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The guy who created the guide books for BricsCAD

By Rose Barfield 8 min February 3, 2019
The guy who created the guide books for BricsCAD

Who is Ralph Grabowski? Well the guy that created the guidebooks for BricsCAD. The offical V19 guide books are now available, BricsCAD for AutoCAD® UsersInside BricsCAD, and Customizing BricsCAD, all written by Ralph Grabowski. Take a tour around BricsCAD. This week I sat down with Ralph to get to know the man behind the books.

Who are you and why did you start writing the guide books?

I discovered my love of writing when I was a teenager. My parents were horrified when I told them I wanted to become a writer. So, due to my other keen interest in trains and model railroading, I instead went into engineering, getting my degree in civil engineering and specializing in transportation.

The guy who created the guide books for BricsCAD- book-1

The cover of the first customization guidebook.

This proved to be a good move, as within five years of graduating from university I was technical editor at the then-brand-new CADalyst magazine, the first publication for AutoCAD® users (1985). Being there taught me all aspects of running a publishing company --- from subscriptions, to editorial and advertising, to typesetting and distribution.

After five years I left to launch my own endeavor. Even then my father was shocked, because "you can't make a living at writing," which actually is mostly true. But being an editor at CADalyst gave me a high profile in the industry, and so I quickly landed numerous book and magazine contracts.

(As an aside, a teenage nephew of mine wanted to become a writer, so I asked him about the things he was writing. He looked puzzled. "Nothing," he said. I asked if he had a passion for writing. He didn't know what I meant. I advised him to look for another career, and last I heard he is going in for accounting.)

I began at a fortunate time to be self-employed as a publisher, as the cost and availability of the equipment --- reasonably-priced computer hardware with hi-res monitors, software for desktop publishing, and cheap global communications by fax and through CompuServe (a forbearer to the Internet) --- were in place by 1991. Sure, an HP® laser printer was $2,500 [€2.196,69] but that was by then relatively affordable.

Over the next decades, I wrote and updated nearly 100 books about AutoCAD®, Visio®, and other technical topics. As print publications began in the early 2000s to be thwarted by the Internet, I launched my own line of ebooks, and now have over 100 of them. More recently, I began producing tutorial videos, and have nearly 200 of those.

The ebooks about BricsCAD began as one aitbout customizing IntelliCAD, on which BricsCAD was first based. Erik de Keyser [Bricsys CEO] in 2003 asked me to adapt it specifically to BricsCAD V4 (see figure), as Bricsys had no customizing reference. I've updated it for nearly every release since then.

You've written 3 guide books for BricsCAD V19, what are they and what are they about?

The guy who created the guide books for BricsCAD- books

The three new guide books for BricsCAD V19; BricsCAD for AutoCAD® users Inside BricsCAD Customizing BricsCAD

1. Inside BricsCAD (originally titled "Learn BricsCAD in a Day") is for new users learning CAD and BricsCAD for the first time. It takes them through the steps of creating and editing a 2D drawing, and then introduces them to 3D modeling. 400 pages and available since BricsCAD V8.

2. Customizing BricsCAD is all about customizing the program through the Settings and Customize dialog boxes and other aspects of BricsCAD, along with an introduction to LISP and VBA programming. 600 pages and available since BricsCAD V4.

3. BricsCAD for AutoCAD® Users details the similarities and differences between the two CAD programs, shows how well DWG is supported, and provides advice to design offices on how to run a dual-CAD environment. It includes appendices that detail the differences in commands, system variables, keystroke shortcuts, and buttons. It includes tutorials on how to use the 3D modeling tools that are unique to BricsCAD, such as BIM and sheet metal. 350 pages and available since BricsCAD V9.

Some years I also produce What's New? BricsCAD that details the changes in the latest release. 50 pages.

In your experience how easy is it to transition between AutoCAD® and BricsCAD?

Fundamentally BricsCAD is sufficiently similar to AutoCAD® at the 2D drafting level that there is no barrier to moving from one to the other. The list of AutoCAD® functions missing from BricsCAD is this year very short, as Autodesk® has greatly decelerated development of AutoCAD® in recent years, while Bricsys maintains its fast pace with BricsCAD

A decade ago you wrote the complete command reference. I hear your in the middle of changing it all again. Is this true? What's new and what changed since then in the software and CAD world?

True, I am helping update the command reference for BricsCAD V19.

What is different from a decade ago is that the number of commands has doubled, and there are new interfaces, such as the ribbon and Quad. There is a greater emphasis on interactive commands, especially for 3D modeling.

New algorithms allow today what was impossible a decade ago, such as drawing and editing in a fully rendered visualization mode, or interacting directly with 3D solid and surface models.

Computers have not become much more powerful in that time (my primary work computer dates back to 2010), but the software has. New algorithms allow today what was impossible a decade ago, such as drawing and editing in a fully rendered visualization mode, or interacting directly with 3D solid and surface models.

What do you think about the new list of features for BricsCAD V19? Any favorites?

One that I particularly like is the new distance widget: [Nearest Distance] click two entities, and BricsCAD shows you the distance; edit the distance, and the second entity moves.

What do you love about CAD and why did you start blogging about it?

My father was a draftsman, and so my admiration for precise-looking drawings began early. I took (manual) drafting as a high school course, and then hand-drafted when I worked for a few years as an engineer following graduation. During that time, we had a demo of AutoCAD® (probably v1.4) but the required hardware was considered too expensive.

Back then, adding a modest 20MB (not GB!) hard drive to the typical under-powered $5,000 [€4384]personal computer would have added $2,000 [€1753] to the price tag, not to mention several thousand more to bump up the memory to 640KB (not MB!), and another $10,000 -- $20,000 [€8769 -- €17537] for a large-format pen plotter --- all this just to run software priced $1,000 [€877], as AutoCAD® was back then.

I love drafting and the intimacy between me, my drafting tools, and the paper. When I made a smudge, it was my smudge. I still prefer hand-sketching my drawings.

I don't love CAD...I need its brilliance to make calculations quickly and accurately.

I don't love CAD. It involves entering commands remotely. The directly interactive commands of more recent times help, however, in bringing back some of the intimacy. I use CAD primarily when I need its brilliance to make calculations quickly and accurately, such as for renovation projects.

I began "blogging" in 1984, when I began contributing articles to a Victor 9000 user group newsletter (that was my first computer). This allowed me to engage in my passion for writing about and explaining technology. Nowadays my blog is called WorldCAD Access, where I write about CAD and technology as the spirit moves me.

Do you think the way the BricsCAD is being covered in the press has changed since you started?

Not really. It has little mindshare among the CAD media, who tend to instead obsess over Autodesk® and other big CAD and hardware vendors --- that's where the advertising dollars are. The upside to their myopia is that it has allowed me to carve out a niche in covering smaller and newer CAD vendors in my upFront.eZine newsletter, the blog, videos, and in my line of ebooks.


Ralph grew up with a passion for writing, but trained as an engineer. He has written 3 guide books for BricsCAD V19; Inside BricsCAD, for new users learning CAD and BricsCAD for the first time, Customizing BricsCAD, the Settings and Customize dialog boxes, LISP and VBA programming.  BricsCAD for AutoCAD® Users, the similarities and differences between the two CAD programs. He began bloging about CAD in 1984 and has written over 100 eBooks and over 200 video tutorials. You can read more of his blog at WorldCAD Access.

Rose Barfield

by Rose Barfield - CAD User Experience & Interface Design Specialist

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Rose is responsible for taking user feedback and improving the BricsCAD product. Before coming to BricsCAD, she was a CAD user and worked in the Automotive, Aerospace, and Defense industries as a Technical Illustrator. She loves finding out how things work, taking them apart, and (hopefully) putting them back together again.

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