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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 Yankee. 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 internal design? 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 Stately. Samuel: Now, your robot is greatly improved and will stay in Veterans League for January 2004 competition. Are you afraid of newcomers GulleFjun and FlameBall? 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.
State Capitol at Austin
State Capitol at Austin
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 New Year! Greg: No problem.

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