Monday, March 08, 2021

In which we do a little summing up

It was almost exactly a year ago when, after running a perfectly wonderful NYCFL qualifier for CatNats down at Stuyvesant, a bunch of us drove up north and had a nice Italian dinner in White Plains before going our separate ways. There was a lot of discussion of how the coronavirus might affect us, all of it extremely speculative.

Now we know.


Needless to say, there’s still a lot of speculation, and no one really knows now next year will play out, but it’s interesting to look at how we handled things in the year just passed. In a word, we coped. In fact, in some cases we more than coped. 


We carved out what we think is a good schedule, essentially five single-flighted rounds a day. There were some variations on this, occasionally over our rather vocal demurrals, but that was the basic setup. Rounds started and ended during what one might call the basic workday, to prevent tournaments from bumping up too hard against the family lives of the participants. We found no way to accommodate folks from time zones far away (see for 3/8), but to be realistic, some of those folks from the west coast who would, in real life, come to an east coast tournament, probably usually suffered a hell of a lot worst from red-eyes and jet lag than simply having to get up early in the morning. (And my guess is that, IRL, it wasn’t much earlier than the normal school day. Around here, the buses pick up high school kids at around 6:30 in the morning. I doubt if it’s much different in California.) We jumped on the NSDA virtual room software early on, and found that it blended perfectly with Palmer and Co at NSDA were real heroes with this. I only used competing software once, and while it had some bells and whistles lacking in the jitsi app, the lack of seamlessness was a powerful deterrent: it would take us forever to get into rooms (after identifying traffic lights, buses and motorcycles over and over again), not to mention the missing campus rooms page where one simply saw at a glance the red dots of the missing and the green checks of the present-and-accounted-for. 


I don’t think there’s any question that teams took a hit in a lot of ways. One of the values of forensics is its community, and community on a screen is not the same as community in person, not for forensics or anything else. Once we get back to being IRL, teams are going to have a lot of rebuilding work to do. But at the same time, the lack of physical boundaries allowed us to really beef up a lot of tournaments. While on occasion the size of, say, VPF was the same as previous years, the addition of both JV and Novice almost everywhere came close at times to doubling our numbers. VLD was steady, but again, there were JV divisions that had never existed before. Longtime members of the Vast Coachean Army know my feelings about second-years, who traditionally have a really hard time of it against varsity competition; that’s the year a lot of people drift away. As a firm believer that there are benefits in forensics for all 4 years for everyone, I always hated to see that happen. This year, it didn’t. Or at least it didn’t have to. 


Overall, I was personally involved in processing thousands of rounds this year. We lost a few things in our activity, of course, but more than anything, we stuck with it. We created one of the few student activities that could go on all year, slightly but not drastically changed. I would imagine some of the interp activities suffered the most, and I feel for them, because I love them too—half of me is a Speecho-American at heart. But they’ll come back IRL. It’s in their genes. If you love to perform, perform you will, one way or the other. 


As I said, no one knows what will be happening next year. Probably we’ll get back on track eventually IRL, but maybe not right away. And some tournaments might stick to virtual precisely because of the lack of room issues. Who knows? In the end, I’m proud of us. We did good work—students, coaches, administrators. We kept this activity vibrantly alive.


We did it. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

In which we discuss the sameness of things

I know. I haven’t been blogging, and it’s unlikely that many people are left popping in here to see what’s up. To be honest, there hasn’t been much up at all, aside from running tournaments every weekend. The fact that I’m doing it without leaving the home office makes them all fairly much alike. There’s a big difference in shuttling down to Philadelphia for a weekend and zipping up to Lexington for a different weekend, and not much difference at all in doing Penn and Lexington at my desk in the family room, except my level of responsibility. If you're in charge of the whole shooting match, you put together your team, you create the tabroom tournament, you get people to sign up who should sign up, you bar people from signing up who shouldn’t be signing up, and you make sure everyone gets all their judges lined up. After that, it's the same whether you're in charge or not: you pair the rounds, you tell people to hit start until you’re blue in the face, you go to the kitchen to get something to eat, you come back and pair the next round. In between, you spend a lot of time chatting with Catholic Charlie and She(ryl) Who Must Be Obeyed, and there you are. This year we’ve been lucky to have Dammit Janet with us most of the time; she invented the modern room check, and runs the risk of being nicer than She(ryl) Who Must Be Obeyed, despite all our efforts to bring her down to our level. Of course, that level of responsibility mentioned above is meaningful. I spent endless hours in advance working on Penn. I haven’t spent two minutes working on, say, Lakeland, and I won’t until a final run-through because if I don’t do it, it will be a true fustercluck. It’s hard enough to get tabroom straight when you at it ab ovo, but when someone else has been at it, unstraightness is virtually guaranteed. But it’s no big deal, and things will run fine when the time comes, within the confine of the parameters set by the tournament. I mean, if they want 27 double-flighted rounds a day, I can do it. It’ll suck, but I can do it. At those sorts of tournaments, I’m a simple functionary, following whatever orders are given. If nothing else, the lack of pressure is delightful. So is knowing that, if you had the chance and your hands on the controls, it would be a hundred times better. Don’t blame me: I’m only the messenger.


Anyhow, one thing I do have control over is the new 4n6 Funnies. I spent some time today on the page design, which is mostly barebones, but at least it’s barebones that I find comfortable. I’m figuring on maybe 3 new strips a week once I get going. A new one is up now, if you want to check it out. I’ve decided that the first frame linking to the strip is probably the best “ad” when I post that there’s an update. Judge for yourself… 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

New Project Launching Today

What? You think I've been doing nothing all year but telling people to hit the start button?


Thursday, November 12, 2020

In which we concede nothing, 'cause we're rough and tough when we strut our stuff

Things have been going along swimmingly. Overall, people are definitely getting the hang of virtuosity. After all, once you’ve done it, you discover there isn’t much to it. If you can turn on your computer, you pretty much know everything there is to know. The number of tech issues is minimal. If nothing else has gone right during the pandemic, at least forensics has not only survived but thrived. So at least there’s one happy story in all of this mess.

The last few weeks for me have been smallish events that have, at times, required a bit of creativity in the pairing creation. Our CFLs have no school limits, so if you have umpty-ump novice PFers on your team, you get all umpty-ump of them into the tournament. Of course, this usually means same-school pairings, but that is the price you pay for having a successful program. (One of the nice things about the invitiationals this year, unlimited in space as they are, is our ability to have V, JV and Nov divisions of everything, to which the response has been very strong. I think the JV divisions in particular have been godsends for people. The limits in the TOC-bid varsity divisions are serious, but as I’ve noted a million times before, not everyone is—or should be—on the bid hunt. Add to this the need for a place for second-year and lightly experienced third-years to go and have a chance to get meaningful rounds at their own level, and there you are.)  With same-school pairings, at least we usually can get neutral judging, which is something at least. We’ve also had to do a little dancing with the pools, throwing LD judges into PF and (if it makes sense) PF judges into CX, and all manner of craziness that isn’t necessary in the normal run of events. It makes tabbing fun (or something resembling fun, in the tabbing sense of the word), but it does keep the judges dancing to different tunes at the drop of a hat. Keeps them on their toes, in other words. Then again, variety is the proverbial S of L, so we’ll leave it at that. 


One big problem has been that single flighting has not generated anything close to a surplus of judges. IRL, a 3 to 1 ratio in a double-flighted world where, in reality, you need a 2 to 1 ratio, has obvious overages. In a 2-1 ratio situation where you indeed run at 2-1, overages aren’t so likely. Being in general a devious human being, I’ve been capping the colleges at odd numbers for just that reason. That is, you can have 3, or 5, depending. 2 or 4, I can’t stop you from entering only Castor and Pollux, but if you have both the Gemini twins and the Olsen twins on your team, one of those pairs is staying home. (Sorry, Mary-Kate.) This arithmetic reality is the reason we didn’t hire out judges at Rather Large Bronx, keeping them all to ourselves, and why we won’t be doing it at the Ivies I work either. At the big tournaments we want if possible to give rounds off; the only way to do that is hire extras and work them to death—What? You want me to judge 5 whole hours? What kind of working world is that? If I had a 9 to 5 job I’d only have to work… Oh… Right. I sent out the notice that we were reneging on the judge hire offer for Princeton a couple of days ago, and got zero push-back. Maybe people are waking up to reality. (Or maybe people are not reading their emails. Could go either way.)


Coming up this weekend is Scarsdale, where JV will be cracking the whip virtually to get everyone where they belong when they belong there. Then there’s Wee Sma Lex via the Bronx Local, which still could use a few NYers to perk things up, and then the Tiggers, Ridge and the Venial Sinvitational. Ye gods! Fortunately Thanksgiving is in there somewhere to break things up, and everyone will be over the river and through the woods at grandmother's house, although probably most likely only in their dreams, but, as they say in sports ball, Wait till next year!



Wednesday, October 28, 2020

In which we probably should point out that the bagels and noodles were not served together

The Not Regis debate last weekend was a piece of pie. Or easy as cake, if you prefer. 

The things that never fails to not amuse are A) the inability of schools to check in on time; B) the thought that these schools have that emailing my personal account will suffice while I am, in reality, putting together pairings and did, by the way, post a help email/text# for the tournament that I do look at; and C) even running late, and doing it bass ackwards, they still don’t get their info correct. Would it surprise you that it’s always the same schools? It shouldn’t. The Usual Suspects, regardless of venue and genre, are usual for a reason. 


Other than that, aside from a couple of flaky judges, everything ran fine. As one would expect. Most importantly, lots of novices got a chance to get rounds, many for the first time. And we were open to anyone in the region. You’ve gotta love the NYCFL. I know I do.


In other news, there’s lots of other tournaments. This coming weekend is the Tim Averill 

Not-Dead-Yet Memorial, or the tournament formerly known as Manchester, AKA the Home of the Albino Bagel, AKA the One Piece of Bacon Invitational. I’ve been working with them behind the scenes, which is becoming something of a thing between me and my general Mass colleagues, or my Mass General colleagues, if you prefer. The thing is, I do this every week, so at least I think I’m pretty good at it. I can bring to tournaments an easy level of expertise forged in the cauldron of endless other tournaments. (Translated into English, I know how to use tabroom.) The MSDL has its quirks, though, meaning that the Massachusetts audience has incorporated those quirks into their debate lives. So it goes. It will be fun, nonetheless.


Princeton has had the heat turned up. I spent Monday and Tuesday clearing waitlists. Way fewer bogus entries than at Rather Large Bronx, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. In any case, I like the way things came out. As expected, VPF is still ginormous, but everyone pretty much got a good number of starter slots. Better than IRL, to tell you the truth. 


Columbia is on deck, opening next week, if memory serves. We’re going to try to add some CX, plus the pandemic side salads of JV and Nov divs in LD and PF. Sadly, however, I won’t actually be on the Gem campus (or the Barnard campus, truth to tell) and will therefore not have access to the Jewish/Chinese bagel/noodle restaurant. 



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

In which we may or may not have been wearing pants

Another Big Bronx is in the books. And the takeaway is simple: the software now has a new feature, virtual rooms. No drama. No great revelations. Tabroom works, and thanks to the powers that program for NSDA (e.g., Palmer), this particular feature also works. 

End of story.


I’ve done a bunch of little virtual events before this one, which was simply an arithmetic increase in things to do. More rooms to check, of course, but at least in the LD/CX universe, everybody pretty much knows the drill. We only subbed out a handful of judges, inevitably for reasons not related to tech. In fact, the tech side of things makes the tournament move all that more quickly. If a judge isn’t in a room at start time, we know it. We immediately do a replace. For all practical purposes the new judge then immediately appears in the room, and the round begins. No walking to the other end of the campus, or getting lost in the west wing of the high school. (It is a fact universally acknowledged that most large high schools designate various areas in ways unfathomable to the logical mind, presumably to scare enough of the newbies away every year to have more mystery meat in the cafeteria for everyone else. Add to this that most large high schools have annexes, addenda, Quonsets and porta-potties built after the original brutalist main building that couldn’t fit into a normal numbering scheme even if they wanted. Best advice I can give anyone trying to find their way through a high school is to bring extra breadcrumbs.) 


One of the good things about large, robust divisions is that MJP is a breeze. 99% come out 1-1 without touching anything. After the 3rd round, when we start having some down-and-outs, we can start using the poor judges at the bottoms of the prefs. Happily we could say that at the end of Saturday, with 5 rounds that day and 2 the day before, every judge had at least one round (and usually more), and every judge had at least one round off. I think that becomes a must for the tab room, to keep people working but not overworking. This of course means a little loss of all those 1-1 pairings, but in the upper brackets, they ought to be able to pick up their 2s. I mean, MJP isn’t a license to strike 80% of the field. (Although try to tell that to some coaches.)


The other thing we did that made the prefs a little less one-ish was gender-balancing in the elims. The Paginator was always a leader in this, and we honor his not-exactly-distant memory by continuing to do it. It’s something we do as a matter of course when there’s no prefs, but something we need to remind ourselves to do with MJP panels. Gender issues are always big in debate; anything we can do to balance things out has to put us at least a little on the side of the angels.


The down side of virtual Bronx was manifold: no great fresh sandwiches and homemade chips from the Little Sandwich Cabin, no Thursday night dinner at the chez with Kaz, no late night pairings with a nice port on Saturday, no brown bonnets from Mr. Softee… It’s tough, being home. On the other hand, I did have time to make some pasta Bolognese, some Spanish meatballs with sweet potato fritters, ham and eggs for breakfast, etc. Into each rainstorm a little sunlight must fall.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

In which we move from the hills of Byram to the sciences of The Bronx

Last weekend we ran Byram Hills. I really wanted to see how things worked out with double flighting. The bottom line was that if you limited your room request to the correct number of rooms, entrants / 4, it was no problem. Everything paired fine. And, of course, we added plenty of time for turnover. In my mind it looks like 4 doubles a day is quite doable. Although to be honest, I don’t see us doing too many double-flighted events going forward. The thing is, 4 rounds a day isn’t very many. If you want 5 rounds and breaks, well, you can see the problem. Single flights does impose a large judging burden on a team, but at some point teams have to put up or shut up. Most teams have been around for a while and ought to have a backlog of alums and friends available to help out. If not, well, as I’ve said many times, there’s something rotten in that team’s Denmark. Adding to the issue, reliance on hireds is becoming more complicated, if not impossible, at college venues. We’re seeing the colleges demand all sorts of credentials for hires that are virtually impossible to secure, which means that the colleges have to fall back on their own usually limited resources. Certain schools have been too spoiled over the years. I have a feeling that when we go back to real life, more than a few things are going to be radically different. 

Anyhow, BHills was a breeze overall. Very few tech problems, inevitably from those who paid no attention to the warning to check their tech in advance. Yes, folks, that’s why we send out the emails, so that you’ll ignore them. If we thought you’d read them, we wouldn’t bother. Sigh. 


Meanwhile, things are quieting down now on the preparatory Rather Large Bronx front. Once registration shuts down, it’s all over but the shouting. A few people have been tardy with their judges, and a whole boatload of schools don’t have their students linked, but there’s still time and we’re handling things. There’s still the odd email to send out for people to ignore, but other than that, it’s on to the final fine-tuning of the tabroom setup, and there you are. Which reminds me that I probably should be doing that now. 


See you in the funny papers.