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Q:

is there a way to train on previous year's challenges or against a dummy ? This seems interesting

A:

My understanding is that "ugly" produce is what is sold to companies that turn them into juices, Broth, and pieces so small that the defects are mitigated (such as baby carrots).

Is this the case? If so, how much waste is there if you account for these products?


Q:

Well I'm gonna be the first to ask the obvious- why did you quit??

A:

Yes! For 2016's files:

  • Download the files here.

  • View the game specs here.

  • Java API / documentation is here.

  • Troubleshooting/help/FAQ forum post is here

It comes with a dummy player "examplefuncsplayer" that basically moves randomly. You can also download source code from last year's participants here.

Edit: added links. We'll also make these accessible on the website at some point.


Q:

You're right -- a lot of ugly veggies have a processor market. Apples, oranges, and other fruit tend to. Often even when there is a processor market, farmers are forced to sell it below cost. So we buy some of that stuff and are able to pay a lot more than processors do. But most items -- basically all the field packed product like celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. don't have a processor market and would be left in the field. And then even items like kiwis, eggplants or any other pears besides the bartlett often go to animal feed for 1 cent per pound.

A:

I felt (a) unprepared, (b) underqualified, and (c) unsupported.

(a) The majority of the knowledge I gained during my time in college was of no use to me whatsoever. Most of the focus was on early childhood students and my professors all told me (us, I guess) that all we had to do was trust our students and be there for them and everything else would fall into place. When myself and others in my cohort in school would ask about more 'refined' behavioral issues (for lack of a better term), they'd shrug it off and say "Just do this and you won't have that problem." Everything was so idealistic for them and it became obvious later on how out of touch with teaching they were. So when I landed my job, I was naïve as could be and was overwhelmed from the second it started by student behaviors, shifting policies within the district/state, and the sheer workload.

(b) Beyond just not bracing for a realistic classroom setting, my school was a full inclusion setting, meaning kids in special education attended general education classes as often as possible. I love the system and think it's the way to go, but I had almost no realistic education for how to approach moderate/severe disabilities as a teacher. I didn't really know any of the available accessibility technologies or techniques for actually getting the major points across. Even assessing a student with severe disabilities was an enigma for me. I reached out for help from various sources, but each person told me so many different and conflicting things that I never managed to get it right.

(c) In the two weeks prior to the school year, I discovered I wouldn't have curriculum for my students. That's, like, a big deal. It's the road map of what you teach, and when/how to teach it. There was no mentor from the district that was promised when I was hired earlier in the summer. There were no textbooks or class novels. I had to work in the librarian at my school to apply for a state grant just to BUY THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S NOVELS, as I was then going off of that curriculum. My principal was letting all the 'rough' parents walk all over her when she was supposed to be a barrier between them and us teachers. Upper administration in the district had very little concern for any of my grievances, too, as there were a number of seat swaps in the headquarters and policies changing just as rapidly.

I never claimed to be a great teacher and I do blame much of my hardship on myself, but I was certainly never given an environment to thrive in.


Q:

Have you guys ever thought about bringing a frog as a mascot and calling it a Battle Toad?

A:

Thanks for the info. I look forward to a San Diego expansion!


Q:

I work in Arizona. Which district, or region?

A:

We haven't before, but we'll be giving it some serious thought now.

Answer from another dev: I definitely remember we had a team called "BattleToads" one year. We've also had similarly-inspired names like "Cattlebode", "Paddlegoats", and "Battlecod"


Q:

Awesome! SD should actually be sooner rather than later. We are planning on launching in LA in late January/early February and should launch in SD by April or May. You can sign up on our website ahead of time so you're all set up when we launch if you want.

A:

I was working in the northern portion of the Phoenix metropolitan area. I'm hesitant to say which district, but it was one of the larger ones.


Q:

Did you ever have issues with security? (eg. a "team" trying to upload some bad Java code to your machines) How did you deal with this?

A:

What wonky produce is the easiest/hardest to sell?


Q:

My guess is you were in Peoria Unified if so they are the lowest paid of the districts and the worst off with staff and support.

A:

We sandbox player code by sandboxing it at runtime - you're not allowed to access any tools but the ones we give you, so you can't, say, write files on the match-running servers.

It doesn't always work, though.

Last year's game was about zombies (not cliche at all, right?) They were supposed to show up periodically at spawn points around the map.

It turned out that there was a particular way to escape the sandbox and modify the "zombie spawn schedule" data structure while the match was running. Somebody sent us a match file that consisted of hundreds of zombies spawning every timestep until the match player crashed.

We got it fixed eventually.


Q:

Great question! Easy sells for us are definitely fresh seasonal fruit like citrus, kiwis, and persimmons. We also see a lot of demand for healthy greens like kale, broccoli, and lettuces, which are normally expensive in stores so people love the savings plus the convenience of having it delivered. Hard sells are anything with visible scarring, which can look weird at first, but once you peel or chop the item you realize that it's the same as what you could have gotten in the stores. To be honest though, one of the most common responses we get from people when they first get their box is "this isn't ugly at all!" It is astounding how strict the cosmetic standards at grocery store standards have become over the years.

A:

I was not, but I'm familiar with that district. I was paid very low for a first-year teacher, even by teacher standards. What's truly terrifying is that I know for a fact I was making more money than people who had been at my school for years. #thisiswhatnofundinglookslike


Q:

What kind of infrastructure is required on your side to run the fights? Do you take the opportunity to try out recent technologies such as containers and microservices/microkernels?

A:

Don't go on the imperfect produce website for ugly produce... you'll see the most picture-perfect fruits and veggies... http://i.imgur.com/KIoZF0A.jpg


Q:

Thats how they are brining people in nowadays in Arizona. Teachers now are taking a year off and then coming back so they can get paid more since raises are non existent or if anything they are 1 percent or less. That is one of the problems in Phoenix, schools are underfunded yet we have so many districts all with administration overhead sucking up what little money there is.

A:

We run most of our stuff on VMs in Amazon Web Services. It's fairly simple, a few web servers, a server that just compiles code, and a few servers that pull from a match queue and run matches.

We've messed around with tools like Docker and Kubernetes but ultimately VMs serve our needs just fine for now.

Edit: simplistic -> simple


A:

Exactly. They need to attract people with competitive (lol) salaries by paying new teachers more, but then there's no money left to pay the veteran educators with. But if you pay the veterans better and the newbies less, you'll have an even larger teacher shortage than we currently do.

And every time a budget override gets struck down or an education-benefiting tax increase fails to pass, everything gets worse.


Q:

Have you considered running on something like Lambda?

A:

Any plans on ever expanding into East Coast? Live in CT and have been waiting to be able to get some beautiful ugly produce for a while!


Q:

Thanks for the detailed response. I currently work with children in a one-on-one type setting and love it. People ask me all the time why I don't pursue a career in teaching and while I've thought about it, the entire education system just seems way too overwhelming and unrewarding. I hope you find a new calling!!

A:

Most of our stuff is too heavyweight for lambda, although we might end up using it in our matchmaking system.


Q:

Totally! We hope to be on the East Coast by 2019. Feel free to pre-sign up on our website to get an email when we launch. imperfectproduce.com

A:

Thank you for what you do. Being a para is an even less respected profession despite being the ones that make the biggest difference with those who need it.


Q:

By the way, "simplistic" means too simple and is bad. You probably mean "simple" (which is generally very good in any kind of system).

A:

Hi Ben, I am a customer of Imperfect Produce and I absolutely love it! Are you going to be potentially opening up customer service jobs that are 'at-home'? I would LVOE to work for you but your warehouse is far away!


Q:

I'm a school bus driver. I get to hang out with each group of kids for around 20 minutes in the morning and afternoon. So pretty much I just get to hear their goofy stories, tell dad type jokes,offer quick advice...then drop them off for the day. It's pretty great (I certainly don't do it for the pay).

I can't imagine how the teachers stand up there with so many eyes on them all day every day and be expected to teach.

Hope you find a better niche in the system.

Edit: Though the benifits and paid time off can't be beat.

A:

Updated, thanks!


Q:

Thanks! Love you back. I just chatted with our customer care manager. She says that we do not currently have open positions that you should check our website as we will definitely be hiring for this role in the future! We don't do remote Customer care roles right now but it might be a possibility down the road.

A:

That's what subbing is like for me. I get to spend one day with a variety of different students and impart the best of what I've got to them, then I move on to the next school.


Q:

Is there any truth to scenes in movies like The Social Network where they make speed hacking/coding competitions a drinking game?

A:

Are you ecological in other ways; for example with your use of packaging?


Q:

I had a similar experience. Nobody tells you that teaching the kids is really only 30% of the job. Parents, prep, grading papers, dealing with administration, being a surrogate parent, etc. is most of what you do. Plus, if you have a principal who doesn't support you, and makes you feel like the bad guy with the parents it is untenable. I had as many conversations with child advocates as I had with my team the first year I taught. I hung on for 3 years. Finally the principal was nice enough to can me when we "restructured" for the 4th time in 5 years.

A:

They say that peak programming efficiency is reached somewhere in the period of the first few drinks.


Q:

Right now we use cardboard boxes like most online grocery companies. Honestly, it's not my favorite as an environmentalist and long term we want to have a reusable, returnable box.

A:

I feel you. I do. What do you do now? Still teaching elsewhere?


Q:

Are a lot of teams reusing their code from previous years and just improving on it? If so, is it possible to compete against that? Or is the game changed somewhat?

A:

Hey Ben! Just how big of a problem is food waste in the US? How much ugly produce is out there really? Are you worried about ever "running out" of ugly produce to deliver to people?


Q:

That people are unprepared for it is one of the main criticisms, I think, of programs like Teach For America. For instance, they take idealistic young teachers with little experience and expect them to actually effect change and it doesn't work that way. Do you agree?

A:

The game changes every year, and we don't release the details of the new game until competition starts on January 9th. This means that you can't just recycle the same code used last year.

That being said, some elements of the game often stay the same between years, and it can be an advantage to have competed before and be able to re-use some of your strategies. To help newcomers, we have available online the specs from previous years (here's 2016) so they can get a taste for what the game is like. We also encourage competitors to post their code online after the end of the competition or do a post-mortem analysing their strategies: you can see some of those here or by googling "battlecode 2016 post-mortem".


Q:

Food waste is one of our biggest environmental challenges. We waste 40% of food grown in this country according to the NRDC. It's literally the #1 item filling up landfills, and if food waste were a country it's greenhouse gas emissions would be third only to the U.S. and China. Globally, the food system is one of the largest contributors to climate change and resource overconsumption so a big part of fighting climate change needs to be closing the loop on food waste.

In terms of how much ugly produce is out there, it's estimated by the NRDC that 20% of all the produce in the U.S. goes to waste at the farm level due to being too ugly for the grocery store and also surpluses in the market. So we really don't think we will run out any time soon. There is estimated to be 3 billion pounds per year of uglies going to waste in California alone. We should recover around 15-20 million pounds in 2017, but to be honest it's just scratching the surface because the problem is so deep. We think our model is scalable so long term our vision is to be able to find a home for all of the billions of pounds of produce that's going to waste. Eventually we also want to go beyond just fruits and vegetables.

A:

It's exactly the problem we have right now. The training and preparation prospective teachers receive is so behind the times of a system that barely has any shared identity from year to year.


Q:

What, in your opinion, were the most artificially intelligent robots to ever participate in the competition? What could they do and is there any plans of any team using something developed in the competitions commercially?

A:

Do you deliver anywhere in U.S.?


Q:

I've been teaching ~25 years. Still feel unsupported, unappreciated by my admins, yet don't want to leave because I went into teaching to teach. I just have to find other ways to do what I must.

A:

There's no plans to commercialize any code developed for Battlecode that I'm aware of. Competitors need to develop their strategies within the framework of that year's game, which is entirely virtual and therefore difficult to relate to any real-world applications. The closest field of modern research I could think of might be swarm robotics or something similar, involving the control of a large number of similar autonomous units.

It's also pretty hard to pick out a "most intelligent" example from our past winners. Battlecode isn't won based purely on who has the most complex AI. Sometimes very simple strategies can work well just by being unexpected and clever! For example, we've had competitors who ranked highly by producing almost no combat units and using scout units to confuse their opponents' armies or lead them into harm.


Q:

Right now just the greater Bay Area! We're launching in LA in a month or two and plan to serve the whole country in the next 3 years.

A:

Yeah, I feel you. I love teaching still, but most of the job isn't that. I get that all jobs have bullshit to wade through, but calling the job "teaching" is almost false advertising.

Subbing for the current school year is doing me a lot of good, though, I think. I get a chance to show up, teach, and leave. Good day? Coming back. It's been giving me a lot of motivation to take some hard looks at what I really did all of this for.


Q:

I read through last year's (zombie) specification, and one of the first strata that came to mind was bombarding the enemy player with self-infected (via viper) suicide scouts. Did anyone try that strategy? Was it effective, or was the building cost prohibitive?

A:

How do you plan to grow? For example, are you going to offer franchises?


Q:

No education does what you ask, anymore. School maybe gives you the time and freedom to figure out your calling and sells you a small amount of relatively temporary credibility to establish yourself in a career. The idea that anyone is prepared for any particular job after college is naive and never explained to kids. College helps you by exposing you to higher levels of thoughts and ideas, but it is not a training facility and never really was. Trade schools did what you are asking and they rarely exist anymore.

A:

Yes! Here's a video of a team using this strategy at the final tournament. Red team hid a single archon in the bottom right corner of the map (to keep it safe) while self-infecting their entire army, creating a swarm of zombies that annihilated the enemy team.

Not many teams adopted this as their primary strategy, though. One possible reason is that it's risky - if you positioned poorly, the zombies you create could end up attacking your own army instead of the enemies.

Edit: here's a quick guide to what the different units are in the video.


Q:

We're planning to keep things in house as we grow so we can really control the quality of the product.

A:

That's fair, to a point. My professors in college weren't too helpful as described in the topic post of this specific thread, but it was almost like they were giving us misinformation because of how long they'd been out of the field. They were all older people who taught only as recently as ten years prior, with a few having only taught in the 80's-90's. I can think back to so many questions we asked and the answer we got was so outdated that almost nobody teaching today feels that way.

I get that college isn't trade school, but the learning curve for teaching versus nearly anything else is so steep that the majority slide back down and say "Well what the shit, hill?" That's my biggest concern. There needs to be total reform of the public education system, but it also needs to start at the source: where our teachers come from.


Q:

I just watched the entire thing and that was one of the most oddly entertaining things I've watched all year. I have no programming knowledge at all, but it was really fun watching the different strategies and the battles!

A:

I remember hearing about you guys a while ago and thinking this is an awesome idea. I didn't know you were delivering to the Bay Area, thanks for the reminder to sign up!

Where do you get your produce from? What are the (cost) trade-offs of locally sourcing vs. not?


Q:

What was the worst and the best moment in the classroom for you?

A:

Glad you liked it! Making Battlecode more viewable and enjoyable for everyone is something we're actively working to improve.


Q:

Thanks for the kind words. You're very welcome for the reminder. We get our produce from dozens of farms all over the West coast. Most of our produce comes from California simply because this is where most of our country's produce is grown and this is where most of the potential for waste is. We source seasonally available ugly produce so sometimes we do buy produce from other areas like Arizona, Washington, and Mexico. In terms of tradeoffs we love to source from local farms whenever possible for the obvious ecological and environmental reasons. That said, food waste is a problem that is bigger than just California and in order to properly serve our customers year round we will divert "ugly" produce from further afield when necessary.

A:

Worst moment and best moment revolved around the same incident. It definitely had to be the one regarding a troublesome student who came from a rough background and was consistently having trouble fitting in. He and I were always closer than most other students were to me and, despite his (and my) shortcomings, our relationship grew into a strong trust over time.

During parent/teacher conferences in which us three teachers all met the parents at once (because fuck 90 different meetings for EACH teacher), one of my colleagues mentioned that she saw the student stealing food from another student's lunchbox and bribing another for food. I, personally, had never witnessed this and was honestly a little surprised when I heard it. Well, Mom went home and shamed the kid and he roared in during my first class the next day and shouted me out, screaming that he trusted me and thought I'd be there for him and how I lied just to get him into trouble to keep him under control at home. ... It's tough to even recall the memory as it's still so vivid in my mind. Eventually, he apologized and I did, too, as for all he knew I DID say those things - I couldn't just say the other teacher lied or whatever. We ended the school year amicably with a giant hug and he promised me he'd go on to do good things with his life and help others like himself.


Q:

You can use jython, it's a python scripting based language with Java classes support. The spacing can get annoying and some type conversion is non-trivial, but it's relatively easy to use.

A:

Why would grocery stores not want wonky produce?


Q:

fuck that other teacher. had they never thought maybe the kid was not fed well at home? that very well may not a behavior issue, but an issue of abuse.

A:

That's a good idea. Maybe we'll see Jython support in next year's competition!


Q:

A lot of grocery stores look at their produce section as a primary way to keep a strong reputation for quality and to get customers in the door. I've talked to and worked with grocery stores and they basically just don't think people would buy this. The other reason is they fear ugly produce sales could take up precious square feet while cannibalizing sales for their premium product. However, Imperfect has worked with a couple grocery stores and mainly saw data pointing to an overall increase in sales. Now, a year or two after Imperfect's launch we're starting to see a few grocery stores develop pilots.

A:

It wasss... a complicated issue with that kid. Mom in prison, dad just starting to get it together because of it but still sort of a tool, stepmom being a breath of fresh air for both of them, etc. None of us thought he wasn't receiving enough food from home (largely because he always brought a lunch and never once indicated to any of us that food was an issue). I'm not saying it wasn't possible, but he also had issues with stealing things even when he didn't need them. It's a 'survivor' mentality. A lot of kids from rough backgrounds pick it up during times when they DON'T have anything, and latch onto anything they can.

I think my colleague was more just pointing out that he was stealing in the first place and not insinuating that, because it was food, he's hungry.


Q:

Can we run full test matches locally to test and debug a player we are developing? Or do we have to wait to scrimmage with another team before we can actually see our developed player in action?

A:

Are you hiring? Also, you would definitely find a market in the Toronto area. Produce can get very expensive here, especially in winter.


Q:

Did you talk to any current teachers in your state before deciding on being a teacher?

A:

Our client allows you to test your player locally, or even run different versions of your player against each other to see which is superior!


Q:

We are growing quickly and are currently hiring. Check out our jobs page to stay up to date about current openings: http://www.imperfectproduce.com/career-openings/ Thanks for letting us know about Toronto. We would really love to expand to Canada one day!

A:

Not directly, no. But we (my college cohort and myself) all knew the common grievances going into it. We also knew that there are good schools and struggling schools, good districts and struggling districts, and that we could choose where to end up.

Of course, that didn't prepare for just how polarizing the difference between an affluent school and a Title I school is.


Q:

Thanks for the AMA! I'll be participating :) Just a quick question:

  • Once you submit your code, that'll be the only code run until the end of the Tournament? Or do you get to make adjustments?
A:

how do I know it your vegetables and fruit are actually cheaper than the groceries? Will you guy provide the weight and cost of the veggies?


Q:

How early into your college career did you commit to going into teaching?

A:

Not at all! You can continue submitting code up until the final deadline near the end of January, at which point this last version of your code is what is submitted to the Final Tournament. Throughout January competitors get to test and refine their code by scrimmaging with other teams in casual matches, and also by participating in the practice tournaments leading up to the final one. This gives you a chance to see what strategies other teams are using and to continually improve the performance of your own code.


Q:

Great question! We are committed to our goal of offering produce at a 30-50% discount compared to grocery store prices. What this means in practice is that our supply and operations teams are constantly referencing market prices so we can set our prices accordingly. If an item is sold by the count, we aim to offer a 30-50% discount per item. If an item is sold by the pound, we aim to offer a 30-50% discount per pound of produce. Thankfully sourcing "ugly" and surplus produce means that we get great deals from our farmers and are able to pass these on to our customers. It's a win win in the end.

A:

When I started college, I was a Music Education major. That came out of my own uncertainty of what I'd do with my life and the fact I was musical all throughout grade school. I did this for a couple years as I grew disillusioned and jaded with my lack of personal accountability in those beginning years. Once I kinda got my shit together around my junior year, I realized I didn't want to be a music teacher and made the switch to Primary Education (as, in another post here, I explain why I always admired the idea of being a teacher). It the took me three years between making up for lost ground and starting a new program, but then I student-taught in what was technically my sixth year, and graduated in that December.


Q:

Battling army of robots? How would I know this is virtual and not being used for, say, xenocide? But seriously: has any amateur code from this competition led to greater applicability?

A:

Great idea! How much of your food is GMO Free? Also, how much pesticides go into the produce that you sell?


Q:

because this is an AMA, I'll come out with this one:

Did anyone ever say to you: "you need to find out more about education as a working environment before you commit to that as a career path."

Like, did anyone at your university or anything advise you to find out about things like.... all the things you didn't know wouldn't suit you about teaching?

I considered being a teacher at one point, and then spoke to 2 people who were currently teaching, and based on what they said and what I knew about myself, I decided against it.

I just wonder why no one advised you to actually examine the teaching environment/talk to 2 or 3 actual teachers in your area before committing to education as a career.

A:

As far as we know, code from this competition is never used for anything outside this competition. Due to the format of our game, the final code isn't really useful outside of the game. We constrain players in the amount of computation power they can use, so winning AIs are programs that are really good at playing our game, but not good at anything else.

The skills used to create these AIs are good for other areas, however. Our sponsors work in areas ranging from investment trading to self-driving cars to intelligent medical diagnostics. They like to recruit from our competitors.


Q:

It's all GMO free! And about 1/2 the produce we sell is conventional and the other 1/2 is organic.

A:

I was (am?) passionate about teaching and knew what I was getting myself into. I did talk to people, and they told me realistic things. What I didn't account for was an unsupportive school district causing a dramatically increased amount of stress beyond what I knew was expected.


Q:

Is there any support for international students?

A:

What is your favorite fruit?


Q:

What did you expect from the job and how did your experience contrast?

A:

International students are welcome to compete! We've also helped fund plane tickets for past international finalists to get to the Final Tournament.


Q:

I'm a watermelon guy personally. More recently, having moved to the west coast to start Imperfect I got put onto persimmons. I'm a big fan of the Fuyu in particular.

A:

I was looking for an outlet for my creativity, personality, and passion for helping children gain knowledge and an understanding of the world around them in a safe but realistic environment. I expected to take a group of humans and give them the tools they needed to be successful as they transitioned into a traditionally tumultuous time in their lives.

I think I still followed through with that mission statement for the vast majority of my students, despite how the school year went. You can probably read the other responses and get a fair sense of how it all went down.


Q:

Even international students? I study in Aalborg in Denmark, would I be eligible?

A:

Because hachiya persimmons are the astringent asshole of fruit unless you let them ripen to the point of juice?

Japan has this figured out with the dried hachiya persimmons. Those are delicious.


Q:

Yeah, I just disagree categorically with that ideology re zeroes. You're parroting exactly what my professors said in my master's program. I understand the logic, but in practice in the classroom, I believe it encourages bad behavior. You can't do half your job and expect to keep it. Life isn't about getting by, and nobody cares if you're demoralized because you were too lazy to do the work at your job... Procrastination and laziness should not be rewarded. And I think that as educators, it is incumbent upon us (well not me anymore) to prepare children for life, and coddling doesn't do that. I'm not a huge disciplinarian behaviorwise, but I think that strict grading is important. I also don't think that you need to give hw every night by any means (outside of math). But I do think you owe it to your students to owe them accountable. I feel the same way about people who work for me. They owe it to me to do the work, and I owe it to them to hold them accountable, even if I like them and don't want to.

I'm also a huge liberal, disagree completely with race to the top, nclb, fucking the incoming Sec of Ed, and have serious reservations about charter schools.

Based on what you wrote here, there's probably a lot we would agree on... The zeroes is the one thing I'm pretty old school about... Anyway, happy holidays. I'm truly proud of you and everyone else who teaches.

A:

Definitely - there are no restrictions on who can compete. We've had participants from quite a few different countries in the past (Norway, Canada, Germany, to name a few). If you qualify for the final tournament, we can even help pay for your travel expenses to MIT.


Q:

Hey friends! Thanks again for the wonderfully thoughtful questions. This was so much fun. I have to run now but would absolutely love to do a follow up session some time. Happy holidays!

A:

Teachers will always be needed, but the methods with which we teach will always change. Incorporating technology into the classroom right now is essential for many reasons, the two most crucial being that students' lives are already dominated by tech and it's how you're going to reach them most often, and teaching them through new technologies will also teach them ABOUT the technologies, preparing them for the real-world.

As for how much educators will be supported, well, that's probably not about to change a whole lot with the recent string of elections on state and federal levels.


Q:

Is this possible to do for someone whose only knowledge of programming comes from AP Computer Science? And is there an age limit?

A:

Fellow teacher here. If you really like the idea of teaching I'd try another school. Even in the same district schools can vary greatly. Go and ask the teachers if possible without administration to get an honest sense of the school climate.

I don't have as great school related question so...what did you get for Christmas?


Q:

AP Computer Science actually prepares you quite well for Battlecode, as the only real requirement for the competition is knowing your way around Java.

We don't place any restrictions on who can enter the competition, but only students, whether they are at the high school, college, or even middle school level, are eligible for prizes. Don't be dissuaded from participating if you don't think you have enough experience; last year a high school team took second place!

A:

Gift card to a good pizza place in town that my wife and I love, a high-quality waffle iron, a gas grill for our new patio, and a few smaller but equally neat things.


Q:

Are there any Russians on the team, and if so, why are they they best?

A:

So I have a friend who is in his 3rd year of teaching 9-12 earth sciences. I asked him what the worst part of teaching is and he said it's dealing with people who don't want to learn because it reflects badly on you. Do you agree with this or is there something worse? Besides pay of course.


Q:

We did once, but they all left us to work at financial institutions.

A:

Absolutely. My worth as a teacher to the state was almost solely based on the test scores of not only my own students, but all students at my school and even within my geographic area. I had a number of students whose parents were rather vocal about their distaste with teachers/schools and were very, ehh, anti-establishment in general. So when their kids strut into my room, refuse to learn, and any sort of sense I can get into them is instantly deleted when they're picked up, how is it remotely fair that my credibility as a professional is based on their test scores? Or how about my student who came to school the morning after being taken into Child Protective Services because his mom almost died from a crack overdose? The last thing on their mind is "being a good test-taker," yet that's where my job security lies. The system is horrendously biased against students with less stable home lives and, therefore, against teachers in lower income areas. So it's no wonder the state has trouble filling these positions and keeping people there for longer than 5 years.


Q:

Are you guys influenced at all by Core War?

http://www.corewars.org/

As an MIT alum, Core War helped inspire me to go Course 6.

A:

My SO is on her second year at a Title 1, and she did an ARL program so literally no preparation in college. Everything you said in your replies is spot on with her experience. I'm sorry teaching wasn't what you'd hoped.

How many tacos can you eat?


Q:

The current devs didn't know about Core War until you shared it but the concept sounds very cool! We wouldn't be surprised if the original founders drew some inspiration from it.

A:

Though I wasn't really going for sympathy, I appreciate your words nonetheless. I have a friend who has just decided this year (his third) is his last year. He had such a hard time deciding what to do earlier this school year and he and I discussed his options and what he wants out of life at this point. He realized that stepping away isn't admitting defeat, and you shouldn't have any obligations to stay and continuing doing something if it's making you miserable each day.

If they're approximately the size from Taco Bell (but much better so I don't vomit later), 4 before I'm just forcing it.


Q:

Has anyone ever registered alone and performed well? This is a great event!

A:

I worked in an affluent school at the beginning of my career and I saw the parents do that as well. They made crazy demands


Q:

Our 2014 and 2015 competition were both won by a solo competitor and plenty of others have ranked highly in the final tournament, so it definitely is possible. It's also possible to search for teammates using our forums if you don't want to compete alone.

A:

That's rough. We never had issues with physical violence against staff, luckily, but I know it exists in certain areas/schools. There WAS one time when the principal came down and pulled a regular troublemaker out of class (rough background; it was hard to blame the kid) and she spoke with him out in the courtyard. With all our doors open as it was nice outside, the kid abruptly shouted, "FUCK THIS SCHOOL, THIS IS BULLSHIT," right in the principal's face, then stormed off into the bathroom. That kid got a one-day in-school suspension and that was it, all because our principal was a pushover and was afraid to deal with the [admittedly awful] parents. But that was her job, and she didn't do it. So that kid committed student-career-suicide and got a light slap on the wrist.

It's so terrible to be in a position where your administration, your lifeline and shield, doesn't protect you. But hang in there. Mad props to you for sticking it out. Those kids need strong people in their lives and you're going to make the difference where your administration can't.


Q:

What's the game environment like? Is it graphical or all console based? Also are neural networks welcome? I've been meaning to try back propagation with a hive-mind.

A:

Just out of curiosity, what SHOULD the punisment have been for telling the principal that?


Q:

The game is visualized in a 2D space, and we have a graphical client that shows all the units as sprites that move around and shoot at each other. For an example of a match, here's the final round of the 2015 competition: https://youtu.be/RCdPQyG3c-U?t=11179

Nothing directly prohibits neural networks, but all units are only allowed a restricted amount of processing per round (measured by bytecode usage), so getting a proper neural network running would be difficult.

A:

It would be up to the principal obviously, but it should have been an out-of-school suspension for probably two days. That's, like, something I would've been KILLED FOR had I done it at that age.


Q:

Have you had any teams consisting of active duty military members?

A:

Was mostly curious because I had some behavioral problems in school, not quite THAT direct, but still pretty antagonistic. Got suspended a couple of times but teachers didn't give up on me. I have a really good life/career now and I'm not sure where I'd be if my teachers had given me up as a lost cause.

Mostly just wanted to say to you, and any other teachers reading, that I was a shithead student, and I didn't get better while in school, but the efforts my teachers made DID have a positive impact, it just took a few years after I got out of school before the lessons finally worked their way through my thick skull. The fruits of your labor isn't always visible, but you likely have a positive impact on more lives than you realize based only on feedback/results in the classroom.


Q:

Not that we know of (at least for recent years). That said, we don't get to meet most of the remote competitors, so there could have been a team of active duty military members that we didn't know about.

A:

I think most of us know it. I certainly never assumed my "shithead students" would just keep being shitheads their whole lives. Everyone (well, most) grow up at a certain point and get it together. I was always striving to make differences in my classroom that I could see in real time, but I know that the biggest changes I've caused have yet to occur still.

Thanks for your insight and words.


Q:

How difficult is the coding process for the competition and how long does it take?

A:

Yep. That's what I cannot comprehend about kids nowadays. I mean, when I was a kid I remembered reading about that kind of thing in the newspaper and being confused as to how that sort of behavior was even possible. Now my Mom is a teacher and she has to deal with violent, disruptive students. At one point she had a six-year old threaten to kill her. (Last I heard, the student and his parent had a very unpleasant conversation with the local police officer, and the mom ended up quitting her job so she could try to work with him full time.)

When I was in school, the worst disrespect I ever saw was a kid who just quit. We were required to pass a Speech class in order to graduate High School. There was this one kid who didn't give a damn and never had. When his turn came to give his presentation to the class, he refused. The teacher very calmly and patiently explained that if he didn't do the presentation, he would not pass the class and that meant he wouldn't graduate. He didn't care. That was the last year I saw that kid in school. I have no idea what happened to him, but good riddance, as far as I'm concerned.

To this day, that mentality still baffles me. The very notion that disrespecting teachers is okay, or that you are just allowed to quit because you don't like something, is a worldview that I find utterly alien. Personally, I say fuck the little shits. Kick them out and never let them come back.


Q:

To write a minimally functioning bot is not difficult. The files we give you to run the game include a simple bot. Many teams start development simply by improving this player.

That said, this is a large competition, and winning it is by no means easy. The contest lasts about three weeks, and so many teams will pour countless hours into tweaking their bots for maximal advantage.

If that sounds like more of a time commitment than you can afford, you might be interested to hear that there is a "sprint tournament" essentially identical in form to the main tournament, with the only difference being that the submission deadline is only about a week after the contest begins.

A:

To a minor degree, I agree with you. I was never one for too much handholding in my classroom, but I also know that kids are malleable. I may not be able to fix their family's issues or change their horrid living situations, but I can plant the seeds of real change. It's still up to them to water and help them grow, but they're there.

That's why I don't like teaching high school. Sure, most are just trying to figure out what role they'll play in the world, but then some are so resigned to a life of mediocrity and failure that it's actually quite depressing to wonder what happened to them and how the system failed them.


Q:

Would a team of 4 people who are familiar with Java, but know next to nothing about developing AI be suited for Battlecode? I am really interested in this but neither I nor my friends know much about this kind of thing :)

A:

What are you going to do for money?


Q:

Yes! Just knowing Java is enough. Many teams (including past finalists) fit your description - you can know nothing about AI and still have fun and do well. We also have a lecture series to help.

A:

Now? I'm a substitute teacher for the time being. I was one for a semester after graduating in December 2013 before teaching, so I went back to gain perspective from afar. My wife is also fortunate enough to be making enough money at this time to largely support the both of us.

As for what's to come? I don't intend to be a substitute beyond next school year, but I still legitimately have no idea what's next. I have so many creative interests but still feel drawn to teaching and obligated to return in time.


Q:

What percentage of the competitors are students and do you know the breakdown of education level of these students?

A:

What is the standard PTSD medication for someone like yourself?


Q:

We don't have exact statistics, but here's our guess at estimates for last year's competition:

  • 95% are full-time students.
  • Among the students: ~75-80% college undergraduates, ~15% graduate students, ~5-10% high school students.
A:

Mojitos.


Q:

I'm a biomedics student from a different country. So this means I can participate 100% online without ever having to fly there, right? The prizes only apply to MIT students?

A:

Consider some kind of self employment if possible; that's the direction I'm looking in.

I had thought about becoming a barber, but it isn't very lucrative in my area (strangely). I've also thought about self-training as a tattoo artist (currently an art teacher) and hopefully get good enough top start a shop. I'd love top be my own boss and stop answering to dumb asses and entitled brats.


Q:

The prizes are available to all students anywhere, not just MIT students. And yes, you can compete from your home up until the end of the competition and the Final Tournament - if you qualify for the finals, you'll probably want to fly in to MIT to attend.

A:

It is alluring. So much of teaching is already similar to being self-employed that making the switch seems like a no-brainer.


Q:

I'm confused. It seems like a non student can enter this, but cannot win prize money.

I was wondering can a non student get first place in the tournament? I'm guessing they just don't win money.

Also, was wondering is Greg McGlynn going to enter this year? He seems to just win every year.

A:

What was the worst thing that happened to you on the job, whether from a colleague or student?


Q:

You're correct about eligibility for competition and prize money. Anyone can compete, and only student teams can receive money. We also can't speak for Mr. McGlynn - you'll have to ask him yourself!

A:

A kindergarten teacher had a student who bit her multiple times, but the coup de grâce was when the same student went into the restroom, smeared his own shit all over his shirt, and the ran back into the room slinging it around the air over his head. Yeah; that happened. The mom's reaction was basically just "lol boys will be boys," so that was great.

Luckily, I never had it so rough. I did have a student with severe anxiety and social trauma who regularly screamed out across the room and nearly kicked the door down in blind rages triggered by almost nothing whatsoever. He threw stuff around the room, but never at another student or myself (not intentionally, anyway). One day he just decided his chair and backpack looked better in the fountain outside. He didn't last very long.


Q:

How do we know you are human and not a highly developed AI like Siri from AppleTM or Ava from Ex Machina?

A:

Student here. Im a highschool sophmore now but i remember when i was in sixth grade, the kids were pretty vulgar. They cussed, they made sex jokes and the majority were just rude altogether (and most of them still are now). Although the teachers seemed to not notice this repulsive behavior. Do y'all just ignore it? Or mabye you just dont catch it. Do you develop a sort of immunity to this behavior and these words?


Q:

Never fear fellow human comrade, for I am definitely a fleshy organic like yourself and not a Skynet sleeper agent. Ha. Ha. Ha.

A:

It largely depends on the quality of te school and exterior environment that the kids live in. Having subbed around for some time now, I can safely say some classes are dicks who do everything you described and more while others are well-behaved, mild-mannered, and academically focused.

As a full-time teacher, the class of kids we had were largely immature, talkative, and disrespectful. They were going to be cussing and talking about all sorts of bullshit whether we let it happen or not, but they usually at least had the decency to keep it all out of earshot. We eventually taught them more about respecting one another and when certain types of language are less appropriate than at other times (not that, y'know, much of what came out of their mouths was appropriate ever). Thankfully, we didn't have too many problems with vulgarity or cussing after the first month or two. We knew it went on, but that's just dumb adolescents doing what they do. As long as it didn't come inside or impact the learning/safety of the kids, it wasn't of too much concern.


Q:

Just the basics of Java to compete at MIT? Sounds slightly misleading.

A:

So you couldn't cut it. There are lots like you and the few like me who survive get to deal with the mess you leave. Your thoughts?


Q:

The basics of Java is the only knowledge we presume competitors have. We upload lectures helping teach competitors how to build their first player and understand how game mechanics work. In general we have a wide range of competitors at different skill levels and we work hard to make the game accessible to those who aren't already extremely advanced programmers.

A:

Mess? I inherited a mess and still got those kids out the door with test scores above the district average and social skills ready for middle school. So you're welcome for that.

Maybe you have me mistaken for someone else.

You seem eager to blame those who walk away from a broken education system instead of actually identifying the problem. I value that you stay and appreciate your personal sacrifices for the greater good of society, but please do not belittle me or others in my situation just because we wanted a different job.


Q:

Where are the rules or technical specifications for last years competition?

A:

You can see the specs for the 2016 game here.


Q:

How much of the student body gets involved with this? MIT is a school for very intelligent people who really like computers, in short, so does the whole school get involved?

A:

We currently have ~200 MIT competitors registered, and MIT has ~4500 undergrads, so, 4% of the student body? Or 2% of the student body including graduate students.

(Honestly, that's pretty good - it's hard to get the attention of MIT students, especially during the January break period).


Q:

How did you come up with the idea for this tournament?

Great job, btw! I'll try and convince my friends to make a team with me.

A:

Battlecode was founded over 17 years ago so the original founders have long since moved on. (They include some successful names like David Greenspan and Aaron Iba.) It started as a class that was just for MIT students called Robocraft and eventually changed to the far superior name Battlecode, evolving over time to become the competition it is today.

Edit: The very first edition of Battlecode was actually a board game: http://web.mit.edu/ieee/6.370/2001/web/


Q:

I don't fully understand the scenario of the task. How does the code that the participants write interface with your code? Is it some kind of screen game that participants have to read the contents of the screen? My brains boggled. Is your system separate to the system that participants write? If not, what stops participants reading your code and easily creating a defeat against it? If so, how do they talk to each other and how is a win decided?

A:

Contestants upload the code for their bots to our compile server, where it is compiled and checked for use of banned methods and classes (like java.io.File). This then gets passed to the tournament server, which uses some Java magic to interface the compiled players with the rest of the code for the game, letting the players be ran against each other even though they were indeed coded separately. The tournament server then outputs a match file, which contestants can watch using our client to see how the game went.


Q:

When do the updated lectures begin?

A:

We post new lectures as they come out, which is usually on weekdays for the first two weeks after the start of the competition. This year's competition begins on January 9th.