngineKinoSearchAddOn::StringifyPlugins::OpenXML;
use base 'TWiki::Contrib::SearchEngineKinoSearchAddOn::StringifyBase';
use File::Temp qw/tmpnam/;

__PACKAGE__->register_handler(
  "application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.spreadsheetml.sheet", ".xlsx");
__PACKAGE__->register_handler(
  "application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document", ".docx");
__PACKAGE__->register_handler(
  "application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.presentationml.presentation", ".pptx");

sub stringForFile {
  my ($self, $file) = @_;
  my $tmp_file = tmpnam();

  my $text;
  my $cmd = 
    "java -jar /www/twiki/local/bin/openxmlextractor/openxmlextractor.jar '$file' > $tmp_file";
  if (0 == system($cmd)) {
    $text = TWiki::Contrib::SearchEngineKinoSearchAddOn::Stringifier->stringFor($tmp_file);
  }

  unlink($tmp_file);
  return $text;  # undef signals failure to caller
}
1;

This script assumes that the openxmlextractor.jar helper is located at /www/twiki/local/bin/openxmlextractor; you'll have to tweak this path to reflect your local settings.

I haven't figured out yet how to correctly deal with encodings in the stringifier code, so non-ASCII characters might not work as expected.

To verify local installation, change into /www/twiki/kinosearch/bin (this is where my TWiki installation is, YMMV) and run the extractor on a test file:

  ./ks_test stringify foobla.docx

And in a final step, enable index generation for Office documents by adding .docx, .pptx and .xlsx to the Main.TWikiPreferences topic:

   * KinoSearch settings
      * Set KINOSEARCHINDEXEXTENSIONS = .pdf, .xml, .html, .doc, .xls, .ppt, .docx, .pptx, .xlsx


I'd rather take it nice and slow - disabling 3D acceleration in CoCreate Modeling (15 Jul 2009)

So the graphics driver for your graphics card seems to be really buggy, and you cannot get it work at all with CoCreate Modeling. What can you do?

First, check the latest driver versions provided by the graphics card vendor. If you already have the latest version, try a version which was previously certified either by PTC/CoCreate or one of the other large CAD vendors. Also, remember to switch the graphics driver into "CoCreate Modeling" mode if the driver has such an option.

If the problem persists, and the graphics card is supported by PTC, contact PTC for help. They will work with the graphics card vendor to fix the problem. If the card is unsupported, contact the graphics card vendor directly.

But if all this fails, or if you want to take a quick stab at the problem, you can also have CoCreate Modeling ask the graphics driver to turn off hardware acceleration for 3D graphics. This will often bypass the buggy parts in the graphics driver, and the problem will go away. Things will also slow down, of course, i.e. 3D viewing operations won't be as snappy as before. On most systems, however, you will still be able to work with small to medium assemblies just fine.

All you need to do to disable hardware acceleration in CoCreate Modeling is set an environment variable called SDPIXELFORMAT, and give it a value of SOFTWARE. To set the environment variable, use the System Control Panel.

System control panel

Click sequence in Windows XP:

  • Start/Control Panel
  • Run System control panel
  • Select the Advanced tab
  • Click "Environment Variables".

Click sequence in Vista:

  • Start/Control Panel
  • Click System and Maintenance, then System
  • Click Advanced System Settings; this may pop up a user-access control dialog which you need to confirm
  • Click Environment Variables

Now create a new environment variable SDPIXELFORMAT and set the value to SOFTWARE.


Java-Forum Stuttgart (06 Jul 2009)

At this year's Java forum in Stuttgart, I was one of 1100 geeks who divulged in Suebian Brezeln and presentations on all things Java.

After a presentation on Scala, I passed by a couple of flipcharts which were set aside for birds-of-a-feather (BoF) sessions. On a whim, I grabbed a free flipchart and scribbled one word: Clojure. In the official program, there was no presentation covering Clojure, but I thought it'd be nice to meet a few people who, like me, are interested in learning this new language and its concepts!

Since I had suggested the topic, I became the designated moderator for this session. It turned out that most attendees didn't really know all that much about Clojure or Lisp - and so I gravitated, a bit unwillingly at first, into presentation mode. Boy, was I glad that right before the session, I had refreshed the little Clojure-fu I have by reading an article or two.

In fact, some of the folks who showed up had assumed the session was on closures (the programming concept) rather than Clojure, the language big grin But the remaining few of us still had a spirited discussion, covering topics such as dynamic versus static typing, various Clojure language elements, Clojure's Lisp heritage, programmimg for concurrency, web frameworks, Ruby on Rails, and OO databases.

To those who stopped by, thanks a lot for this discussion and for your interest. And to the developer from Bremen whose name I forgot (sorry): As we suspected, there is indeed an alternative syntax for creating Java objects in Clojure.

  (.show (new javax.swing.JFrame)) ;; probably more readable for Java programmers

  (.show (javax.swing.JFrame.)) ;; Clojure shorthand


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