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RE: [Discuss-gnuradio] SDR Design Competition

From: Lamar Owen
Subject: RE: [Discuss-gnuradio] SDR Design Competition
Date: Thu, 18 May 2006 18:16:29 -0400

[You know, I might get flamed for this, but here goes....]

From: address@hidden on behalf of John Gilmore 
>It looks like an incredible amount of work, under really picky and
>idiotic rules, solving problems so challenging that there *isn't* any
>commercial gear that does it, at any price.  For an unknown and
>probably tiny reward.  And to hand it all over to somebody else to

Looking over the rules, FAQ, and phases, this looks  pretty normal, having 
dealt with engineering academia before (for PARI, and during my own senior year 
17 years ago).

The purpose of these challenges is education of the students in practices found 
in the industry.  Whether those practices are correct or not is not even 
relevant, as industry practices are what they are.    The student is getting 
the use of the development tools of the sponsors for free during the scope of 
the challenge; it is an extremely good educational opportunity from the 
educational point of view, and provides valuable people networking for the 
students involved.  This sort of challenge mirrors the processes by which 
industrial electrical engineering is actually done, not how we (myself 
included) wishes it were done.

The rules and projects are ordinary in terms of actually engineering industry 
practice, in my experience.  Reading through the sample challenges, and 
understanding that Matlab, Simulink, and all of Xilinx's tools will be made 
available, I don't see any of the challenges that would be too difficult for a 
team of bright engineering juniors and seniors.

To give you an example, here at PARI we just finished a two semester mechanical 
engineering project with NC A&T University.  In one year, the students 
developed programs, techniques, skills, and processes to measure, model, and 
change the balance of our 26 meter radio telescopes, each of which weight over 
300 tons.  The one is bottom heavy, and the other top heavy.  For obvious 
reasons they began with the bottom heavy dish, and measured torques, calculated 
moments, centers of mass, and weights, and then recommended not only how much 
weight to remove, but the ideal (using finite element analysis) weights to 
remove.  The upper axis had 2,200 pounds of lead counterweight removed, and the 
lower axis around 6,000 pounds.  Oh, and the students had to design the 
fixtures to remove the weights, and actually help remove weights.

There were five students, and they completed all of the modelling and 50% of 
the physical work (they hadn't counted on rust, for instance, on the three inch 
bolts (not length; diameter!) holding the weights to the structure).  But the 
bottom heavy dish is now much less bottom heavy (we wanted to keep it stable, 
and not try to perfectly balance it; but they could have made the balance 

A team of five students can accomplish amazing things. 

>(They won't accept work that has been released under a public license,
>such as the GPL or even the BSD license.  If you spend two years
>writing this stuff, they will *own* it at the end, and you won't even
>be able to keep working with or evolving your own software or
>hardware.  And you won't be paid for any of this.)

And just what is wrong with any of this?  The sponsors provide tools; the 
students use them for no charge, and get recognition, valuable experience, and 
a great time.  That is, unless you want a blob of 
Matlab/Simulink/Xilinx-centric code running around that requires those tools.  
The scoring is weighted towards those solutions that use the sponsors' products 
(this is normal industry practice, too; put up the money, and you make the 

You know, if the GNUradio Project wanted to sponsor such a contest and provide 
USRP's for each team, then the GNUradio project can set the rules of license.  
I would love seeing that, actually.  By the way, I personally own two USRP's; 
our technical director owns one; and PARI owns four.  So I certainly believe in 
what the GNUradio project is about; but seeing an antagonistic attitutde 
towards a normal educational senior project baffles me.

If we are going to change engineering practice, we have to get students using 
the tools. To get them using the tools incentives have to be provided.  
Although, there are quite a few students using the GNUradio toolkit already.

Not directed at John, but to Al: none of these students or their faculty 
deserve the epithet 'suckers.'
Lamar Owen
Director of Information Technology
Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
1 PARI Drive
Rosman, NC  28772

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