Extrude curves with fewer sides in SketchUp

The most sure-fire way to mitigate your model’s geometric complexity (its count of faces and edges) is to pay attention to extruded circles and arcs. Experienced modelers know that curves in SketchUp are actually constructed out of multiple, straight edges. By default, circles have 24 sides and arcs have 12 sides. Zoom in and you’ll see what I mean:

By default, circles you draw in SketchUp have 24 sides.


Arcs you draw in SketchUp are 12-sided by default.


When you extrude a default, 24-sided circle with the Push/Pull tool, you create a cylinder with 26 faces. Choosing View > Hidden Geometry shows the smoothed edges between the faces:

Turning on Hidden Geometry shows a default cylinder for what it really is: a 24-sided extruded polygon.


Using two default arcs and the Follow Me tool to create an fancy bullnose along the perimeter of a rectangular countertop yields no fewer than 90 new faces:

Using the Follow Me tool to extrude compound curves made out of default, 12-sided arcs results in seriously high polygon (face) counts. Thumbs-down — this is bad SketchUp practice.


Modeling a simple bike rack using a combination of 24-sided circles, 12-sided arcs and Follow Me, then placing ten of those bike racks in your design, adds more than 86,000 entities (faces and edges) to your model. Oof.

A single bike rack made by extruding a 24-sided circle along a path made from 12-sided arcs. Unless you’re designing the bike rack itself, there’s no call for adding this much geometry to your model.


A close-up of the high-polygon bike rack. Individual faces and edges are made visible by turning on Hidden Geometry. Images like this one cause expert SketchUp modelers to have nightmares.

The Solution

To dramatically reduce the amount of geometry in your models, change the number of sides in your circles and arcs before you extrude them into 3D shapes. It’s easy:

1) Create a circle or an arc using the appropriate tool.

2) Before doing anything else, type “6s” and hit Enter.

This tells SketchUp to draw the curve you just created using six sides. The “s” tells it that you’re changing the side-count and not the radius. Of course, you don’t have to choose six sides — you can type in any number you like.

Change the number of sides in the circles and arcs you draw. I know, I know — a hexagon isn’t a circle. Suspend your disbelief in order to have usable models.


Note: Once you’ve manually changed the number of sides in a circle or an arc, every subsequent circle or arc you draw will have that same number of sides.

I modeled the bike rack below using 5-sided circles and 6-sided arcs. It only has 322 faces — an 89% reduction over the bike rack I modeled using curves with the default number of sides.

Crafting a bike rack by extruding a 5-sided circle along a path with 6-sided arcs yields a perfectly usable model with substantially fewer faces and edges.


When it’s used as context in my model, can you tell the difference between the “high-poly” (geometrically heavy) and low-poly versions? I thought not.

Is the quality difference between the high-polygon (top) and low-polygon versions of the bike rack worth making your model twice as heavy? Nope.

The long way from weekend idea to funded startup

Almost every developer has an idea and might want to start a company. Where do you start? Entrepreneurs Paul Buchheit, Joe Kraus, and Seth Priebatsch explained how to go from hacking on the nights and weekends to building an investor funded startup. We also discussed how to find co-founders, attract investors, and focus on the key decisions. You can watch the complete Google I/O session on YouTube. Here are some highlights.

Should I have a co-founder? Having strong co-founders join you in transforming your idea into a real company is critical to success. There is a positive correlation between the number of co-founders and successful outcomes up to about four co-founders. Beyond four co-founders there isn’t much data. But having more co-founders on your team definitely improves your chances of success.

What are important characteristics of a co-founder? It helps if you have worked together before, know each other well, have complimentary expertise, and can communicate openly and honestly. Joe Kraus said you should be able to settle arguments with great answers, not the compromise middle position. What else should you look for in a co-founder?

  1. Experience starting a company
  2. Domain experience and an understanding of the market
  3. Balance and different experience than your own
  4. Passion about the company vision

How do you get started? Paul Buchheit knew he wanted to start a company but didn’t know how. So, he decided to join a startup to get some experience. That startup was Google. Paul learned how startups grow, and worked with some great people who would later become his co-founders at FriendFeed. Having experience at a startup earns you credibility with potential co-founders, employees, and investors.

What matters most; team, traction, idea, or market segment? They all matter, but the people on the team are the number one consideration. The founding team shapes the product vision and sets the direction for the company. Potential employees and investors are attracted…or not, by the members of the founding team. The idea matters, but will probably change significantly over time, so most investors don’t fixate on the idea. The market segment is important, but only as a gauge of the range of successful outcomes. Traction from early users or customers makes it much easier to raise money.

How do you find investors? People invest in businesses they understand, or people they know. Look for investors that have started companies in your area, or have invested in similar companies in the past. Talk to everyone you know about your idea. Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite, tells the story of how he read a book about starting companies, called the author, got introduced to other people, who introduced him to other people, and finally ended up with a $3M investment from Kleiner Perkins, one of the top VCs in the world.

Should you raise money from VCs or Angels? The first consideration is who can help you most. You want more than just money from investors. You want help, advice, introductions to other people who can help, and maybe access to press. Aside from help, it depends on how much money you need to raise. Friends and Family is the best place to start to raise small amounts of money. Angel investors can fund anywhere from $100K to $1M or more. Venture Capitalists (VCs) usually invest $1M to $3M in a first round Series A investment.

Incubators, Angels, and VCs – Seth Priebatsch, founder of SCVNGR.com did all three in starting his company. Seth entered a business plan competition at Princeton…and won. He used that to get the initial product built, and then applied to DreamIT, a startup incubator. That experience at the incubator allowed him to build and refine the product. Next he raised a small amount of money from Angels and brought on advisers to help him grow the company. That led to a small round from VCs. Seth believes the more investors you have, the more help, advice, and experience you get.

How do you arrive at a valuation for the company? Joe Kraus says it is an art, not a science. It depends on the stage of the company, the competition, and how fast the market segment is growing. Most early stage startups don’t have revenue and don’t have many users so the valuation is typically between $1M and $3M, and depends on the experience of the founding team, how much progress you have made on the product, and the relative success of competitors. The best way to determine a fair valuation is by having several competing investors give you proposals.

Do I need a business plan? No, but you do need a good slide deck that explains what you want to do, what problem it solves, why it will be successful, and how your team can execute on the vision. Here is a link to a post that explains how to pitch your company to investors. A good pitch deck and a product demo are what most investors are looking for. Business plans might be useful for helping you refine your ideas and vision, but most investors will never read it.

Are patents, IP, and trademarks important? Paul Buchheit says in most cases they don’t matter for early stage startups. Joe Kraus added, patents might be of some value to a potential acquirer, but probably just as a defense against patent infringement cases. Patents are very expensive to obtain (legal bills) and they take two to four years, sometimes longer, to actually get issued. By that time most startups are out of business, acquired, or moving on to something else. Even if you have a patent, most startups can’t afford to defend them in court against potential infringers. The legal expense of defending a patent, and time lost away from your business, make it nearly impossible for a small startup.

Public data visualization with Google Maps and Fusion Tables

The Bay Citizen is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to fact-based, independent reporting of issues in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are interested in visualizing public data that is useful to the local community. One such effort is our Bike Accident Tracker. In this post, I’ll present a simple example of how we used Google Maps and Google Fusion Tables to accomplish this.

This is what our accident map looks like:

Want to add our accident map to your site? Here is the code:

[php]<html style=’height: 100%’>
<script type=’text/javascript’ src=’http://maps.google.com/maps/api/js?sensor=false’></script>
<script type=’text/javascript’>
function initialize() {
var bc_office = new google.maps.LatLng(37.788901, -122.403806);
var map = new google.maps.Map(document.getElementById(‘accident-map’), {
center: bc_office,
zoom: 13,
mapTypeId: google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP
var accidents_layer = new google.maps.FusionTablesLayer(433634);
<body onload=’initialize()’ style=’height: 100%; margin: 0px; padding: 0px’>
<div id="accident-map" style=’height: 100%’></div>

That’s it. To test this yourself, just save the raw file, open the file with a browser and you will have a copy of the accidents map running locally on your computer. The code mainly deals with setting up Google Maps, with one critical line that sets up Fusion Table integration:

[php]var accidents_layer = new google.maps.FusionTablesLayer(433634);[/php]

You can expand this integration by filtering the results through the use of Fusion Tables’ sql-like query syntax. As an example, to display accidents from May 2009, change the line above to look like this:

[php]var accidents_layer = new google.maps.FusionTablesLayer(433634, {
query: ‘SELECT FullAddress FROM 433634 WHERE Year=2009 AND Month=5’

A quick gotcha to point out here is that Google Maps v3 only supports a SELECT operation on the location value column. So the location query above works just fine, but the COUNT query needed to get the number of accidents does not work:

[php]’SELECT COUNT() FROM 433634 WHERE Year=2009 AND Month=5′[/php]

Instead, to get the number of accidents in this case, you can use the Fusion Tables API endpoint directly:

[php]https://www.google.com/fusiontables/api/query?sql=SELECT COUNT() FROM 433634 WHERE Year=2009 AND Month=5[/php]

You can see the actual response from the count query here. Because The Bay Citizen is built on the Django framework, we can leverage the Python libraries Google provides for query generation and API calls. Also, since the location query is so similar to the count query, I consolidated the filter logic so it happens on the server side using a jQuery AJAX call. As a result, when users apply a filter, they see an updated map and results bar all thanks to the following few JavaScript lines:

success: function(responseText, statusText) {
var data = $.parseJSON(responseText);
accidents_layer = new google.maps.FusionTablesLayer(433634, {
query: data.map_query});

I was really happy with this approach. The performance hit is negligible, the code is much cleaner, and the filter logic is rewritten in the programming language I currently know best (Python).

I hope this post gives you a taste of what it’s like to work with Google Maps and Fusion Tables. Also, please note that our data is public and can be referenced at Table #433634. This means you’re free to use the same data we do to develop and design your own map interface. When we update the data, your project will be updated as well.

From our end, we don’t have to worry about our servers being overloaded with data API and map generation calls that come from your project. So by all means, hack away, improve the design, and create a better version. All we ask is that if you do come up with something cool, please link back to us, let us know, and then maybe we can even work together.