Monday, March 10, 2014

Fixing The Tinkercad Ruler

Mac & Cheese – Bob Krause
The purpose of the Tinkercad ruler has never been explained. All the original team could say in their May, 2012 blog post announcing the ruler was, " best to explain what this new feature does? Visually, of course! Click on the image to see a larger view." That's it.

I believe that the ruler's never been explained because it hasn't been well thought-out. Is it useful? Certainly. But it's also very "information noisy". The amount of information the ruler shows about the current selection is often more than users expect, want or can make sense of. This is particularly true of young and inexperienced users.

I contend that the ruler has been overburdened and that its function should be separated into two different tools and that the options available when positioning the ruler be expanded.

The ruler should display the distance between it’s origin and the current selection, but NOT also show the dimensions of the selection. I further believe that the user should be able to rotate the orientation of the ruler without having to dismiss the ruler, rotate the canvas and then re-place the ruler. Additionally, while the ruler is being placed Tinkercad should recognize the use of modifier keys to indicate either that the position of the ruler should ignore the current snap grid setting, perhaps using the shift key, or that the position of the ruler should magnetically snap to the edge of a shape within a certain distance, perhaps using the alt key.

A different tool, call it the "dimension tool", should be used to show the dimensions of the selection. Though, because the location of a dimension tool wouldn’t affect the display of that information, perhaps this dimensioning feature should be a mode of the canvas. If presented as a mode, under no circumstances should it be necessary for the user to open the "Edit Grid” dialogue to change modes, both because the dimensioning mode shouldn't necessarily be persistent and because the dialogue is too inaccessible from the mainline workflow.

Fix the ruler. Distance and dimensioning are orthogonal and not sufficiently inter-related to be conjoined as they are.

Teaching With Tinkercad

Egg – Faith

Autodesk's Tinkercad web application is an almost ideal tool for developing students' understanding of basic modeling principles. Tinkercad models consist of two basic object types -- shapes and holes. A shape adds volume to a model. Holes subtract volume. Both types of objects can be moved, resized, and colored. Shapes and holes can be spatially aligned and combined into a group, as can other groups. The app also supports cut, copy and paste. But that's pretty much the entire feature set -- if you ignore imported shapes, STL exporting, and a server-side JavaScript-based geometry library called ShapeScript.

Tinkercad is a very good environment for teaching basic 3D modeling skills. And yet, the site has been experiencing significant growing pains since the product was purchased by Autodesk in the spring of 2013. The team at Autodesk insists that the Tinkercad internals they inherited were a mess. And yet, under the tutelage of the founders the site was there when you needed it, response times were reasonable, and support was superb. Coming up on a year under their stewardship, I think Autodesk is just beginning to appreciate the importance of 24/7 reliability, sub-second response times and a vocal user community. But better late than never.

Tinkercad is a valuable teaching tool that every 3D instructor should be familiar with. Just make sure to prepare alternative lesson plans because you never know whether the Tinkercad website will be up when class convenes.