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RE: How are Subscription Costs for Engineering Software and CAD affecting your bottom line?

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Conrad and others,

I do appreciate your comments and for the most part - I agree with you.
There are a few points in which we differ and I'd like to address this:

You made a statement in one of our paragraphs that I would like to clear up:

" Of course in developing Multi-Lat you probably don't want this viewpoint:
you prefer people to buy/use your product. After all selling Multi-Lat or
other software gets one engineering team's perspective on design applied to
many projects across the country and across the world: used on projects they
wouldn't otherwise generate income from."

Multi-lat has been around since the codification of the 1997 UBC and it has
always been donated to the professional community as freeware. We never
charged for the software for a number of reasons. The most important was
that the creation of Multi-Lat represented a learning process for me and
others who participated including Dave Merrick, SE. We agreed that the
spreadsheet was to be used to point out to the code writes the ambiguity
that existed in the building code which at the time concluded that
light-framed residential structures would be proven to have rigid
diaphragms. The point of the spreadsheet was to prove that rigid analysis or
non-flexible diaphragm design did not lend itself well to structures that
were modified many times in their life by owners who purchased the home to
represent their individual needs. Following the code required the designer
to assume the diaphragm was non-rigid, but not in compliance with flexible
design. In short, flexible analysis as a historic method was easy to
reproduce since it follows the basic methods of simple beam design. Rigid
analysis and a combination of rigid analysis with worst case wind or
flexible that we coined as an envelope solution required the drawings and
analysis to be stored or archived so that future engineers could recreate
the original design and modify it for the desire of the new owner and their
family.

The spreadsheet also showed the code writers that wood did not fall into the
same general category as tilt-up concrete, masonry or commercial buildings
that were designed to allow the interior to be rearranged in order to
maximize the leasable space as well as creating an easily modified space.
Residential tends to be much more creative and as more difficult to
reproduce unless the load path can be reproduced by the code along and not
by the whim of the engineer who tends to destroy records once the project is
complete. Owners rarely maintain records of their home design and
construction and only recently have "some" building departments resorted to
archives in lieu of stored paper drawings. In my area, the building
departments do not require the engineer to be listed on the application for
permit which makes the recreation of the lateral load resisting system
nearly impossible to recreate if it is not designed as a flexible diaphragm.

In this case since the release of the 1997 UBC we won the battle and lost
the war - at least until this current code. During this time, I wrote the
software as a personal incentive to understand the code by recreating the
logic as well as a means to easily modify the number of shear resisting
elements and allow the software to try different ideas so as to reach the
most creative and economical solution necessary to satisfy code and to do so
in a productive way. 

However, we never put the software on the market for a number of reasons.
First, there was no beta testing and no user's manual. I know how it worked,
but the user was warned not to attempt to use the software as bugs may exist
and that before using any software, they must be able to solve the problem
by hand analysis or manually. We agree that software is not a replacement
for good engineering knowledge and judgment. I hoped to create a product I
termed "evolution-software". As a free tool the user would improve upon it
and return it to the community to be used by others who would continue to
evolve the software into a new and improved generation of tools offered
freely to our peers.

I decided to market this release because we had no participation in the
first software which I continued to work with, but which only I knew really
well how it worked. The current version is a complete rewrite, but my goal
was not to earn a living selling software - again it was a means for me to
learn the complexity of the new code by recreating the logic and flow-charts
that helped me organize the 2006 IBC and the ASCE7-05. However, I restricted
the spreadsheet residential light framing 3-stories or less. Still, I
learned that most engineers did not understand the intent of the code. Most
did not understand that it was created in strength design and required
additional modifications to compensate for ASD or LRFD design as well as
common plan irregularities that occurred in most multi-story residential
design.

I started my progress in writing this spreadsheet from scratch until it grew
to a much larger task than I originally intended. Not only have I started
re-writing the spreadsheet to be a tool for others as well as myself, but I
began development on a User's Guide and have paid for the Structuralist Web
services and Multi-lat(tm) Weblog out of my own pocket for the last ten
years. Anyone who wishes to participate in the development of the software
can do so without having to pay for it. As a beta member who continues to
contribute with something as little as written feedback, they are promised a
free final spreadsheet and all updates through the next major release. If
they stay on the Beta Team, they continue to use the software freely. If
they want the software without participation, then I ask to be compensated
for the time I spent creating it and supporting the online technical support
and web services. The company can have one member or a thousand as long as
they belong or are employed by the same company they have licensing rights
to as many employees and/or machines operating under the company name it is
sold to for the same price.

As a small business owner, I am sensitive to cost and to what I must invest
to keep my tools current. One of my competitors tired to convince me to
market it around $1,000.00 and the argument was that cheap software was
believed to be inaccurate. In other words, you get what you pay for. I don't
subscribe to this belief. In fact, I am sensitive to the cost of tools
during an economic downward trend where competition increases and our cost
of doing business increases. My belief is that you can sell software and
full support for a reasonable price that can be reimbursed on the first job
without cutting into your bottom line. Furthermore I believe that with the
majority of companies trying to keep their profit margins up and those who
penalize those who cannot afford to upgrade and must pay by the number of
years that they skipped times the cost of the upgrade, I would set a price
between $200.00 and $250.00 with no additional charge until I am ready to
release a major upgrade with expanded features. I just can no longer afford
to bear the cost of freeware alone. I no longer have the financial resources
and cannot afford to advertise or pay for web services unless I can sell
software to develop a brand name.

The bottom line was not a discussion about the responsible use of software -
this is a warning clearly written in my licensing agreement and user's
guide. If you cannot do the work manually then you have no business using
the tool. It is not intended to be blindly followed and this creates an
incentive for beta testers to verify the accuracy of the software in
exchange for free tools and participation in the technical discussions
interpreting the code for light-framed residential design. I am not adverse
to paying a royalty to anyone who can create portions of the spreadsheet and
receive credit for their work. If they participate in creation of the design
tools they deserve to collect a percentage of the income from sales.

Ultimately, I would have been happy to have a group of individuals who would
start with a basic spreadsheet and participate in its evolution. I coined
the term "Evolution-Software" about ten years ago, but it never
materialized. Some took the work I did, improved upon it and kept it for
their own financial gain. I had no restrictions but the philosophy of
software was for a community to unite to create their own tools that would
be shared. Unfortunately, the community did not participate.

I do not disagree with your comments, but I would like to see it go a step
further. Instead of having those who could create and sell software, it
would be nice to have those with the skills create user-friendly tools that
would be donated freely to the professional community and improved upon so
as to evolve into a much more comprehensive tool. However, none of this
replaces the responsibility of the user to have a full understanding of the
tools, the code, the methodology and a professional "feel" for the accuracy
of the output on the structures they design.

Conrad, as a co-founder of the SEAINT List and for nearly 8-years the author
of the SEAOC and SEAINT Online Journal, I spent nearly 22-years of my
professional life volunteering my services. I did it for the selfish reason
that I would benefit from the knowledge of others. Now I am considering
marketing a tool because I must do it alone. Anyone who helps is compensated
by free software. Others who choose to purchase the software will, with my
hope, obtain a product that has been properly beta tested. As I approach
retirement, I would like to have an income from writing tools that would
allow me to give up my engineering design practice. But nothing I intend to
do will penalize the user of my software who chooses not to upgrade or
participate in the user's online tools. At any point that they decide to
upgrade, they will pay a percentage of the licensing fee of the software and
the years that they choose not to subscribe or upgrade will never be
charged. If I profit from sales, I will invest a percentage of the profit
back into development rather than expecting the professional community to
support me for years until I release a new version with tons of new
features.

Is this a popular idea - for users of the software, I hope so. For other
developers of software, I doubt it will be a popular or in line with the
majority of developer's idea of a good business plan. 

I hope this clears up any misconception of my intentions for writing
software tools. They are first and foremost to help me learn, they are then
for the assistance of others.

Dennis

Dennis S. Wish, PE

Dennis S. Wish, PE
California Professional Engineer
C-41250 Exp. 3/31/09
Structural Engineering Consultant
54625 Avenida Bermudas
La Quinta, CA 92253
760.564.0884 (Phone, Fax and Answering Machine)
dennis.wish(--nospam--at)verizon.net
http://structuralist.wordpress.com
http://www.structuralist.net


-----Original Message-----
From: Conrad Harrison [mailto:sch.tectonic(--nospam--at)bigpond.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 12:40 AM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: RE: How are Subscription Costs for Engineering Software and CAD
affecting your bottom line?

Dennis

My view is that a computer is just an alternative to a pencil and paper: I
want it to do what I want to do. Acad LT 2000 is just fine for the drafting
activity, and MS Excel for calculations, with MS Word for reports. Then all
can be automated and integrated using VBA, Acad LT doesn't support COM
automation, but it does have script files (*.scr), these can be generated by
VBA. Most AutoLISP routines simply generate script command language in any
case (command ...). So unless have to interrogate and extract data from an
object LISP is not really required, even then may be possible to find a way
using attribute extract for some things.



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