Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In which we pref

I have a tournament every weekend between next week and the middle of March. Every weekend. Most of them are big galumphing things, and all of them are unique. I mean, you can’t compare the single flights of e-balloted VLD at Newark to the it’s-our-first-trip-off-the-hog-farm mania of Columbia. Or the nuttiness of the MHL Blowout (which, for all I know, will blow out the MHL permanently) to the seriousness of Bigle X, or the switchback judging of Scarsdale to the Black Hole of Byram’s Academy Comeback (when Kaz will be in Pennsylvania, which apparently is as far away as she could get on such short notice). I’ll find someone to grab into tab there, but I’ll probably have to resort to very serious threats. “Your teams will never debate again at any tournament I tab!” That one works once in a while, although there have been coaches who have taken me at my word and used the threat as an excuse to quit altogether and get back all their weekends back, once and for all. Lucky bastids.

Newark is the first of this run. I’ve been working that one since the beginning of my tabbing days, fresh off the MHL conveyor belt. Newark used to have its two-day on a normal schedule, with an MHL joining them on Saturday. Depending on the size of the invitational, we had this weird venue back in the day. There was this school within walking distance of East Side, I think it was a grammar school, where everything was Lilliputian and we were tabbing in some sort of closet and you felt totally cut off from the real world, except that Jonathan brought in really good food for lunch. Since the move to the new Science building, Newark has been a joy, with a very nice tab room complete with microwave (the difference at any tournament between staring at the cold judges’ lounge food bleakly and grabbing it lustily for a little heating up and a fine feast—it’s all in the steam rising from the plate) and private bathroom. Jonathan backloads the LD division with enough judges to single flight, which moves things along admirably. This time—a first—we’ll be using MJP. JA has been vocally against this for a while, but seems to have either been won over or simply given in. He offers one wrinkle, though, which I’m surprised more folks haven’t taken me up on when I’ve offered it in the past. The priority will be 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 2-3, 1-2, 4-4, 5-5. That is, 2-3 prioritized over 1-2. As JA says, it’s a fairer match debating with your 3 in front of your opponent’s 2 than with your 2 in front of your opponent’s 1. As I say, I’ve offered this in the past, but no one raised their hand. Not that it happens all that often; we usually cover everything with mutual 1s and 2s, as I’ve explained in the past. But if you happen to be a school that has, shall we say, unique prefs, this may be more important to you. I mean, there are some schools that haven’t gotten a mutual 1 since the Carter Administration because they simply don’t have any 1s in common with anyone else in the field. Each of these unhappy families is unhappy in its own way, and it doesn’t seem to affect their success. Of course, people take mutuality way too seriously, as if the slightest shade off somehow guarantees a loss, which, again, I’ve discussed in the past as ridiculous. The best debaters win rounds in front of any judges, and the best coaches train their debaters to do so. Second-rate coaches spend their prep time complaining to tab. So be it.

I have heard tell, nevertheless, of folks who game the MJP system. Those who have tried to explain this to me have said that they mark some of their 1s as 2s or 3s or something like that, which might work if their round was the only one being scheduled, but honestly, with all the various restraints and priorities and whatnot, I think they’re living in the proverbial fool’s paradise. Or I am. Whatever. I only have one LDer left, a lone, lorn sophomore, and I do his prefs thus: people who I know hate me get struck. People who do a lot of judging get 1s and 2s. People whose first name is Mr. get 3-5 (because my LDer thinks he’s cutting edge, and no one name Mr. has ever noticed a spike on the flow since the beginning of time). That’s about it. My guy does okay. But, as has been pointed out to me often, what do I know?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In which we take advantage of the few minutes with nothing to do before we're off to see Top Five

I’m looking at a killer bunch of weekends beginning with Newark and ending with Penn. Each one has its own unique issues.

Newark is fairly straightforward, except for some reason there is an awful lot of detritus on the tabroom setup. I can’t really figure out why. Assuming that they simply cloned last year’s tournament, which we ran on tabroom, it should just bring in last year’s tournament. Instead, it seems to have brought in every tournament known to man, with myriad scheduling slots on the wrong day and none on the right day, plus a rather bizarre assortment of sites and rooms. Cleaning this up is just busy work, but it needs to be done. No big deal, just time consuming. Meanwhile Jonathan has thrown in the towel and is using MJP for the first time. Given that he’s doing single flights, he’s a bit worried how things will parse out, but my guess is that the large number of judges required will keep things the way they ought to be.

Then there’s Lexington. The good news here is that I’m not going to touch it. If CP can’t set up a tournament correctly, there’s no hope for the rest of us. And I’m curious to see how he sets up what. As a rule I should be doing what he does (I think), otherwise I get myself into trouble. Since for better or worse I’m probably Patient Zero, this can be an object lesson. (No, I’m not thinking what you think I’m thinking. I am not hoping for it not to work. I’m a better person than that. I’m hoping that not only does it not work, but it takes down all of Lexington HS, every ISP in a fifty mile surrounding radius, and either North Korea or Sony, whichever needs it most. And then I’ll turn to CP and say, “I didn’t touch it!”)

Following this is the Gem of Harlem. For which, at the moment, we have no rooms. No problem. We have days before this becomes an issue.

Last year’s Byram Hills Battle of the Five Wifi Armies has me shaking in my boots for this one. All I remember of that tournament is Kaz and I, lanterns in hand, stumbling in the dark as the winds and rain raged about us, searching for a room, any room, that had even marginal cell phone reception, given that the school turned off the internet for the weekend. I have been assured that in the interim they have installed wifi service to die for. Having almost died for lack of it last year, all I can do is hope.

Then there’s a breather at Scarsdale. We can let JV do the fire breathing and relax and enjoy one of our favorite events. Followed by the Quakers, who will be a whole ‘nuther story, but at the moment, are set up just fine.

And with that, a Merry Christmas to you too.

Monday, December 22, 2014

In which we rub its nasty little belly

I remember very clearly when I first started working in tab rooms how Richard Sodikow would run things from his clunky old Macintosh (clunky, that is, compared to the Macs of today). He sat on the closest thing in the given tab room to the throne therein, barking orders to his assembled myrmidons, typing away. Food would be brought in on silver trays from the judges’ lounge by a never ending parade of eunuchs, although I may be misremembering that last bit. But then every now and then there would be a stop in all activity when Soddie pressed the button to pair the next round. Everyone would hold their collective breath, waiting. And here was the thing. To make the round pair successfully—no certainty in those days of TR for the Mac—Soddie would slowly rotate his finger on the touchpad of the computer, making little continuous little circles until the program finally output the completed schematic. The collective breath of the room would exhale, Soddie would lift his finger, the parade of aphrodisiacs from the judges’ lounge would resume, the printer would start chugging away, and the tournament would continue apace until the next pairing.

I never questioned anyone about that circling finger, but I noticed that Soddie wasn’t the only one to do it. I just accepted it as part of the magic of making a tournament happen. Maybe it was a Mac thing. You had to rub the belly of the beast to make it purr, it seemed. When Jules and the Nostrumite wrote this up in Nostrum, they used the metaphor of sacrificing a goat to explain what happened in the sanctum sanctorum of the tab room. That seemed to be a reasonable comparison. The tab rooms were always closed, no one was allowed in and no one ever came out, information was sealed, and as often as not, things broke down and the sacrifices, so to speak, didn’t always satisfy the anger of the gods. So it went.

All of which is prelude to my oversight in not bringing a goat with me to the CFL tournament last Saturday, the legendary Regis Kristmas Klassik (AKA the Christmas Chlassich). A timely sacrifice could have been very helpful. The thing is, it turns out that tabroom.com needs its nasty little belly rubbed just as much as the old TR for the Mac. As I sauntered into the tab room Saturday after the registration closed (theoretically, as it seemed as if everyone who knew last week how to check in automatically had forgotten, and I had to pull teeth to find out who, exactly, had shown up that day) and confidently sat down at the computer, I encountered the first really disastrous inability to get things done correctly. The rounds that we were able to pair used rooms from the wrong pools. At least one round wouldn’t pair at all. According to CP, who, fortunately, was available, the former problem arose from my not rubbing the belly of the beast after making the room pools. I was supposed to save all the individual schedules again. Oh, yeah. That’s obvious. If you don’t do things in the right albeit secret order, they don’t get done. Which means if, for no particular reason, you’ve been doing it “correctly” in the past and this time you don’t, you have your friend James from Bro Tech manually enter the correct rooms (which, at least, you’ve learned to print out in advance for just such a contingency) while you try to figure out why this one particular division won’t double-flight. Well, in that case, a button I didn’t even know existed was clicked. Needless to say, CP would insist that I had pressed that button, and just as needless to say, I would insist that I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole dancer. Since I blog more than he does, even when I'm not blogging much, it is obvious that I am right and he is wrong.

A half hour later than our proposed start, we kicked things off. The good news is that we were only running three rounds, and until all the policy judges decided to go to one of the local gin mills before round 3—yes, seriously, they did all disappear for no reason whatsoever, given the fact that they were given a half hour break, minimum, for lunch—we never got more than that half hour off the mark. Curiously, aside from our starting friction, this event also became quickly identifiable as the Tournament of the Disappearing Maverick. First of all, we started out with mavericks up the wazoo. Then there would be more mavericks. Then there were mavericks who were turning into teams with two unique individuals, then they were one again, and then they were quitting the tournament, but then they wanted to come back, or leave again, or whatever. As a rule, I’m okay with mavericks at events like this, at it is better to debate with a handicap than to stay home and play Minecraft, but this time out, it seemed as if we had more lone motherless dogies than bona fide pairs, but in ever-recombining configurations. Go figure.

Anyhow, at the end of the day, the day ended (if there’s one mindless phrase I really hate, it’s “at the end of the day,” but here I'm using it literally, so the usage is excusable). Trophies were distributed, my little team of novices placed nicely, my judge picked up all her ballots, and I stuffed my pockets with the extra medals to give to Catholic Charlie next time I see him, if not before. Which meant that, for the next two weeks, I have no debates and, aside from a boatload of reading, no DJ.

I rewarded myself for this by upgrading my Spotify. I’m typing this while listening to the UK cast of “She Loves Me.”

Life is good. Sometimes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In which we make an immodest proposal amidst a cascade of beans

Somebody at the DJ has been cleaning out their closets. Which means I’ve just acquired as many crappy prizes as I can carry at one time. Big boxes o’ junk appear in the break room, and people grab them up as if they’re hiding the Ebola virus; in other words, for reasons that are hard to explain, I’m about the only one around here who wants “Ukulele Ike Sings Again.” Then again, old Cliff (his real name) voiced a certain iconic cricket back in the day, so how can I resist? This is why you want to speak well at Bump. From the DJ to the C.P. Closet at the chez to the Bump tournament to your very own assigned space in your very own house, if you have one. (Some kids just get piled one on top of the other in the basement. At least, that’s what they do in Scarsdale. I can’t speak for other places.) These are the best crappy prizes money couldn’t buy if it wanted to.

“Crappy prizes chosen at random, especially for you.” Ah, yes…

The Regis Kristmas Klassik (AKA the Christmas Chlassich) seems to have filled up suitably. I’ll have to meld the JV and V LDers to make them happen, I think, but otherwise it’s quite robust. Novice PF especially is on the lively side. The northeast will be among the last to loosen the reins on LD, but even so, PF is making its move.

In related news, I understand that next year the NSDA, having adopted my idea for the modest novice topic, will be adopting my comparable idea for varsity LD. There will just be one LD topic from now on, and it will repeat at every tournament until the end of time: “Resolved: Some b.s. or other that doesn’t matter because you’re just going to argue what you feel like arguing anyhow.” I’m calling it the E.I.L.D.R., the Eternal Irrelevant LD Resolution. Given that this is de facto what we’re doing already, why not just cut to the chase?

The Sailor entry this weekend has shrunk to just my newbies. One of them, by the way, was this year’s winner in Winter Bean Trivia. We did it Tuesday night, limiting it to the three categories of food, Disney and 60s music. Before long I jettisoned the music category, since although Capt Jake had suggested it, it turns out that no one on the team knows anything about the 60s except that Beatles might have recorded a song or two in them. Of course, one of the teams could name only a single Disney mouse. Timothy. Given that you get a bean per mouse, and that, uh, the corporate gestalt is a certain mus musculus creature, this had to be the nadir of the evening’s intellectual prowess. It didn’t match the unforgettable answer from years ago that the lead Muppet character was Hermit the Crab, but it comes close.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In which we excoriate the adjudicators

Here’s my New Year’s resolution, the first one I’ve made since I was about eight years old: I will try to get myself back in the groove. The DJ has been sucking my precious bodily fluids and upsetting my purity of essence, leaving about 11 minutes a day for everything else. I do not begrudge them this, and in fact, I sort of like having a lot of new stuff to do to fill the empty hours, which weren’t all that empty to begin with. But I feel that I’m shortchanging the Night Job as a result. That is not a good thing. Of course, there are only so many hours in the day, so something has to give somewhere. I guess this means no more bear-baiting.


I am beginning to regret every good thing I’ve ever said about judges, except for a couple of them, and even they’re a bit suspect. The judge pool in general has always had various issues, including delusions of grandeur, the inability to count to one round past their teams’ participation, and an inability to tell time, but this year everything seems to have been ramped up beyond tolerance. Judges are flouting their obligations, disappearing at the first sign of ballots, whining about every round—you name it. My question is, if you’re judging at a tournament, what exactly are you doing when you’re not judging? I mean, is it that much fun to sit in the judges’ lounge (or, more accurately, hide in the bathroom until the all-clear and then go sit in the judges’ lounge)? I’ve already bemoaned the Tiggers, where people have two hours off between each judging gig on Saturday. This is hard work? Judging per se is hard work? I certainly agree that it is work, and it is challenging, but if you want hard work, try something both physical and mindless.

One of the latest maladies affecting judges is commitmentosis. Judges who know better tell us that they’re only committed for [fill in ridiculously low number here] rounds. To which we respond, Parisian airport*: “Oh, really?” I realize that some tournaments on the high school level do run judges by commitment, but these are few and far between. I gather that it is commonplace at college tournaments, but if you’re judging this weekend and you don’t know whether you’re judging high school or college debate, I’ve got to wonder how well you’re in control of your stuff, so to speak. Here’s a dead giveaway: if you see me coming out of tab, it’s a high school, and you’re judging till the cows come home.

And don’t get me started on yabbo coaches showing up at their first tournament beyond the cabbage patch. New to the big wide world ought to mean that you spent some time reading the invitation of the tournament you’re attending, wouldn’t you think? You’re going to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to an event, wrapped in nothing but your blissful ignorance? Baby, it’s cold outside, and my sympathy for people who want to argue with the terms of the invitation is rather on the low side.

Anyhow, on the agenda upcoming are the Gem of Harlem, Newark, Bigle X, Penn, Byram Hills and Scarsdale, not in that order. Among these, the happy ones are all alike and the unhappy ones are each unhappy in their own way. My Christmas holidays will be filled to overflowing with poring over the tabroom setups and finding new boxes to click or unclick. I’ll use the coal in my stocking to heat the chez while I’m working on all of this.

*(Remember, if you were smarter, I’d be funnier.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

In which we go into Tigger tab

One of the things we did at the Tiggers was get Dario into the tabroom.com world. He was slightly (and rightly) hesitant about using it for the first time at such a venue, but he prepped up on it in advance and played around and read my lovely manual, so he was rarin’ to go by the time he arrived back in his home state. (Why anyone would ever move out of New Jersey is beyond me.) Everything worked pretty well for him, although to be honest, someone else set everything up, i.e., me. I continue to maintain that the real work of tabroom is setting it up right, and the day someone sets it up completely right, including CP, is the day it comes out of beta. Still, in actual practice, it does work great. Ballots go in, rounds come out. With a big field, it’s a piece of cake. And changing (and fining) judges goes like a breeze. What’s not to like? With a small field, on the other hand, well, good luck, but that’s not a flaw of tabroom. Small fields force us to break the rules, or even more accurately, keep changing the rules on the fly. If HAL 9000 couldn’t do that, I don’t know why tabroom should.

Still, there were a couple of problems. At least one of them CP now understands; apparently I was unclear in my hundred previous complaints about it. There’s a way of adding text to a ballot by entering it into some boxes, and the text I was entering just wouldn’t take. Given that some of this text was the phone number to report results, this was problematic, and a lot of ballots went out without the number, so we didn’t get the electronic feedback we usually get at the Tiggers. Worse, before round 1 the ballots wouldn’t print at all, and it was just a lucky guess on my part to look on this page, where yet a different box was filled with junk data. I deleted it, and things started moving again. At some point during the weekend I began thinking that the problem might be browser based, so I switched from Chrome to Safari, but that did not fix the problem. Oh, well. At least now CP claims to know what I’m talking about.

We also had some room pool leakage. The 5 PF rounds on Saturday are in their own rooms, as are the simultaneous LD rounds. But during the last round, a few of the PF rooms snuck over to the other pool. They had not done this previously, and there was no reason for them to do it now, given that we had made no pool changes all day. In other words, data creep. Go figure. We had a few free spots so we were able to solve it quickly enough, but it was a bit scary, forcing me to go over all the rooms for the rest of the tournament. Next time I’ll print up a pool list and hang it around my neck for the duration, so if something goes wrong I’ll have a record of how it’s supposed to be.

But these were minor issues, in that they got solved quickly. More importantly, the MJP worked beautifully. We made occasional improvements, but most of our double-checking uncovered no way to make things better. A couple of the break rounds went out without us touching a thing. Since we were only once stormed by someone demanding a different judge (and in a most annoying, uninformed and prejudicial fashion), I guess the attendees at large were pleased with the results. There is no question that MJP with tabroom is, round by round, about half an hour faster than MJP on TRPC. You just can’t argue with that. And since virtually all LD these days is MJP, well, there you are.

Monday, December 08, 2014

In which we are back home from Tiggertown

I realize I’ve been off the grid—or maybe it’s on the grid—a lot lately, whichever phrase means not writing anything here. As I’ve been saying, the DJ has been seriously sapping my time way beyond the 9 to 5; actually doing the debatey things I usually talk about in the leftover time precludes commenting on it here. In other words, it’s not as if there haven’t been interesting things to talk about in our little universe, it’s just that I’ve been living them rather than talking about them. I’m sure the VCA will forgive me for a while as I get things evened out.

This last weekend was the Tiggers. For some reason this outing brings in more newbies to the tournament world than most other tournaments. It seems as if half the teams attending email me in advance every five minutes telling me how new they are and asking questions and whatnot. They’ve never been away from home before and this is the first time they’re sticking their team toe into the circuitry waters. I have no idea why Princeton and not some other tournament. Maybe it’s the whole New Jersey thing. People don’t want to visit Princeton, they want to visit New Jersey. It is the Garden State, after all. Maybe they’re coming to see if they can find the gardens. Then again, maybe other tournaments have the same number of newcomers, but at those events the noobs keep their mouths shut. Or maybe I’m just being too nice. (No. That can’t be it.)

Now that we’re conducting run-offs more often, the idea of judge obligation is becoming increasingly difficult for some people, usually the newer ones, to understand. Not only did the Tigger invitation clearly state that the obligation went to the first full elim after runoffs, it stated it in seriously bold type. This means that reason number one for not showing up to the first full elim was that “it wasn’t in the invitation.” Nice try. “No one emailed me about that” is also a good reason for screwing up, on this and other things, although since I have godlike powers, when you come to me with that I can easily determine your email status, and if you’ve turned off accepting tabroom.com emails, you probably don’t want to complain that you’re not getting any. Of course, it is much better to come to tab and argue that the judging requirement is ridiculous and therefore you shouldn’t have to do it. I mean, yes, I really want to have that conversation. Although this is my favorite: Them: I need a round off; I judged every round today. I am suffering from neurasthenia, I am battling the sickness unto death, etc. Us: The schedule is set up so that after every round you have two hours off. This is the most luxurious schedule this side of paradise. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I did love that. While I can sympathize at normal tournaments when judges do pretty much work every round, but then again, when I go to my job in my morning, I am expected to work the whole day! Imagine that! I even usually eat at my desk. So if I’m judging at a debate tournament I should get plenty of time off? Feh. Of course, I also believe that tournaments shouldn’t go on endlessly. I spent a lot of time paring down schedules when I first started having some clout. But I was more worried about debaters than judges. I’m not saying judging is easy, but as jobs go? I can think of worse.

Speaking of judges, there does seem to be a belief among regular college-student judges that they are so valuable that they don’t really have to show up to pick up their ballots until the spirit moves them, if at all, thus doing their level indirect best to get the tournament off schedule. The last ballots picked up are always, inevitably, the highest preffed college student judges. Again, with a two-hour break, there’s no excuse for this. At the Tiggs, we stopped posting the judges and demanded everyone show up for judge assembly. This meant that ballots went out, straight or pushed, in about 5 minutes, compared to the half hour of phoning and hair-pulling that we started out with. The thing is, if you post the judges, people who aren’t on the posting stay at the saloon where they’re drowning their sorrows rather than hauling themselves over to judge assembly. Hence, no backup judges. This seems to be location dependent, and for some reason the Tiggers has it worse than anyone else, I think. At a tournament where there’s nowhere to go, like the Pups on Saturday, you don’t have to do this, because any judge who didn’t pick up is upstairs in the library. So one has to go with the flow of the geography, which is different every time. CP, of course, would say that e-ballots would solve, and I appreciate that argument to some degree, but not here. Half the judges weren’t linked, if you throw in the novice rounds sharing the same rooms as the varsity (hence the two hour up and down).

Still, working the Tiggers is fun. Like all the colleges we work, the hosts are great company and work hard, and the vast majority of the attendees get a good tournament and are appreciative of all that goes into that. So in a nutshell, it was a long, tiring but satisfying weekend.