Monday, February 27, 2017

In which we plan some reading for the trip

I’m planning a trip to Ireland, and I’m at that point where I have to decide what to bring along as reading material. As a general rule, I see traveling as a good opportunity to catch up on the odd classic. This is probably because my DJ career involves me working on books most people want to read on vacation. This is not to say that my DJ is like other people’s vacations (although it isn’t exactly digging ditches), but simply that my need for light entertainment reading is more than satisfied before I even arrive at the airport. Come to think of it, my steady ingestion of audiobooks, usually but not limited to SF (I’m currently listening to A Moveable Feast),  means that I don’t even need to vary the nature of the entertainment diet. I get entertainment coming and going. So that does leave classics, and to paraphrase Roger Ebert, why would anyone read anything but classics, given the choice? Good point. Books that have hung around for generations probably have a lot to offer, if you give them a shot. It’s not even a question of easy versus hard reading. I mean, is there any writer easier to read than Trollope? It’s all a question ultimately of what you want to put into your head, given the choice from every possible book ever written. It’s your choice. It’s your head. I’m just talking about what I do.

I studied a lot of Irish literature in college; what English major didn’t? So I’m thinking of grabbing a few appropriate authors. I may be fooling myself that I might reread Ulysses, but why not? Then again, a little Wilde would have the benefit of being perhaps a bit more fun. We did Yeats up the wazoo, in more than one class, but I’m not likely to turn to poetry for airplane reading. Swift maybe? I was just reading about a new bio of the good rev. Or maybe Irish Murdoch. Yeah, I’ll grab one of hers. The nice thing is, you just go to Amazon and click a few times and voila, there you are. I think I’ll pass on Beckett. I never could read him, even back in the day. I wouldn’t mind seeing a play, though. None are scheduled while we’re there. So it goes.

Anyhow, I have a few weeks. I’ve also got to decide what movies to put on the iPad for the flights. More agony. Too bad I’ve already seen Brooklyn. Oh, well, I’ll come up with something.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

In which we start switching to the standby mode

And just like that, the season goes lite.

Running Columbia and Penn practically back to back, plus a little seasoning of tabbing Biglex and godfathering Baby Bump, does fill up the dance card. There’s not much left now except for CFL Grands, which is fun but on a micro level, and maybe helping out Kaz at Lakeland, although no one has actually asked for my help there, and maybe they have other people to do it. I’m cool with it either way. I have to say I always enjoy all the hoo-ha of a tournament, especially a big one like Penn, with all its complications. But I do admit that I also enjoy when I’m not doing it. It just takes a little time to ease on back to civilian life. I’ll get there soon enough.

This has been a banner year, especially on the e-balloting front. I resisted it for a while at the colleges because of the nature of the pools. I mean, we already did it a bunch of times for VLD divisions, but those pools are the usual suspects and we kept them isolated. But to take on PF and various novice and JV divisions, populated by parents and nannies and wandering hobos? I wanted to see some proof that we could make it happen, especially over the long distances and multiple venues of a college tournament. So we did it at controlled high school venues, always with an eye on the big switch. And this year, we made that switch. All LD at Princeton (two divisions), LD and PF at Columbia (two divisions, including PF for the first time), and finally all debate at Penn (5 divisions, 2 each of LD and PF and 1 of Policy). In a word, we did it, we being myself and Kaz and the Paginator, with help along the way especially from Catholic Charlie and JV. And, of course, the existence of, and Sans-Culotte's gentle (?) urging to get a move on and make it so. Along the way we determined some best practices, which I’ve put together from some of the things I’ve talked about here. I’ve added them to my own Tournament Director’s Toolkit on, and, sub rosa, also on the NDCA toolkit. Here’s a link, if you want to read it as it ended up:

While I was at it, I threw in my old spreadsheet pyramid for figuring break round results. I’ve been using the Debate Mobile app, but I read that it won’t function in the next IOS update, so that’s the end of that. I already get a message whenever I use it that I am endangering the lightning speed of my iPhone with this horse-and-buggy app, but in the next update, h-and-b apps are going to be rendered non-functional. Feh. Anyhow, the pyramid is no big deal, and as I say, I put that in the toolkit as well. Can’t hurt.

As we drift away from the debate season—and I’m not the only one doing so, since we’re now heading into qualifiers and finals and the like, when most of the hoi and polloi of the event are now off doing spring track events—I will no doubt start bloviating on other subjects, and for that matter, posting less. So it goes. On the other hand, I will continue posting entertainments on Facebook, where we can all use a break from the constant pre-Civil War II ranting, and political comments of Twitter, where I can if so inclined comment directly to our Commander-in-Chief that he is less than the man he thinks he is. That will keep me occupied, at any rate. As for you, well, that’s your problem.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In which we wonder why

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it. Harvard, that is. It’s probably the most expensive tournament in the country, starting with exorbitant registration fees, compounded with lodging costs in a big city, to which we must add transportation costs. And just look at one division: VPF. 340 entrants, 6 rounds, and the 4-2 screw from hell. And no one seems to care, if by caring we mean voting with their feet. They’re breaking down the doors to get in, but realistically, if you look at any of the results in any of the events, it’s almost inevitably the usual suspects who make it to the end. If it’s a shock to you that the same schools do well all the time, week after week, year after year, then I’m guessing this is your first time reading this blog. There’s a reason I refer to it as the $ircuit. Yes, there’s a lot of talent behind successful programs that win a lot of big tournaments, but buddy, they ain’t doing it for free. Meanwhile, I suspect that a lot of schools of less than national renown blow their entire wad on this one weekend. I know that some folks do it at the other Ivies, the ones I work. They really want to have a big travel tournament, and an Ivy makes sense for that, if for no other reason than pre-existing branding of the venue. But none of them is the expensive bloodbath that is Cambridge.

I don’t really blame the Harvardians. They charge what the traffic will bear. And bear it it does. If I can sell you a slot at my tournament for $150, why would I offer it at $75? Yes, this eliminates some schools without the funds, but, hey, somebody else does have the funds, so there you are. That’s not Harvard’s problem. They’re here raising money, not doing charity work (although they probably do let in some unfunded local programs, if they’re like other tournaments). And I think that lately the school is doing its best to run a decent tournament, short of limiting entries, which would inherently make it a more decent tournament by increasing chances of success (all 4-2s guaranteed to break), but that’s an issue that most people don’t seem to care about. All those schools who are not the usual suspects can’t really go into the tournament believing that, against all that usual suspect competition, this is going to be their breakout chance. It’s nice to be hopeful, and it does happen, but when Cinderella went to the ball, at least she didn’t have to shell out her own money to do so.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of other tournaments this weekend. Reasonably priced, where students could learn and succeed. I salute those folks who ran them and attended them.

I ask you, if you’re running a program, and I’ve asked this before, why are you doing it? What is your goal? Theoretically, the answer should be the greatest amount of (inherently fantastic debate) education for the greatest number. And yes, funds need to be raised and a thriving trophy shelf does act as a wedge in that direction, both with administrations and families. But unless you have virtually unlimited funds, are you providing that greatest amount of education for the greatest number? Are you concentrating on your stars and ignoring the lousy debaters who could learn a lot from you but never take a single trophy? Are you ignoring the debater who also has other things on the extracurricular plate and who can’t sell their soul for this activity? Are those great discussions of the topic material, that could educate masses, being short-circuited by college judges paid for nothing but the win for a tiny minority ?

You’re the only one who can answer those questions.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

In which we go behind the scenes

At the DJ they make us change our login password about as often as most people change their underwear (which, I will point out, is more often for DJ-type people than debate-type people). So I changed my password a couple of days ago, and it wouldn’t take because I had used that one before, so I put in another one that I immediately forgot. The fallout from this has been frightening. I’ve lost access to a bunch of things that seem to have no recollection of me in any way, shape or form. Every email address yields nothing. Every poke, every pull, every tug—again nothing. Very frustrating. Also not terribly important—will the world end if I can’t look at Tumblr every couple of days? Still, I hate when the computer pulls itself out from under you. Next time I’ll write down my password, which is what I usually do, and put it on my bulletin board. You want to log in as me? Be my guest. Because, the thing is, so do I.

At Penn, Sans-Culottes managed to also pull my computer away from me, slipping in a horrible screaming sound every time I accessed tabroom. I’m not quite sure why, but it was quite amusing, and I used it whenever the Paginator looked like he was going to fall asleep. Then again, the Paginator had the magic spell available to make it go away, and didn’t tell me, so he deserved what he got. Feh!

The thing about the Penn tabroom, as anyone who followed it on Facebook can tell, is that we were right on top of each other for three whole days. It was the smallest conference room ever, up in a garret somewhere, stuffed to the gills with people of the tabulation persuasion. Speech, congress, debate, after-dinner conversation (which is, yes, a real event, although I think they officially call it something else), you name it. You couldn’t swing the proverbial cat, but there we were. And it was a hell of a lot of fun. I think the goal of any decent tab room ought to be to get Kaz to either spit-take or curse, and I think this weekend we got both. The thing is, any sentence taken out of context can be hilarious, if you know how to work it. And this group can take sentences out of context like nobody’s business. You think Kellyanne knows how to twist the language? She’d commit seppuku in five minutes if she were forced to work with us. Then again, we might kill her ourselves before the five minutes were up, all things considered, but we’re not here to talk politics or make fun of Trump and the Trumpettes. They do that perfectly well all by themselves. Come to think of it, the tab room never talks much about politics, not because we don’t all agree, but because it’s just so tiresome. Lately I’m limiting my politics to tweets only. Debate here, entertainment on FB, and snarky politics on Twitter. The balance seems right.

Now I'm looking at not one but two weekends off. I’m still rather zonked from three nonstop days of Penn, so a little sleep for a morning or two will not be viewed askance. Maybe I’ll pull a Palmer and keep my pants off. One never knows, does one?


Monday, February 13, 2017

In which we sum up the e-ballot experience

Well, that’s that. The last big tournament of the year. Whew!

This has been an eventful season for one thing especially: e-balloting. We’ve been doing e-ballots for years, admittedly, but always in very controlled environments. They’ve been in single buildings, with lots of runners to check on things. Once or twice the school wifis have been inadequate for the job, and we’ve had to switch over to paper ballots. At Wee Sma Lex this year, when tabroom went down, we also made an emergency run to paper (and continued on schedule). We had used e-ballots in controlled college situations, maybe running one division that was, again, in one building, like at Columbia in the past.

These experiences proved beyond a doubt that not only did e-ballots provide convenience, but they also speeded up a tournament. The time saving was, first, we had the results the second the last ballot was entered. Turnaround time remained the same, but then we posted and blasted assignments, and everyone knew where to go instantly. Our estimate was that a half hour per round was saved this way. That adds up over a long tournament weekend.

But here’s the problem. Always there were luddites, unprepared and/or tech illiterate. These were the handful for whom we would have to print paper ballots, undermining the whole process. And secondly, there was the problem of distance. What would happen if we tried it on a big division spread out over a big college campus? Or even more dramatic, if we tried it on multiple divisions spread out over a big college campus?

It was time to find out.

We broke the ice at Princeton, for the two divisions of LD. Theoretically, the LD community had already been introduced to e-balloting, since the pool comprised mostly experienced judges one way or the other. There were a couple of important prerequisites. All judges had to be able to do e-ballots, and all judges had to submit to the process of pressing start when and only when they were starting. We made that happen by imposing generous fines on people. You don’t have a tabroom account? We fine you and replace you when your name comes up marked as a luddite. The fine notice is sent to the coach instantly. You don’t press start? We fine you and replace you. The fine notice is sent to the coach instantly. But I’m here, you would say. I was in the round. I judged the round! The education that ensued at this point was, you sat down and I gently explained to you that the only way I could do my job is for you to do your job. Correctly. I would tell them to listen, don’t argue, and I will remove the fine, and you will either link to tabroom (“I’ll set you up right now,” I would say helpfully) or learn to press start in the appropriate fashion.

It worked. Still does.

Another thing we learned is the beauty of the poke. We set up a process of: blast 30 minutes before the round; 10-minute warning before the round; start now blast at start time; poke individual judges whose rounds haven’t started 5 minutes after start time, beginning with anonymous texts and escalating to phone calls; 10-minute warning at the end of the round (we inevitably needed to turn around rooms); pokes at various escalating levels when there were a few recalcitrant yabbos having trouble getting the damned thing finished.

It worked.

At Columbia we spread out from LD to PF. Our thought was that, at Princeton, all the PF people saw the LD people not schlepping around with paper and wanted into the act. They did. The PF pool, notoriously out of step with debate reality, buckled under. Two different events sharing the same rooms in alternating time slots.

It worked.

At Penn? 5 divisions, JV and Varsity, PF, LD and Policy. We were now in full swing with a process for getting the rounds to happen.

It worked.

I would like to say that this ends the need for humans in the tab room, except that the chasing down of unstarted rounds, or rounds that haven’t started but the judge says they’ve started (like the schmegeggies who press start at the same time for both flights fifteen minutes before flight 1) has not ended. Subbing in and forfeiting student no-shows and unforfeiting student no-shows is an issue. Customer service is an issue. Kaz answers the phone like she works for a spa (“This is Kaz in tab. How can I help you?”) where as I just grunt out the word “Tab!” Same effect. Please, on the other hand, don't ask me non-round-related questions when I’m trying to put out fires. “What’s the schedule?” “It’s on tabroom.” “Where on tabroom?” “Just look for it, you yabbo! I’m trying to run a bloody tournament here.” “Well, that’s not very helpful. I thought this was a help line.” “Oh, sorry. Let me look that up for you. Tournament, would you mind stopping for a minute while I find a velvet pillow to present this person with information they could easily have found for themselves if they had an iota of wit?”


Anyhow, I’ll write up a process for e-ballots and put it into the Toolkit. No reason not to share it with the tiny world that might be interested.