Monday, September 29, 2014

In which we point out where the next 6 weeks are headed

I spent a very productive weekend working on the curriculum. There’s a big difference between doing LD for 3 months and switching to PF and just starting out doing PF. Before, for instance, we’d work on the parts of a round, and then just adjust from LD to PF, but now that we’re starting with PF, the parts of a round need a full and different explanation from what I was using. And prioritization of subjects is different. I’d ease into research a bit later for LD, where it’s an important concern, than I will for PF, where it’s a paramount concern. Remember, I was raised on an LD where you could get by entirely on case analytics, and research was something one dabbled in. This was predicated on resolutions that had no real-world connection. I’m not saying that LD today is concerned with the real world—although the resolutions are—whereas in PF, the real world is all there is. Anyhow, lots of rearranging and rewriting and rethinking, including the tossing overboard of the whole concept of value/criterion (which, I maintain, still needs to inform case thinking, albeit implicitly rather than explicitly). And we’ve got all of 4 meetings to get it into the plebe head in readiness for the first tournament. Oh, well. Starting one’s debate career is more about getting over the stomach butterflies and learning to eat debate ziti and to dress like a little lawyer than actually debating. That will come with experience. We don’t start theoretical life saver instruction by teaching swimming; we start by showing them what water is.

I also think I’ve got the MHL Workshop agenda polished up. I sent it out today to the instructors, and then it will go on to the assembled multitudes. O’C and I managed to weasel out of doing too much, but then again, I have a lot of things I want to go over with him on El Largo Bronco which is, after all, only a couple of weeks away, not to mention the RR. Oh, yeah, and at some point I need to post the First Timers’ on tabroom. We’re definitely back at Central High School. Last time I got lost 1) coming and 2) going, so I have a bit of past performance that needs improving on. I figure that this time I’ll have a bus and be able to spend my time navigating rather than avoiding being run down by Jersey drivers, who are like Boston drivers without the Red Sox bumper stickers.

I’ve also just filed the paperwork for getting the buildings for Bump. And next Monday is parent night, which among other things means locking the door and letting no one out until all the volunteer slots are filled. Jeesh. Bump already. I hope you’re ready for about 6 weeks of monotonous whining.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In which we put our feet up and relax for a while

I feel a lull in my life at the moment. The first big tournament of the year is over, the initial hump of new work at the DJ has been put behind me, I just finished an edit and am settling into some serious reading (the two of which are my job in a nutshell, if you throw in other nuts), and we’re probably going to start eating dinner in the dining room rather than on the sun porch. I even have a weekend with no debate coming up (the last until Thanksgiving). Life is quiet. I’ll try to take advantage of it.

I’m figuring on getting the smaller new iPhone. I like the idea of the bigger one, but I think I’d gravitate to it more if it were the only product I used. But since I’ll also have an iPad or a Mac nearby for almost everything I do, and when push comes to shove I just don’t use my phone that much, and I have no intentions of, say, paying attention to Facebook any more than I already do (and if anything, I’m paying less attention to it lately because it seems to, if this is possible, gotten more deathly dull than it was previously), and I know that as much as I like to think I play games, I really don’t (although I’ve been enjoying having the daily Times crossword electronically, but again, I’m more likely to play it on my iPad), my usage doesn’t justify the extra luggage, so to speak. Bigger good, way way bigger so you have to think about its bigness, not so good. I will go for the most memory, of course. I have learned that you can never have too much memory or speed, and that both will seem restrictive way before you upgrade whatever it is you have that requires memory and speed. I’ll wait until the machine is available at the Apple store next door to my office. I noticed that they’re available on Long Island, so they should creep up to Westchester in a week or so.

I’ve been listening to Flash Boys as my commute audiobook. Given our experience with latency issues at the Pups, listening to this book makes me wonder why CP has chosen to dedicate his skills to debate when instead he could be ripping off entire marketplaces and making billions of bucks. An unwise choice on his part. Speaking of which, I am now especially looking forward to working with him at Bronx. I want him to sit next to me with a pencil and write down how I use the system. His use of the system is predicated on his knowledge of the system: he knows where all the bodies are buried. It’s like the only time I ever indexed a book, the original Doubleday Cookbook back in the 70s. I then adopted that book as my go-to for basic recipes, because whenever I wanted to look something up in the index, I always found it right away because the index thought exactly the way I did (or vice versa). That’s why in the early days of tabroom we always liked to have O’C around: we claimed that he thought like CP, or more correctly, he knew what CP was thinking when he programmed a certain feature, so like CP, O’C could immediately put his finger on the right button. (If I’m not mistaken, when CP heard that O’C was able to read his mind, he went on a two-year sabbatical, trekking to various Nepalese monasteries until his mind was completely cleansed, with nothing left behind but “Keep Out! Cruz, This Means You!!!” signs.)

By the way, I went over the fines for the Pups, and saw virtually no real villains in the judges not showing up category. Well, I saw one, who will have a bit to answer for, but that’s it. Nice job on everyone else’s part. This was especially true on Sunday, when you need your top panels. Lose one person, and the 1-1, 1-1, 1-1 becomes a 1-1, 1-1, 3-5 at best, and there is murder in one’s eye. I don’t recall subbing more than one or two judges all day, and those were not because of no-shows but of bad info, and we always had a few 1-ish Pups available to fill in.

I should mention that our Student Advocate was indeed called on directly once, and indirectly more than that. Directly because of some shenanigans in a round that were apparently more bad manners than abuse, but still, that’s what she was there for. Indirectly, because I would solicit her opinion on various things that might come up, because she was closer to the debate experience than I, or at least the LD debate experience. When possible, I will want to continue having such a person around (and I will hope every time it is someone as good as the one we had at Yale).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In which we wish some of you a happy new year (in our own little way)

I get the impression that half the people at the Pups have come down with the Creeping Crud or some near cousin. The Sailors seemed to be in one piece when I saw them last night, and although my head was a little buzzy on Monday I’m fine now, but everyone on Facebook seems have suffered everything from night sweats to navel lint, so I guess we should consider ourselves lucky.

Last night, watching our Not George go over the parts of a round, I realized I pretty much have to spend a day or so working on creating teaching stuff for PF. As I said, I used to wiggle into it from LD, but now we’ll be launching directly into it, which is a totally different business. As a paying member of NSDA (which I doubt I’ve mentioned yet, and which I’ll explain eventually), I assume I have access to all sorts of stuff on their site, but I’m as happy making it up myself as using theirs. I do like the idea of getting to watch Fr Michael’s PF lectures, though. The only one I ever saw was just the top of his head and his first name was Brother rather than Father, so I’m hoping via the promotion that he now gets full skull treatment. I read the potential PF topics to the Sailors at last night’s meeting. A couple of people moaned about GMOs, but I ascribe that to ignorance. I think it’s a strong topic with plenty of strong opinions on both sides. As I read the other topic, I had to allow people a ten minute recess in the middle because I lost them somewhere between “is preferable” and Needles, California. As anyone who has even consulted the book of rez rules can tell you, the longer it is, the worse it is. If it fills up your entire constructive, you might want to vote for the other one. Oh, yeah, the content is pretty uninteresting too. Unless we’re talking about some sort of agriculture from hell that should be stopped at all costs, it’s pretty hard to prioritize having a nice lawn over feeding the hungry masses. Then again, the Sailors tell me that, in the heat of battle, Sept-Oct wasn’t that bad after all. They liked the Pro, in other words. Go figure. I never really hated the topic, although it didn’t grab me as having any great merit as an issue that must be discussed. GMOs and water rights certainly have more intrinsic value as topics. I did put in my vote, for what it’s worth. We’ll find out soon enough.

This is pretty much a verbatim quote from a plebe last night: “Moby-Dick. Bleech! It’s got all this whale stuff in it.” Comden and Green went at it a different way: “It’s about this whale…” Both lines are pretty memorable. Anyhow, next week the plebes will read to us from a “favorite” book, a regular feature of the novitiate. Favorite books earn those quotes because over the years we’ve heard from everything from Dr. Seuss to Alex Comfort. The point is for me to get a fix on poise and voice, with a soupcon of mental status; the Alex Comfort reader, for instance, turned out predictably, uh, inappropriate, in many, many ways.

O’C is heading out tonight to spend Rosh Hoshanah with the NSDA board, which I’m pretty sure isn’t exactly a family tradition with him. I think he said it was in Iowa. So near and yet shofar. He promised to look at the agenda for the MHL Workshop on the way out. I’d like to put that baby to bed by the end of the weekend. That and the PF curriculum.

I hope it rains all day Sunday. I’ll light a fire in the hearth and plug away.

("So near and yet shofar"—Are you really letting me get away with that?)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In which we use the phrase "old titular fart"

At some point last week, before I went to the Pups (which did nothing to change my mind), I decided that I would no longer start Sailor debaters in LD, but would instead go directly to PF. I’ve already explained at length why I prefer PF to LD. I was only using LD as a vestigial tool to train kids on arguments, and to avoid having to create team pairs right away, which ranges from dicey to inevitable when dealing with a small team. This year, I realized that if we had the first-timers’ event on the last week of October use the Nov PF topic, we could then get a whole lot of bang out of the novice PF buck. I guess I could have alternately extended the Sept-Oct topic into November, but I don’t like it much and don’t see it as a great starting place for newbies, given its con bias. Did I mention, by the way, that our local CFL and the MHL will now no longer use coin flips? As for the former, it’s in line with their finals tournament, and most of our local rules are in aid of following the rules there, while for the MHL, if we really want to educate new students, it makes sense to put them on both sides of a topic (which is really the motivation for our local CFL as well). Anyhow, for me dumping LD entirely means revising my curriculum a wee bit off the top, but I still think that students who understand rights and morality and justice are better off than students who don’t, so it’s not terribly difficult for me to make the switch.

Of course, the Pups confirmed this decision. As I’ve said a million times, if TOC didn’t exist, I wouldn’t invent it. The idea of a national circuit strikes me as progressively more bizarre as time goes by. What other high school activity sends students traveling around the country every other week or so? And let’s face it, it’s not that many students that do such traveling, although I suspect that the people on the $ircuit think the $ircuit is bigger than it is, and that everyone who isn’t a part of it wants to be, and that whatever it does is the way things should be done. I suspect that the reason the same schools repeat year after year at TOC is that it is pretty much just these schools that are in the running. LD is obviously going the way of policy in becoming a limited activity with a de facto no-entry policy for new programs. That is, former LDers train new LDers, and without former LDers, you don’t have LD. Everyone in the universe seems to have a coach or two (or eight) still in college, plus one old titular fart who’s been around forever who hasn’t judged since the Carter Administration who buys the plane tickets and checks in at the motel and that’s about it. Not to mention the fact that the trend has moved from debating often interesting resolutions to the dreadfully dull idea of evaluating debate per se. How many judges are deciding on the basis of violations, critiques, off-case analyses, etc., versus the idea that one debater defended a particular side of a resolution better than the other debater defended the opposite side? Certainly a lot of the tournaments I work at also have a traveling bunch of PFers, but so far they haven’t cut themselves off from the real world. Maybe they will at some point. I don’t know. I’ll be long gone by then. I’m sure a lot of people will be happy to see my back.


Monday, September 22, 2014

In which we stare at a blank screen

Here’s a shocker for you. If you do something people don’t like, they storm the barricades and give you a stern talking to. (Like that ever really works.) If you do something they do like, they do not storm the barricades thanking you profusely and telling you what a great job you’re doing. Which means that it’s a good idea to take as one’s personal philosophy the idea that virtue is its own reward.

The Pups was going swimmingly until we had server issues. Since tabroom is server-based, if you’re not connected for whatever reason, you get a blank screen, and there is literally nothing you can do. As people staring at the blank screen, our little team could only curse the gods and, of course, notify CP, who was apparently well aware of the problem, since it was affecting him too. I gather after the fact that he has fixed whatever the problem was, which is way above my pay grade.

As (presumably) a result of this glitch, we had some really interesting problems. As it turned out, I had an incorrect setting on where to focus prefs, which was clear enough after having to go in and manually reassign a bunch of judges. But standard operating procedure in any case is to go over a pairing and check all the judges and fix the assignments where the prefs don’t work, so the wrong setting, aside from making more work, caused no harm. But we did have to change a lot of judges. Whatever. There were three of us, and we had at it, and we ended up with a pairing where everyone had very nice 1s and 2s and, hither and yon, the odd 3. If I’m not mistaken, at the same time the ability of the program to distribute the rooms correctly was thrown off (although this might have been later). This meant a lot of checking and room reassigning, so that judges were not in two places at the same time.

We finally got everything right, with three people, as I said, beavering away at it. We released a pairing and took a breath. What happened next was pretty much impossible for us to understand. A coach came by and was disappointed that one of his down-2s got a 3-3 judge. I sort of naturally assumed that this meant there was nothing better, and dismissed it. But as the round was going on, I took a look to find out why this might have happened—maybe it was an error on our part rather than a lack of any better judges—and found a whole slew of 4s and 5s assigned to down-2s, on a pairing three of us had vetted to insure that there was not a single 4 or 5. That is, we had meticulously cleaned up the pairing, and somehow it had gotten all dirty again. We hypothesized on how this might have happened, and obviously it was related to the server problem, but of course all we could do was the blind guessing of the ignorant. It was hard to explain to CP, too, because since we had fixed it and then it wasn’t fixed anymore on our screens, he had nothing to work with. He does connect it to the server issue, and he has addressed that, so I have no lack of confidence in the system going forward (especially since he’ll be sitting next to me in a couple of weeks at Bronx).

Anyhow, I did feel that the tournament had promised the best judging for down-2s, and we had, for this round, not delivered on that important promise. So we double-byed those rounds. I could not in good faith eliminate folks from contention because we had failed to provide them with the judges they deserved in that situation. I think this was the right decision, and as far as I know, it was accepted as the right decision. Certainly no one was harmed by it, as compared to letting the decisions stand, which may or may not have caused harm. Who knows how a 1-1 would have judged the round compared to how the 5-5 judged it?

The system eventually got back to business, but it was still dinky for a while on the room side. One of the joys of tabroom has been its handling of rooms, compared to TRPC, and the thing is, when there’s even one assignment where a judge is in two places at once, you have no alternative but to check every assignment of room and judge, both ways, for hundreds of pairings. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Thanks to the outage, one way or the other we lost almost 2 hours. Which meant we had no choice but to single-flight the run-off round, which started around 9:00 rather than 7:00. We could, I guess, have put in a single judge rather than panels, but I don’t know how that would have been received. With the virtue of hindsight, it might have been received better than the tough panels that were created. Those tough panels did cause the aforementioned storming of the barricades. I certainly didn’t disagree that many of these panels were brutal, but I can’t say that I react well to being stormed. In any case, it was what it was, and there was nothing that was going to be done about it.

The system was fine after that. Sunday we delivered virtually nothing but 1-1-1 panels. Shockingly, not one of the usual suspect coaches came in to tell us they liked the assignments. We should have tossed a few 4-3s in there just to see if they were still breathing. My guess is that they will remember to their graves the run-off, and never even think anything of the doubles, octo (bid round), quarters or semis panels. (The final, while pretty damned good in my estimation, went off prefs for an all-Pup panel, which is the tradition.)

Here’s the thing. I’m obviously a big supporter of MJP. Anyone who has read my writing knows that. But I’m also a big supporter of things like coaching your students to handle any judges, as compared to using your coaching time to go into tab to complain every time you don’t like the assigned judges. Instead of trying to teach how to persuade a diverse audience, we teach that it is better to persuade tab to deliver a different audience. I doubt if most LD circuit debaters today are capable of winning over any more than a tiny segment of particularly predisosed adjudicators. We are, at best, teaching them to preach to the choir. So it goes, and the train has left the station on this (wow—two clich├ęs in a row), but that doesn’t mean I like it. I’ll give you all the highest prefs I can whenever I tab, because that’s why I earn the nonexistent big bucks. However, if you solicit my opinion on all of this (and perhaps even if you don’t), I’ll be happy to provide it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In which we don't say much

So today was the final setting up for the Pups. All the hired judges are in and their conflicts marked. I doublechecked the rooms and there seem to be enough of them. I’ve checked the weather and it looks great. I’ve sent out instructions on this and that to the soon-to-be-assembled multitudes, including how we’ll handle judge assignments. (I followed my thoughts from my analysis a while ago over at NDCA, i.e., mutual through 3-3 then whatevah, due to the tiny number of whatevahs that actually come up.)

I also sent out a message to the hordes of the MHL, telling them to join NDCA. Speaking of which, I cast my ballot today for the board openings. And sometime over the weekend I have to get my act together on the MHL Workshop.

Meanwhile, JV is reserving rooms for Princeton. And come to think of it, I’ve already touched based with them, Columbia and Penn about their tournaments. Good grief! The season’s practically over already.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In which we use a word for the first time

We seemed to have cut out all the nautical ribbon clerks early this year. Usually we drift down to the hard core in drips and drabs, but last night there were only a handful of plebes left. The good news is that 3 of them had already signed up, and the other 2 are seniors in it for a lark, which I always like, but I did think we’d pull a few more. I wasn’t that horrible on opening night, I don’t think. I told El Capitano to keep those announcements coming.

We had a practice round last night. I was a little perturbed over a seeming lack of accessible blocks. Maybe I never explained that to them? Jeesh. Given that a topic has a bunch of things that are probably going to be said, debaters should have a bunch of responses ready for those things. Of course, one can go too far, and have blocks locked and loaded but because the contention was more subtle, or really doesn’t fit that particular A/T, the block doesn’t work, but often the debater uses it anyhow. Then again, there’s always the debater who goes first, tells me what the opponent is going so say, and then refutes it before the opponent even opens the old mouth. This solo dance never fails to entertain when the opponent runs something else. Who would have expected that?

Oh, well. At the Pups I’m more worried that everyone show up when and where they’re supposed to than anything else, given that the ship of Hud will sail without me. Usually I drive up the debaters but there’s too many of them to fit in my car, and I have to get there early, yadda yadda yadda, so there’s a parent on the bus with both the debaters and the Speecho-Americans. Oh, well. I was that parent once. She’ll survive.

I’ll be sending out my last marching orders to the Pup field tonight or tomorrow morning. Lots of fun announcements about the student advocate, obligations, how we’ll handle MJP (and no, we won’t be handling it by calling it MPJ), etc. I will do my best to hold a civil tongue in my head, given that no one has done anything shenaniganian yet, and everyone should be preemptively upbraided for the sins of a few.

(You know, I can’t ever remember typing the word upbraided before. Who would have thought…)