Thursday, January 28, 2016

In which we update on a couple of tournaments

First of all, there’s the Gem.

After Columbia bit the dust (or, more correctly, ate the yellow snow), there was immediate discussion about rescheduling it. The thing is, there aren’t many weekends for such a thing; tournament weekends in debate are sacrosanct (as Emory recently found out). You just don’t drop yourself anywhere and start counting the money. For the Gem, in all of it was the idea of distributing their TOC bids. They have to be in by mid-March, which means that the tournament would have to be before then, and not step on anyone’s toes. There wasn’t a lot of choice, and March 4-6 stood out as the obvious one. My estimate is that we’ll hold well on the debate side of things, maybe not so well on the speech side, as the locals will be scrambling for their States quals, and they can do that for free at the CFL. We’ll see. In any case, the tournament is up and open, and I’m letting people in pretty quickly, rather than asking them to hang out on the waitlist.

Has anyone looked at the long-term weather forecast?

Second of all, there’s the NDCA tournament in Orlando, April 9-11. I always loved the idea of the NDCA, where the business is theoretically conducted by the community of coaches rather than a Star Chamber. Qualification is objective, as compared to the political decisions that guide TOC bid allotments. (Don’t tell me they’re not political. Been there, done that.) They bring in a great group of neutral judges, and, I repeat, this year they’re in Orlando. I strongly believe that the northeast is under-represented, mostly because it’s not on people’s radar, but at the same time, I don’t know why that is the case, since there are indeed plenty of northeasterners who do attend. I can’t for the life of me explain the continuing appeal of the TOC, aside from the obvious one that, if people accept that something has value, it derives its value from that acceptance. Like paper money. Whatever. Anyhow, the NDCA website is and the tournament is open on tabroom. You should go. And take an extra day to go to Diagon Alley. Isn’t it about time you replaced that knotty pine wand with something a little more…adult?

As a side note, I just plugged rooms into Bump, and did the sorting rooms for Penn. (In the latter case, you sort the rooms by putting them into the sorting hat and— Well, you get the picture.) February is just around the corner.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If this is Wednesday it must be Nostrum

Four episodes are now in the can. (No, not that can, you tattie howker!) The new episodes are still mostly backstory. We’ve learned how the COC was created, and we’ve met Dearth Hannah, today’s director, who is also the SUCKy coach. We’ve met Jazz and Haley, who are in it to win it. Now we’re digging into the whole Free Willy phenomenon. Who is John Galt Willy Lubjut? What did he do that was so wrong? It will be a couple of episodes before we get to the Brotherly Love School for Highly Intelligent Teenagers, but for now, at least, you can contemplate the acronym. All of this, of course, is over at Nostrum Nation.

Meanwhile, this is a real poser: Yesterday morning I looked down and saw that my left shoe was coming apart. All I could do was hope to make it through the day without the whole thing falling to pieces. Thanks to a merciful God, I survived. But when I got home I noticed that somehow during the day my right shoe had started coming apart in the exact same way. How does one shoe know that the other has died? And more to the point, how does one shoe decide to commit sympathetic suicide at the loss of its partner? Until now I have always thought of my shoes as mute, unthinking companions on the sidewalk of life. And now it turns out that, apparently, they are not merely self-conscious but conscious at the very least of one another. Who knows the full reach of their grasp?

I will never look at my shoes the same way again.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In which we think about the baby

I’m interested to see what will happen with Baby Bump.

I think I’ve admitted here that Bump was becoming untenable for me. The lack of a broad pool of alums to draw into the judging pool makes things pretty dicey. Back in the day, one of the reasons we dropped Policy was precisely because we had to entirely rely on outside judges. Occasionally I could dig up a hire or two, but mostly we were beholden to the people who showed up. One year I was lucky to beg a lone, lorn, single judge to adjudicate the final round. That was the final coffin nail. Last year I had to hire judges ad hoc to stay beyond their commitment to make things work. A little of that goes a long way.

Beyond the judging issue, there are all the various moving parts to a tournament that I was getting tired of moving. Some of these are fun, and I continue to help other people move them, e.g., tabbing and organizing registrations and juggling rooms. But actually getting the rooms in the first place, or signing contracts on the buildings that have me accountable for everything that goes wrong, or doing tax forms on the concession sales? You’ve lost me there, brother.

I managed to fill Bump up to the max for 20 years. We ran what I think was a fun tournament, even as the nature of tournaments was changing. There was something new every year, as we learned what worked and what didn’t, or we experimented with different approaches. For instance, we eliminated elimination rounds for the novices. That early in the season, what they needed was more rounds for all, not just for some. (And also I’m a believer that novice success is only partially a predictor of the future, so aren’t we better encouraging everybody at the beginning? Someone will still win, but at least this way everyone will debate.) We became famous for crappy prizes, and I always loved handing them out—“Chosen at random especially for you”—not to mention relating the elaborate tale of the traveling (fruit) cup. All tournaments have a personality; I think Bump had an especially nice personality, as tournaments go.

My recommendation to my successors was to try a one-dayer. If I was thinking pretty grim thoughts about pulling it off, I couldn’t imagine how they could. If there were a seasoned debate coach in my place, I’d feel differently, but the coach now is speech-oriented with virtually no tournament-running experience. Why not design a tournament that could work, rather than one with a big possibility of failure?

I used Wee Sma Lex as the general outline. One day, four rounds. I set it up for novice and Academy, on the assumption that we’d be hard-pressed to get meaningful numbers in varsity divisions. Keep in mind that Papa Bump had TOC bids; with Baby Bump you’re just in it for the rounds.

At the moment, we’re pretty much filled up. The administration found some extra rooms in the high school (where were these rooms when I was running things, you might ask, as I assure you I did), so the divisions are pretty substantial. Of course, it’s only local schools, but there’s enough of them to fill up the place. I assume we'll get a little shrinkage when the deadline approaches, but we should still be in good shape. And as long as the weather holds out, it will be a fine event. And best of all, I’ll be able to clear out all the medals and mugs in my basement. And, of course, pass along the traveling (fruit) cup.

There’s still time to sign up, if you’re interested.


Monday, January 25, 2016

In which we engage in chevriculture

Today’s front-page advertisement on my Kindle is for a book entitled “How to Breed Goats and Manage Gestation: A Simple Guide.” This strikes me as the perfect e-book to settle in with on those long winter nights. I’ll be ordering copies for myself and everyone I know. My previous goat-raising books have all been way too complex. I’ve long needed "a simple guide" to get through the worst of it. Especially the gestation.

Speaking of, which is to raising goats as oatmeal is to satellite navigation, I notice that Franz Kafka has come out in favor of the application. This has led to a number of bug jokes on Facebook, of course, but I tend to favor the Trial line of humor. I won’t bother providing any examples, as I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of doing so yourself.

The blizzard of 2016 hit the chez pretty hard, but despite getting enough snow to gestate a goat, we had little hardship. I sat around all weekend with my feet up, watching movies and reading magazines and cooking nice meals. I would not have been doing any of this at Columbia, and worse, I would have been continually pestering the Paginator to stop doing them and go back and run congress, which traditionally employs much movie-watching and magazine-reading and meal-cooking in its hardworking tab rooms. Preferential ballots, I’d be muttering under or maybe even over my breath. Preferential ballots!

NYC was, of course, hit even harder. If there had been no snow, cancelling the Gem tournament would still have been the right thing to do, given the forecast. That there was record-breaking snow was simply the icing on the goat. We’ve been working with the Gemmers to come up with a backup plan. Something about that should be forthcoming soon. More when the time comes.

And through it all, there’s been the Brotherly Love tournament, which is very much beginning to heat up. TBAs have gone the way of all goats, and now we’re finalizing rooms and hiring judges. And, each in our own private way, praying for a non-repeat of this weekend’s snow event. Losing one tournament may be regarded as a misfortune; losing two looks like carelessness.


Friday, January 22, 2016

In which we uncharacteristically pop up on a Friday to make a suggestion

No Columbia? Snow as high as the roof? Winds blowing so hard that [some metaphor or other]? Bored? Nothing to do?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

In which we ponder the mutability of the tournament schedule

You can’t imagine the process of deciding what to do in the face of a seriously bad weather forecast. There is so much at stake in running a tournament, that the idea of not running the tournament is hard to envision.

It starts about two weeks before the tournament. You start obsessing about the long-term weather forecast. The further away in time the weather forecasts are, the more likely they are for cataclysms beyond human ken. This is how the weather forecasters earn the big bucks, by threatening you with a storm way off in the distance. As the day draws nearer and the storm disappears, you are thankful to the forecasters, and everybody is happy.

One week before the tournament, the forecasts become real. Forecasters actually can predict fairly well what will happen over the space of a week, provided that the weather, as is usual, is coming in from the west. Look at the weather one day away to our west, and that’s our weather tomorrow. Easy enough, and you can skip the years of advanced weather forecasting college for that one. But if a storm is coming up from the south, especially the southeast, all bets are off. They’re harder to track because they have a mind of their own. If they hit you, they’re probably nor’easters that move your house halfway to Kansas, but as often as not they hit someone else or go out to sea altogether.

I cancelled Bump one year, when it was in December. I called it on the Thursday morning. There was enough snow over that weekend to warrant having done it, and while I didn’t feel bad about the decision, I certainly felt terribly let down after spending all the time and energy to set things up in the first place. Big planning for nothing. Feh.

JV had the same thing a couple of years ago with Scarsdale. He made the call in a timely manner, and it snowed to beat the band. Right decision, same letdown.

Then there’s the tournaments that end in the middle. In a way, this is worse. When do you send people home because it’s dangerous on the roads? Scarsdale had a hint of this once, Ridge had it, Lexington always seems to swim around it, although in my earliest days one year they postponed their start. Those are local tournaments. What about a big national tournament, like Harvard last year? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I started watching this storm Monday. I have to admit that, Monday night, I was pretty sanguine. It looked like the usual Columbia snow. People are used to that. Then Tuesday and Wednesday was all dithering. The forecasters couldn’t agree on the path of the storm, and they all admitted that it was impossible to call. Thanks a lot. Then, this morning, we were pretty definitely getting a lot of snow and blizzard-like conditions. Entrants were writing and asking, some were dropping of their own accord. Still, a tournament could probably be pulled from the people who arrived on Friday and left on Sunday. Some people would come no matter what.

And, of course, you had already extended muchos energy on planning, getting rooms, hiring judges, buying trophies, planning food for the judges, lining up the staff... And this is your fundraiser, the income to support your team. On the other hand, if enough people didn’t show up, the tournament might implode all on its own. 

What would you do?

Columbia did the right thing, and they handled it perfectly. It was their call. They cancelled, because the risk to the safety of their guests has to outweigh every other consideration. I get the feeling that some teams might come if it were literally the Apocalypse: they care too much about forensics above all. That dedication is a good thing, but it needs to be tempered by the wisdom that informs everything that isn’t forensics.

So now what the hell am I going to do this weekend?


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum

There seems to be some traction over there at Nostrum Nation, given that they just put out their third episode. Not much seems to happen in this one, but the reader is at least introduced to Willy Lubjut of OK-Aggie, and to The Article, both of which the lads tell me will be of much interest in the episodes to come. I believe them. Why would they lie?

Meanwhile I'm just sitting at my desk in the chez, staring out the window and worrying about whether the Gem will be weathered out of existence this year. They'll have to make the call tomorrow morning. This is why we all hate Florida people. They just don't have any understanding of what the real world is like.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

In which we debrief some interesting Lexwgian stuff

Coach comes into tab and tells us that they want us to switch a judge because the student had a bad experience with said judge in the past. Why, then, was this judge rated a 1, if that were the case? We explain, for the millionth time, that this is not a conflict and therefore needs to be addressed in the preffing. The problem, in other words, is yours, not ours. Don’t coaches talk to their teams? I can understand that coaches might want to control the preffing for one reason or another, but how about a little dialogue?

Needless to say, the kid picks up the horrible judge’s ballot. Isn't that always the case?

Then there’s the kid who swears that the judge really did not mean to vote for the opponent. The ballot is in, double-entered no less. The judge, and the kid’s coach, are nowhere to be seen. But you expect to talk us into reversing the decision? You’ve gotta love a kid who couldn’t possibly have lost a round as the kid loses yet another round entitled "Resolved: Tab should overthrow a decision because I say so."

And, no, you can’t do online research during the round. If you don’t already have a card on it, it’s too late now. Nice try, though. Those among the tournament directors who were born yesterday might, perhaps, agree with you. The rest of us, however, have been there and done that. Sorry.

In VLD we were doing MJP with 9 tiers, a CP decision. I’ve talked about this in the past. While I believe that CP is right about the math of 9 tiers working better for teams, the teams themselves, by virtue of every other tournament they attend not being 9 tiers, just don’t get it. The general population has only recently been trained for MJP overall, so much so that I don’t have to explain it in my emails to the college registrants anymore. And the pros have learned to use it to what they think is their advantage. The boat, in other words, has just gotten steady. Why rock it? But it’s not my tournament, hence not my call. It’s only a marginal adjustment on our end in tab, but it is still an adjustment. In any case, tabroom will pump out mutual assignments most of the time, so it’s not a terrible back-end problem. And only once did anyone attempt to storm the tab room, and JV shut that person down before said person even opened the old mouth. The assumption that we’re doing nothing in tab and that a better assignment was sitting right there and we missed it insults our intelligence. And yours, if you stop and think about it. What do you think we’re doing in there?

Speaking of which, the one thing I remain adamant about is panel numbers. 1-1-7 and 3-3-3 both add up to 9, but the first debater has two 1s and the second debater has all 3s. It’s not just about adding up. Tabroom doesn’t do this, but we will. Everyone is due the same number of the same pref, if at all possible. If you have a 1, I should have a 1. If you have two 2s and I only have one, it’s imbalanced. We did very well on that. Working with JV is fun: he’d poke around in the assignments and ask me about what so-and-so was doing, and I’d go there and see if we could pull out and sub in that one, then he’d pull out and sub in his. We did some amazing work.

As I’ve said before, Bigle X is one of my favorite weekends, and this one was no exception. Lots of fun, great conversations, great tabbing, pretty good music (the implicit ban on Big Mike remains in effect). What more can you ask for?


Monday, January 18, 2016

In which we begin debriefing on Bigle X

We have put Bigle X 2015 to bed. Another one bites the dust.

Aside from some flurries Sunday night, it’s the first Bigle I can remember that didn’t have some sort of meteorological hell breaking out at some point. Let’s face it: if your tournament is the middle of January, and your high school is north of the Arctic Circle, you can’t be terribly surprised by the odd blizzard. Last year, Lexington had enough snow already to supply all of [fill in your own metaphor here for someone who might want a lot of snow; I’m still too tum pluckered out by Bigle X to attempt it myself]. Our drive home that year—I was still herding Sailors—was an extended jag down Rt 95 where, between Massachusetts and New York, you are hard-pressed to find even the remotest excuse for a restaurant. Talk about the middle of nowhere! When we finally pulled into a rest stop, the Plebes had to explain to me how to order what is considered food at a Subway. I forget what they told me, but fortunately I am unlikely ever to attempt to repeat the process.

As Kaz managed to topple off some slippery national monument in Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium over the Christmas vacation, she was flaunting a cast on her wrist to hold in all the titanium bolts they had planted there, not to mention walking with the aid of a cane she apparently stole from her local WrongAid Pharmacy of Lost Prostheses, Leechware and Secondhand Mobility Devices. She can’t drive, so I chauffeured her around a bit, although I shamefully admit I demurred from picking her up at 6:45 on Saturday when round 1 was at 9:00. There are lines that must be drawn! Mostly she seemed to get around okay, and she was able to wiggle her fingers with the best of them, so the healing process seems to be happening. From the sounds of it, her mishap didn’t stop her at the time from exploring all of Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium when she was there. Debate coaches are made of stern stuff!

LD was back in our digs at the middle school, although, happily, tab was in a better room than last year. We had a microwave, decent tables, and tropical fish (for display, not for meals, although they were swimming right next to the microwave). I’ve become a big fan of the tab room microwave; if you’ve ever eaten debate ziti, and I know you have, you know that it never achieves a temperature higher than fifty degrees at best, and that’s when it’s hot from the ovens, which are on the other side of town on the sketchy side of the tracks where half the time the ziti truck gets held up before it gets halfway down the block. So a tab microwave, to heat up whatever they’re serving, is a must. We had great meals offsite both nights, so I’m not complaining. Far from it. I could live on debate food, if I had to. But that’s why God let me buy a car, so I wouldn’t have to. Thank you, God. Still, the microwave is nice for heating up your soup you’ve brought back, at great threat to life and limb, from the sketchy side of the tracks.

It was me and JV and the Paginator and Bro John, the latter two doing novice. They were finished a couple of months before we were, the scum. Of course, we had more rounds, plus MJP, and the tropical fish kept giving us the evil eye, so no wonder they were so efficient. They almost had a chance for a closeout in finals; they kept staring at the screen seeing the first two split ballots, repeatedly hitting the reload button, hoping for the right decision. I’ve never seen two people so disappointed over a debate ballot. They now had to stay maybe till noon. Feh.

JV hit the road when his teams were eventually eliminated. I held out until Semis were paired in our division. Since there were only going to be three hired judges in the building by the time finals rolled around, I reluctantly decided that my incredible pairing skills would not be required for finding, uh, three judges for the round. As I said, there were some flurries for a while when I hit that road, but once I hit Connecticut, it was clear sailing, listening to Disney songs on random play.

I felt like a princess all the way home.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

In which we ponder various techie things, and the key to success in business

I like the idea of iCloud, since I use virtually no gadgets that aren’t Apple, aside from a Kindle Fire that has proven relatively disappointing. The problem with iCloud is setting up everything so that it actually works. I don’t want it for all that much, just coordinating a handful of documents (I already have all my music stored on Amazon), but there’s so much turning this on and that on, the main problem being the computer I’m at most of the time, the one at the DJ, which is the one that is the most locked down. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to use basic Apple apps, and only today when I finally got iCloud working correctly. It made me wish I had a shorter password, if nothing else. Anyhow, it looks like it’s working now.

This is in aid of a general reality, that the corporate world has become less and less interested in proprietary technology over the last few decades, for a couple of reasons. Chief among these is the combined facts that, first, standard apps have all the inherent benefits of being the standard (anyone you hire probably already knows them, they don't require much support, and the user base is so vast that what you don’t know you can find out in two seconds), and second, standard apps are cheaper than rolling your own. Once upon a time, if you wanted to do something, rolling your own was probably your only choice. But nowadays standard word processing and database management and number manipulation are everyone’s technical lingua franca. So here’s today's message for the young and restless: master Word and Excel. Now. If you aren’t a whiz at these two programs, you will lose out to those who are. Of course, this is probably so obvious and unnecessary to point out, that you probably can’t imagine why I’d even mention it. Except it’s not. Why someone would create a document (e.g., write a case) and not spell check it is beyond my understanding. Or use basic formatting tools. Then again, I also believe that the ability to knock off the odd time-saving macro in an Office app is a game-changer, but some versions of Office don’t allow you to create macros on the fly anymore. Jeesh. It’s odd to see these programs suddenly dumb down when their general trajectory has been to keep adding features beyond anyone's practical use limit. Why subtract one? Oh, well. Different issue.

Anyhow, that’s the state of the business world these days. I am, admittedly, in publishing, and probably have marginally higher evaluation standards for communication with potential employees, but if you can’t demonstrate to me the ability not merely to write clearly but to present that writing competently, you’re on your own. Just sayin’.

Back to that Kindle Fire. Not the $50 one, but the one before it. I thought I’d like a new e-book reader, but instead of getting the latest Kindle I thought I’d try something with more functionality. It weighs more than my cat, despite the fact that it’s the size of a mass market paperback, which is annoying. And honestly, the basic functionality (especially Bluetooth, which is problematic in the wild anyhow) isn’t so hot. Battery life is marginal, and the screen is uncleanable. It was a waste of money, I think. Lately it’s become the default input device for my Echo, which is sort of redundant, given that the Echo is theoretically self-contained, but it does at least give me a controller for Spotify content. I do like the Echo, by the way, although it’s the kind of gadget that, if you don’t have it, you don’t need it, but if you do have it, you like showing it off to people. Alexa, when was Albert Einstein born? People are impressed by that sort of thing. Hell, I’m impressed by that sort of thing. If I want to ask Siri that same question, I actually have to press the button on my iPhone. As if I have all that time to spare.

Off tomorrow to the home of the Lexwegians, to hear tales of brave travel through the Turkish empire and the like. I’ll see you (or someone who looks just like you) there.