Friday, September 30, 2016

In which we find our embers stirring

This will be my last weekend for a while without a tournament. I can't say I'm not itching to get back in the harness.

Monticello seems to have settled in with workable numbers in all three divisions. I was worried about policy for a while, but Jonathan is bringing a Newark contingent, which is great to see, and they've improved numbers in both policy and LD. So once again we'll be in business, and I look forward to driving up to the frigid north to commune with the Montwegians.

The Bronxwegians, meanwhile, are deep in the business of acquiring judges. I just entered a bunch of their alums on top of the general population they'd already gotten, and they're now at the position of okay, but we need to push further to the position of really good. A big bid tournament stands or falls on the nature of its pool in LD and Policy, where the field studies and ranks that field to within an inch of its life. At a big tournament, you're pretty likely to do well in getting your prefs most of the time. So the issue is, are they really your prefs? Are there enough people to satisfy everybody, from the folks who consider themselves traditionalist to the folks who consider themselves cutting edge? I have to admit, even though I created these distinctions for tabroom lo those many years ago, and put them into all my tournaments, I have no idea what they really mean nowadays. Is it something as essentialist as addressing the resolution? Of course, essentialism is a philosophic crime in LD, or at least it used to be, so as I say, I keep out of it. I only look at the numbers. What they mean is the debaters' problem.

I was a bit perplexed by the number of schools within walking distance who requested PF judge hires. in fact, the proportion of hire requests for PF is far higher than either LD or Policy. This baffles me. A team concentrating on PF ought to be developing not only debaters but parent judges. Do these schools really have no idea of the genesis or purpose of PF? Is the activity that old that there are newcomers who miss the point completely? And even if that's true, haven't they wondered why there's so many parent judges in the pools of the tournaments they attend? Have they missed that completely, not to mention the fact that parents don't cost the team any money? This does bring one back to the old question of whether PF will be "ruined" by parochialism. As long as there's a constant flow of intelligent, prepared lay adjudicators, PF will only go so far. At the point where the activity's direction is in the hands of college tutors and judges with their own agendas, informed by their own studies and interests, it can go places most folks don't want. It isn't growing the seemingly exponential way it is because no one understands it or because it's limited to a certain audience. But schools that don't get that they have a responsibility to develop not only teams but a support system for those teams, i.e., a system of judges and chaperones and the like, are problems. And there seem to be a lot of them. Oh, well. They won't be getting judges at Rather Large Bronx, because there's only so many to go around, and the first served are the ones from far away who can make a legitimate financial case for needing hires. After that, it's either hamstring everyone by not having enough judges for tab to do its magic, or force these recalcitrant teams to do their fair share. We'll see how it works out.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016 changes released 9/28/16

— The place to put in the resolution on LD ballots has been removed because, well, no one has looked at it since 2003.

— Added option for parent PF judges to submit electronic ballots using two tin cans connected by a piece of string. Also added option for parent PF judges to click “Forgot to bring two tin cans to tournament” and/or “Forgot string.”

— Added “Galaxy Note 7” option, where tab rooms can detonate the cell phones of e-ballot judges who do not press the start button when a round starts.

— Registration data in TRPC and JOT can now be translated directly into Portuguese xml tag files and shipped directly to Lisbon.

— Bids for TOC Gold Level PF will be backchanneled to UKy as soon as the tournament ends.

— Bids for TOC Silver Level PF will be backchanneled to Stefan Bauschard as soon as the tournament ends, as he’s the only person on the planet who understands them.

— Bids for MSTOC will be helicoptered directly to the parents of the middle schoolers who earn them.

— Bids for PREKTOC will be recycled into edible gluten and baked into single-serving portions of debate ziti for the busy home cook.

— Students who enter their own registrations as Independents will be automatically put on the waitlist. Forever. And a day.

— Coaches who ask questions that have already been answered in the posted online invitation will be assigned to judge PREKTOC. Forever. And a day.

— Worlds Debate is now fully integrated into the system. Worldly Debate is pending a legality check. Offworld Debate is being merged into LD, since no one can tell the difference.

— The incredible rising popularity of Parliamentary Debate across the country and around the world and, yes, into the heavens, has been met with no changes in tabroom whatsoever, for obvious reasons. (Watch your back, Worlds Debate!)

— All error messages have been rewritten to demonstrate that the problem is you and not, and why are you even trying to run a tournament in the first place, you tattie howker.

— A new emergency phone number composed entirely of prime numbers has been created for situations where tabroom goes down in the middle of a tournament. Call this number any time day or night, and the phone will ring and ring and ring and ring and ring......................


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In which we decide the drawbacks of the wheel far outweigh the benefits

OPTION 1 – Resolved: On balance, smartphones have improved the quality of life for users.
OPTION 2 – Resolved: On balance, the benefits of the Internet of Things outweigh the harms of decreased personal privacy.

Here we go again. Those are the two options for November PF. Actually, there's no real choice whatsoever, but I'm trusting that you know that already.

I happen to be a big fan of "This Week in Tech," a podcast I've been following now for almost a decade. As the internet of things has become more of a reality, creeping slowly into our homes, perhaps the biggest question asked over and over again by the panelists on this show, a solid and ever-changing group of the best minds on all aspects on tech in the country, is how much privacy we are willing to give up for comfort. The Amazon Echo in my kitchen is always on. Always. Always listening to me. The more devices I hook up to my personal little network, the easier it is for some hacker to control everything in my house. I could, if I were so inclined, purchase the materiel to open the front door of my house from my telephone, thus enabling a hacker to do likewise. Am I worried about these theoretical hackers? Well, yes and no. I have a Yahoo account, so presumably I'm one of the 500,000,000 accounts that were hacked. That's meaningless, statistically. But if someone were looking for me, for any reason, how hard would it be for them to find me? Every time I take on a new benefit of the tech age, I take on a new risk. Am I willing to do that? Are the benefits worth it? Hmmm. Sounds like an interesting debate. And that doesn't even begin to address the question of where the dad gum gov'ment comes into it. 

Curiously, the real story of personal tech is tied to the same individual, at least tangentially. Steve Jobs was in at the creation of both the personal computer, and the smartphone. Arguably Apple invented neither, but that is beside the point. The story of personal tech that people are just beginning to realize is that it wasn't the creation of the PC that mattered in and of itself, but that the creation of the PC was a step along the way to where we are today with smartphones, when we have unimaginable computational and communication capabilities in all of our pockets. Yes, the PC changed some of our lives, but as it evolved into the smartphone, it eventually changed all of our lives, around the world. The smartphone is ubiquitous. Revolutions run on Twitter. I can poke virtually anyone on the planet in a matter of seconds. I have access to vast amounts of information immediately, from a device in my pocket. I can find my coordinates now and map my route anywhere. I can entertain myself, educate myself, communicate without restriction to keep in touch with everyone from my immediate family to my colleagues to Donald Trump. Aside from that last one (and I know you're now mulling over the Trump disad), the computer in your pocket is, unquestionably, the most universally beneficial tool created in your lifetime. And we should debate whether that's true? Seriously now? With the exception of luddites, to whom the content of the argument wouldn't matter (it could be the steam engine), and specious arguers who would posit the idea that the smartphone enables certain habits of social ineptness and that somehow having your nose in your phone too much and not going all Auntie Mame at the banquet of life is somehow the equivalent of the undeniable benefits, there is no ground at all for that side of the debate.

My guess is that the framers think that the phrase "quality of life" somehow elevates the niggling problems of the smartphone to debate-level negatives. It doesn't, but that will be all people have to go on if option 1 becomes the law of the land. 

So, again, it looks to me like a no-brainer. The last no-brainer went down in flames; maybe this one will too, the Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. Otherwise, PFers who flip neg on the topic can simply pack up their bags and go home. Or be prepared to slice and dice more bushwa than is healthy in a room full of adolescents and parent judges. 

The bind moggles. 


Monday, September 26, 2016

In which, putting down the controller, we talk some numbers

I worked hard this weekend breaking in my new PlayStation 4. I’m sure you would have done likewise. The thing is, I do like games, although I far from consider myself a gamer. That is, I prefer when you don’t have to remember 113 bizarre combinations of buttons you can’t even find on the controller, and I wasn’t planning any time soon to have my noob ass royally kicked in some intergalactic MMO. The system I ordered came with Uncharted 4, which absolutely fits the bill as kind and gentle for lite users. Lots of jumping around, mostly. Aside from suffering a slight case of Uncanny Valley Syndrome, I’ve survived admirably. Finally I’ve got something entertaining I do better than golf. Except, of course, there are few things I don’t do better than golf. The best thing I ever did was go on my golf sabbatical lo those many years ago. Now if I could only get back all those hours hitting balls into the woods…

The skids were put on Rather Large Bronx yesterday, which, after fees were set, remains rather large. 189 LDers, and comparable numbers everywhere else. Now the Bronxwegians are in the final throes of hiring judges. The formula in the best practices in the toolkit is a ratio of 2.5 + 10% overage for LD and PF, 1.5 + 10% for policy. In a world of prefs, I have yet to have too many judges. I very much like when I can put out a pairing with mostly all 1-1s, with at worst just a couple of 2-2s. When you’re playing your judges close to your vest, that doesn’t happen. When you’ve got room to maneuver, it’s definitely doable.

Catholic Charlie will be my partner in LD crime in RLB tab, but I’m sure we’ll all be helping one another out, as all three debate tab teams will be in the conference room. This means plenty of people I can torture with my music, unless the Paginator grabs the reins and starts bombarding us with Iron Mike or Killer Mike or whoever his Mike du jour is, or Catholic C goes on a Genesis binge, although come to think of it, he is always on a Genesis binge. It also means instant access to a microwave, one of my favorite albeit only occasional tab perks. They also have comfy chairs, and Mr. Softee usually comes through on Sunday (through the neighborhood, not through the tab room) so one can acquire one's annual Brown Bonnet. No short walk to Starbucks, though. Oh, well. Can’t have everything. 


Thursday, September 22, 2016

In which we arrive at the determination that 47 is a prime number. QED.

Apparently the reason for last week's problems with tabroom was that the server wasn't up to the task. 47 tournaments were running, and, well, that was just too many. Steps have been taken, as whenever a problem occurs, and we should be free of this problem in the future. Tabroom is a victim of its own success. 47 tournaments would mean thousands of teams, and hundreds of judges, and megathousands of helicopter parents back home—you name it. These sorts of issues are not the normal issues that affect average users, like forgetting which button to press in Excel to get values vs formulas or the like. Then again, I am reminded of a problem that occurred long ago, when people weren't getting notifications on their phones. The Powers that Program claimed that this was because of some odd wrinkle in the nature of prime numbers, which has to be the worst excuse since "The snake told me to eat it." Prime numbers indeed. Like 47?

Coincidence? I don't think so.

One thing that did come to light from all of this is that there is a backup of tabroom every hour or so, and that this is available if everything goes to hell in a handbasket, with the understanding that anything you do there is subject to ruin when the next backup arrives. Something to keep in mind, though, and I've added it to the disaster plan. Personally, I'm planning on not having any disasters. Maybe that's why the stars conspired to keep my away from the Pups last weekend. Saints should not be stained with the sins of others.

Meanwhile, I've sent out the first of what I'm sure will be many Rather Large Bronx messages, telling people to start getting their rows hoed in a timely manner. One thing I'm happy about is that the Bronxwegians took my advice and eliminated nuisance fines until the very end. Most schools have to put in invoices and whatnot early, and teenagers tend to be teenagers, and the niggling burden of $10 here or there, on either end, isn't worth the bother. Most people are trying to get the job done. The ones who aren't will always find a way to annoy you, no matter how many jackets you toss down on the puddles in the street to keep their dainty feet dry. It has been ever thus.

Fees are set this weekend, which seems early to me, but then again, the tournament is three weeks away. And the demand for slots remains high, and you want real people who are really coming in there, and, I guess, now is the time.

Meanwhile, not that anyone gives a rat's patoot, but I have gotten yet more new responsibilities at the DJ. I point this out, first, because it demonstrates that if you survive long enough, they figure you know what you're doing which, as people like the Paginator would be quick to point out, isn't necessarily true with the case in point, and second, because it is another reason why I'm a little less attentive to things like blogging and whatnot as I would like to be. While this may be cause for some people to rejoice, some people can be content playing bingo and paying rent (and you've got to love that internal rhyme), so screw 'em.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In which we spew venom, again

I have to admit a sense of wonder over the various levels of TOC bidness in PF.  I scoured around the TOC website and I have to admit that I couldn't find any details, but I get the impression that it boils down to Gold and Silver bids. Gold are traditional bids, and Silver are teams who almost got traditional bids. Something like that. This doesn't include the MSTOC, which is another business entirely, apparently a first-come first-served free-for-all for tweens whose parents will do anything to get rid of them for a weekend in May. It is not the same weekend as HSTOC, by the way. The weekend after MSTOC is, the way I understand it, eventually going over to ESTOC, that is, Elementary School TOC, and the weekend after that will be PREKTOC for the toddler set.

I used to think that TOC was only in it for the money. What was I thinking? They've found a way to double high school entries (or something like that) and created a whole new tournament for people who aren't even in high school. If there's any monetary motivation to this, I fail to see it. Then again, since sarcasm is hard to perceive when written, since you can't see the expression on my face, let me put it another way. WTF!!!

Shall I say that, once again, if TOC didn't exist, I wouldn't create it. I strongly doubt that visions of moneybags were dancing in the minds of the original founders of the business, but they are long gone. And maybe the present operators truly believe that they are offering some kind of service to the debate community by extending the hyper nature of circuit debate beyond those who are capable of circuit debating.

Yeah, I'm pissed off. We had a tournament here a couple of weeks ago that couldn't support jv divisions at all, and was pretty small in the varsity divisions. Monticello, coming up with its jv divisions, is also looking fairly bleak. Where is everybody? Around here, there are plenty of debaters, and presumably that means plenty of debate coaches. Is everyone so blind that if they don't see a TOC bid, even for younger students, they simply ignore the tournament?

People need to get their heads out of the clouds. If a tournament dies, a better tournament doesn't come along to replace it. A hole on the schedule doesn't suddenly fill up with an octas bid within walking distance. At best, another tournament comes in, limps along for a while, and everyone ignores it just like they did its predecessor. If we can't support local tournaments that are relatively inexpensive, with lots of rounds for our younger students, just what are we supporting? Circuit debate, period? Or bid tournaments, exclusively? Are we out of our minds????

The best way to kill a tournament is to ignore it. And if you ignore it, its blood is on your hands. Enjoy yourself in Kentucky. Maybe you'll qualify some fifth graders for the Bronze division.



Monday, September 19, 2016

In which we plan for the worst

Well, the Pups came and went without me. It was strange not being in New Haven that weekend for the first time in about twenty years. I gather there was a tabroom outage but otherwise, predictably, everything went fine. Meanwhile I chezzed it up, working on other things entirely.

The problem of the tabroom outage got me thinking, though. The Bronxwegians have been biting their nails over this, ever since we had trifling issues at Byram Hills. But the idea of a full-fledged disaster plan is a bit daunting. Not that it can’t be done, but the issue is, is it worth it? That is, if tabroom goes kablooey, will it come back quicker than your offline recovery? If it does, you just go back to it. If it doesn’t, well, your plan goes into effect. And there you are. I spent a lot of time on Sunday poking around, looking for the tools that would enable disaster recovery. Apparently Kaz was doing the same, as she wrote me from her bus yesterday with her thoughts. We’re going to put together a document, which we’ll have, just in case. I will, of course, share it in the toolkit. I’m hoping it’s like bringing an umbrella on an iffy day: preparedness acts as a deterrent, in that it never rains if you give in and lug the umbrella along, and it always rains if you chance venturing forth without it. A talisman, then, in other words. And a plan, if necessary. Come to think of it, the last time tabroom went down badly was also at the Pups. Maybe it just needs a little more choking the engine every year to get it started. Nobody knows.

Things are definitely heating up for Rather Large Bronx. Catholic Charlie has been enlisted to work with us in debate, rather than wasting himself on speech. We need him more than they do. Numbers are still high, and I got into a brief Fb conversation with B Manuel about the clash of big numbers vs not clearing enough teams. I always get the impression that most schools care more about getting lots of slots than getting into elims, until, of course, their down-2s don’t clear. But at tournaments that have the capacity, I guess it does become a caveat emptor situation. If there’s 240 teams, 6 rounds does not clear all the 4-2s into triples. Not even close. But there are plenty of tournaments where that’s the norm, at least in PF, and it doesn’t seem to stop anyone from registering 10 teams, if they’ve got them. It sort of pits one sort of greed—getting a lot of slots—against another sort of greed—getting a lot of trophies. Damned if you do, etc. There’s not much solution to this, I think. There’s only so many hours in the day.

Speaking of big numbers, the Tiggers is nearing ignition. We’ve definitely decided to go with e-ballots for LD. The Tigs claim they have the staff to manage the buildings, and if not now, when? Kaz says she spent some quality time Friday night explaining to the odd bonehead cool kid the value of hitting the start button in a reasonable fashion. As I’ve said, I think obdurate judges are a bigger problem than befuddled newbies. We’ll see.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

In which we look at our equipment

Byram Hills was the tournament where I tested my Chromebook. I will admit that there was a Mac and a printer and all kinds of accouterments in the trunk of the car, just in case, but I figured an all-electric scenario ought to work fine with something like a Chromebook. It did. Aside from the five minutes or so when tabroom decided to go on vacation, and we started wishing we had printed out results sheets (all of which was done during Bronx’s visit, making them now insist that we keep 30 printers on hand, just in case), which we wouldn’t have done anyhow, and in case you are unaware of it, while there is a way to print with a Chromebook via network you can’t just plug in a USB cord, an aside which has now added so many commas to this sentence that I’m afraid to go on, I never felt bereft. In fact, the fast loading time alone was worth the price of admission. My MacBook takes quite a while to get going, either from sleep or coma, while the Cb pops on in a few seconds. I bought the Cb during the last Amazon Prime sale, and it cost about $150. I had been planning on getting the next gen MacBook Air when it’s finally announced, but I don’t think that will be necessary anymore. The Cb weighs virtually nothing, and it does the job. If I need to do something more complicated, I have enough older computers around the house that I won’t be terrible hamstrung. But at tournaments, there’s tabbing, Spotify, Sporcle and mail. Hell, I could do it all on my phone if the screen were bigger, and for that matter, we have tabbed once or twice from restaurants or buses when emergencies arose. We are definitely slouching toward Bethlehem.

In unrelated news, I’ve been listening to Ready Player One and I have never so much wanted to own a serious game-playing machine…

Sticking with tech, I doubt if I’ll upgrade to an iPhone 7, since the two-year-old 6 works fine, but I’m happy to see that it really is faster and has a better camera. I’ve been getting into iPhone photograpy, and I have a lot to explore with the various apps I already have, but no photographer ever said they wanted a less sharp lens or a non-optical zoom (or at least no photographer ever wanted that as a default). For the week we spent in New Orleans (last week, that is), I decided not to bring my little SLR, and to rely solely on my phone. I was not unhappy with the results. I won’t say I’ll abandon the SLR any time soon, but I won’t be so quick to throw it into the bag… And, oh yeah, in addition to starting to think vaguely about a game console, again, I’m wondering if I might give the new Apple Watch a try. Nothing definite, but I’m thinking about it. I do feel that he who is tired of lusting after new tech is tired of life, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson.