Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In which I don't care if it is Wednesday: No Nostrum for you!

Things are really crazy at the DJ. And hellzapoppin’ at the NJ too, so time is not necessarily readily available for bloviating here.

First of all, Monticello still pends. For some reason, people are staying away in droves, including bunches of local schools that need to support one another. I can’t make them do it, but I can grit my teeth and wish evil things on them. Avada Kedavra, sez I. And, oh, while I'm at it, Feh!


On the other hand, Somewhat Largish Bronx is barreling along. At its most amusing, I tried some ill-advised changes that somehow landed the Lexwegians with an $18,000 registration fee. Kaz complained about this, which I think is rather ungenerous of her. Next thing you know, she’s going to want another strip of bacon. I set it back the way it was, and we’re looking at other solutions to the problem I was attempting to solve. More on that in the future.

The Bronxwegians wanted to do the presets as random rounds, and we found that setting and turned it on. KC entered the regions and made the assignments. We used to do that at Bronx and a couple of other places, back in the old TRPC days. It’s just as easy in tabroom, once you know where to look. I think it’s a good idea at a national tournament. Intelligent randomization, you might say, with an eye on providing a satisfying response to the comment, “Why did I spend eighteen thousand dollars to debate with the team at the school down the road that I could have walked to fo nothing?”

$18,000 will now and forevermore be the predicted cost of registering for any and all tournaments. Of course, in reality, it’s only true of TOC and NatNats, but it’s still funny. At least I think so.

I’ve been inputting the hired judge names, and plan to assign what I can by Monday. On Tuesday we’re jettisoning the TBA names. Inch by inch, we’re getting closer. I look forward to it, and then I look forward to something simple the week after, the first NYCFL event of the season at Regis. Grandma Julia’s judge lounge? Not a single morsel of debate ziti in site. Mmmmmm......

Monday, September 28, 2015

In which we pass the torch

I met this weekend with Kathy S, who will be heading up both Speech and Debate henceforth at the old battleship of Hud. The previous suspect got a better teaching job elsewhere, which is why he didn't climb on board. Kathy has been doing speech at the Hud for a number of years now, and certainly knows her stuff there. I have little doubt she can figure out PF as well. I mean, I know kids in high school that do it. So I'll bet she can do it too.

What advice does an Admiral, Ret'd, pass along? First, regardless of what a lot of people think, PF requires very strong classic speaking skills because its audience is primarily lay judges. Corollary to that is that if it works with lay judges it will also work with experienced judges, while the opposite is not true, i.e., what works with experienced judges doesn't necessarily work with lay judges. This would seem like a basic fact of life, but most second-tier debaters don't get it. Yes, PF is a debate activity, but presentation skills are the means for engaging in that activity. Poor presentation skills will sabotage excellent debate skills every time. Having a pro on speaking like KS should be a real boon for the tars, provided they take advantage of her skills. I've never known a good debater who doesn't take good advice from wherever it comes. Second-tier debaters take advice only from sources they've determined must be good because, tautologically, they've decided that only those sources are good sources. Learn whatever you can from whoever is teaching it: it's the knowledge that matters.

I did pass to her my standard process. First week after a rez is released, deep background on the subject. Second week, brainstorm arguments. Debaters often like to skip the deep background, on the mistaken idea that they can develop good arguments with only a superficial understanding of a topic. Given that their adult audiences have lived those topics for decades, these debaters don't realize that the opinions of an adult on whatever the rez might be, might reflect what the majority of adults at the back of the room might be thinking. There is often a pre-established mindset on an issue. That is, we all share the zeitgeist of our generations, and you should take that into consideration. Then again, I've always maintained (and of course I'm not alone in this) that the number one priority in public speaking is to know your audience. Or judge adaptation, if you want it translated into debatese. Moving along, the third week is probably best for practice rounds, where you can see what works and doesn't work in action, and also critique speaking/debating styles. As for the fourth week, that's usually a Jewish holiday or a snow day, and it need not be taken into consideration.

After that, we just hashed over the rules of the Huddish road, who pays for what and goes where and the like. The number of debate opportunities absolutely eclipses the speech opportunities around here. You can debate every week, if you're so inclined, but you can't necessarily do your OI. Such is life on the wild side, which is probably the hardest thing for a speechifier to accommodate. She'll learn.

I wish her well.

Friday, September 25, 2015

In which we finish off the Pups

I got a bit distracted by this and that the last few days. The downside of a DJ, I guess. Except that they do pay the bills, and therefore get priority. After that, there’s just so many hours in the day.

There isn’t much more to say about the Pups. I enjoyed working with the Paginator, who seemed to fit seamlessly into the process. There are a lot of aspects to working a tab room. First, there’s setting up everything correctly in advance, which is harder than it sounds. I’m hoping once again that there’s a room kerfluffle at Little Lex as there was last year, in a tournament set up by CP himself. Nothing makes one sleep sounder at night than knowing that Mr. Prime Numbers Is My Latest Excuse is imperfect too. Of course, I pretty much know by now how to provoke him to make snarky comments over my own imperfections, and the temptation to so provoke is irresistible because when it comes to s.c.’s, he’s the reigning champ. Anyhow, the second aspect of tabbing is to know what to look for as the tournament progresses. This comes with experience. The rogue bye, for example, or the wrong setup of MJP priorities. Some of these are hard to spot. Third, there’s the willingness to just do what must be done, however menial it may seem. Lots of the job is less than challenging, but it still has to be done. Then again, Kaz actually likes sorting ballots, and I have never once insisted that she hand them over to me. (She also likes the power-pairing screen, whereas in clutch situations I always go to the cards. Different personalities.) Fourth, there’s the ability to offer suggestions when the idiot running the computer (me) is obviously driving off a cliff. I will listen to good advice. Really. I am perfectly capable of learning new things and trying different approaches. As CP might say in a snarky moment, no one has more new things to learn than I do, so being alert to them is at least one positive in my favor. Anyhow, the Paginator filled all those requirements. Our only mistake working with him was repeatedly telling him how much we enjoyed working with him. If it goes to his head, he might start acting like me in the tab room. One of me is enough.

Otherwise the weather was delightful, the judge pools for the breaks were superlative, and we had a couple of nice tab dinners at the Tarry Lodge. On the down side, I was really knocked out by this one. I think I’ve finally caught up on my sleep. Watching the Pope’s homily in Spanish helped a lot. Not having anything this weekend helps too. My plan is to finish off Nostrum 3 (!) and meet with Kathy S, who has agreed to take over Sailor debate in light of the loss of the guy who just said no. Although I don’t know what I can tell her that I haven’t told her already. I guess she just wants my bullwhip, which I’m happy to pass along.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In which we debrief on random Pup stuff

Aside from our one hoo-ha, tabroom mostly worked fine. One thing that didn’t work was isolating roles. It’s set up to allow ownership, administration, tabbing, and various entries-only. The only ones that seem to get you in are ownership and admin. I gave MP tabbing-only originally, not because I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, but just to test it out. Nada. (Got a similar nada with Biggish Bronx.) Theoretically no big deal, but I can envision situations where I seriously want to limit access, maybe when I have high school kids entering data, for instance. We filed a good old-fashioned bug report on that one. Another bug was the setup for blocking judges in elims who had dropped a student in a previous elim. It just didn’t work. Bug reported. Oh, yeah. It still wasn’t doing byes correctly. We just did them by hand. Given that debaters were dropping like flies, a bye in one round didn’t mean there would be a bye in the next. Whatever. The problem with entering a help ticket on this is that no one wants to sit around waiting for a programming fix for a problem you can solve by simply doing a click-and-replace. Maybe this will be the bug that never goes away, since I distinctly remember CP fixing it last year at the State tournament. Then again, I also remember the sinking of the Lusitania. I’ve led a long and busy life.

We borrowed from the Tiggers for the pushing of ballots on Sunday. This is a process that needs the odd bit of refinement. When we next do it, in fact at the Tigs, I think I’ll try it this way:
1. Post the time for the judge assembly
2. Release the pairings when I’m actually standing in the JA room. This way people won’t say “I didn’t get a text” and not show up. The whole point of JA is to replace assigned judges with alternates. If all the alternates stay away, which they would do if they didn’t get a text, well, there you are.
3. Keep a better running list of no-shows while trying to sub for the posted judge. They're all obligated. And that way, I can fine every single one of the tattie howkers. Bingo!

Fun stuff: When you’re handing out ballots by calling the names alphabetically, someone comes up to you and asks for a ballot you haven’t called yet. More fun: When you’re handing out ballots by calling the names alphabetically, someone comes up to you and blocks traffic and roundly rails at you with a question about a rules infraction that might or might not occur 25 minutes from now. And five minutes later does it again, for a potential infraction 20 minutes from now. I mean, first of all, I couldn’t answer the question anyhow, since there was no rule about it, and second, I couldn’t answer it because even if there were a rule about it it hadn’t happened, and third, have you noticed I’m busy here doing something else? Even more fun: When the judges bring their ballots onto the shuttle bus with them after the last round and you’re spending half an hour tracking them down. Even more more fun: When the same judges bring their ballots onto the shuttle bus with them after the last rounds TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW and you’re spending half an hour tracking them down.

Our room at the high school had a new wrinkle this year: lights activated by a motion sensor. Or more to the point, lights deactivated by a motion sensor. Every fifteen minutes or so the lights went out, not because we were sitting there in an immobile stupor, which has been known to happen, but because the sensor was over in the corner behind the dishwasher. Perhaps if we had been washing more dishes that day, it might not have mattered so much.

There were the usual issue situations. Annie handled a couple of them, which is the whole point of Annie (or, I guess it’s better to say, the whole point of Annie at Pups LD). One complaint went to the management, complaining that their judge had never been used. The reason for this was that their judge, an unknown, had not published a paradigm, not that we were sitting there in the dark in our immobile stupor preventing that particular judge from getting any rounds. Come in and watch us some day. Rule number 1: the computer does the assignments. Rule number 2: we only replace assignments if we can improve the mutuality issue. Rule number 3: we always pull the judges from the top of the proffered list. Always. In other words, we really don’t give the proverbial hoot about who’s judging whom (2 out of 3 of us in the room had no horses in the race). We only care about the arithmetic beauty of the thing, as much as we can achieve it. Keep in mind that Catholic Charlie is a math teacher and yours truly, while relatively verbal, did get near-perfect math SAT scores back in the day. The math means something to us in a platonic ideal sense.

I’m sure there will be more stuff to report, but that will do for now.

Monday, September 21, 2015

In which we debrief a bit on the Pups, and castigate the universe of varsity judges in general

There must be something about the first big tournament of the year. There has to be one kerfluffle somewhere to make it official. Sometimes the fault lies in our stars, other times in ourselves. When in the midst of said kerfluffle, I have found it best to blame Canada.

At the Pups, it was one of the rounds Saturday. It just wasn’t working. It came out odd, and when we started to fix it, it kept getting worse. I’m not quite sure why it came out wrong in the first place—CP says we did X but I don’t think so, rather the results of whatever we did looked as if we had done X, but that is neither here nor there—but wrong it was. And here’s the dilemma. When something goes kerflooey, you have to fix it. You choose your fix method and go for it. We probably took a longer fix method than the one we should have gone with. CP says just nuke the whole thing and start again. The problem is, once you’ve invested a bunch of time fixing what, on face, simply looks like a sort of problem, and then other problems arise and you fix those, a bunch of time has gone by before you realize you should be thinking of nuking, which is never your first thought, and by that point, you're most of the way through with your bandaids and lollipops. I mean, we did fix the problem our way. If we had thought to at the start, i.e., if we had recognized the depth of the problem, we might have gone in a different direction. We didn’t. Maybe in the future we will. I don’t know. Those Canadians are a wiley lot.

The upshot was once again eating into time that should have gone to the run-off. (There were no big issues on the JV side, as there was an open slot in the morning for them and we just moved their first break round there and went along as planned after that.) Last year we paired a single-flighted runoff that people didn’t like, and so, lesson learned, we just moved the run-off to the next morning. And you know something, it wasn’t all that terrible. We spent Sunday glued to our seats putting out all sorts of rounds, but with a couple of exceptions for schools who haven’t had a mutual 1 since the Eisenhower Administration, it was picket fences almost all the way. I have a sense that if people get what they perceive as satisfactory judging from start to finish, they will prioritize that as the most important thing a tab room can do, and while they might get antsy waiting for us now and again, if when the round ensues it’s the round they want, they won’t be terribly unhappy, just mildly irritated. Well, let me tell you, we’re not thrilled when things go wrong in tab either. We’ve got to dig in one way or another and usually do some incredibly tedious stuff to get things fixed. We are not, as you might suspect, sipping our margaritas and looking over at the computers at the other side of the veranda and idly wondering if the Mets will win their division. Let me put it another way: we didn’t run Sporcle once this weekend. That, I think, says it all.

As it turns out, we kept to paper ballots. I don’t regret it. Honestly, we didn’t have the staff necessary for building control of an e-ballot situation. And on outrounds day, putting that ballot into some judge’s hot little hand is the best way to know what’s happening, especially if that hot little hand isn’t there. Marty P was rightly wide-eyed at the effect of a judge not showing up. The computer spits out mostly pretty good judges. Then we spend some human time improving it, until we think that we’ve got a beautiful schematic with perfect pairings. And then the 1-1 doesn’t show up (never for a good reason) and all the extra judges are too bloody—what? Selfish? Lazy? Incompetent? Dumb? Pick one (or more)—so we have no choice but to push the ballot to the only unstruck soul, like a 4-2. As Marty said, usually these judges are the students who a year or two ago were complaining about bad judges. As I always used to tell student judges, adjudicating for the first time at MHLs, be the judge you wished you had had when you were starting debating. Many are. Many aren’t. In an activity that has given itself over to mostly college judges, you have to wonder why more people aren’t up in arms about the unprofessionalism of those judges. This isn’t a tab problem or a tournament directing problem. This is your problem. Are your judges “on their way” a half hour late to a judge call? Are they “in the building somewhere” or maybe conflicted against that student, and, “oh, I guess I should have told you that earlier”? Do they have bogus phone numbers on their tabroom accounts? Can they say “Nobody blasted that” with a straight face more than once at a tournament? I’ve already spent plenty of time railing against the activities’ adults abdicating responsibility to their college students on an intellectual level. On a practical level, it means sloppy tournament practices become the norm. In other words, you’re getting what you pay for.

Not all judges are unprofessional, of course. But let me put it this way: for one of our judge calls, announced well in advance, not a single judge was in the room at the appointed time. Not. One. Single. Judge. This being an outround, it means that all the obligated judges (aside from the hires) were from the top schools or, better put, from the schools with the top debaters. Impose fines? Sure. But money can’t judge debate rounds (per Sodikow via McGrory).

Ultimately, I don’t care. My job is to put ballots into the best hands possible. It’s someone else’s job to determine whose hands those are. If the best hands turn out to be the only breathing body in the room, so be it. You only have yourself to blame. Canada isn't going to take the rap on this one.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In which we head east

We actually ended up fine in the Pup LD divisions, and my initial fear that nobody would get enough entries to satisfy proved unwarranted. We’re now in the stage of people dropping at the last minute with plague or dengue fever or whatever. This won’t be too many, and we’ll have about 80 JV and 175 V. Quite healthy, after all is said and done. 

Traditionally there’s been a lot of angst over whether a strong second-year should go V or JV. Good opinions are held on both sides. For me, it was always a matter of keeping an eye on the long game. Realistically, the odds of getting a bid at a popular quarters tournament for a sophomore are slim. It’s been done, but it’s rare enough to raise eyebrows. So while the strong second-year would theoretically get the strongest competition in V, in aid of polishing skills, the likelihood is virtually 100% that that’s all they’ll do. Whereas if you’re strong in JVLD, you can go all the way. In an activity where most people have very strong memories for the competition, winning or making it to late rounds at Yale JV gives an up-and-comer a leg up in rep. Nothing wrong with that, from the long game perspective.

The weather promise is still for positively balmy. That’s a good thing. CP will be down in Texas, helping run Monteverdi, so he’ll be at the computer if the server goes down like it did last year. Aaargh! Sheryl gave me a “Closed” sign I’ll put on the tab room door if it looks like all hell is about to break loose.

And so it’s off tomorrow at lunchtime to Pupville. I’ll see you there, or not, as the case may be.