Thursday, November 12, 2020

In which we concede nothing, 'cause we're rough and tough when we strut our stuff

Things have been going along swimmingly. Overall, people are definitely getting the hang of virtuosity. After all, once you’ve done it, you discover there isn’t much to it. If you can turn on your computer, you pretty much know everything there is to know. The number of tech issues is minimal. If nothing else has gone right during the pandemic, at least forensics has not only survived but thrived. So at least there’s one happy story in all of this mess.

The last few weeks for me have been smallish events that have, at times, required a bit of creativity in the pairing creation. Our CFLs have no school limits, so if you have umpty-ump novice PFers on your team, you get all umpty-ump of them into the tournament. Of course, this usually means same-school pairings, but that is the price you pay for having a successful program. (One of the nice things about the invitiationals this year, unlimited in space as they are, is our ability to have V, JV and Nov divisions of everything, to which the response has been very strong. I think the JV divisions in particular have been godsends for people. The limits in the TOC-bid varsity divisions are serious, but as I’ve noted a million times before, not everyone is—or should be—on the bid hunt. Add to this the need for a place for second-year and lightly experienced third-years to go and have a chance to get meaningful rounds at their own level, and there you are.)  With same-school pairings, at least we usually can get neutral judging, which is something at least. We’ve also had to do a little dancing with the pools, throwing LD judges into PF and (if it makes sense) PF judges into CX, and all manner of craziness that isn’t necessary in the normal run of events. It makes tabbing fun (or something resembling fun, in the tabbing sense of the word), but it does keep the judges dancing to different tunes at the drop of a hat. Keeps them on their toes, in other words. Then again, variety is the proverbial S of L, so we’ll leave it at that. 


One big problem has been that single flighting has not generated anything close to a surplus of judges. IRL, a 3 to 1 ratio in a double-flighted world where, in reality, you need a 2 to 1 ratio, has obvious overages. In a 2-1 ratio situation where you indeed run at 2-1, overages aren’t so likely. Being in general a devious human being, I’ve been capping the colleges at odd numbers for just that reason. That is, you can have 3, or 5, depending. 2 or 4, I can’t stop you from entering only Castor and Pollux, but if you have both the Gemini twins and the Olsen twins on your team, one of those pairs is staying home. (Sorry, Mary-Kate.) This arithmetic reality is the reason we didn’t hire out judges at Rather Large Bronx, keeping them all to ourselves, and why we won’t be doing it at the Ivies I work either. At the big tournaments we want if possible to give rounds off; the only way to do that is hire extras and work them to death—What? You want me to judge 5 whole hours? What kind of working world is that? If I had a 9 to 5 job I’d only have to work… Oh… Right. I sent out the notice that we were reneging on the judge hire offer for Princeton a couple of days ago, and got zero push-back. Maybe people are waking up to reality. (Or maybe people are not reading their emails. Could go either way.)


Coming up this weekend is Scarsdale, where JV will be cracking the whip virtually to get everyone where they belong when they belong there. Then there’s Wee Sma Lex via the Bronx Local, which still could use a few NYers to perk things up, and then the Tiggers, Ridge and the Venial Sinvitational. Ye gods! Fortunately Thanksgiving is in there somewhere to break things up, and everyone will be over the river and through the woods at grandmother's house, although probably most likely only in their dreams, but, as they say in sports ball, Wait till next year!



Wednesday, October 28, 2020

In which we probably should point out that the bagels and noodles were not served together

The Not Regis debate last weekend was a piece of pie. Or easy as cake, if you prefer. 

The things that never fails to not amuse are A) the inability of schools to check in on time; B) the thought that these schools have that emailing my personal account will suffice while I am, in reality, putting together pairings and did, by the way, post a help email/text# for the tournament that I do look at; and C) even running late, and doing it bass ackwards, they still don’t get their info correct. Would it surprise you that it’s always the same schools? It shouldn’t. The Usual Suspects, regardless of venue and genre, are usual for a reason. 


Other than that, aside from a couple of flaky judges, everything ran fine. As one would expect. Most importantly, lots of novices got a chance to get rounds, many for the first time. And we were open to anyone in the region. You’ve gotta love the NYCFL. I know I do.


In other news, there’s lots of other tournaments. This coming weekend is the Tim Averill 

Not-Dead-Yet Memorial, or the tournament formerly known as Manchester, AKA the Home of the Albino Bagel, AKA the One Piece of Bacon Invitational. I’ve been working with them behind the scenes, which is becoming something of a thing between me and my general Mass colleagues, or my Mass General colleagues, if you prefer. The thing is, I do this every week, so at least I think I’m pretty good at it. I can bring to tournaments an easy level of expertise forged in the cauldron of endless other tournaments. (Translated into English, I know how to use tabroom.) The MSDL has its quirks, though, meaning that the Massachusetts audience has incorporated those quirks into their debate lives. So it goes. It will be fun, nonetheless.


Princeton has had the heat turned up. I spent Monday and Tuesday clearing waitlists. Way fewer bogus entries than at Rather Large Bronx, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. In any case, I like the way things came out. As expected, VPF is still ginormous, but everyone pretty much got a good number of starter slots. Better than IRL, to tell you the truth. 


Columbia is on deck, opening next week, if memory serves. We’re going to try to add some CX, plus the pandemic side salads of JV and Nov divs in LD and PF. Sadly, however, I won’t actually be on the Gem campus (or the Barnard campus, truth to tell) and will therefore not have access to the Jewish/Chinese bagel/noodle restaurant. 



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

In which we may or may not have been wearing pants

Another Big Bronx is in the books. And the takeaway is simple: the software now has a new feature, virtual rooms. No drama. No great revelations. Tabroom works, and thanks to the powers that program for NSDA (e.g., Palmer), this particular feature also works. 

End of story.


I’ve done a bunch of little virtual events before this one, which was simply an arithmetic increase in things to do. More rooms to check, of course, but at least in the LD/CX universe, everybody pretty much knows the drill. We only subbed out a handful of judges, inevitably for reasons not related to tech. In fact, the tech side of things makes the tournament move all that more quickly. If a judge isn’t in a room at start time, we know it. We immediately do a replace. For all practical purposes the new judge then immediately appears in the room, and the round begins. No walking to the other end of the campus, or getting lost in the west wing of the high school. (It is a fact universally acknowledged that most large high schools designate various areas in ways unfathomable to the logical mind, presumably to scare enough of the newbies away every year to have more mystery meat in the cafeteria for everyone else. Add to this that most large high schools have annexes, addenda, Quonsets and porta-potties built after the original brutalist main building that couldn’t fit into a normal numbering scheme even if they wanted. Best advice I can give anyone trying to find their way through a high school is to bring extra breadcrumbs.) 


One of the good things about large, robust divisions is that MJP is a breeze. 99% come out 1-1 without touching anything. After the 3rd round, when we start having some down-and-outs, we can start using the poor judges at the bottoms of the prefs. Happily we could say that at the end of Saturday, with 5 rounds that day and 2 the day before, every judge had at least one round (and usually more), and every judge had at least one round off. I think that becomes a must for the tab room, to keep people working but not overworking. This of course means a little loss of all those 1-1 pairings, but in the upper brackets, they ought to be able to pick up their 2s. I mean, MJP isn’t a license to strike 80% of the field. (Although try to tell that to some coaches.)


The other thing we did that made the prefs a little less one-ish was gender-balancing in the elims. The Paginator was always a leader in this, and we honor his not-exactly-distant memory by continuing to do it. It’s something we do as a matter of course when there’s no prefs, but something we need to remind ourselves to do with MJP panels. Gender issues are always big in debate; anything we can do to balance things out has to put us at least a little on the side of the angels.


The down side of virtual Bronx was manifold: no great fresh sandwiches and homemade chips from the Little Sandwich Cabin, no Thursday night dinner at the chez with Kaz, no late night pairings with a nice port on Saturday, no brown bonnets from Mr. Softee… It’s tough, being home. On the other hand, I did have time to make some pasta Bolognese, some Spanish meatballs with sweet potato fritters, ham and eggs for breakfast, etc. Into each rainstorm a little sunlight must fall.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

In which we move from the hills of Byram to the sciences of The Bronx

Last weekend we ran Byram Hills. I really wanted to see how things worked out with double flighting. The bottom line was that if you limited your room request to the correct number of rooms, entrants / 4, it was no problem. Everything paired fine. And, of course, we added plenty of time for turnover. In my mind it looks like 4 doubles a day is quite doable. Although to be honest, I don’t see us doing too many double-flighted events going forward. The thing is, 4 rounds a day isn’t very many. If you want 5 rounds and breaks, well, you can see the problem. Single flights does impose a large judging burden on a team, but at some point teams have to put up or shut up. Most teams have been around for a while and ought to have a backlog of alums and friends available to help out. If not, well, as I’ve said many times, there’s something rotten in that team’s Denmark. Adding to the issue, reliance on hireds is becoming more complicated, if not impossible, at college venues. We’re seeing the colleges demand all sorts of credentials for hires that are virtually impossible to secure, which means that the colleges have to fall back on their own usually limited resources. Certain schools have been too spoiled over the years. I have a feeling that when we go back to real life, more than a few things are going to be radically different. 

Anyhow, BHills was a breeze overall. Very few tech problems, inevitably from those who paid no attention to the warning to check their tech in advance. Yes, folks, that’s why we send out the emails, so that you’ll ignore them. If we thought you’d read them, we wouldn’t bother. Sigh. 


Meanwhile, things are quieting down now on the preparatory Rather Large Bronx front. Once registration shuts down, it’s all over but the shouting. A few people have been tardy with their judges, and a whole boatload of schools don’t have their students linked, but there’s still time and we’re handling things. There’s still the odd email to send out for people to ignore, but other than that, it’s on to the final fine-tuning of the tabroom setup, and there you are. Which reminds me that I probably should be doing that now. 


See you in the funny papers. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Friday, October 02, 2020

In we ask the debate community to look up the word "champion"

To champion something means to advocate for it, as for a cause. I champion equal rights for all, for instance. Other meanings of the word as a verb are similar. None of these meanings, in any reputable dictionary, champions the word as a synonym for the word "win." (See what I did there?) If I champion a tournament, I support it and push for it. I don't even have to attend it to do so. If I win a tournament, then I am the champion. Or you might say, I was the champion of the tournament, which would mean either that I won it, or that I advocated for it. If you wanted to be absolutely clear, however, you would say that I won the tournament. But in no way can you say that my championing a tournament is the equivalent of my winning the tournament. 

Given that NSD, the repeat offending culprit of this piece, is organization that, presumably, has some responsibility for education in the language arts, wouldn't it be nice if they exercised that responsibility? A neologism I might accept; a misuse, not so much. 

[I shake my head and drag myself wearily off the stage and out into the darkest night.]

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

In which we explain how time zones affect debate tournaments

Here’s an interesting item. I have heard that there are arguments abroad about this on the interwebs, that if a tournament, to wit, Rather Large Bronx, is set in its own time zone, it must somehow be at fault. 

Jeez Louise.


Let’s look first at the mechanics of an online tournament. We’re seeing pretty clearly that at any major event, single-flighting is the way to go. You could possibly argue this, but even if you were to win that argument, everything I’ll be saying here still holds, with a slight adjustment of arithmetic.


To conduct an LD round at the circuit level, it is expected that teams have 30 minutes prep time. Then there’s showing up in the e-room, and 15 minutes (I’m being generous here, but I’ve run a few tournaments where I’ve seen that that generosity is not misplaced) of tech-check time, email chain setup, etc. The round itself, max, is about 65 minutes, allowing for some tech issues and that the judge might want to think for a minute or two about the decision. That gets us to 30+15+65= 110 minutes. (If you double this and think about it, you’ll realize that 2 LD rounds > 1 CX round, which is why I’m using LD as the example.)


Pairing a round with MJP can take up to half an hour. (A 240 cap means 120 rounds.) This assumes that you are not just blindly following tabroom, which is less than desirable. For one thing, we usually set 2-3 matches preferable to 1-2s, which tabroom can’t do. We really want bubble rounds to be advantaged as much as possible, which tabroom is pretty good at, but once you’ve addressed the 1-2/2-3 issue, you can usually improve bubbles a little bit from there because of the resulting judge changes. If you threw in per-round obligations—which, thankfully, we’re not using anywhere at virtual tournaments—that would make things take even longer. Let’s allow about a half hour from the last ballot in to the posting of the next round. 110+30 = 140. Or, in human terms two hours and twenty minutes. 


Let’s say we want five rounds a day. That would be 5 * 140 = 700 = around 11 and a half hours. Since shit happens, let’s round it up, and say that 5 rounds a day takes 12 hours. You could round it down if you want. But a looser schedule means the odd bathroom break and quick meals.


So, if you start at 9 in the morning, you end at 9 at night, maybe somewhere before nine if you’re lucky. If you start at 8, you end at 8. If you start at 10 or 11, you end at 10 or 11.


Just for reference, IRL tournaments usually also run about 12 hours, if their schedules are rough, and fewer hours if they’re trying to be humane. I’ve been to tournaments where the days were even longer. (Being in tab, btw, means they’re longer still, since you start and end before everyone else, but admittedly it’s not quite as hard as being in all those rounds consecutively during that long day.)


Getting to the point, a couple more things. Everyone, presumedly, is debating at home. The vast majority of PF judges are, presumedly, parents. Every individual in a round needs three essentials: at least one unique device, good internet access, and an undisturbed setting. And here’s where we start getting into trouble. The demands on a student’s home (magnified when that student’s parent is judging) can challenge the three essentials, and I would suggest that these challenges are directly related to the financial situation of that home. The greater the family income, the lesser the challenges. Everybody has their own room, their own computer, the latest zippy mesh wifi, debater downstairs, daddy judge upstairs, no siblings, no distractions? Happiness. Start eating away at that, happiness not so much. 


Oh yeah. One more thing. There’s a pandemic going on. Unemployment is through the roof. At the same time many employed people are working from home hogging tech resources. You can add to this whatever, but it cannot be ignored. It’s what started this whole thing in the first place.


So let’s look at virtual tournaments. One of the great opportunities virtuality gives us is the removal of travel and lodging expenses. This is a great leveler. On paper, this means that anyone can attend a tournament anywhere. My hope, and the direction I’m giving my tournament runners, is that we can open things up primarily to economically underserved programs that would normally not be able to attend. We prioritized the waitlists at Bronx exactly that way. This year we will see teams that, sadly, will probably never come again. That means that some teams will finally get a chance in an otherwise rough year to do some circuit debate. Given the numbers we’ve been seeing, I’m guessing they’re champing at the bit. 


At the same time, these teams that I’m championing are the most likely to have the greatest challenges with those three essentials mentioned above. It was no great stretch to decide early on—and not just me, but plenty of other coaches as well—that if hardships occurred, the greatest hardships would occur at night. The decision to try to get tournaments over by 8:00 if possible, 9:00 at the latest, was an easy one to reach. (Note that PF, without the extra pre-round prep, will take less than the full 12 hours, but if you have roughly 600 rounds happening during any given time slot at a tournament, don’t count on things going smoothly all day. That never happens IRL, so why should it happen virtually? Throw in one complicated rules challenge, and the best laid plans…) 


When we said earlier that virtual tournaments remove travel and lodging expenses, allowing  anyone theoretically to attend a tournament anywhere, we weren’t suggesting that somehow virtuality eliminates geography per se. Geography, and time zones, remain fixed. So what about teams that aren’t in the same time zone? Most of those will progressively be starting an hour earlier per zone, up to three hours for Pacific Time. That is, a 9:00 start Eastern Time is a 6:00 start Pacific Time. Granted, that sucks. A 10:00 start Eastern Time is 7:00 in Malibu, which isn’t all that great either. But what’s worse is that the end is now 10:00 p.m. in Miami. Adjustment further makes things even worse. An 8:00 a.m. start in Oakland is an 11:00 finish in Boston.


Conversely, a tournament with a Pacific Time start of 8:00 a.m., say, starts and ends at the opposite 11:00 a.m. and p.m. in New York. The only way that New Yorkers or Floridians could realistically attend California tournaments is if those tournaments were to start at 6:00 in the morning. Which is what the Californians are objecting to with the New York 9:00 Eastern time starts. Let’s face it, bubbeleh, the Californians ain’t gonna do that. None of them. Period. End of story. Yet I hear that they’re whining that New York won’t do it for them? 


Get [expletive deleted] real.