Thursday, February 26, 2015

In which we find ourselves endlessly amusing

I was wrong. Lakeland is using 9 tiers rather than ordinals in its policy MJP. I have no idea why they've changed from last year, but as I think I reported after Lexington, 9 tiers is fine mathematically, once you wrap your mind around the likelihood of lots of one-off rounds. Since those one-offs are theoretically closer than some mutuals in a 6 tier system, 9 tiers can make sense, especially with a lot of judges. My main objection against using them at the tournaments I’ve been handling has mostly been the overloading of new stuff on people. Change management is a complicated business, but let’s face it. The users I’ve been dealing with have been LDers and PFers, with their attendant teams, fields and pools. Policy is much more mature in all those areas, and they have different expectations. So the 9 makes sense this weekend.

Next weekend, the one after this one, is our qualifier for CatNats. Registration closes soon, and it looks as if the numbers will be small. As it turns out, the Sailors are tossing their annual musical that weekend, which will no doubt thin down our personal numbers substantially. I know I’ve already lost my senior PF team to the gods of theater, and no doubt a few Speecho-Americans will also be swept up into the tide as well. I’m curious to know our final number. I won’t be able to go to CatNats myself, so I’ve made it clear that if you qual, send me a postcard. I’ll be away on vacation the couple of weeks prior, and way too bogged down at the DJ to head out immediately for another weekend after that. Life just doesn’t work that way. (Too bad work isn’t confined to working hours, but if it were, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much.)

And last night, while editing Nostrum, I actually had forgotten one scene that actually had me laughing out loud. Needless to say, one shouldn’t laugh at one’s own jokes, but I wrote it over a decade ago and I’d forgotten it completely, so I think I can be forgiven. It’s a scene based on what they used to do at Villiger (and maybe they still do it), the pullback of the curtain to reveal a dazzling display of trophies. Except this year, among the trophies, is a coffin displaying the corpse of a fallen debate god. And, well—eh, go read it yourself. 

I become more and more convinced that Nostrum needs to be more than just collected. There's just too much stuff there worth re-sharing, old though it may be. I'm looking at something mid-week. After all, "If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum," was the standard introduction pretty much from the getgo.

If this is Wednesday, must it still be Nostrum?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In which we look to yet another upcoming weekend

I just posted a little piece on dealing with mixed judge pools over on Adventures in Tabroom, if you follow that sort of thing. Meanwhile—prepping for Lakeland this weekend, one way or another.

There’s the team, of course. Last night the Sailors attempted a practice round, pretty much over my continuing protestations throughout of “What?” “Are you running to catch a bus?” “Is there any link at all between any of what you’re saying and globalization?” and “Would it kill us to actually have a definition of globalization?” and other witty phrases along those lines. As virtually everyone under the PF sun has pointed out, a debate over “Resolved: Globalization is Good” would have been great fun, since you could argue either Glob Good or, on the other side, Glob Bad, and everything interesting about globalization would have been on the table. “Globalization reduces poverty,” on the other hand, being a matter of determinable fact, forces one’s brains to fall out prior to attempting to write cases. Oh, well. I still sort of think that links of some sort from globalization to what one is running in one’s case is sort of a necessity, but most people in the room last night seemed to feel otherwise. What do I know? I’ve made it pretty clear what I think the link chain ought to be, as I’ve tried in vain to explain that a McDonalds in Paris is an example of globalization, and that if you have no definition that excludes a Royale with cheese, you’ve lost me from the getgo.

I just wasn’t made for these times.

On the positive side, they’re mixing and matching teams, so one each of my grizzly veterans is debating with one each of my up-and-comers. I like that. The U and Cs can pick up some pointers in the field as they debate. The confidence level and speaking skills are sooooo radically different; if the young ‘uns can just pick up a nickel’s worth of what the old ‘uns do so well, it will have been worth it.

Meanwhile, there’s the tabbing side of the tournament. They run policy wildly different from the way we run LD and PF, with round-by-round commitments and ordinal prefs. Brian M is the guru of all of that, which he is used to on the college side. He is one of the few certified wizards who run it pretty much every week and know how to make it roll over and beg as needed, so the whole tournament is in good hands, although it’s not an exaggeration to say that the concentration of effort is on the policy side. Duh. Nevertheless, there’s not just novice and varsity LD and PF, there’s also middle school PF and, although we won’t be touching it with the proverbial ten-footer, 3-person middle school Parli. Egads! Kaz and I managed admirably to juggle all of this last year, so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again, although the proliferation of Capitol teams and all the conflicted judges as a result is problematic. Actually, I think Lakeland is the first tournament I’ve worked all year that’s let in club entries, beyond just Capitol. Don’t look at me. I’m just hitting the buttons on the computer.

They’re also looking for total e-ballots. I don’t know if they’ll be able to pull it off in the middle school divisions (they were pretty nutty last year at State), but the rest should be all right. Given that Lakeland fulfills my prerequisite for e-balloting in that it’s location pre-establishes a captive audience, it should be fine, except for the inevitable PF parent who hasn’t brought a computer, tablet, phone, or any other technological device crafted within the last fifty years and who will demand a printed ballot.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In which we discuss what we did instead of the Blowout

Not much shaking on the home front. Or chez front, I guess, to be more precise. We cancelled the Blowout relatively early in the game, when it was apparent that not enough people were coming. Given the costs associated with running a tournament, like custodians, for instance, you can’t just do this stuff willy nilly. How much money should the Bronx pay to debate the Bronx ended up being the big question.

As I indicated yesterday, I’m about done with the MHL. It has served its purpose well for many years, but its purpose no longer needs the MHL to serve it. If there’s an active UDL circuit in the city, and if they’re willing to accept the MHL folks, then I say go with it. Of course, the VCA knows that I have often bemoaned the lack of support of local debate we often see. Local debate around here allows people to enjoy the benefits of forensics without the commitment of offering the sacrifice of their firstborn, when the time comes. Debate as part of a healthy diet, in other words, rather than an entire diet consisting of nothing but debate. For those hearty souls who enjoy that monolithic diet, have fun. There’s a $ircuit out there just waiting for you. But for everyone else, the alternative of doing just some debate seems reasonable. That’s why I moved over from LD to PF. I got tired of losing students who couldn’t stomach the harsh diet. Unfortunately there are a lot of $ircuit opportunities around here, and they command most of the attention. So it goes, eh?

Having no tournament to go to on Saturday allowed me to attack a very big chunk of the Nostrum repurposing. I had hoped to get the Kindle edition out last Fall, but I underestimated the size of the thing and the amount of work necessary. It’s now all in one file, and it’s about 1800 pages. Do you have any idea how much writing that is? Jeesh! What was I thinking? Anyhow, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s only a couple more chapters to edit, and it will be done. Or at least The Original Series will be done, and I can get that volume out. It will solely consist of the (occasionally annotated) original episodes. Volume 2 will be the Epistles of St. Jules to the Forensicians, the lost Tennessee Williams High School Chronicles, Nostrum Series 2 (The Next Generation) with the Julean epistles in their proper positions, and finally, the unpublished Nostrum Series 3. If anything, Volume 2 will be more fun to put together. I look forward to going over the old Epistles. They were often more entertaining than the episodes, if you ask me, and they haven’t seen the light of day since the 90s.

With all this toying around with old content, I’m thinking of using CL as a vehicle for republishing some of it serially, the way it should be published. I can really see something like “Nostrum Fridays” coming down the pike. If you’re following CL via RSS, you might want to get out now while the getting’s good.

Monday, February 23, 2015

In which we copy a note we sent today to the NYSDCA regarding the MHL

This is pretty much self-explanatory. The MHL is over. Life goes on.

We cancelled the MHL blowout this weekend because there weren’t enough entries. And the MHL has, at best, been simply limping along this year. I think we can safely say that the MHL is virtually dead.

The league was originally formed as an educational league, providing rounds to younger students getting started in debate. In its heyday, schools from all along the Hudson and down into New Jersey attended in force. Even Lexington popped into the Monticello event, in aid of getting much desired rounds. It was a vibrant, lively league fulfilling a need within the community.

The thing is, the need for the MHL doesn’t really exist anymore. In both New Jersey and New York, UDLs have become the vibrant, lively leagues fulfilling the need for rounds. One gets out of the habit of going to MHLs if one is going to UDLs. That's reasonable. On top of that, there are plenty of novice opportunities these days at invitationals. Almost every invitational in the region offers novice LD, most offer novice PF, and some even offer novice Policy. The point is, students are getting the rounds they need.

A couple of things the MHL does should not go away. The MHL Workshop early in the season has been a continuous success, and should continue until people stop coming. The First-Timers’ Event has always drawn a crowd, either in NY or NJ, and that should continue as well. After that, there might be a need for “filler” tournaments, like Stuyvesant hosting novice and JV during the Columbia weekend. But a regular schedule of MHL events simply seems unnecessary.

I’m recommending that the NYSDCA take on this handful of MHL events and put them under their umbrella. There’s nothing about them contrary to the NYSDCA mission, and they would bolster that league. As for the former MHL debate events, I would recommend that NYSDCA keep them open to the NJ teams, which has been beneficial to everyone over the years.

And there you are.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

In which we wrap up the Brotherly Lovers with a bow and send them off

The question you’re probably asking about the brotherly lovers is, did SpeechWire and play nicely with each other? In a word, they were ecstatic partners for the entire weekend. It worked out fine. In a way, it reminded me of the good old days of porting data out of tabroom and into TRPC, grabbing csv files and sending them over to the SW contingent. This requires a little extra alertness on their part regarding late changes, but that’s not a terribly big deal. Once they had the data, they ran well, and when all was said and done, posted complete results files back on tabroom. Again, shades of the old days, but let’s face it. If a system works, and the people using the system want to use it, what’s the real objection? It’s not as if I’m being paid by the NSDA to push tabroom. Everything I do with that system is totally my own idiocy. I was the one who dove in that fateful November without looking back, although it was Kaz who eventually came up with the comment that “it’s in beta” whenever we needed to explain a glitsch. And I’ve never tabbed speech in my life, on top of that, so what do I know? Dr. Alex and company, from our perspective down at the other end of the table, were doing a fine job from start to finish, and I hope they all come back next year and do it again. ‘Nuff said.

Tabroom behaved quite well, aside from its usual inability to place byes correctly. For the little events we paired by hand, and for PF we just plugged in the right bye to replace the wrong bye, tossing the wrong bye back to the wolves. The best solution to this problem by far is to have an even number of teams in the field, and I recommend that strongly, but these other solutions aren’t terribly burdensome. One thing different this year from last year was that we did not see the continuous outages caused by Penn and Harvard and Berkeley simultaneously overloading the system with users (even on Saturday, when Harvard was still in full swing). That was a real step forward, as last year, whenever we wanted to do literally anything we had no choice but to wait impatiently and curse the interwebs until we were able to get back in. The loss of 2 minutes on every key click adds up pretty fast, so not having that problem is a load off the old mind, definitely.

Of course, we did have the issue of one school lighting out because of a blizzard to the south. The south? Unusual weather we’ve been having lately, to quote the Cowardly Lion. This meant that we had to rebuild a double-flighted break round that was actually in progress, and that we had to manually pair the breaks after that. (Which, if you follow my tabroom blog, is why I recommend you print out a bracket at the first opportunity. One never knows, do one?) That school that pulled out did the right thing, by the way. When your principal calls you home, you go home. No arguments. No demurrals. No nothing. The idea of travel in a blizzard, or any sort of travel in dangerous situations, is simply not what we’re here for. We want to bring home everyone safely, and that’s the end of the story. I have to admit that I really didn’t follow what was happening in Boston, aside from a few bulletins from people there. I don’t know how the Brotherly Lovers would have handled things if the situation were reversed, and while I have no love lost for the Harvard tournament for a variety of reasons, I’m certainly not wishing that the gods of winter gobble them up in one bite. We’ve all been hit too many times by storms that have crippled or even cancelled our events. The pain and frustration of that is enormous. It’s no fun staying home watching the world end when you should be at your tournament biting your nails and yelling at the runners. Been there, done that. Don’t want to be there again.

Anyhow, at some point Kaz and I managed to acquire cheesesteaks, or at least I did, she not being of the PCS persuasion, apparently, which is a true personality failing on her part, and we also got our famous crepes, and I got home at a reasonable hour and so did she, in her case making it the next day to London and Paris as she had planned, so all in all, it was a good weekend. I’ll miss Change of Address, though. He’s graduating this year. The thing is, he spent time as an event planner at the White House last year. Yeah. Event planner. At that White House. Wouldst that every Tournament Director had that sort of background.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

In which we proceed deeper into the jungles of PF, with only a smattering of lewd limericks for protection

One has to wonder what the PF pool is doing with that extra half hour or so each round. I do know that some teams are spending inordinate amounts of time with coin flips and subsequent preflowing, which is ridiculous, and they’re only getting away with it because the judges don’t know any better. I used to regularly mark on my ballots that preflowing needed to be done pre, and not to waste my time with it. My guess is that any given team will debate either for or against a resolution at a tournament, and therefore needs to have prep for A) debating for, and B) debating against. In fact, most teams can probably figure this out on the bus, or even before they leave home. Hence being ready to debate is the hallmark of the professional debater. Preflowing after the coin flip is the hallmark of the schmegeggie.

Then there’s the critique. This isn’t limited to inexperienced judges, of course. In fact, the worst oral critiques usually come in policy, where the judges are the most experienced. Experience and bloviating are not inherently linked, however. The most inexperienced judge on the planet can also want to expose as much hot air as the room will allow, given the opportunity. If we’re not literally pulling ballots out of people’s hands, or if they’re not being electronically submitted before the critique (which has been one of the great plusses of e-ballots in LD and policy), we’re all waiting endlessly, unable to proceed, while some adjudicator explains life in all its glorious permutations to a captive audience of adjudicatees. Unless a judge is providing useful analysis of evidence or strategy, which is possible but not probable, most teams just want to hear that they won or lost, and why they won or lost. Younger teams might also want performance tips, even though they usually don’t pay attention to them. Given that an awful lot of PF judges attempt to provide analysis of evidence and strategy while simultaneously not revealing who won the round, you’ve got to wonder. And meanwhile, the tournament goes nowhere.

Then again, people do get lost, and when that happens, inexperienced judges don’t know what to do about it. Neither do a lot of debaters, for that matter. Kaz and I marveled throughout the Brotherly Loving at judges and/or debaters who would sit alone in a room for seemingly eternity, waiting patiently for something to happen. Usually what was happening was that they were in the wrong place and everyone in the right place had given up on them, although occasionally two teams would wait for a missing judge so long that we had to send in an execution squad because none of these debaters should be allowed to screw up that badly ever again. The idea that people would try to do something proactive if something is askew is, apparently, rare in some forensics circles. Raw novices get a pass on this. Varsity students get the execution squad. Ditto varsity judges. Unfortunately, the idea of a Quaker Executioner Squad is a tad oxymoronic. That’s a problem with mascots. They’re all well and good when they’re some sort of vicious species of man-eater like lions and tigers and bears, but when they’re the Tabby Cats or the Yellow Labradors or the Cockerdoodles, well, you don’t put too much fear into the hearts of anyone. At Menick University our mascots would be the Archdaemons, and no mercy would ever be shown, period, the end, deal with it.

Menick University. I like the sound of that. I need to get that tee shirt. With the Archdaemons prominently displayed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In which we ruminate on the nature of the PF adjudicator

(I’ve put in a note about deleting/dropping entries over on Adventures in Tabroom, for you baseball insiders. We inadvertently got screwed at Penn and spent a lot of time cleaning up, and I don’t want that to happen to you.)

I have gone on record as believing that it is lay judging that will keep PF from going the way of its older siblings, that is, so parochial and self-absorbed that only those who live in the parish either understand it or even want to. The problem with that belief is, unfortunately, that lay judging requires lay judges. The blessing is, at the same time, a curse.

Let’s look at the facts. A PF round takes exactly 37 minutes on the clock, in theory. However, in practice, a PF round—a single flight—takes between an hour and an hour and a half of real time. At Penn, for example, round three was posted and ballots distributed at 1:25. The posted start time of the round was 1:45. The last ballot got to the tabroom at 4:30, meaning that the round took two hours and forty-five minutes. There were no egregious issues of distance or ballot distribution/collection. It was what it was, and every other round proceeded roughly the same way, until the very end of the tournament, when all that were left were dedicated debaters and hired judges with e-ballots, at which point rounds zipped by, posted times almost exactly an hour apart.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that the average flight of PF has between an extra half hour to forty-five minutes of off-the-charts time attached to it. That off-the-charts time is, by and large, the price we pay for lay judging. Some spalpeen at the tournament was sitting there as I was distributing paper ballots, suggesting that there was a problem from a process-flow point of view. Well yes, Einstein, I wanted to reply; if all these luddites did e-ballots, for example, something none of us have every thought of, that might help.


As members of the VCA know, I have reservations about e-ballots at some venues. They work fine with a “professional” pool of judges when that pool is held hostage to geography. If you’re at Bronx Science, for instance, you’re stuck there. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Judges do not wander off because there’s nowhere to wander off to. Plus all the rounds are in one building, and there’s a thousand runners, so managing the starting and ending of rounds is no big deal. At Columbia, we used e-ballots for VLD, where all the rounds were in one building, and while theoretically the pool could have wandered off, they didn’t, because they were doing their job (and it was cold and snowy and we were feeding them). It depends on where you are, and the nature of the pool.

E-ballots with PF judges is another thing altogether. It’s not a question of them acting responsibly and knowing it's 2015, it’s a question of them being totally lost and seeing e-ballots as just another part of the torture program. Regulars who have judged before, ex-competitors or coaches or parents who have been down the pike a couple of times already, are not the problem. It’s the raw newcomers, the ones for whom e-ballots are the least of it. They are parents, new to judging, and the bottom line is that they are afraid of doing the wrong thing. That’s why I like to give a comfort talk starting out, concentrating on how they’re perfect for the job and since when aren’t they smarter than a high school kid? But it’s tough. There’s the general mechanics of a round, totally new to them, and then there’s the topic, which in some cases is filled with information about a subject on which they are only marginally informed. They haven’t read up the various sources before they got here, or if they did, they did it on a level totally different than most students. They don’t know how to fill out a paper ballot, much less an electronic ballot. So I don’t hold it against them that they’re e-ballot illiterate, although a couple do take it to extremes. I had one woman who didn’t know her email address, then she didn’t know her password, and then she didn’t know her name. I’m serious. She was also a close talker who seemed to be oblivious to the fact that I was not her thrall, committed to the death to take care of her to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Any wonder why 37 minutes in her company would expand to an hour and a half?

The thing is, I believe in parent judging, as I said above, to keep PF honest. I think this requires certain adjustments on the part of the debaters, needless to say, and it also requires certain adjustments on the part of tournament managers. PF pools need special attention. They absolutely need my sort of speech on their inherent value, and they need instructions on filling out ballots. They need paper ballots, unless they request otherwise. Forcing e-ballots on them is a mug’s game, and will get you nowhere. They need shepherding: put as many resources as you can on getting them their ballots, getting them to their rounds, getting them to start rounds, getting them to finish rounds, getting the ballots out of their hands and into tab. Behind their backs, make all the fun you want of their naivete, but never forget that without them, PF will devolve to the adjudication and tutelage almost entirely of college students who will do their best to mangle the educational value of the activity until it reflects their own personal goals and desires, regardless of whether those goals and desires are in the best interest of maintaining a mainstream debate activity for the vast majority of high school students, an activity with easy buy-in and easy upkeep.

So the moral of the story? Treat your PF pool with kid gloves. They deserve it, and you will be thankful that you did.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In which we begin to debrief on brotherly love

So much for the Brotherly Lovers.

Since I only had 5 Sailors, I hauled them up into steerage on the CRV and drove them myself. This allows me to inflict the pain of my randomized iPod on them for hours on end. They screamed in agony when a Green Day song came on and I immediately skipped it, given that I have a limited tolerance for those particular three chords played by non-guitarists at full volume. I’m not quite sure why that group is even on the old podderoo in the first place, but then again, that’s true of a lot of the music on there. Anyhow, apparently the Sailors are happy with those dreadful three banged-out chords, and it wasn’t until a while later when the Black Keys popped up, a group I rather like, given that somewhere in their youths at least some of them took guitar lessons or at least looked up how to play on YouTube, that peace was restored aboard ship. Curiously, the Sailors later pooh-poohed a song that was playing when they saw the words Frog and Primrose on the little screen in the car, but when I told them it was both Sondheim and NPH they oohed and aahed in utter albeit confused glee, and then a whole slew of show tunes hit the airwaves, and sing-along happiness reigned until we saw the traffic between the Betsy Ross bridge and downtown Philadelphia, at which point at least half of them abandoned ship. I almost joined them.

We stayed at the old tournament hotel, being too late in trying to get into the new tournament hotel (which is actually even the older tournament hotel, if you go back far enough). I tucked them in early and met up with some of my fellow wizards to prep for the morrow, in a manner of speaking. Actually, speaking was rather difficult because Change of Address, the tournament director (keep in mind that I’m in the direct mail business at the DJ, and the chad list is, well, what it is), picked the place at random, little knowing that while the food was fine, the volume level would have made Green Day’s three chords right at home. Given that on top of the chitter chatter of a seeming million of diners there was thumping background music that genuine could have been Green Day’s Greatest Hits for all I could hear, well, there you are. But we all got ourselves into the mood for the morrow, and there you are. My ears stopped ringing roughly ten minutes ago.

Saturday morning the Sailors and I trolleyed over to the school, and began the festivities. Unlike last year, tabroom did not seem to be overwhelmed by the confluence of us, Massachusetts and California all running mega events at the same time. That’s a very good thing. We may have had some issues with people not getting their e-ballot notifications, but I’m agnostic about this, as some of those people looked pretty hinky on the digital front, if you get my drift. Maybe not. Transmittal of e-ballot info is really hard to track, and certainly impossible to pin down on the back end, i.e., pass along to CP. In any case, the only actual problem we had was when, for a few minutes, instead of getting the VLD schematic screen we got an It Sucks to Be You error message, but that cleared up quickly (sunspots?) and that was that.

The big story of the tournament was the weather. We really didn’t have any, except for the fact that if you look up the word cold in the dictionary, they have our picture there. (Although nowadays I guess you have to google it.) We could have enjoyed a tad of schadenfreude over the horrors in Boston, but given that it was 60 degrees or so in California, we left that to CP running their tournament. And we took our own hit when a school with a big entry was called home early Sunday morning due to an impending blizzard in the south, and we had to scramble to pull results without them. This is the sort of unexpected, unpredictable event that requires whatever solution you can come up with as quickly as possible, and you just rebuild from there. To wit, if four or five of the judges and a comparable number of debaters are pulled from the middle of a double-octa round, literally, well, let’s see how you would handle it. I think we managed pretty well, all things considered. We did have to sacrifice a goat to the god of fustercluckery, but it seemed to work. Meanwhile, the speechfolk, working on SpeechWire seemingly without any issues at all, were no doubt enjoying their own local schadenfreude at our expense, although they wisely kept mum about it. By the way, the use of two different systems seemed to have no ill effects, and no Speecho-Americans were harmed in the making of the tournament, so there you are.

We’ll talk about some other Quakerian issues (not limited by any means to the Quakers, however) tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In which we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's coming from Philadelphia

There is something fun about the run up to a tournament, especially when it’s big and complicated.

Penn has pulled one of the great turnarounds over the years. Once upon a time there were early in the season, and they kept bumping up against this tournament or that tournament. Then they were all over the place. They just couldn’t get the traction a big tournament needs. Finally, under CP’s tutelage, they planted a flag in the ground on President’s Weekend. At the time, plenty of people weren’t terribly happy with their Ivy cousin to the east and were pleased to find an alternative. More importantly, the Quakers did indeed create themselves as a meaningful alternative. A big push in PF, with a RR, helped make the difference. The thing is, there’s a lot of people who want to debate on this weekend. Berkeley’s got a million or so. Harvard’s got its couple of million. And Penn isn’t far behind. Back when, a bunch of us committed to Penn on the new date, and we held on through a lean year or two. But the investment paid off. It’s nice to see when things work out well for everyone. Penn didn’t steal anybody else’s entries: they just created a site where even more entries could thrive. All’s well that ends well.

Meanwhile, of course, big Ivy tournaments do have their issues, one of the biggest of which is that they attract a lot of people crawling out of the cabbage patch for, apparently, the very first time. Big entries appear with no understanding of judge obligations and the like, much less the niceties like MJP and conflicts. Oh, well. They’ll learn. The real issue is that some of them are rather imperious in their ignorance. They know way better than anyone else the way things should be because that’s the way they are back home, despite the fact that teams not honoring judge obligations is as unlikely back home as it is in the big city. Oh, well. We will address these issues as they arise. We want everyone to have a good experience, but a little of that is on them as well as on us.

So overall I’m feeling pretty good about the way things look. The only wildcard is speech, with which I have nothing to do. The thing is, they’re running it on Speechwire, which is neither here nor there, except the guy who wrote Speechwire will be at the tournament so I guess, when all is said and done, we’re in good hands. I know there are people who really like that program, and since I don’t know the first thing about running speech events, who am I to disagree? Additionally, the weather gods seem to be cooperating, as compared to last year when they blew away a whole bunch of teams, including the Sailors. 

The last big weekend of the season.

That went fast.  

Monday, February 09, 2015

In which, by the by, we cannot buy a bye

Last year we tried e-ballots at Scarsdale and the technology let us down. This year we tried again—there’s no flies on us—and lo and behold, it worked fine, mostly. Occasionally a judge would wash up onto a deserted mental island and we’d get something scribbled on the back of a discarded daily double betting slip, but mostly it was e-ballots out, e-ballots in. Theoretically this should speed things up, but only if: 1) you don’t do PF, and 2) you don’t have judges operating in their own timezone. As for the PF judges, and the field, for that matter, they have now officially taken a half-hour of debate and turned it into an hour, minimum, of no one knows what. It’s like a football game, where there’s only about 11 minutes of ball movement and 3 hours of advertisements, huddles, recaps and dancing sharks. As for the meatheads without working watches, one LD judge, who will remain nameless, and who will be way less likely to get hired in the future, always started (and ended) at least 20 minutes after everyone else. We demoted him to novice, where at least we had one less round to contend with, but that did nothing to put a spring in his step. Too bad we didn’t have Middle School Parli. If that couldn’t speed him up, nothing could.

Here’s the thing. If the round is scheduled to start at, say, 1:00, you might want to start your round at, say, 1:00. Granted, sitting around being either oblivious or too cool for the room may have its attractions, but it’s hardly a recipe for success in the eyes of the people who, whenever they see your name in the future, will only give you rounds guaranteed to make you quit debate and take up industrial macramé.

We have pretty much now embraced the fact that, while tabroom is good at a lot of things, it doesn’t really arrange byes particularly well. In fact, it can’t handle byes at all, as far as I can tell. In our odd numbered fields, the bottom seed never got the bye. And it’s not just us. I took a quick peek over at California, and in the one division I checked, their top bottom-bracketer got the bye rather than the lowest. We had this problem at Bigle, and as far as I know, we’ve had it since day one. It's not something one pays much attention to. We certainly already know that byes can throw off speaker awards and the like. They are, in a word, the kiss of death. Until this problem is fixed, it’s not terribly hard to pair a round by hand, although if the field is big enough, well, that’s another story. Then again, I’m not sure if all that is needed isn't simply to identify the bye, autopair, then switch out the identified bye. Something to play around with in the future unless, as I say, it gets fixed. My bet is that it’s not an easy one, given that pairing is one of the core pieces of the machinery. I could be wrong. I certainly hope so. (I posted this over at Tabroom Adventures as well.)

Catholic Charlie was with us over the weekend, and we discovered his creative side. He was sort of composing an ad hoc opera as we went along, singing away. The best duet? “I got the bye.” “So did I!”

We do entertain ourselves. Although JV did establish a total ban on Nilsson’s “Coconut.” What kind of tab room is that?

And oh, in answer to Bro Ryan's musing that he has somehow become 1 1/2 people, this is not a factor of having embraced the religious life. When the complaints about non-forensic material and adding labels in CL were being batted around, it was just Ryan and CP on the complaining end, at about 75% strength each, hence the math. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

In which we dispense with at least one baroque genius

I’m beavering away at the DJ, working on a section in a book about good fats versus bad fats, listening to the Goldberg Variations in the background, when someone appears at my door and asks if I’m on hold.

Sorry, Bach. It’s come to that.

Speaking of music, I was in Manhattan yesterday and saw a big new collection of sheet music, a ukulele fake-book. That should make a nice Christmas present for all my fellow tabbers. All they’ll need after that is ukuleles.

For those of you (I think the exact number is 1 1/2) who only follow the “forensics” label on coachean blog articles, this is fair warning that I am going to stop using any labels. I only ever use one, and that’s it. If I remember correctly, the use of labels came up when certain people (numbering exactly 1 1/2) suggested that they were only interested in coachean musings when they were, indeed, related to coaching (pronounced co-ack-ing). Sure, said I, but when push comes to shove, and I’ve now been pushing and shoving these labels for a couple of years now, forensics is about it, unless I do a piece dedicated to O’C and have to draw on the “rude” label. I’ll start (or more to the point, stop) the labeling practice next week.

We seem to be going into the Scarswegian weekend without a major or even a minor blizzard. My lead PFers are taking the month off for a couple of reasons, not least among them being the weakness of the rez. We did a practice round Tuesday, and it wasn’t promising. If you have to weigh in terms of reducing poverty, either it does or it doesn’t, and once this question of fact is determined, you can go out and smoke a cigar for the rest of the round. Globalization being such a rich topic, and poverty reduction being such a rich topic, it’s a shame we couldn’t get a nicely rounded topic on one or the other. We do get to smoke all those cigars, though. In light of our new relationship with our neighbors 90 miles to the south, this will probably, if nothing else, reduce poverty in Cuba. There’s a bright side to everything. 

Speaking of this practice round, btw, I got to use my nifty new iPad keyboard, which I was inspired to buy after seeing Bro J use his setup at Bigle X. I was very pleased with the results. Now that you can run a real version of Excel on the machine, well, there you are. Numbers, the Apple spreadsheet, either on the Mac or the iPad, never really did it for me. I was raised on Excel (or to be more precise, its predecessor Lotus 1-2-3), and at any point where I can’t use all the features I’m used to, I start writing angry letters to the Times. I’m going to try doing most of my tabbing on the iPad this weekend, meanwhile. I’m used to the 13-inch MacBook screen, but I’ve used smaller in my day (once, years ago, way smaller, a PowerBook, the tiniest Mac ever seen). The question is, will it matter? We’ll see.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

In which we talk turkey

Or, if you're bad with commas: "In which we talk, turkey." Then again, I once had an author who wanted to meet so we could sit down and discuss turkey. Idioms and this guy weren't exactly on speaking terms.

Anyhow, O'C and CP and I have put together another The View From Tab podcast, mostly on how to decide on elimination rounds. Listen for yourself:

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

In which we address the lovelorn

So it turns out that next Saturday, on which we will be seeing Penn, Harvard and Berkeley all going at it, is Valentine’s Day. This had eluded me completely, but I am told that, because of this, venues are finding it hard to get judges. Now I’ve given this a lot of thought. Debate judges. Valentine’s Day. Seriously, people. These two are like a bad PF resolution, in that they really never come into conflict. There’s got to be some other reason for the problem. So I did some research. It turns out that February 14th, in 1921, was the date that Skeezix appeared on the Wallets’ doorstep in the comic strip “Gasoline Alley.” No wonder it’s hard to get judges that day. The scales have lifted from my eyes.

Looking at my schedule, I realize that things are very much going in their last innings. After Scarsdale and Penn, there’s the MHL Blowout finale, then Lakeland, then a qualifier for CatNats and the NYSDCA championships, and that’s about it. Of course, around March the Last Chance Qualifier for the NYSFL appears. And then reappears, and then reappears again. There is no dearth of last chances to get into this tournament that will, most likely, be summarily won by all of those people who qual’d their first chance. This is definitely part of the split personality of that state organization, which may just be too generous. Then again, I remember once hearing someone talk about big events, championships and the like, and how few people get to attend them and how much fun they can be for students. Travel is broadening, right? So why not travel a few young ‘uns once in a while, if you can afford it and if they can qualify, according to the rules of the game, however welcoming those rules might be? Let’s face it: I may be the wrong person to be talking about this since I never get on planes much anymore for debate (although I have secured my NDCA reservations, which I feel obliged to attend as a board member). I’m a stay-at-home coach. The exception is, for Sailors, qualifying for CatNats or NDCA or the like. Which puts the ball in their court, I guess. If you win it, I will come. Or words to that effect.

Come April, in any case, I will be pretty much done for the year, unless we have a qualifier for CatNats. Which I probably won’t be able to attend, as I’ll just be getting back from my early May vacation and will have DJ work to catch up on. Oh, well.

Anyhow, all you debate judges who find yourselves dateless on Valentine’s Day are invited to join me for Diet Coke at the food court at Penn. My treat. It’s the least I can do to mend those broken hearts.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

In which we challenge seriousness

There is something to be said for a weekend off. Following three busy weekends at Newark, Bigle and Gem, I spent this last weekend completely not debate-busy. I saw to a few chores, went out to eat, read a bit, did some vacation planning. I’d forgotten how enjoyable being not debate-busy could be. I even started wondering about what would happen if I weren’t debate-busy every weekend, but then I realized that I’d be bored stiff, so I put that one away for a while.

I did meditate a bit on debate as fun. Remember, I learned about debate from my daughter, whose philosophy on the subject was always fun first. Of course, she enjoyed actually debating—don’t get me wrong—and she was quite good at it, earning her full allotment of TOC bids over the years. But she never went to TOC, because the one year she would have, when she was a senior, it conflicted with the state tournament, where all her friends were going to be. It was no contest. She was known to blow off competing in a final round if she hadn’t eaten all day. "I'm hungry" was reason enough. And she was arguably the world’s worst cheater in Spades, although a bunch of her card-playing cronies at tournaments would give her a run for her money for that title. The point is, she used debate to learn and enjoy debate stuff, and then to travel around a little bit and expand her pool of friends and to generally augment her high school education.

Those were the good old days. As I said, I learned from her. I still believe that debate qua debate is great fun, including the learning that goes into doing it well, but I also like all the socializing one gets outside of one’s own home base. One of the things that saddens me is to see schools who never talk to a soul outside of their own school, who haul the wagons into a circle no outsider can intrude upon. You have the opportunity to meet all kinds of new people, and you actively avoid it? Granted, defining one’s clique may be a primal urge, especially in the young, but one would think that the intellectual adventuring required in debate would help nibble away at that. If you’ve been a debater for a few years and you haven’t made friends with people on other teams, you’re missing out on something. If it’s because it’s hard for you to make friends, I get it. If it’s because you stay behind the curtain with the rest of your school, then I don’t.

Worse than this is what I see as the tendency to make debate itself not fun. Intellectual adventure is one of the great experiences of life. Learning new stuff, being exposed to new ideas, venturing in unexplored territory—that’s one of the things that life is all about. But there’s a whole branch of debate these days that instead of choosing growth has chosen exclusion, proselytizing and general bitterness. I can hear it coming from the rooms where debates are taking place, where everyone is so damned angry you wonder why they’re even bothering. And it’s not just the students. The coaches and judges are just as angry and negative. Axes are being ground, presumably to get messages across, but I’ve always maintained that debate rounds are pretty limited in their ability to send messages. There’s better forums, and, I wonder if, as often as not, it’s the choir that’s being preached to. Regardless, the pounding grind not of axes but of weekly $ircuit debate is deadening enough. One tries to get so very good at something so very narrow and, in the broader scope of things, not particularly important, to the exclusion of everything else. To paraphrase Auntie Mame, life is a buffet, and too many poor sucker debaters are sitting at one corner of the table eating the same hardtack meal after meal.

I promise you that, no matter how many years pass, you will remember pretty much all of your debate rounds. You will remember thirty years hence that you beat so-and-so by running such-and-such. If you make debating in high school that important, its importance to your existence won’t diminish over time. But is that really what you want to remember thirty hears hence? Do you want to remember the time you debated 16 hours straight and beat the crap out of all comers, or do you want to remember the time you said screw it and your team and that other team from two states over went out and had barbecue and ended up at the miniature golf course?

Yeah, I don’t take debate that seriously. And I don’t consider that a failing on my part.