My Hobby and My Job Are The Same (In a Good Way)

As I was handling yet another grade appeal last week, I made an interesting realization: my hobby and my (ostensible) job are the same.

For reference, the hobby to which I’m referring is judging Magic: The Gathering, and the job is being the Head TA for our introductory programming course (in Java).

So how are they the same?
<ul><li>I have a horde of people I’m supposed to enforce some order on.</li><li>The horde in question is filled with interesting characters– but for the most part, they’re smart, funny, great people to talk to, who I enjoy conversing with during any free second I happen to have.</li><ul><li>At GP: Daytona, a man I talked to was kind enough to share the secret for getting his wonderful huge Magic case; it looked like a 6xsized Ultra Pro case, but while it was at least as high quality, it was 1/3rd the cost of the small Ultra Pro one ($20 for the huge one, compared to $60 for a very small Ultra Pro case); the big secret was that Ultra Pro rebrands a toolbox found at Home Depot. How neat is that?</li><li>At GP: Philadelphia, I got to speak to a former US Robotics programmer, who now spends his time making computers for impoverished children, about the OLPC project.
</li></ul><li>My role is to help people, without being improperly helpful.</li><ul><li>In Magic, we answer the smallest possible question– this differs somewhat depending on what kind of tournament it is, but in general, we answer the question people ask, not the one they actually need to know to make the right decision, or the one they want us to answer, or the one asking what the best play in a situation is.</li><li>In Java, this becomes answering questions without giving away design questions, or answering questions they should have found in their textbook.
</li><li>In both cases, not giving them all the information in the world annoys the hell out of the people. (In Java, particularly, students demand that I just “do it” for them. Why would I do that? In Magic, players don’t demand I play the game for them– which is good, because while I’m actually reasonably good both at TAing Java and programming in Java, I’m not a good Magic player, at least not on the Grand Prix level.)</li></ul><li>The horde of people cheat, fairly often.</li><ul><li>In point of fact, this is not fair to the Magic community. The Java babies cheat way, way more– in one recent semester, we had a consistent thee or four different people caught (provably) cheating, EACH WEEK. That’s not even the highest rate we’ve had in the five semesters I’ve been doing this– and understand, this is with a class size of approximately 100. At Grand Prix: Philadelphia, we had maybe three or four disqualified, with 969 players. And we’ve not yet had a disqualification at JHUMagic. (Though hordes of judges are playing today; maybe this will be our first. :-) )</li></ul><li>Players appeal, all the time, often for very little reason.</li><ul><li>In Java, I’m actually the first line of appeals, so they get to come explain themselves to me. That doesn’t stop them from going to Dr. Houlahan (often without telling her that they’ve spoken to me; this leads to an obnoxious “playing Daddy vs. Mommy” problem), but sometimes I can talk some sense into them. “No, you don’t get points for having thought about the assignment. 0 means 0.”</li><li>In Magic, I only Head Judge JHUMagic tournaments, so there aren’t judges working under me; hence, I don’t receive appeals. But I do occasionally have appeals against my rulings, which is fine; it’s the player’s right, and I’ll be the first to admit that my rulings aren’t always correct. (Players tend to appeal the ones where they are correct, however, which is amusing.) The advantage here is that unlike in Java, when players are offensive about doing it (standing up and yelling for the Head Judge while I’m trying to speak– and understand, I’m always happy to get the HJ for them), it’s an actual infraction, with consequences; in Java, I can’t take off more points for being rude. (Though I want to. :-) )</li></ul><li>My signature has become wildly corrupted.</li><ul><li>In each of these activities, I don’t actually sign things, I just initial them. When I was only CAing, my initials were, you know, letters you could read. Since I’ve started judging as well (also requiring initialing), my initials have devolved into this kind of wild blur, best executed in black pen. It’s fairly amusing.</li></ul></ul>But hey– they’re both fun. (Well, judging is. :-) ) And in both activities, I have slowly established a rapport with the people involved (both other judges/graders and with the players/students), which is fun; players recognized me at GP: Philadelphia from judging at DreamWizards, and some new players at JHUMagic last week recognized me from the coverage of GP: Philadelphia (not the best photo, but here goes):

GP Philadelphia Finals.jpgFor now, off to judge what I hope will be the largest JHUMagic tournament ever; several judges are coming up early for the draft, as we’re holding a Judge Seminar afterward. Should be fun!