Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In which blog you we will


I had to write copy for some Star Wars books today at the DJ. Who says getting a regular paycheck isn’t fun?

Looking at the possibilities for the next PF topic, I think I prefer tuition. It has relatively balanced sides and, I would suspect, a reasonable amount of empirical evidence for everyone to play with. Greeks, on the other hand, seem to go more into right and wrong, a data-free business for which PFers seem woefully unprepared. I hearken back to my LD days in the 90s, when that would be exactly what we’d want to talk about. Boy, have things changed. Around here we will have this topic for our CatNats qualifier and for our State championship, so it’s important to pick the more debatable one.

With the Gem under the old belt, the next biggie for me is Penn. This year it is way bigger than ever before, but it is looking to be under control. Tonight I’ll start hiring out the available judges, which is always fun. Your best guarantee of getting hired support is, needless to say, to live far away. If you can walk to the tournament, you can walk with judges to cover your entry. If you’re flying in, though, the additional costs of flying in and housing judges is understandably burdensome. In that situation you will always get priority. It looks as if the Brotherly Lovers have done a good job so far of enlisting adjudicators, so I don’t think I’ll be causing too much harm when I start clicking the buttons.

Before Penn there is, of course, Scarsdale, and all the fun of judges debating (or, if you prefer, debaters judging). I think we’ve got this one knocked, but it’s still a bit of a juggling act. Catholic Charlie will probably be dropping by to help out. He’s taken to debate tabbing in a big way. It wasn’t until after I dumped the pairing of a PF round on him while I was down in Battery Saturday that he commented that he had never actually done that before, i.e., clicked the buttons to make it happen. He looked to me like an old pro. He claims that all of us have trained him well, while I claim that he’s just a natural. He has all the right skills for tabbing: a sense of humor, patience, clever math skills, well-aimed biliousness when the moment calls for it, and the ability to listen to more than the usual amount of ukulele music. If you’re interested in tabbing yourself, you might want to start by working on those talents.

Of course, the Gem was almost completely hassle free as far as dispensing bile was concerned. There was the usual judge complaining about having to judge too much. This call inspired me, so I stormed into my boss’s office on Monday and demanded that she stop making me work all day because my frail constitution wasn’t up to it. Fortunately, she wasn’t there at the time, and I still have a place at the old DJ. Where I’m writing Star Wars copy. It’s for a cookbook. May the forks be with you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In which we throw water on troubled oils and watch the MHL tentatively rise from its death bed

If you followed the comments to my last post, you will have seen O’C questioning my assertions about break rounds. He is right to do so. The issue of break rounds is more complicated than it might appear offhand, insofar as most tournaments are settled into a routine and people are used to those routines and don’t really question them, even though the routines vary wildly. We’re going to do a podcast on it in the very near future. Also on that agenda will be the management of wait lists, since when I was talking about that a while ago himself also took O’Cean umbrage at the way I was handling that issue. That seems to be another good subject for discussion. Those of us in our traveling tab room have long ago committed to transparency. We’ve also committed to learning as we go along, and improving if we can. Exploring the issues openly is the name of the game. Stay posted.

(On the other hand, I will point out that, as always, I am right and he is wrong, but the VCA knows that from the getgo, so it’s hardly worth mentioning it. Then again, if I were stuck in the middle of Georgia with nothing but a tarnished Emory Key for solace in the deep, dark nights while planes continue to not fly overhead, I’d be taking umbrage at everything that wasn’t nailed too. The plane home from Columbia to Hudville was right on time and didn’t even lose my baggage.)

In the middle of all the hoo-ha of the Gem, there was also an MHL down at Stuyvesant. (The Gem is up and the Battery's down, to put it into a song.) Since I’ve been sitting at the MHL’s deathbed for a while now, holding its little hand and giving it ice cubes to suck on while the doctors and nurses ignore us as they share ribald stories in the break room, I was on tenterhooks for the success of this one. It has been put forth that holding these events out of the city was part of the problem, and that does seem to be true. Even though the day was hit with a storm that cost us a few northern teams (including the Sailor novices), the event was a success. I zipped down there after I got the opening VLD round of the day organized at the Gem, and working with James Bathurst, we got everything set up and everybody going on Chambers Street, and then James took it from there. So I guess the MHL isn’t quite dead yet. But we need to rethink a few things. The Workshop is good, the First-Timers is good, the Blowout is good. The so-called normal MHLs are what we need to work on. We’ll have plenty of time to figure out a plan, probably during the NYSDCA championship.


By the way, if you’re not from around here, the storm missed us last night, and we only got a not terrible few inches. Boston, on the other hand, looks as if it was hammered. Thank God for the timing, vis-à-vis forensicians. After last year’s pounding weekend after weekend, the storms this year seem to be shifting to the work week, where they belong. In any case, I stayed home today and did DJ work, reading a really good book. Yes, they pay me for that. It’s not as good as it sounds, though. They mostly pay me to read really bad books in order to find that small handful of really good books among them. Usually my brain is in pain from it. But you probably knew that already.

Monday, January 26, 2015

In which Columbia is a Gem

So, sez you, how was the Gem? Splendid, sez I, exaggerating only slightly.

First of all, we had new digs over at Barnard for tab and GA and judges. Those of us who have made it through the years at Lerner Hall on the Columbia campus looked back on those days of freezing our butts off in tab (they apparently only turn on the heat for one day a month, and never the day we’re there), listening to some yabbo banging on the lounge piano nearby, standing on tiptoes to see out the window if there was any sun, and walking up and down that ramp that, if it had existed at the time, would have been Hitchcock’s first choice for most of the scenes in Vertigo, were as pleased as punch. JV was able to radiate all the speech rounds out from this hub, and things went fine for them. We did not have that luxury in debate. For LD, we had the The School, which I think is named after some guy named The. It did fit all the LDers, and we had a good major domo there, and wifi, so after a round or two we switched to e-ballots, and it worked great. I have to admit I was wary of judges wandering off, but the pool was almost entirely the usual suspects, the ones who go and do their job and everyone is happy. It was a joy. Thank you, CP, for e-Bs.

Unfortunately, we had PF in a couple of different places, and given the usual state of the PF pool, we didn’t go for e-Bs, although I think I will give it a shot next time. PF is getting better at it in general, although as always the PF pool is way less likely to know what electricity is and to be too worried about the whole debate process in the first place to want to take a stab at e-Bs. But I think in a year we’ll have evolved enough. We’ll see. The thing is, walking ballots back and forth fifteen minutes away adds half an hour to each round. Sigh.

We were hit with a small snow storm Friday night, but it had surprisingly little effect on things Saturday morning. Pretty much everybody showed up. A note for the future though: if you are planning on complaining about things on Sunday, it’s a good idea to call in your drops on Saturday rather than making us go to the rooms to see that you’re not there. Just sayin’.

There were the usual shenanigans. Speech judge call on Sunday had the folks handing Mary’s ballot to someone who looked suspiciously like Ralph more than a few times. When you assign your judges based on their abilities and they throw in a ringer, so much for all your careful planning. The LD judges were fantastic, on the other hand, and I don’t recall pushing a single ballot except on Saturday morning as we were shuffling things because of team no-shows. I don’t think there were any judge no-shows. Wow! On Sunday there were various complaints about this and that, my favorite being the coach who complained that the PF outrounds should have been earlier. My recommendation was that said coach go back in time and carry every judge to his or her rounds to speed things up. Granted it was slow, but people, tab turned the PF ballots around, from last in to next posting, in under 5 minutes every time. (Thanks again, CP.) It wasn’t us, in other words, it was just the beast that is PF. We’ve seen this pretty much at every tournament, that PF is slower than [your metaphor here]. Unless this is the first tournament you’ve ever attended, you should know that by now. Deal with it. Don’t call up the tournament director to whine.

Then there was the complaint that not enough people broke. No, we didn’t break all the down-2s in PF. Doing so would have meant breaking more than a third of the field. We talked a lot about this in tab, and of course it was Columbia’s decision in the end. A reasonable varsity tournament breaks about 25% of the field. Breaking a third of the field (in anything other than a novice event) is reminiscent of every kid in kindergarten getting a medal, even if they come in last. Varsity debate isn’t kindergarten, people. (I won’t bother to point out that if we had decided to break all the 4-2s we didn’t have the rooms to do it, because we never got to the practicality of the business. The decision was spiritual.) There is a solution to the 4-2 screw (which is obviously common enough to have a nickname): debate better. Or, if you’re the coach, coach better. Jeesh! That’s the thing about college tournaments versus high school venues. A lot of the teams seem to have just come out of the cabbage patch. Give me grizzled veterans any day.


Somewhere in all of this we managed to pull off an MHL. More about that later. Meanwhile, I've put up a new post about MJP panels in the Tabroom Adventures blog, if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In which we wonder, wander and moan


[There's a new short post over at Adventures, if you're into that whole inside-baseball thing.]

As we creep into the dawn of the Gem of Harlem, I’m sort of surprised by the numbers. Given the demand for slots this whole season, Gem has been surprisingly light. It’s not small by any means, 100 or so each of LD and PF, but it’s not got door-busting waitlists like everyone else has had. Even O’C seems satisfied with the number of slots he’s gotten, which in ’ertford, ’ereford or ’ampshire ’ardly ever ’appens. We talked about this a bit at Bigle. One of the things is probably that it’s so damned expensive for schools to travel to NYC. There’s no hotel bargains, so you can really end up depleting the old annual budget. Then again, we’ve had a history of people who have flown in primarily because they want to go sightseeing, and who have tickets for Wicked Saturday night and thus blow off the tournament altogether, but these miscreants seem to have evaporated. I can’t say that I miss them. A lot of them seemed to come from Utah. I think they really came to see The Book of Mormon, and only pretended to see Wicked. Whatever.

Meanwhile, back at the battleship, the Sailors will soon be bidding a fond farewell to one of our novices, who is being shipped to California for some reason or other, apparently because they don’t have enough people in California already and they have to take ours. This leaves us with half a very good PF team, although the survivor claims she has a substitute waiting in the wings, who will appear at next week’s meeting. We’re going to be doing a practice round, which may be the best introduction to the event, as compared to me doing the orientation that historically has scared of 125% of all the potential plebes at the first meeting. I do hope this works out. That’s a big problem with a small team in the PF business. It doesn’t take much to rock the boat.

Last night we began to look at the Feb PF resolution. It’s very straightforward. The pro is empirically proven to be true on face in literally every piece of research known to man or beast, so once again you sit around wondering if anyone at the NSDA ever actually looks at these things before sending them out. The alternative one had ships passing in the night, and a virtual certainty of not generating any clash. Here is what I would do if I ran the circus. Do whatever it is you do now to pick topics, but when you’re at the final point, write them on a board and stare at them. Then do 10 minutes of research. Then write down pro arguments and con arguments. If, for any reason, you can’t find arguments for one side, start over. This rez is in amazingly clumsy English: On balance, economic globalization benefits worldwide poverty reduction. Benefits poverty reduction? As compared to harms poverty reduction? Would it kill them to use phrases that have at some point in the history of humanity actually been used before? My guess is that they wanted a topic along the lines of globalization benefiting developing nations, but couldn’t actually come out and say that because, well, it doesn’t sound debatey enough. Me, I’m just trying to figure out pleonastic use of globalization and worldwide. They missed that? Or they’re envisioning a scenario where globalization must benefit all poverty reduction worldwide? Or what? It can’t just be the DJ that makes me so word conscious. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it, well, more than once: The NSDA needs to hire an editor. Even though we often know what they’re trying to say, they don’t consistently actually say it. In a debate round, where the handful of words of a resolution ought to determine everything that follows, that handful of words better be precise. No wonder LD doesn’t bother with rezzes anymore and prefers the EILDR: it’s easier to ignore some of these resolutions as compared to actually trying to figure them out, or worse, debate them. Anyhow, we did come up with a couple of good strategies for February, to wit, either flip pro or take the month off.

[Sigh.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In which we ponder change


Members of the VCA will recall—if they have memories like iron vises—a discussion between CP and me about the number of MJP categories. I’ve gotten pretty used to 6 categories, with 6 being a strike and conflicts being separate. Tabroom allows you to set as many categories as you want. I’ve experimented with 5 for small pools, but found that unnecessary when I’ve compared similar pools with 6.

Palmer’s argument in favor of more categories is simple, that more categories allow for closer mutuality. Imagine 60 judges broken down into 6 categories of 10. My 1 can be 9 away from your 1, and in a 1-2, it can be up to 19 away. With 60 and 9 categories, my 1 is 6 or so away from your 1, and in a 1-2, it can be up to 13. And keep in mind that the scale slides, as if you’re looking at the numbers with a literal slide rule, which is the entire basis of ordinal MJP, another thing entirely. (We’ll get there shortly.) These numbers are clearly mathematically better, and CP’s argument is based on the undeniable math. In practice though, it may or may not work out that way. If you have fewer 1s you have less likelihood of mutual 1s, so you’re more often doing 1-2s (and 2-3s and 3-4s). At this point, you may or may not be getting the benefit of the math anymore. I don’t know. You’d have to look at it knowing not only the ranks in the 1-9 tournament but what the coaches would have ranked in a 1-6 scenario. Impossible.

So is it worth going against the norm? I mean, I wouldn’t do ordinals which, following the math of the slide rule, probably gives you the closest mutuality, because the field is not really familiar with the idea. After all, we’ve only been doing MJP regularly for a couple of years, and there is still a significant percentage of schools who simply don’t pref, for whatever reason. I used to do a whole campaign trying to get them to do it, on the assumption (a good one) that these were more conservative schools who believed (wrongly) that MJP favored circuit styles, which it only did if the more conservative schools didn't pref, a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I worked with a number of people to come up with elementary categorization of judges as traditional, circuit or newly trained. We did everything we could, but at some point, something becomes standard practice and it’s no longer our responsibility to insure that everyone understands what we’re doing. Let’s face it: schools that don’t pref now certainly wouldn’t do it if only we went to ordinals. We’d probably have about the same buy-in eventually that we have now. Lord knows, I’ve really wanted to experiment with ordinals because I do believe that it probably renders better mutuality. But here’s the thing. In practice, if the difference between 6 and 9 isn’t all that much and not really demonstrable (even though we know it has to be true that 9 is better), is the difference between ordinals and 9 and/or 6 any more demonstrable or, in fact, all that much? I ask this because you’ve got to take into consideration the users. If I can prove in theory that ordinals is better, does that really matter when I can’t prove it in practice? Users don’t like change, unless they get a direct, measurable benefit. It doesn’t matter what product the users are evaluating. If they don’t see something in it for themselves, they won’t do whatever is necessary to take up the product. That’s why those conservative schools remain resistant to MJP. They don’t see the benefit to themselves of trying to figure out all these judges they’ve never heard of, even with our little crib sheet of Trad/Circ/New. As for everyone else, we’ve got them on board with MJP now, except for the ones who regularly query why they got a 4 and why didn’t their opponent. Is the benefit of a different system—and ordinals is a radically different system while 9 vs. 6 is only a slightly different system—worth the hassle? Do we think users, i.e., debate coaches, are clamoring for it?

Mutuality only promises one thing: that you and your opponent think similarly about a judge. Ordinals probably gives you the closest possible mutuality, but in the end is it all that much different from what we’re already doing to warrant the havoc of change (and all change is havoc)? So many coaches now seem to be convinced that better MJP numbers equates with better results, as if their debaters aren’t good enough to just look at the judge they’ve got and pick up that ballot, period. Everything else is just playing with the data because we can. Should we nurture coaches’ worst competitive instincts? Maybe this would happen. As we move into any newer, deeper system, we lose the older, not-so-deep people. LD has already lost the buy-in of a lot of folks because of its arcane, non-resolutional styles. Should we add to that the most complicated ranking system possible, the one that requires encyclopedic understanding of every pool every week (unless it’s the same old deadbeat college judges traveling from circuit tournament to circuit tournament, the familiarity with which is also in the $ircuit coach’s favor)? You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

I say, for the time being, we draw the line where we are now. There may be theoretical ways of doing it better, but are they practical? Aren’t we better off locking in, at least for a while, best practices that stay put, rather than always throwing new stuff at people?

This is not a plea from a hyper-conservative for hyper-conservatism. It’s just the ramblings of a realist suggesting that every change made has repercussions, and we need to study and understand the repercussions before we make the next change. 6-step MJP is settling in. How has that affected the activity, if it has at all? I want to know the answer to that before moving to something else.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

In which nothing goes wrong, consarn it!

The VCA will appreciate my disappointment over last weekend’s Bigle X. JV and I were tabbing VLD, under the very nose of CP, if his nose is considered big enough to extend from the other building a mile away to where we were. He set everything up in taboom. If anything went wrong, it was his fault. I touched nothing. My hands were clean. And when the whole thing blew up, I was ready to sit there innocently, twiddling my thumbs and whistling a melancholy tune, wondering how anything like that could possibly happen, with my finger meanwhile surreptitiously poised on the “I told you so” key of computer to let the world know that I was right and he was wrong, bru ha ha ha ha.

No such luck. Everything went fine. Or, curses, foiled again.

This year Bigle X went off on a completely new schedule that had most people arriving for housing on Friday night, with the first round at a luxurious 9:00 the following morning. For debaters, this is like being on vacation. Then we followed with three more rounds, getting done for the day at the ungodly hour of 7:00 p.m. or so. Very elegant. Very $ircuit, for that matter. Sunday started at 8 and went on for quite a while after that, and was a little more brutal. As there was no run-off round, there was a 4-2 screw built into the proceedings. Then again, breaking all the 4-2s means that around a third of the field gets moved up. This is very nice and very generous, but it also seems a bit much. If you’re such a great debater, and you can’t make it into the top 25% of the field, well, No, you’re not. It is not inconceivable that, by stretching out Saturday they could find time for a run-off, but I think they’re right doing it the way they’re doing it. After all, I do something similar at Bump. And anyhow, although there are occasionally exceptions to this, the very top debaters remain the same whether you have 6 rounds or 5 rounds, much less a run-off, and if run-off round is big enough, the much higher seeds mostly always beat the lower seeds anyhow. Those exceptions don’t warrant making a well thought out tournament with extravagant meals and lots of student housing into a painful marathon. CP and Kaz have really put together a good one, and this is determined by the person who, one year, stormed in and unceremoniously cancelled the final Bigle X round that was about to begin at midnight because, well, I had had enough, and I had to wake up the judges and tell them to go home. I have always maintained that when debate rounds and child labor laws are in conflict, we take the children off the assembly line like the responsible adults that some of us are. I stand by that. So, apparently, do CP and Kaz.

In the middle of all of this, the attending members of DisAd14, joined by CP, had a lovely dinner Saturday night. (Contrary to expectations, CP and I actually do put up with each other, as long as I’m not writing bug reports that he claims are features for which everyone else in the known universes kisses the ground he walks on in grateful thanks.) Ruining the weekend was the ridiculously bad ice storms back home. The Sailors would have held on a lot longer and had our traditional end of Lex dinner at Rein’s Deli, but NY was in a state of siege, from the looks of things on the interwebs. Going our normal Rein’s route was an ice-covered chess game with death at 31 degrees fahrenheit, compared to i95, which was 45 degrees all the way. Longer, yes, but easily survivable. The irretrievable downside to this, aside from the extra hour of travel time, was that dinner was at a Subway. A Subway!!!! Just typing the word gives me the willies. Our own Mary Poppins was behind me on the line, and had to give me instructions on how to order. She seemed surprised when I told her that the last time I went to a Subway was when I was in college. I hadn’t liked it much, so I hadn’t gone back. She did the math on that, her head spun a bit, and she spent the rest of the trip asking, Exactly how old are you, Grandpa?

Friday, January 16, 2015

In which we refer you elsewhere

I've run a couple of tournaments over the years, so I found Dave McGinnis's article quite interesting: http://nsdupdate.com/2015/01/16/lone-wolves-a-guide-from-a-tournament-director/ He nails it, i.e., the reasons why independent debaters are increasingly persona non grata, and what to do about it. I might be the strictest constructionist on independence in the universe, but I've also let in plenty of indies when I've had direct and honest contact with them, as Dave suggests. You might not like what he's saying, especially if you're a firm believer in the inherent Right to Debate (which I've discussed elsewhere), but what he's saying about the opinions and feelings of tournament directors is absolutely true. (So, I think, is just about everything else he's saying.)

And in a btw, I just put a new shortie into the tabroom blog, about using multiple devices.