How and why I play Minecraft

Today I decided to write something a little bit different because the blog was in desperate need of a post and I thought “why not”.

A few days ago I decided to check out the computer game Minecraft. I had heard a lot about it on the web through technology sites like Wired so I thought I would give it a go. I downloaded it and started a new survival world. Don’t know what minecraft is? Watch this video:

And then visit this site to get a slightly less compressed description. . It’s the Minecraft wiki and will swamp you with too much information. But it’s good anyway.

Like every new minecraft player I was completely lost at first. What the hell do I do? I turned to the trusty web and found an awesome little comic strip style guide to surviving your first night in minecraft. Check it out at: .

I followed the instructions and sure enough, after about 10 minutes I was fully kitted out with the bare essentials like a home and bed. Cool. Now to go explore. I dug a bad mine and found some stone and made some better tools. I found some majestic ravines and caves. This was clearly not your average game. Then again, I wouldn’t really know what your average game is as I haven’t really ever played games. I had gotten off to a good start. Over the course of the next few minecraft days (20 minutes each) I dug my mine deeper and improved my home. I also ran into my first creeper which suicide bombed my house. Sigh. Let’s try building the house with stone this time. I soon started a new world as I realised my original one was deeply flawed because it was in a bad location in the middle of a forest. So I made a new home in a mountain. I dug a huge mine down to bedrock and fitted it out with a railway line and a small redstone electronics testing area (more on redstone later). This was pretty cool. Though the railway line was only one way so I still had to walk all the way up and out of the mine. So it wasn’t perfect.

I was rapidly getting frustrated. After a day of playing minecraft in survival mode I was realising it was a bit silly. The usual questions that I ask about computer games started creeping into my head. What is the point? Why are you wasting all this time? Finding the rare ores you need to create intricate circuits and creations is hard. It requires digging miles of mines through treacherous lava and monsters. This was rewarding as you felt that you had worked for what you had built but I soon realised how much time I was wasting looking for the next vein of iron. I started playing minecraft because I was curious about what you could build. I had seen grand creations posted on other blogs. I didn’t start playing minecraft because I wanted to dig for miles through boring rock to find some iron to build the next few metres of rail. I understand that for some (probably most) people that is the appeal of playing minecraft. They feel they have worked to build whatever it is they have built as they have made or mined the materials themselves. This isn’t how I look at minecraft. I like to build stuff. Fast.

So I made my first world in creative mode. Creative mode gives you a limitless supply of all the bricks in the game. You still need to build a shelter and bed for nightime but apart from that it’s up to you. There’s no need to build mines or grow crops. You are free to create whatever you want. I felt like I had finally found what I was looking for in minecraft. If I want to design a new computer chip (something that is pretty much off limits in real life) I can. This was cool. I fitted out my new world with a long railway and a station. This is something I could have never done in survival. I would have had to mine for weeks to find the materials. Here’s a pic of the world as it stands.

My current creative world.

My current creative world.

You can see the station, incoming and outgoing railway lines, hillside house, railway line up the hill to the mountain top house and many other things. These are all things that I’ve thought up in my head and after a few minutes in minecraft made real. This is the appeal of minecraft for me. Often I think about how cool it would be to make some machine or building. If you are a creative person you’ll know what I mean. And now I can make those thoughts real.

This is similar to the appeal of model making and hobby electronics. Once you have the basic skills you can make pretty much anything. But this requires money and space if you want to build really cool things. I don’t really have the money or space to build a model train network with a station in my house. But I’ve always wanted to make a network. So I built one in Minecraft. And I can ride in it and expand it to my heart’s content. Maybe I could make a minecart control system…. hmmmm.

This is an electronics blog and I am an electronics enthusiast so it is a fair guess to say that I am interested in the element called redstone in Minecraft. It is a bit tricky to explain the basic characteristics so I’ll leave that to someone more experienced. The minecraft wiki does a good job of this: . Redstone allows you to create or recreate almost any digital electronics circuit in minecraft. Things that have been made include internet routers, 3D printers and of course small computers. The computers being built out of simple logic gates in the game are now approaching the point where they have enough power to play minecraft itself. There is an almost infinite amount of different digital circuits and machines you can create with this material. So far all I have built is a few repeater flashers (think LED scrolling bar) and some adjustable minecart clocks. I plan to expand my knowledge of digital electronics by using redstone as a learning tool. All the fundamentals of our modern digital world can be recreated in minecraft like clocks, NOT, OR, NOR and XOR gates to name a few. Also, if you want to make something but it’s not suppourted with the standard blocks in the game there’s plenty of mods around. There’s even one that allows you to use lasers. Some of the computing creations in minecraft span hundreds of square metres ( one minecraft block = 1 metre cubed) with thousands of sub parts. Here’s one of my favourite examples showing a cool internet router that was built. This shows the complexity of the circuits that can be made.

And here’s a pic for those who can’t view youtube:

If you want to see some more impressive redstone creations you’ll probably want to wander over to the Redstone Development Foundation’s home on the Minecraft forums. It will blow your mind. It’s basically the result of what happens when you let electrical engineers touch a computer with Minecraft on it. They have an amazing server that I might try and join some day.

This is the exciting bit of minecraft for me. I can learn about how computer chips and other digital logic parts are constructed without needing to buy an expensive FPGA or owning a chipfab. I can build a custom logic chip if I want to. Nobody can stop me. Because it’s minecraft and I can do what I like. That’s why I play minecraft in creative instead of survival. Call me a noob but I like to build without limits and playing in survival imposes the limits of hard to find resources.

EDIT: Survival’s still fun as hell though.

Another cool thing that I’ve been getting into is a site called codeacademy. It teaches javascript coding through easy to use tutorials. I already knew javascript but I’ve been using it for some revision. Want to learn to code apps for the web? Then do it here:

Don’t worry ye hardcore electronics enthusiasts I’m not going to ditch real world electronics for minecraft. I still thoroughly enjoy doing real world stuff because it is a fun and enjoyable hobby. Plus it’s you know, real not a collection of digital signals. I’m just a bit stuck for ideas as to what to make at the moment. So for now I’m learning about digital logic through minecraft.

And I couldn’t leave you without showing you the most awesome Minecraft vid ever. If you don’t play Minecraft and don’t know what a creeper is just enjoy the epic animation.

One last thing….. I’m a big fan of deadmau5’s music so when I found this video of a guy doing techno with just his mouth I couldn’t resist sharing. It’s not my favourite song but it’s amazing nonetheless:


Well, well, well

A lot has happened recently. And I mean a lot.

So what have I been up to? Well a lot of stuff as mentioned above.

One of the most important things that has happened recently for me is I’ve been hired. No, not by Macdonalds like half of my school it seems. No, I’ve been hired to create the new website for uavs australia. If you don’t know who they are here’s their current website: . Trust me, I’m making a better one than that. So I’ve been dusting off my web coding skills and hitting the aptana studio editor hard. So I haven’t had much time to write stuff for this blog as frequently as I normally do.

The other thing I have been doing is building a spacecraft. The avionics are nearly done (I’ll write something up on them when they’re finished) and I have figured out the whole government approval thing. All I have to do know is get a balloon and some helium. Kids at school just laugh when they ask me what I’m doing on the weekend. “I’m working on a spacecraft”.”Bulls**t you are”.

Yesterday I did some testing of the balloon video camera by strapping it to a kite for a high speed test run. Here’s a still from the flight.

I'm the little dude in the white jumper.

I’ll upload the full video some time. It makes for interesting viewing. The kite can get a pretty high perspective.

I also flew some water rockets using a hose and some bottles with a friend. We got a bit bored on a Sunday afternoon. Here’s a couple of pics from that adventure:

The rocket could fly to about the distance of the car in the background. I mean it was just a bottle shoved on a hose.

The rocket could fly to about the distance of the car in the background.

That's my friend kicking a dud one to get it to launch.

That's my friend kicking a stubbourn one to get it to launch.

Sorry the rocket pictures are so low res. My friend has go pro footage of the launches. I’ll have to get it off him. It was fun and wet launching those things. You pinch the hose as a throttle and gradually build up the pressure in the bottle until it can’t take it any more and blasts off.

So there’s my hastily written update on what I’ve been doing. I’ll keep you posted.

Things to do.

So yesterday I got all obsessed with 3d printers. I wanted one soooo bad. So I tried to build 3D CNC (computer controlled cutter) out of lego robotics. I’ve done this before and failed ( this guy has succeeded). But this time around I had more gears and thought I might succeed. But I didn’t. I had really precise X and Y axes. But one side of the X- axis was dragged along by the other and couldn’t be fixed without adding a lot more gears which I don’t have. I might try a different design. Or I guess I better start saving for a $1299 makerbot. Or maybe I should build an eggbot instead.

Speaking of 3D printers, this exclusive interview with bre pettis by make is pretty interesting. Bre is the guy who started Makerbot Industries and is an interesting example of how you can make what you love doing as a hobby a full time job. He recently got $10 million dollars in funding from VCs and has sold a lot of printers so he’s a pretty happy guy. Check it out here:


Tomorrow I’m going to Make Hack Void to work on some infrared hacking with my robosapien. These are seriously cool old toy robots that aren’t really all that intelligent and rely on humans to tell them what to do via remote control. If I can decode the infrared protocol that robosapiens use then I can control them using an arduino. I can then use the arduino to pass commands from the internet to the robot. This allows for both phone and computer control wirelessly. Then I want to build a little enclosure and webcam setup that lets anybody drive one of these robots using the internet. Kind of like a robotic version of one of the many RC cars around that anyone can control. I’d have it running for a week and film the results. But first I have to decode the infrared.

On the topic of internet controlled stuff I’m thinking about making my room phone controlled. And the whole google ADK usb host thing doesn’t look like it works with that much stuff yet so I think I’m going to take a different approach. I’d probably go with a browser based control application to allow me to switch on and off lights and power as well as music etc. One of the simpler ideas for doing cool lighting control was getting one of these and hacking what appears to be it’s infrared remote control system. That way I can control high powered RGB lighting without having to mess around with dangerous high voltage. I was also thinking of using something like a power switch tail to turn on and off other devices. And I might get some solenoids so I can have a phone controlled door lock. But if my phone went flat and my charger was in my room I would be a bit stuffed. Maybe I should build something like this instead for security.

When you think about it infrared is not as old fashioned and useless as it sounds. It can be used to control cheap chinese helicopters, humanoid robots, speakers and even DSLR cameras. So it’s actually pretty useful knowing how to use infrared protocols. Hence me wanting to learn more.

I really want to get into some programming to display some arduino data (like my synthesizers levels) visually in a computer application. I was thinking of learning processing as it seems to be a common choice for this sort of stuff. It’s open source and has a lot of cool example projects on it’s website. However, the arduino IDE is based on processing and it’s as slow as a turtle. I think that’s because it’s based on Java.

A while back i wrote for a magazine called aviator about my first flying lesson. I wrote an article because I went to a holiday school thing about how writing for magazines can make you a lot of money. I didn’t get anything for my article. But I keep on reading things in magazines like Make: and Popular Science on stuff that interests me. And there will always be something that I wish they wrote more about or something they didn’t include that’s really cool and would fit right in. I’ve got one week of holidays left so I might write something up on electronics. Maybe.

Here’s a cool project I saw recently

Looks like I’ve got a lot of stuff I can be doing. Better do it.

FTDI, OHS, BEAM bots and the new Arduinos

New Stuff

FTDI from sparkfun

FTDI from sparkfun. I can now keep arduino projects.

On Sunday night I ordered some new chips and an FTDI. I got 5 atmega328s with the uno bootloader and a sparkfun FTDI. Here’s the process I went through to get this stuff.

  1. Right, I’ve got $50 for my birthday. What am I going to spend it on? Electronics of course.
  2. What electronics? Arduino.
  3. I want to get some chips so I can keep my arduino projects instead of having to take them apart.
  4. Little Bird Electronics has some atmega328s with the arduino uno bootloader on them for $6. Sweet. I’ll get some of those and an FTDI.
  5. But the new bootloader isn’t compatible with the FTDI chip. Damn. I’ll just get blank chips.
  6. But I only have an etherten. Which can’t bootload atmega328s because it is an Arduino Uno clone. See here for more: and have a look at the NOTE: section.
  7. I looked around and it appears you can bootload chips with a uno if you use a resistor to kill the auto reset function.
  8. And you can modify the arduino uno bootloader to accept FTDI.
  9. Sweet. Chips ordered for $50. I’ll do the hack to make the arduino uno able to bootload the atmega328 with the hacked bootloader.

What I’m doing in electronics at school

At school we’re currently building BEAM bots which are basically solar powered small electronic robots. Today I just built a simple 5V solar engine which will power an atmega328 to play the super mario bros theme on a piezo. Awesome environmentally friendly retro gaming robot problem solved. Once I finish that I can do whatever the hell I like. Like my synth.

Make, Hack, Void

There’s this awesome place in Canberra known as Make, Hack, Void. But I’ve never been because I have always been to scared of being too young etc, etc. So I said on my twitter that I was thinking of going as a kind of probe to they might feel about it. And they said they’d love me and my synth to come on Oct 4. Looks like I’ve got a deadline to finish the synth.

Open Source Stuff that’s happened recently

  1. New Arduino boards. There’s not much out there about them but they are pretty cool. And nobody has actually well, you know, used one. But they’re pretty cool and they’ve finally made something low-cost with the release of the leonardo.
  2. OHS. What looked like a really cool meeting where lots of people talked about Arduino and chips instead of crapping on about linux as they usually do at open-source things. I’d go just to get the bag of goodies.
  3. World Maker Faire. A big meeting of all the people who make stuff. It even has it’s own iPhone app. The radio shack tent looked pretty cool. There should be one in Australia.

Why I am not making something in this blog post

Because I’m waiting for chips to work on my synth as an embedded project. I don’t want to start using my etherten and have it all finished only to discover the chips don’t work.

Why does the blog look different?

Because I got bored.

Three bad jokes

Why are pirates called pirates? Because they ARRRRRRRRR!

Why don’t you dress in front of a computer? Because it has windows.

I can’t think of a third. It’s your turn.

That’s about all I can think of for now. I’ll write something when I get the new chips.