Thursday, December 18, 2014

In which we make an immodest proposal amidst a cascade of beans

Somebody at the DJ has been cleaning out their closets. Which means I’ve just acquired as many crappy prizes as I can carry at one time. Big boxes o’ junk appear in the break room, and people grab them up as if they’re hiding the Ebola virus; in other words, for reasons that are hard to explain, I’m about the only one around here who wants “Ukulele Ike Sings Again.” Then again, old Cliff (his real name) voiced a certain iconic cricket back in the day, so how can I resist? This is why you want to speak well at Bump. From the DJ to the C.P. Closet at the chez to the Bump tournament to your very own assigned space in your very own house, if you have one. (Some kids just get piled one on top of the other in the basement. At least, that’s what they do in Scarsdale. I can’t speak for other places.) These are the best crappy prizes money couldn’t buy if it wanted to.

“Crappy prizes chosen at random, especially for you.” Ah, yes…

The Regis Kristmas Klassik (AKA the Christmas Chlassich) seems to have filled up suitably. I’ll have to meld the JV and V LDers to make them happen, I think, but otherwise it’s quite robust. Novice PF especially is on the lively side. The northeast will be among the last to loosen the reins on LD, but even so, PF is making its move.

In related news, I understand that next year the NSDA, having adopted my idea for the modest novice topic, will be adopting my comparable idea for varsity LD. There will just be one LD topic from now on, and it will repeat at every tournament until the end of time: “Resolved: Some b.s. or other that doesn’t matter because you’re just going to argue what you feel like arguing anyhow.” I’m calling it the E.I.L.D.R., the Eternal Irrelevant LD Resolution. Given that this is de facto what we’re doing already, why not just cut to the chase?

The Sailor entry this weekend has shrunk to just my newbies. One of them, by the way, was this year’s winner in Winter Bean Trivia. We did it Tuesday night, limiting it to the three categories of food, Disney and 60s music. Before long I jettisoned the music category, since although Capt Jake had suggested it, it turns out that no one on the team knows anything about the 60s except that Beatles might have recorded a song or two in them. Of course, one of the teams could name only a single Disney mouse. Timothy. Given that you get a bean per mouse, and that, uh, the corporate gestalt is a certain mus musculus creature, this had to be the nadir of the evening’s intellectual prowess. It didn’t match the unforgettable answer from years ago that the lead Muppet character was Hermit the Crab, but it comes close.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In which we excoriate the adjudicators

Here’s my New Year’s resolution, the first one I’ve made since I was about eight years old: I will try to get myself back in the groove. The DJ has been sucking my precious bodily fluids and upsetting my purity of essence, leaving about 11 minutes a day for everything else. I do not begrudge them this, and in fact, I sort of like having a lot of new stuff to do to fill the empty hours, which weren’t all that empty to begin with. But I feel that I’m shortchanging the Night Job as a result. That is not a good thing. Of course, there are only so many hours in the day, so something has to give somewhere. I guess this means no more bear-baiting.


I am beginning to regret every good thing I’ve ever said about judges, except for a couple of them, and even they’re a bit suspect. The judge pool in general has always had various issues, including delusions of grandeur, the inability to count to one round past their teams’ participation, and an inability to tell time, but this year everything seems to have been ramped up beyond tolerance. Judges are flouting their obligations, disappearing at the first sign of ballots, whining about every round—you name it. My question is, if you’re judging at a tournament, what exactly are you doing when you’re not judging? I mean, is it that much fun to sit in the judges’ lounge (or, more accurately, hide in the bathroom until the all-clear and then go sit in the judges’ lounge)? I’ve already bemoaned the Tiggers, where people have two hours off between each judging gig on Saturday. This is hard work? Judging per se is hard work? I certainly agree that it is work, and it is challenging, but if you want hard work, try something both physical and mindless.

One of the latest maladies affecting judges is commitmentosis. Judges who know better tell us that they’re only committed for [fill in ridiculously low number here] rounds. To which we respond, Parisian airport*: “Oh, really?” I realize that some tournaments on the high school level do run judges by commitment, but these are few and far between. I gather that it is commonplace at college tournaments, but if you’re judging this weekend and you don’t know whether you’re judging high school or college debate, I’ve got to wonder how well you’re in control of your stuff, so to speak. Here’s a dead giveaway: if you see me coming out of tab, it’s a high school, and you’re judging till the cows come home.

And don’t get me started on yabbo coaches showing up at their first tournament beyond the cabbage patch. New to the big wide world ought to mean that you spent some time reading the invitation of the tournament you’re attending, wouldn’t you think? You’re going to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to an event, wrapped in nothing but your blissful ignorance? Baby, it’s cold outside, and my sympathy for people who want to argue with the terms of the invitation is rather on the low side.

Anyhow, on the agenda upcoming are the Gem of Harlem, Newark, Bigle X, Penn, Byram Hills and Scarsdale, not in that order. Among these, the happy ones are all alike and the unhappy ones are each unhappy in their own way. My Christmas holidays will be filled to overflowing with poring over the tabroom setups and finding new boxes to click or unclick. I’ll use the coal in my stocking to heat the chez while I’m working on all of this.

*(Remember, if you were smarter, I’d be funnier.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

In which we go into Tigger tab

One of the things we did at the Tiggers was get Dario into the world. He was slightly (and rightly) hesitant about using it for the first time at such a venue, but he prepped up on it in advance and played around and read my lovely manual, so he was rarin’ to go by the time he arrived back in his home state. (Why anyone would ever move out of New Jersey is beyond me.) Everything worked pretty well for him, although to be honest, someone else set everything up, i.e., me. I continue to maintain that the real work of tabroom is setting it up right, and the day someone sets it up completely right, including CP, is the day it comes out of beta. Still, in actual practice, it does work great. Ballots go in, rounds come out. With a big field, it’s a piece of cake. And changing (and fining) judges goes like a breeze. What’s not to like? With a small field, on the other hand, well, good luck, but that’s not a flaw of tabroom. Small fields force us to break the rules, or even more accurately, keep changing the rules on the fly. If HAL 9000 couldn’t do that, I don’t know why tabroom should.

Still, there were a couple of problems. At least one of them CP now understands; apparently I was unclear in my hundred previous complaints about it. There’s a way of adding text to a ballot by entering it into some boxes, and the text I was entering just wouldn’t take. Given that some of this text was the phone number to report results, this was problematic, and a lot of ballots went out without the number, so we didn’t get the electronic feedback we usually get at the Tiggers. Worse, before round 1 the ballots wouldn’t print at all, and it was just a lucky guess on my part to look on this page, where yet a different box was filled with junk data. I deleted it, and things started moving again. At some point during the weekend I began thinking that the problem might be browser based, so I switched from Chrome to Safari, but that did not fix the problem. Oh, well. At least now CP claims to know what I’m talking about.

We also had some room pool leakage. The 5 PF rounds on Saturday are in their own rooms, as are the simultaneous LD rounds. But during the last round, a few of the PF rooms snuck over to the other pool. They had not done this previously, and there was no reason for them to do it now, given that we had made no pool changes all day. In other words, data creep. Go figure. We had a few free spots so we were able to solve it quickly enough, but it was a bit scary, forcing me to go over all the rooms for the rest of the tournament. Next time I’ll print up a pool list and hang it around my neck for the duration, so if something goes wrong I’ll have a record of how it’s supposed to be.

But these were minor issues, in that they got solved quickly. More importantly, the MJP worked beautifully. We made occasional improvements, but most of our double-checking uncovered no way to make things better. A couple of the break rounds went out without us touching a thing. Since we were only once stormed by someone demanding a different judge (and in a most annoying, uninformed and prejudicial fashion), I guess the attendees at large were pleased with the results. There is no question that MJP with tabroom is, round by round, about half an hour faster than MJP on TRPC. You just can’t argue with that. And since virtually all LD these days is MJP, well, there you are.

Monday, December 08, 2014

In which we are back home from Tiggertown

I realize I’ve been off the grid—or maybe it’s on the grid—a lot lately, whichever phrase means not writing anything here. As I’ve been saying, the DJ has been seriously sapping my time way beyond the 9 to 5; actually doing the debatey things I usually talk about in the leftover time precludes commenting on it here. In other words, it’s not as if there haven’t been interesting things to talk about in our little universe, it’s just that I’ve been living them rather than talking about them. I’m sure the VCA will forgive me for a while as I get things evened out.

This last weekend was the Tiggers. For some reason this outing brings in more newbies to the tournament world than most other tournaments. It seems as if half the teams attending email me in advance every five minutes telling me how new they are and asking questions and whatnot. They’ve never been away from home before and this is the first time they’re sticking their team toe into the circuitry waters. I have no idea why Princeton and not some other tournament. Maybe it’s the whole New Jersey thing. People don’t want to visit Princeton, they want to visit New Jersey. It is the Garden State, after all. Maybe they’re coming to see if they can find the gardens. Then again, maybe other tournaments have the same number of newcomers, but at those events the noobs keep their mouths shut. Or maybe I’m just being too nice. (No. That can’t be it.)

Now that we’re conducting run-offs more often, the idea of judge obligation is becoming increasingly difficult for some people, usually the newer ones, to understand. Not only did the Tigger invitation clearly state that the obligation went to the first full elim after runoffs, it stated it in seriously bold type. This means that reason number one for not showing up to the first full elim was that “it wasn’t in the invitation.” Nice try. “No one emailed me about that” is also a good reason for screwing up, on this and other things, although since I have godlike powers, when you come to me with that I can easily determine your email status, and if you’ve turned off accepting emails, you probably don’t want to complain that you’re not getting any. Of course, it is much better to come to tab and argue that the judging requirement is ridiculous and therefore you shouldn’t have to do it. I mean, yes, I really want to have that conversation. Although this is my favorite: Them: I need a round off; I judged every round today. I am suffering from neurasthenia, I am battling the sickness unto death, etc. Us: The schedule is set up so that after every round you have two hours off. This is the most luxurious schedule this side of paradise. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I did love that. While I can sympathize at normal tournaments when judges do pretty much work every round, but then again, when I go to my job in my morning, I am expected to work the whole day! Imagine that! I even usually eat at my desk. So if I’m judging at a debate tournament I should get plenty of time off? Feh. Of course, I also believe that tournaments shouldn’t go on endlessly. I spent a lot of time paring down schedules when I first started having some clout. But I was more worried about debaters than judges. I’m not saying judging is easy, but as jobs go? I can think of worse.

Speaking of judges, there does seem to be a belief among regular college-student judges that they are so valuable that they don’t really have to show up to pick up their ballots until the spirit moves them, if at all, thus doing their level indirect best to get the tournament off schedule. The last ballots picked up are always, inevitably, the highest preffed college student judges. Again, with a two-hour break, there’s no excuse for this. At the Tiggs, we stopped posting the judges and demanded everyone show up for judge assembly. This meant that ballots went out, straight or pushed, in about 5 minutes, compared to the half hour of phoning and hair-pulling that we started out with. The thing is, if you post the judges, people who aren’t on the posting stay at the saloon where they’re drowning their sorrows rather than hauling themselves over to judge assembly. Hence, no backup judges. This seems to be location dependent, and for some reason the Tiggers has it worse than anyone else, I think. At a tournament where there’s nowhere to go, like the Pups on Saturday, you don’t have to do this, because any judge who didn’t pick up is upstairs in the library. So one has to go with the flow of the geography, which is different every time. CP, of course, would say that e-ballots would solve, and I appreciate that argument to some degree, but not here. Half the judges weren’t linked, if you throw in the novice rounds sharing the same rooms as the varsity (hence the two hour up and down).

Still, working the Tiggers is fun. Like all the colleges we work, the hosts are great company and work hard, and the vast majority of the attendees get a good tournament and are appreciative of all that goes into that. So in a nutshell, it was a long, tiring but satisfying weekend.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In which, amidst sniffles and hacks, we debrief Wee Sma and prepare for the Tiggers

I managed to catch weesmalexitis last weekend. I think this is a direct result of a conversation I was having with someone recently about not getting many colds in my dotage. This one is a doozy. My brain fell out Sunday night. Literally. (Okay, metaphorically.) I’m beginning to come around now, just in time for turkey.

Wee Sma was a breeze, mostly. The big divisions moved along with dispatch, allowing 5 rounds and a final in PF. (Does LD feel the hot breath on its neck yet?) We had hoped for e-balloting, but we had more people opting out than opting in. I will admit that using a phone is problematic, because you can’t use it to flow, but flowing on paper and then using the phone? Apparently this is beyond most people. Not a big deal, really, but coaches need to tell their judges, especially their parent judges, to bring a device that will work in 2014. Tabroom is in the modern age only to the degree that the users enable it to be there.

The smaller divisions required a little bit of card shuffling. Kaz had originally attempted some North Lex and South Lex stuff, but given that they’re all Lex as far as the system is concerned, that really didn’t get off the ground. Cards it was. Tabroom itself, aside from telling us early in the morning that it couldn’t pair the rounds it had just paired, was fine. Meanwhile Dario, who’s never used tabroom, is shaking in his boots over having to do it for PF at Pton. He’s playing with a dummy tournament to get the hang of it. I promised him that it’s easy as pie and has no problems ever and that the nightmare that was the Lost Round at the Pups was an anomaly. I hope that’s true.

In my deathly state, in any case, I’ve been doing the last busywork of Pton. The rooms are in, the schedule is correct, all the right buttons look to be pressed (which I’ll be checking and checking again and again as we get closer). Last year, thanks to the meningitis scare, we cut out all the ribbon clerks early and had enough room on campus to do some things that unfortunately we can’t do this time. We’ll be back to the two hours up, two hours off arrangement in LD. PF will go one after the other, as usual. In any case, this allowed me to scare up a few extra rooms, so now everyone who’s going to be in seems to be in. I’m not expecting much droppage, if the earlier tournaments this year are any indication. Even Kaz noticed it at Wee Sma. People who sign up are staying signed up. And I’m pleased with the way we handled the waitlists. Unlike the Pups, where it was first come, first served, we waited a while and then let everyone who was signed up in on an equal basis. No favorites, and certainly no favorites because you happened to be there first, the most suspect warrant for getting in I can imagine.

And there you are. Have a nice turkey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In which we put Bump to bed

There isn’t much more to say about Bump. I get stressed out by it, but by now it’s a pretty well-oiled machine. This was the first year Fr. Michael was in tab, replacing CP, and he seemed to enjoy himself. (Michael being there, I mean, not Palmer not being there.) There was the issue of tab being in the noisy library. I think next year I’ll give them a classroom and then move them over to the library for elims. That should work better. In any case, they got us out earlier than last year, even with very tight judging, so there you are.

MJP with a small pool is dicey at best, plus we just barely managed to cover everyone. Not having alums to draw on is murder. I figure I need a good 5 extra judges, plus I need schools who bring highly preffed judges to go the distance. That might mean tinkering with the results, but who’s going to remember whether they won or lost the odd break round? Speaking of which, one of my newbies wanted to see what LD might be like, and I wish to thank our semifinalists for going so fast that she didn’t even realize they weren’t talking about the resolution. So she managed to get LD out of her system and is now firmly committed to PF. And I will be doing a lot more analysis on MJP as a whole, now that I’ve started. I’m really curious to see how it’s affecting things beyond just my one tournament. Will my initial hypotheses hold up? We’ll see. I’ll pass the data along to Bro Ryan as well, since that sort of thing is right up his alley.

And now, with Bump behind us, we coast into Thanksgiving with Wee Sma Lex, which I always enjoy, and which gives the Sailors a little Bump of their own. It allows novices to get their first housing under their belt, although I sorely wish they had a novice PF division. Given how many PFers they have overall, I can’t see why not. They have a novice policy division, and a novice LD division. Just sayin’. We’re going to be trying out a new restaurant Friday night. Fred the Lion, who is semi-Chinese, declared that the Chinese restaurant in Lexington is pretty lousy, but we didn’t need this level of authority to make this determination. We’re going to try an Italian place. I sorely miss the old Italian place, and the less old Italian place that succeeded it. Italian always works well with debaters. Those who are panivorous can always eat spaghetti alla niente while the rest of us our chomping down the real food. Of course, the trip home veers off to Reins’ Deli, where no one is ever disappointed.

And then there’s a week off, and some little Tigger event…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In which we ponder what happens after meatballs

Things seemed better in hand for Bump 2014 than in some previous years. Everything ran smoothly and on schedule round-wise, as far as I could tell. The fact that we ended earlier than usual on Saturday night would seem to confirm that.

I always pass housing along to a parent. Now that we only handle out-of-staters, the number is much more manageable, although we certainly can’t handle the load just relying on the team. So the housing person does a lot of calling around, and brings in legacies, and the job gets done. The main confusion this year was one school that a) decided to forego its housing and b) didn’t bother to tell us. There were a few panicked moments when we thought they were being housed in an undisclosed location somewhere in the backwoods of Sailorville, and there was a bit of running through the halls plaintively calling their names. I finally got the coach on the horn who gave me the oops alert, and that was that. Oops this, if you know what I mean.

Food seemed to go well. There was enough of it for everyone, that is, and it was there when it was supposed to be there. The candy Speecho-Americans kept asking me questions like, could I give them change or would they get special service credits or somesuch, and I kept looking at them as if they just escaped from a lunatic asylum, but we’re used to those sorts of exchanges. Because there had been some thefts from the high school and lockdowns and whatnot a couple of weeks ago, all the doors were closed and there was only one point of access, but that proved to be no problem. As far as I know, the lost and found business operated once again with fully one hundred percent of the items lost completely unconnected to the items found. That is always one of the great Bump mysteries. If we ever found something someone actually lost, it would be a miracle.

We gave the varsity trophies out in the rounds, but I did do short ceremonies for the speaker awards for the two divisions, about 5 minutes each. I like talking about crappy prizes, and students like hearing about them and getting them. The Traveling Tray of PF returned this year—it’s the 2nd Place Bump Speech Award from 1981—as did the Traveling (Fruit) Cup for LD. The TT of PF now has a beautifully embossed nameplate, sort of, if pasting an index card on the back and attaching it with green tape and me scratching the name of the previous winners counts as beautiful embossing. There may be some dispute over that. The (Fruit) Cup winner, whose school doesn’t usually come to Bump, had the temerity (or foresight) to leave it behind after beautifully embossing his own name on it. Which means it will find its way into my basement where TK (pronounced teek) can use it as a scratching post when he’s down there chasing mice. By the way, O’C was saying how the retired can of soup that substituted for the fruit can during the wilderness years is looking pretty dicey on its perch at Bronx Science. He says when you shake it you can hear the meatballs still bouncing around in it. I had to break it to him that it was a can of chicken stock, sans meatballs, which made him start to worry about exactly what is bouncing around in there. We agreed that not shaking it again in the future would be the better part of valor.