Meet the New Hot Tip Harry

22 Nov, 2010 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

User Profile: Randy McSwain is a man of few words — and many tips.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Cadalyst magazine.


Early this year, Cadalyst introduced R.K. (Randy) McSwain as the new Hot Tip Harry, our popular purveyor of custom AutoCAD tips from readers. But McSwain is no stranger to the CAD community. An AutoCAD user since R12, he's well known in AutoCAD circles and has his own blog, CAD Panacea. Born, raised, and living in Houston, McSwain is the CAD systems administrator for 60 AutoCAD seats at Pate Engineers, a civil engineering firm with offices in Texas. How he does it all is a mystery — he's not one to talk much about himself — but he did offer a glimpse into his working world and his thoughts about AutoCAD programming.

Tell us about your CAD experience.

I began board drafting in high school and continued in early college, but I had no idea what CAD was until I was introduced to AutoCAD R12 in 1992.

A few years later I Ianded a position at Pate Engineers as a drafting technician. In 1999, I went to work for Carlson Software doing tech support, programming, training, and sales. In 2003, I returned to Pate Engineers and the production side for a couple of years, then moved into information systems (IS) as a full-time CAD systems administrator. Today I'm responsible for implementation, customization, and standardization for about 60 seats of AutoCAD, Land Desktop, Civil 3D, and Carlson Software. Currently my duties are split between production work and IS. We are migrating to AutoCAD Civil 3D, so this is a quite a challenge.

How did you get into programming?

I began learning to program using LISP 15 years ago when I became a daily user of AutoCAD R13. There were plenty of opportunities to streamline tasks, and like many others, I started small and learned along the way. While at Carlson Software, I maintained much of the LISP code in use and helped develop several new applications.

How do you like your new role reviewing tips as Hot Tip Harry?

I welcome the challenge of the Hot Tip Harry role. It is great to see the wide variety of ideas and solutions that readers can come up with, and that they are willing to share — everything from simple time-saving scripts to complex applications. I'm learning something myself every month.

Any advice for tip authors or users?

For tip authors, don't be afraid to experiment, and always be on the lookout for ways to streamline tasks, whether it be a macro, script file, AutoLISP, or whatever. If you find yourself doing something over and over, you have found a great opportunity. If you get stuck writing code, study previously submitted code or ask a question on Cadalyst's Hot Tip Harry Discussion Forum. For tip users, become a tip submitter!

What makes a great LISP routine? 

That is a tough question, but let's start with four things.

  1. Comments in the code. This helps you remember, and helps others figure out, what is going on.
  2. Localized variables. Sometimes, global variables are needed, but ignor-ing local variables can break your code and other loaded routines.
  3. Split up large routines into smaller functions. This way you can reuse the smaller functions in other routines, and it makes debugging easier.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Always plan for errors and handle them.

Any thoughts about the future of customization for AutoCAD?

AutoLISP should be around for the foreseeable future. Unlike Microsoft's VBA, AutoLISP is controlled by Autodesk and there is just no reason to kill it off. However, I would expect to see future advancements in technologies such as .NET and ObjectARX — and little if any in AutoLISP.

What do you do when you're not busy with CAD-related work?
I spend time with my family, do a little woodworking, and I always need some nonfiction to read. And unfortunately, I spend about seven hours a week in Houston traffic!

What might people be surprised to know about you?
I do live in Texas, but contrary to the popular stereotype, I do not own a cowboy hat, boots, a large silver belt buckle, or any livestock.

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About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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