Movin’ On Up: thoughts on officiating competitions

Today I take my YMCA Swim Official Level 2 certification class.  After today, and after I take the test associated with the course, I will be eligible to perform a variety of duties at swim meets as an official, at least at meets with YMCA designation (USA swimming, the governing body that organizes swim meets otherwise, has its own certifications, of which I am a “Stroke and Turn” judge.)

magic-judge swim-judge
the glamorous world of meet/match judging. At left, a Magic judge, at right, a swim judge.

I had a long chat with a friend of mine about the ins and outs of refereeing. My experience was as a swim judge, his was as a judge for Magic: The Gathering tournaments.  Both systems were built around making sure all the competitors were following the rules, and both involved making finicky calls about rules in unusual circumstances.  A couple differences we uncovered in the ruling philosophies:

Swimming’s cardinal rule is “benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer,” with a close second being “if you see it, call it.”  In other words, we look keenly and call infractions as we see them, but if we don’t see them, we can’t call them. If we aren’t sure of what we’re calling, we oughn’t call it.  By contrast, my friend tells me the measure for making a call in Magic is 51% confidence.  The key factor is to maintain the integrity of the tournament.

Regardless of this seeming-gap in the rule-calling, our experiences of doing this work seemed remarkably similar.  We often have to call infractions on people for mistakes, rather than cheats.  You can get a game loss in Magic if you are missing a card from your deck, even if it’s missing because you dropped it on the floor by the last table.  You can get a DQ in swimming if you touch with your hands non-simultaneously on some strokes — if it’s supposed to be a two-hand touch and one hand touches before the other, that’s a one hand touch and you’re DQ’d.

One place we found a clear distinction was in our use of terms.  The standard penalty for an infraction in swimming is the “DQ,” which means that a single race is invalidated for the swimmer.  In Magic, it’s a ‘game loss.’  Since matches are played to best 2 of 3, this isn’t always a match-loss, though it often would be (5 of the 7 match states would make the game loss a match loss).  In swimming, extreme misconduct can involve being ejected from the meet, but this is rare.  Here’s where the confusion came in, at least for a few minutes of our conversation.  In Magic, a DQ is an ejection from the event, along with a six-month ban from other events.

One place we found real similarity is in the nit-picky nature of the job.  Of course easy rules are easy to judge — does the person have enough cards in his deck, is the swimmer on her back for the backstroke?  But the calls are made about tiny details. Did the swimmer initiate a turn immediately, or did he coast a moment first? Does this card get played before that one, or immediately after? But where Magic judges can examine the state of the game for a bit before making their call, swim judges have only the moment the infraction occurs.  We can withdraw a call afterward — upon consideration, perhaps, we can decide a stroke was ‘ugly but legal’ (not a technical phrase), but we can never return to look at the infraction again.  We can only go by what we saw when we saw it.  Hence, the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer.

Readers, are you officials in some capacity?  How does your experience line up with this one?

See also: Hey Judge! He did two dolphin kicks! Are you blind?


Two thoughts on the Boston bombing and related events

First, the coverage of the Boston bombing on Popehat has been amazing.  The gang over there have been doing a bang-up job writing from new angles about the event.  My two favorite are:

security theater, martial law, and a tale that trumps every cop-and-donut joke you’ve ever heard” in which Clark wrote about the enormous waste involved in shutting Boston down for a whole day (except, apparently, Dunkin Donuts, which was explicitly asked to stay open to provide the police with food).

and “Richard Jewell Cannot Accept Our Apology” which reminds us of the famously maligned hero from the 1996 Atlanta bombing and the way the media and pretty much everyone else blamed him without reasonable proof.  Patrick wrote this the day after the bombing:

If the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and All Of Us, could get the Atlanta bombing so tragically wrong in 1996, they, and we, can do it today. In the days to come, it would behoove All Of Us to take what the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and their ilk, have to say about suspects and motives with a grain of salt.

Lest we find outselves owing someone a Richard Jewell-sized apology.

Perhaps the best apology we, All Of Us, can give to Richard Jewell is to be a little more skeptical of what we’re told by the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and their ilk.

It will do Richard Jewell no good whatsoever, but it will make All Of Us better citizens.

In the aftermath of the violent gunfights involved in capturing the current suspects, it seems likely that at worst, the Boston PD and FBI have succeeded in getting dangerous people off the streets–people we presume to be the bombers as well.  The father of the boys is claiming they were framed, which seems bizarre given that they shot at the police and threw explosives, but if you were going to frame someone for this kind of attack, it would make sense to pick someone with a cache of guns and homemade explosives.

Second, in a similar sentiment to the one Clark expressed about the bombing, I’m surprised that the Texas fertilizer factory explosion hasn’t gotten FAR more coverage and raised FAR more concern than the bombing.  Because at its core, the bombing is an unavoidable part of living in free society–you cannot prevent bad people from doing bad things if they’re committed enough. It will happen.  But regulating industry so that careless accidents don’t happen? Hell yeah you can prevent that.

But our media seem much more interested in the unavoidable tragedy than the avoidable one.  I would prefer to see the media mania focused on the factory and the ramifications of our gutted regulatory bodies and their inability to enforce strong safety and environmental regulations rather than so much attention on the criminal act and its actor.

Two sentences you’ll enjoy

From a recent episode of ashow with zefrank

“I wonder if easier said than done is easier said than done.”


From an episode of Stephen Fry’s English Delight, regarding the word buffalo which can refer to the American animal, the American town (capitalized, of course) or the act of confusing someone.  Which means you can have a five-word sentence in which buffalo is all five words.  To whit:

Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

To translate:

Adjective noun verb adjective noun.


Buffalo who hail from the city of Buffalo often confuse other buffalo from the same city.


Between two hipster students on my campus, walking past me on the sidewalk:

Woman: … I’m in if I can have my own house, something that none of the other wives can get into.

Man: That sounds reasonable.

Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto

Reel Big Fish
Not our concert, but one kinda like it

We went to the Reel Big Fish / Streetlight Manifesto show at House of Blues last Tuesday (19 July).  It was a fun show, with good music all around (we arrived after the first band’s set was over, though, so I don’t know how they were).  A few thoughts:

  • The second opening band was Rodeo Ruby Love, playing solid pop punk tunes with an upbeat feel (no horns though).  We enjoyed them quite a bit, and I bought a CD from the lead singer on our way out of the show.  After I bought it, I realized he was the singer so I went back to tell him I enjoyed the show.  He asked my name and introduced himself.  It was kinda weird, but very nice.  Will add the music to my August playlist, and let you know how it is sometime in September.
  • Streetlight Manifesto was very entertaining, with a growly, fast-paced stage presence that really got the audience bumping.  Jenny and I liked the music, but found ourselves out of our depth in terms of familiarity with the band (which I suspected would be the case).  Because we only have the Catch 22 Keasbey Nights album (which I suspected they wouldn’t play anything because of its weird history) and only just got  Somewhere In The Between, we weren’t ready to sing along and enjoy the songs.  Knowing a band’s catalog well really does make a difference in being able to enjoy their show.
  • Reel Big Fish were very entertaining, showing the evidence of their 10+ years as a touring band.  Each member of the group brings different personality to the stage, and the Aaron Barret’s patter ties them all together nicely.  This was the biggest positive of RBF over SM, their stage presence, which felt much more entertaining.  As Jenny put it, “they’re entertainers.” At one point they did a very entertaining repeated play of one song (I forget which, not a major hit) in several different modes, including country and death metal.
  • The House of Blues was a pretty good venue, and we sprung for one of the bar tables as we hadn’t eaten.  It had a pretty high minimum spending amount, but that gave us seats and a good view (plus an attentive waitress and a bouncer who kept the hoipolloi away from us).  It felt a little opulent, but it meant Jenny didn’t have to contend with the mosh pit, and if we’d gone out to eat beforehand, we would easily have spent as much as we did for the seats/table.  I did feel a little bad telling people that the stools on the other side of the table were off limits, but if they sat there, the bouncer came right over and chased them off.  At one point, we commented how nice it was to be a grown up.
  • Jenny and I noticed that we tend to watch certain people on stage more often than others.  We both found ourselves watching the trombonist in Streetlight Manifesto (who had a distinctive up-swing on his horn when he was about to play) and I watched the bass saxophonist a lot.  I kept thinking that he looked a lot like Jason Lee from Chasing Amy, but also quite a bit like a student I once had.  In Reel Big Fish, I couldn’t help but watch the saxophonist, whose spiky mohawk and funny persona really shined.  My favorite moment was toward the end of the concert (when they were singing, I think, Beer) when he ran and leapt off the drummer stand.

The only down side is that I forgot my earplugs, which I find make such shows much more enjoyable.  I also wish I’d taken more effort to familiarize myself with SM’s music.  A fun time, over all.  I’d recommend these bands as good acts to pursue.

Streetlight Manifesto
Streetlight Manifesto

We’re doing something right

On the way home from the pool the other day, a couple days before we’re going to go camping with our friends Michelle and Christopher and their daughter Jordan:

Avery: I love you, Daddy.

Me: Well, thank you, Avery.  I love you too.

Avery: I love you, Mommy. And I love Finn.  And I love my two grandmas.  And I love my Grandpa.  I love everybody I know.

[Jenny and I grin at one another over her head as we walk along.]

Avery: And I love Jordan.

I didn’t inquire why Jordan wasn’t covered in the ‘everybody I know’ claim.

PCA/ACA Rundown I

A Hydrant near the Gateway ArchI went to the national PCA/ACA conference last week in beautiful St. Louis.  It was a great event, with lots of fun people and good scholarship to see.  As usual, I did not get to see as many panels as I would have liked since I’m on the executive board and so have to attend a bunch of meetings.  But I saw a few, so here’s the breakdown of what I saw:

  • Part of panel 1132, Horror: Getting Critical with Zombies.  I missed the first two papers because of a meeting, but I heard Nick and Rick McDonald’s dialog about zombies “Zombie Alterity.”  The McDonalds focused mostly on the question of zombies as other and where the pleasure in a zombie movie comes from.  Does it come from the interaction of characters and how we understand that interaction, or does it come from the joy of watching people kill zombies a lot.  American Zombie or Zombieland?  Not a bad paper, but I thought the dialog form didn’t work as well as it could have, perhaps because they scripted it instead of working from notes and really getting into the performance of the argument.
  • I really enjoyed Charles Hoge’s “The Zombie Runs Deep,” in which he explores what I would call the pre-history of the zombie, looking at revenants as zombies from before the mass-media era.  While I would quibble that the idea of revenants usually turns on a different kind of fear and a different kind of malice (the haunting or vengeful spirit rather than the externally-driven corpse) and that there’s no distinction in the old literature between vampires, zombies, and ghosts, the paper was fascinating nonetheless, and will probably be part of my zombie class in future, if I can connect with him.  This paper won the Brendan Riley Award for my Favorite Paper I Saw At the Conference.
  • 1172, Film Adaptation IV.  Jacky Dumas presented an interesting discussion of semiotics, truth in narrative, and Tim Burton’s Big Fish.  The idea, as I remember it, was that the false tales told in the story are engineered by the characters in such a way that they define who those characters are.  Dumas wove a complex set of semiotic theories that were a bit tough to grasp in an oral presentation for someone without much background in linguistics or comm theory, but I think I got the gist. The stories become the tall-tale-teller’s lives.  Of course, we could all make the same claim about our own anecdotal pasts as well.  In conversation, I suggested integrating Housesitter and Memento into the mix.  Having seen the talk makes me want to watch Big Fish again.
  • In the same panel, Paul Petrovic presented a fascinating discussion of the imagery of women in the two Watchmen texts.  His general argument was that the movie hollows out the female characters and fetishizes them into sexual objects with little depth.  It was an interesting talk that led to an involved and exciting discussion session.

More tomorrow…

In case you missed Glee this week

Finn:  “I don’t think one decision makes your life, unless you accidentally invent some kind of zombie virus or something.”

The challenges of group work


During a student presentation in my Detective fiction class today, the small groups were assigned to come up with the idea for a police procedural novel.  One of the groups proposed a story involving a “cat lady” who was murdered in her home by a mysterious killer.  As they finished their description, one member of the group added an amusing expansion to their idea:

Student 1: We were tossing around the idea that the killer might only kill people with cats.  And then he shaves one of them.

Student 2: Well, he was tossing that idea around.

Talk Origins

My favorite answer on the Talk Origins archive.

Creationist claim:

Homosexuality is considered acceptable and even desirable by most evolutionists, who point out that homosexuality is common in many species.

Evolutionist respose:

3. The Biblical objection to homosexuality is hypocritical, because those who condemn it do not condemn just as vigorously other prohibited behaviors such as wearing clothing made of two kinds of material (Lev. 19: 19), trimming or shaving sideburns (Lev. 19: 27), getting tattoos (Lev. 19: 28), and charging interest (Deut. 23: 19-20). People who condemn homosexuality do so not because the Bible tells them to, but, ultimately, because they want to. People who condemn others should first examine the morality of their own judgments.

I love the snide last sentence.

My St. Pat’s Day rocked

Rocking St. Pat's Day
Rocking St. Pat's Day

We went to the Flogging Molly concert at the Congress Theatre last night.   I enjoyed myself immensely.  A few comments:

  • Turns out I need to think a bit more carefully about the challenges of being less than six feet tall in the general admissions venue.  We found a good spot eventually, but it was tough finding a place where Jenny could see.
  • It turns out that even rock musicians dilute the value of the F-word when they use it too much too often.  By contrast, Irishmen saying bastards is funny every time.
  • I liked the set overall — the two best songs, in conjunction with the crowd reactions, were “Selfish Man” and “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.”  The latter was fantastic.
  • Because it was St. Paddy’s day and most of the audience was in one stage or another of drunken revelry, they played “The Worst Day Since Yesterday.”  I approve, but am a bit dubious about King’s claim that they hadn’t played that song for 8 years.
  • I was disappointed that they didn’t play “Screaming At A Wailing Wall” or “Within a Mile Of Home.”  On the other hand, they did play “The Kilburn High Road,” “Devil’s Dance Floor,” Queen Anne’s Revenge,” “Tobacco Island,” Drunken Lullabies.”  All awesome.
  • About 20% of the show were songs from Float, the album I don’t have.  A good mix, I think.
  • There was a wide variety of folks there for the all-age show.  Plenty of punks and other rockers, but plenty of teenage suburbans, oldsters, hipsters, frat boys, sorority girls, and others.

Old-time radio shows

I just finished listening to a bunch of old radio shows I downloaded a while ago.  I love radio plays, with their hilarious sound effects and atmospheric storytelling.  The Mike Shayne stories were the best, with Mike regularly registering surprise by saying “Whaa?” or “HUH!?”  Awesome stuff.  A few more thoughts:

  • The Case of the Bayou Monster had a delightful Scooby Doo feel to it.
  • The Case of the Monkey’s Uncle had the best title.
  • There was also an insurance investigator named “Johnny Dollar.”  He wasn’t nearly as cool as Archie McNally (the lawyer’s investigator) or Nathan Ford (Hutton’s character on Leverage).

I love awesome names for investigators.   Here are a few I just made up.

  • Lance McCracken
  • Rock Weatherby
  • Dennis Bordeaux-Featherbottom
  • Wilson Pettigrew
  • Eileen Windward

Let fly with more!

Penn on Parenting

I’ve been watching Penn Gilette’s youtube channel lately, and while I think some of the stuff he says is outrageously stupid, some of it is lovely and smart.  His commentary on Freakonomics and athiesm here is pretty interesting, and reminds me why I watch his channel.


Reading advice from Columbia’s bathroom scribes


Books are for girls!

(and guys who like to read!)

Digital news to freak out about

Computer Freak Out by Daveco9200
Computer Freak Out by Daveco9200

Found via Slashdot and Digg

1. The judgement in a cyberbullying case has the potential to make Terms of Service into laws. By the use and abuse of an anti-hacking statute, a woman was charged with a crime for violated the TOS of Myspace. Think about this: TOS are the click-throughs that very few people read. Even this paranoid writer only skims them looking for maliciousness. The idea that these arbitrary rules whose contents are liable to change without notice or oversight constitute enforceable criminal laws is outrageous.

Groklaw’s author writes:

In fact, I don’t think it’s overstating it a bit to say that unless this case is overturned, it is time to get off the Internet completely, because it will have become too risky to use a computer. At a minimum, I’d feel I’d need to avoid signing up for membership at any website, particularly MySpace. Why particularly MySpace? The Times Online has their statement:

MySpace, which is a division of News Corporation, owner of The Times, said in a statement that it “respects the jury’s decision and will continue to work with industry experts to raise awareness of cyber-bullying and the harm it can potentially cause.”

If it respects this decision, I don’t feel safe there. I didn’t even want to visit its web site to try to find its terms of use. But according to this article, MySpace gets to be the one that decides if we’ve violated their terms:

MySpace users agree that the social networking site has the final say on deciding whether content posted by users violates a long list of regulations contained in the agreement.

There is no recourse. They make the law and if you mess up, you go to jail. You used a computer, after all, didn’t you, and their server isn’t yours, and if they say you have violated their terms, you have. I’d also never upload anything to YouTube, and I wouldn’t use anyone’s blogging software. I’d definitely stay out of the Cloud, because I don’t own those computers either, leaving me open to Computer Fraud & Abuse Act allegations, which is what Drew was charged with. In short, it’d be time for me to just pack up and leave, if this verdict stands. If you think EULAs were bad, imagine after this ruling if they can be tied to the CFAA. Do you think it’ll be long before folks are tossed in jail for defining fair use in ways a copyright owner doesn’t like? Would Microsoft hesitate to criminalize its EULA terms? You think? You trust?

2. Harvard Law Professor sues the RIAA. The professor claims that congress gave a private entity the right to exercise and enforce laws in a way that was never intended. The Harvard Crimson writes:

“That a private organization is allowed to take a huge chunk of government power and impose its will upon millions of people is, frankly, disconcerting,” he said in an interview.

The statute in question—The Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999—penalizes copyright violators up to $150,000 per willful infringement.

“The situation is absurd,” Tenenbaum said. “It was never about the money. It was about creating a scary situation to deter others.”

Often, the accused in copyright infringement cases do not understand the charges against them and cannot afford an attorney, so they pay the amount the RIAA demands without ever reaching court, Nesson said.

3. The Internet almost broke this summer.  I wrote about this earlier, but if you didn’t read it, you should.