John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc 
 2006 February 12 
    With civic pride I looked forward to this year's running of the 
New York City Science & Engineering Fair on Sunday 12 February 2006. 
It would be at City College, like in the past several years. I had all 
the due and proper correspondence with the fair's operators, The New 
York Academy of Sciences, including a judge's kit. 
Judging procedure 
    Judging this year was to be quite different from previous years. 
Each judge visits his exhibits in a schedule during the day. Each 
exhibit would be visited by three or four judges, each at a different 
hour. This is easier to understand with a chart, made up with only a 
few judges and exhibits. Exhibits have a number. These were keyed on a 
separate chart for the row and tier of tables on the exhibition floor. 
Judges are, in this example, lettered. 
 | exhibit number |
 | hour  | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |
 | 09:30 | A |   | B |   | C |   | D |   | E |
 | 10:00 |   | A |   | B |   | C |   | D |   |
 | 10:30 | E |   | A |   | B |   | C |   | D |
 | 11:30 |   | E |   | A |   | B |   | C |   |
 | 12:00 | l u n c h - - n o  j u d g i n g  |
 | 13:00 | D |   | E |   | A |   | B |   | C |
 | 13:30 |   | D |   | E |   | A |   | B |   |
 | 14:00 | C |   | D |   | E |   | A |   | B |
 | 14:30 |   | C |   | D |   | E |   | A |   |
 | 15:00 | B |   | C |   | D |   | E |   | A |
    If I were judge C I would inspect exhibit 5 at 09:30. then move to 
exhibit 6 at 10:00, 7 at 10:30, and so on. I would finish my rounds at 
exhibit 3 in the 15:00 hour. You can imagine what this chart grows 
into for about 600 exhibits and 300 judges. 
    Each exhibit is judged four or five times by different judges. I would 
not know who the other judges were for a given project. It didn't 
matter since I would have no interaction with them at all. In previous 
years, judges visited the exhibits in teams of four. Each would score 
the exhibit, then combine the scores for a single team total. This 
year, each individual score is turned in to the Academy officials at 
the end of the day. The Academy would do the combination. 
    The judges would have a score card for each of his exhibits, 
prefilled with the exhibit number, the hour for the visit, the floor 
coordinates, and the judge's number (letter, to keep with the 
    The judge would examine the exhibit, make his assessment, tick off 
the boxes on that exhibit's score card. At the end of the day he 
returns to the judge's office, hands in the set of cards, takes his 
thank-you gift, and goes home. 
    An other difference this year was the specific provision for lunch. 
Until now a judging team could on its own take a break for lunch. In 
most cases, due to the pressure of judging, teams forgo lunch until 
the end of the fair. By then food was mostly run out and thoroly cold. 
See the chart above for the 12:00 hour. 
    In mid week before the 12th, things suddenly turned, uh, snowy. A 
major snowstorm was swirling its way toward the City, with landfall on 
Saturday afternoon or evening. If the storm held together, we could 
get a large fall and deep accumulation by Sunday morning, the morning 
of the fair. 
    Because in this day and age we still have no credible means of 
certain prediction of storms -- this shortcoming being a favorite 
theme of science exhibits! -- no one worried much. By Friday, the 
approach of heavy snow was more definite, enough to raise alarm in 
many businesses, schools, and civic services. The Academy issued in 
Friday afternoon by email a hotline phone number to advise about 
changes in the fair operation due to the snowstorm. 
    During Saturday at home I reviewed the paperwork for the fair. I 
checked with a science buddy, who was shepherding his own students to 
the fair. His day was in chaos from working with students to finish 
their exhibits and be ready for the early morning departure to City 
College. It was not definite if I should meet him and his kids or just 
procede to the College myself. If the weather was nasty I better just 
go to the College to save the excess traveling.. 
    By evening on Saturday the 11th snow was falling by the barrel. 
Some services and facilities were announcing closings via television 
and radio. I called the Academy hotline close to midnight. Its 
recorded greeting assured that the fair will be held regardless of the 
weather! It also offered a mid New Jersey phone number in case of 
emergency. There being none for me, I passed up further inquiry and 
got to bed at quite midnight on the 11th. 
    Clock radio woke me at 6AM on the 12th. I fixed to get up early 
because of retardation of transit due to the storm. The Academy 
hotline still, at 6:15AM or so, advised that the fair was still 
convening regardless of the weather. A peek out the window revealed a 
continuing downpour of snow. 
Off to the fair
    Perhaps if my buddy was up by now, we could arrange to go together 
by meeting at a certain subway station. If he be occupied, I'll just 
go straight to the fair. Buddy's phone was engaged; was he rallying 
his students to get out of bed? With time squeezing a bit tight, I set 
off on my own for City College. I was on the street hoofing it to the 
subway by 6:30. 
    With snow accumulating on the sidewalk, I took to the roadway. 
Traffic packed down the snow, making a firm smooth surface. I made as 
good way as by walking on clear sidewalk. A kilometer later I was in 
the subway and off to the College. The subway ran well with no undue 
delays. I got to the College's station at about 8:15AM. 
    On the street, it was still snowing hard. Visibility was down to 
barely a hundred meters. Road traffic was crawling but moving 
steadily. Storefronts weren't open yet, so sidewalks were not cleared 
of snow. I and others walked in the roadway on the packed down snow. 
Arrival at City College 
    I met up with a couple other judges slogging along Convent Av, the 
College's central street. We chatted about the fair and the Academy's 
insistence by phone that the fair was running in spite of the nasty 
weather. On the campus we encountered students with their exhibit 
boards wrapped in plastic sacks or sheets. A couple gaggles of 
students were escorted by, I presume, their teachers. 
    We all piled into the North Academic Campus, a Titanic-size edifice 
built in the 1980s in a destructionist style. The lobby desk directed 
us to the second floor by escalator. We landed in the Rotunda hall 
where the Academy would have its mustering up desk and litterature. 
    At the top of the escalators I saw perhaps fifty people milling 
around with no focus. Some were students hugging their exhibits; some 
acted like parents; others acted like teachers. After a couple minutes 
of hanging around, thinking perhaps the registration desk wasn't open 
yet, i inquired of a person who kind of looked aware. He motioned me 
and the others to a table off to one side. It was now about 8:30AM; I 
was a little past the start time of 8:15 noted in the judge's kit. 
The bad news
    There were two agents from the Academy, busily explaining over and 
over again that THE FAIR IS CANCELLED. Called off. No-go. Kaput. We 
huddled around them with questions. The Academy hotline earlier this 
morning claimed the fair was a go, impelling students and judges to 
brave the snowstorm for this once-a-year show. 
    We educed from the agents that the fair was cancelled at about 
EIGHT O'CLOCK, only a half hour or so before my own arrival! At 6AM 
and even 7AM, the Academy did in fact have the fair on schedule and 
the greeting was at those times accurate. The cancellation was 
precipitated after the Academy crew got to City College!! 
    The Academy staff had no makeup date; they had no contingency plan 
in hand. We would be notified in due time of a new date. 
    With some hand waving and paper flapping, we all eventually drifted 
off home. While the agida was vented, the escalators were feeding more 
and more participants into the Rotunda. They added to the hub-bub and 
forced the Academy agents to go thru their spiel over and over again. 
    By my wanderings, I discovered that the escalators were in the 
middle of a large round room, of which I until now saw only the 
'front' of it, as if the escalators entered from one side. The whole 
arena was swirling with pissed off folk, young and old, hanging 
around. There were in all about 200 who came for the fair. I suppose 
most were trying to cool off and warm up before going home. 
Go home!
    I left a few minutes before 9AM; I heard the 9 o'clock chimes from 
the College bell tower as I walked back on Convent Av to the subway. 
Snow was still coming down. The ride home by train was swift and 
direct. The bus ride from the subway was direct but not so swift, 
being entrained in creeping traffic, 
    It was only on the very last corner where the bus turns toward my 
stop that I ran into a real foulup in transit. My bus was blocked by 
two others ahead apparently stalled in mid street. Their drivers were 
on the street talking by cell phone or radio. With no progress 
possible my driver offered to open the doors and let riders continue 
on foot. For me it was only some two hundred meters farther to my 
house. I walked. Behind the two stopped buses were three more! They 
were idling in wait for instructions. 
Buddy's situation 
    By 10:30AM I was in my house, doffing wet coat, boots, gloves, 
hat. I called my buddy. He was as mad as a hatter. His situation was a 
lot worse than mine. He had students to care for. As a teacher taking 
them on a school event, he would be liable in the event of injury from 
the snow. He called me at about 7AM to put me on standby, but I was 
already on my way to the fair based on the best information at the 
    He held the kids back from going to the fair and, luckily, got word 
of the cancellation by a live phone call. A colleague relayed the news 
a little after 8AM, perhaps from the College itself. He released his 
students to stay home. 
What happened?
    What happened? 
    It appears that City College itself cancelled all activities late 
Saturday night in the face of the snowstorm raging around it. It 
notified its crew and students that the campus would be closed. It 
also notified the Academy and other groups slated to have events on 
campus on the 12th. 
    Apparently the person getting the College news wasn't in touch with 
the person minding the hotline. The Academy showed up, found no 
College staff to work with, set up furniture, cater the breakfast and 
lunch, do security, open rooms, turn on light, and all that. There was 
no feasible way to run the fair!!! 
    After discussing the snafu, with his heated words, i freshened up, 
took breakfast, and laid in for a long nap.