Ranging and Targeting Software · 4 September 2021

We all have amazing ranging and targeting software that we just need to use often to make it better.

(I mentioned my basketball ranging and targeting software in a previous post. For those who want to check it out, it was the one about non-sports analogies. I was actually going to write more about it then, but decided that it could be a post of its own.)

Figuring out that I can dribble the basketball without looking at the ball opened up a whole new world for me. (No. That does not mean you should queue up the Aladin soundtrack. And I apologize if you are already hearing the song in your head.) That whole new world (sorry again) was the rest of the basketball court. I realized that when I was not focusing my attention on the ball, I could actually see what was in front of me. Which for me is usually just an empty basketball court (when it is not basketball season). More than that, dribbling without looking at the ball showed me how my ranging and targeting software worked.

Since I just run around the basketball court dribbling and shooting, first at one end and then the other, I realized that the hoop looks different depending on where I am. That might seem obvious, but that realization got me thinking about a robotics competition several years ago and how students were writing ranging and targeting software. They were actually using something like radar, seeing a strip of reflective tape and using some sort of algorithm to figure out the distance. Then, they used that distance to launch balls toward a hoop target. As I was thinking about my students’ work, I realized what my own ranging and targeting algorithm was.

(Now, if you are not familiar with software development, that is okay. I am not that good at it either and yet my students can figure stuff out problems that would take me years to figure out. In other words, my explanation of my ranging and targeting software will not get too technical.)

First of all, I was amazed that I could actually dribble without looking at the ball. I know. I have been playing basketball for a long time, so you would think I would have been able to dribble and run without looking at the ball. But alas. I am a slow learner. Rather, I do not handle the ball much during actual games. Which is really another way to say that I am a slow learner. Still, I was amazed at what I could see when I let my hands and arms do the dribbling on their own without the help of my eyes.

At any rate.

The thing that I really noticed (besides the vast empty court) was that the basketball hoop changed shape. At least visually. It was never a circle. Unless, of course, I was standing directly below it looking up. Everywhere else on the court, the hoop was an ellipse. And not just any ellipse. It was an ellipse with the minor axis pointing directly at me and the major axis perpendicular to that. If you do not know what the major and minor axes of an ellipse are, they are just the longest and shortest line you can draw through the center of an ellipse. And by the way, they are always perpendicular to each other. (That is as technical as I will get. Maybe.)

That ellipse realization blew my mind. It blew my mind because I realized how my ranging software was working. By knowing how high my eyes are and knowing the eccentricity of the ellipse (how much it looks like a circle), I could find the distance to the center of the hoop. The algorithm was brilliant. Simply brilliant. The thing is, I did not write the software. It was already programmed into my body and mind. I did not need to do any of the crazy mathematics to write the actual software in my brain.

The targeting software is just as complicated. Maybe more so. It takes the output from the ranging software and calculates the amount of energy required to move my body. To extend my legs, hips, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, and any other large or small muscles, then fires all those muscles in the correct sequence to get the ball into the hoop. Not only that, since I play basketball outside most of the time, my software takes into consideration windage and elevation. (Okay. Not elevation. I just like that line from Rooster Cogburn. “Windage and elevation Mrs. Goodnight. Windage and elevation.” (Which I found out should actually be Mrs. Langdon from The Undefeated. Alas, the horror of movie misquotes.) Although if I change the height of the arc of my shot, that could be considered elevation.)

Needless to say, the ranging and targeting software in my brain is mighty complicated. It operates a complex machine and even though I do not hit the target all the time, the software and hardware work well together. And I did not have to write the software. And all I need to do to make it function well is to keep shooting. The ranging and targeting software keep making themselves better the more I shoot. Just like the dribbling software keeps getting better the less I rely on my eyes to guide my hands.

Let me just say that I would be thoroughly impressed with myself if I was the one who developed the software that runs the hardware called my body. The integration of this complex machine is amazing. And all I need to do is to keep using it properly. My hat is off to the Creator of my machine and the software that runs it.

Well, it is about time for me to go out and use my ranging and targeting software to run my amazing machine. And while I am at it, I will marvel again at the Creator who put it all together.

© 2021 Michael T. Miyoshi

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