2013 | Mining University

Steamboat Parkway Construction Equipment

In addition to huge mining equipment, I also like the 'regular' construction equipment used by home builders and other general contractors. These pieces of equipment are large enough to be called 'big' by people who haven't seen a 300 ton truck up close and personal.

When I saw that they were starting to work on the housing development by my house I just had to stop and take some pictures of the steel they had parked along the road. This area was originally slated for development in 2008 but the housing crash shelved most of the construction in Reno until recently.

John Deere 724K Wheel Loader
John Deere 724K Wheel Loader 
The John Deere 724K Wheel Loader has a 264 horsepower engine and a bucket capacity of 4 cubic yards. It looks nice in the light of the setting sun too.

Caterpillar D6R Track Dozer
Caterpillar D6R Track Dozer
This Cat D6R Dozer has been around a bit more than the Loader above but it still has a 200 hp engine and an 18 foot blade.

Volvo EC460BLC Hydraulic Excavator
Volvo EC460BLC Hydraulic Excavator
The Volvo Excavator boasts a 2.7 cubic yard bucket and a 239 hp engine.

John Deere 872GP Motor Grader
John Deere 872GP Motor Grader
This John Deere grader is almost 35 feet long with a 283 hp motor.

Caterpillar 631D Motor Scraper
Caterpillar 631D Motor Scraper
The Cat 631D scraper is 46.8 feet long, has a 450 hp engine and can carry 31 cubic yards of material that it has scraped off in 19 inch deep cuts.

Steamboat Parkway construction project as of 19 September 2013
Steamboat Parkway construction project as of 19 September 2013
The project on Steamboat Parkway is just getting re-started. The ground has been cleared and foundation/infrastructure work is moving forward. Things are about to get exciting.

Vulcan Bug Exporting Hatch Patterns: VUL-25951

I was trying to export a hatched polygon from Maptek Vulcan and import it into the Modular dispatch system the other day when I learned something disconcerting about Vulcan's ability to export hatch patterns to dxf. Namely, that it can't.

I was disappointed when Modular would only import the polygon and not the hatch pattern from my dxf file but I didn't think the problem was with Vulcan until I tried to import the shape into AutoCAD and got the same result. I can't believe that after 33 years of continuous development Maptek hasn't created a tool to export hatch patterns to the universal CAD file format.

When I asked Maptek about the problem they told me, of course hatch patterns work with the export tool. They had tested the ability of Vulcan to export and import hatch patterns by exporting a hatched polygon from Vulcan as a dxf and then importing that same file back into Vulcan. When I asked if they had tried importing the dxf into AutoCAD I was met with a really long delay before receiving their email stating that 'Currently the dxf/dwg export option is exporting the hatching information, but it does not appear to be read by AutoCAD.' 

I'm sorry, but I think we can all agree that AutoCAD is the defacto standard for dxf files. If the Vulcan export of a hatched polygon to dxf isn't importing correctly to AutoCAD the problem is with Vulcan. AutoCAD doesn't seem to have a problem exporting hatch patterns to a dxf file that can be read by Vulcan.

This bug has been logged as VUL-25951. Call Maptek and ask about their timeline to fix this shortcoming next time you can't export hatch patterns to dxf.

Masked Cowards Attack Gogebic Taconite Drill Site

I just saw the video today and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Militant eco-terrorists march out of the woods and attack an exploration drill site in Wisconsin. This would seem to be as far away from the middle east as you could get but it’s very clear that masked men proudly march out of the woods and verbally attack a drilling crew. Sadly, the person who took the brunt of the attack was a middle aged woman. I hope it makes these masked men feel big to be fighting with a woman over a camera.

The company, Gogebic Taconite, later hired armed guards to protect their drill sites. I can’t say I’m surprised. This isn’t Gotham city. People wearing masks aren’t the heroes. The only groups in the real world who wear masks to make demands are the KKK and Al-Qaeda… and now eco-terrorists in Wisconsin.

I would have said that America is one of the few places where we can have an open discussion about mining and what to do with the land. This is a place where people understand that we need mining (good luck filming your attack on unarmed laborers without the plastic and metals in your camera) and we want to do it in a responsible and respectful manner. I would have said this before seeing how residents of Wisconsin treat free enterprise.

What Happened to Maptek Vulcan 8.2.2

Back on June 26th Maptek announced the release of Vulcan 8.2.2. This release came less than two months after 8.2.1 was introduced to the market and seemed to indicate an effort by Maptek to bring releases to Vulcan users on a more frequent basis. The 8.2.2 release prompted me to write an evaluation of some of the upgrades (see:  Maptek Vulcan 8.2.2 Release).

Vulcan users had two weeks to enjoy the new release before some bad news came down. On July 11th an email came out stating that version 8.2.2 was flawed. If users were attempting to select block model blocks using bounding surfaces Vulcan was returning incorrect results. This is a pretty big deal to anyone who uses the effected tools but I never select blocks using bounding surfaces so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Little did I know that this error prompted Maptek to pull release 8.2.2 from the market completely. I was helping  a co-worker download the most current service pack for Vulcan when I discovered that releases are no longer on the open side of Maptek’s website. Users must now use the password protected side of Maptek to download any service packs. Once we jumped through the appropriate hoops we discovered that release 8.2.2 had been removed completely.

Maptek doesn’t like to admit that they were wrong. They don’t like to admit that their software has bugs until they are fixed. I was shocked to learn that Maptek was willing to admit that they were so wrong about the release of a Vulcan version that they were willing to pull it from the market.

Maptek Vulcan 8.2.3 is due out soon. Let’s hope that it lasts a little longer than two weeks on the market.

Convert Text to Object in Maptek Vulcan

It’s interesting how you think you know something inside and out and then along comes a simple tool that you had no idea existed. I have been using Vulcan software for seven years and would rank myself as a highly skilled user which is why I was surprised to learn about a Vulcan menu option that does exactly what I have wished Vulcan would do for years: converting text to an object.

Vulcan text can be converted to an object using the menu option: File > Underlays > Convert to Object

Vulcan text is often a very complex portion of the software. It comes in three distinct varieties: Screen, 2D and 3D (not sure why a 3D software package needs anything other than 3D text, but there you go). Some of the varieties can be used is section view, others cannot. Some can have true type fonts (Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, etc…) applied to them, others cannot.

One of the more annoying things about Vulcan text is that it is not a standard CAD object. I can’t tell you how many times I have received the error message: “Vulcan can’t complete whatever editing option you wanted because some of the things you selected aren't real objects.” I’m pretty sure that error message is almost verbatim, almost.

For a long time I was frustrated by Maptek’s inability to treat text as a regular CAD object. It was also frustrating that the right click context menu didn't have an option to convert to object like the triangulation menu had. Finally, I emailed Maptek support and they set me straight. Thanks, guys for all the help.

Although, to give me credit, who thinks to look under the ‘Underlays’ area in the ‘File’ menu to find out how to edit text?

Maptek Vulcan 8.2.2 Release

The new version of Maptek Vulcan is out. It seems like the last update was just here and in reality it kind of was. Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 was released on 2 May 2013. It has been less than two months since the last release. This faster turnaround time means less waiting for the upgrade that has been bugging you, and hopefully more time using a great version of Vulcan. I got two of my bugs fixed this time around.

Despite the faster release cycle Maptek still managed to fix or upgrade 90 different items for release 8.2.2. One notable thing that wasn't fixed for this version was a Vulcan crash. I read all 90 points on the release notes and none of them sounded like they were implemented to fix a Vulcan crash. Of course, Maptek never comes right out and states that they fixed a crash. They usually try to phrase it like something that is slightly less sinister. They’ll say that they fixed a function that ‘caused Vulcan to close unexpectedly,’ or that they corrected ‘an unexpected termination of Vulcan.’ In any case this is the first time that there haven’t been any crash fixes in a service pack release that I can remember. Let’s hope that there really aren't any known issues that cause Vulcan to crash.

Some of the changes in Maptek Vulcan 8.2.2 include:
  • Import > Whittle 4X – added support for spaces in block model names when importing Whittle 4X files (this one is mine).
    •  Several years ago Vulcan made a big move away from the Fortran programming language. This was supposed to allow spaces in filenames and pathnames. In reality, I still run across places from time to time that still require the no space protocol. This is becoming more and more frustrating as spaces in filenames become more common. It was nice to see a short turnaround time for updating this option to meet current Maptek standards.
  • Details > Polygon Area – a single error message is displayed if the area for multiple objects cannot be computed.
    • I’m sure this isn't the last time we will see a similar fix in Vulcan. The original problem was created when the user selected multiple objects in Envisage and then used the option. Vulcan would create an error panel for each object that had been selected. If three or four objects had been selected, this was no big deal. If several thousand objects had been selected, this was a big problem. I remember when someone at Maptek showed me how to use my stapler to hold down the ‘enter’ key until the error messages went away. I’m always glad to see things like this get fixed so users don’t have to use the stapler workaround anymore.
  • Triangle Utility > Foot Print – Added a new option to return a polyline of a triangulation’s outline in plan view at a given elevation.
    • This option seems really neat. I have wanted a way to get the outline of a solid in plan view for a long time. I wish that this option had a few more additions. It really needs some naming options i.e. set the object name to the triangulation name. I also wish that there was an option to set the elevation of the polygon to something relative to the triangulation. The max or min elevation or the average elevation.By far the biggest problem with this option (besides the fact that it was released without being included in the help) is that it only works for one triangulation at a time. Software that is intended to make the user more productive should really be designed to work with multiple pieces of input data.
  • Triangle Surface > Add Vertex/Delete Vertex also Insert Triangle/Delete Triangle – Added the option to save an edited triangulation as a new triangulation.
    • This is an important fix because triangulations are separate files. Once they are overwritten there is no undo function. Most of the other triangulation functions give the option to save as a new triangulation instead of overwriting the original by default. If there are any other Vulcan triangulation options that don’t have this fix they should be given high priority.
  • Compositing > Compositing – Resolved an issue in which unordered tables were deleted when an Isis database assay table was not sorted by the field table during compositing.
    • This is probably the most disturbing fix. I’m pretty sure that anyone working with the Isis databases in Vulcan would be extra careful if they knew that a sorting error could cause the offending tables to be deleted. Worse, how many Vulcan users have had tables deleted and don’t know it yet. If you need one big reason to upgrade to Vulcan 8.2.2 here it is.
  • Open Cut Design > Pit Topography – Added the ability to assign a name to an intersection polygon (also mine).
    • The intent of this fix is so that when the user creates progress maps the intersection polygon will already have a consistent naming convention. The folks at Maptek must have misunderstood what I wanted because instead of having an option to specify an object name or giving the polygon a default name (like INT) the option now gives no object name to the intersection polygon. This doesn't help. In fact, I see no difference between this and version 8.2.1.
    • I complained to Maptek about this tool not working in the new version and they were kind enough to tell me that this was really coming out in version 9.0. They then emailed me a copy of the 'official' release notes. Apparently, the release notes included with the actual version don't count as the 'official' version. Too bad that the 'official' version of release notes is hidden behind the firewall of the Maptek Users' area.
  • Triangle Solid > Split – Added a tool to automatically split separated objects in a triangulation into individual triangulations.
    • This tool is also mislabeled by Maptek. This should really read: Triangle Solid > Auto Split. The tool should really come with more control over the naming options and have at least some representation in the online help.

I’m sure that I wasn't the only one who complained about the bug logs that were fixed but it makes me feel good to know that some of the issues I reported were fixed in this release.

3D Printing - Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine: Results

I'm so excited to share my first 3D model. It took about a week for the UNR DeLaMare Library to complete the project but I think the results look fantastic. This is how the Hycroft mine will look at the end of mining according to Allied Nevada's March 2013 technical report. This shows the extents of mining only. Backfill dumps will fill in a large percentage of the mine at this point but as a mine engineer I am really interested in the mining of the gold.

The sides of the model are thick enough to support the weight but the top got a little thin in places. You can see where the bottom of some of the pits actually broke through (you can see the desk through these holes). The printer laid the plastic down in 0.01 inch layers. These can be seen in the topography. To give you some scale, mined benches are 50 ft high and if you look really closely you can see the haul road along the wall.

3D model of Allied Nevada's Hycroft gold mine
3D model of Allied Nevada's Hycroft gold mine

3D Printing - Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine

Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine
Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine
I'm so excited. My first 3d print job is at the printers as we speak. For my first project I chose to do a topography of the Hycroft gold mine. The topo is just under three cubic inches of plastic and will take about 10 hours to print. The project is currently underway at the DeLaMare Library at the University of Nevada Reno.

I first learned about the 3d printer a couple of weeks ago as part of a whimsical search to see if there were any publicly accessible 3d printers in my area. I was shocked to learn that UNR was the first public library to purchase a 3d printer for general use. How convenient that this should be right in my back yard.

I chose the final topo from the Hycroft mine as my first project because I already had a complete triangulation. I didn't want to spend a lot of time creating a project just to test the printing only to find out that I couldn't get it in the right format to print.

It took a while to figure out how to put this in the right format to print. The big problem was that the Maptek Vulcan software isn't capable of exporting to the stl file format. Eventually, I found a program that will convert from vrml format (a format that Vulcan will export to) to stl format.

Once I had done that, I realized that my shape was too big to print. I already knew that I had to fit my topo to the 8x8 inch pad but my initial design was almost 15 cubic inches in volume. At $7.50 per cubic inch this was going to cost me more than $100. This was not in my budget.

In order to minimize cost, I spent a lot of time creating walls and a base for the model. This reduced the total volume to a little less than 3 cubic inches and put the cost at a more manageable $20.

I'm so excited to see the finished product I can hardly wait. The only problem is, I delivered the project at noon on Friday. The project will take about 10 hours to print and the library closes at 5 pm. The library is closed over the weekend and I am going on vacation next week. I will have to wait a week and a half to see my finished work. How sad.

Nevada Mining Tax

There’s been a big push in Nevada recently to increase the tax on mining. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek highlights some of the details. Basically, what is happening is the state is trying to replace the lost gambling revenue by doubling the taxes paid by the mining industry.

In Nevada there is no state income tax. In the past the mountains of money the state collected from gambling was sufficient to cover expenses and therefore there was no need for a state tax. When the economy tanked in 2008 all that nice gaming money went away and Nevada has been in dire straits ever since.

Frankly, I’m shocked that the gaming industry allowed the state to saddle them with paying so much in taxes and fees. In Nevada, the big casinos are the main industry. If they had wanted to throw their weight around and get some changes to the state tax laws it probably would have happened. The fact that the casinos were okay with single-handedly supporting the state implies that there was an enormous amount of money being made.

Now that revenue from gaming is down, state officials are on the lookout for an industry as profitable and 'evil' as gambling and they think they have found it: mining.

To state lawmakers, the mining industry is run by corrupt corporations in the far north regions of the state where nobody matters anyway. They refuse to recognize mining as a proud heritage of many Nevadans. Mining is providing jobs and revenue at a time when not much else is going well for the state. Rather than praise mines and mine workers for a job well done the state is branding them as the enemy and asking voters to punish them by paying more in taxes.

Companies like Apple are given huge tax incentives to build new offices in Nevada but the backbone of the Silver State is being burdened with huge tax increases. The proposed taxes are not a few percentage points or a statewide income tax like they have in almost every other state. These changes would double the taxes paid by mining companies from 5% to 10%.

If your job is in any way related to mining, now is the time to speak up. If your industry provides support to mines or miners this will affect you. If you are currently wearing any gold or silver jewelry remember where that came from and be proud of a state that is not afraid to work hard to provide the resources that make life a little nicer for everyone else.

Hide the Center of Rotation in Maptek Vulcan

I was trying to create a video for some co-workers the other day and couldn't get Maptek Vulcan to behave as I wanted. The video was just a screen capture of a new topography triangulation rotating on screen. Nothing too dramatic but it was marred by the big rotation center in the middle of the screen. From my days working for Maptek I remembered that there was a keystroke that would hide just the center of rotation icon but for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was. I bet I hit every button on my keyboard a dozen times trying to figure out which key hid that silly icon. I switched to the alternate color palette (‘a’ key), I changed the direction of the light source (‘l’ key) and I even displayed the extents of all the data on the screen (‘e’ key) but I couldn't find the right key to hide the center of rotation icon.

Vulcan screen shot WITH center of rotation icon.
Vulcan screen shot WITH center of rotation icon.

Vulcan screen shot WITHOUT center of rotation icon.
Vulcan screen shot WITHOUT center of rotation icon.
To make matters worse, I couldn't find the Vulcan help page that lists all the hotkeys. Maptek is just like every other supplier of software, they think that their help is the most intuitive thing in the world and that you can find anything just by taking logical steps. I've got news for Maptek and the rest of the software developers in the world, ‘Your help stinks!' It is crazy and backward unless I already know where to find what I am looking for, and if I already know where to find my answer in the online help, chances are pretty good that I remember how to use the tool and don’t need to find it in the help in the first place.

This is a really hard thing to complain about because once you have finally found what you are looking for it seems incredibly obvious and you can’t believe you didn't look there in the first place. For future reference, the keystroke to hide the center of rotation icon is:


The complete list of hotkeys for Maptek Vulcan is located in the online help at:

Envisage 3D Editor > Keyboard Controls

Envisage keyboard controls. Also known as 'hotkeys.'
Envisage keyboard controls. Also known as 'hotkeys.'
If you have never looked through the hotkeys in Vulcan you should really spend a minute to see what you have been missing. There are saved views that can be set up by using shift+number keys. You can change the color palette or enter a rotate mode without clicking on the screen. You might even realize that the dozens of straight lines that sometimes appear on the screen when you accidentally start typing on the keyboard with the Envisage window active are really just the extents of every object on the screen and can be turned off again by pressing the ‘e’ key.

Central Florida Phosphate District - Areawide Environmental Impact Statement

The Army Corps of Engineers recently released an Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) for the Central Florida Phosphate District. As happens with so many mining related topics, the report almost immediately came under attack from environmental groups and from the media at large.

I found an article online from a local newspaper Bradenton Herald that cast a negative light on the whole situation right from the start. To be fair, the actual article was very fair to both sides and gave an accurate balance between preserving the function of the land and producing jobs and resources for the economy. The title of the article, however, was not so unbiased. I think the title: Phosphate mining damages environment, but also drives economy, study finds, is aiming more at shock value than technical accuracy.

This study looked at the impact of mining on wetlands in central Florida. I wish the term ‘wetland’ was more consistent across the country. The ‘wetlands’ that I am familiar with aren’t anything like the ‘wetlands’ in central Florida. When we talk about ‘wetlands’ in Utah and Nevada we mean anything that has enough water to grow something more interesting than desert sage or that can feed a medium sized rabbit on less than five acres. In central Florida I’m pretty sure that ‘wetland’ is just code for ‘swamp.’

Whether the Corps of Engineers meant to say ‘wetlands’ or ‘swamp’ the study found that about 9,800 acres of wetland and 50 miles of streams would be disturbed during proposed mining. These same mining operations would lead to 6,000 jobs and about $29 billion in value for the region’s economy. In a country still feeling the effects of a recession and where good jobs are hard to find that sounds like a lot of help coming at the right time.

I’m not saying that we should sell all our land for money but I do think that $29 billion will pay for a lot of reclamation, and reclamation in a Florida swamp should be a piece of cake. I remember working on a drilling project for a summer job during college. We spent three weeks working on a 2,000 foot core hole in central Utah (we weren't the fastest drillers). By the time the project was finished the mountain grass had grown up to the point where I couldn't see the yellow water line we laid from the stream to our drill rig. We ended up taking the line out from both ends because nobody could find the line in the middle of all that grass. If three weeks of growth on the desert mountains in central Utah will do that just think what the swamp in central Florida can do.

The AEIS came under attack from environmental groups claiming that the scope was too narrow and that it hadn’t appropriately evaluated the impacts on human health and threats to water and air pollution. I haven’t read the report personally but I do know that social and environmental impacts like these are the focus of an Environmental Impact Statement. A general Environmental Impact Statement will take about two years and $2 million to complete. I realize that nothing can be completely comprehensive of everything in the world but a good EIS tries really hard to do just that for the area of study.

Residents of central Florida should be happy to invite phosphate mines into their counties. The increased jobs and revenue will improve the standard of living for everyone. Be proud to participate in the work that made this country great. When mining in the area is complete the mining companies will do a fantastic job of reclaiming the disturbed land. Why? Because they want to continue mining in new areas and need a proven track record of success to do it.

Service Pack 8.2.1 for Maptek Vulcan

Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 came out this week. According to the release notes, Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 includes 45 upgrades and 49 bug fixes. In addition to these changes there were another 8 fixes to Chronos that didn't get included with the release notes (bugs in the bug reporting?). The release notes for Vulcan 8.2.1 can be found in the MaptekUsers’ Area which you will need a password to access or in the Vulcan help under Release Notes > Vulcan 8.2 > Vulcan 8.2.1 which you will have access to after you have installed the upgrade. I don’t know why Maptek doesn't want to make this list public.

Some of the highlights of Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 include:
  • Help > About Vulcan 3D Software – This panel now includes the license and dongle expiration dates. No more wondering if your maintenance is current enough to install the latest service pack (if it isn’t the new service pack won’t work and you get to uninstall Vulcan and re-install the software in order to get back to a version that works for you).
  • Block > Advanced Reserves > Advanced Reserves Editor – The error where you were always asked to save before running has been fixed. This bug was introduced in Vulcan 8.2.0 and has been a huge problem for me. The bug would pop up the ‘do you want to save changes’ prompt every time you ran the calculate option. This would happen even if you had just saved your changes or if you hadn't made changes at all and just wanted to run reserves with the existing spec file. You have no idea how much this annoyed me.
  • Model > Triangle Edit > Snap Vertices – The release notes claim to have fixed the incomplete path names in this panel but I don’t know what really happened. I didn't see any problem with the option in Vulcan 8.2.0. I did notice that the panel was strangely misshapen in 8.2.1. I’m not sure how you mess up a standard panel like triangle properties but Maptek seems to have pulled it off. This broken panel appears elsewhere in the software.
Vulcan821 Model-Triangle Edit-Snap Vertices
Vulcan 8.2.1 - Model > Triangle Edit > Snap Vertices
  • Open Pit > Open Cut Design > Project String – This upgrade has added a check box that will prompt for the direction of projection. Previously in Vulcan, all pit designs required the user to maintain clockwise polygons. All dump designs needed to be counterclockwise. This requirement can be difficult to learn and is tedious to maintain. The new option allows the user to specify, on screen, if the projection should go outside or inside the existing polygon. The effect is almost like the option Design > Object Edit > Offset. In the release notes this has been mislabeled as a Pit Topography option.
  • File > Plot > Batch Plotting – The maximum number of flex section points has been increased to 1,000. The flex section gives a plot along a digitized line at each segment along the line. This is a huge improvement because the previous limit was really small (I want to say 20 points). The severe restriction on the number of flex section points was partially responsible for the development of the Model > Triangle Utility > Section by Line option.
  • File > Plot > Batch Plotting – The limit on the number of triangulations for use in batch plotting has been removed. I don’t know what the previous restriction was but I’m not completely sure I believe that it is truly unlimited even now.
  • Model – Maximum number of loaded triangulations has been raised to 25,000 from the previous 8,000. I have to admit that I didn't know there was an 8,000 triangulation restriction in Envisage. Apparently I have never tried to load 8,000 triangulations at the same time. I appreciate that Maptek has given a maximum number of triangulations instead of claiming that it is unlimited.
  • Model > Triangle Utility > Section by Line – Based on the description given to this option in the release notes you might think that it is a new option. This is not the case. The Section by Line option first appeared in Maptek Vulcan 8.0.0 while I was still working for Maptek. What they mean to say with this entry is that you can now use multiple triangulations with the Section by Line tool.
  • Model > Triangle Surface > Polygon Volumes – Release notes claim that an unlimited number of polygons can now be used with this option. I am always skeptical when the term ‘unlimited’ is used and am disappointed that a previous limit is not stated.
  • Chronos > Files > Open Workbook – Maptek claims that their Chronos scheduling tool will now allow spaces and special characters in the path name to workbook files. This is great for people who want to use Windows standards to name their files. I have found that in Vulcan, spaces in file and path names often come back to bite the user. This always happens at inconvenient times and the fix is changing the file name and renaming every reference to the file. Don’t get me wrong, I thing that spaces in path names should be allowed but my advice to everyone is always to avoid them and use underscores instead.

So there they are, my highlights from Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1. There are a total of 102 bugs and upgrades that say you should upgrade to the new version of Vulcan. 

So, what’s holding you back?

One of the biggest questions people have about service packs like this is why they should install them. People ask me, "If the version of Vulcan that I am currently running is working fine for the tasks I do, why should I take the time and effort to install a service pack?" This question is exacerbated by the fact that everyone on the Maptek payroll refuses to admit that there are bugs in their software even though bug fixes are one of the main reasons to release a service pack.

If you’re like me, what’s holding you back is the fear that these 102 fixes have introduced new bugs. Bugs that nobody knows about and which will interrupt my workflow when I have a deadline approaching. For this reason many Vulcan users stay one release behind in the hopes that an older version will be more stable. I’m not sure that is the best policy but I have to admit that I still have 8.1.4 installed on my machine ‘just in case.’

Rotation Fundamentals in Maptek Vulcan

In Maptek Vulcan, one of the most used functions is the 3D rotation tool. Rotating a Vulcan design is a fundamental attribute of all data in 3D. Because of its fundamental nature, the rotate tool is often overlooked when introducing someone to the software. The very fact that ‘everyone’ knows how to use the rotate tool causes users and trainers to neglect telling ‘everyone’ about how to use it. As a direct result of this, ‘everyone’ does not know how to use the tool effectively.

Maptek Vulcan Rotate Function
Maptek Vulcan Rotate Function
I have received several comments recently about people having trouble using the rotate tool in Maptek Vulcan version 8.2. I have been using version 8.2 for a while now and haven’t had any problems with the rotate tool (other problems aside, the rotate tool seems to work as expected). I am using Windows 7 operating system for 64 bit systems. My computer is a Lenovo Think Pad.

I suspect that the issues people are seeing with their rotate function in version 8.2 are user related. In order to rule out user error as a possibility for the rotate issues I have written the following tutorial about selecting the center of rotation. I believe that this is the most likely explanation of the problems people have been having with their data ‘flying’ off the screen when using the rotate tool. If you are still having troubles with the rotate function after implementing these steps please let me know.

Entering Rotate Mode

To enter the rotate mode most users use one of two methods. The first method is to select the ‘Select Rotation Centre’ icon from the Graphics toolbar. This toolbar is usually located on the right side of the child window in the Vulcan Workbench. The icon looks like this:

Select Rotation Centre
Select Rotation Centre
The ‘Rotate Mode’ icon is located directly below the ‘Select Rotation Centre’ icon and will prompt you to select a center of rotation just like the ‘Select Rotation Centre’ icon if there is no rotation center already specified.

Once you have selected the ‘Select Rotation Centre’ icon you will be prompted to ‘Select centre of rotation.’ You will also notice that your cursor has two little symbols associated below it. The symbol on the left is a 3D Cartesian Coordinate System indicating that you are in ‘Select Rotation Centre’ mode. On the right is a cross hair indicating that you are in ‘Snap to Objects’ mode.

Data Flies off the Screen

One of the biggest problems new users have with the rotate mode is selecting a center of rotation that is not touching any data loaded on the screen. By default, Maptek Vulcan enters the user into the ‘Snap to Objects’ mode when selecting a rotation center. New users may not recognize this mode and attempt to click in blank space. Vulcan will not allow clicking in blank space while in a snap mode. In order to click in blank space the user must select the ‘Indicate’ cursor mode. This mode will allow the user to click in blank space but now the elevation of the rotation center becomes an issue.

If the center of rotation is not snapped to the objects that you wish to look at while rotating Vulcan can behave in an unexpected manner. For instance, let’s assume that your design data is at 1,000 ft elevation and your default Vulcan elevation is 0 ft. In this case the data you want to look at is at the end of a 1,000 ft radius leading out from the rotation center. This scenario will cause the data to ‘fly’ off the screen.

To avoid having your data ‘fly’ off the screen ensure that the Vulcan defaults have not been changed. Go to the menu: Tools > Preferences > Envisage > Graphics > Input and ensure that the box ‘Enter snap mode when choosing rotation centre’ is checked. Always snap to an object when rotating unless you have deliberately specified the z elevation.

Tools > Preferences > Envisage > Graphics > Input
Tools > Preferences > Envisage > Graphics > Input

Minnesota Lawmakers Oppose Mining of SAND

I couldn't believe it when I heard it. Residents of southeastern Minnesota are opposed to mining SAND in their area (see the Duluth News Tribune). Never mind that mining sand creates jobs and pays taxes for the local governments. Forget that it doesn't include drilling and blasting competent rock and that it has been going on for years in the area. State lawmakers want to put their hand in the mix and regulate current and proposed mines in Minnesota.

Mining of silica sand has been taking place in southeastern Minnesota for decades. The high quality sand is used for making glass and other industrial products. Now the demand for sand to be used in fracking for the oil and gas industry has caused state lawmakers to step in and protect people from evils and prosperity of industry and new mines.

I can't believe that anyone would be okay with having their name associated with opposition to mining SAND. This is the most ridiculous thing ever.

The Duluth News Tribune listed the following (here's your sign) complaints about SAND mining (comments are mine):
  • A need for large quantities of water to wash the sand, with fears it could drain the aquifer (hello, have you seen how much it rains in Minnesota? Unless you're going to wash the Grand Canyon you're not going to run out of water.)
  • The possibility of polluting the aquifer and streams (Mining has been going on for decades here without polluting the environment. It would seem that there are sufficient protocols in place to protect the aquifer)
  • Lack of information local government officials have (I have no doubt that this one is true. Mining has gone on for decades in Minnesota but I totally believe that local government officials haven't learned anything about a major industry in their jurisdiction during that time period)
  • Large numbers of trucks hauling sand from mines to processing plants and then to railroads (this is called industry. This is why you have a job and the solution to all the complaining you do about not having enough jobs and the downtrodden economy)
It's not enough that the local newspaper compiled this list of uninformed complaints but one local lawmaker touted the final, desperate ploy of the angry environmentalist. Senator Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, suggested that there should be a moratorium on mining while local governments figured out how to act. Congratulations senator, not only have you learned nothing during all the years that your state has mined sand within your borders, but you want to keep the economy depressed while you study how to mine SAND.

Maptek Vulcan bcf Scripts, Printfiles and Headers

I learned some very interesting things about bcf scripts in Maptek Vulcan today. It isn't the first time something like this has happened to me but I always find it amusing when I learn something important in the process of telling someone that Vulcan can't do something.

Block calculation file (bcf) scripts in Vulcan perform a series of logic calculations on specified blocks in a block model. In general these scripts are used to populate variables like net value or populate variables that meet certain criteria like ore/waste blocks. The bcf scripts are used after the block estimation file (bef) has been used to populate grade variables.

In this instance, we wanted to flag blocks that met certain criteria and then populate the block above with new values. My first thought was to create a list of the blocks meeting the criteria, add the block height to the centroid z value and use this as the new criteria in a second script. In order to accomplish this I needed the script to output a list of blocks. I was in the middle of saying that 'No, bcf scripts don't have the ability to export data,' when I noticed Appendix E - Script File Format.

To locate Appendix E open the Vulcan help and go to the 'Contents' tab. Expand the branches 'Envisage 3D Editor' and 'Core Appendixes' (because a branch titled just 'Appendices' would be just stupid. I mean, why would someone look through the list of alphabetized topics and want appendices to be listed with the A's?). Appendix E tells us several interesting things about the bcf scripts including the fact that it can export data to an external file (or the screen) and that there is the ability to write a header to the script that is only run once (instead of each time a block is examined).

The following lines of code are the test I wrote to determine if I could write the centroid coordinates of specific blocks to an external file. By opening the text file in write mode in the header I effectively delete the previous text file so that I am not appending to it each time I run the script. The header also writes a title line to the output text file so that my resulting data has a header.

begin_inittest = "test.txt"open(test,"new")fileprint(test,"x_coordinate y_coordinate z_coordinate \n")end_init

new_x = xworldnew_y = yworldnew_z = zworld

if (new_z eq 2225) thenfileprint(test,"%f %f %f \n",new_x, new_y, new_z)endif

I had to set the x/y/zworld variables to new variables in order for the script to work. I don't know why this is. I would have expected to just be able to use x/y/zworld as the print variables but that was not my experience.

For more information on writing bcf scripts please see Appendix E in your Maptek Vulcan help as well as Appendix B - Operators/Functions.

BlackRock Inc. Interest in Mining Companies

I noticed this morning that several of the mining companies that I follow on the SEC EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval) system have filed a form 13G about the 'acquisition of beneficial ownership by individuals' for stock owned by BlackRock Inc. As I read through the filings it became clear that these weren't new acquisitions (even investment firms don't buy millions of shares in half a dozen companies in one go) so I spent some time learning about SEC schedule 13G.

It turns out that schedule 13G is related to form 13D . Both these files are intended to report that an investor owns more than 5% of a publicly traded company. These forms are updated annually. What I had originally thought were new acquisitions were really only the annual update to the SEC filing.

Even as just updates to the record I found the amount of mining stock owned by BlackRock to be impressive. Here are some of the companies in which BlackRock owns more than a 5% share:

AngloGold Ashanti (AU): 20,908,941 shares or 5.46% or $608,450,183 at $29.10/share

Barrick (ABX): 87,777,710 shares or 8.77% or $2,834,342,256 at $32.29/share

Freeport McMoran (FCX): 84,022,739 shares or 8.85% or $2,983,647,462 at $35.50/share

Goldcorp (GG): 95,391,332 shares or 11.76% or $3,428,364,472 at $35.93/share

Newmont (NEM): 61,681,268 or 12.55% or $2,723,227,982 at $44.15/share

Peabody (BTU): 23,677,411 shares or 8.82% or $587,673,341 at $24.82/share

Rio Tinto (RIO): 128,626,019 shares or 9.12% or $7,289,236,497 at $56.66/share

Space Mining

I can't believe it. There are two of them. Tuesday a new company announced that they are funding projects to mine asteroids in space. This new company, Deep Space Industries Inc., says that they plan to send prospecting satellites into space as early as 2015. Deep Space is in direct competition with Planetary Resources, the original space mining company.

I think it's neat that people want to explore the universe and realize that mining is an important part of any expansion project. I just wonder where their profit is going to come from. It's fine to have founders with deep pockets but eventually every corporation needs to have a money making endeavor. I worry that space mining is in the same development scheme as wind and solar power, something that has great potential but hasn't shown any money making results. I do appreciate, however, that all the funding for both companies is coming from the private sector. The government doesn't need to throw my money at space mining any more than it needs to give it to Solyndra.

Responsible Mining - Virginia vs Wisconsin

I was reminded recently how dangerous life can be. ABC news reported last week that actor Larry Miller was planning to return to work after sustaining a severe head injury in April. I recognize Larry from his role as the dad in the movie '10 Things I Hate about You.' Larry spent nearly 4 months in a medically induced coma after slipping and falling on the sidewalk outside a recording studio. Being an actor has got to be one of the safest jobs on the planet. Walking out the door and onto the sidewalk is something we all do every day, but here is a normal, healthy human being who ends up in a coma as a result of this everyday action.

It makes me think about how dangerous things can be and why we do them in the first place. After all the talk about gun restrictions lately I was glad to hear that nobody was up in arms wanting to ban sidewalks or walking or recording podcasts as a result of this injury, although all three played a role in Larry Miller's head injury and coma. Why is it that some things are accepted as having an inherent, acceptable amount of danger (like walking down the sidewalk) and others are considered too dangerous to even consider.

Dangers of Mining

This train of thought led me to another topic in the news recently. It seems that several political groups in Virginia vehemently oppose the lifting of a ban on Uranium mining. Recent increases in the price of uranium have made a deposit near Coles Hill a profitable ore reserve but these political groups still support a ban on uranium mining in the area.

No one can deny that the mining and milling of any resource contains an inherent amount of risk and uranium mining is no different but at what point do the rewards outweigh the risks? When does the number of jobs created prompt you to allow mining? Does the influx of raw materials to the local and global economy offset some risks? What if mining, milling and tailings disposal could be done in a safe manner, overseen by the most stringent government oversight agency in the world?

Nobody can tell you that a mining operation doesn't have the potential for something to go wrong. No matter what safety measures are put in place, there is still the potential for an accident. Of course, Larry Miller could still tell us that walking down the sidewalk carries the potential for accidents.

Why not Mine?

Groups that vehemently oppose mining generally do so on two fronts. The first complaint is that we shouldn't do mining near my residence. This is commonly referred to as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) argument. It comes from people who think that the dangers of extracting natural resources should be taken on by someone else. This attitude completely overlooks the fact that mining activities taking place in third world countries often do so without government oversight to protect workers and the environment. The NIMBY attitude also conveniently forgets that the entire planet is a closed ecosystem and that environmental disasters on the other side of the planet effect everyone.

The second argument against mining is that 'mining is evil.' This is often extended to cover all money making operations and grows into 'making money is evil.' People who argue from this platform have watched too much television. In the case of uranium mining they have watched too much X-Men. Money is not the root of all evil. Making money is not evil. Making money is what drives the economy. During most of the history of America we have embraced our natural resources, using them to feed our factories. This employed our people, increased our quality of life and made America the leading industrial power in the world. Why have we let Hollywood tell us that our heritage is bad. We can be environmentally responsible and still embrace our industrial heritage.

Proponents of Mining

There are people in the world who recognize that mining is good for the economy and good for local business. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker wants to allow iron mining in his state. Here is somebody who understands that his local economy needs new jobs. Not just mining jobs but all the supporting industries that will expand to meet the needs of a growing mine. Governor Walker also understands that mining can be done safely and responsibly. Iron mines in neighboring Michigan and Minnesota have long track records of safe mining practices.

We all like the results of mining, our cars and our computers, our homes with indoor plumbing and the electricity to run our appliances. These things are brought to us by mining. No matter how protective of the environment you might be it's always nice to come back to the indoor plumbing. We're not going to give up the things that mining gives us. The responsible thing to do is to keep mining close to home and enforce practices that are reasonable for the economy and the environment.

Maptek Vulcan and Windows 8

Maptek Vulcan tile in Windows 8

recently had the chance to try out Vulcan on the new Windows 8 operating system. I was especially interested to give it a go when the IT guy said that he was seeing performance improvements over the old Windows 7 OS.

Installation of Maptek Vulcan 8.2 went as expected. There were a million confirmation windows and I had to go searching for the right license file but I eventually got everything installed and running.

For the performance tests I copied all my data to a local drive so that there would be no network issues with timing the results. I didn't have a huge amount of time to extensively test the two operating systems so I can't vouch for every detail of how they interact with each other but I did perform some tests that I use every day. I timed the operating systems opening design databases, triangulations, chronos workbooks and loaded layers and block model slices.

For most of the tests the results were very similar which is kind of a win for Windows 8. The test machine with the new operating system seems to be a machine that IT had lying around. It is an old desktop with an i3 processor. It would be fine for most office work but it doesn't hold a candle to my laptop running an i7 processor with 16 GB ram and 2GB of dedicated memory on the graphics card. This is a nice laptop and has always run Vulcan very well so to have it perform at roughly the same level as the test desktop was a little surprising.

There was one test where the Windows 8 machine outperformed my laptop: loading layers.

Not to be outperformed by an old i3 desktop, I brought the data back to my office and loaded everything on my Cyberpower desktop. This is truly a monster machine. It has 64GB ram and a top of the line i7 processor. I don't want to brag, but it has a Windows experience index of 7.8 out of a possible 7.9. There are faster machines on the planet but most of them are working as servers.

The Cyberpower machine beat the i3 desktop at loading layers in Vulcan even though it was only using Windows 7 but it was a case of extreme overkill.

I haven't checked the accuracy of number crunching using the new Windows 8 OS but I would be happy to run Maptek Vulcan on this new operating system.