Thursday, October 20, 2016

In which we get religion this coming weekend

If you were wondering—although if you are a member of the Vast Coachean Army you probably weren’t, since we’ve already come to this conclusion here—the war is over and PF has won. At the upcoming CFL one-dayer, we have 94 teams, over twice as many as we have LDers. And all the LDers are, pretty much, novices. We have joined up with, for instance, Massachusetts, where good ol’ Little Lex will have PFers lined up out into the streets while the handful of policy and LD teams will look on in awe and dismay. LD is still around and still kicking, but it isn't the center of the forensic universe anymore. It kayoed Policy back in the day, and even that activity has its adherents, but it isn't where the action is. And now PF has kayoed LD. So it goes. 

There is a lesson here that many people do not want to learn. Offer an educationally sturdy activity with easy buy-in at all levels—coaching, debating, judging—and they will come. No, PF isn’t perfect, and we could pick at it till the cows come home, but it does offer a large number of people easy access to the benefits of debate. Those who do not want to learn this lesson will concentrate their efforts on activities that offer a small number of people difficult access to those benefits, with the warning label that those benefits are somewhat diminished by the parochial nature of the way it’s being done, not to mention the financial costs. Want to pursue the circuit? Well, have a nice flight while the rest of us are wondering where you are at the regional events you could have taken a cab to. By the way, how are your students going to become bid-worthy if they never get any experience on the local level?


I always enjoy our one-dayers, and of course I miss our late unlamented MHL events. That is, I know some people lament them but since the league died by virtue primarily of lack of interest, it’s not many. But on the back end, corralling dozens of younger students into rounds and nudging their student judges to be the best judges they could be and providing succor to the poor sucker parents and making those little speeches during awards congratulating the students on sticking to it and hoping to see them often for the next few years… Sigh.

After this weekend I will have two weekends off, weekends that used to go to the MHL. Any wonder I got myself that PS4?


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In which we discuss accessing the interwebs

I’m not quite sure what the NSDA position is on internet connectivity during rounds, since there seems to be endless rules, proposed rules, temporary rules, revised rules, footnotes, codicils, belles lettres, billets doux, coal scratchings on shovel blades, hieroglyphics in the tomb of the Unknown Declaimer and even a couple of burning bushes all offering different dicta. Needless to say, the question arose at Rather Large Bronx. And trying to resolve the question by turning to the professed authority du jour was, in a word, a mug’s game.

The last time I looked, it was 2016. That means that the physical world we live in has a virtual world living within and beside it. That virtual world is amoral. I mean, once upon a time, the thought that a student might even read a case from a computer was looked upon by some as the work of Satan. I have to include a statement at local CFL events that computer use is not only allowed in rounds, but also represents the air that these students will be breathing going forward into their adult lives. We should attempt to educate students by banning the contemporary tools that they will require for success?

It is a short leap to cloud storage of data. Please look at a computer made in the last few years. Hardware makers more and more assume non-local storage. Big hard drives went out with VisiCalc. I have a Chromebook that, as far as I know, offers no local data storage whatsoever (it weighs about minus-two ounces), and Chromebooks are universally touted (by Chromebook manufacturers) as the perfect devices for students. (I’d say for some students, but that’s beside the point.) Further, cloud storage allows students to share their research, so the benefits to a team are obvious. Instead of putting everything into paper files, we put it into digital files. Instead of putting those digital files on dispersed unconnected computers, we put those files in a central place accessible to the whole team. There’s no reasonable argument against this, and it’s not different from what any modern business does.

If I have my research in a tub, and you ask to see it, I open the tub and find it and hand it to you. Is this intrinsically different from if I have my research in a digital file, I access the file and transmit it to you over the network?

Of course, I can do things via the network that you might find intuitively unacceptable in a debate round. I can message my coach for help. I can do new research to answer something I didn’t prepare for. I certainly wouldn’t want those sorts of things happening in a debate round. But they are not necessarily technology-oriented per se. I don’t want students to claim a need to go to the bathroom to run out and ask their coach outside the door a question. I don’t want a student to run to the back of the room to pull down a physical encyclopedia to do new research during prep time. Tech simplifies and enables activities we frown upon, but at the moment it doesn’t invent new activities, but simply old activities in new bottles.

So I will be proposing the following rule at tournaments I’m running:

Use of electronic devices to access evidence in cloud storage (e.g., Dropbox or Google Drive) is permitted in rounds, as is the emailing of that evidence to competitors or judges in the round. Use of electronic devices to research new evidence or communicate with anyone else is prohibited.

My guess is that the NSDA will ultimately say roughly this same thing, in one place, once and for all. It is, I understand, common practice already in policy, but to be honest, I’m more worried about PF judges getting their knickers in a twist than I am any other division. It’s the PF judges, and teams, that keep coming into tab complaining about variations on this theme. I will pass this wording to others before sending it out to a tournament, but I don’t think it will change much. And it may trim down the problems. And for all I know, it might lead to uncovering the ultimate codex among the various extant NSDA rules that is the one rule to rule them all. God knows we couldn’t find it over the weekend, and we tried.

If people are going to be storming into tab complaining about evidence violations, I want real violations. None of this namby-pamby “they used Dropbox” merde de toreaux. I want clipping. I want total fabrication. Damn it! I want Trumpism!!! It's about time high school debate rose to the level of presidential politics.

Oh. Wait a minute...


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In which we say a few more things about Rather Large Bronx

Kaz and I arrived early on Friday for Rather Large Bronx, in aid of improving the registration process. That the RLB folk had actually read my how-to-improve-the-registration-process document in the toolkit, which was written years ago expressly because the Bronx was handling the thing abysmally, was apparent. We never once had a line stretching out the door, and we started on time. Will wonders never cease?

Kaz and Kahn handled Policy, Catholic Charlie and I handled LD, and the Paginator was joined by Byron from New Orleans. Having a new person in tab is always dicey. Will the person get the jokes? Will the person enjoy the music? Will the person eat all the shrimp before I get my hands on them? Byron performed admirably on all counts. He found our approach unusual; apparently where he comes from, tab rooms are like funeral homes during prime visiting hours, whereas our tab rooms, when we’re not actually pairing and need to pay attention, are like funeral homes after hours, when the undertakers undo the top buttons of their shirts and start dancing the hoochy-koo, cadavers notwithstanding. I mean, we’re not exactly revolution in the streets, but we are relaxed. I especially liked someone who could add a few names to my music list other than Genesis and Killer Mike, the previous contributions of CC and the P over the years (and, of course, futile on their parts).

Tabroom, aside from the problem with MJP vs Regions, was especially well tuned this weekend. At the beginning, there was an issue with down-3s getting lousy prefs, but that’s a field in the program that can be adjusted, so adjust it we did. I do not believe that people out of the tournament should be disregarded; I simply believe that people in the running come first. The thing is, everyone paid the same amount to be there, and they should get equal treatment in a fair way. Throwing judges they don’t want at them when they’re already out of contention just adds insult to injury, and it’s not a great way to treat your paying guests. We want everyone to say, at the end of the day, that they got great judging. Not an unworthy goal, I would say. (By the way, there’s already a way of prioritizing who gets prefs first, so it does all work out.)

Of course, having a boatload of judges and a big field doesn’t hurt. The bigger the tournament, the greater the likelihood of good prefs. Which is another argument against anything but even tiers. Some tournaments, big as the Ritz, artificially inflate their 1s so that it looks like everyone is getting 1s, but since those tournaments’ 1s are everyone else’s 1s and 2s, no one is fooled. Nor is everyone terribly happy about it. I strongly believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to do tiers. You can read all about it in the toolkit.

After the fact, I noticed some complaining about LD speed on Facebook. O RLY? In 2016? What will we carped about next? Avoiding the resolution at all costs? Theory? Haven’t any of these people been in a debate round any time since, oh, 2006? Jeesh. Tell the students you’ll penalize them if they go fast and refuse to read anything and put that in your paradigm. Then you will either get slow rounds or no rounds. Probably the latter. But in either case, you’ll have nothing to complain about.

I didn’t see any complaints about the tournament per se. I only exploded once, when virtually no one had showed up for a break round following a half hour of prep time. I should stay in the tab room. Obviously half an hour isn’t enough. Nothing is enough. Palmer, of course, wants automated forfeits five minutes after the announced start time. He has my vote for this. I’m with him.


Monday, October 17, 2016

In which we're talking to ourselves, now that the Paginator has gone full Dumbarton

And then there was the Bronx.

First of all, LD rounds now last two and a half hours. That is, 90 minutes for the two debates and 60 minutes for, as the Frenchies don’t say, merde du taureau. (Apparently, the French actually say conneries, according to the interwebs, but that’s none of our concern here.) I gather most of that extra hour is prep, or as we like to call it, desperately and pointlessly cramming on the night before the test because if you don’t know it now, you’ll never know it. Jeesh. It was even worse in break rounds. Don’t you people have homes? Don’t you want to return to them at some point?

Second of all, a solid cadre of judges continue to act as blockheads, unable to click the start button when (not before) a round starts. Same ones, every time. Same ones, also, who whine about tournaments that force them to fill out a paper ballot, which, you blockheads, we don’t want to handle any more than you do, but until you get your bloody act together and act like a professional, we will continue to treat you like the amateur you obviously are.

Third of all, when you tell everyone the judging obligation (all in for doubles) about 2,304,472 times, the message that “I didn’t know this” demonstrates a level of obliviousness that can only be found in the mind of a debate coach. If you’re going to welch on your obligations, welch like a real welcher: at least then we will admire your authenticity.

Fourth of all, we are on to you, School That Will Remain Unnamed. As soon as there is a problem with you—and there are always problems with you—we will not rush to solve it in such a way that you are not discomforted in any conceivable way, because you are vicious, nasty and unbeloved by the vast majority of the rest of us precisely because it is all about you not observing your obligations, one way or another, or tearing down everything that doesn’t conform to your unique and vile world view. Your merde du taureau does not work with us. We know you won’t stop trying—it’s like a zebra trying to change its spots (since we need to put a little dysmetaphoric levity into this rant)—but we can always hope. Hope is the only grace you leave us with, since you have completely stripped us of faith and charity. Feh!

On the bright side, tabroom only had one glitch, which CP says arose from the mix and match of regions with MJP. The Bronxwegians really wanted regions, but, like swing teams, it’s one of those things that went out with the leisure suit. But while I don’t see the value of swings when there’s almost two hundred debaters, with somebody always getting sick and dropping out or dropping back in or whatever, I have nothing against regions. I do agree that if we can avoid your traveling a great distance to debate the boy next door in a preset, it’s a not a bad idea to attempt it. I’m sure I won’t see this again until next Bronx, if then. Given that regions result in an absence, I wonder if anyone even noticed. (“Not a lot of black swans around here, eh, mate?”) Anyhow, other than this, tabroom was lovely. The prefs in the pairings looked better than ever, and it was only when judges texted random Bronx students that they were on the wrong subway heading in the wrong direction when they should have been pressing the start button and we had to replace them with moldy leftovers, that anything untoward would happen number-wise.

More merde du taureau tomorrow.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

In which we wax rhapsodic

If you send out a whole bunch of emails telling people it’s too late, baby, they usually respond by asking you to do something that you have explicitly announced that it is too late to do. It has ever been thus. My assumption is that most high school forensics coaches are also teachers. It is remarkable, therefore, how many of them never quite got the hang of reading comprehension.


I do not like the policing side of running tournaments. Although I’m fairly capable of reaming people out, and I can out-argue all but the very best, it is not my choice to do so. I am a quiet, contemplative sort, happy with a good book, maybe written by Jane Austen, and a cup of tea, with some Renaissance lute music playing gently in the background. I can work out complex formulas in Excel until the cows come home, although there I prefer music a little more hard-driving. I like to sit in my rocking chair and watch the butterflies twitter from bloom to bloom, perhaps with a cold drink and a little piano jazz in the background. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. (And yes, there are times when I like to listen to the score of The King and I, if you caught the reference.)

But tournaments usually don’t offer comparable pleasures. The lead up is primarily people asking you for things you don’t want to give them, but here it breaks down into two categories: people who ask nice, and people who don’t. I should probably add a third category: people who ask whom I wouldn’t give the time of day to if they were standing under Big Ben while it was chiming. I assume these people know who they are. Anyhow, the lead up is annoying at best. Then there’s registration, the immediate prologue, for which some people spend days polishing their excuses for, A) changing everything at the last minute, and/or B) not having a check for the correct amount of money. There are also people who will try to sneak in changes to save a $10 fine. Kids who say that their chaperone is parking the car, but fail to mention that they’re parking it in Hoboken in front of the saloon in which they intend to spend the rest of the day watching ESPN running interviews with the families of the Chicago Cubs starting lineup. Parents, God love ‘em, who have never done this before and, to be honest, really aren’t doing it now either. And that old guy who thinks I really like to hear him tell dirty jokes. Why would he think that? I assume it’s because he thinks everybody likes to hear him tell dirty jokes, since he doesn't know me from a hole in the wall. To be honest, it’s not a question of dirty or clean, although the former do tend to have a certain repellence, but the intrinsic idea of telling jokes in the first place. If I want jokes, I’ll pick up a copy of a certain magazine that, as the VCA well knows, I have instant access to, and chortle away. Mostly I don’t do jokes. And I would appreciate if you wouldn’t do them either. (The one exception to this was my first poker game when I started working in publishing. The guys in that game were encyclopedic in their joke knowledge, and actually funny. But that was a unique situation. Remind me to tell you about how jokes work, or at least used to work, some day when we have nothing better to do.)

Then there’s the tournament itself, with the ebb and flow of pairing, browbeating judges who are incapable of pressing Start, relaxing for a while, pairing, browbeating judges who are incapable of pressing Start, explaining to the team who stayed in the cafeteria when everyone else rushed out en masse that, if both their phones aren’t working, the stampede to the exits of everyone else might have provided some sort of hint that something was happening, and they might want to have inquired of the authorities, relaxing for a while, pairing, browbeating judges who are incapable of pressing Start—Rinse. Repeat.

There will be rules questions. Accusations. Raised voices. An odd glitch in tabroom that no one has ever seen before and will never see again. The Paginator will insist that we listen to Killer Mike during the Red Sox Patriots game. I’ll try to get a personal best on the Saturday crossword. There will be ukuleles.

It will be Rather Large Bronx. Again.