Sunday, August 26, 2007

Penny Arcade Expo, Saturday

What happens when a simple nerd webcomic becomes so popular that they gain more street credit than the former de-facto standard for gaming conferences?

Penny Arcade Expo!

Myself and Einin took the opportunity to go to this up and coming video game and tabletop gaming conference. Unfortunately we had neither the time nor money to do all three days, but we did Saturday afternoon and night.

It seemed very popular, with many thousands of attendees (yes, mostly young caucasian men). However, the Seattle Convention Center is huge, so it didn't feel crowded. The floor was impressive; from the US Army to Rockstar Games, to t-shirt sales, to boardgames; everyone was present. And, as a differentiator from E3, very focused on the games (less than a dozen booth babes through the whole place, and less lewt). Rooms throughout the convention center ran tabletop gaming, video game free-play, and even tournaments. Lounge areas allowed for people to play challenge matches on their Nintendo DS, which practically every attendee had, on beanbag chairs.

From the main floor, the main thing I noticed: everyone is making MMOs! We saw demos of Warhammer Online and Pirates of the Burning Sea, and a sadly rather unimpressive EVE booth (side note, CPP apparently have merged with an Atlanta, GA outfit who are working on a new 'Vampire' MMO of some sort). Lord of the Rings online. A new game, Fury, focused on PvP. The sad thing - they all looked *exactly the same* (except EVE online of course). While they may seem different when you get into it, the basic UI and gameplay is the same across all of them, as if they were just the same game rebranded. A fair number of them were even free, which says something about the level of competition.

And yes, despite his keynote being the day before, Wil Wheaton was still hanging around, socializing with the crowds.

The only really crowded areas were the sessions, and the free-play rooms. I wasn't able to see any of the sessions I really wanted to; which is fine, since the sessions were in fact a bit dull. "Design a game in an hour" became "We actually PROGRAM a game in an hour". Anyone who programs knows it's kinda fun to do, boring to watch.

To end the evening? A concert of nerd music fare. Johnathon Coulton opened, basic comedic fare accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Second was MC Frontalot, a white guy thinking he can rap (he couldn't... and it sucked... hard). But, the headliner for the evening, none other than the Minibosses!! Making complex metal medleys based on classic Nintendo games (and of course, Excitebike a few dozen times ;) ). They were of course, amazing. It was funny to see more Nintendo DS's than lighters during the slow songs.

As a final reward, our badges had a 50-ticket value. I think they really misthought the value of the tickets; 120 tickets for a DS, of which I am now a proud owner. I don't think anyone else noticed, since they had tons of lewt left.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Valhalla Awaits

Now, we chose Sounds of the Underground because Amon Amarth was playing. We chose Portland because it was closest. Yes, we are truly that dedicated to the Viking Horde (we even have the t-shirts to prove it!)

The high point of Portland, without a doubt, was the restaurants. Bridgeport Brewpub and Bakery, in downtown Portland, was easily the highlight of the city. It was a happy place, with a variety of food, friendly staff, and the best in-house microbrews I've ever tasted (including a barely wine). And CHEAP! We did not get a chance to sample the bakery, which we will definitely have to give a try sometime. Another fun place was the Three Lions Bakery, a cute little bakery with tasty baked goods and coffee.

And of course, one cannot forget, the worship of Odin; Amon Amarth! Despite it being a very short set, it was worth every second of wait. Death in Fire just touches you when played live. And, seeing how crazy we were going on the balcony, Johan Hegg looks right at us, smiles, and gives us metal.

The low points. Well first off, they moved the show from the convention center to the "Roseland Theatre". The negative reviews are well-deserved. The layout isn't horrible, but their staff is downright cruel. I swear, they were worried more about preventing people taking pictures with their cellphones than the safety of the crowd. As much as I love flashlights being shined in my eyes (after all, flashlights aren't exactly pinpoint instruments at 60ft), I really could have done without it during my favourite bands.

And, in the end, most of the Sound of the Underground tour... well the bands kinda sucked! From Christian Screamo to the most tuneless of thrash, we heard many varieties of suck at high decibels. There were maybe two bands I'd even consider noteworthy in quality. Even GWAR, a staple of my childhood, while their sets and costumes were of course as wonderfully overdone as always, played music to match the tour's other bands.

But, in the end, it was worth the time off, the six+ hours of driving, the expense, and the damage to my eardrums. Easily!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Travel Lockdown... again.

Been awhile since I posted. I know, I'm a slacker. So, I reawaken teh blog with the following FAQ:

Q: WTF? Travel lockdown again?

Short Answer: Yes. From mid-August (aka. the lawyers saying SoonTm) for several weeks.

Long Answer.....
Hum.... this is really long.

Let me explain how US green cards work.

Step 1: A worker applies for PERM "labour certification". This basically is a bunch of paperwork to ensure that you're not stealing some poor American's jorb. When this is done, you get a receipt back saying that you're not stealing someone's job. The date you filed your PERM is your "Priority Date".

Step 2: You file an immigrant petition - an I-140. Basic paperwork.

Step 3: You wait. You wait for your priority date to become "current". Basically, for each category of immigrant (and each country), there's a limit on the number of visas per year. So, when they run out, nobody else gets greencards until next year (the year starts in September or October for the US government). They process them in order of priority date - when they advertise that they're ready to offer visas for your priority date, you're current.

Then you get to file an I-485, which adjusts your status to permanent resident. You wait for them to process it, and then you get your green card.

It's an unpleasant process. Involves photos, tons of paperwork, and even a full medical exam! They want to make sure that you're not a sexual deviant or psychopath (I'm serious!), or if you have TB (they inject crap into your arm!).

Now, my priority date is in April 2007 sometime, at which point the monthly bulletin advertised the current date as August 2002! So I shouldn't have to worry about this, right?

Well no. The US government bungled. Big time. They, on their July bulletin, advertised ALL dates as caught up to the present. Why? It's theorized that they wanted to clear a backlog of "easy" applications. But, there's a big loophole - if you file your I-485 while your priority date is current, they can't reject it, even if they run out of visas! So they hold it in limbo, but this gives the applicant special rights for travel and the right for their families to get jobs (and for the original applicant to change jobs). They were not happy with everybody getting these special rights, so they posted a "revised" bulletin that, despite the old bulletin, they'd in fact accept NO APPLICATIONS from anyone!

Well, this made people mad. They'd moved their families; cancelled travel; fought for very scarce government doctor appointments. There were lawsuits. Against the government. Lots of them. And lots of bad press. In the end, they decided to avoid the lawsuits by posting a revised revised bulletin, saying that the original July bulletin would be legit until August 17th (but that after that, things would be unavailable again).

But, Lownewulf, you've not answered the question! WTF does this have to do with travel lockdown?

Well, since my priority date is current for the next few days. I'm applying for my green card! It will be years before a visa number is available, but the application will remain pending until then.

Herein is the crux of this new travel lockdown: you have to be in the country to apply for adjustment of status! If you leave the US, they will deem you to have abandoned your I-485. In fact, you can't leave the country until you receive an "Advance Parole", which is one of those special privileges of the application process I mentioned. This can take awhile. Thankfully, there's a rule that says that H-1B holders like me can leave without AP, as long as the H-1B is valid, and as long as you have your receipt for the I-485.

So, I have to wait, in the US, until I get the receipt for my I-485. Who knows how long that will take.