We Robots

K2MM at MasPar.COM K2MM at MasPar.COM
Sun Aug 1 14:38:23 EDT 1993

A couple of interesting quotes:

> [Alan/K6XO]  The only trouble with robot contests is that now you have
> removed operating skill from the formula. . . .  It takes a lot of
> code . . . to make these kinds of decisions.

> [Jim/AD1C]  I feel differently; now you have made "operating skill"
> synonymous with "programming skill."

Alan is mostly right, but there's merit to Jim's sentiment that the
shift is not necessarily bad. 

I've noticed a common thread running through the pro-equalization
postings.  Consider the three elements of contest performance:

    1.  Operator
    2.  Equipment
    3.  Location

The "equalizers" have sought to diminish the influence of factors 2 and
3 in order to obtain as pure as possible a measure of factor 1.  That's
OK, but not when taken to the extreme of de-legitimatizing the other
factors.  Many of us technically-oriented hams enjoy testing stations
against one another (factor 2).  Not that we don't admire and aspire to
excellence in operating skill, but the planning and construction of the
ultimate contest station is a big part of our fun.  (I'd observe that
Jim Lawson, W2PV, was not so much a contest operator as an all-around
contester.)  It's great that there are different contests and categories
whose rules result in different weightings of the three elements.
"Something for everyone -- a contest tonight!"

So Alan correctly observes that robot contesting severely reduces the
importance of operating skill.  In fact, its ultimate objective may be
to eliminate it.  Jim's sentiment stems from the fact that programming
skill replaces operating skill in importance.  (Though I wouldn't say
that the two have become synonymous.)  I'd say that this falls under
factor 2 -- equipment -- in the above taxonomy.  I'd also observe that
there's a higher-level skill involved:  the invention and selection of
strategic and tactical algorithms.  It's one thing to be able to write
code; it's another to know what you want your code to do.

There is one issue that nags a bit, though.  I think I've detected an
implicit assumption in the robot postings that the operator of a robot
station is the author of the robot code.  With the evolution of robot
contesting, this may not always be true.  I can imagine someday being
able to order off-the-shelf software, load it onto my PC, hook up a few
cables, and away I go!  Something about that doesn't feel right.

So, should some degree of authorship be required for robot contesters?
This is a pretty grey area, and codification and enforcement seem
problematic.  Modifying, customizing, and bug-fixing other people's code
has a time-honored tradition.  We take library subroutines for granted.
And I wouldn't want to have to write the operating system upon which my
program runs.  (Though I've sometimes been tempted.)  Seems like a tough
job just to devise a measure for degree of authorship.

Maybe there isn't a real problem here.  Any thoughts?  73.  --John/K2MM

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