The Massacre of the Novii

On July 1st of each year, I have a ritual I call the Massacre of the Novii.  Today I go through the database on Tabroom.com and change every student listed as a novice to not be a novice anymore.  I also this year went through and automatically marked any student with a grad year 2012 or before as “retired”.  So your team rosters will be considerably smaller; and *sniff* our little babies are all grown up now into the vicious argumentative hellions we’ve trained them to be.  Papa’s so proud.

I’ve been working feverishly on Tabroom.com this summer, mostly doing boring behind the scenes work to prepare to it function much more smoothly with debate events, particularly international debate events.  This work is supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundation, which is George Soros’s main philanthropic effort, and IDEA, the International Debate Education Association.   The plan is for Tabroom to become the integrated web fronted for debate tournaments worldwide, working together seamlessly with the CAT/debateresults.com system developed by Jon Bruschke of CSU Fullerton, who’s been a great hippy Californian partner in arms in this effort.   Mostly, I’m doing the web stuff, he’s doing the desktop client.

This is not a black UN helicopter taking over Tabroom; I’m still going to be in the thick of it, and the software itself, by OSF mandate, must be open sourced.   This effort on OSF/IDEA’s part is about expanding their services and therefore their own profile in debate, and also attempting to cross-pollinate good ideas from abroad and the US.  It’s not about seizing control of anything.  There are also plans afoot to integrate this tabulation and results system into a global honor society, in which debaters can be recognized for their entire careers, high school, college and coaching, worldwide.  All of which I think is very exciting, and I’m glad IDEA is stepping in to fill these needs.

The programming itself is unspeakably boring, because it mostly consists of me correcting some fundamental flawed assumptions and mistakes that I made back in the beginning of Tabroom 2.0, which was released more or less in 2004.  (Tabroom 1.0 was 2000-2003, but nobody ever used it except for me).  Tabroom 3.0 features a professional graphical design based on the new IDEA website, which is spiffier than anything I could come up with; I can design for clean, but not quite for “shiny”.

But I’m also working on some cool new features; I don’t want to over promise, but I expect that Tabroom will support texting/email of pairings, team management features where your students can sign up for tournaments directly on tabroom and only requires coaches’ approval, the ability for judges to enter their ballots and results directly online by computers and phone, more varied ways of displaying results (a carryover from debateresults.com), and a few new surprises that I’m cooking up.   It’ll support US formats, together with various global formats, such as 4 team British Parliamentary debate and more.

So that’s the future of Tabroom.com.  Launch is August 1st for registration, Sept 1st for tabbing/pairing features.  And brave new worlds shall be upon us.

Ithaca

Work took me to Ithaca, NY, where I spent most of today struggling against the network setup there.  I want a relatively simple thing; a network that joins up with Cambridge’s.  But I don’t have quite the right mix of what I need.  I have a server that should be able to operate with only sporadic contact with the home base in Cambridge, but apparently doesn’t.  Ticks me off, it does, and leads me to spend one of those days rolling a sisyphean rock up the hill.  Nothing is more frustrating and terrible than that, in this line of work: the thing that doesn’t work, and you don’t know how to make it work given the tools you have.

But last night I drove from Syracuse, where my flight landed, to Ithaca.  Along the way, I drove through Syracuse, a middling sized city of lit, empty streets.  I passed through Cortland, which looked like any other collection of neon and red plastic signs drawing attention to the inevitable chain stores.  The strip malls blend in with the next; town boundaries blur, and identities blur.  What separates Cortland really from Syracuse, or Syracuse from Utica, or Schenectady, or Pittsfield, or Fitchburg?  Their city centers are distinct, but barren; their outskirts lively, but so much the same; bright red and blue overlit signs, parking lots, and commercial monotony.

Ithaca has a sunburst of character, but it’s unsustainable without the weight of Cornell to draw that critical mass here.  That’s how Ann Arbor works, and Madison.  Large cities manage it too, through sheer numbers; though we have Detroit to offset Boston, and Newark looks over New York’s shoulder.  San Francisco is lovely, but Phoenix is just depressing, and in exactly the same way that Syracuse is depressing.  Places with such august names should live up to them; Syracuse should be a city of hills and Greek columns and libraries, while Phoenix should spread oranges and reds and yellows so the very ground seems to burn with it.

Not so much.  Instead corporate branding ply their psychological games.  Supposedly, whenever I see the blue and yellow sign I immediately think Best Buy and am seized with the urge to buy a $4,000 television.

Talent flows from places like Syracuse to places like Ithaca.  It flows from places like Fitchburg to places like Boston.  And that’s sad, since there’s nothing saying that a place like Fitchburg couldn’t be the center and source of civic pride that once it was, where someone with talent could stay and build and make it a little bit better, except that we’ve had choices made for us in the country and economy that say it’s efficient for our entire country to be the same strip mall, repeated over and over.  I immediately know where I can buy a certain thing, but I never know quite where I am.

Cluster

So I intended grand things in home improvement this weekend.  Saturday I had to go to work, because when you have to shut down major computer clusters, you do it on the weekend in order to not disturb folks.  So I went in, and started to copy a terabyte of data from a storage array I was reconfiguring; this takes a couple of hours so I went to lunch.  And then on the steps in the lobby, I slipped and fell, spraining my right ankle and badly bruising my left calf.

Way to go, swifto.

I hobbled my way to the foodcourt for lunch anyway, and went back to finish the downtime work.  That was fine, but then I realized that my swelling ankle meant that I was not going to drive myself home.  I thought cab at first but then realized my car would be towed by the time I managed to retrieve it, so I started calling around for a driver volunteer.  Pete was around, but had a lot of work.  So I called around more, and it turns out my friends actually have plans on Saturday nights, so Pete it was.

One of the stranger aspects of Pete is that he really likes country music.  The only other country music fan I know is my mother.  But anyway, he was close to saying I was SOL at one point since he had a pressing deadline, but right about then he was listening to a song that was all about how you know who your friends are when you’re in need and so forth.

Long story short, he came, and drafted Bergman, who I’d met once before, to follow us in his car.  So he’s my hero of the weekend, and I owe the both of them dinner.  And it enforce immobility for the weekend, which is funny.  I finished two books: American Trade Politics, and the Golden Compass, which I’ve read about in theological contexts enough to interest me.  The next two books are on their way now.

The ankle is swelling is down now, and I spent a lazy day away from the keyboard.  That’s all very healthy.  Then i responded to league email.  Less healthy, but necessary sometimes.  Tomorrow, Monday.  We’ll see how that works.