Courtesy: PBATour.com |
March 22, 2001,
Walter Ray Williams, Jr.
Programmed For Success
Having begun February by capturing the PBA National Championship, Walter Ray Williams Jr. is now within one title of Mark Roth for second place on the PBAís all-time list.
His five Player of the Year citations keeps him one shy of all-time king Earl Anthony. Toss in several world horseshoe pitching titles, and itís clear that the former Physics major in California State Polytechnic University, Pamonaís Class of 1984 has been programmed for success.
A lesser known side of the most dominant bowler of his generation is that heís also a successful programmer. Meet Walter Ray Williams Jr., the PBAís resident computer whiz kid.
Scores of horseshoe pitching clubs nationwide rely upon a Williams- authored program to schedule their tournaments and to subsequently record the results. Another Walter Ray-produced software provides his accountant with a comprehensive summary of business-related expenses that can easily be reclassified into over 20 categories. An additional result of his ceaseless tinkering allows him to statistically dissect his match play performances.
Williamsí fascination with computers traces back to his senior year at Auburn, Californiaís Placer Union High School. Having been academically accelerated resulted in missing a math credit. That problem was solved by enrolling in a computer class at a local college.
"At first I was a bit scared of them as are a lot of people who donít know anything about computers because they think computers are smart," he acknowledges. "It turns out computers are really stupid. They do what you tell them. If you donít tell them the right thing they will do the wrong thing."
Continues Williams, "Probably the most famous thing that I have done is a stats program for horseshoes tournaments. Itís been used for the last 13 years at the World Horseshoe Tournament. It keeps track of the ringers, the shoes, the opponents, the score, and who wins. The results that they have on their site, horseshoepitching.com, were printed out due to my program."
Williams concedes that his effort is far from the finished product. "Iíve been writing that program for 15 or 16 years. Iím always updating it. With improvements in computers Iíve had to improve the language Iím using. Itís a pretty good program because itís adaptable. Normal horseshoes competition is played in a round robin format but there are a lot of different ways to play. Instead of saying that every group has to be a size of eight and play seven rounds, my program can have any number of players in a typical round robin. You could play a double round robin or a truncated round robin. If you wanted, you could even have the same guys play each other for five games in a row."
He hasnít pursued a copyright given the limited market. Besides, he relates, "My purpose is that I enjoy doing it. Every player on the Tour has his own distractions to allow him to relax. Bowling out here is nice and Iím very happy with what Iíve done but you canít live bowling 16 hours a day or it would get a little bit old."
Like his golfing hobby, computer programming "can also be quite aggravating. It seems that whenever I make a little change to institute an improvement that it messes up three other things. Iím not a professional programmer, by any stretch. There I am feeling as if I had accomplished something great but Iíd forgotten the little things that I had changed so I have had to go back in to make some more adjustments."
Walter Rayís next challenge involves a step back in time. For his senior thesis he authored a program that calculated a bowling ballís physical properties. "One of these days I plan on going back to look at it," he relates. "I think that I might have made a mistake or two. I would like to get right. Besides, it would be fun to see how accurate it can be because computers now are so much faster than they were back then."
In January, Williams followed the lead of rival Parker Bohn III by launching www.walterray.com. The website was designed by mother-in-law Billie Sue Pennington. To date Walterís contributions have been limited to penning reports on Tour life. There arenít any plans to expand his role.
Says Walter, "I havenít gotten into web designing and my mother-in-law probably likes it that way! She designed it without any interference from me. I like the programming that I am doing."
Could that avenue represent a viable career option when he finally puts his bowling shoes in mothballs? Responds the 1998 BPAA US Open champion, "I donít know that I would want to have to clock in eight hours-a day doing this kind of stuff."
The former Deanís List student estimates that he averages 15 hours per week adjacent to a keyboard. That figure rises during periods when separated from his wife, Paige Pennington. Offers Williams, "Iím very competitive by nature and I like to use my mind a fair amount. During the weeks when I have more time on my hands I tend to play computer games to kill time. I like logic puzzles."
His current favorite features plenty of variations that intrigue me. It has a bunch of hexagons with a path in and a path out of a big hexagon. There are hexagons in the middle. The objective is to create a path that goes through each hexagon one time. Each of the hexagons has either four or five or six or seven items in a certain row with clues that tell you what to do. I enjoy those mind challenges. I occasionally play chess against the computer. I usually get beat because the computer programs have improved and Iím not a great chess player, Iím only okay.
"I donít typically go for the eye-hand coordination games as much. I prefer to play ones that require a lot of thinking."
Nevertheless, you wonít catch him playing the home version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Of course, given his substantial Tour winnings Williams hardly requires Regisí help to achieve that lofty financial status.