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Final Submission Countdown
Contributed by Lester Mackey
Only sixteen minutes remained in the $1 million Netflix Prize competition when I handed over the final set of predictions to the Ensemble team captain. The members of our newly minted team had been working furiously through the night, hoping to improve upon our previous day’s score of .8554. It was hard to believe that just twenty-four hours ago we had passed the four-team coalition that had occupied the first place spot for the last 29 days. There was little time to celebrate; the previous leaders would not go down without a fight, so we had to be ready with something better. A call had been issued for any remaining valid predictors, anything that could tip the scale in this final day, and our members around the globe had answered the call: nearly 200 new predictor sets, some previously passed over for their poor performance and others newly conceived only moments prior, had flooded in from all corners of the team. It was now up to our blenders to work some last-minute magic.
me: gabor -- here's my new best i don't know how well it will do but it's possible it will give .8553
Gabor: what does the blender say?
me: 0.855345926622 so, cutting it close
Our submission window opened just 9 minutes before the contest closed. Gabor, our captain, had asked me to give him a countdown to our submission time via Google Chat.
me: 5 minutes
There was nothing left to do but wait.
me: 4 minutes bpc tied us booo
Indeed, the previous leaders had issued their final submission and risen to tie our score. I decided to check the Ensemble mailing list to gauge our members’ reactions. Some expressed delight, others, alarm. David W. repeatedly expressed confusion about why we hadn’t submitted, as only less than 1 minute remained in the contest. (His clock was 13 minutes fast.)
me: 3 minutes
me: 2 minutes
me: wait peng says he has .8552 !!
That’s right: one minute before our scheduled submission time, I spied a post by Peng revealing his latest blending effort. With an estimated score of 0.85525, it soundly trumped our intended submission. I logged onto the Vandelay Industries server to retrieve the predictions file but didn’t know which of the several hundred files was the right one to download.
me: Peng -- what file is it quick!
No response. Peng, you see, unbeknownst to me or anyone else had lost his internet connection and had texted the first post by Blackberry.
me: WHAT FILE IS IT???
Jacob: This is the best RMSE we’ve seen so far, right? I vote we swing for the fences and submit this one!
Gabor: 1 minute and i have to submit!!!!!
me: WE DON'[T KNOW WHICH FILE--HURRRRRRRRY
Ces: SHouldn't we submit NOW?
You can imagine my frustration.
It was now two minutes after our intended submit time and seven minutes until the contest closed. I searched frantically through the folder for files with .85525 in the name but couldn’t seem to find any.
me: i don;'t know!! i can't find it!
Gabor: ok i submit yours
And then, I saw it.
me: wait i found it opera_est_0.855259.txt.gz
Gabor: i'm uploading
me: ok, awesome
Gabor: i'm afraid it was late
me: uh oh it's not 11:42 yet
Gabor: but uploading is slow
me: 4 minutes to spare it registered
Gabor: ok submission successful :)
Yes, submission successul.
me: That's what this team's all about -- living on the edge :)