Thursday, August 31, 2017

In which we don't define novices

(Another cross-post)

Once upon a time, a novice debater was a high school freshman in their first year of debate. There were those who tried to muddy the waters a little, claiming that if they were a freshman novice last year in one kind of debate, they could be a sophomore novice in some other kind of debate, but that was pretty sketchy thinking. There’s a difference between someone standing in front of the room the first time, and someone standing in front of a different room after a year’s experience.

There were reasonable exceptions from the clear cut. I often had debaters who started out in their sophomore years. To me, they were still novices, but I would feel a special drive to get them into open divisions as soon as possible, not so much for any advantage over freshmen, which I didn’t necessarily see, but in aid of maximizing their debate experience at the varsity level, if they were up to it. They usually were.  Then one year I had two 8th graders who wanted to debate. I saw no reason against it, and they were novices in 8th grade and not novices the year after that.

There’s been an interesting discussion on Fb about what, exactly, is a novice at a high school tournament in our present age that includes relatively common middle school debate. The easiest answer is when a MS debater was quite active. That debater, with many rounds experience, is by no means debating at the level of a novice when that debater enters high school. A year or two of rounds of experience ought to blow away any noob. But what if a MSer has only a round or two back in October of their 8th grade year? That’s a bit tougher. Probably that debater doesn’t have much of an advantage over a well-prepared HS freshman.

I would like to say that it should be left to the discretion of the coaches, but my experience with coaches leads me to believe that there are a handful that are either craven or just dumber than granite when it comes to things like this. They will conveniently forget prior experience, or dismiss it. This is not just true of the MS example. There are still coaches who don’t see a year of LD as prior experience for PF, or vice versa. I mean, if there are novice divisions in LD, PF, Policy and Parli, are you saying that the same student could be a novice in one after the other each year spanning their entire high school career?

It seems like different regions and leagues have different rules on this, and honestly, I don’t think there’s an overarching solution. Should a tournament aimed at high school students, that calls itself a high school invitational, allow middle school entries? Should experienced middle schoolers be allowed to debate as novices, and how do you define experienced if you’re thinking the answer is no? There is always the solution of creating new divisions, as we used to do in the MHL with what we called (and which we expected were, absolutely) first-timers. Or a tournament can add a MS division or two, if they're so inclined. There are work-arounds to some of this, although they might not be available or possible in all cases.

As I say, there’s no easy answers here. But it’s something that a tournament needs to be clear about if they’re conducting anything other than open divisions. Who comprises what division has to be clearly stated in the invitation. Anything less than 100% specific will lead to people coming into the tab room complaining that so-and-so shouldn’t be in that division, which, if true, is a problem no one wants to deal with.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In which we venture off into a corner of MJP

(Cross-posting on FB)

My brief on judges has ultimately boiled down to this. Someone has to pick them. Either the software can do it randomly, the tab room can do it based on their own opinions of the merits of the judges, or the field can do it based on their opinions of the merits of the judges. I do believe in the value of random assignments, and PF is always handled that way, with maybe a few strikes for relief from your most dedicated enemies. But LD and Policy, having ventured into the realm of allowing the field to determine judging, is probably never going to come back. Keep in mind that this is mostly only true at invitationals. Plenty of tournaments for these divisions, especially for younger students, have random judge placement. The idea that coaches want their students to learn to win over multiple judge points of view hasn’t gone away. But at the most competitive levels, where the stakes are the highest, it’s a different story. (By the way, while it may seem that the stakes are the highest for the debaters, one needs to keep in mind that the stakes are perhaps even higher for some of the coaches, who use competitive success as the warrant for their employment.)

I actually think it’s better that the field determines judge merits rather than the tab room. At best, I would know the judges from my own experience, and rank accordingly. But my experience is simply that, while others have different experiences of those same judges. I have no objective authority of judgment. Since it’s a given that both sides are ranking identically in order for a judge to be placed, there’s no particular advantage to either side if they get a judge they both prefer. (For that matter, they might get a judge they both don’t prefer, at a mutual level, although tab ought to be doing its best to maximize prefs vis-à-vis the bubbles.) Early on I think there was a sense that MJP was bad because it meant a judge was favorable to you, somehow missing the point that the judge was favorable to both of you. I’m not saying that MJP doesn’t have its problems, but in the end, it’s the best possible way to sort and assign. The alternative, tab rankings, is not as good. Random is, arguably, a good thing, but for all practical purposes, that horse has left the barn.

Which brings me to my point. Next week, at Byram, we’re going to have a small field of LDers. The tournament is touted as a prep for Yale the following week, and as such I want to emulate a highly competitive environment as much as possible. So I would want to use prefs. The problem is, with 15-20 judges at most, my usual 5 tiers plus strikes isn’t feasible. What I’m floating is the idea of 4 tiers, 3 of 30% each and 1, the 4th tier, of 10%. Working around the bubble, priority would be 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 2-3, 1-2, and 4-4, only using 4s when people are out of competition for breaking. I think it maximizes the use of judges in a small field/pool, but it still maintains the sense that the field has some control over judge placement.

I’m going to be curious to see how it works out.


Monday, August 28, 2017

In which we plug in

Over the weekend I updated the Toolkit material on running an e-tournament. I have to admit, after the fact, that I wonder if we (Kaz and the Paginator and I were the creators of this process through trial and error) were belaboring the obvious, or really setting the standard of how to do it. I just don't know, because the only tournaments I go to are the ones I run, one way or the other, either as tabber or as TD. How do other tournaments do this? Are they maximizing their pairing assignments and moving efficiently and getting the judges to do their job? I have little doubt that a Palmer is doing this, probably not terribly different from how we're doing it, but what about everyone else, especially the people who run one or two tournaments a year? Beats me. I do know that only a handful of people will ever seriously consult the toolkit, but if nothing else I can point tournaments I work with now in that direction, so they'll know where I'm coming from, and eventually I'll leave a legacy of information behind when I finally pass the torch (which, btw, I have no intention of doing any time soon). And, to be honest, I like having it so I can consult it myself, after a long summer break. How did we do all that, I have to ask myself. The toolkit gives me the answers.

Byram Hills, which is a growing tournament, is only two weeks away. I've been in touch with Zach, an alum who is the TD, as we've gotten close. My main worry is that the venue has decent wifi. We're at the middle school rather than the high school, and one doesn't expect the same level of connectivity. On the other hand, I have to wonder if there's better cell service, given that their HS is absolutely the worst I do. (Scarsdale comes in a close second for cell service sucks.) The thing about an e-tournament is, it's only E if it's all E. 99% of the judges being linked in means that 1% of the tournament is just as it was in 2002, and the whole thing runs at the old speed. That's okay for little local events, especially when there's a lot of new parents and whatnot, but not at an invitational that's going into the night over a span of days. This is especially true of college tournaments. Those schedules are wicked tight. One thing goes wrong and we're there till the cows come home.

As I look at it now, the Toolkit is mostly finished this particular upgrade. I just need to readjust a few things and it's ready for its closeup.

And then we can begin.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

In which we're going, yet again, to you know where

Yeah, we’re planning another trip to WDW. It will be Rowan’s first.

Originally we had planned to go back in about 3 years, to see the new Star Wars stuff and also to do the Food and Wine festival at Epcot. Made sense. But the way my daughter announced her pregnancy to us was in terms of telling us we had to reschedule our next Disney trip. The sense of it now is a trip to Food and Wine before she goes back to work in October, and before Rowan starts crawling, meaning she’ll still be manageably in arms, carrier or stroller. Rowan, I mean, not Kate. There is, of course, no sense of it that Rowan will in any way, shape or form get anything out of it, other than being surrounded by a well-fed happy family. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that my description of Expedition Everest elicited no interest from her whatsoever. In any case, I’ve already written into the calendar at trip in 2021, where she’ll be the age Kate was when we first took her. It was great. It’ll be great again. (Can I use that word, or has Trump coopted it? Feh.)

We don’t expect to do WDW in our usual commando style. We’ll see what we see and do what we do, although of course I’m very interested in seeing and doing Pandora. But we’ll only arrive at rope drop a couple of days, and it’s likely that we’ll have Rowan tucked in long before any fireworks start (although yours truly may hang back to see the MK and DHS shows, which I haven’t seen yet; it’s okay by me if there’s a lot of noise and I don’t get to bed before 10 o’clock). Also we’re not taking break days or making a side trip to Universal, which we would normally do. We’ll catch up on all that in 2021.

Thinking back to those couple of days I roamed the parks alone before joining up with Kaz at the NDCA a couple of years ago, I have to admit that I wouldn’t mind doing that again. Maybe they’ll go back to Central Florida, and Lex will need another PF judge, and I’ll just tag along… Otherwise, WDW isn’t in the old vacation plans, except as noted above. It turns out that the next generation is moving to England for a while (my son-in-law is from London) starting some time next year, and therefore at least one vacation a year will be back in the UK, probably around Christmas time. That helps focus the mind a bit. I do get a boatload of time off from the DJ, which is how I manage to do all the tournaments I do. That’s the result of being there since the Polk administration.

Having your kid grow up and have her own baby realigns the whole family thing. The center moves. Those not at the center follow along. Change happens. While I’d prefer if Rowan were just down the block in the coming years, the idea of her growing up with her English family is very satisfying. I’ll want to miss as little of it as possible.

How does this Facetime thing work?


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

In which no one talks to anyone else

There is, curiously enough, no real go-to communications outlet for debate, or, I guess, forensics in general. This is surprising for an activity that is about communications. Why? Is a puzzlement.

The national organization is relatively closed to paying members only, but even they don't have an easy-going, casual, what’s happening space. Nor a space to argue (as if debate coaches would want to argue about things). Just stuff from on high to the lowly (paying) peasants. Frankly, I don’t get the whole NSDA thing. Make people pay to be members for the whole point thing, but give away all the content. That would make it a real educational service. Now? Make a little content free and make everyone who wants to dig deep pay. Whatever.

There are occasional other venues for discussion, but they’re not reliable. If you post something in Facebook, for instance, it’s a crapshoot if anyone will see it at all. Yes, there are some specific pages and groups, but they’re limited (but at least not at any cost) to their followers/members. And a lot of folks, talking about controversial issues, have gotten lost in the (rather surprising, given the nature of the particular universe) negativity. Various other boards and whatnot have sprouted over the years, but again, they’ve been limited and often hijacked. Nothing has risen from their ashes.

The thing is, I’m not even thinking about the most serious issues, although they do need to be discussed. Even just the general inside-baseball stuff that folks might be interested in never gets aired in public. For instance, judge obligations. I certainly have strong opinions, and I’ve expressed them through my own venues, but I have no idea about other people’s opinions except from what I’ve gleaned in private conversations. Nevertheless, how a specific tournament director thinks about the subject, and then acts, is of importance to the community as a whole.

I’m not suggesting that I’m going to start yet another attempt at communication for the community. Been there, done that. I’m mostly just surprised that no one, ex officio or shooting from the hip, has ever successfully done it.

As I said, is a puzzlement.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

In which we wonder if they bring the taro root into the rounds with them

Tournaments seem to be opening registration and appearing on tabroom faster these days than firings in the Trump White House. The northeast doesn’t start school usually until after Labor Day, although I know that that’s not quite true this year as districts manipulate their way around the Jewish holidays. Meanwhile, I think there are some schools where students are already in the seats, chewing on their pencils and thinking Christmas can’t come soon enough. And one way or another, their coaches are working on their tournaments. 

It’s not hard to get a tournament started, if it’s simply a repeat of a past tournament. Most people just replicate the past, which is not a good thing. If you can’t find a way to make this year’s tournament even better than last year’s tournament, you’re not doing your job as Tournament Director. And don’t give me any malarkey about tradition, or as you probably prefer it—you spalpeen—Tradition. You know damned well you have no compunctions about changing things if it suits your fancy. Calling everything that isn’t to your fancy Tradition is simply giving in to your own mental bureaucracy. Running tournaments is hard. Some people, but not all, do it well, but all, refreshed in the moments when it’s over and all the pain and agony is forgotten, think they do it well. They don’t. You know the tournaments you like and don’t like. The ones that cater to you, the guest and customer, are the best ones. The ones that cater to themselves? They may be on your list because that’s where the bids are, and God knows that nothing is more protective of the bids they’ve gotten somewhere than the TOC committees. Or the bids they think they can get if only all the tournaments they can walk to are given Octos bids, while all the tournaments everywhere else are in regions that already have too many bids and should be a Finals bid at best.


By the way, POI now seems to be a thing. Oh joy, oh rapture. We need even more rooms! There needs to be a limit. When a new activity comes in, an old activity should have to walk the plank. You want POI? Get rid of LD!

Well, not really…