Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ready. Set. Register!

Once upon a time, kiddies, you registered for a tournament by fax. This was considered quite modern. (As a matter of fact, in some schools, fax is still considered quite modern; if your school is one of these concerns, you might want to consider starting up a pony express operation. I hear there’s good money in them thar horses.) In this Periclean age, you got your invitations to tournaments by mail, if you happened to be on the mailing list. In other words, invitationals actually had invitations attached, and I remember spending a lot of time getting onto the right mailing lists. Some schools were very prissy about this, with limitations and pre-ordainment and elite regulars, but no one is like that anymore. (Oh, wait a minute. They are. Can you use the word pompous and the word tournament in a sentence?)

Email replaced fax for most people. For one thing, in the Faxiclean Age, the machine was usually in the administration office; every Tom, Dick and Harry didn’t have the ability to fax from their printer as we can now, when we no longer need to. Email was more democratic. Anyone with an AOL account and a telephone could email to their heart’s content. (I can hear the crunching sound of the electronic handshake even as I type this.) This was a civilized era. Maybe you received your invitation by email, and then you responded by email. And as changes came along, you emailed them. And then you emailed the next changes. And the next. And the next. Such joy. Such rapture.

Then came electronic registration via Joy of Tournaments and tabroom.com. Now, you set up your tournament online, open for one and all to see. (Although, if you’ve still got a you-know-what up your you-know-where, elitism can still be perpetrated.) And on a given day, at a given time, usually well known to prospective entrants, registration opens. And at most major tournaments, within hours it fills up, and closes.

What’s wrong with this picture?

JV and I were hashing this out over the weekend at the MHL. This is not a good situation. First of all, not everyone is up at midnight to register. Some people might be on vacation, if it’s a summer registration or if it opens on a holiday of some sort. I opened Princeton, if I’m not mistaken, in the middle of Big Bronx, which was pretty dumb on my part, because everybody was busy working the tournament rather than remembering to sign up for another tournament in two months. Anyhow, plenty of people do sign up, getting in immediately—but not really. That is, they get slots, populated by any name on the roster, and then they hold on to those slots until it’s time to pay fees, at which points tournaments slim down like someone just let the air out of the forensic balloon.

How do you solve this? How do you not provide victory to the fleet, where fleetness is no great quality since it inevitably results in exiting before the end of the race? [Sometimes you just have to torture the analogy beyond what it can stand…] I tried waitlisting everyone at Columbia, which worked okay, but it meant that faraways got in and made their plane reservations first, then the locals came on board, but there’s only so much last-minute planning a local can do, even a big combine like Regis, the most dependable school in the universe when it comes to providing judges and debaters, especially when the tournament is in their backyard. And at high school tournaments where there’s housing, a whole ’nother level of waitlist kicks in.

Is a puzzlement… I wish I had a solution to it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Registration

Things are a little odd at the DJ and I may get some time back for other things, i.e., the time I spend at home on DJing might go back to time spent NJing. We’ll see. If it turns out that way, it will probably only be for a short time, but I really want to take a look at some of my manuals, which are probably a bit out of date by now. As they’re intended for novices, the core is probably okay, but to say that LD has changed in the last few years is to say that the sun rose in the east this morning. I think I have some work to do.

We ran our first MHL under the new rules this weekend, to wit, having people take responsibility for their entries online right up to registration, which consisted of them saying they were all present and accounted for. No registration sheets to ignore. The first problem was that you can’t access your registration on tabroom.com on tournament day, so I had to tinker with the dates, but after that, people were able to get in fine. The usual complication of changing a name, requiring a switch to a non-participant, then a drop, then a switch to the real participant, is always a poser; I did a couple of those myself for people. I kept myself online with tabroom, meaning that at registration I could help people out a bit. But mostly people did what they were supposed to do. A few folks had some extra judges that showed up for later rounds, but there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as I knew it, which I did. One school had an extra judge they didn’t know about, but that judge was a hoverer, and we had to put up sandbags outside of tab to keep her from literally standing behind us as we paired. Jeesh. We finally figured out that the problem was not that we weren’t giving her rounds—if you breathe down our necks at any point in this millennium, we will put you in every round we can—but that she was never entered by her school. There are worse offenses when it comes to handling a registration. Anyhow, the new rules went quite well, and will become the way of the future.

What I couldn’t do anything about is the number of rooms we had. I had to set limits, and you’d think that I had sold the students into hard labor in the diamond mines or something. Rule number one: don’t complain that it’s the end of the world if you’ve never volunteered to host yourself. We need solutions, not conspiracy theorists. Jeesh.

One school didn’t get in because they registered for the tournament and a minute later dropped their entry; God knows why, but all this happened a couple of weeks ago. They thought I had done something to eliminate them, which is why I always activate the change log in tabroom, so that when somebody says you did something, you can point out the date and time and name of the person who actually did do it, which more often than not is them, and not at the time and date they claimed. (The usual offense on this is that someone claims shouldn’t be charged fees because they met the deadline. But they didn’t. Tabroom.com doesn’t lie. Much.) Honestly, though, the sad thing with this school was that it was a new program that was obviously tripping over its own feet; if I had had the room, I would have let them in. Alas, we had a lack. What can you do?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yip Harburg, if you were wondering...

I do like the rhyme of “exploring the Amazon” and “with her pajamas on.” Is there any day that watching Groucho won’t improve?

The Beacon MHL is proving problematic. The simple fact is that there is a limited amount of space, which hardly ever happens at MHLs, and people are reacting as if infinity is guaranteed. I set limits (equal in every division) and sent out a message that people needed to act fast. But there’s still more debaters than there is debating rooms. Some people act as if this is a change of policy, others just sort of moan and groan, but I have to say, I’ve gotten more reaction to this than I’ve ever gotten to my requests for people to volunteer to host an event. Just sayin’.

In any case, I’ve been trying to be fair when giving out the waitlisted slots (made available by not hitting the limit in other divisions). One to you, one to you, one to you, which is the only way that occurred to me as acceptable, because it spreads the lack of wealth. With any luck, someone else will drop a couple of entries tonight and we can accommodate more people, but I’m not counting on it.

On top of that, tomorrow is the first day where registration = get it right by 9:00, have an adult tell me it’s right, we start the tournament. This should be entertaining, but I’m adamant about it. If you’re too dumb to have read the emails about this, you’ll pay the price. I’m not your mother (as my mother used to say, which I have to admit caused a lot of confusion around the house). Clean up your own messes. What will really piss me off is if anyone drops people in the a.m., in slots that others could have picked up.

We’ll see.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

They are out to get us. Unless we are they, in which case, we are out to get you.

I long for the golden age when people would fall off their seats because of this: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/OpenCulture/~3/tlde5RNB3Q0/michel_foucault_free_lectures.html I think that was two years ago.

Anyhow, I've enjoyed thinking about the number of topics per year immensely, because the more I think about it, the less I know. I'm trying to organize a little discussion on TVFT about it; stay tuned (if, in fact, you were tuned in the first place). The TOC has announced that it will stick to Jan-Feb this year, but I don't know if there's any deep meaning to be read in that. My sense is that, if the $ircuit had its way, there really would be only a couple of topics a year, but I hesitate to suggest that it must be bad because the $ircuit wants it. That's why I want to extend this dicussion. It's a good one. So far most of it's been in the comments here, in case you missed it.

Speaking of TVFT, we did one last night, Bietzless (although he had said he'd be showing up). We discussed NDCA, and it was rather heated. One of the issues we touched upon was openness, and I think that was the most interesting thing we talked about. No matter how you slice it (said moi), people always seem to think there's something going on behind the scenes in the smoke-filled room of the old boys network. They say it about TOC, CFL, NDCA, and NFL, and they say it about such lowly operations as the MHL and our local traveling tabroom. Some folks have been rather upfront in their idea that our region is run behind closed doors and as an exclusive club of some sort, and we're all pulling the levers to have debate go the way we want, but those same people don't have any actual evidence of it. I neither deny it nor admit to it. (You either trust me or you don't.) Since I tend to blab everything that's going on in my mind in this venue about two minutes after it occurs to me, I will cop to not being exactly behind the door in expressing my opinions and my plans and whatever. But it is the nature of things that an organization comes along, it gets established, and sooner or later new people come along and look at the organization and decide that it needs to be shaken up a bit because the leadership is out of touch or whatever. This is not news. In the world of LD, where there are more people than you can shake the proverbial stick at claiming that some thing they've just discovered is "progressive," and where there is no doubt that the activity changes regularly (or at least it has been in a state of flux ever since I've been doing it), the idea that people look at an organization and want to give it a kick in the pantaloons is pretty predictable. Of course, we always want it to be somebody else's pantaloons. However, with the exception of a few debate coaches who are a little over-competitive, and a few people who resemble the nether portions of your average pony and don't have the wit they were born with, I've always found that this is a group of people who are happy to express their opinions and fairly willing to change them. I don't think I'd still be in it, otherwise.

Anyhow, check out the TVFT podcast. It's a good one. (And I don't say that about all of them...)

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Topic Cycle Refuted: In Which Menick Caves?

The problem with people like us (and if you’re reading this for any other reason than to remind yourself why you like to be pissed off at me, then you are one of us) is that we like to argue about everything, and as often as not don’t have terrifically grounded opinions, so we’re willing not only to listen to the opposition but to change our minds. I love throwing a few shots across the bow to see who salutes. Sometimes I wish to take no prisoners and go down in flames if necessary. At other times, well, we’ll see where the chips may fall. This is one of those times.

The thing is, I’m in a position of some authority when it comes to choice of resolutions. I’m the person who pushed for the Modest Novice, which has now been institutionalized in our circuit, where we start off novices with the same topic every year from Sept through Nov. The argument for this was primarily to guarantee an inherently good starter topic; additionally, over time, since upperclassmen would themselves have been trained on this topic, we would create a built-in legacy system. The chief objection at the time was that this meant multiple topics at tournaments, and somehow this would be unmanageable, but after the years we’ve been doing it, that has never been a problem. Keep in mind that the flow of LD judges to cover occasional PF rounds has become pretty regular, and on the judging end, complaints that there’s too many topics to follow just don’t come up. That would be like watching the news and complaining that it wasn’t all about Newt Gingrich. This world view has Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and even Ron Paul. That way, you can complain about all of them.

So when I wrote about the resolutions going every two months, I won’t say that it’s a do or die for me. Honestly, I think my logic (which was not really expressed in the article) was that we have a resolution every two months, so let’s just use it, unless somebody can explain why there’s a better way. Ryan Miller has decided that I’m talking through my hat, and posted his own ideas on the subject.

Here’s the link to Ryan’s article: http://buckinghaminquirer.blogspot.com/2012/01/in-praise-of-fewer-resolutions.html

So, let’s see…


In Praise of Fewer Resolutions
Because Jim Menick is wrong on the internet, I feel compelled to respond. Jim seems to think that we should go back to prepping 5-7 resolutions a year in LD, because prepping resolutions has value and it makes bad resolutions go by more quickly. I'll answer on the line by line and then offer a counterplan with net benefits.

Well, really it’s 4 resolutions plus Nats, which is a little less than 7 but could be construed as 5, if you go to NatNats. Anyhow, I'm always right and I never lie, so let's get over this Jim Menick is wrong idea. Jeesh!

1a: If practicing resolutional prep is a good thing, then it can better be achieved by a single tournament of parliamentary/legislative debate or extemp than a whole season of old-school LD or even modern PF, so the status quo solves.

Only true if you somehow think all debate is the same. It shouldn't be. If LD and extemp and PF and parli are interchangeable in form, then we're misconstruing LD and extemp and PF and parli.

1b: There's less of a discontinuity between prepping new arguments on a resolution and prepping a new resolution than Jim thinks. Killing one to save many/vigilantes/civil disobedience/response to domestic abuse all have deeply overlapping ground--often moreso than various cases on the same topic, which are written precisely to avoid common objections and thus need to trace out new approaches. This might even be a turn since there's a time tradeoff between adapting old arguments to new resolutions (with observations and link evidence) and understanding new philosophical approaches (e.g. virtue ethics).

Well, what's your rush? More to the point, I think the great ethical questions facing humanity may be better understood by applying them to a lot of different things. Much of a muchness in our thinking here, though, I think.

1c: Frequently changing resolutions advantage those who can perfect truly generic ground like kritiks or micropolitics. They don't experience the disadvantage of new resolutions, and those who actually prepare for the new resolutions don't have enough time to write good answers to the generics.

You might have a point here. But there's always been a substratum of debaters who will do anything they can not to debate a topic. This is probably non-unique.

1d: Frequently changing resolutions was an adaptation to a world where absent a summer camp in a university library, finding new angles on an existing resolution was very difficult (note how evidence poor LD cases were in the nineties). The internet solves this.

I'd need to see your evidence on this. My guess is that it was a direct response to the annual nature of the policy rez, and an attempt to keep LD different. And anyhow, if this were true, why did the policy people all have 5 tubs? Merely because the resolution didn't change? Wedro used to bring evidence on everything from Kant to Shinola, for that matter.

2a: Bad resolutions might go by more quickly, but if those resolutions are the chosen ones for States/TOC/NFL/CFL, they have just as much impact.

The impact of these 4 examples are radically different. A state topic is local and affects only some in that state. The impact of TOC is fairly toxic in a variety of ways, and is overwhelming in convincing people that they have to do certain things to debate at the "top" level. This presumes TOC style debate is the top. Whatever, but the influence of the event is overwhelming. The NFL influence is passive aggressive at best in that they create all the topics but not everyone believes in the organization as a standard setter. And the effect of the CFL topic is usually limited to Catholics, who on hearing the resolution for a given year, start to consider once again if they wouldn't be better off if they converted to Lutheranism. Anyhow, if all these groups just went with the NFL topics in the first place, the point is moot.

2b: Resolutional quality isn't endogenous to resolutional quantity. The wording committee only has so much time to work, and proposal quality would also go up if there were fewer proposals needed (see: policy). This turns the argument.

No. The quality of the resolutions is not in question. This is a separate issue altogether. That's why I don't want to conflate the particular Jan-Feb with this discussion. Whether NFL can do a better job of creating resolutions stands whether there's one of a hundred.

2c: More resolutions advantage large squads and those with large budgets. Small squads with poor connections to the alumni coaching network need to attend a circuit tournament before they even know what is going to be run on a resolution, and with the resolution changing every two months that means they need to attend one every month. For resolutions that are basically only run once, such squads get completely blindsided by those who can do a lot of brainstorming and scrimmages.

That seems true to me, but at the same time, what doesn't advantage the large squad over the small? Your point above about generic kritik responses sound to me like the small squad circuit debater's response to this. Anyhow, I'm not advocating running anything once; that was mere reminiscing. Two months is pretty long in debate years.

Counterplan: LD should have two resolutions a year, one released August fifteenth and the other December first. Resolutions should be drawn from a very long list which has five added to it every June by the topic committee. Advantages:

1. The list can grow very long (a hundred?), thus making current prep on the entire list infeasible for even very large teams, and lowering the edge provided by going to a summer camp which luckily picked an important topic (and the resentment from paying a lot of money to a camp which failed to do so). This also means that resolutions will tend to spend a long time on the list before being picked, allowing campaigns against those with poor or offensive wording.

I like the idea of giving people an opportunity to think about things over a long term. We essentially agreed to that on TVFT. We move too fast, and over the summer, no less. Not good.

1b. This basically sets LD up as a logistically constrained version of policy, which has all the advantages of policy debate theory, but without the semi-mandatory camp and evidence burden and requirement for a partner. As I've argued previously, affirmative parametrics will solve for negative win skew. This is analogous to off-season-practice rules for sports, but without the enforcement hassles.

Could be...

2. Gets rid of the most important driver for modest novice (that novices can't be expected to debate a new resolution on their second or third tournament) without triggering the harms of modest novice (small squads and those on the edge of the service area are burdened with prepping yet another resolution).

True enough, but actually the biggest MN driver was avoiding giving novices a random (and crappy) resolution that was not beneficial for novitiate training.

3. Debate quality improves for the Glenbrooks, Blake, Apple Valley, and Princeton just as it has for TOC vs NFL and CFL. The quality of debate has gone up tremendously since the nineties, except for those tournaments which insist on vanity resolutions and random judging. This is not random.

I see no proof of this in-case. Pure assertion. (I love saying that.)

All of that said, I am nonetheless rather intrigued by the idea of two topics, especially given the long brooding process. One of my chief objections to certain topics over the years has been that one or two words in the rez make it unacceptable or hard to debate, and time would heal that wound. In the modern world, we essentially only have 3 topics a year anyhow—Sept-Oct, Nov-Dec, and Jan-TOC. And there is privileging via camps that could be addressed. Of course, how do you do anything about this? Well, perhaps some November tournaments simply run Sept-Oct and do it de facto if not de NFLo. I don't know.

We'll probably end up discussing this on TVFT.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Topic Cycle

I’ve made my feelings known about Jan-Feb on TVFT, and to some extent here. I’m agin’ it. I measure the possibility of harm against the magnitude of the harm, and I find the math unacceptable. My job is to educate students about various ethical subjects against the backdrop of competitive debate; I am ill equipped to engage myself in handling the problems they may be encountering in their personal lives, and I certainly do not want, inadvertently or otherwise, to make any of those problems worse.

I’m less certain about how to handle it, though. We had this topic in the past and it flew right over my head, and the heads of most other forensicians. What has changed? Probably nothing, except that this time we saw the light (or dark) and that time we didn’t. So it goes. Because it got by us the first time doesn’t warrant using it the second time. As we agreed on TVFT, there is no blame for anyone here, from the committee to the community. (We distinguished this one from the hideous ill-informed Muslim center PF topic, which as a political wedge issue was beneath contempt as a subject for intelligent discussion, and worse, a direct harm to the Muslims in our community, who would have no choice but to defend a position claiming that their right of free speech ought to be abridged for no other reason than their religion. That one was dead on arrival. And the NFL should have known better.)

The solutions to handling the resolution have ranged, but one thing that has come up is the idea of not continuing to debate it past the theoretical normal end of its cycle. In other words, at the very least, let it go away on its expiration date. That is a proposal before the NDCA now for their national tournament, and one that I will put before the NYSDCA for our state event. But that raises another question, and while I have been separating that other question from the content discussion of this particular topic, I still think it’s worth thinking about. To wit, why the hell do we stop changing topics after the turn of the new year? I mean, I know the answer, but it’s a dumb one, and we should rethink this question, regardless of the content of any given topic, at the macro level.

Back when I started in this activity (during the Buchanan administration, if I remember correctly), we had a Sept-Oct topic, a Big Bronx topic, a Nov-Dec, a Jan-Feb, a Mar-Apr, a NY State Finals, a CFL Finals and an NFL Finals topic. I would regularly be prepping 6 topics, in other words, and occasionally 7 or 8. If there was something wrong with a topic, you waited a minute and there was the next one, and you moved along. All of which raises the question, was it a good thing to have this many topics? I think yes. Or at least I think it was mostly yes. The more parochial a topic would get, i.e., the smaller the group selecting it, the less likely it was really all that good, but by that standard the NFL topics, at least, were usually quite acceptable, and we had all voted on them straight up, and there you were.

If you followed the NFL exclusively, you debated probably 4 different topics over the space of a year, about two months per. You got as far as you could go in two months, and then you moved along. In policy, on the other hand, one topic lasts all year. One can qualitatively compare the nature of the two beasts by comparing the quantitative depth achievable over the different life spans. A policy topic has to be deep, and it has to have a year’s worth of analysis in it. Every day new research will bring up new stuff, and over the space of a year cases will come and go as the world changes and cases hit the public awareness and new blocks are developed, et cetera, et cetera. The same holds true in LD, but only for a couple of months. Then it starts all over again. (And keep in mind that some of the logic informing PF’s one-month span is precisely to restart the process every few weeks, to prevent the deep sea research diving and twisty-turny-theory arcs of a longer span.)

I like the change of topics. I like that students will get a new subject to dig into every couple of months. I can see the value of one topic dug into all year, but if that’s what you want to do, take up policy. The problem is, for reasons I do not know, but which I expect were predicated on the policy bias of the TOC folks at the time—which meant that here was a group of people raised on a year of a given topic who looked at LD and said, wouldn’t it be great if we just used the Jan-Feb topic, to get all the benefits of depth we know will ensue?—TOC instituted using Jan-Feb in May. Which is fine and dandy, but now, everybody does it. You can’t run a tournament in March or April and use anything but the Jan-Feb topic (aside, of course, from District tournaments and the odd CFL qualifier).

Does this make sense? Well, if we’re looking at every tournament in the universe after Jan 1 as prep for the TOC, it would, except I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of people who do LD after Jan 1 of a given year aren’t going to TOC. Another issue is that people believe that students don’t want to write cases on a new topic after March 1, so we say okay, and let them keep going with what they have, even in novice divisions. Of course novices don’t need experience writing cases on new resolutions; however could anyone have ever believed that? (This paragraph, by the way, is dripping with sarcasm. If you didn't realize that, you need to readjust your sarcasometer.)

What I think we need to do is look at the question on its own merits. Should we switch topics ever two months? If it makes sense in November and January, why doesn’t it make sense in March? Because TOC does it? If, as my mother used to say, TOC jumps off a bridge, are you going to do it too? Because it’s work? Are we saying that our poor little students shouldn’t have to write cases? That sort of presumes that all those TOC people write a case on Jan 1 and then stop, and, uh, that’s not true.

Changing topics regularly is good educationally. Not changing topics offers no educational benefit over changing topics (aside, perhaps, of allowing students to concentrate on class work rather than debate). We should seriously reevaluate what we’re doing with late season tournaments.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Note to the Connoisseurs of Exquisite Differentiation

Ah, you aesthete, you. Your palate is so refined, I can only envy you. Whereas the average schlub on the street is lucky to know the difference between a link turn and a link sausage, you on the other hand can differentiate between a 26.2 and a 26.3 on the speaker scale using tenths of a point.

Do you extend your pinky when you are writing your ballot?

Okay, I may be wrong about this, but members of the VCA, knowing my track record of (admitted) wrongness, realize that I’m only saying that in case the Mayans were right and 2012 is the end of the world and I’m going to want to sing “Kumbaya” with people on the other side of the question as the earth falls into the sea and I won’t want this hanging over our heads in those last few moments. The thing is, I’ve seen too many studies that absolutely disprove that people could possibly rank speeches on a scale of 1 to 100. Or 1 to 50. 1 to 20 is out of reach. 1 to 10? Good luck.

Here’s the deal. The average person, given choices, is able to discriminate about 7 of them. There’s variation of course, but not much. If you give people too many choices, they balk. In marketing, either they don’t buy your product, or they default to the simplest option. Any wonder why vanilla is the top selling flavor at Baskin Robbins? Even been in a restaurant and someone looks at the menu and says, “There’s too many choices”? Ever felt that way yourself? Marketers use choice to set up a paradigm that their product offerings are diverse and full and rich, not because they expect to sell all those products. It’s the cost of doing business. But you don’t want to be overwhelming, so you provide defaults. Whole Foods has 17 kinds of tomatillos; most people just buy the basic cherry tomatoes.

Even if you don’t buy that (a phrase that, when uttered in debate, makes me want to throw a desk at the speaker), in LD we have a solid, time-honored history of inability to create a decent speaker point scale. Because we have no objective criteria on which to make the measurement, it becomes entirely subjective. This is why I like the breakdown of win the tournament / definitely break / might break / shouldn’t break / needs work. Those are fairly definitive gestalts of a performance that can be roughly agreed to. When I’m talking to PF parent judges before a tournament, I tell them to use a grading scale like they learned in school, A, B, C, D, F. Add maybe a tiny gradation, and there’s your 7. People can handle that.

But a hundred point scale? It’s hard enough to separate a 29 from a 28, but you want to tell me you can differentiate a 28.1, a 28.2, a 28.3, a 28.4, a 28.5, a 28.6, a 28.7, a 28.8 and a 29.9 as well? Not to mention 29.1, 27.9, 29.2, 27.8, etc., etc., etc.

On top of this, the norm is not to assign the same amount of points. No ties. But there can still be low point wins? My mind doesn’t boggle, it literally falls out of its resting spot and onto the floor, where the cat chases it around until it gets lost under the closet door.

Get real, people. You may like to stick out your pinky and explain in excruciating detail why you can tell the difference between a male and a female fly at 200 yards in the dark while blindfolded (you, not the fly), but I know better. Tenths of a point? You can barely handle showing up within half an hour of the posted round start time, and as often as not you have so little idea what happened in the round that you have to read the cases. And that, indeed, is a 28.8?


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lexwegian Adventure

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, good old TRPC throws you screwball.

This last weekend was Bigle X. Normally I do novice LD, but to tell you the truth, that’s sort of a snoozer, and I managed to get myself seconded to PF instead. I was working with Sarah Donnelly, who is not terribly familiar with TRPC. In the beginning she read and I input, and then we switched things around so that she’d get a feel for things, especially setting up break rounds.

Life was going swimmingly until round 5. We entered the results, printed up the check sheet and paired round 6, and prepared to goof off during the subsequent double flight. But then our checker handed us a mistake. And then another. And another. For all practical purposes, while the winners and losers were all correct, and the points for each side we totaled correctly, each individual’s points had been switched. For every single team. (Fortunately, since the totals and wins were accurate, the 6th round pairing was unaffected.)

Well, sez I, I guess that can happen, although I’ve never seen it before. We had printed the “other” PF ballots, not the Harvard ballot, so the names were often switched, so maybe that was it. (And I'm pretty sure I was the culprit here, not my poor apprentice.) We entered them again, carefully, correctly. We printed up another check sheet. It was no different from the first sheet. Then we just started entering and checking ourselves. If you entered results, no matter what, they didn't take.

Could the choice of ballots have affected the results? I can’t imagine how, because ballots are an output function that shouldn’t have bearing on input, but maybe that’s it. At this point CP joined the fray and we looked for the data file with round 5 results, and lo and behold, it didn’t exist. Oh joy. Oh rapture. The good news was, we could go into the contestant cards—each and every one of them—and make the corrections, and this time, they took.

I would suggest that Sarah got her baptism by fire. So did I, for that matter. Needless to say, we doublechecked the round 6 ballots thoroughly, but these were fine, and everything went back to normal in the elims.

As I say, every now and then TRPC has a surprise for you, even in a version you’ve used many times. Tim Averill, who was chivvying up the parents in the judges' lounge for us, likes to update to new versions like an Apple fanboy chasing iPhones, but I prefer to stick with one that works unless there’s some wonderful feature we’re missing and have to have. I don’t believe that tenths of a point is that feature, but that’s a subject for another day.

In other Lexington news, there were no exciting events worth reporting. One judge fell asleep in a round and was reported to us, but we knew this judge well and explained to the teams involved that they were no more likely to get a good decision if the judge were awake, and that they shouldn’t worry about it. Otherwise, everyone showed up, we made nice panels in elims especially in the bid round, and there wasn’t a blizzard, an ice storm or a plague of locusts. What more could you ask of a tournament?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

By the way, translation: "I'll be right back" = He wanders off for at least 10 minutes

I think I’m turning into an ogre. It used to be that when people annoyed me with idiotic nonsense, I simply ignored them. Now my instinctive reaction is to engage them. This serves no purpose. People whose ignorance expresses itself in hostility are hardly going to become enlightened and gentle upon encountering the brilliance and clarity of my ripostes. In fact, it just encourages them to develop their ignorance in that forge of their hostility, while I just get progressively more hostile myself. Not good. The solution is for me to remember to ignore things that need to be ignored, and let it go at that. I can’t fix them, so why bother? Sometimes it’s hard, though.

Yes, I am working behind the scenes on a tournament, the Gem of Harlem, and people are driving me crazy. I remain amazed at how self-insufficient people can be, and how coaches who have been attending tournaments since the Garfield administration (the President, not the cat) can be so obtuse on the subject of tournament attendance. Oh well. This is the last one of the year like that. College tournaments do tend to attract way too many people, a lot of whom seem to confuse it with a cruise on the Norwegian Princess Line. No, we don’t serve herring in bed. We get them out of bed and then we serve them.


Last weekend was a small local event that went swimmingly enough. The most interesting thing was putting together a 12-team PF event. After 3 rounds 2 teams from the same school were undefeated, so we byed them in round 4, the first time in a while we’ve byed a team at the top, much less two. But they had already beaten everyone in the 2-1s, or were also from the same school. A double pull-up hardly seemed fair, as it was more than likely to result in a predictable defeat. Fairer rounds were to be found elsewhere, and that’s what we did. But then came the interesting part for tab geeks. After round 4 we had the 2 undefeateds, then 2 3-1s who had already met. One of the 3-1s could have debated an undefeated, but the same school situation literally guaranteed the other 3-1 an elim slot because there was nothing for it but double pull-ups. This didn't seem right. Plus we had a bunch of 2-2s. At first blush we wanted to shut it out and declare it over and go straight to elims because it was so neat, and since every possible fifth round contest was a pull-up. At this point we had to push O’C aside as he had a horse in the race, and Kaz and I sorted it out. With a little snip here and a little tuck there, we managed to get everyone to debate a new singly pulled-up opponent, with the exception of the top 2, who remained byed, and the bottom two, who had debated before and were hence locked on the other side (which makes some sense in the flip-crazy world of PF). I mean, people did come to debate, not to sit around (except for the poor saps who were too good for the room). Interestingly enough, in the fifth round, a 2-2 did rise up to supplant one of the 3-1s, and as a result we had two natural semi rounds that worked beautifully. This is the kind of thing that makes tabbing fun. Most of the time you just click the button and it happens. Here, we shuffled the cards a dozen times. And the result was most pleasing (except, presumably, for the 3-1 team that was pushed out of the running, but that’s hardly a new story in any contest).

On this week to Bigle X with a marvelously full contingent: 1 PF team and 1 novice LDer. We’re going to need a bigger bus!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Your chance to be a Guest Star!!!

We recorded a TVFT last night (sans Palmer), and it's been a long time. One thing we agreed on (we do occasionally agree on things) is that we'd like more people to join us in dialogue about...whatever. In this episode we talk about the warring civilizations of LD, the conservative folks versus the circuit folks. The problem is that rather than work together to create an LD environment that works for all, we tend to entrench at the coachean level, which doesn't really help anybody. A solid discussion leads to a dialect movement towards truth: we can create a synthesis based, first, on commonality. But only if we talk.

If you're interested in being on the podcast, let one of us know via email. All you need is a Skype account and the little microphone headset that came with your smartphone (unless you want to get all Larry King about it and rent a radio studio for the occasion). It's so simple even a child can do it. For that matter, it's so simple even me and Bietz and Cruz and Palmer can do it!

Go for it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Bad juju

I just got off the phone with the Crowne Plaza people. In addition to having extra Es lying around, which they dispose of willy-nilly, we discovered that I was totally unknown to them. This despite the fact that I had reserved 6 rooms in December for UPenn.

Well, stranger things have happened. I recalled distinctly that the woman I made the reservations with seemed a little… lo-res. And I had never received my email confirmations. What? Me worry? I figured it would sort out.

After we established that I had no reservations for the weekend of the tournament, I made new ones. 5 of them, instead of 6, which is why I was calling in the first place. This was doing fine until I tried to put one in for Panivore Junior. He, as it turned out, in his spalpeen way, already had a reservation. Except he had changed his first name to Nola (“like the city,” as the guy on the phone with the southern accent put it—very Dr. John of him). And lived on Fernwood Street. And his reservation had been made by someone named Jim Manic.

I remember making the reservation, but I hardly seemed manic at the time. In fact, I recall me being my usual mellow self, if you want to know the truth.

Anyhow, when all is sand and dunes, Dr. John and I spent about a half hour sorting this out as his creaky computer (he apparently was using a Commodore 64) kept stumbling around one piece of misinformation after another. But sort it out we did. I now have either 11 or 6 rooms for the Liberty Bell Classic. Sometime in February. Under the name of Sanders.

It’s things like this that keep it real.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy End of the Universe!

It was a peaceful, quiet holiday, vis-à-vis forensics. Vis-à-vis everything else, for that matter. That’s not a bad thing, once in a while.

We did try to get a TVFT going, but we are becoming progressively more incapable of turning up at the same time as the eons progress. We’re going to try to get back to the Wednesday routine, and I think we’ll put something out even if it’s just me and O’C making Disneyland plans. Of course, we have more important stuff to talk about, to wit, the Jan-Feb resolution. Plenty of people have been talking about this elsewhere, but I have not been one of them. In a way, with such a limited commitment to LD at this point, I feel a little less than involved in the situation. But I have my opinions, and I would like to exercise them a bit with others. CP is strongly planted agin’ it, and I think Bietz was likewise. I want that conversation.

In the world of upcoming, this week is Byram Hills. It’s small and local, so should be simple enough. Then there’s Bigle X, which is always fun, although this time I’m only staying for the main event: no RR for me this year. They’ll have to provide their own beans for the trivia event (if any). On the other hand, it’ll be the first time in decades I’ve had that Sunday and Monday to myself. That will be a treat.

And then there’s the Gem of Harlem. The real problem there has been securing rooms. Without rooms you can’t accept entries, and there’s a lot of people hanging on, waiting to hear. I cleared off all the far-aways who needed plane tix, and have started on the locals mostly by when they entered. I should have a better idea of rooms by the end of this week. Then we can get serious, and even, just maybe, create a schedule.

Then again, this being the year the Mayans are proven right, we could go off into oblivion at any moment. I probably shouldn’t plan too far ahead. Aside from the Disneyland trip, that is. Me and O’C, together again. Set your Twitter feed on stun.