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Mitigation of the Line Cons

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November 29, 2018, Midwest Furfest, 1731 hours,

I write to you, my love as I enter hour two along the snaking way. My bladder aches for release of the carbonated beverage I bought from the far overpriced convention center vending machine. The legs keeping me aloft wobble, reminding me that the days I worked in retail that had adapted me to long stretches on my feet were long in my past. Those along with me pine for acceptance into the gathering which we placed reservations for. But as those ahead go into the adjacent room I cannot tell how much further our journey shall be. The company and conversation of my colleagues keeps us going, but for the first time we may be coming to the realization that there may be some unintended consequences for the growth of our eccentric rabble.

In the meanwhile, my mind wanders. I wonder if what if anything can be done to resolve our plight. Perhaps someone, someday, will write an article providing some solutions. But until that day, here I stand.

Hope to see you when this is through,
DarkFox7912

Worry not DarkFox7912, this article goes out to you.

Growing Pains

Lines!.jpgWith the continued success of Midwest Furfest, a high influx of fuzz has made its way to Rosemont, Illinois. In 2018, a count of almost 11,000 was recorded as having attended. However, the convention didn’t need to even announce the headcount for the regular attendees to notice the relatively monolithic crowds. All it took was making your way down to the registration line Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, to know that turn out was far greater than anticipated.

In a sense of irony, when hotel boarding opened and the Hyatt had sold out in mere minutes, rumors and speculation were that people were using bots to snatch spots to price gouge them later. While not entirely untrue, one could get a sense while standing in that line that the demand of avid fans was high enough that the space selling out wasn’t as tied to conspiracy as originally believed. I had personally got into the registration line at the time the doors opened Friday morning for badges and a crowd two and a half hours long had already gathered.

The line serpentined out of the bottom floor gallery room of the convention center where the registration resided with about 6 bends, slithered about the sidewall of the hallway and stairwell that went out into the lobby, before quickly entering into the freight area, in which the line s-curved about a dozen times before heading back out into the lobby where it bent a good half dozen times. Basically it was like a diagram of a digestive system, with about the same processing time.

It was apparent that the freight section was added as an emergency addendum as I didn’t see the doors open to that segment on Thursday afternoon. At this time it seemed even the line wranglers were having trouble keeping track of the line’s end. By Thursday evening the side doors opened and the freight section could be seen from the convention walkways. A dark note in the back of my head was amused that this was the second time in MFF’s history that furries had been unintentionally crammed into the convention center’s freight bay unwittingly. On the bright side, we weren’t being evacuated from anything in this instance.

Mail Call

When desires for solutions came up, one of the first presented came from Twitter about the option of having the badges mailed to attendees. The thought behind this is that when a person registers for the gathering they would have the option to have a badge mailed to their home. In this way they would arrive with their badge and it would cut down on line time. The convention could probably even get away with passing the shipping fee to the purchaser as the luxury of not having to wait in line for hours may be worth it to them.

I mean if someone wanted to attend a mascot party and wait in line all day for their vacation, they’d go to Disney World, right? Or perhaps SDCC.

However, the solution may not be so simple. When you pick up your badge, you have to show your legal identification to the person assisting you. The purpose for this is so they can see that the proper individual was collecting the proper badge. This ensures two things: your badge isn’t accidentally given to another, and that they can tie the badge with an actual person who will be responsible for it. In short, it’s seen as a security measure.

It must be noted, Anime Central, a larger convention held in the same building as Furfest has moved to such system. So in some way they have managed to move to such a system while maintaining the protocol of identification needed for registration which is noted on their site at the fee of $2.00

The fear is probably that if they just mail it to an address supplied by a person there could be no evidence that the person whose legal name was used to ordered it was the actual person to order it. So if a person was banned from the convention, then they could try to pass themselves as someone else to acquire an attendance and will evade notice as they don’t have to sign in at the door. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t slip through the current system, but I’m sure there are certain names on file that volunteers are on the lookout for to show them the door, if not reject immediately upon the name coming up. For such a person trying to evade a ban, going through the long line itself only to possibly be turned away would be a deterrent to even attempting.

Punishing those who behave themselves for the actions of unscrupulous individuals should not be the goal of good policy. Instead maybe there is a way to award good and regular patrons and combine it with the idea of mailing out badges? There may very well be, and that is the concept of subscribing to a convention.

Subscription Prescription

This is the Con.jpgAt this point there are certain conventions that have become a yearly tradition for people. Both furry and non-furry alike. It is becoming more likely that the same person will be returning over and over again. If so, then the consumer is going to be like the meme of Fry, shoving a wad of cash at the convention demanding that they partake of their fiat currency.

For that person, going through the ritual of registering becomes a bit of an annoyance. Why should someone spend time filling out a form for 5 minutes of their life every year for the remainder of their days on this planet? Or until the convention collapses? Or maybe the world ends? Okay, the last one would probably redundantly cause the two former on the list, but that’s besides the point. The point is, what if there was a way to make it so this repeat customer could continually register automatically every year?

Youngins’ may call this model a Patreon-style system, but back in my day they just called it a subscription. It’s a way that if you really like a periodical, then instead of taking your wallet out every month, week, day, or in this case year, you could instead have them take your money automatically every time under the same name. The same principal can be applied to our little furry gatherings once they have gotten off the ground.

This can also be used to close the security loophole. This service could be done in person, where identification could be provided. But instead of just checking it once for the year, it will be once for the duration of their subscription. At that point the subscribed attendee can have their badge mailed to the address presented on the identification.

Even better it can be used to enforce security by acting as a kind of deterrent of bad behavior. If an attendee runs afoul of the convention and gets their badge suspended or revoked temporarily, they could have their subscription canceled and would forever more have to register ye old-fashioned way. Back of the line for you pal!

Creating other benefits for subscribers can go even further to ensure the attendee be on their best behavior. For instance you could offer first access to con hotel bookings, or if you want to get really crazy, auto-booking if possible. Discounts on badges, perhaps including sponsor style badges, or at the very least free shipping of the badges. For the creative types maybe first access to Dealers Den or Artist Alley slots. That’d be a lot to lose for breaking the rules. Having this loyal base of subscribers would also give the convention more solid numbers of logistical challenges they will face in the coming years based on the subscriber count and cut down on some of the busy work of reprocessing every attendee every year, even before the line situation.

Of course then the rub comes from how you deal with address changes. Furries are notoriously nomadic, present roo not being an exception, having moved four times in my adult life. Do you have the subscriber pick up the badge at the con with the new identification to change the address on their subscription? Do you allow them to access a secure site to change address? It depends on what the security requirements are for the venue.

There are some other logistical issues I can think of that can come from this. If you’re the kind that likes to change your badge name every year then implementing that change would still take some time, and would need to be provided for. If something comes up for the year, a subscriber would have to have the option of cancelling for a particular year, but that can be a problem for non-subscribers as well. Keeping data on subscribers secure will be obscenely important. Oh, and if the subscriber dies or their form of payment doesn’t work, then I guess you’d have to remove them from the subscription service as well.

It’s an idea that I feel is basically inevitable at this point. I am quite surprised that nothing like this has been implemented before for conventions, even the larger nerdy ones that have nothing to do with furry. Googling “convention subscription” yielded no results of offers of this kind. I saw no evidence that even ComicCon itself has such a thing. I guess if the other nerd cons haven’t thought of it yet, well then get on the furry’s nerdy levels son. Bottom of the hierarchy my big fat roo foot.

In the meantime - Volunteer

Obviously a pie in the sky solution like a subscription service may take a bit to get off the ground, if it is even possible. In the meanwhile, the way the average attendee can assist in this process, is quite frankly, assisting in the process.

So what are you doing on Thursday evening at the con? If the answer is like most attendees the answer is probably “not much”. There typically isn’t anything on the schedule other than maybe a dance later at night. This is why many take advantage of getting their badge that evening so that they will be ready to focus on the convention by the time Friday rolls around. Given this, when someone says they are not doing much on Thursday it means that they are probably standing in line.

But if you’re going to be standing around, why not acquire your badge before showing up for your shift behind the table? The hours will probably go by much quicker than if you’re standing in the line doping about on your smartphone. Instead you can work toward helping cut down on the wait times of your fellow attendees while serving the convention.

There are obvious hitches to this logistically. You can only fit so many of these volunteers into one room and make the system still flow. Obviously everyone can’t volunteer for the position or there would be people lining up to volunteer and you’re back to square one. However the closer you get to hitting a good server per attendee ratio, the faster they can get things done.

Regardless, it’s important that if you do want to offer your services that you inform the convention sooner rather than later. When Midwest Furfest had line issues in 2017 due to cloud based solution hiccups, they had an influx of requests to volunteer for registration staff. They had to decline for security reasons. People who handle this process have access to sensitive attendee manifest information that could be utilized harmfully. So in order to accept a volunteer, doing a background check is important to ensure no individuals with sketchy pasts are handling your information.

So do it now, the worse they can say is no and then you’ll be in the same position as if you never asked at all. Actually, probably better, since that means they have all the help they can fit, which can only help with queue times.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

Special thanks goes out to "The Undead Medic" on Furry Amino for permission to use their photo:
https://aminoapps.com/c/furry-amino/page/blog/midwest-furfest-day-1/PJg1_Rldimud...

Your rating: None Average: 5 (10 votes)

You could always extend when the badges are available. Setting up a venue for a convention isn't done overnight and people don't show up at the last minute. Two years ago, I stayed at the Estrel where Eurofurence was held and a few days before it was already full of furs. They opened early registrations the day before the official opening and something like 50% of the furs used that. If you're taking 2-3 days to set up a convention, then you can have a smaller registration desk open at that time. Then there isn't a rush to register all at once.

Alternatively, people could be assigned set desks and times when they need to collect their badges. Then instead of standing in line for 2 hours, you know you're free to do what you want as long as you are there for your own time slot.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

Both are temporary stop gaps logistically. It'll make things more efficent as long as growth discontinues. Take 11,000 and turn it into 100,000 and expanding the hours or moving it so that certain people showing up with the letters A - C will not be resolved before it's time for D - F.

And it also needs to be noted that not everyone is going to be 'punctual'. A lot of people work and are not going to be showing up until Friday, regardless if their letter was up on Thursday. Human beings are not machines so putting this creates two situations you have to account for:

A) A person whose letter is called shows up after their letter's time: This means that you would have to give the letters a start time, but no end time, as it would be dumb to refuse a paying customer a badge just because they didn't show up when you wanted them to. Especially since this can happen due to forces outside of their control (work, traffic/other travel delays/etc)

B) A person may just see a line at reg and miss the memo (particularly on the system's premier year) and get in line to get their badge anyway. This sets up a situation where you're going to have an attendee get to the table and the volunteer is going to have to tell them "your letter is not available yet." Then you have an irate attendee on your hands that your poor volunteer is going to have to deal with.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

Actually, here's another approach. Your badge is only one aspect of registering. You also need to collect the conbook and goodies. So even registering online or through subscription won't help. It also creates extra costs. However, most furs that register stay at the con hotel or the nearby accommodation. When I booked a hostel for Eurofurence they even mentioned the convention in their correspondence because a big convention drives a lot of business.

If you get a hotel room, they always have to check your identification anyway. So instead of checking twice, a convention can co-ordinate with the host hotel and the major surrounding hotels. When a con guest books at the convention, they also say what hotel they are staying at. Then all the badges, books etc can be distributed to the hotels which can either hand out a convention packet when someone checks in or put it in their room during housecleaning.

That way, your identity verification step is already done by the hotel and there's no need to duplicate it. Distribution is done more efficiently with no need for long queues. The few people at smaller hotels or coming for day passes can still go to the registration desk.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

While an interesting idea, and yes that would be an efficient way of doing it, I believe you are underestimating the bureaucracy that would be required:

1) First the data between the hotel and convention are two separate databases. A person does not register with the convention and hotel at the same time. This is because, as you said, just because they are there for the convention does not mean they need to book a hotel room for the following reasons:

a) They live in the local area and can commute.
b) They are rooming with another - Unless the hotel requires all occupants to register this would be a problem. Some hotels usually have one guest sign in and be responsible for the room. So that would mean only 1 in 4 at worst would be able to use such a system.

2) Changing arrangements can impact this, and usually it's quite vital that hotels and booking be flexible. If a fur that was going to be staying at the DoubleTree finds a room closer to the Westin, for instance. They could cancel their room and then room at the closer hotel. If they do this and their badge was already sent there, then it's going to be an issue.

3) Liability - By having hotel staff hand out badges to their guests you are making the hotel liable for keeping track of these. A hotel manager is probably going to be very hesitant to pass off this additional responsibility to their employees.

a) Even if a hotel would take this, an agreement between the hotel and convention would have to be worked out to do this for EACH hotel. And if one doesn't want to do it, then it puts the convention in a position of saying "You can pick up badges at hotel A, B, C, but not D". Then you will have to hope that "D" will see that necessary announcement as a slight by the convention after they negotiated a block for the gathering.

4) Segregation of Hotel/Convention registration data - You register for your hotel room and your convention on two separate databases. The convention does not know what hotel you are staying at, to do this would require the convention having information on your hotel room, and the hotel room having information about your convention attendance. Both, if not volunteered by the individual in both directions could be a breach in confidence.

The only time that they would share this information would be if you trashed you hotel room or were causing issues for the hotel. If you are banned by the hotel, typically the convention will follow suit for sake of remaining in the host's good graces.

Honestly the subscription thing would be easier. The attendee would have to sign up with the convention. Far less parties involved.

Convention books are usually available to pick up on a table near registration and does not require you to get in line. They also usual have extra copies at the convention table in the dealer's den.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

I think you're making it more complicated than it needs to be. Yes, hotel and convention are two separate databases so it would only work for people who supply the information of where they are staying to the convention and probably also the hotel. That's fine. It doesn't need to be a perfect system that works for every attendee, it just needs to work for enough that it reduces the pressure on the registration line. If people have the option to avoid a few hours sitting in a line, more and more people are likely to take it.

Changing arrangements can be an issue but the convention stuff would only be distributed a day or two before the convention at most. And if attendees know to inform people about a change in accommodation then the disruption should be minimal.

Hotel liability is probably the biggest stumbling block and would have to be discussed on a case-by-case basis. I think the scale of a convention would bother them more than giving out the stuff in principle. I was involved in organising a small scientific event and we had special bags made up for our speakers which they received from the hotel. So, it's not an unheard of thing. It should be even less of an issue when the hotel is also providing the convention space.

Each hotel will have to have an agreement but I don't see a problem there. It's hardly a slight by the convention as it is just telling the guests what the hotel chose to do.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 5 (10 votes)

A man of science should never say anyone overthinks anything, there are a lot of variables that one has to consider.

Basically implementation of new process has two factors:
1) The benefits it would give to the end user.
2) The cost of implementing that feature for the developer(s).

The whole Hotel/Con action was why I said Auto-booking would be a pie in the sky idea that would be tough to implement on the subscription end. Handing out badges at the hotel would require that, if not more, interaction with the con/hotels.

The convention would have to probably have someone manning a phone for people who are changing hotels. And if they do does the hotel then shred that badge and a person pick up a fresh printed one? It doesn't seem practical to walk a badge all the way from the hotel to the convention center.

Especially given that for American cons that can be a 15 minute - 30 minute walk in some cases. Multiply that by the number of room turnovers and suddenly you have a person running around the downtown area like a chicken with their head cut off.

To be noted, solutions should be adapted that fits well with the venue(s). Their logistics, their sizes, and their distances would all play a factor. If there are a few hotels right near each other your idea could work. If the hotels are far away like Biggest Little Fur Con, the hotel/badge situation may prove more challenging.

Both solutions would be better served if the convention had a site that logged a person to a single account regardless so that they can input the place the badge should go. Similar to how ComicCon has a user account that is separate from the registrations. That would probably be at least a place to start (to prevent the attendee from filling out their name/address every year).

Your rating: None Average: 5 (9 votes)

It's still very possible to overthink, even in science. Don't forget one of the most important steps in science, testing. The big con that I'm familiar with is Eurofurence, which is at a hotel and convention centre, so working with the host hotel should be easy. It also only has one official overflow hotel. Again, that's pretty good for testing. It's a procedure a con would need to try slowly. Yes, people change their bookings but I don't think so often at such short notice that it will have a dramatic effect, even if there is distance. Let's see how it could be set up.

-At con registration they say "If you are staying at hotel x, y or z, then we can have your conbadge and goodies sent to your room so you don't have to stand in line. If you want to participate you need to tell us which hotel you are staying at and tell the hotel that you are participating in our badge delivery programme."
-The person has until some deadline to join in the badge delivery programme.
-A week before the convention, there is another email to remind the participant that the badge will go to their hotel and that they must inform the con if something has changed.
-Con volunteers take the badges of all the people who are in the badge delivery programme and prepare their goodies and group them by hotel.
-The day before the con, the badges are distributed to hotels x, y and z. The hotel then either hands them out when the person checks in or place them in the room during housekeeping.
-On the morning of the convention, the hotel tells the con if any people didn't check in. One volunteer drives to the three hotels, collecting the remaining packs and brings them back to the registration desk by the afternoon.

Those that participated get their badges with no queue. Those that didn't inform of changes, have to wait until their badges are back. Queues overall are shorter. Congoers have to opt in for the programme so no privacy issues. No downtown headless chicken situation because you go hotel to hotel, not for individual rooms and its all done at a specified time by a single person.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 5 (9 votes)

Waiting in the hotel check in line is still a queue, though yeah they would be smaller. As I had noted and as this other anon person notes, there is the whole privacy laws and things of that nature to take into account.

I'm not a lawyer, but from at least the feel of the articles I have read when it comes to data privacy, the EU is far more stringent than the US when it comes to sharing data of others. Let's not forget the 'right to forget' laws.

How big an issue were lines at Eurofurence? It wasn't part of your review of it so I assume it wasn't that big a problem of note?

Your rating: None Average: 5 (9 votes)

Yes, the hotel line is also a queue but generally much shorter and one that you have to stand in regardless. The idea isn't that there will be no queue but that it doesn't make sense to stand in two queues when you could just do one. If you're opting in, then there's consent and privacy laws don't apply. The law is there to stop people sharing your data without your consent, not to stop you from doing anything.

Checking my Twitter messages (mobile only because web apparently doesn't give time of the messages?!) I was in the registration line at 10:36 and registration was going to open around 12:00. I sat in line because I had nothing else to do at the time and the line had already started forming. So, I probably waited at least two hours. I know they tend to stretch very far and are not exactly quick. I believe I registered very easily the year before but then I registered when they opened registration a day early because most people were already hanging around in the lobby. But it's not really been an issue because the convention only starts at ~17:00 so nothing is happening in the time before then.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 4.8 (12 votes)

Hotels and conventions sharing data like this violates laws in the state of Illinois regarding data privacy. Also, the vast majority of convention space this year and in future years is provided by a third party, the convention center. This is unconnected to hotel convention space. Further, there is no "main hotel" for this convention at this point. A significant number of attendees to this convention stayed in overflow hotels or off site/unofficial hotels. The hotel right across the street from the Hyatt was not an official hotel.

One thing people who read / write this article need to understand is that the convention has gamed through many of these options and found reasons why they do not work. None of the suggestions I've seen here are new or would work for this hotel for various reasons ranging from data laws to City of Rosemont Policing requirements to convention center rules. Assuming the people from the convention aren't iterating on this and trying to find solutions that meet the stringent requirements of many stakeholders is a fallacy.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (8 votes)

The intention of this article was not to indicate that there were not people looking into this, or they do not care, but to bring discussion of attendance logistics into the lime-lite because it is a topic that impacts attendees and is a good thing to discuss. To assume that the person discussing the topic at hand must have all the experience and knowledge of what has and hasn't been proposed or implemented by an organization is berating the very concept of object pertinence.

In other words: If the article was never written and resulted in the statement that 'they already tried this', how else would people know they already tried this?

Your rating: None Average: 1 (3 votes)

And you are such an expert... you cannot even organize a con, instead all you do is crush them with your heel, and from another country because it’s convenient to hide, so that those you crush cannot find you.

Your rating: None Average: 4.7 (3 votes)

Why would Rakuen need to hide? He's barely using one percent of his power, and yet he's already crushing conventions under his heel.

Your rating: None Average: 4.7 (3 votes)

I checked under my heel actually and it seems completely con-free.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 5 (11 votes)

I think there are some interesting ideas in this thread. The fact is that the system used last year and this year at MFF simply wasn't working for the numbers that had to be run through it. There are several issues that could be addressed either singly or in combination to help with this. Firstly would be to reduce the number of people needing to pick up badges at the convention itself.

Some sort of verification process that would allow a significant number of pre-reg badges to be mailed ahead of time would certainly accomplish this. Part of this could be "You show your ID to pick up a badge once, and after that you are assumed to be the person you claim to be and can be mailed your badge in future years. This shouldn't cause that much issue once implemented other than some means of dealing with address changes would be needed. The problem is they need something for next year. So if there were a means to verify identity without having ever attended, that would be even better.

Another issue is time standing in line. 6 hours is well past reasonable. Even without having any medical issues, that's a long time on one's feet if one isn't used to it. I can think of several ways to help deal with this. The first and most obvious is to throw more people and stations at it to be able to process more people in a given time. There's obviously a limit to how far this can be taken.

The second would be to issue time block tickets like they do at some amusement parks. Reg staff should have a pretty good idea of how many they can process in a given time frame. When people show up, they get a ticket with the time block they will be processed in. Break those into 30 minute or even 1 hour blocks. Only those with tickets for that time block will get their badges during that time block. Miss your time block, you have to get a new ticket for the next available block. That way people can go socialize, eat, use the bathrooom and be ready for a reasonable length wait. This would also let reg staff know when to start telling people to "Sorry, come back tomorrow." Since there'd have been no long futile wait in line prior to that, it would likely be received a bit better. This would be of benefit to the reg staff as well since those they were dealing with would almost certainly be more pleasant with a shorter line wait.

The last one might be controversial. People paying at the door go to a different location in the convention to enter their info and pay. Their badges get printed in the area where the already printed badges are being handled for Pre-reg and then the at the door people go and are processed exactly like the pre-reg people. They get their time block tickets, and wait in the same lines. It shouldn't be that long a wait since they can enter their info ahead of time and are just paying, not actually getting a badge at that point. Yes, this means they wait twice which should encourage more to pre-reg which benefits the convention. It also means that those who did pre-reg would get first shot at the time block tickets, especially Thursday night.

As for goodies, have a table with con books, pocket programs, etc for people to pick up on the way out after they get their badges and for those who got mailed theirs. There is no reason con staff should have to handle these items at all.

There may well be other possible things that could be done, but it's obvious the current setup hasn't scaled and will just get worse if the system isn't streamlined. People need to be able to get through the registration process to start enjoying the convention. Having to flat out not badge check until Friday night just showed how totally broken the current system was.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (9 votes)

There is such a table with con books and all that. There has been such a table at this convention for the past six years. The convention book/mini conbook/etc does not get handed out at reg and hasn't for a long time. The only thing reg gives you is the supersponsor/sponsor packet, and your badge. Even lanyards are next to the con books outside the reg area.

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About the author

Sonious (Tantroo McNally)read storiescontact (login required)

a Kangaroo from CheektRoowaga, NY, interested in video games, current events, politics, philosophy and writing