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An interview with Greg Hatch, the winner of
the Lonely Ranger competition
by Samuel J. Grabski
Samuel: Greg, I am very glad that you won this competition since you are from
Texas and I always thought: "If someone wins he should be from Texas!"
How hard was it to win?
Greg: Well, to be fair - I'm not a true Texan, I'm just another displaced
It was very challenging for me to win the Lonely Ranger competition. Several
of the older robots, especially Jimbo and MarukoV4, are very difficult for a
new player to beat consistently.
Samuel: You almost won the double competition. Why have you missed?
Greg: Jimbo beat my robot, Stately, in the double competition of the Cadet's
league. Jimbo is a strong old robot, and I spent most of my initial effort
optimizing Stately for singles play.
Jrobots is very interesting as it is really three games in one - singles,
doubles, and team play each have very different characteristics, and
different strategies are needed to be successful in each competition.
Samuel: I like the name of your robot "Stately". I guess it refers to its
Greg: That is correct! Stately is designed internally as a state machine.
A state machine can be described as having
An initial state
A set of possible inputs
A set of new states that result from the inputs
A set of actions that result from the new state
For me, there were a few benefits to developing Stately with this approach.
Designing as a state machine really helps to break down the problem into more
manageable pieces, and forces you to think a little more rigorously. This
approach also made it quick to prototype and adds special behaviors into
Samuel: Now, your robot is greatly improved and will stay in Veterans League
for January 2004 competition. Are you afraid of newcomers GulleFjun and
Greg: GulleFjun and FlameBall are impressive robots, but I am not
specifically afraid of them. However, I do wonder about when the next killer
robot will be uploaded - it could happen any time!! From what I can tell, the
robots competing have gotten more and more sophisticated with time, and there
is no reason to believe that will stop.
Samuel: What could you tell us about yourself?
Greg: I live in Austin, Texas. Austin is an interesting town, as it is
somehow simultaneously a high-tech town, a college town, and a government
town. Austin is a great town for technology jobs - many big high-tech
companies like IBM, Motorola, Sun, AMD and Dell are here, as well as bunch of
smaller companies like Cirrus Logic and still many startups. In this
respect, Austin is kind of an "affordable" San Jose.
I am 24 years old and recently married. We are currently building a home a
little ways out of town and are pretty excited about it all.
I have a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from the University of
Illinois, and I am a professional programmer. My current work project is
building a PC simulator. It's lots of fun.
Like Alan, JRobots is the only Java programming I've done. The JRobots
programming environment is so restrictive though regarding Java features that
it does not really seem much different than C++ to me. C++ and Perl are
really my weapons of choice, depending on the type and scope of the task.
Samuel: I would like to ask you about your hobbies, favorite books and music.
Greg: I enjoy reading, mostly science fiction. A few of my favorite authors
are Phillip K. Dick (try "Ubik" and "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch"),
Michael Moorcock (try the "Elric of Melnibourne" series), and Neal Stephenson
(try "Snow Crash" and "Cryptonomicon")
I don't watch much TV, but do enjoy watching hockey whenever I can. Go Red
Wings! Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" time-block is pretty awesome too.
I've recently started picking up the guitar, although it will probably be
years before I am any good. It is very challenging.
I listen to a ton of music. I especially enjoy Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The
Flaming Lips, and Radiohead, and am always looking for new music that I can
enjoy. I find much meaning and emotion in music.
Samuel: When you came across Jrobots did you expect to be a winner?
Greg: I did not expect to be a winner, but I did hope to make a good showing.
I am very happy with Stately's success so far, and am especially proud that
Stately managed to stay in the Veteran's league. The Veteran's league is
populated with so many strong robots that it is difficult to succeed.
Samuel: Any particular comments regarding Jrobots?
Greg: Jrobots is great! Jrobots is deceptively simple, which makes it all the
more entertaining to me. After all, every battlefield is the same and
symmetric, there is only one weapon, and no special items. Yet there is
still a vast gulf between the most powerful and the least powerful robots in
the game. I, for one, would not want to see this aspect of the game changed
- it would be unfair to break backwards compatibility with existing robots.
One feature that I would love to have is faster matches. It is frustrating
to make a small change for your robot, but then have to leave your computer
running matches overnight before you can tell whether the change was
successful or not. Quicker matches would substantially help you to optimize
your robot. Quicker matches might also enable new strategies for team mode;
it takes so long to run a statistically significant number of team mode
matches that it is aggravating to measure your robot's performance in this
competition. Or maybe I just need a new PC!
Samuel: Greg, thank you for your answers and I wish you all the best in the
Greg: No problem.
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