Thursday, May 17, 2012

Me on Star Trek -- Again!!

I've mentioned this here before a few times: Throughout my graduate school years, I produced a community-cable Star Trek parody series with my brother John. I uploaded a few of them to the Main Street Plaza channel, but -- now that my kids and I have a channel where we're allowed to upload videos longer than 15 minutes -- I'd kind of like to upload the whole series to our channel. (The episodes are each about 20 minutes long.)

It's the adventures of the USS Galois. In a nutshell, real Star Trek recounts the galaxy-changing exploits of the "flagship of the Federation." But everyone knows that there are also a whole lot of dinky little starships flying around the Star Trek universe doing -- who knows what...? Well, with this series, now you know!

As I've said a couple of times, we learned quite a lot on the job. So the sound quality, the production quality, the acting, the special effects -- basically everything -- improved dramatically over the course of the show. I hesitate to start at the beginning because the early episodes are sometimes hard to understand, and they look like they were filmed in someone's garage (because they were). By the end, they were actually pretty professional. But they build on each other, so to make logical sense of the series, you have to start from the beginning.

Here are the first three:

Also, I hope you like some of our other videos that we've made for our YouTube channel. Nico is continuing his "BfIM" series -- which he's been making entirely on his own, with no help from me! He's always thrilled when people vote on which characters he should eliminate.

YouTubin' is hard, BTW. I've found that I can spend hours editing together a silly little video of playing Minecraft, and then feel disappointed that maybe a handful of people watch it. I should encourage my kids to hit "Like" on more of the Minecraft videos they like, and maybe more YouTubers would come visit our channel...

Sunday, May 06, 2012


If you click on my parenting category, you'll see that we've had various adventures explaining religion to our kids. (In a nutshell, it's not a topic that we have reason to talk about often, but we don't want it to be a grand mystery to our kids.)

The other day, I was on a walk with Leo, and he turned to me with a question:

"Mom, why is Julius Caesar so important that they started the calendar on his birthday?"

My first reaction was: "Wha....? What are you talking about?"

Then it hit me. We've been reading a lot of Asterix comics lately, and they famously all start with the same page, explaining that the year is 50 B.C. -- which in French is "the year 50 before J.C.." Julius Caesar is an important character in the series (the leader of the known world the story is set in), and he's sometimes called by his initials "J.C."

So, I started racking my brain, trying to think of how to explain the whole Christian calendar thing. "Well, you see, Leo, the 'J.C.' of the calendar isn't actually Julius Caesar..." I began.

"Haha, I know! It's Jesus Christ!! Hahahahahahaha!"


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Minecraft Challenge: Griefers 1, me 0...

Sorry to keep posting about Minecraft -- I don't want to make a separate Minecraft blog, so if you're not into Minecraft, just scroll past this one...

Ever since I discovered Minecraft, I keep feeling tempted to set myself different challenges!! And most of them have worked out, but not all. For example:

1. Modify the Minecraft server program so that it has the features I want.

This went quite well -- if you're interested in what features I added, I'll list them at the bottom of this post.

2. Design an attractive building.

You can build anything you can imagine (as long as your imagination is limited to a cubic grid of cubes...), but it's surprisingly tricky to design a building that's not butt-ugly. So I took up the challenge, and think I did fairly well. You can judge the results for yourself on this video that I posted earlier.

3. figure out how to make videos of myself and my kids playing Minecraft, and upload them to YouTube.

This one kind of goes without saying, see above.

4. Design a fortress that is difficult to attack.

Given the peculiarities of Minecraft (eg. it's easy-peasy to chop through walls), the strategies for building a castle in Minecraft are different from the strategies one uses when making a real castle. My brain kept involuntarily wandering back to this question: If I were playing on a faction, or "capture the flag" or something like that, how could I design my castle so that my team would win?

The crazy thing about this is that I would probably never play such a game (because I don't enjoy competitive or strategy games), plus I'm a something of a pacifist, so I'm ambivalent about making war into a game. But somehow my brain hit upon this as an engineering puzzle, and there's basically nothing I love more than engineering puzzles!! My brain could not rest until I'd solved it. Again, you can judge the results I posted to YouTube.

5. Outwit the griefers on an open server on the Internet.

This one was something of an engineering puzzle that got stuck in my head, too. Here's how it works:

There isn't one big, official Minecraft server out there -- to play multiplayer, different individuals set up their own servers for people to join. Often people make a server that's open to anyone, and post the address on the Internet. The problem is that there are lots of people who make a game of giving people grief (hence the name "griefers"). Their game is to go to open servers and do as much damage as possible to buildings and structures that other people spent lots of time making.

I wanted to see if I could log onto the Wild, Wild West of one of these servers and succeed in making myself a little home where I could gather and produce the supplies I need. And maybe start trading and sharing items with other players once I got myself set up. Part of the challenge was that I'd never really spent any time playing on any setting other than "peaceful" (i.e. no monsters and your character doesn't need food), so I wasn't even used to dealing with monsters.

My plan against the griefers was simple: Instead of building an obvious house in the village with the rest of the players, I'd go up into the mountains and dig myself a hole in the face of a cliff. Cover the entrance with dirt instead of using a door. After all, griefers can't attack what they can't find!! Brilliant, huh?

Can you find my house in this picture???

Unfortunately, my plan had one fatal flaw: Everyone else on the server was getting repeatedly griefed. And the admins responded by repeatedly rolling the world data back to an earlier state, before the griefers arrived.

This ended up being a big problem for me on the server that I randomly chose. Because of the time-zone thing (I'm in Europe and I think the other players are mostly in North America), the backup was done at exactly the wrong time for me. The Americans would work on their buildings, the admins would make a back-up, and go to bed. Then I'd wake up and play a little in the morning. Then the griefers would come and wreck stuff. Then the admins would wake up and say "OMG, griefers!!!" and roll the server back to the backup. Thus, the Americans' progress was saved and mine was repeatedly deleted.

** Edit ** I just looked at the server's website, and apparently it's UK-based! Maybe I'm just the only Minecraft player in the world who's a morning person? lol. So scratch "American" in the above and replace it with "night people". ;)

I had done one fairly complex (but necessary) improvement to my cliff-house just before the first roll-back. I logged on the next day to find my improvement undone. "No matter," thought I, "I'll redo it." So I redid it, and it was even better the second time, so I was fine with it.

The next day, I logged in and again found myself right back to where I was before making the renovation!!! It was like being in the movie Groundhog Day!!

"Well, I'll try one more time," thought I. My home improvement wasn't done quite as neatly as the previous one, but I added a whole bunch of new stuff, and gathered some great new items. I thought it was up there long enough to get backed-up, so I invited my son to join me on the server, and I set up some stuff for him in my cliff-house as well, so he could play there with the other kids.

I was arranging the place to get it just right for my son when I saw some very ominous discussion appear on the screen. An admin was arguing with someone, and accusing them of griefing. Then I saw the automated announcement that the server was going down....

Then I reconnected to the server....


It was Groundhog Day again!!!!!

All of my beautiful cave-house improvements, and all of my supplies that I'd gathered, disappeared!! My character was again transported back in time.

So, the griefers won. They wanted to destroy stuff that other people spent time working on, and they succeeded quite nicely. I concluded that, no, I can't outsmart the griefers and survive on the Wild West of a server where I can't control when the back-ups get made.


Bonus: The features of my home server mod!

  • "/freebie" command: Once per (Minecraft) day, you can get one pack of a random number of random items.
  • Pumpkin Scuba!! If you put a pumpkin on your head, you can stay underwater as long as you want without drowning!
  • Teleportation commands (ideas copied from mods made by other people): /sethome, /home, /back, /ascend, /descend, plus requests to teleport to other players.