Thursday, February 16, 2017

In which we go behind the scenes

At the DJ they make us change our login password about as often as most people change their underwear (which, I will point out, is more often for DJ-type people than debate-type people). So I changed my password a couple of days ago, and it wouldn’t take because I had used that one before, so I put in another one that I immediately forgot. The fallout from this has been frightening. I’ve lost access to a bunch of things that seem to have no recollection of me in any way, shape or form. Every email address yields nothing. Every poke, every pull, every tug—again nothing. Very frustrating. Also not terribly important—will the world end if I can’t look at Tumblr every couple of days? Still, I hate when the computer pulls itself out from under you. Next time I’ll write down my password, which is what I usually do, and put it on my bulletin board. You want to log in as me? Be my guest. Because, the thing is, so do I.

At Penn, Sans-Culottes managed to also pull my computer away from me, slipping in a horrible screaming sound every time I accessed tabroom. I’m not quite sure why, but it was quite amusing, and I used it whenever the Paginator looked like he was going to fall asleep. Then again, the Paginator had the magic spell available to make it go away, and didn’t tell me, so he deserved what he got. Feh!

The thing about the Penn tabroom, as anyone who followed it on Facebook can tell, is that we were right on top of each other for three whole days. It was the smallest conference room ever, up in a garret somewhere, stuffed to the gills with people of the tabulation persuasion. Speech, congress, debate, after-dinner conversation (which is, yes, a real event, although I think they officially call it something else), you name it. You couldn’t swing the proverbial cat, but there we were. And it was a hell of a lot of fun. I think the goal of any decent tab room ought to be to get Kaz to either spit-take or curse, and I think this weekend we got both. The thing is, any sentence taken out of context can be hilarious, if you know how to work it. And this group can take sentences out of context like nobody’s business. You think Kellyanne knows how to twist the language? She’d commit seppuku in five minutes if she were forced to work with us. Then again, we might kill her ourselves before the five minutes were up, all things considered, but we’re not here to talk politics or make fun of Trump and the Trumpettes. They do that perfectly well all by themselves. Come to think of it, the tab room never talks much about politics, not because we don’t all agree, but because it’s just so tiresome. Lately I’m limiting my politics to tweets only. Debate here, entertainment on FB, and snarky politics on Twitter. The balance seems right.

Now I'm looking at not one but two weekends off. I’m still rather zonked from three nonstop days of Penn, so a little sleep for a morning or two will not be viewed askance. Maybe I’ll pull a Palmer and keep my pants off. One never knows, does one?


Monday, February 13, 2017

In which we sum up the e-ballot experience

Well, that’s that. The last big tournament of the year. Whew!

This has been an eventful season for one thing especially: e-balloting. We’ve been doing e-ballots for years, admittedly, but always in very controlled environments. They’ve been in single buildings, with lots of runners to check on things. Once or twice the school wifis have been inadequate for the job, and we’ve had to switch over to paper ballots. At Wee Sma Lex this year, when tabroom went down, we also made an emergency run to paper (and continued on schedule). We had used e-ballots in controlled college situations, maybe running one division that was, again, in one building, like at Columbia in the past.

These experiences proved beyond a doubt that not only did e-ballots provide convenience, but they also speeded up a tournament. The time saving was, first, we had the results the second the last ballot was entered. Turnaround time remained the same, but then we posted and blasted assignments, and everyone knew where to go instantly. Our estimate was that a half hour per round was saved this way. That adds up over a long tournament weekend.

But here’s the problem. Always there were luddites, unprepared and/or tech illiterate. These were the handful for whom we would have to print paper ballots, undermining the whole process. And secondly, there was the problem of distance. What would happen if we tried it on a big division spread out over a big college campus? Or even more dramatic, if we tried it on multiple divisions spread out over a big college campus?

It was time to find out.

We broke the ice at Princeton, for the two divisions of LD. Theoretically, the LD community had already been introduced to e-balloting, since the pool comprised mostly experienced judges one way or the other. There were a couple of important prerequisites. All judges had to be able to do e-ballots, and all judges had to submit to the process of pressing start when and only when they were starting. We made that happen by imposing generous fines on people. You don’t have a tabroom account? We fine you and replace you when your name comes up marked as a luddite. The fine notice is sent to the coach instantly. You don’t press start? We fine you and replace you. The fine notice is sent to the coach instantly. But I’m here, you would say. I was in the round. I judged the round! The education that ensued at this point was, you sat down and I gently explained to you that the only way I could do my job is for you to do your job. Correctly. I would tell them to listen, don’t argue, and I will remove the fine, and you will either link to tabroom (“I’ll set you up right now,” I would say helpfully) or learn to press start in the appropriate fashion.

It worked. Still does.

Another thing we learned is the beauty of the poke. We set up a process of: blast 30 minutes before the round; 10-minute warning before the round; start now blast at start time; poke individual judges whose rounds haven’t started 5 minutes after start time, beginning with anonymous texts and escalating to phone calls; 10-minute warning at the end of the round (we inevitably needed to turn around rooms); pokes at various escalating levels when there were a few recalcitrant yabbos having trouble getting the damned thing finished.

It worked.

At Columbia we spread out from LD to PF. Our thought was that, at Princeton, all the PF people saw the LD people not schlepping around with paper and wanted into the act. They did. The PF pool, notoriously out of step with debate reality, buckled under. Two different events sharing the same rooms in alternating time slots.

It worked.

At Penn? 5 divisions, JV and Varsity, PF, LD and Policy. We were now in full swing with a process for getting the rounds to happen.

It worked.

I would like to say that this ends the need for humans in the tab room, except that the chasing down of unstarted rounds, or rounds that haven’t started but the judge says they’ve started (like the schmegeggies who press start at the same time for both flights fifteen minutes before flight 1) has not ended. Subbing in and forfeiting student no-shows and unforfeiting student no-shows is an issue. Customer service is an issue. Kaz answers the phone like she works for a spa (“This is Kaz in tab. How can I help you?”) where as I just grunt out the word “Tab!” Same effect. Please, on the other hand, don't ask me non-round-related questions when I’m trying to put out fires. “What’s the schedule?” “It’s on tabroom.” “Where on tabroom?” “Just look for it, you yabbo! I’m trying to run a bloody tournament here.” “Well, that’s not very helpful. I thought this was a help line.” “Oh, sorry. Let me look that up for you. Tournament, would you mind stopping for a minute while I find a velvet pillow to present this person with information they could easily have found for themselves if they had an iota of wit?”


Anyhow, I’ll write up a process for e-ballots and put it into the Toolkit. No reason not to share it with the tiny world that might be interested.


Thursday, February 09, 2017

In which we enjoy the winter weather

This is the point where all is done for a tournament, and all you can do is stare out the window at the snow and read your book and be happy that it will end later today so that you’ll have no trouble getting to Philadelphia tomorrow. It’s that whole idea of freezing fees a few days before the tournament that finally slows things down, halting people in their tracks even though they really want to keep changing everything up through the final round. As a species, forensics coaches aren’t exactly at the top of the organization game. They're even more skinflinty than they are disorganized, meaning they really don't want to pay for non-existent entries. But you knew all of that already.

After a lot of backing and forthing yesterday about the storm, Kaz took off late last night to head to the chez and did pretty well, making it as far as Danbury, about an hour away, before giving in to sleepiness and checking into the Trump Danbury Days Holiday Inn Express Western Ramada. Or something like that. She claims they have food and drink, so maybe it’s a step up from the usual debate venue, which usually only has those tiny corn muffins in the morning and that watery orange juice in those shot glasses and CNN fake news on the overhead screen. In any case, tomorrow morning we should be on the road as planned. Round 1 is at five o’clock for 4 divisions. Piece of cake.

I’m beginning to realize that this is my last major tournament of the year. It’s been a satisfactory lead-up, with lots of waitlist management and the like, but after this, it’s just Lakeland and CFL Grands and out. Sigh. By the way, for those of you who update their IOS (and I’ve noticed that is not everybody), the good old Debate Mobile app is not going to work in the next upgrade. Nor will any other app where you’ve been getting that notice about that particular app slowing you down. I polished up my old Excel pyramid, since that’s the most important part of the app, i.e., how many people will break into what. I’ll post that on my tournament director’s page. It’s a useful thing to have handy.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

In which we bask in the glow of the run-up having almost now completely run up

One of the points I made in my presentation on how to run a tournament is that there is no such thing as too many judges. You can’t run a tournament without more judges than you know what to do with. My recommendation is that you have about a 10% overage in each pool. This covers all contingencies, most especially the dreaded judge drift during the late rounds. Everybody wants to go home. If you hire a lot of judges, and don’t pay them until you’re willing to let them go home, you will be ahead of the game. Too often this year judges have been released too early, and those of us running tab have not been consulted, and the next thing you know, whatever warm body can be found is in there in the back of the room. This is not the way to do things. Needless to say, I’ll be pointing this out to the Penn folk. No one leaves unless I say they can leave! Tie that to the payment, and we should be fine.

In the end, Penn did a very good job of acquiring hireds. And the teams who were short judges and it was oh-so-impossible for them to get any also did a good job. The debate community can’t really get by without everyone doing their best to contribute. It is a community, and that’s how communities work. Yes, there still are a couple of places short judges, but no, that heinously high fine won’t go away.

I’m especially taken when a school with tuition greater than Harvard for their kindergarten asks for a break on the fines for their late changes and drops. Seriously now? Schools that scrape together nickels and dimes to pay the fees? Let me see what I can do. Schools where everyone is used to having the hired help do it? Maybe not. I realize that this is discriminatory on my part, but I would suggest that it’s justified discrimination. Schools that aren’t doing their bit tend to register early and then attempt to buy all their judging for 30 entries, and wonder why their promptness isn’t rewarded. Well, it’s about need, not when you punched the clock. You need a judge, I’ll find you one. You think you’re entitled to a judge, I’ll recommend that you pull those parents off the couch and pack them in the luggage compartment of the bus and put them to work. As I used to say to my own team, if your parents didn’t want to judge, they should have kept their hands off each other that night 16 years ago… Acting like a parent comes with the job, people. I mean, in PF? Seriously? Feh.

Anyhow, changes and whatnot have been flowing in steadily, and given that there will be snow tomorrow and no school for anyone, there might actually be a break. That would be nice. Kaz is planning on coming down early to beat the blizzard of ’17, so we’ll all be able to drive down nice and early on Friday, singing along with my iPod’s greatest hits.

IPod? What’s an iPod? Well, sonny, it’s this thing we old-timers used to listen to music on. It replaced the gramophone.


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

In which we fondly recall Baby Bump

And Baby Bump II is now just a memory.

Once again we ran 4 rounds in a single day, and honestly, the field sizes weren’t bad. It was novice and Academy (i.e., JV) PF and LD. There does seem to be a need for smaller tournaments for younger students in the region, now that there’s no MHL. Granted, the MHL sort of evaporated, but the need for the MHL (even while it existed and was progressively more ignored) is eternal. RIP. Maybe more events like Baby Bump will pop up to replace it. The Paginator is doing something similar at Delbarton on Prexy weekend. Let’s see if he gets the numbers.

B Bump was very  much a throwback. Paper ballots! How quaint. But I just didn’t trust the Hud Hens to get the wifi right, although it seemed to be marginally okay, at least in the tab room, which was a first. Also, no PF flip. (Or, I guess, pflip. PFlip?) If there’s only 4 rounds, do 2 of each. We’ve already eliminated the flip in the local CFL, following the national organization’s lead. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who is in favor of flipping anymore. I wonder how long before major tournaments eliminate it. Who wants to be the first? I dare you. I double dare you. Hell, just putting in a handful of PF strikes caused a major uproar when we first started doing it. Is there anything as conservative as a debate coach over the age of 21?

The tab room staff at B Bump was marginally capable. Catholic Charlie, JV, the Paginator. Me, a lttle bit. What’s that saying about flies and elephant guns? (Actually, is there a saying about flies and elephant guns?) Anyhow, with probably the most high-powered tab team in America, things tend to go rather smoothly. In fact, we collectively spent most of our time on other tournaments. I was room whispering for Penn, Charlie and JV were looking at Districts, and the Paginator was regaling us with epic tales of his adventures making his car payments. Somehow along the way we found the space to add a run-off PF round on Sunday at Penn, which is a very nice thing indeed.

I would say that the idea of B Bump will go on. The weekend is there, the attendees are there, so why not? For me it’s a piece of cake; I can practically walk there. The only problem was that the library was freezing. Next time I’ll wear my longjohns.