Back to Work!

Right, the first NAC of the USFA fencing season is coming up next month and it’s time to get back to work.

USFA work? Not so much.

It’s not that I don’t want to get started on the new season—it’s just that the work I do with USFA never really stopped, what with the tournament summit meeting in Colorado Springs in August (we’ve still to see what will come of that), figuring out BC staffing for the new season, creating a committee to create a formal structure for BC recruiting and development, proofreading the latest version of the Athlete Handbook, and other fencing and TC odds and ends.

What I’m getting back to work on now is my poor neglected Emmy and the mystery novel she’s the protagonist of. I wrote the first draft almost two years ago, but when I started as chair of the TC, I deliberately put off further work on the book for about a year, while I figured out what the TC was all about.

Now I’m getting back to work. Since I wrote the original draft in late 2009, I’ve read through it several times, making corrections and tweaking a few scenes here and there, but haven’t really looked at how the overall story works. Over the Labor Day weekend, I put the current draft into the newest version of Scrivener, the writing software I (and apparently many, many other writers) use, and split it down into scenes.

Two things happened once the manuscript was there in all its constituent parts in Scrivener. First, I was once again utterly entranced with Scrivener: it’s so good at what I need it to do that I just do what I want to do with the story, without worrying about finding the right macro or the command buried four or five menu levels down from where it ought to be (something I always seemed to be doing when I used Word).

Second, I discovered what a huge load of work I have yet to do before anybody else gets to read it. After I broke the book up into its scenes, I went through the whole story, writing up synopses for each scene, and discovered that doing so makes the weaknesses completely obvious. When I couldn’t describe what happens or what a scene is for (character development or a transition, say), I saw immediately that something needed fixing.

Scrivener lets you make all sorts of notes and comments, which is wonderful for keeping track of what needs doing at any specific point, and it lets you take multiple snapshots of the whole or pieces, so you can change things radically and still be able to revert to any previous version if the changes don’t work.  It also lets you look at scene synopses as index cards which you can rearrange. And when you rearrange the cards, you’ve also rearranged your manuscript to match, without cutting and pasting or juggling multiple windows.

So I’ll be spending most of this month and next happily reworking this story. Then after I spew out a first draft of the next book (same protagonist—there’s so much potential for homicide in the fencing world) in November for NaNoWriMo, I’ll reread the reworked version of this one to see if it’s ready for a few outside readers.

And through it all, I’ll probably drive my husband nuts babbling about how cool Scrivener is and how much easier it makes my writing process. (I can see it already—multiple dinner conversations about whether I love using Scrivener more than he loves using Rhino, the 3D design software he uses and frequently enthuses about.)

Definitely a Trend . . .

UPDATE (6-13-2011): There’s a typo in the third table—the team total for the 2007-2008 season should be 369. You can find the original spreadsheets I used on the Tournament Software Project page on the USFA website—just scroll down to the next-to-last item for the download links.

I pulled some numbers the other day from Tanya’s ginormous total tournament entries from all time spreadsheet to make the totals a bit easier to grasp. Even though I knew before I started what the numbers were, I was still impressed when I saw the totals all lined up on the page:

How Many BC Staff? Part 2

I have to admit that I find the idea of running separate BC tables with separate staffs within the same hall completely bewildering—I cannot imagine how it could be supposed to improve the running of national fencing tournaments.

Even assuming we had enough BC volunteers to double up the staffing and were willing to pay extra for a second stage, additional computers, and a second microphone, I can’t see how it would work. We couldn’t simply split the hall evenly in half. Throughout any given day, the number of strips required to run a single event can vary from 40 or more for the pool round down to a single pod of 4 strips—and then the finals strip. As the 3 to 10 events of differing sizes we’d run each day progressed, we’d constantly need to shift the allocation of strips between each BC table—either that, or we’d need to split events themselves into smaller pieces, which would be even more confusing.

And then there’s that second microphone. We usually have two for Summer Nationals, so that the BC staff running team events can call their captains directly from the team table. In such close proximity, it’s pretty easy to see and hear when someone is already talking over the PA system. But with widely separated BC stages, announcements in a venue with a less-than-ideal sound system (as in Detroit this month) would be completely incomprehensible (instead of just mostly incomprehensible).

But there are already circumstances where we run, in effect, satellite BC tables. Take teams, for instance. At NACs, it’s less apparent, because team events are relatively small, but we usually run team events relatively independently from the individual events, from a dedicated floor-level team table. We set up a team computer with a single computer operator plus table staff for each team event, though at NACs, there are seldom multiple team events running at the same time. We run team events on Fencing Time, a huge improvement over when I started, when they were run entirely by hand. (I wrote in detail about running a team event in my BC Diary: Day 7, so check that out if you’re interested in more details—just scroll down past the Congress Meeting description.)

At Summer Nationals, where there is often more than one team event going on at once, we usually allocate a block of strips to the team table, to be used by all the team events as needed. There’s a bit of shifting strips back and forth throughout the day as needed, but with the team table staff there within easy reach of the BC chair, it’s easy to manage (as long as there are enough strips in the room for the total we need, which for SN is not always true—but that’s a different issue).

In the past, when we’ve used convention centers or hotels with split venues, we’ve created satellite BCs to work the second room, along with an armorer and trainer to handle problems as they occur. At the JOs at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs a few years back, most of the saber events were isolated in a ballroom across the lake from the main part of the venue. And I still laugh at how John Carollo, bored serving as the lone trainer in a small, column-cluttered second room at a Reno NAC one March, insisted on acting as “personal executive assistant” to me and Gerrie Baumgart, posting sheets for us, and directing fencers to the proper places from which to address us.

If we had unlimited personnel, both BC staff and volunteers, we could set up a satellite table near the pods used for an event’s DEs, so that fencers wouldn’t need to walk all the way to the BC table and back each time they won a bout. It wouldn’t make much difference in the running of the tournament or in the overall length of the day, but it might be nicer for the fencers (though that’s one of my favorite parts of running tournaments—I’d miss talking with fencers through the whole DE tableau). We’d just need the one or two people to run the tableau, some visible place for them to sit out by the pods, and volunteers to run the bout slips back to the computer operators at the main BC table every so often.

In a way, this is what we do now when we assign DEs by pod; we just designate one referee as pod chief or pod captain to run a small section of the tableau out there, except that we don’t make the pod captains keep track of the completed bout slips. But if we had enough BC staff to run sections of the tableaux out near the strips where the bouts occur, that would free up referees from administration to work more bouts as referees. (Though I’m not sure I can imagine an épée event without Mr. Alperstein and his famous Alperstein System demonstrating the proper way to run a DE quadrant.)

Wishful Thinking

I’m heading for Dallas in the morning, ready for what will be US Fencing’s largest tournament this season, outside of Summer Nationals. I’ve done all I can here at home to get ready, and will do more tomorrow afternoon when I get to the venue.

But there are far too many items I have no control over that could—and some undoubtedly will—affect the smooth running of events. So at least part of my flight time between attempts to nap will be indulging in wishful thinking, in hoping for random fate and intentional actions to combine to keep NAC C as not too awful as possible:

  • I hope the weather and air traffic control system allow all the referees and armorers and BC personnel (and even fencers!) to arrive when they’re supposed to arrive.
  • I hope all the fencers who are competing Friday morning and arrive early enough on Thursday get their gear checked on Thursday, so the Friday morning lines will be shorter than they would otherwise be.
  • I hope the download downloads properly and the BC computer crew doesn’t need to spend extra hours getting everything set up and functioning.
  • I hope the armorers have their systems for handling the long lines all figured out and working.
  • I hope the automated check-in systems work properly all weekend.
  • I hope all the referees have DART figured out so they all show up on time.
  • I hope that any lunch items meant to be hot are mostly warmer than room temperature and any lunch items meant to be cold are mostly cooler than room temperature.
  • I hope that fewer bouts than usual go to time in single digits.
  • I hope that grounding wires and scoring machines and body cords all work the ways they’re supposed to.
  • I hope the venue concessions have a decent selection and quantity of food available for officials to acquire with our little meal tickets on Friday and Saturday and Sunday nights.
  • I hope no loud drunk people run up and down the hotel hallway shouting and singing at 3:00 am any morning throughout this tournament.
  • I hope we finish up every night before the light rail schedule goes to only one train each hour.
  • I hope that the Dallas LOC will provide its usual healthy and helpful crew of volunteers for posting and other useful odds and ends.
  • I hope (probably forlornly) that every fencer has already checked that their seeding information is correct (and already had it fixed) and that all NCAA fencers have already made sure their affiliations are entered correctly.
  • I hope the head referees already have their crews sorted and grouped for assignments before they arrive at the venue each morning.
  • I hope that at least one night after we’re done that I won’t be too sleepy to be able to drink at least one beer.