Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

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Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Fri Jun 19, 2015 12:07 am

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I know this is part 6 and I haven't finished writing part 5 yet. It was easier to finish this one first. I'll loop around and get Part 5 done as soon as I can.

A lot of us know or have heard of Weiner's Laws, those most famous of tongue-and-cheek adages. But over the span of 15+ years, there has been a lot more advice (much of it of a more serious nature) from Matt Weiner to various other people. In the event that he doesn't come back to these boards, I'll use this thread codify some things Matt Weiner has said or taught me (mostly verbally or over the Internet, but a few by example) over the years which are still worthwhile or never made it to a permanent post. They're not in any particular order. And posting these isn't necessarily an endorsement of the content or the way in which they were said, though I suspect most of the content is at least worth stewing over.
  • I forget the exact wording here, but Mattw used to give a pep talk to new VCU players before their first tournament of the year, whose basic point was that you never know when a question that you'd be really good at will come at you, and therefore have to stay engaged and listening to every question. This requires being attentive and awake; in other words, you need to "keep your eyes on the moderator, your buzzer in your hand, and your HEAD OFF THE :capybara:-ING DESK".
  • It usually takes 3 to 6 months for anyone, even someone who knows a lot for real which regularly comes up in-game, to get used to the game of quizbowl enough to actually buzz regularly on stuff they already know. Being aware of this learning curve is helpful in dealing with brand-new players.
  • The game of quizbowl looks a lot less insurmountable when you break it down into small segments that come up over and over. I unfortunately never got the lecture notes for this talk, but Mattw told me he used to do a talk each fall with new VCU players in which he'd draw a big bubble on the board for a large category like "LITERATURE", then ask people to call out smaller and smaller subcategories, which got drawn as smaller bubbles off the bigger ones (from there to "NOVELS," perhaps, and then to "RUSSIAN NOVELS"). Eventually you'd get down to the level of a granular answer, or a set of things just small enough to consistently appear as an answer at pretty much every tournament ("TOLSTOY"). The "bubble chart" exercise is meant to show people that they can get a grasp on an area of knowledge which is large enough to consistently get them points at every single tournament they attend -- and the way to do that isn't (at least at first) to go "I'm gonna study LITERATURE" and then bang one's head against a wall. Rather, starting small can help people know they're going to reliably get something, from which it's very possible to scaffold up.
  • What it takes to start a new team: Just get on the road and start going to tournaments. Really, that's it. Recruiting people, getting official funding/recognition, etc. all comes later, and treating those as insurmountable obstacles before one even shows up to a nearby event is not the right attitude. For years, the VCU team was just Mattw himself going to everything he could, and it wouldn't have grown into the self-sustained team it is today without those prior years having been there. Resources like Zipcar and Megabus make it easier than ever even as rates of car ownership (and driver's license possession) among college students go down.
  • "Learn the :capybara:-ing Rules." "Read the :capybara:-ing Rules." An astounding feature of quizbowl compared to many other competitive enterprises is the extreme lack of rules knowledge and rules consciousness even among the very most dedicated participants. But the rules exist publicly and can be known, instead of guessed at or made up, and it's to your advantage to learn what they actually are so no one can pull a fast one on you over issues such as immediate answer correction or protests.
  • Train successors and assistants. Your legacy isn't just about you as an individual player, writer, logistician, or editor -- it's also about how many people you were able to bring up into the system behind you, and how well they do.
  • If you set real expectations for teams, many teams will rise to meet them and enjoy doing so in the process. Before consistently good high school quizbowl was a reality, it was a dream in the heads of select people, who may not have been able to foresee back in 2000 just how far teams would come over the last fifteen years. (Seriously; go back and look at high school questions from 2000, and then try imagining that's all you ever knew. You want something like what we have today, but the vision is quite hazy.) But it's only because those early dreamers foresaw rightly that teams could do it, blowing past the naysayers who warned that everything would be IMPOSSIBLE or that nobody would be interested once games weren't 20% math computation and 25% non-academic fluff. The analogue for today, now that good quizbowl is real and available in many places, is this: if you / your team / your circuit / your community assumes that players won't know anything real, that will sure enough become a self-fulfilling prophecy and nobody will bother to learn anything. The fault if that happens is not with the questions, but with your setting the bar low and assuming no one will clear it.
  • Just offer to do stuff for the community if it looks like it needs doing, without flailing about whether you're "allowed" to or whether it'd be hard to accomplish -- start a forum! start a team! why not? (In later years, this advice came with a creeping sense that a generational shift is afoot -- that more people my age and younger just look at obstacles [bureaucratic or otherwise] and give up. I don't know if I agree.)
  • There are some people who are just bad people who "can't be bought or reasoned or bargained with". When it is abundantly clear that someone is such a person, it is important to get that information out there so they can't do further damage.
  • If you want to become good and you want facts to stick, you have to do more than just binary-associate or read Wikipedia -- you have to read real stuff.
  • Related to the above: there is a world of difference between "competent" and actually "good". There is yet another world of difference between "good" and "title contender". Being "competent" -- understanding the contours of what quizbowl asks about, recognizing middle clues from past exposure, playing the game as a game instead of merely relying on what one would have known without it -- is only the beginning of the improvement process, and it will get you less and less far as time goes on and more teams see competency as the baseline it ought to be rather than a distant prospect. You've only begun to play the game when you can start getting most tossups at the giveaway -- and mass binary association or undirected packet reading won't get you much further than that.
  • (by example) There's a lot of "quizbowl history" which it's worthwhile for younger players to hear about and learn from elders in the game before those elders move on. From funny and frivolous anecdotes about past players to more serious lessons about what bad quizbowl was like and how it was overcome, to every shade in between, historical memory is quite uncommon in this game, as so few people last much longer than their playing careers (and few bother to transmit that information forward). Because this is a community that has only lived up to its ideals in terms of question content for a few years now, it's easy to assume there was nothing worth remembering from its more distant past, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Ask your elders about quizbowl history and see what they say. Then do your part to keep it alive!
  • Many circuits and teams have a big problem because they engage in too much "cargo cult" thinking": doing things or espousing principles in what seems superficially to be the good quizbowl way without understanding why they're done that way. Understand the reasons for why you do what you do.
  • "We do things this way because we do things this way" is not a valid argument, even though people in the quizbowl community use it all the time.
  • Everything within the quizbowl world is interrelated. Matt Weiner is one of very few people who was able to get a sort of god's-eye view of the entire quizbowl ecosystem across many eligibility levels, locations, companies, and levels of engagement, and this is a big lesson which came out of that. I feel like I've gotten a similar view at times as well. Ideally in the future, nobody should have to be working simultaneously for as many organizations as either of us did this year (I think I maxed out at five simultaneous commitments, though for most of the year it hovered around 3). But that shouldn't prevent anyone from wanting to see what the big-picture view looks like -- how overcommitment on one end of the high school community might prevent good writers from working on SCT, etc. etc. -- or from thinking 5 (or 10 or 15) years ahead about what the whole country's quizbowl engagement will look like at that point.
  • (By example) You can't do everything; don't bite off more than you can chew. Especially important to keep in mind for people who get into a habit of procrastinating or working last-minute: There are certain amounts of procrastination that are just mathematically impossible to recover from. If you're banking on a last-minute surge of creativity or productivity to save you, or get in the habit of requiring one, it's only a matter of time before it doesn't come and you're sunk.
I realize the Praise Song II thread did a lot of this already, but if there's something I left out above which is a worthwhile lesson you learned, and the person who conveyed it to you is no longer on these boards to convey it, this is as good a place as any to ensure that future people see it.

---

The following paragraph will become applicable when I finish Part 5
At this point, I believe I have put forward a pretty comprehensive viewpoint for this game's future (which runs to just under 100 single-spaced pages in Google Drive across the threads I wrote last summer and this summer). I will be taking a step back from making long comprehensive posts on these forums for the foreseeable future, be that in critiquing sets, theory discussions, or elsewhere. I'll still check in pretty regularly, of course, and jump in with smaller discussion points where it seems fitting. And I may well change my mind about some things as discussion continues. But I think most of what I want to say from here on out has already been said, and it's more useful for people to just to look back at my previous posts rather than expect new ones. This isn't to say I have anything against these forums or the way discussions have gone recently; it's merely to say that there are better ways for me to spend my energy than in writing manifestos for a community which is doing decently at finding its hearings. Our fortunes will rise or fall from here largely independently of whatever observations I can make. Now that I've made them, though, decision-makers at all levels are free to determine for themselves how much they want to take my views into account going forward.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by johntait1 » Fri Jun 19, 2015 11:36 am

Matthew J wrote: [*] There's a lot of "quizbowl history" which it's worthwhile for younger players to hear about and learn from elders in the game before those elders move on. From funny and frivolous anecdotes about past players to more serious lessons about what bad quizbowl was like and how it was overcome, to every shade in between, historical memory is quite uncommon in this game, as so few people last much longer than their playing careers (and few bother to transmit that information forward). Because this is a community that has only lived up to its ideals in terms of question content for a few years now, it's easy to assume there was nothing worth remembering from its more distant past, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Ask your elders about quizbowl history and see what they say. Then do your part to keep it alive!
I think that is an interesting point. I've wanted at times to learn some more about quizbowl history, but I've had a fairly difficult time. I don't really get to talk in person with older quizbowlers other than at Nationals since there's not too much activity in East Tennessee. The Quizbowl Wiki seems sort of weird; I've read a lot of articles and most of the time have not idea if the content is serious or a joke or some combination. The forums seem like a good place, but its sort of hard to sort all the information. I recall reading some long thread on "The secret History of Chicago" or something that had some really bizarre content, and I think I haven't read too much about quizbowl history on the forums since then. Any suggestions on how to acquire knowledge about quizbowl history? Thanks!
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Milhouse » Fri Jun 19, 2015 11:52 am

If you haven't already done so (which you might have considering you mentioned the Secret History of Chicago thread), reading through all the threads on the Quizbowl History Forum is probably a decent place to start. Spending way too much time sifting through the board archives will probably also turn up interesting things.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by johntait1 » Fri Jun 19, 2015 12:07 pm

Thanks for the suggestion. I have browsed the quizbowl history subforums. The travel disasters thread has made me a bit worried about playing quizbowl in colllege; maybe I should have read the favorite quizbowl experiences thread first...
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Fri Jun 19, 2015 12:21 pm

johntait1 wrote:The travel disasters thread has made me a bit worried about playing quizbowl in colllege; maybe I should have read the favorite quizbowl experiences thread first...
One reason why travel disaster stories are so salient to the people who share them is that they're very much the exception, not the rule!
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by jonpin » Fri Jun 19, 2015 7:47 pm

Matthew J wrote:[*] What it takes to start a new team: Just get on the road and start going to tournaments. Really, that's it. Recruiting people, getting official funding/recognition, etc. all comes later, and treating those as insurmountable obstacles before one even shows up to a nearby event is not the right attitude. For years, the VCU team was just Mattw himself going to everything he could, and it wouldn't have grown into the self-sustained team it is today without those prior years having been there. Resources like Zipcar and Megabus make it easier than ever even as rates of car ownership (and driver's license possession) among college students go down.
To meld this with Matt's 4th post: Whether you're a new team or an established team, you don't need to go to EVERY tournament, but you need to go to tournaments. That's what makes you a quiz bowl team and not just a bunch of people who get together once a week with a buzzer system.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by acrosby1861 » Fri Jun 19, 2015 10:33 pm

jonpin wrote:
Matthew J wrote:[*] What it takes to start a new team: Just get on the road and start going to tournaments. Really, that's it. Recruiting people, getting official funding/recognition, etc. all comes later, and treating those as insurmountable obstacles before one even shows up to a nearby event is not the right attitude. For years, the VCU team was just Mattw himself going to everything he could, and it wouldn't have grown into the self-sustained team it is today without those prior years having been there. Resources like Zipcar and Megabus make it easier than ever even as rates of car ownership (and driver's license possession) among college students go down.
To meld this with Matt's 4th post: Whether you're a new team or an established team, you don't need to go to EVERY tournament, but you need to go to tournaments. That's what makes you a quiz bowl team and not just a bunch of people who get together once a week with a buzzer system.
I wish I told this to my teammates last school year. We pretty much only went to maybe 3 (?) tournaments and that was it. Then I did a few NHBB tournaments on the side, which my teammates kinda objected to because I didn't really tell them until after the fact. I felt like I was the only one who was serious about quiz bowl, and it was kinda disappointing for me. And also, the one tournament where we put up a decent showing didn't get announced to the rest of the school until nearly a week later. It worked out because it was announced on one of my teammates' birthday.
Matthew J wrote: [*] Train successors and assistants. Your legacy isn't just about you as an individual player, writer, logistician, or editor -- it's also about how many people you were able to bring up into the system behind you, and how well they do.
But once I did find my teammates talking about recruiting next year because the guy running the team graduated this year, and majority of the returning team consists of incoming seniors and juniors.
Matthew J wrote: [*] Just offer to do stuff for the community if it looks like it needs doing, without flailing about whether you're "allowed" to or whether it'd be hard to accomplish -- start a forum! start a team! why not? (In later years, this advice came with a creeping sense that a generational shift is afoot -- that more people my age and younger just look at obstacles [bureaucratic or otherwise] and give up. I don't know if I agree.)
Ah yes, red tape is a problem...a very discouraging problem...but there's gotta be a way around. Just doing it would help, though.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Sat Jun 20, 2015 11:47 am

johntait1 wrote:Thanks for the suggestion. I have browsed the quizbowl history subforums. The travel disasters thread has made me a bit worried about playing quizbowl in colllege; maybe I should have read the favorite quizbowl experiences thread first...
As someone who has possibly logged more driving miles going to quizbowl tournaments than pretty much anyone, I understand your concern, but these disasters really are pretty extraordinary. I've driven hundreds of thousands of miles for quizbowl purposes and the worst thing that's happened on my trips driving-wise have involved people getting sick, getting lost in the days before everyone had GPS, and a speeding ticket.

One of the very best things about college quizbowl is making the trips to new places. It's daunting at first; I remember thinking as an undergrad that driving from Columbia, SC to College Park, Maryland was some ridiculously arduous journey that I couldn't possibly tackle. But when I did it, it was just a long road trip but nothing crazy happened. Point being is to just bite the bullet, be a grownup and make the trips. Being able to travel large distances and plan trips without fear is actually a really good skill that I learned almost exclusively from quizbowl.

A bit of old person advice I have is the importance of safety. Basically drive sober, alert, and distraction free. Stay awake and feel free to take some naps if necessary. Have food, music, or whatever it is that keeps you alert. If having company to talk to is important, have the passengers sleep in shifts. Most big cities aren't actually that bad to drive around, but I would avoid going into Manhattan if you're not an experienced driver. Also, plan ahead. Book hotels before leaving, take a look at some maps of the routes you'll be taking, print off hotel receipts and tournament itineraries, etc.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Steeve Ho You Fat » Sat Jun 20, 2015 1:25 pm

Ethnic history of the Vilnius region wrote:One of the very best things about college quizbowl is making the trips to new places. It's daunting at first; I remember thinking as an undergrad that driving from Columbia, SC to College Park, Maryland was some ridiculously arduous journey that I couldn't possibly tackle. But when I did it, it was just a long road trip but nothing crazy happened. Point being is to just bite the bullet, be a grownup and make the trips. Being able to travel large distances and plan trips without fear is actually a really good skill that I learned almost exclusively from quizbowl.
I absolutely second this - I feel totally confidant planning travel by any mode, driving long distances according to directions I wrote down, and exploring a new city or place by myself largely due to my experience in quizbowl. This is a really underrated skill in adulthood; I don't know how many people never explore their surroundings or miss out on potential new experiences because they never learned how to travel.
A bit of old person advice I have is the importance of safety. Basically drive sober, alert, and distraction free. Stay awake and feel free to take some naps if necessary. Have food, music, or whatever it is that keeps you alert. If having company to talk to is important, have the passengers sleep in shifts. Most big cities aren't actually that bad to drive around, but I would avoid going into Manhattan if you're not an experienced driver. Also, plan ahead. Book hotels before leaving, take a look at some maps of the routes you'll be taking, print off hotel receipts and tournament itineraries, etc.
This too - it's always better to spend a few minutes looking at a map before you leave and considering your route than just blindly typing in the address into your phone as you're pulling out. Even in the 21st century, phones can have technical problems, you can run out of data or signal, or google maps can be wrong. You'll have more successful trips and be a safer driver if you understand where you're going and aren't just following a set of instructions that have no meaning to you. I find having a person in the passenger seat who is capable of carrying on a conversation, DJing, and navigating to be invaluable and difficult to find, so if you have someone who can do those things well, make them sit shotgun and stay awake.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Guile Island » Sat Jun 20, 2015 9:40 pm

Eric and Joe's posts are great, I can't endorse them enough. A thing that I personally want to emphasize is to drive with friends. Even if you're going to play an event solo, you should try to arrange a car pool if at all possible. Driving alone for hours upon end, at least for me, is infinitely less fun and more daunting than doing it with company.

But yeah, listen to the dudes above. Be prepared. And always leave early! If you can afford a hotel, it's almost always better to do an overnight that to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, drive to an event, and drive back after 10+ rounds of quizbowl. Sitting at a buzzer and hearing questions for hours upon end is much more mentally exhausting than you think it is!
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Sat Jun 20, 2015 11:16 pm

Travel protip: buy a power inverter. You can get plenty of decent ones for between $20 and $40, and they give you the ability to read packets for as long as you want (or, even failing that, the ability to recharge your phone in an emergency).

On a related note, reading packets is a fantastic way to kill time in the car, directly benefits your performance at the thing you're already driving to, and (if you're like me) is among the best ways to keep you alert as a driver. I'm surprised no one's mentioned it yet.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by at your pleasure » Sun Jun 21, 2015 5:02 pm

Also-learn your way around a new city/campus/whatever really well the first time or two you go; if you play college quizbowl you'll probably wind up going to tournaments in the same places a bunch of times so once you know your way around Wherever U. and its environs fairly well said knowledge stays useful for quite some time.
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Re: Resetting [pt. 6 of 6]: Lessons Worth Recording

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Tue Jul 07, 2015 1:38 pm

Sorry to resurrect this discussion if folks seem to be done with it, but I just stumbled on it. One bullet point from Matt's original post caught my eye:
There are some people who are just bad people who "can't be bought or reasoned or bargained with". When it is abundantly clear that someone is such a person, it is important to get that information out there so they can't do further damage.
I can't agree with this formulation. It's certainly sounds like a pure Matt Weiner statement, as he sounded variations on it pretty frequently. Call me a bleeding-heart hippie (as Weiner did, actually!), but I don't believe in the idea of "bad people," at least in a quiz bowl sense. A lot of text in the other thread about "How We Treat Each Other" already covers the very positive trend toward not personally attacking or "publicly shaming" folks who don't share community notions of good quiz bowl, but the quote above would seem to oppose that trend. People who defend bad quiz bowl, even staunchly, aren't necessarily "bad" as people, and it's important for us to keep that in mind.

I agree that as a community we should strive to counter (seemingly more rare) efforts to spread really bad quiz bowl, but I hope we can divorce a person's support for bad quiz bowl from any ad hominem attacks on that person as being morally "bad" or something. It took a number of years to get the Florida CC circuit to love quality pyramidal quiz bowl, but we got it done by converting players and coaches slowly and never deriding their love of computational math or one-line toss-ups. Instead, we just kept showing them how much better good quiz bowl is. The most recalcitrant people, the ones you can't "buy or reason or bargain with," usually aren't around too long, and if they clearly never can change, it's better to marginalize and ignore them than make an effort to trumpet their innate "badness" to the world. I may be misreading that sentence I quoted above, but it sounds to me too much like the worst aspects of Matt W's internet personality, the part that happily and publicly made stupid and mean-spirited accusations about people that went far beyond any quiz bowl (or political) disagreement into all kinds of personal areas about which Matt had no idea.

And to be clear, I'm not suggesting Matt J was calling for such attacks (quite the opposite, based on his posts elsewhere in this useful series of posts); I just wanted to beat this dead horse a bit.
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