Monday, October 18, 2010

Amazing free stuff - Google Sketchup and OpenOffice!

Hello again! It's been a while... I've been extremely busy with a huge college project. It culminated in one sleepless night and one nearly-sleepless one, after more than two weeks of full 9-5 workdays. And THEN I had a gig at the Octopus Garden until 3am... Ouch! But it was still a really awesome gig, as usual. The vibe is always awesome, and I get to really have fun with the music.

The Project:
Basically we had to design a recording studio with three main facilities and various booths, within a given building structure (one of the college buildings), on a virtual budget of R4 million. The most important factor was the acoustic properties of the rooms - appropriate room dimension ratios, treatment (absorption, diffusion and bass trapping), building a room-within-a-room, e.t.c, but we also had to choose all the equipment for the studio. No detail too small - the layout of patchbays, plumbing, electricity and much else was to be examined. It was hard to keep track of everything, and even in writing this I realise things we left out.

Most of it was a lot of fun. We spent quite long designing our floor plan until we were all totally happy with it, then I sketched it out to scale in 3D in Google Sketchup. The free version can do everything I need when it comes to personal projects/stuff one does on one's own time and is pretty user-friendly, but I don't have anything to compare it to if you were to buy the Pro version or something similar. I could do with more "scene" options (scenes provide basic animation of what angle you view your sketch from), like being able to show or hide certain walls or objects rather than having to save multiple versions of the same sketch. Still, for a free piece of a commercial program, it's amazing!

Google's 3D warehouse is amazing - there are all sorts of components in great detail free to download and use within your sketch. Above is exactly the console we chose for this room, along with KRK monitors and an Avalon pre... Yes please!

Aside from the work on the 3D sketches, we also labelled them and did any 2D sketching we needed in OpenOffice Draw. We also used OpenOffice to import and export Word documents, type and edit text and formatting, export to PDF, and type up the budget in Calc (equivelant to Excel) complete with formulas. All this really pushed us in our use of it, seeing how well it works when speed is of the essance, and compatibility with other computers is also important.

In general, it was spot on for me, but I've had a lot of experience with it. To a new user, it might take a bit of time and effort to adapt to, and a lot of corporate people expect to jump straight in, snap their fingers and have it serve them coffee. 

There are a couple of tricks you can use (in both OpenOffice and MS Office) to make sure your document doesn't come out looking awful on another piece of software, like putting a "page break" before headings that start on a new page (control+enter in OO), so that if the other program's margins are different, your heading doesn't start at the bottom of a page. If you're using fonts that some people might not have, or want something printed exactly as you see it, export it as a PDF (obviously not applicable if someone else must be able to edit it, but then they can fix the obvious formatting issues anyway).

Other than pretend to be MS Word, it's done everything I've ever done in Microsoft Office - just slightly differently at times, and considering it's free, that's more than I'd ever have asked! There were a couple of glitches we found in version 3 that I don't remember having in version 1, but I have faith they'll get ironed out. Frankly, even if I had the money to buy MS Office, I wouldn't - definitely not for personal use. I'd definitely recommend it.

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