Thursday, January 30, 2014

In which we praise, damned faintly, the tabroom software

A tournament ends, a tournament begins.

Tabroom is working pretty well now, with quirks, but at least they’re known quirks. Phantom judges are the biggest one (a quirk compounded by the lack of the ability to print a list showing judging time availability). Most of the rest tend to be one-offs that one learns to solve by recalling the solutions to previous one-offs: unique problems but with similar solutions. This is no different from TRPC. You learn to solve problems rather than to expect no problems. This is complicated software that one has obtained for free. The entire Microsoft support system, in other words, is not there at your beck and call. Still, the benefits of tabroom over TRPC are indisputable. If nothing else, it does a hell of a better job with MJP assignments, giving us at least a 15 minute saving per round. That’s a big deal when you’re trying to stick to a schedule. Last Sunday, when we were running back-to-back, we sent off the last round about 45 minutes off the schedule; divide this up across 5 elims, and that’s about 10 minutes behind each. This was pretty good, and honestly, it was only the first double-flighted round that slowed us down. Or more to the point, the number of people who expected the Number 1 train to get them there on time were serious miscalculating the abilities of mass transit. I probably should have allowed more time on the schedule in the first place, just because the first round of the day, especially a break round with judges going to different rooms, is always problematic.

Another benefit of tabroom over TRPC is that multiple people can be working on different aspects of the same round. I was manually adding in rooms while Arcelis and Kaz were assigning judges. Ballot staff in another building were entering LD ballots while we were pairing PF. If one printer died, another printer on the other side of the room could do the job. We could bring iPads to the ballot table to push ballots (and mark the missing judge as having earned a nice juicy fine or, on Sunday, a nice juicy invitation not to darken our door again). By the way, we didn’t impose any fines on Friday. To be honest, the start of the most organized tournament in the universe is, by definition, disorganized. We’d have to fine ourselves just as much as the judges for getting caught in any starting-friction confusion. We’re very generous about fines. You’ve got to be the last person to show up, and as often as not, you’ve got to have not showed up once before. If you want to make fines go away after they’re imposed, come to tab quickly (the fines show on your invoice the second they’re levied) and do your mea culpas and it will probably work out. Disappear from the tournament and tell us the next day that you were there all the time, what are you talking about? Not so likely to get you off the hook. We’re not mean, nasty, horrible people who get off on collecting missed-judge fines. We’re mean, nasty, horrible people who just want judges to show up in the first place, and who believe that the demonstration of anything less than good debate citizenship, as we call it, is cause for removal from the debate community.

Anyhow, practically the second that I was off the Gem, I was on to this weekend’s MHL. The key to getting all the good benefits of tabroom is setting it up correctly in the first place. My issue with Gem rooms was, as I said earlier, because I bollixed up the setup. Learning from my mistakes (and thus poised to make new mistakes), I set up the MHL according to Hoyle (or, more accurately, according to CP, as Matt Hoyle has nothing to do with it). Piece of cake, following my own instructions I wrote out earlier this week. Room pools set up thus are perfectly easy to manage, as long as I have my master list in hand to keep track of things. The problem with setting up an MHL is that there are 3 judge groups and 6 divisions, 2 in each judge group. It takes a while to get the hang of judge groups, and then events, much less clicking all the right buttons in each. Any wrongly clicked button is a disaster waiting to happen. In some MHLs (fortunately not this one) we might want same teams to hit because of field domination, which is fine if you click it for the right division and a pain in the patoot if a) you don’t or b) you click it inadvertently for a different division. And so forth and so on.

Our problem with the Horace Mann MHL is relatively limited space, but when all was said and done, not all that limited. Everybody got, if they wanted them, 5 or 6 entries just about everywhere. I’m happy about that. With all the crappy weather this season, people are hungry to debate. We’ll be able to satisfy a lot of that hunger this weekend. And best of all, it’s a one-day tournament close to home. You’ve gotta love that.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In which we wonder what makes a good tabber

We put together a whole bunch of notes from the Gem for the memory pool for next year, and I tucked it all into tabroom, where there’s now a place to store one’s notes. (I almost typed that there is now a way to store one’s nuts, but alas, that is a feature yet to be implemented.) Most of it was relatively small, like listing the schools that didn’t show up Sunday to fulfill their judge obligations (ta ta, my friends), our preference for a tab room location (one where we were able to take off our coats and there was a light, so that we didn’t look like we just stumbled out of a Solzhenitsyn novel), and a registration system that’s at least as good as Big Bronx, which until the Gem was the gold standard for Oh, Right, We Need to Set Up Registration, occurring in the mind after about 20,000 people spontaneously started lining up at the edge of the auditorium.

I mean, the tournament went well, but there was no question that my brain was fried way before it was over. Let’s face it. I do this every week. If that’s not evidence of insanity, nothing is. We’ve been talking a lot lately about tab staff. People have come and gone over the years, and most have been happy to be of the gone persuasion. First of all, most people at a tournament who could be in tab are coaches who would probably prefer to be out there coaching. As the VCA knows, I’ve never been big on prepping for individual rounds. I always associate it with cramming for exams: if you don’t know it by now, you’re never going to know it. I’ve occasionally parsed out responses to specific arguments at tournaments, but that’s about it. God knows I’ve never dug up a card or prepped a response or a block or suggested that someone run this against that person. What the hell do I know? (Okay, don’t answer that.) I may be the world’s worst coach for this, because I have certainly seen coaches who seem more involved in debate than their debaters, but to each the proverbial one’s own. The Sailors have always done pretty well historically despite me.

But I digress. The Traveling Tab Room is not that big, and with CP really not a regular anymore, and with everyone needing weekends off now and then to live that elusive thing commonly referred to as a life, we are pretty stretched. I would say that any fair-sized debate division needs a couple of warm bodies, and I would suggest 3 if you throw in MJP. There’s ballots to enter and rooms to find and pairings to double-check and judges to assign and problems to solve and complainers to deal with and ballots to push, and some of it is miserable scut work and some of it is challenging intellectual fun and most of it is time-consuming. And with our limited number, we need to have people we can call on to help out. Maybe not to throw off completely the chains of coaching and judging (and I for one think that a lot of the latter is necessary to be good at the former, which is why I try to get in at least some rounds now and then; fortunately PF is not redefining itself every season as LD seems to), but to join us a few times a year not as just a trainee but as partner in that weekend’s team. This year we’ve had a couple of newbies in there, and it’s worked out well.

The requirements include a good eye for detail, a love of music (I refuse to tab in silence), a sense of humor, and innate curiosity. A nice touch with a computer helps, but it’s far from essential. Plus there’s chemistry, as in, if you’re going to work with someone nonstop for an entire weekend, maybe weekend after weekend, you’ve got to enjoy one another’s company. (I would say that the upcoming DisAd14, where a bunch of us are going back down to WDW, indicates how that’s working out for us.) But more than anything else, the basic requirement for good tabbing is a desire to make a good tournament, whatever that means. I know that I have often bit people’s heads off, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, but at least I want a tournament to run well. Moving the rounds is the top priority in that. Plenty of other things are important, but good rounds going off in a timely fashion is what brings people back to a tournament year after year. Everything else is just gravy—important gravy, but gravy nonetheless. That means that the novice PF round is every bit as important as the high-pressure MJP VLD round, despite not being as intellectually stimulating. There’s that sense of a job well done, and that’s what we’re looking for in new staff, the desire to do that job well. That precedes all other aspects of tabbing.

Come to think of it, mentioning as I did above the biting of people’s heads off, that may be the most noticeable thing about this year’s Gem compared to last year. I can recall three serious head-bitings-off last year, plus one total nuclear kerfluffle, while this year, there were none, or at least not truly serious ones. At least not by me, and I don’t think by anyone else. This is not a sign that any of us are mellowing out (wouldn’t you love to read the farewell emails I sent to the teams whose judges didn’t show up Sunday?) but that the tournament as a whole ran quite well.

It almost makes me want to do it again some time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In which we explain the particular nature of last weekend's tournament

My favorite Columbia moment from the past:

“We’re missing only one ballot, and then we can pair the first break round!”

“Where’s that ballot? Who’s the judge? Let’s call him.”

Mutter mutter mutter mutter call call call.



“The judge is gone.”

“What do you mean, gone? Get him. Where is he?”

“He went home to China.”

One of the most interesting facts about debate tournaments is that each one has a particular character that endures from year to year, despite any attempts to change it. College tournaments obviously have a conveyor belt of tournament directors, and other venues lose their coaches or whatnot, events are added and subtracted or changed from JV to Novice or Varsity to Academy, we incorporate a new activities like PF—nothing matters. A tournament is what it is, and it always is. Everything in life should be so reliable.

The particular character of the Gem is, first, there is no such thing as a room. On the back end, getting rooms confirmed is a nightmare of humongous proportions. We were still working on it the day of the tournament. Somehow the tabroom software was sentient enough to realize that we were doing the tournament we were doing, and went off the tracks with, you guessed it, room assignments when we paired round one (requiring a desperate call to CP who patiently explained that I was an idiot for not being able to read his mind and helped us out, but the problem is, in the Traveling Tab Room only O’C is capable of reading CP’s mind—he is a whiz at figuring out what CP was intending, making him the Scalia of CP originalism—which is scary both to CP and O’C to a mutual—defined as the same—degree).* On top of that, the Room Police at one of the venues decided that the 10 o’clock reservation ended at about 9 o’clock, causing a mass exodus into the cold to other venues spread across the campus.

Secondly, the weather is always just bad enough to kill you, but not bad enough to cancel the tournament. Nevertheless, the number of students not wearing coats is a constant. Come to think of it, the number of students not wearing coats at the January tournaments was identical for Columbia, Lexington and the Sunvite.

Third, while we post all the information on tabroom and send oodles and oodles of updates, most people attending the tournament prefer to get their information from the person I now know as Some Columbia Kid. Some Columbia Kid, who has no official standing in the tournament and is assigned no particular job, has been at every Gem I’ve attended since working in tab, and I’m not quite sure if it is the same person every year or simply an identity taken on by different persons over the passage of time (I suspect it’s the former), but Some Columbia Kid is always telling people the wrong times for the rounds, the wrong places for the ballots, and the wrong rooms to go to debate. Some Columbia Kid might possibly be Mr. Met’s job during the off-season. Sounds plausible. In any case. if I ever actually run into Some Columbia Kid, I’m going to have to kill him. (And it is true that no other college tournament has anything like him. He, or she, is entirely a local phenomenon.)

Fourth, something seriously nutty always happens in the tabbing. During the break rounds, apparently Some Columbia Kid misentered not one but three ballots, giving a win to the wrong student. We had to recall pairings for the following round, but the disaster was actually minimal, and we were quickly able to assign judges to the correct pairing without a major overhaul. But when we did, the kid who hadn’t advanced remained on the pairing. We couldn’t get rid of him. We gave him a loss, we dropped him, we forfeited him, we threatened his life with a railway share, but all to no avail. Eventually I think I gave him a panel in a subsequent round and had them drop him (on a 2-1; no need to be overzealous), but he was the Rasputin of debaters and that’s a fact. Fortunately he had left the campus and didn’t see his name on every schematic after he’d been eliminated. For that matter, even after we got rid of him he left behind an empty room on the pairings. Rasputin indeed! Similarly, the lovely and talented Ben K, who was only scheduled to judge on Sunday, was assigned to every round on Saturday. We removed him, blocked him, deactivated him and put him into the Witness Protection Program, and still he came up every time. For all I know, he also came up in Duo, Dec, Congress and the UDL tournament down in the Village. When he finally showed up as he was supposed to on Sunday, we all carefully approached him and touched him gently on the elbow, just to make sure he was real.

As I say, every tournament has its character. This is the Gem, every time, year after year. It’s an exhausting tournament, to put it mildly. But the kids running it did an excellent job, the fields were very strong, the tab room just kept chugging along (and we now have all the dirt on Aracelis, which we’ll husband until the time is right), and a splendid time was had by all.

And so to the MHL.

*If there was ever a sentence that is the quintessential example of my writing style, this is it. Two em-dash digressions in a parenthetical digression, plus a sarcastic dig about CP's use of MJP, another dig about the lack of intuitiveness of the software, a random mention of O’C who wasn’t even there, and an allusion to my favorite Supe. Sometimes I wonder why I bother using periods at all.

Monday, January 27, 2014

In which we (a) remark on a new recruit and (b) provide unsolicited documentation

We have conquered the maze that is room assignments on tabroom.

The obvious idea of creating what are called event pools from a single site was as leaky as some really leaky thing; you’d pick all the rooms for PF before the tournament, but when the round was paired it would grab a couple of the LD rooms and use them instead. Then there were sites, and I started creating separate sites for each event, which works well enough, but when you inherit a tournament that already has sites, and other tab people already grabbing at the rooms for their events, it’s the proverbial recipe for disaster leading to the Wrath of Vaughan, which is like the Wrath of Menick only I’m on the wrong end of it. Then there’s the recommended CP way of doing it, creating room pools, which also works fine, unless, again, it’s a legacy tournament, not to mention a legacy tournament that I’ve added more sites to to avoid the confusion of system A above, in which case, you can create pools but the program won’t necessarily draw from them, and panicky telephone calls to CP replace handing out the un-hand-out-able ballots. (The override, just inserting a room assignment, is arduous, although we ended up doing that for break rounds.) In other words, kicking off the Gem, 10,000 maniacs all doing something different stuffed into the pre-tab room, with no rooms on the pairing, while balancing two other tournaments (Bump and Lexington make-up rounds), got us off to a shaky start, into which we sent Aracelis, our new tabber, armed with nothing more than a computer and a quick lesson on how to substitute judges against an throng of PF people, although I think the correct word for any assembly of PF people is a confusion, as in, a murder of crows, a pod of whales, a confusion of Pfffters. I think some of us were surprised when she returned from the ballot table to announce that everything had been picked up. We thought we’d never see her alive again. She got a true baptism of fire, and survived admirably. She was born to tab. And it’s too late for her to turn back now.

Anyhow, there is no real handbook/help/instruction sheet for running tabroom, which I understand because you either write the program or you write the documentation, and for a while last year I had simply expected that, A) I’d be sunsetted at the DJ, and B) I’d just write said documentation to fill the empty hours. (I’ve written quite a bit of documentation for systems at the DJ, which I’m sure comes as a surprise to CP, who wishes that anyone other than me had been the one to say, Damn the tab-pedoes, full speed ahead with, way back at the Vassar MHL). Unfortunately, or fortunately, this scenario hasn’t arisen, but I will write this:


Before doing your rooms, schedule all the rounds of the tournament. You can adjust the schedule later, but you need to have rounds scheduled before you create room pools.

Working from a spreadsheet for your planning of the rooms prior to entering them in tabroom is a very good idea. You can move rooms around easily in Excel to see what you’re using and when you're using it; tabroom is for after you’ve made your decisions.

The best way to handle rooms in tabroom for the average tournament is to, first, create a single site, and second, to divide that site into room pools. This is a fairly simple process at a tournament in one building with a handful of divisions, but it can get complicated as a tournament spreads out. It is advisable that one person oversee the room assignments at huge tournaments with multiple events in multiple buildings.

The first step in tabroom is to create the site. Under Settings/Sites & Rooms, go to Edit Tournament Site and create your site, e.g. Bump or Ridge or Horace Mann. Remove any other sites from the tournament.

Populate the site: You will see the site you’ve created under Room Lists. Click on your site, and you can simply type in the rooms. (Alternately, you can upload a pre-existing list using the Upload room lists feature, but this can be frustrating if your file isn’t formatted correctly. Correct formatting is roomname,#,#,#,#,¶. Save the file as text, ASCII Western or US, and then upload.)

You now have a full list of all your rooms. Go to Paneling/Room pools. You want to create new room pools. At most tournaments, you probably want a pool for each division, let’s say one each for VLD, NLD, PF, etc. So create a pool VLD and you’ll see a list of all the rooms at the site. Click on the rooms you want in this pool, and they will be the ones in your VLD pool. Assign which rounds will use this pool with the Use for Round drop-down. Refresh the screen, and you’ll see the list of the rooms in the pool. Repeat the process for each event.

Pools are not exclusive; that is, you can have the same room in different pools (which may seem counterintuive but which makes sense when you’re moving elims or sharing in different time slots). So you need to be careful that, as you create each pool, you are not using the same rooms at the same time. This is where your planning spreadsheet will come in handy.

Once pools are set and assigned to rounds, the tabulation will automatically draw from those pools. As a tournament progresses, you can adjust the pool if you want. For instance, as you enter elims, you may want all your VLD rooms available from prelims, but as the number of needed rooms lessens, you may want to close off a floor or centralize things or only use bigger rooms or whatever. Do this before pairing each elim. Alternately, of course, you could just have a pool for each elim, if you prefer to plan that way.

In which Palmer, instead of debugging tabroom, debugs me

Again, I am not directly responding to him for a while, but will. To tell you the truth, he's helping me understand a few things that have not been clear, and refined my thinking, even where we disagree. Of course, there is the whole thing where he claims I offer no offense, which in fact forces us up the flow into a definitional debate (which is the definition of a bad debate, and always has been), because until he supplies a better definition of mutual than the relevant usages in Web 11 (shared in common / joint), there is no debate and no alternative for the judge other than to cast a Menick ballot.

SMJP as in semi-mutual judge preferences?


Seriously, the goal is best practices. That only comes with discussion, testing and refinement.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In which we engage in "voodoo math"

Two true stories.

A judge’s paradigm reads that he will not consider Theory arguments. My debater, who enjoys Theory arguments, knows better than to employ them in this round facing this judge. The opponent runs Theory, and my debater loses. The RFD? “I vote on Theory.”

More interesting: A panel is set. It’s 1/2, 1/1 and 4/3. It is balanced, but not great. One side comes to tab and asks if we can do any better. Not with mutuality, no. The best we could do is another 1/2 against their team. The protesters don’t mind that. They’d rather have a 2 judge than this particular 3 judge, and in fact, would prefer this even though they’ve now given the mathematical benefit to their opponent. Personally, I’m against it, but it’s their tournament, and the tab room decision is that this is now one-sided, since only the protestors are in the tab room, but if the other debater agrees, then it’s OK. I can live with that, so we go to the other debater. He is adamant: he wants the judge originally given to him by tab, even though the new judge would be a 1 for him instead of a 4. So, without agreement from both sides, the round stands. It’s a 2-1 decision for the adamant debater. The ballot he didn’t pick up is from the 4/3, or put another way, the judge who was protested against was the only ballot for the protestors. So much for the math.

I’m making two different points here. First of all, judges just do whatever the hell they do in any given round, and most written paradigms are just so much bush-wa. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say, the more specific the written paradigm, the more bush-wa within. Personal experience of a judge may be useful, because you can get a sense of some general things they might like or dislike, but even that goes only so far. Here’s a test. Before you next see your family, predict their answers to a question like, “What three albums would you take to a dessert island?” Your family now, your flesh and blood. Can you do it? I’ll bet you can’t. Better still, have them tell you their 3 dessert island albums, then predict in advance, from those answers, how they would feel about some album they’ve never heard before by someone they’ve never heard of. How do you think that’s going to work? Well, it’s the same as predicting how any judge will vote in any round. You might be able to do it, but how well? Are you willing to put money on it? Every time? How do you think that applies to the predictability of a judge’s vote in a debate round?

The second point is that, given the first point, organizing the potential judges into a mathematical equation is, at best, only marginally predictive. If you attach a number to a judge, that number is not the likelihood that that judge will or will not pick you up: it is your guess about the likelihood of whether that judge will or will not pick you up. Given that in any particular debate round you are not worried about trends, metadata or quantitative analysis of any sort across a pool of judges but instead in the very specific results of that round and the vote of one specific judge, this is, to paraphrase George H.W. Bush, voodoo math.

Judges are unpredictable, and cannot be ranked according to whether they will vote a certain way. A ranking of the judges is nothing more than a lot of wild-ass guessing. Assigning judges based on that ranking is, therefore, based on wild-ass guessing about unpredictability. The only benefit of MJP in this completely bogus mathematical wonderland is that it finds a match between two teams’ wild-ass guessing about unpredictability.

So we can now translate the statement, “I got a 3-3 judge,” into the more precise, “My opponent and I, based on the flimsiest of evidence that cannot predict outcomes, identically ranked the probability of one of those outcomes.”

MJP is a tool for matching teams’ opinions. No more, no less.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In which we further debrief on Bigle X

I need a good night’s sleep. Any good night’s sleep. I’m getting ditzy.

So, let’s go back to Bigle X. As I said yesterday, and as CP responded, I’m not a fan of how they did the 9 tiers of MJP, since I’m a strict constructionist vis-à-vis mutuality. But everybody gets to run their own tournament, and Palmer makes important points. We'll get back to MJP in separate posts.

Other than that, there were interesting discussions, as always. As I said yesterday, the expectation of scientific precision is what amazes me the most, as if you’ll always lose a 2-1 in your opponent’s favor and always win a 1-2. The arithmetic is simply a guide to your own ideas about the judges, not a read of the judges inviolable vote-o-meter. If you think a judge should be hanged by the neck until dead, strike ’im, otherwise, shaddup. It’s mutual. Deal with it.

I was doing PF, which was pretty straightforward, as might be expected. You assign the judges at random, send them into the world, and there you are. Lex always has a flood of lay judges in PF, so while everyone else was gleefully doing e-ballots, I was virtually doing index cards, but so it goes. No major issues, nor really any minor issues. Everything worked as advertised. There was some hoo-ha over some perceived problem, but my thoughts on that were that the problem was human error, and that never counts. As soon as you stop making mistakes, the rest of us will too. No big deal.

The Sailors mostly made a botch of things, aside from our lone, lorn novice LD creetur’ who managed to break into a Cap Bad case that had him reeling. Sigh. A K on the aff, no less, whatever that is. Or at least that was what was reported to me. Any wonder why I’ve been pushing people to PF? As for our actual PFers, I think they were a little blindsided by all that lay judging, as in, practically everybody is a first-timer. Which makes this a good learning experience, since it’s not unreasonable to expect that while at college tournaments one might get experienced judges, at homier events one might get lots of local volunteers helping out. You’ve got to learn to pick ‘em all up, not just one or that other. We’ll work on that.

It snowed while we were there, of course, but when it comes to Lexington, that’s like saying that each hour was made up of sixty minutes. It didn’t amount to much, though, and we got in and out without a hitch. I have to admit that I don’t miss the RR. Getting back late Saturday meant that Sunday I was home for the DisAd14 planning session (which made some major changes in things, which I’ll report on eventually), and that I did catch up on a little sleep both of the days off. Just in time for the deep freeze we’re in now. No meeting last night because of the storm, which fortunately didn’t add up to much in our neck of the woods, so I’ve postponed to tomorrow, just to keep my hand in. At least it looks decent, if cold, for the Gem of Harlem this weekend.

Emory is also this weekend. The question everyone is asking is, where will O’C’s flight go wrong this time?

Extra: In which CP responds to my strict MJP constructionism

Reasonable enough, and I agree with some but not all of it. I'm too pooped at the moment to go into details, though, and want to work it into the series at NDCA (as I want to work yesterday's post).

Maybe tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In which we meditate more on MJP after Bigle X

Odds and ends on MJP.

You can have as many preference tiers as you want in the tabroom software. There is a school of thought that says the more tiers there are, the more accurate will be your personal assignment of rankings of the judges. I seriously question this. Your favorite ice cream is chocolate, once in a while you like strawberry, and coconut makes you break out in a rash. If I throw in choices raspberry and pistachio, you’re probably okay with that. When you go to the ice cream store, you'll have chocolate as always, but if they're out of chocolate, you'll take strawberry. If they're out of both chocolate and strawberry, you can live with raspberry or pistachio, but no matter what happens, you don't want coconut, not now, not ever. If I throw in raspberry, pistachio, cinnamon, rocky road, lemon, persimmon, pumpkin pie, etc., etc., I think I’m on the one hand creating a false sense of control by giving you more worthless choices in the raspberry-pistachio range, and at the same time, I’m moving away from mutuality because the idea is that cinnamon and rocky road are so similar that they’re virtually mutual choices, as compared to the more dramatic choices of chocolate and strawberry and then the couple of other. That is, instead of insisting on 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, or 5-5, now 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6, 6-7, and 7-8 become permissible (on a 9 tier scale) because of the mathematical difficulty of finding mutuality with there are a lot of possibilities. I go back to the basic statement that either it’s mutual or it isn’t, and at the point where it isn’t, call it something else like “Generally Close Opinions Judge Assignment” or something like that. I see clarity in 4 or 5 distinct tiers. The response that someone’s bottom 1s are more like 2s is beside the point. MJP does not give you perfection with a flow pad, it gives you a judge you’ve categorized similarly on both sides of the debate. The alternative is either a judge tab has decided to give you for their reasons, or a random judge. I say, keep it as clean as possible.

Does anyone other than me remember a time when people saw a schematic, saw who was judging, then went on to figure out how to win that judge? MJP should not make that go away, or at least make that sense that “the judge is who the judge is” go away. Assignments of high prefs should favor those still in competition, but that’s it. A lot of people are, I think, still having a problem with that. They’re also assigning way too much weight to the idea of preference in general. A pairing with a 1-5 judge is no guarantee, if you are on the 1 side, that you will win, or that if you are on the 5 side, you will lose. The ranking is only a measure of your preference for that judge. You also sort of have to go into the room and debate the round and convince the judge that you did a better job than your opponent. This is not the calculation of scientific instruments; it’s an opinion poll ranking other opinionators. Judging is not a precise science (ever hear of speaker points?), so how does ranking judges in some artificial order take on any scientific precision? MJP is simply allowing debaters to have an equal hand in judge selection. Any more than that is, well, science fiction.

Moving on. The field in general ranks judges roughly the same, but there are always schools that rank uniquely. I would say that maybe ten percent of the schools in a field, for whatever reason, have few if any matches at all, much less matched 1s. So in a panel, the best that it going to happen is that the math adds up. The problem with this, from some points of view, is that certain pairings get no 1s or 2s, and their entire panel is from their middle area. Of course, it’s from both teams’ middle areas, but be that as it may, the middle is the middle. It was suggested that, if just any 1-1 or 2-2 could be found, the others could be a 1-8 and an 8-1, and that would be fair. Well, mathematically, yes, but it was pointed out, in that case, it’s not really a panel anymore, since you know as certainly as you can that you’ve lost one of the ballots. That’s a good response to that question. Which also hearkens back to my comment above, how once upon a time people simply accepted the judges they got and dealt with them. Three judges of which you have a middling opinion would have happened then as it does now, except now at least both of you have the same middling opinion.

I had a discussion with someone who wondered why all extras, so to speak, defaulted as 1s. In other words, why couldn’t you have more 2s than 1s, or for that matter, all 1s and 3s, or whatever? While I found the possibilities intriguing enough, the unlikelihood of that working out for all the teams and still maintaining mutuality seemed extremely unlikely and led me to respond simply that it might not work in tab, which I don’t think is the greatest answer. Who cares about tab if they have to debate? We’re not there to make things easy for me. It took a while for the real answer to dawn on me. We set up artificial tiers of preference the same way we set up any structural limits on a competition: to ensure a fair, equal opportunity for everyone to break. Certainly forcing the usual 4 or 5 tiers on the field is arbitrary and restrictive, but it is equally arbitrary and restrictive for everyone. Each team has to pick a certain amount of judges out of each tier, with the only exceptions being either pick none at all, which is self-defeating because it puts you at the mercy of your opponent’s preferences, or put them any extras in as 1s, which simply means that you’re perfect happy to be judged by more than the given allotment at your top end, i.e., you like the pool and you’d accept any of them. The point is, we make rules for the sake of fairness. The more fair the competition, the better. The rule, so to speak, of 4 or 5 tiers is standard, clear and, ultimately, probably the fairest.

This does lead to the question of gaming the system, so to speak. I have heard people who claim to be able to do this, plus I have heard people come up with various strategies beyond the simple layering of their choices from top to bottom. As for the former, I don’t believe it. We’re talking debaters here, not Lucasian Chair mathematicians. And if there was a way to game the system, it would not be long before everyone knew it, and the system would be shortly re-rigged of its own accord and you wouldn’t be able to game it anymore. That is, everyone would know how to do it, and therefore everyone would do it, and it become the new system and the gaming would be over. As for not playing straight down the prefs, I’m only slightly less suspicious of this. I gather people will throw a 2 in as a 1 or vice versa, things like that, to catch their opponent’s real 2 with their 1 masquerading as a 2. Well, good luck with that. Prefs are a moving target, and everybody else is getting judges too, not just you and your opponent. If that masquerading 1 of yours is someone else’s real 1, you’ll probably end up with one of your real numbers too.

Of course, all of this game-playing and niggling goes back to denying the underlying reality that a preference number next to a judge’s name does not indicate a win before the round starts. MJP is a tabbing tool for assigning judges according to team preference rather than randomly or according to tab room preference. The more people try to make it something else, the more they either muck things up or, worse, the more they might actually succeed in making it something else. Do we want that? I mean, if you have something else that’s better, fine. Put up or shut up. But till then…

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In which we are not worried about Bigle X

I have to admit that I’m not particularly wrapped up in Bigle X. I mean, it’s CP’s own tournament, for Pete’s sake. If he can’t figure out, who can? Plus I’m doing PF, which at Lex simply means keeping an eye on Averill as he pushes the paper ballots, and if it’s anything like Newark, holding the hands of the poor non-tech parent judges who need to realize that the 20th Century has come and gone and pretty much everybody nowadays not only has their very own portable personal computer but that many of them even know how to use it. I’ll be working with Matt Hoyle again, so this should be as easy as the proverbial cake. Or a piece of pie. Or something like that.

Instead, I’ve been marveling over the Gem of Harlem, which still wants for confirmed roomage. I’ve probably said this before, but having the rooms set before the tournament is way preferable to waiting till after the awards ceremony. We’re pretty good with judges, though, except maybe in VLD, where we’ve got enough to cover the necessary tab overage but that’s about it. With all the whining about LD judges these days, the idea that people don’t bring their own personally trained army of alums is beyond me. I had someone tell me over the weekend that they don’t bring alums because they can’t afford it, which is interesting insofar as, instead, they hire, at outrageous rates. Something’s wrong with this picture. A big issue with the Gem at the moment is if we can squeeze in 3 single flights of PF on Friday night. The rooms are there, but not the judges. But if we could make it happen, Saturday will be better for everyone. In the words of the prophet, they’re working on it.

I hope you’ve been reading the pieces on tournament management that I’ve been forcing down the NDCA’s throat. I hate to admit it, but I seem to be heading toward something of a complete manual on the subject. For them, the next installment is best practices, maybe, but at the moment I’m a bit intrigued by conflicts, as in, what comprises them. That we often don’t learn about them until the pairings are released is not so much the issue (although it does make one grit one’s grinders) as whether this, that or the other truly qualifies. I’ve always maintained that many conflicts are not so much real as perceived; if someone coached at school X a hundred years ago, are they still biased? For that matter, were they ever? I would suggest that in a potentially biased situation most people bend over backwards to be fair, and if anything, the bias is against their own ex-school. Which would still, of course, count as a conflict, only totally inside out from the expectation. Whatever. The thing is, a standard list of conflicts that everyone could follow would be a good idea for the community at large. That’s what I’d like to come up with.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In which we refer to my latest NDCA post

As always, the VCA is probably already aware of most of what I'm saying there, but once one starts, one goes on (and on, and on). I want to wrap up with a suggestion of Best Practices for tabbing. We'll see how that goes over.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In which we wonder about Academy

CP claims that the rematch bug is fixed, and since that’s the biggest problem (much of the rest is learning curve or just weird irreproducible anomalies), that’s a big confidence restorer. To be honest, if the system’s ever going to go totally south, I hope it’s this coming weekend at Bigle X, when he’s there to suffer through it in person. Then again, I’d much prefer it stay north for the duration. There are so many improvements over what we were doing in TRPC that I’d hate to have to go back. If nothing else, the double-entry system has virtually removed tab errors from the equation (except for a couple of judges who have gone out of their way to write addled ballots that no amount of discernment, including their own, can interpret). That’s a way big thing. And two people working at once on separate screens when complications arise—not bugs, just the normal ebb and flow of tabbing—is much better than one person.

Meanwhile, there’s the issue of Academy. Simply put, the educational modules are mostly a bust. This surprises me, since one would expect that especially PFers, with a new topic always breathing down their necks, would be interested in getting whatever help they can. Given that Kaz was one of the moderators, with all her policy background and knowledge of federalism, it’s not going to get much better than that. But, nobody showed, and I gather LD was the same, despite the moderation of one of the region’s top LD coaches, i.e., Chetan. Go figure. Maybe it’s the timing during off flights? That was one suggestion for the lack of attendance, that people are just used to zoning out or whatever when they’re not debating. On the other hand, there was a module on minorities in debate led by Willie Johnson that was very well attended, scheduled between the last preim and first elim. A hot subject, obviously, and a better time. As for the moderated break rounds, the report was that they weren’t much different from any other break round, which sort of makes sense.

Conclusions? Well, I’m certainly not thinking that the elevated JV structure of the division is a problem. The timing of Byram Hills and Monticello are such that, short of them suddenly becoming quarters bids, you’re just not going to get much if any varsity participation, whereas the lack of need for hiring judges remains a real plus. So a tournament for intermediate students those weekends still seems to make sense. I would just say that the best thing to do is schedule whatever you’re scheduling as educational between the prelims and elims, and don’t try to get too cute with too many things other than the rounds themselves. It all seemed like a good idea (and, by me, it still does), but there’s not much point in giving the people what they don’t want.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In which CP is no doubt made dyspeptic

It was Bobcat weekend.

Everybody in Florida sent me photos of themselves lolling about in short pants sipping drinks with umbrellas and slathering suntan lotion on their pasty white bodies while the rest of us where sliding around on the ice in fear for our lives. Friday night and Saturday morning were at that 33 degree point where the underlying ice is made even more treacherous by a thin layer of melting. I lost six kids, a cup of coffee and, almost, my printer. I really regretted losing the cup of coffee.

I have to admit that the tech situation at Byram Hills is about the worst anywhere. Cell phones simply don’t work, and anyone not in airplane mode will have their battery run down before the cock crows thrice. O’C, while slathering as noted above, sent me a text that one of his judges was running late Saturday morning. It was a miracle that I received it. Which wouldn’t have mattered much if we were on normal network services, but Friday, using a student login, my Mac got bounced every ten minutes and I had to log in over and over again. That’s fun. And then Friday night, the only available printer, attached to the school computer, died. BH has a nice new building and is in a fairly ritzy neighborhood, but they might as well be handing Abe Lincoln a shovel and a piece of chalk as far as technology is concerned. (I wonder if their Intel finalists were presenting their discovery of baking soda volcanoes.) Anyhow, on Saturday, armed with my own printer this time (brought despite the treacherous weather), now I couldn’t log on at all, not even in ten minute bites, which means that the opening of the day was spent with me using my iPhone as a Geiger counter exploring through the building until I finally found service way in the back, where Kaz and I quickly relocated so that we could set up her hot spot. Oy. Needless to say, we did not use electronic balloting.

There were some new and some old anomalies with the software. Once again we saw teams re-paired in a subsequent round. The real problem with this is not that it happens (although obviously that’s a problem) but that it’s only detected after a pairing is released and some rounds have started. Keep in mind that we had 6 divisions this weekend, and there was no way on earth we could have manually checked for this. Another real poser was, for no discernible reason, a breaking student left off the list after the break was made. That is, he byed out of the run-off but disappeared in the pairing of the octos. But the system knew that something was wrong, and his pairing was blank on the schematic. And the 16 break point was leveled at 15. If it was going to dump the poor schmuck, at least it didn’t replace him with, say, the 17th seed, which would have been way worse. I excavated for quite a while to find a solution to that one, and I have no idea why it happened.

With the small divisions we’re getting handier at hand-pairing, which may be better simply done with cards. Hard to say. Kaz and I can do cards in the blink of an eye. If the pairing problem persists, and we’re not getting pairings half the time anyhow, it might make more sense with these kinds of fields.

My other general complaint is that, going by the normal setup, all rooms, despite how well you parse them out, are available for everything. If you select a room for novice LD, in other words, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be used for varsity 47-man Squamish. If one creates separate sites, however, that’s not the case. That’s easy enough to do, but it does mean that the general room default really only works if you don’t care who debates where. That may be true if it’s one division of something all by itself, but we don’t run many of those, and I don’t know who does. Otherwise, putting all this corridor for PF and that corridor for Policy, which makes sense to you, will eventually not make sense to tabroom, and will go by the boards. Also, the fact that you can’t actually delete a room once it’s in also is sort of baffling. Come to think of it, the whole room thing eludes me completely, but as I say, there’s a way around it, and I go that way. I tried to follow the rules according to Hoyle this time out, but a room that we were told was off limits, which I had never put into one of the pools, was, needless to say, the first migrant. How did it know?

Next time, evolving thoughts on Academy.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

In which we seek better mousetraps

We’ve pretty much set up the Academy stuff for Byram Hills.

It will all be on Saturday. First, there’s LD and PF brainstorming on the off flights of round 5. Then there’s a session for all on minorities in debate between rd 5 and breaks. And then the first break in each Academy division will be critiqued after the fact for the non-breakers. We’re now in the process of recruiting the module leaders. And there you are.

This seems congruent with what we’ve learned so far. Saturday, once the tournament is in full swing, is better than Friday, when people mostly still have their minds on the debate at hand. And a little goes a long way. The only question mark is how a session works in that elim/prelim interstice. Given that the tournament’s fairly small and we’ll be breaking mostly to Semis in the policy divisions, it shouldn’t be a problem schedulewise. But will people want to hear it? It won't be because the topic isn't intriguing, but if folks get lured into lunch instead, it could be spotty. We'll see.

As long as we are not confronted by the S word. Again.

I have to admit, though, that I’m a little disappointed in the numbers for the Academy tournaments. We certainly brought Monti up a lot, but we didn’t break the bank, and we’re about where we were last year with BH. Given the extremely small number of tournaments that offer invitationals for intermediate debaters, you’d think that people would jump on them. Oh, well. I’m far from giving up on the concept, but maybe I’m flogging a dead horse. I just hope that people realize that small, non-headliner tournaments can only last for so long, and once they’re gone, they’re probably gone for good. What incentive would anyone else have to try to build on these weekends? They’ll never get bids, needless to say. And if people don’t want to go to X.1 to debate, why would they start showing up at X.2?

Of course, we have built a number of tournaments up, most notably UPenn. It did have a clear vision of why it existed, and that helped. That’s why I’ve pushed the Academy idea, to provide a clear vision for the local non-bidders that needed help. If someone has a better vision to propose, this would be the time to propose it.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

In which I defend my silence

I haven’t been able to do a lot of what I want to do lately because of DJ issues, i.e., they’re paying me and you’re not, and there’s only so many hours in the day. The biggest thing I have hanging fire is an analysis of MJP for the NDCA, which I’ve worked in off and on, but which has so many ins and outs that it’s taking forever. As soon as you spot one issue, another pops up, and this has nothing to do with the main issue plaguing MJP at the moment, i.e., exclusion.

Meanwhile, one does have to also absorb a new PF topic every month. No wonder LD so strongly jumps on the January-May topic, so to speak. You get it, you’ve got it, and there you are. The mental turnover on PF topics requires a whole different mindset, both for me and for the debaters (and this is presumably similar to other teams). I’m on it first, parsing it for presentation to the team, which means maybe a week goes by. Then they’re on it, researching it, and maybe two weeks go by, and then they’re writing cases, and another week goes by and all of a sudden the first round debating it is about to start. Plus they’re also doing distracting things like attending high school and navigating adolescence. (Which I guess is somewhat like me working the DJ and navigating senescence). Then there’s the one plebe who is thinking of trying LD again, the prevalence of debilitating diseases among the high school set (we had only half attendance last night), the sun so hot we're freezing to death, wondering if there will ever be enough rooms to even run Dec at the Gem, ordering buses and hotels and the like and then canceling the buses and hotels, trying to figure out Scarswegia’s pairing rules and making sure that all the right buttons are pressed or not pressed for the Bobcat, figuring who’s going to run the brainstorming sessions of Academy, etc. Plus a bunch of other stuff.

Okay, I’m whining. Sorry about that. I was doing much better over Christmas vacation, with all sorts of sleep and relaxing and playing Transportation Tycoon on my new iPad (the best time-suck since RCT, or actually, the time-suck that preceded RCT, written by the same people and recently ported over to IOS, boding well for an eventual port of RCT). Of course, the real problem is that I’ve been doing musicals quizzes with JV on Quiz Up, and he’s killing me. The bastid!

Monday, January 06, 2014

Newark in a day - a traveler's guide

There’s nothing quite so bracing as two days of debating squeezed into one. But at least we had the one, which is way better than none.

There was a lot of run-up activity for Newark, not least of which was the cancelled round robin. As it turns out, using the software requires an awful lot of it is run-up, period. There’s more buttons to press and things to set up than sending a rocket to Mars. And if any of it isn’t right, all hell breaks loose. By now I’m pretty good at setting things up myself (although CP probably wouldn’t agree), but most tournaments do their own setups and I just jump in while the rocket is on the launching pad. I would have done it this way, but they did it that way, and, well, there you are. So it goes. Anyhow, tabbing, whatever the software, is ninety percent solving problems in situ, so that’s what you do. If everything ran perfectly and all debaters and judges were angels, we wouldn’t need tab staff.

One of the mires of tabroom is, when there are lots of activities—and Newark had two each of PF and LD, a full suite of speech and congress, plus policy and an RR (the only things that didn’t happen)—there are so many scheduling slots that the average person looking at it just wants it all to go away. When you’ve set it up for three days including RR and compress it down to one day, there are even more scheduling slots. Eventually I had it set up to make sense, and one has to do this because you can’t just fudge it, but it only made sense to me, so it was a good thing that I didn’t keel over in the middle of the tournament, because in addition to all the disruption of shipping me to the morgue, they would have had to untangle the schedule.

And we were using e-ballots, the setup for which, for the average judge, means you go to tabroom and click a button and maybe type in your phone number, but for the less than average judge it means coming to tab early and often and carping about life in general, technology in more specific terms, and then every round as it happens in even more granular terms, until when you see one of these people coming, you want to head for the hills, and they do keep coming. If you can get neither e-balloting nor old-fashioned paper balloting right, you’re sort of hopeless, but no, it’s not your fault so why don’t you talk to Mr. Cruz here, who’s half comatose from jet lag and is spending most of the day entering rogue NFL points. He’s the man to solve all your problems with a smile, and he’s the only one in the tab room who can do it while simultaneously texting—but we won't go there.

On the other hand, e-balloting does work very well for most people, and by the end of the day, everyone was either plugged in or pulled out of rounds in favor of people who were plugged in. The time savings is enormous, and if you have to keep a tournament moving, the hapless are the first to get jettisoned.

Speaking of hapless, there is apparently some Thai restaurant delivery guy still knocking on random doors throughout Newark two days later, texting O’C messages that this is an apartment, not a school, but that’s a subject for another day entirely.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Actually, I'd prefer if you didn't let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

So I guess this is going to be the year of the snowstorm. We just managed to escape it at Princeton, it beat us into submission at Ridge, and now it’s undermining Newark, which will scrunch itself into a one-day event.

Oh, the humanity! This is why I don’t book any rooms without a cancellation policy this time of year.

The saga of Newark this year has not been an easy one. First of all, with the Super Bowl taking place just down the road on their normal weekend, there was no way to get reasonable hotel rooms as we usually do. So they had to find another weekend, which is virtually impossible on a calendar where every likely date is taken. So they came up with this weekend which, for some schools, is still part of the break. They ended up with good solid numbers though, despite the switch. But then a storm comes storming in, and there’s not much you can do about it.


Meanwhile, I haven’t given much thought yet to the February PF topic. I certainly read all sorts of opinion pieces on it back in the day, but the SCOTUS decision does seem to be based more on political view than facts, which probably won’t make for great rounds. On the other hand, at least it’s important political views, so there is that. Of course, I am beginning to feel the pressure of the snow that has been cancelling our meetings in addition to just cancelling tournaments. If there’s a meeting a week, that’s 4 a month. They seem to break down into: 1 – old topic; 2 – new topic deep background; 3; 3 new topic arguments; 4 – general strat/tactics. Take away any one of these and, well, you’re limping along.

I wish I were going to the Sunvitational. Their blizzards have so much less snow in them.