The following is a document by Ron Wilson that was found in the materials left over from Penguicon 2.0.
Adventures in Computerized At-The-Door Registration
The system was first developped in 1995 for the 1996 ConFusion. It used, and still uses, a web based user interface, originally targetted to the Lynx test mode browser and Netscape 1.2. We had 8 data entry stations staffed by gophers and 2 cashiers for the first deployment.
There were 2 printers by the cashiers (and 2 backup printers near in case of printer failer). One printer printed 2 copy recipts, one copy for the paying attendee, the other as a paper backup. The cashier would initial both copies upon receiving payment as confirmation of payment.
The other printer printed labels which the cashier would apply to preprinted badges. (details below) Despite these being plain white labels, the reception by the attendees was overwhemingly positive.
The next two years, we were able to get clear labels for a better appearance. We also used only 5 data entry stations. For ConTraption in 1999, we had very limited gopher resources, so we used the system only for data entry. The badges and recipts were numbered using an auto-incrementing numbering stamp. The file copies of the registration forms were used for data entry and the attendee copies were initialed, stamped and returned to the attendees as their recipts.
Both before and since the first deployment, we experimented with various other ways to print on badges, but ultimately settled on the label method as being the least troublesome short of buying a printer designed to print on 3“ by 2” paper stock.
(Perhaps some one on the ConCom knows some one we can borrow some (at least 2) preferably identical “check franking” printers (many cash registers use this type of printer).)
Two noteworthy failed experiments were a tear-off badge that was part of the receipt, and a foldup badge. Preparing the paper for the tear off badge was very labor intensive as we had to use a rotary paper cutter with a perforating blade to make the perforated paper (there was no source of paper with the perforations in the locations we needed). The foldup badge concept needed the paper to be cut down as folding a full sheet required far too many folds to get down to size and would be overly thick. However, there were too many problems with the cut down paper misfeeding in the printers.
Our biggest problem was the refusal on the part of the Ops people to use the system for “after hours” registrations. The excuse was not having time to learn how to use the system, however, we had no problem training gophers, in a few minutes time, to use it, and even had gophers training there replacements as new gophers came on duty.
The result of this was a backlog of data entry that was dumped on us each morning, requiring extra gophers to attempt to catch up and residual data entry after the con. Also, there were problems with the manually assigned badge numbers (chiefly, many duplicate numbers issued).
The 2 biggest problems with using labels were that the labels were not easy to fetch from the printer after they were printed. And, occasionally, the labels would jam the printer. These problems might be solved by a special label printer. It was not an option to use sheet fed labels because they would have to batch printed, so we used continuous feed labels.
Things We Wanted To Do, But Couldn't
One of the original features requested by the ConFusion ConCom was to have a query station in Ops so they could look up attandee information themselves as needed. Unfortunately, convention space assignments were such we could not run the needed cables and “sneaker net” did not work out at all.
Self service electronic registration. Despite the fact that online pre-registration had worked very well, the ConChairs those years said “no way, absolutely not.”
Thoughts For The Future
[Ops] query station: Enabling this is really a matter of proper planning. Preferably a wired link to the registration LAN, which should be isolated by a firewall from the rest of the convention LAN. Could be wireless, but see discussion on self service, below.
Self Service: Since the convention will have LAN through out, this is easy. The main issue will be secured access to the registration server. These should be setup as dedicated [Kiosk]s if possible. My suggestion for secured access is to install sshd on each of these and have the reg server connect out through the firewall to each Kiosk. Each Kiosk would have a local DNS config that directs “regserver” to “localhost”. The sshd will then tunnel the connection over the SSH session to the reg server.
(yes, I'm aware this muddles the server/client concept, but consider that both the reg server application and the webbrowser client application are clients of the communication service. This is not unlike X Windows, where the display/keyboard/mouse is the resourse being served, thus making the client workstation a server and the application server a client.)
Badges: Badges should still be preprinted to guard against too many system failures. We could use “check franking” printers to print badge numbers. We could even consider a fold-in-half badge design to allow additional information to be printed on the “back” of the badge.
In the first 3 deployments, we used 3.5 inch wide labels with 3 inch wide badges. The label was applied to the back with the number part folded around to the front of the badge. When so applied, the finished badges had a 2nd copy of the number on the back along with the attendee's name. In the case of under 16 attendees, the badge numbers of the responsable adults were also on the back. Also, front and back included coding for valids days, but this was secondary to use of badge color for designation 1 day badges.