Thursday, May 26, 2016

In which, I think, we finish up the toolkit

Pretty much summing up the Tournament Director’s Toolkit is my presentation from the NDCA conference, a pdf of which is here (and, of course, on the NDCA website). I managed to get through almost all of it in the allotted time. There was, as expected, discussion about prefs. There does seem to be unapologetic acceptance that prefs are limiting a team’s exposure to about 50% of the pool, and that the ship has sailed on this. Some folks felt that simply making 25% 1s and 25% 2s in acknowledgment of this is a better practice than even tiers, but honestly I think that only works at smaller tournaments, where even I have limited the number of tiers. At the biggies, when you’ve got the big pool, good preffing with even tiers works fine, and I see no reason to act otherwise. No one commented much on limiting obligations. The arithmetic there is obvious. If you have 100 judges with a full obligation, you’ve got 100 judges to choose from in doing a pairing, and if you have 100 judges with a half obligation, you’ve got 50 judges to choose from in doing a pairing. Pairings will inevitably be worse. It’s another sailing ship, but some tournaments haven’t gone there yet, and they do so at their peril. Either they want to play with the big kids, or as judges themselves don’t want to judge much, if they support this practice. I think I’ve made it clear where I stand. I still haven’t asked my boss at the DJ if it was okay with him if I were only obligated to do half my work.  I think I know what he would say.

One person did push for ordinals, which do have the theoretical arithmetic beauty of being the most mutual approach. I was even tempted to try it myself at Bump, before I bumped myself out of coaching in Hudville. But I think my argument still holds, that tournaments doing things differently from other tournaments have whatever benefits from what they’re doing lost in the disadvantage of making customers do things differently. I’ve been involved in serious change management over the years at the DJ, and no one ever likes change unless they clearly and definitively benefit from it. I don’t think anyone would see that benefit from ordinals if, indeed, it really even exists. It seems to me that with ordinals you’re more mutual but less preferred. But that’s just a guess on my part. Never having done it and only observed from afar, I can’t speak too authoritatively on it.


And that’s the end of that. To all of you Nats Cats, enjoy California. To the rest of you, enjoy the Memorial Day weekend without having to schlep to Sacramento. Try to remember what the point of Memorial Day is. Salute accordingly.  

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

In which it takes us nearly 25 years to find the obvious name for the the attendees at CatNats

Twas the Wednesday before CatNats, and all through the social media, all the Nats Cats were packing their bags and their cases and saying Californie is the place they oughta be… Sigh. I’ve often said that I’m especially fond of CatNats, even though on some levels it’s a bit of a Cloud Cuckoo Land. But then again, that’s part of its charm. Enjoy Sacramento, my Nats Cats. I’m going to be at a barbecue in New Jersey. Same church, different pew.

Today or tomorrow I’m going to post a draft of a document for judges at tournaments. This is something the NDCA board has been discussing for a while: what are the obligations, and requirements, of a judge? There are certain behavior issues, but realistically, that is not a terrible problem. If a debater commits an illegal action in a round, the judge must respond in an appropriate fashion. Sure. But it’s not as if every round is filled to the brim with felonious activity. At least I hope not. More important is the idea that the judge is, first and foremost, an educator, and should act accordingly. Secondly, the judge is the (often brevet) adult in the room, and should act accordingly as far as that is concerned as well. The point of the exercise will be to create a document that can be distributed before a tournament, outlining what is expected of judges. Possibly the most important thing, in a quantitative sense, is that judges start rounds on time and end them efficiently with reasonably terse critiques. The usual, if not inevitable, reason for tournaments to go off schedule is that rounds are not starting and ending when they’re supposed to, based entirely on what is going on in the debate room. I can blast assignments with a note that a round is supposed to start in 20 minutes or whatever, but it’s up to the judges and the debaters to be there and start those rounds in 20 minutes. By the time the tab room learns that a round hasn’t started on time and, if necessary, fixed the problem, the clock has already been ticking for a while. Don’t credit me with on-time or off-time performance. That’s all in the hands of participants at the tournament.

I guess I’ll post this on the NDCA Facebook page, as it has members up the wazoo and it’s easy to follow threads, if any. I mean, it’s not as if I’m going to post anything terribly controversial. The only real problem is the distinction between safety and discomfort, that is, when something happens in a round that is especially heated or problematic. The examples that have been discussed are so specific that they really can’t serve very well as prescriptive, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Honestly, the problematic situations all seemed to go beyond the immediate area of the debate room, needing to be handled by the tournament staff, with all the coaches involved participating in the conversation. But, I hope, at least we can alert judges to the need to be thoughtful about such situations.


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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

In which we announce that we have returned from Texas without agreeing with all the people in the hotel breakfast room that we need Trump to solve all the problems facing our woebegotten nation

The NDCA Coach Development Conference was quite successful. Many subjects were covered, and there was lots of discussion and enthusiasm and action points. I’m in the process of putting it all up on the NDCA website. Bietz videoed the presentations, and I’ll get them up there too. He was using Facebook to livestream, although that had the odd glitch, stopping for no reason every now and then and needing a kick in the chest to restart. But mostly it worked. We actually did have a decent number of stream viewers; it must have been a slow weekend for the folks back home. For me, it was my first time in Dallas, aside from changing planes at the airport. Strange city. Lots of driving, not much to look at architecturally along the way. But the flights and the hotel were cheap, and we had good eats (then again, Kaz and I always manage to have good eats), so I’m not complaining. But as I was watching the tornado warnings on Monday morning, I can’t say that I was thinking of relocating out there any time soon.

I’ll tell you, education has changed since I was a lad. I never had to choose between debate and water polo in sixth grade. (I’m not making this up, and I don’t think the person who mentioned it at the conference was making it up either.) I never had to choose anything. Sister Whoever simply gave you that look and you shut up and pretended to pay attention. That, in a nutshell, was my primary school education. Our Lady of Mercy ran through eighth grade, so there was no junior high (as it was called back then) for the Catholic contingent. Public school always seemed sort of scary to those of us who were cloistered (so to speak). I followed up my Catholic grammar school with an all-boy Catholic high school. Not surprisingly, I’m still in recovery.


Anyhow, I’ll let you know when everything is up on the website. You might at least want to look at the Powerpoints.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Advice from a life coach: Some tidbits from the road

Even life coaches go away every now and then. Last week we were completely offline. This week we are in Texas, which is almost like being offline, but with open carry. So, as we duck for cover, a few small comments.

If life gives you gators, make Gatorade.


The word Yosemite has four syllables. Reducing it to a three-syllable word, that is, yo-se-mite, sounds as if you're referring to someone with an obscure and vaguely distasteful sexual proclivity. On the other hand, the word molester has three syllables. Reducing it to a two-syllable word, that is, mole-ster, may make it sound more cute and cuddly, but it isn't.

And finally, if, after sprinkling a French phrase into your conversation, you add, "as the Frenchies say," you can get away with having completely mispronounced it, or used the wrong vocabulary. This allows you to get away with linguistic murder, as your listener's won't know whether or not you're serious. Unless they're French. But why would you pretend to speak French in front of French people? Come to think of it, that probably should stand alone. To wit:

Don't speak French in front of French people. At best they'll think you're an escaped Canadian lunatic, and at worst, they'll do something really French that will ruin your life forever.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

In which we continue breaking down the tournament director's toolkit

The toolkit has two versions of e-ballot instructions. One is a generic pdf, the other is a doc file, if people want to include their own wifi information. As the VCA knows, I’m a perfectly strong proponent of e-balloting, but I tend to see the flaws in the system. I know those flaws will go away, but they haven’t yet. Lots of high schools don’t have the infrastructure to handle a tournament, with hundreds of people not only logged in but streaming music and videos and all sorts of things like that. Wifi will just get better over time, and system admins will stop making general use more difficult than cracking the Enigma encryptions, and we’ll be there, but we’re not there yet. At colleges, where my reluctance is more noticeable, we’re closer, but we still need an army of enforcers to get people to do simple things like starting rounds when the rounds actually start, and not sitting around waiting an hour when a judge doesn’t show up and stuff like that. Yes, e-ballots work, but not without enforcers. Give me that enforcing army, and I’m on it like bedbugs on an EconoLodge mattress.

Thanks to the non-school groups who have laid down the gauntlet of endless shenanigans, plus the Right to Debate independents who show up all alone just begging to be taken away in a gurney so their parents can sue the crap out of you, tournament directors need to control who gets into their tournaments and who doesn’t. Thank God the NSDA has issued membership guidelines that can be applied to this. Anyhow, there is a document in the toolkit on managing entries, which recommends a waitlist at almost every tournament, and explains how best to run it. In addition to blocking bad actors, a director needs balanced divisions. If 60% of the teams in a division are all from one school, that’s not a tournament, that’s an intramural scrimmage that they could have stayed home and done for free. All of that good stuff is in there, to make sure that it all ends up as a good event for the paying customers.


One thing I haven’t written up, but which I’ll be discussing in my presentation, is the use of limited judge obligations, which I (almost) categorically oppose in high school tournaments. Limited judge obligations boils down to fewer judges. If 100 judges show up at your tournament and they are fully obligated, you have 100 judges to choose from in a pairing. If 100 judges show up at your tournament and they have half obligations, you have 50 judges to choose from in a pairing. It’s as simple as that. If you want great MJP assignments, the more judges the better. If you limit the number of judges, you weaken the MJP assignments. End of story. (My parenthetical "almost" up above was in reference to tournaments that have more judges than they know what to do with; while this is rare, it does happen, and obligations can be limited.) At the same time as I believe in full obligations, I also believe in giving people a round or two off. Everyone likes a break, so it’s a good idea to give it to them. Anyhow, my guess is that this will be among the most controversial parts of my presentation, as limited obligations are becoming the fashion, and everyone who wants to play with the big kids thinks that they ought to do it. I probably can’t stop them. But everyone in the debate universe needs to know that the less judges are obligated, the worse preferences are going to get. The math is unavoidable. Even I can do it.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In which we parse some more of the Tournament Director's Toolkit

One of the things I did a long time ago, that I also included in the Tournament Director’s Toolkit, is a manual for tabroom.com. This was before there was any built-in help. Theoretically I could delete it now, but even though it’s a bit outdated, given that the program is regularly (albeit secretly) updated every eleven minutes or so, and the built-in help is more than adequate, I think there are some people who might appreciate having something that they can print out and keep handy. Yes, I realize that this is an old-fashioned concept—Oh, boy! A printout!—but the world I live in (i.e., the DJ, which is probably one beat behind a state-of-the-art media corporation) still includes people who don’t do everything on their device of choice. Or more to the point, it includes people whose device of choice is paper. Don’t kill me when you hear this: I’m only the messenger.

I didn’t update the manual for the NDCA presentation, and I probably never will. It served its purpose, and one moves on. It's just there for those just getting started. It can't hurt.

Another thing I did a while ago was a guide to setting up physical registration for tournaments using tabroom. I have given this to a number of people, and I’ve noted that when I have, they have religiously avoided following its advice. Everyone always seems to know better. My favorite thing that they all know better is not to use tabroom for monitoring payments and printing receipts. People find it much easier to create a whole new way of monitoring payments and printing receipts (when they do either), which inevitably leads to confusion over payments and receipts. I can appreciate folks wanting to put their own spin on the ball, but this one has to be the dumbest of the personal spins. Here, take this system that does everything one hundred percent perfectly well, and introduce a whole bunch of factors that will require copying over data and a bunch of other opportunities to almost guarantee errors. I have noticed, in my many years of computing (I bought my first Apple II in 1981) that computers have this amazing ability to do addition and subtraction. In fact, they do it better than most people. Yet most people don’t believe it. Go fig, as they say.


I do add one thing in my blurb about the registration instructions, that at least at high school tournaments, an adult should be in charge of the payments. Yes, it is lovely to invest that responsibility in your top students, but I have watched JV do it all by himself (which inspired me to do it all by myself in subsequent years), and compared it to when students—any students at any school—have done it, and the difference is amazing. No confusion. Money in, duly accounted, end of story, versus 17-year-olds all competing to enter the data wrong, twice, or not at all. Maybe it’s better advice just to have all tournaments have JV handle their payments. Couldn't hurt.

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