Yes, Word was and still is with God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:1-5
MS Word crashed about half a dozen times and it really put the Apostle John's quote in perspective for me. Everyone knows MS products are crap. Of course the worst among them has to be MS Word. I learned my lesson a few years ago and stopped using Word for anything longer than 2 pages. LATEX combined with WinEdt works splendidly and I have written most of my work using it. The real advantage is that it has never crashed and thus I have never had to scream in frustration.

I do have nice things to say about Notepad which I do use frequently and it is perfectly adequate for most things. Microsoft, as my friend put it, is not a software company, but a standards company. You use it not because it is good, but because everyone else uses it. For the millions out there, if the damn thing crashes, you know MS WORD is still with God. Only he knows its mysterious ways. For the rest of us it's CTRL-ALT-DEL.

Pounce and Bounce

A veteran quizzer once told me that quizzing was not so much about knowing stuff, but was more about entertainment and having fun. I disagreed at that point thinking that such a remark was an act of high treason. Over the years, I have realised that quizzing is not a knowledge test. If it were so then quizzes would be like exams - timed and written. A written and timed test is the fairest way to judge who knows the most. All teams get the same questions, no question of order or luck. The team/person that got the highest number of correct answers would walk home with the prize. That's not the point, is it? The point is to have fun.

Over the years, people have obsessed over the best format that minimizes luck and ensures that the team that knows the most (read: best) wins. Quizzing innovations is an activity which has almost become a kind of cottage industry among quizzers with time on their hands. I am about to add more to that body of literature. That being said IMHO, my experience suggests that there is no point looking for the Holy Grail of a perfect format. A good quiz depends on ensuring three simple things in order of importance:

a) The format should be the 'modified infinite bounds with a midway reversal'.
All questions have equal points, the next question to the team to the left/right of the team that answered it. If the question is unanswered then the original teams gets the next question. Order reverses halfway during the quiz.

b) A long quiz.
I think for 5-6 teams there should be at least >40 questions. A factor of 10 is ideal. Even the old system of rounds with pass-direct questions (full points for direct, and half for a pass question) would be okay provided the quiz was long enough.

c) Questions, questions, questions.
The greatest evil is not the format, or the order, or marking scheme -- but bad questions. If questions are set correctly, spread over different topics evenly, and are of similar difficulty then the quiz will be fair and the best team 'should' win.

In practice, luck and order does play somewhat of a role even in the modified infinite bounds format, though b) should take care of it to some extent. The critical issue is to normalize questions in some fashion. Why normalize? Each quizmaster (QM) has his/her own personal strength (read: fetish) and quizzes as a result tend towards personal idiosyncrasies. The good QM is diligent about this and goes about setting questions keeping in mind those biases (knowing the QM and his/her strengths can help you work out the answer, cause you can guess what he/she knows, and how he/she sets questions). One way to do it, as is usually done for big quizzes, is to have two or more question-setters with divergent interests.

Despite the best intentions of the QM(s): all questions are not equal, some are more equal than others. A QM may think that a question is reasonably difficult, but may turn out to be a sitter. On the other hand, some questions are way too tough and end up being unanswered. Personally, if more than 10-15% of questions end up this way then the QM did a bad job. You cannot go about an weigh each question for difficulty.

The other aspect is that there should be some drama, some element of excitement in a quiz. I am a fan of 'buzzer-rounds' which have fallen out of favour in recent times. It provided that adrenalin-rush and rewarded quick recall and reflexes which are sadly missing from the current slow-cooking style. The current trend is away from the fireworks and some quizzes have written components at the start. This is bad, bad, bad.

Long story short. I tried out two innovations at the quizclub. Each team was given two wildcards to allow them to Pounce or Bounce a question.

Pounce: You can attempt a question out of turn. The team has to write down the question or tell the quizmaster before the question is attempted by any of the other teams in regular fashion. There are no negatives and a correct answer get full points.

Bounce: You can bounce a question to the team of your choice. If team doesn't answer it correctly they get -(full points), and if they do answer it correctly they get the full points. Regardless of the outcome, the team bouncing gets the next question.

The rationale behind the Pounce rule was to ensure that sitters can attempted by all. In the past, with great difficulty I have resisted urges to destroy the chair I was sitting on, or strangling the person who smirks when handed a sitter as a direct while I was left wringing my hands in despair. Often, close quizzes are decided on the basis of which team got slightly easier questions. This is where the Pounce comes in. Jump in on question out-of-queue. Grab a sitter. Of course, a team can misjudge the opponents knowledge and would end up with the question in the regular course of events.

The rationale behind the Bounce rule is to induce some excitement and additionally serves as a handicap for the obviously better team(s). There are always going to be a few questions that seem so unreasonable and tough that no one can answer them and a weaker team can either direct it towards the strongest team, or to their closest rival to level the playing field. Of course, if a team is really good and they can actually answer the question that seemed 'too tough' then all the better for them.

Innovations in practice:
This weekend when I tried these out and found the results mixed. No one team used the Bounce rule. They all played too nice, perhaps fearing retribution. The Pounce rule was used by all teams to good effect. Only once out of six times did a team not answer the question correctly. In all six cases, the team would not have got the question in the regular order and judged the moment of 'pouncing' correctly.

This was the casual Saturday quiz and not the best testing ground when there were only three teams and no one was too worried about winning or losing as there was nothing at stake. I curious to see how this works out in a longer, larger quiz more at stake. These rules do favour teams that can fake emotions of knowing or not knowing answers depending on the situation. A tight quiz can almost be like a poker game.
You can sometimes work out the answer being seeing who knows it.

See analysis of the Infinite Bounds on the BCQC blog that waxes philosophical on this topic. Looking for the link to a list of the more innovative formats proposed. Anyone?

Cross-listed on BCQC's quiz blog.

The wise man

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.
-Robertson Davies
This quote was too long for twitter which is the ideal sort of thing for this kind of stuff. Cutting the quote into two tweets would not be fair.

Wonderful insight. A mad notion is more dangerous than being chased by a mad woman - I can buy that.

Party Politics

I don't like people. Which is why I don't understand racism. Of all the things that you could hate someone for, you are going to go with 'color'?
-Shalom Auslander (quoted approximately) in today's episode of This American Life
Unlike Mr. Auslander (interesting name for a misanthrope!), I do like people. Usually it's hard for me to shut up up at parties, but occasionally I do listen and it's just as much fun. Of course, at parties where people know only a few other people, everyone is being very nice and polite to each other. It's supposedly called the 'cocktail party' syndrome. Though, I think that actually having cocktails would loosen a few tongues. Since this party was a high school graduation party, coupled with the fact that it was for an Indian kid, the alcohol was securely locked up. In any case, Indians are not so much into drinking as they are into eating. There was good food and plenty of it!

It's always too late when you realize how good you really had it. I was trying to pass myself off as a student and heaping more food onto my plate when someone blew my cover. Suddenly, I had to stop eating and say something intelligent. I surprised myself, given the short notice, that I managed to say something a few profound sentences, throw some technical terms and then went back to my eating. Personal Rule Never, never disclose your dissertation title or topic voluntarily. No one is that interested. The only people who ask you about your PhD topic are the ones who have similar degrees themselves, or are potential aspirants for one. The rest of humanity screams, "You didn't have to. You had me at Dr.?" The biggest bummer has been to lose my 'student' status. Suddenly, prices for conferences, movies, museums, and even the gym have gone up. You are expected to 'grow up', start wearing nice clothes, and stop pretending to be a starving student. Paradise Lost!

Cricket has a slight emasculating quality that does not really qualify it as a sport, IMHO. I enjoyed cricket and played it often. It's really impossible to avoid. My style of batting was 'hit out or get out' and thus extremely suicidal. I almost always got out being caught off a mis-hit, never bowled. There were a few times that I was run-out and it was because of some turd of a person at the other end who wouldn't risk it. I stopped following cricket after I got here. There are ways and means to play and follow cricket, but the sport did not have that sort of attraction for me that I would bother waking up at odd hours, or attempt to download some obscure software to watch bootlegs. Now an Indian not showing adequate enthusiasm for cricket are possible grounds for loss of citizenship, or at least the love of your friends.

The talk at the party was mercifully not about cricket (which I didn't know anything about), but about Indian politics. Like cricket, this interest was also abandoned after I landed in Columbia, a.k.a. the home of the brave and free. It seemed rather peculiar that Indian expats love to talk about Indian politics even after embracing American citizenship. At this party, I did not hear American or even world politics being discussed at all. It seems odd that while most Indians vote Democrat, their visions and views of Indian politics and policy are so much like the Republican agenda. It is bewildering to keep track of the sudden shifts and current math of coalition politics. Given my lack on interest in Indian cricket or politics, I am one strike away from losing my status as an Indian citizen. I am wondering what's gonna be the third strike.