Friday, August 29, 2014

In which we swim, golf, eat, clog, ooh and ahh and consider assassinating the ten-year-olds who beat the crap out of us

Our second full day at WDW was a day off. Some of us went to Blizzard Beach and spent the morning flying down waterslides. Some of us went to Winter Park to look at Tiffany objects. O’C met up with friends for brunch. In other words, one does what one wants on the day off.

Blizzard Beach is fun, but like anything else, get there early before it crowds up. The 4 of us who went were only slowed down by the need to climb every mountain from which the slides commence. By noon, though, our quittin’ time, there were lines going up those mountains. By then I was navigating the lazy river portion of the experience. The others had gone on for a little more tobogganing before lazy rivering themselves.

By now, btw, Kaz had gone off to Lexington to learn how to be a teacher in her new job. Despite the fact that many of us would have offered expert testimony that this initiation was unnecessary, she was gone from Monday night to Thursday. This means she missed out on the Mini-Golf Tournament. We played at Winter/Summer Land, which is attached to Blizzard Beach. Lots of Santa and snow. After last summer’s hard fought battle in the shadow of Stuyvesant, the heat was on, but I managed to bring my record against Vaughan to one-one. We need a tiebreaker. Are there any tournaments on the circuit near to any mini-golf venues? That’s definitely a problem debate needs to solve.

That night we visited the Boardwalk and ate Greek food at the soon-to-close Cat Kora’s. It was pretty good, but not to die for. The next day was the first of two at Epcot. The new version of Test Track is a dramatic improvement over the original. You get to design your own car and that is what you are testing during the attraction. I went on with JV, who was thoroughly pissed that the two ten-year-olds sitting behind us designed a better car than we did. (Not that Joe is competitive or anything.) Then there’s a design-you-own-ride called Sum of All Thrills, sort of a hidden attraction, lots of fun. Then Space and, of course, Soarin’. After that, over to England, Japan and, for lunch, Morocco. And by now it’s way into the afternoon, and time for a nap, since the night’s entertainment was Raglan Road (Irish dinner with clog dancers), followed by Cirque de Soleil. Fantastic evening all around. Cirque is always a big crowd pleaser. The clog dancers were pretty good too, and the six of us had to tie Vaughan down to keep him from joining them, as he claims to have spent his entire youth in clog classes. Whatever.

I will point out that by now we were taking a relatively easy pace through the parks. They were no longer as crowded as they had been, plus by their nature, the parks other than MK at WDW are easier to handle. Even if there were no lines at all, I can’t imagine doing everything at MK in one day. Then again, at this point in my Disney life, I can survive skipping an attraction that I’ve already done. There’s always next time.

By the way, I've posted some pix of Universal on FB. I'll get the WDW ones up by the end of the weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In which the DisAd hits MK

We kicked off at Magic Kingdom, the most Disney of the WDW parks.

The day begins early, of course. You don’t go to Orlando to sleep in. One needs to be inside the gate at 15 minutes prior to opening to watch the welcome ceremony, which puts one in the proper Disney state of mind. Then follows the all-important first hour of E tickets. The best way not to wait on long lines at any park is to hit as many E-ticket attractions as possible within the first hour. This means moving along swiftly, but it pays off in the end. By ten o’clock we had done Space, Splash and Thunder plus Under the Sea (or whatever they call it). Then we headed to Haunted Mansion, a whole 20 minute wait, and the worst of the day. After that is was mostly walk-ons, thanks to having dispensed with the biggies, or scheduled FastPasses for them later in the day.

In the new FastPass+ system, you sign up in advance, so that’s another 3 E-tix, if you play it right. It was obvious that a lot of noobs were in the parks, especially on MK day (a reported 8 out of 10 crowd, per I mean, what’s the point of a FastPass for Space Mountain at 9:00 a.m. when you can just walk right on? Or what’s the point for a FastPass for an attraction that never has much of a wait any time of the day? Successful navigation of Disney parks requires a combination of Unofficial Guide planning, time management and FastPass savvy. Regulars know all this, but irregulars don’t. One morning we had off, we went to breakfast at our hotel at around 9:00 and the place was packed. These are the people who, later in the day, will be waiting an hour for a two-minute ride. I encourage them to maintain their late-sleeping habits, at least when I’m on property.

New stuff at MK? 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, a cute and short little kiddie coaster cum dark ride, not worth waiting for, but since it’s new, the line for this was humongous (in the sun in the heat). The aforementioned Little Mermaid, a simple dark ride writ large, also cute. Some kiddie and princess stuff we didn’t do (except for O’C, who after waiting half an hour for Cinderella’s signature examined said signature with all the tools of the graphologist’s trade to assure that it was the same as the signature of Cinderella 4 years ago, even though, as I’ve repeated ad nauseum, there is no Cinderella, and if there were, it isn’t her). Tiki Room back under old management, enjoyable to any Disney nostalgic. And I think that’s about it. Otherwise it’s the same old same old that we always love. It was a long day, ending with the electrical parade and fireworks and, oh yeah, one other new thing, a son et lumiere projecting images on the Castle, which was way cool.

And so to bed, with most of us having made it through the whole day. And one important note: Part of our traveling includes knocking little kids and invalids out of the way on our way to the exit buses. Please note that my attempt to take a shortcut through the Emporium was stymied by one doofus ambling along as if he was shopping or something. Those aisles are narrow and there’s no play, unlike Main Street where there’s always an opening. This is wisdom for the ages, people!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In which we start our debate season and wonder about the Pup backlog

We interrupt this WDW reverie to report on debate stuff.

Last night was the first meeting of the returning Hendronauts. Well, four of them, anyhow. A few were AWOL, and a couple were looking at colleges. We argued a bit about LD, my feeling being that a case should show that organ procurement is a social good, and therefore a part of a just society, versus the idea that a case should define a just society in such a way that organ procurement fits in. That just seems backwards to me. Then we listened to much whining about the PF pro, which no one seems to like from Stefan B on down, although intuitively I feel there must be something there. I uncharacteristically committed to doing some research. The thing is, I always think that the debaters should be doing the research, in that it’s part of their education and, to tell you the truth, I actually already know how to research and am not looking to improve my skills in that area. Shouldn’t I be training them to research for themselves? Silly me. Of course, I know a lot of coaches who disagree with this, who cut cards and whatnot. More power to them. I just feel that it’s not my job. Next thing you know, they’ll want me to write their cases for them! That’ll be the day.

We also ran through a little exercise. Shades of Soddy: I wanted them to do “Modern Major General.” The ones who read their email were shockingly good at it. I need to raise the ante a bit. “Getting Married Today”? After that we ran through some Robert Burns. If patter doesn’t get ‘em, the Scots will.

And it turns out that there are new Nostrumians among the Sailors. Great Googly Moogly! Who knew?

Meanwhile, the Pup waitlists in PF and LD remain larger than the accepteds. If you’re a reader of this blog, I would strongly suggest that sending me an email asking me to do something about that is a waste of energy. You’re better off emailing everyone else on the list and convincing them not to come. Hell, you’re a debater. Argue them out of coming. The thing is, most people think that
  • coming from a great distance
  • being the best debater since the creation of the human animal
  • living really close and always thinking that of all the Ivies, Yale is the best
  • demanding to speak to my manager
  • acting real friendly to me, buddy buddy (as if I can remember names and faces two minutes later)
  • slipping me fifty bucks (well, actually one’s offered to slip me fifty bucks, so that might actually work, if anyone wants to try it)
will somehow convince me to take other people out of the tournament and put them in. Or maybe they expect me to run up and construct an extra building or two? Beats me. Hope springs eternal, however. We should get a bit of a lurch next week when we drop TBAs, but as CP points out, most people will just fill in names of some sort. Most but not all, methinks.

We'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In which the DisAd switches venues

Arriving at WDW is way different from arriving at Universal. WDW is the size of Romania, for one thing. You drive quite a bit from the moment you enter the grounds to the moment you find your hotel. And once you enter those grounds, you know you are at Disney. It just feels like Disney, from start to finish. The underlying tissue missing at Universal is at WDW in spades. And keep in mind that, while figures on an individual park are hard to find (Disney groups the parks together), each one generates about a billion dollars revenue a year. There’s 4 parks at WDW, i.e., four billion dollars. Magic Kingdom gets about 19 million visitors a year (all of whom are often on line in front of you for Space Mountain). August is not a peak period, but the parks are far from empty. So let’s say that MK generated $4 million the day we were there, spent by about 50 thousand people. One park, one day. So while one is in awe of the physical plant that services a crowd of this magnitude (roughly times 4, daily, on an average day), one still feels that sense of "Disney reassurance" that certain critics have written about. I won’t go into that now myself. I just bring all this up because, predictably, at some point the members of the DisAd looked around and said Wow and started googling facts and figures to try to get a handle on it. Even people who hate Disney from the bottom of their souls are encouraged to go and study it just in terms of management of crowds, machines, hotels, restaurants, entertainment, etc. Tis a wonder.

We stayed at Coronado Springs, one of the moderate hotels. It’s the biggest of this category because it caters to business conferences, and at times one wished one were at one of the more intimate spots. The rooms are all the same no matter where you are, however, presumably short of the Grand High Poohbah Suite at Swan and Dolphin, and one doesn’t spend a lot of time in one’s room wondering what to do to pass the time, so ultimately it doesn’t matter much. The first thing most of us did on arrival was hit the quiet pool near our room, something repeated for the rest of the week at every likely possibility. When it’s almost a hundred degrees out, a dip in the pool is just the thing, even if the water is hotter than your shower that morning. Wet is wet.

Our inaugural WDW dinner was at California Grill, at the top of the Contemporary Hotel. This is a classy joint with a view of the MK to die for (and to stay for, if you want to watch the fireworks). Because we were celebrating about a hundred events, including an anniversary and a (belated) honeymoon, they decorated our table with little Mickey tinsel. Jason, our waiter, was memorable, and we went so far as to get our picture with him. The wine flowed like wine, the food flowed like food, and the main portion of the trip was underway. And so to bed early, for a c of d start the next morning.

Monday, August 25, 2014

In which we begin debriefing DisAd14

So first I guess we need to get the DisAd out of the way.

We arrived from the four corners of the earth (i.e., New York) on a Friday and met up at the pool of our hotel at Universal. To put it simply, it was hotter than Hades, and remained that way for the duration. Occasionally the skies opened up and the winds howled and you were reminded of India during the height of monsoon season, but mostly it was just hot and humid. To expect otherwise of Florida in August would be sort of, I don’t know, Polyanna-esque? Anyhow, after swimming off the muck of air travel, we moseyed on over to Emeril’s for our welcome dinner. It was much better grub than you might expect, and we were primed and loaded for the next day.

Staying on property at Universal gives you two things: access to the Harry Potter attractions an hour before the park opens to the riff and the raff, and line-passing for all the other attractions for the duration. This meant getting up at the c of d on Saturday, but the payoff would be not waiting two or three hours for the HP rides. Definitely worth it. Of course, on our way in Saturday, three of our hearty troupe got separated, confusing Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (some people just aren’t up on their Pottering), but a quick trip on the Hogwarts Express solved that one. The main agenda was Diagon Alley and the Gringotts attraction, and in a word, it’s amazing. You walk through the bricks and there you are. And the ride was by far one of the best around. After that, we (logically) rambled over to track 9 3/4 and rode the HE over to Hogsmeade. A few of us rode the dragon coasters. Fewer of us rode and rerode them. Then we looked at the line for Hogwarts and it wasn’t that long, so we staggered over there on legs still loosey goosey from the dragons, with the words of Sheryl K ringing in our ears that it was not much more than Soarin’ in its kindness and gentleness. It’s a great ride and all, but by the time it was over, at least Vaughan and I were reeling like drunken sailors on day three of shore leave. Apparently as the ride vehicle (so to speak) comes around after the passengers have disembarked, there’s a team with power hoses washing off the vomit, a tiny fact Kaz somehow overlooked. After digesting her review of Hurlwarts, more than a few of us vowed never to believe a word she said ever again. We also vowed next time not to ride the dragons first (or maybe at all). By the time we scraped ourselves off the pavement to line up for butterbeer, Kaz, who was with the wandering group, reappeared, and we beat the crap out of her with broomsticks. Butterbeer, by the way, is very sweet and probably best taken as an ice cream flavor. Somewhere in all of this I bought myself a Slytherin cap, but the maid at the Disney World hotel stole it—which makes cosmic sense to me—so you won’t see me wearing it at tournaments any time soon.

After filling up on HP, we did various other Islands of Adventures things, reminding ourselves that Spiderman remains one of the great dark rides. Having gotten soaked on Jurassic Park, we found some lunch and moseyed back to the hotel for a break just as the monsoon du jour started. A short nap later we were back at the other side, doing all the rest of the rides and whatever. Having gotten all of HP out of the way, we didn’t need to get up so early the next day, which was nice, and all in all, we did Universal efficiently and to the proper extent. There was a lot of fun stuff. Despicable Me and Shrek were cute. The Mummy was so good we did it twice. The Simpsons Ride was up there on the Gringotts/Spiderman level, and it’s hilarious from the moment you get into the line. If Back to the Future had to go, at least it went here. The new Transformers ride had a narrative that was completely incoherent, making it A) predictably Michael Bay, and B) a pale imitation of Spiderman. Oh, well.

Overall, with the exception of the HP areas, the theming of which is astounding, Universal remains a place with a lot of fun attractions, but no underlying tissue holding it together. I would recommend anyone interested in going to do what we did. Stay on property for the benefits of early and/or line-free access, in which case you’ll be able to wrap it up in a day and a half, as we did. It was a perfect start for the trip, and mid-afternoon on Sunday we packed up and headed over to WDW.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In which we tell you to go elsewhere

Last night CP, OC and I chewed the rag on the issue of overbooked registrations. Listen all about it here.

Speaking of rags, before the show we ragged on everyone we could think of in the debate community, just to get warmed up. If you have nothing good to say about people, you might want to join us for one of these sessions in the future.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In which movement is slight, and the weather prediction is, for lack of a better word, predictable

I check in on the Pups waitlist every day, and there’s literally no movement. I sent out a begging message to people to get honest and move out if they’re not taking their allotted slots, but I might as well have sent out a message offering free pokes in the eye with a sharp stick.

Tonight I’ll chat up CP and O’C on the whole waitlist issue. I wanted them particularly because CP invented the software that manages it, and O’C has enough waitlisted entries of his own to populate another couple of tournaments entirely. Yes, there will be attrition, but still… We’ll go over what people said on the NDCA site. We ought to be able to wrest a plan out of that.

Meanwhile, the assembled DisAd14 multitude is champing at the bit. At least I’m champing at the bit. I acquired a new camera for the journey, one of those small DSLRs that weigh about half as much as a regular DSLR. I broke it in over the weekend. I’m still learning the ins and outs of it, but the pictures look great and, in a shocking development, I can report that it is much easier to lug around something that weighs half as much as you’re used to lugging around. It’s really not a noticeable burden anymore, and that’s with an extra lens in the backpack. Although I’m thinking that the longer zoom may be the better normal lens, all things considered. It’s 40 on the bottom, which plays out, I think, a little bigger than 40 used to be on a camera (don’t ask why I think that—it’s technical, and I learned it on the street from the other kids, and look how badly they screwed up the birds and the bees for me). In any case, my experience makes me wonder if I would be happy just leaving it on most of the time. We’ll see. The DisAd should give it the workout it needs. Key for me is the ability to shoot with a polarizing filter. Blue skies, nothing but blue skies!

Okay, I just looked at the extended weather forecast for Orlando. In the 90s every day with a likelihood of t-storms. In Florida in the summer? Whoda thunkit?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

In which we further ponder waitlists as big as the Ritz

I keep getting people telling me they shouldn’t be on the waitlist, and I’ve been finding that agreeing with them is the best policy, and then I refer them to the NDCA blog post. Not that there’s answers there (although there may be) so much as at least there’s understanding. And I do want to solve this, because I’m going to have to go through it all again for the Tiggers.

An underlying problem with most of the proposed solutions is that they’re onerous. They force the tournament do take difficult measures. And they punish the registrants. Severe entry limits? Well, you get more schools, but is that what you really want, especially at the expense of your longtime stalwart supporters, the schools that have been there year after year with an army or two? Fines or early fees? As CP points out, TBAs are for convenience. Making people put in real names, which really aren’t real, is just punishment for being realistic. Which also means not eliminating TBAs altogether, as well as charging for them way early.

The thing is, the idea that you have to sign up at a certain moment, and that’s your warrant for priority, while seemingly fair, is rather punishing. The coach of one of your favorite programs gets called away for a minute, and is thus too late to get in any team members? It looks to me like a lot of programs assign registration to some kid, poised at the computer as if they’re trying to cop tickets to a hot concert. I mean, really. It’s come to that? The arbitrary nature of first come, first served may have as its only virtue its arbitrariness; it's not a great measure of whether a team is tournament-worthy.

Obviously this is a problem only with certain tournaments, and I’ve heard from folks who say they would kill to have this problem, but in fact, those certain tournaments tend to have national draws, making them everyone’s problem. (And no, you don’t want to be in our position, because I assure you that you have neither the time nor the inclination to answer all the emails, at least not to everyone’s satisfaction.)

I’m going to be mulling this over for a while. I’ll probably throw together the next podcast on this subject.

Monday, August 04, 2014

In which we manage the Pups

Talk about your flurries of activity.

The Pups opened on Friday. It was all waitlist, mostly because we want to be able to manage things a little bit, especially to allow people who need to fly in to have time to make arrangements. I’ve learned over the years that for some people, being on the waitlist and therefore not guaranteed a slot is not fair reason to be hesitant about buying a non-refundable plane ticket. I’ve also had people on waitlists tell me they have a ticket and that therefore they should be taken off the waitlists. I’ve had those people be ones who registered two weeks after a tournament opened.

I have learned from all of this.

On Saturday and Sunday JV and I cleared the waitlists. The thing is, there were up to three times as many registrants as there is capacity in some of the events. Holy Pup Moly! Big Jake also seemed to have very high numbers this year. Is there something in the water we don’t know about? With the Ivies, of course, it includes a lot of people just wanting to visit the school. Even when some of these venues were, shall we say, stinkers, people were still breaking down the doors. With Jake, though, it’s pure desire for $ircuit debate, or at least mostly that desire. It’s not exactly a vacation in Manhattan, despite its official name. The tournament is in the Bronx, and you’re probably staying at a motel in the world famous town of Elmsford. Not exactly bright lights, big city.

Anyhow, the Pups strategy was, first, clear off the far-aways, then hit the rest first-come, first-served. When we were done, I sent out a message to one and all, which immediately generated the predictable when am I going to get off the list questions. Given the numbers we’re talking about, e.g., 200 capacity in PF and 227 on the waitlist after hitting that capacity, I can honestly say that I haven't a bloody clue. Unless you’re, say, next on the list, how can I possibly tell? Although CP says he has some new metrics built into tabroom to track registration dwindle. I’ll be curious about that. Nevertheless, the old mail box was quite full, reminding me of what the season actually looks like once it begins. I had forgotten.

I also dickered a bit with CP over the removal of TBAs. He maintains, I think correctly, that people just put in phony names if you call them on their unassigned slots. But I think that those people are the ones who are really coming. A name change or two won’t hurt anybody. But at the very least, TBAs still on the waitlist disappear when you press the button to do so in tabroom. It makes the lot of the waitlist manager that much easier. In any case, we’ll eliminate them the first week of September. Poof!

And in other news entirely, I was forced today to throw away one of my Disney souvenir tee shirts. The shoddy piece of crap was falling apart. Jeesh! It had the 20th anniversary logo on it, meaning that I had bought it in 1991. I provide this to you as a warning: if you’re buying Disney wearable merchandise, don’t expect it to be around after 23 years or so. The stuff just doesn’t last.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

In which we yammer

I'll just point you over to NDCA for my conversation with Adam Torson about the 2014-15 rezzes. Mostly we agreed. And mostly, they're good resolutions.

I wanted a couple more folks, but they didn't make it for whatever reason. Next time maybe we will get more voices. I'm not sure yet what to talk about, though. I'm sure something will come to me.

Friday, August 01, 2014

In which, without regret, we go to bed early

O’C chastised me for not registering for his tournament at midnight. Like that’s ever going to happen. A thousand people signed up, he says, in two minutes, or something like that. I’m sure they did. It’s a great and popular tournament. It’s curious, though, that the vast majority of the entrants have the same initials: TBA. Hmmmm…

I got the raw file from Adam for the NDCA podcast, and assembled the show last night. Aside from my Darth Vader breathing, it sounds fine. (Note to self: move microphone up a little bit up from the pie hole next time.) I’m still debating how to work it for final presentation. I could create a second blog page on the NDCA site just for podcasts, but I’m thinking that one is enough, and I’ll just list it on the designated podcast page and solicit comments via the blog. I also have to get it onto iTunes, which I trust is the same process as the good old days when I did Nostrum and TVFT. And finally, at the moment it has no intro, and I probably should throw something together. I should have all this done by the end of the day, the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

Full of inspiration from the Nat Soc Dark Arts, O’C is getting local coaches together for a season-opening lunch. That’s a good idea. Once we start doing tournaments, people are busy, well, doing the tournament. Time set aside to talk and plan will never hurt.

Anyhow, I have now registered for Jake, but am on the waitlist. Oh, the humanity. (Oh, the admin rights on tabroom—so much for humanity.) I’ve also registered for the Pups. The latter is real, because of the hotel room situation. Jake is more guess and golly, especially on the Speecho-American side. Ever try to get a Speecho-American to register for something two and a half months in advance? I did get one S-A who single-entered for Dec, which is admirably proactive on her part, aside from the fact that the tournament doesn’t offer Dec. Oh, well. That’s why the school hands out cattle prods to all the team coaches.