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MFF Registration: What to do about it
Grin
timoran
MFF Staff: Value feedback but rambly post too long? tl;dr at end.

Midwest Furfest had an astounding growth to almost 11,000 members in 2018, but social media was full of complaints of the registration process at this year's event on Thursday and Friday.

For what it's worth, I picked up my badge in about 15 minutes by going to the registration line at around 5 PM Friday which is nearly the exact point it dwindled down (around 4 PM people were still saying 0.5-1.0 hour waiting for pre-reg). This meant I could not enter the Dealer's Den until that time, but I was unwilling to spend 4-6 hours in a line just to be there earlier.

I have previously covered this subject on this dusty old LiveJournal here https://timoran.livejournal.com/291171.html and I wouldn't change very much about it 5 years after I wrote it, back in a time when even a 6,000 person con did not exist. I have worked in registration at 4 different smaller conventions, and have gone through registration as a member at MFF, Anthrocon, Eurofurence, and BLFC, some of the largest fur cons. MFF has consistently had the least efficient registration process of those four conventions for the last several years, including prior to passing AC as the largest fur con.

Having attended MFF since their humble youth at the Schaumburg Hyatt, though, I have seen this convention lag behind most other cons in its category fairly consistently and I have to wonder about the person who leads the registration department and whether their heart is truly in it for making the guest experience a good one.

When I went through the line Friday evening I am sure fatigue had already set in and the reg volunteers were not at peak performance, but regardless, I noticed a number of errors that could have dragged down the critical metric, "guests registered per hour." I firmly believe that MFF's GRPH could be doubled with the same number of staff (although I feel that the number of concurrent staff at the pinch-point ID-check-in stations, 8 for pre-reg and 8 for at-the-door, is completely inadequate making for about 1 station per 700 attendees).

I now interrupt this feedback post to answer the big question I was hearing a lot during this event:
Why doesn't MFF just mail out people's badges?

Why not? There are quite a few other events open to the public at this scale doing something like this. Anime Central (ACen) does this, although Anime Midwest does not. Those cons, like MFF, have security concerns, a ban list, attract a young clientele that has a fair share of troublemakers, etc. In spite of everything, mailing the badges is ACen's policy, and they remain welcome to do business at the DSCC and neighboring hotels.

Here's the pros and cons that I see.
Pro: Anybody who pre-registers avoids the line.
Con: Badge could be lost in the mail.
Con: Since badge could be lost in the mail, an attendee showing up at the con complaining about non-receipt has a plausible excuse to receive a substitute badge which could be a tactic for getting a duplicate badge to give a friend or unwelcome person a free pass.
Counter point to con: This type of fraud is already *possible* but at least the lost badge is known to be the guest's fault, versus an untracked mailing which is outside the con or guest's control.

Pro: There's no reason anybody has to spend 4 to 6 hours in a line if they simply plan ahead.
Con: The mailed badges can't help people who are only able to plan the con around November, because of mailing time.
Con: Mailing the badges internationally could be cost prohibitive, slow, etc. How many international guests does MFF have? I don't have numbers but my personal experience is that quite a large number of guests come from other countries.
Pro: Fewer people in a line eliminates one mass target if, god forbid, someone wanted to target 5,000 furries standing in the same room at the same time.
Pro: Eliminating the line also eliminates putting people in many hours of waiting situations where they can be fatigued, overheated, etc. Many complained that the line itself put them out of the commission for part of the con.

Con: Mailing badges means no in person ID check. (Checking that people are who they say they are and not banned people or minors registering as adults.)
Con: Online ID check could be possible, but fake IDs cannot be detected from a picture because the security features are not checkable and you can't be sure the person's face in the picture is the person submitting the registration.
Counter point to con: The security features involved in picking up a badge in person are fairly meaningless when someone can just use another guest's badge to enter the con leased spaces, or simply ghost the event and dodge the checkpoints. If badge swapping is caught, perhaps an accomplice can be identified and punished, but in the end, there's no way to stop it. I also think a few people might have ghosted or borrowed badges for the sole reason of not wanting to wait in the 6 hour line to purchase one. As I said to someone while discussing MFF 2018 registration problems, what if the 8 people concurrently manning pre-reg pickup were instead functioning as crowd control and security? Would that benefit the con more than the scrutiny of the ID check for pre-reg pickups?


Anyway, back to the things I saw this year that need improvement:

1. The queue was neatly structured with ropes, and crowd control was not an issue when I was there. Actually, the problem came at the front of the queue. There is supposed to be a person standing there directing the person at the front of the queue to the light-up marker for a station that is ready for the next person. This system is a departure from the "Anthrocon system" which I am very fond of, where you line up by the letter of your last name and the station is directly in front of you - but MFF struggled to implement this system well in the years they used it, and when I waited in the "S line" I found that there were people in the lines for other letters that could not do anything. I don't know WHY that system failed at MFF, but regardless, MFF now uses the "Fry's Checkout Station" system.

What was actually happening, though, was the staffer at the front of the line was not dedicated to their task. At one point, about 3 or 4 of the reg stations were all flashing their beacons ready for the next person, but nobody was coming from the front of the line. It was especially painful because the last leg of the line crosses directly in front of the stations, and a few people did hop over the rope at this moment since the front of the line was asleep at the switch wasting everyone's time. MFF 2018 located the end of the pre-reg line near station 1 of the at-the-door stations, which was confusing because we could see an at-the-door station waiting for the next person and nobody was going. Could that person process a pre-reg? No signs, just a different light color which doesn't have meaning to the people who know the meaning of the colors.

How does this impact GRPH? Well, I probably spent about 45 seconds from the time the "next" light went on, to actually standing in front of the person at that station, between the staffer telling me to go there (I wouldn't dare go over there myself without being told to, right?) and the time it took to walk from one end of the reg hall to the other. That becomes very significant idle time for each station that can really add up and it's clear that simple geometry of the reg hall could contribute a lot to the performance of reg as a whole.

How to fix it? First of all, the front of the pre-reg line should be right in the middle of the pre-reg stations, for example between station 4 and 5 in an 8-station setup. That arrangement is so simple, it might even be possible for the guests to approach open stations themselves without a staff member to guide them, with some signage to make the process obvious. Consider the Marshall's checkout which is basically identical to a Fry's checkout, but with obvious signage instead of a staff member.

2. There is no way for the convention to add stations, because they require fixed equipment - in particular, the "next lights" but also computers and seating. The convention may have had the thought of sending volunteers to the reg desk to relieve the long lines, but that never happened and the fixed number of stations may be why. Also, although it was really perfectly fine the amount of time it took the staffer who checked me in to read and type in my name and search the record and for the database to return the result to him, I am sure there are other less computer-savvy staff members who could not perform this task so quickly.

How to fix it? There's a few options. First of all, the simple option is to prepare equipment for "more stations than the convention will ever need" - but, that can be expensive and involve a lot of estimating on just how much capacity is more than will ever be needed.

What I prefer is to simply have the registration pinch point be flexible enough to add as many people as needed without any special equipment. One way is to take the reg computers out of the equation entirely, at least for pre-reg. What exactly does the staffer do on the computer at that station? They are simply pulling up the registration record for the guest to check the real name and birthdate entered at registration and the badge number for the sign-in sheet and to give to the badge pullers. As far as badge number at other cons I have seen them put that responsibility on the guest, where they use a self-service terminal or their phone to look that up (and sometimes print out the sign in sheet). That eliminates the need to search by name to locate a badge number, but there may still be value in staff verifying the name and birthdate. What I propose is a phone app (or web app) that produces a badge number barcode. Staff can scan the barcode with a computer or any smartphone to verify the guest's contact information against their ID without typing anything. I am tempted to program a proof of concept to demonstrate how this would work as there is nothing complicated about implementing this even in a dinosaur of a system.

Now, what if someone does not have a smartphone or does not want to register on their phone? Provide kiosks and printers. Old, old (cheap/free) computer and printer hardware can be used to create these kiosks and work just fine for that purpose. Put them at the back of the line, before people line up - not in the middle, because people might be too shy to overtake people using the kiosks when they've already retrieved their barcode.

What if someone approaches the front of the line or a station but does not have that barcode? Don't do it for them - make them correct the problem themselves rather than punishing the whole rest of the line. Have an "oops kiosk" available up front.

3. This is just an assumption because I did not register at the door, although I heard comments that may support this. I think MFF was having staff members type in the guest's name, birthdate, contact information, credit card payment information (typing or swiping the card), and/or registration tier while face-to-face. This is a huge waste of time for a manned station and at cons I have worked, collecting this information face-to-face is the biggest hit to GRPH and contributes to a really bad experience for the at-the-door registration group.

The con did allow online registration for at-the-door from your smart phone or similar device but as far as I know, did not require it. Did the con collect credit card payment through the online gateway? If not, they should have.

How to fix it? Make the online registration process for at-the-door required, including collecting the credit card payment online. If the con really wants to continue accepting cash, there could be limited stations available to accept cash (or make the cash payment a separate line and separate station which gives a receipt with a barcoded token to use to finish online registration), so that cashboxes/cash handling trusted staff are not limiting the number of stations. Finally, the badge print should be initiated the moment the online registration is submitted, so that there's no waiting for that either.

4. This is my "radical idea" for improving GRPH: During the initial rush, 8 ID check stations clearly is not enough. What if a staffer, equipped with only a smartphone or tablet connected to the MFF database, could just go into the pre-reg line from guest to guest, checking their ID right there on the spot against their record? I have actually done this exact thing when I staffed reg at a fur con during the initial rush, and I feel like it dramatically helped the GRPH without adding stations or anything like that (and bear in mind that con was nearly a decade ago without a mobile friendly reg system). Now imagine if there were 8 volunteers doing this. That would be double the productivity during the big rush, with no additional equipment or space.


tl;dr:
0. At least I understand the risks of mailing badges - but do consider and weigh the risks of mailing badges versus the risks of doing things as they were done in 2018 rather than dismiss it immediately.
1. Don't put the front of the line too far away from the ID check stations, because that causes people being slow to notice the light and then slowly walking over a long distance.
2. Eliminate the need for stations by having guest look up their own badge number using their phone or a kiosk. ID checker can fetch the registered contact info by scanning a barcode. If some fool isn't ready with this when they approach the ID checker, be prepared to divert them to correct the problem and take the next person who is actually ready.
3. Eliminate the need for face-to-face data entry by requiring self-registration for at-the-door, on your own phone or a kiosk.
4. Maybe volunteers can just traverse the big line and do the ID checks there with a smartphone to verify the data.

I have personally seen all of these ideas implemented in some form at other conventions (both cons I attend and cons I work with reg staff) and I feel they all improved the performance of reg, so I do hope MFF will consider putting in just a bit of effort up front to avoid the big line situation in the future.

Don't Say That! - A rant (long)
Grin
timoran
I'm dusting off my LiveJournal to discuss a current event in the fandom, which crosses a few general phenomena that exist on the post Twitter internet. I feel like talking about it because, so far, there has been a near vacuum of intelligent discussion around the issues involved. The things we're talking about are suicide and SJWs.

I really don't like the term "SJWs" (short for Social Justice Warriors), because the term is meant as an insult but it's hardly a stinging one, and it doesn't make the folks who use it sound clever either. But it has become a common synonym of whiteknight, which is an uninvolved person inserting himself into a public debate in order to score "internet points" with people on the same side. In case I haven't already given away my position on SJWs, I feel like they're socially maladjusted people who don't know what real problems are or how to actually live their life.

With that said, just because your methods or reasons for getting in an argument are dumb, doesn't make your argument right or wrong. It just makes it harder to persuade or even be clear about what you stand for (people still have to go around trying to explain what GamerGate is, for example, and that's been going on for a year now). Most of these people spew the same few lines as "you have no right," "your opinion is irrelevant," "your toxic thinking has no place in society," blah blah blah. They never accomplish anything except to create a lot of noise and, ironically, may make a few onlookers feel stressed out, sad, or depressed.

I'm fond of an old classic internet meme, "Arguing on the internet is like running in the Special Olympics. Even if you win, you're still retarded."*

Another classic internet thing, at least based on my history in furry fandom, is 2 the Ranting Gryphon. I have followed him since before he launched 2 Sense in 2003. I was with my now-ex first boyfriend when I was introduced to his website, so actually I have followed him since 2002.

How do I feel about him now, professionally? He is more-or-less dead to me, but not because I got tired of him per se. He no longer makes 2 Sense. He set that aside and became a let's player, which isn't exactly something we need more of. That leaves his live shows at conventions. When I was new to conventions and didn't know anybody, I thought his shows were great, and so were Kage's. Now, I barely get in there because I am busy at conventions, fursuiting or with friends, and can barely stand to sit in one place for an hour. (Maybe at a smaller con it's different, I went to their shows the last time I went to IFC, but I don't go to that con anymore.) 2 and Kage are some of the funniest and best entertainers in the fandom, but they shouldn't take that as a great compliment, we just don't have that many other great performers. One MFF years ago, someone opened for 2 and it was excruciating to watch and I was embarrassed for the guy.

2's schtick is basically that he is a George Carlin impersonator. He pulls it off decently well, and I won't pretend otherwise. But it is still clear that he's not doing himself, he's impersonating Carlin. If you like that style of humor, you may find his shows entertaining. I thought he was much more "real" when he did 2 Sense, though, and I miss that show. I get my fill of fucked up world news from another show now (WTFIWWY by Nash Bozard), and it fills the void well enough.

But does 2 really feel about depression and suicide what the peanut gallery is claiming? Well, to put it bluntly, I think that 2 himself suffers from depression, he's definitely an alcoholic, and I would not be surprised to find out if he had made an attempt of some sort at least once. He has explained of running from Arkansas to Michigan to escape depression, and then moving to SoCal for the same reason. And his fiancé Toast probably has depression too, along with maybe a Bipolar disorder, but I'm not qualified to diagnose anyone. My point is there is hardly anyone who has not had some kind of depression issue, but 2 for sure is familiar with it in my observation over all these years.

And what about suicide? As connected as we are, suicide is something we all experience. Everyone has had someone they look up to like a celebrity, such as Robin Williams or Kurt Cobain, die by suicide. Almost everyone has had someone they consider at least a distant friend or distant family member kill themselves - and this is where I fall. And quite a lot of people have a very personal connection to suicide like a close friend or relative. It is everywhere, and we all know what suicide is and what its impact is. Someone would have to live on a desert island to not understand it.

When someone makes a joke about suicide, or says something insensitive about it, they aren't doing so out of ignorance, or a willful disregard of what it is (maybe some people do have evil intentions, but that's an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary proof). They are doing it to make light of a dark situation, to cause discomfort, as an attempt to make you laugh. Or, they are doing it in a moment of anger and not making a serious suggestion.

But what if someone takes it seriously? That is always possible. But you have to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is severely depressed and considering suicide (I've been close enough a few times to know the feeling): They are blind to any kind of positive, uplifting, supportive message, and they have already convinced themselves that they cannot be saved. If we suppose that a random comment could be a catalyst for someone to pull the trigger, they will find one, even if it means finding some anonymous douche on 4chan.

Shouldn't we be more careful just in case our comment is the one to make someone jump? Perhaps, but how far do we take it? I mean, let's be serious, if one person says a mean thing online, there is a small chance that could give someone suicidal thoughts. But what about when tens of people or more start spewing hate at you on Twitter and launch campaigns to get you banned from pretty much everywhere? Couldn't that also make someone feel pretty worthless? Where should the line be drawn? What about flipping someone off in traffic? Ordering meat when you're sat down at the same table as a vegetarian, or hell, the same restaurant. You can offend people doing anything.

So here is my big point: Regardless of the extent it is true or false, the internet is meant for use by rational, mentally healthy adults. We as a society have no duty to filter ourselves, or issue trigger warnings, or provide a link to some hotlines every time we dare MENTION the word suicide. We cannot phrase everything we ever say on the internet so that it doesn't offend anyone. And no subject can be "taboo" as far as comedy goes. Comedy is about being taboo in the first place. And even though it's probably not right, the reality is what is and is not OK in comedy is usually hinged on whether or not a joke is funny. When Michael Richards went on his N-word** tirade against some black hecklers, he probably thought it would be pretty funny. That's a more extreme example of ignorance, but this is our society. We can't look at that incident and say that race is now off-limits as a subject of comedy!

Should 2 get in hot water with Anthrocon and be made to apologize? I don't think so, and it's a close call. I've encouraged the board of Eurofurence to make one staffer, Docolix, either apologize or be dismissed from con staff, and that fell on deaf ears. His crime was much the same as 2's, as he told a critic to kill himself. But in Docolix's case, he had went after someone who was interacting with the convention's official account on Twitter, and at the time his Twitter profile identified him as staff. Meaning intentional or not his comments were the convention's comments. The people who are hatebombing 2 had to do a lot of homework to find something they could use as a weapon against him, where Docolix walked right into trouble. And Docolix in the end got supported by EF, so I think 2 will be fine at AC too. (And AC's chairman Kage has already had a run in when he made a suicide remark on Twitter, so I am pretty sure who he sympathizes with here.)

But in the end, if you're depressed, and attacking someone who you might consider a "furry celebrity" makes you feel better, who am I to criticise?

* If you feel like making fun of retarded people or even using the "R word" is taboo, you should re-read the whole post and substitute all the suicide discussion with discussion around the mentally disabled.

** But I do know well enough that I better not touch this one.

Fixing an ElevatorCon
Grin
timoran
Well, you guys seemed to agree with my thoughts on common registration mistakes, but in light of two cons I've already attended this year experiencing some growth that results in elevator delays, I figure I should point out some ways to improve that I saw at those cons. I can only comment on my observations as an attendee, never having run an event that has any elevator problem.

Before I start, I'm sure that Anthrocon is going to come up. I think Anthrocon does a mostly fantastic job of handling the elevator situation at the Westin in Pittsburgh. They aren't perfect nor are they doing EVERYTHING I suggest, but they are still a model to follow for any other con.

Like last time, they are roughly in order of importance, with the most important being...

NUMBER ONE. Prepare for an elevator disaster! Maybe your hotel has ten elevators and you think there's no way that wouldn't be enough. Even if that holds true (which it doesn't), you can't assume that the first night, all ten will still be working properly. Many of the worst moments at cons come when elevators start going out of service. It's important to consider: What if these elevators don't move people as efficiently as we think they will? - AND - What if half, or three-quarters, of these elevators weren't running? You need to figure out how to keep the masses of people calm and be able to meet their needs, while at the same time coordinating a response from the maintenance staff, who are hopefully already on standby. Messing up rule number one hits the small cons the hardest: You may have a hotel with less than 10 floors, and just a few elevators, and never a line - but when they start to go kaput and all you're left with is one or none, you suddenly have a mess you may have never thought you would have.

#2: Get able bodied people on the stairs. The lowest guestroom floors are usually just a few flights of stairs away from the lobby, and for people with good legs, it's a much better choice for everyone. Since they're the first floors to get out of the elevators going up, simply offering the stairs isn't much of a value to them, so don't be afraid to use guilt and peer pressure to convince people to not be lazy and take the couple flights of stairs to help the people on higher floors who aren't so conveniently located. Remember to remind people that going DOWN stairs is much, much easier than going up! It may be that the best place to remind people of this is up on their guest room floor, not down at the lobby.

The main things you need to do to make stair access a clear option are:

  • Have the hotel deactivate any alarms and unlock any locked doors that block the stairs going up. Post signs that make it clear they're unalarmed and unlocked for the con.

  • Post signs directing people from the elevator area to where the stairs are. If you can post it on the guestroom floors, even better. Also be sure to remind people that you can exit on other guestroom floors, if it's true.

  • Mention to people in the line that stairs are available, and the wait time on an elevator, and maybe people will reconsider.

#3: Move people to less-crowded options. Parking or business center elevators, escalators, or any other form of vertical transport that requires no climbing effort should be the only option when they're available and working. There's no excuse why a person who can walk should take the elevator from 1 to 2 instead of the escalator. (Technically the same is true of stairs, but it's a question of where do you draw the line, and zero climbing effort is a pretty safe bet.) You need an elevator to still be available at every floor in case someone with crutches or a wheelchair shows up, but they should be the only people using them at those floors. It may very well be that posting a sign "♿ Elevators on floor 2 are reserved for people with disabilities only ♿" will actually get a lot more respect from able bodied people than "Elevators on floor 2 are off-limits, go to floor 1." Of course, if you find the opposite is true, you can go with the off-limits signage and the disabled folks will certainly infer that they're still an exception.

Also - you should try to prevent people from both boarding and exiting on those floors, because making the stop at all is what hurts the elevator times. If you've got staff on those floors to enforce non-use by people without disabilities, they should enforce people getting off the elevator too. You may not exactly be able to physically stop people who are determined to do things their own way from unloading on your floor, but at least you can get a badge name or description of the person to take action on their con membership.

#4: Have a proper, organized queue at the elevator. If people just clump in a mass around the elevator, it is very difficult to discern who arrived first and keep people from cutting the line. When this behavior goes on, people start to get irritable and it creates a lot of drama and really escalates a bad elevator situation. Your best bet is to start by geometrically solving the problem of having only one point of entry. You may need to set up a rope, and you may need to block off access except from the direction of that roped off queue. If the elevators have two or more points of entry, you could block all but one off, or post clear signage that one entryway is a queue for priority boarding only.

#5: Have a sensible, clearly posted elevator priority. People with priority go to the front of the line. The priority order I propose for furry cons is:
0. Emergencies (only real ones)
1. People with disabilities
2. People not in the group
3. Hot food deliveries
4. Fursuits
5. Everyone else.

One thing that may make for a good experiment at least, is giving folks above floor X a higher priority than below it, where X is a floor that an able-bodied person could reach without getting too sweaty. No matter what you do with the priority, make sure that no group faces "starvation" where there is a constant supply of people in higher priorities and they never move.

#6: Stop people from cheating or slowing the system down. Behaviors that should be prohibited:

  • No going down to go up, or up to go down. (Actually have a staff member pull people off at the end of the line to enforce it.)

  • Don't call an elevator you won't use.

  • Don't hold doors open.

  • Don't abuse the elevator (horseplay).

#7: Move hotel staff (and others?) to service elevators. This is similar to #3, but with a more touchy subject: Service elevators. Certainly, you don't want the general public to access the service elevator, in those common situations where those elevators open to restricted areas. Hotel staff should be the first to be told to use those elevators - which may seem a no brainer, but at all the ElevatorCons I see hotel staff board the general elevators all the time, so that message clearly hasn't gotten across to those staff. The service elevators should also definitely be considered for emergency situations, because the last thing you want to do is make all of the stops on the way to one. If there is still any underused capacity, consider having convention staff use them, and bellhops (who are once again, staff, but maybe their ordinary customary procedure is to ride up with their luggage cart along with the owner of the luggage - something that just KILLS the capacity of the general elevators). If you can move anyone else to the service elevators without an issue, do it.

#8: Solve for floors that are only accessible by elevator. If you just cannot get the stairs open to a certain floor, you need to take extra care of those people - they aren't riding the elevator because they're lazy, but they have no choice. You need to make sure not only that they can get on the elevator to go up there, but that they are able to get stops to leave that floor. The obvious prime example is Anthrocon Westin Floor 4.

#9: Unlock the group's floors for parties/visitors. You might think that preventing access means less elevator traffic, but this is not true. This just means someone from the party has to go down the elevator and escort someone up, which severely burdens both those people and the elevators. If you expect room parties, get all your group's floors unlocked.

#10: Load management. One responsibility of con staff is to make sure that the bad situation doesn't result in overloading elevators. I personally don't believe those elevators are any more likely to break down more rapidly with people packed butt to gut than without, because their actual capacity far exceeds any possible human payload, but just the same you need to consider rider comfort and allow some space for people to load on other floors. Full elevators don't make stops to answer calls (except when they do, which is frustrating, but usually the result of the elevator's central computer finding no better option available). Just don't send up elevators with too few people on board, because that really hurts their efficiency and wastes time and energy. If there is one thing I have seen Anthrocon do poorly, it is sending up an elevator that can hold 16 people up with only 6-8 people (when more are waiting in line). I'll say again, I don't think scientifically your chance of an elevator failure is any lower by cutting back that hard, and since the same number of people are traveling on the elevator in the end, you're actually making the elevator work harder by making more trips, and using the brakes more often. Weight is almost a non-issue to traction elevators because they balance with a counterweight, so reducing the number of trips should be the focus.

#11: On-elevator signage. Remind people of the elevator priority, and rules from #6, and to move quickly! People aren't thinking of those things when they're up on guestroom floors, so an extra reminder couldn't hurt.

#12: Consider a con staff elevator operator if other things haven't worked enough. The con staffer would select floors on the elevator for people, and encourage them to load, unload quickly. In addition to enforcing #6, this also adds some other options like making elevators psuedo-zoned so they service certain floors. You can't control where the elevators make stops, but you could send people in the lobby up one elevator for low floors, another for high floors, and so on.

#14: Think outside the box. Maybe the elevators are the symptom, but promoting efficient elevator use and stairs are not the only ways to solve the problem. Can you convince the hotel to assign members of your event to specific floors? Perhaps group your folks together (also a good idea for noise) and spread out the "blocks" of your group if the elevators have different zones. As a last resort, especially if you book 80% of the hotel or some large number, you can put the people who aren't in the group on a low floor, so that they can use stairs and avoid your line (and the awkward priority issues).

Once again, add your comments and discuss!

Registration system suggestions
Grin
timoran
I go to a lot of cons, big and small, and I have seen the best and the worst registration processes used at them. I also have a little experience from running registration at LAFFBowl and New Year's Eve Con. This post is my attempt to summarize a lot of the lessons that some cons have learned, and other cons haven't learned, in the hope of starting discussion among registration directors everywhere on simple, small things that can make it run more smoothly when you get there.

They are roughly in order of importance, with the most important being...

NUMBER ONE: TEST YOUR FINAL CHECK-IN PROCESS IN ADVANCE. I doubt this is the most frequently made mistake, but this mistake has the greatest potential for disaster. Years ago, I was on reg staff for a small con that uses an off-the-shelf furry con reg system. I hate this particular reg system with a passion, but the failures at this con can only be partly blamed on it. The main issue was that the reg system needs to be able to print, and the model of printer, as well as the operating system of the host, had changed from the previous year. Had this change been tested? NOPE! First of all, the new printer did not work with the old printer's driver, that's obvious. Second of all, the new printer had no driver available for a current operating system. Eventually the problems were fixed, I'm not sure how, but not until several hours after the convention had started and the main rush of check-ins had come in. The failure was mitigated with the #2 solution mentioned next, but the reg lead waited way too long to make that decision leaving everything at a standstill.

What's the ideal test? Go to the hotel/convention center, ideally, or at least go out somewhere - don't test in the reg tech lead's house where everything works wonderfully and the main server is right there. Set up the equipment the same way it will be set up on-site, and process check-ins just as you would, including the at the doors and any computers those folks will use for data entry. Print real badges, ideally with the real artwork/badge paper, and make sure that you test your process from end to end. The one piece of the process you leave out of the test, because you're sure it will be fine or it worked last year, will be the piece that fails when you're doing it for real.

#2: Any system, machine, PC, printer, electrical outlet, internet connection can fail - HAVE A MANUAL BACKUP PLAN. Of course it's good to have a backup machine, too, but always be ready and expect the worst case scenario, which might mean checking off registrations from a pre-printed ledger and handwriting name badges with a marker.

#3: Pre-print name badges in advance. Registration entry computers (and their operators), badge printers, and check-in counter space where those things can be set-up are a precious resource. At least during the peak times, move the pre-reg check-in to another location without any fancy equipment - just the check-in ledger and pile of pre-printed badges. Pre-printing badges also greatly, greatly reduces the impact any technical failure will have, since no technology is used at all in distributing the pre-reg badges (which, if you're doing things right, is most of your attendees).

#4: Divide by letter. Last names A-F, this line. G-R, that line. S-Z, that line. It's not a good idea to give one person the sign-in ledger for your entire convention (unless it's a pretty tiny one) for a couple of reasons: If there is only one copy of the ledger, only one person can be using it at a time. And if there are 20 pages of registrations in the full ledger, splitting it by 3 means there will be 7 pages at each station and each reg lookup will be, at best, 60% faster. The marginal returns of adding extra people can be huge during peak hours, and you can always combine stations A-F and G-R if they are collectively quiet, but you can't split them up further than you already planned for.

#5: Go ahead and make at the door registration awful. You should focus on giving everyone a great experience, but if someone has to suffer, let it be the person who planned poorly, and didn't allow you to plan for his arrival in advance. If you have a line of pre-registered attendees and another line of at-the-door attendees, I would expect to see a well-run registration process have the pre-reg line moving three times faster and be one-third the length during peak times. If at the door reg is ever quicker than pre-reg pickup, your guests will start to ask why they chose to pre-reg when your event apparently favors at the door reg. (If that situation ever arises, you should be equipped for the folks in at the door reg twiddling their thumbs to relocate to pre-reg check-in.)

#6: At the door registration data entry should be done 100% by the guest. Provide computers for the guest to do the typing on. If those are a limited resource (they almost always are), you should consider keeping your online website active to data entry, or create a local WiFi intranet site, so people can use their own PCs/tablets to check in. And yes, this includes date of birth - the reg staff should only be confirming the ID matches the entered data, not entering it from scratch, as even that takes precious time. If you can't trust staff to check the DOB on an ID without having to type it in, fire your staff.

Also, you shouldn't be using paper reg forms (except as a #2 backup plan), unless your intent is to not enter them into a computer at the con.

#7: Single-day passes suck. I don't know why conventions give these out. Often it will be a difference of, say, $25 versus $45 or so to get a single-day pass. Lots of expenses of running a convention (function space, equipment, venue staff, payment processing) have a somewhat linear relationship to number of people that show up to the biggest event, so the guy incurs about the same cost whether he stays for one day or three. Even if you do it because a few people like to buy them and it spreads goodwill, my big issue is none of the furry cons I go to allow single-day pre-reg. Why would you EVER turn away an opportunity to get information (and maybe payment) in advance?

#8: Dumb idea: Distributing convention materials far away from the registration site. A few cons send you into the den of dealers to pick these materials up, but of course people are going to get lost finding it, and your precious reg staff are now having to give people directions. The only directions they should be giving out are pointing to the table the guest is standing right next to and saying "TAKE ONE." (Another problem is when the materials aren't easy to find people just don't bother and you end up with a lot of extra, wasted copies.)

#9: If you give out souvenir badges be clear if they are valid. Some cons give out artwork or fursuit badges. A general rule of thumb is, if they are given out before the end of the con, and have the con year/number and the guest's registration number printed on them, they are going to be assumed by guests to be a valid badge. If that's not the case, you'll want to sticker the back or somehow indicate they're "NOT VALID FOR ADMISSION." If they are valid, make sure everyone on staff knows what the souvenir badges look like.

Add your comments. I can re-order or add to the list as new lessons present themselves.

Unprofessional artist says "No refund or art for you!"
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timoran
Crossposted to artists_beware

WHO: Bailey, xxnanamithehuskyxx on FA http://www.furaffinity.net/user/xxnanamithehuskyxx/
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Rate your satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with me...
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timoran
*blows dust off LiveJournal*

This platform is what I'll have to use, since I need to be able to make a long post and gather anonymous comments.

TL;DR version: Comment and tell me about anything I've done that makes you dislike me. Be specific and tell me how to fix it.

What brought this post on? I found out today that a lot of people have a problem with me and the way I conduct myself. Although I was suspicious that people might have a problem with me, nobody had ever respected me enough to tell me about it until today.

This is causing people to not hang out with me at social functions, not invite me to parties/dinner, and even people I've considered good friends lied to me about why they didn't hang out with me or respond to my messages. There's got to be a reason behind it, and enough people have a problem with me, that I'm willing to accept it's a problem with me.

I know a few people who just have a bad attitude and don't treat people right, and they refuse to accept that they have a problem and take feedback. I have no desire to ever see these people and avoid them whenever I can. So, I don't want to be one of these people and I need help to fix it.

Anonymous comments are allowed. I will unscreen once I verify it's not spam and it has to be a legitimate complaint. What I mean is, you have to identify a specific thing I have done wrong and tell me how I can improve myself. If you just say I'm a jerk that won't do me any good.

I especially want to hear from anyone who specifically avoided me or did not interact with me at a con or meet, because of something I've done. It's clear to me that I'm not welcome with many people at their parties and dinners and I want to know why that is. I know that when I get snubbed once that gets me in a bad mood and sets the tone for the rest of the day/weekend. I can take rejection but it's often the manner in which it's served (ignored texts, being told lies by people I trust, etc.) that really gets me angry. I'm not sure what to do about it.

Please - comment and tell me: What is it about me that rubs you the wrong way?

Free PGA hat and backpack
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timoran
Not my picture but it looks identical to this: http://timoran.com/images/mcgladrey.jpg
The backpack only goes over one shoulder.

Got them in a Woot bag of crap.

Free to anyone who asks (but if I have to ship it you have to pay for the shipping).

Need help from European Super Smash Bros. Brawl fans!
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timoran
So as you may or may not have seen, my Wii is bricked.

I am able to boot games with recovery mode but I can't get into the menu. I may be able to fix it, if I run the Smash Stack exploit on the PAL version of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

I am a fully legit owner of the USA version, but the USA version crashes in autoboot mode. I've read reports that the PAL version doesn't.

I tried all the pirate sites but they all have a modified version that fits on a 4.7GB single layer DVD. This does not work on my Wii because the unsigned content bug is broken. I need the full, real, DVD9 double layer version.

If one of you out there has the game, could you be a sweetheart and dump it to a .wbfs file using WiiBackupManager and send it to me? Get in touch and I'll give you an FTP or something you could use.

Zune and Windows. A match made in heaven?
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timoran
I was having some trouble getting my Microsoft Zune to connect with my Microsoft Windows 7 computer. "That's queer," I thought. "Aren't they the same company?"

I tried the usual steps. I tried rotating between the three USB ports on the front of my computer (in the past doing this ritual one or two times always got it to connect). This time, it wasn't doing it - not even in the ports on the back of the computer.

This didn't work, so my next instinct was to open Device Manager and find the entry for my Zune. I right-click and Uninstall, then unplug and re-plug the USB. Sometimes I have to do this with my "plug-and-play" devices, although the irony of this wore off on me about 8 years ago.

Still nothing? Okay, it must be a problem with the driver. I go in and tell it to Update Driver. Even though my Zune is definitely not connected, Windows still believes that the best possible driver is already installed.

Then I tell Windows to let me choose the driver to install - an older version that's sitting on my computer for some reason. It installs, and still doesn't connect.

Hardball. Now I go to Programs and Features (or, as it was much better titled in XP, Add/Remove Programs) and uninstall Zune. One wrinkle: The uninstaller tells me I must disconnect my device before proceeding. Wait a minute, you know my Zune is connected but you can't connect to it? Fine, fine, whatever, unplug. Then I reinstall from a fresh download. The installer also tells me to disconnect my device.

New Zune software installed, and I prepare for all my disc art and ID3 tags to be fucked up afresh. But it still didn't fix the driver.

This time, I uninstall again, and I connect the Zune to see if the driver is being left installed after the software is gone. It is. The craptacular search engine in Windows 7 points me to my System32/DriverStore. Even though I am running as an administrator, I cannot delete driver files from this folder. I have to use a tool called pnputil.exe to "force delete" a "package" containing the driver. Oh, and I can't just tell it to delete zune.inf, I have to generate a list and find a Protable Media driver version 4.7.whatever by Microsoft (no "Zune" anywhere in the description).

Right about now, I am wondering what the engineers at Microsoft were thinking when they chose not to make this MP3 player mount as a STORAGE DEVICE. But, on I go.

I plug in my Zune, and—success—oh, not in getting the player to connect, but in getting the player not to install any driver. The system is now Zune driver free and for all purposes totally clean.

Reinstall. Fail. Headdesk.

I do more searching and come across a tool called UnZoone.exe that removes every trace of the Zune installation. I try it out and it looks good, but doesn't fix my problem.

At this point it's about 3 AM on a work night, so I turn in.

Today, I pick up where I left off. While I was at work, I tried connecting my Zune to my XP Corporate x86 laptop, truly a "best case" scenario. Although the first try leaves me with the standard issue of needing to Uninstall, disconnect, and reconnect, it does work. The player and the USB cable are fine.

I get home and look for more direction. One forum poster (by the way, Zune's forum pages cannot be linked from Google results; if you are coming from Google you must go past a splash screen and use the Microsoft Search) advises disconnecting a USB media card reader. Ooh, I have one of those, and it is a cheap dodgy one. I try disabling the unit in Device Manager first, but of course that is not good enough. I open up my tower and pull the plug on it. It still is not fixed.

Finally, I find a page that tells me to check my Event Log. I open it up, and find a message about "It was not possible to access the device () after installing drivers." At least it's a new error message. Two relevant Google posts, both on the Zune forum, both posts weren't cached by Google and can't be found by the Microsoft Search. I keep digging around, looking at posts from people with the same issue with completely different devices like external hard drives.

More searching brings me to this seemingly totally unrelated post: ERROR_WMI_INSTANCE_NOT_FOUND. The advice, buried about 12 posts down, is to download a tool called "SubInACL" and run a shell script (copy and pasted from the message, of course) to reset the "Access Control Lists" on the keys in my registry. All the millions of them. I watch all the registry keys fly by. I plug my Zune in, and the Zune software opens and syncs. Wait... that was it? Fuck. Finally.

And... that is the story of how I made my Microsoft Zune work with Microsoft Windows.

Tipping Rant
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timoran
Those of you who dine out with me know that I view 15% as the tip for "good" service. To get more than that requires "great" or "excellent" service.

I've just watched a video on YouTube posted by a waiter who bitches and moans about people who leave tips less than 20%. His attitude is that 20% is standard and 15% is unacceptably low. A while ago I read a blog from another waiter with similar gripes, so this is the second time I've heard a waiter call a less than 20% tip bloody murder. The waiters who are complaining seem to work at upscale, busy restaurants (expensive), not a back-country hole in the wall.

You know what, waiters? Fuck you. You are the greediest people in the world. It's a difficult job, I'll give you that, but if you wait just 6 tables in an hour, average $100 total, tipping $15 each, you're making $90 an hour! Make it 20% and you've got $120 an hour! If we call these "busy" hours and you just have about 20 hours a week like this, you still make a lot more than I do as a software engineer on tips alone. And I had to go to college to get my job.

You know what? I'll consider tipping you more when you don't make MORE MONEY THAN I DO.