Coding in Minecraft (1): Chicken rain and sky writing

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[0) Tenacity, 1)  Chicken rain, 2) Creating classrooms, 3) Coordinates, 4) Variables]

I was so cheesed off with the Microsoft denting my ‘do about us coding in Minecraft that Sunday evening I called an emergency session to make up for the frustrating Saturday morning we had spent not being able to log in and learn to code in Minecraft and had just played with the free tutorials.

We all logged in using my account and the authenticator app on my phone was going mad but it still let us all in. On the third log in, a message popped up saying that I only had three more free trials and that if I wanted to purchase a licence I would need to click on this link in the, it’s a webpage I have visited before and has a load more links on it to purchase a license saying things like: Have you got an Office 365 account? At the risk of sounding like a stuck record I just want to ask: Why isn’t this more obvious? And why isn’t this on the how to download M:EE webpage?

I will of course now systematically click through each thing until I achieve what should be a simple goal of buying some licences to carry on. I will persevere as I am loving it aslast night was a fab way to spend a couple of hours together.

As a computer scientist, I have always believed in end-user programming, which is the idea that any user, not just a computer programmer should be able to go from using an app or software system to inspecting the code, and then modifying it. Each step should be a gradual process, small enough, and easy enough that anyone can figure it out and make modifications.

This is ironically the user experience (UX) factor of discoverability bandied about by Apple and it is what made Apple products so popular, aside from the pleasing aesthetics based on the golden ratio. I say ironically because Apple have always been super proprietary and chain their users to their products with golden handcuffs. Once you go over to the dark side of Apple you can’t easily switch back. Historically it has been impossible to migrate software back and forward and even today, when making an app, you have to make two one to put in the app store and another for the android store. Why can’t we just have open platforms, open source and one standard? I know why? Because everyone by that I mean Google/Apple/Microsoft/etc. want to hold the market share. Oh and now we have FANG (Facebook Apple Netflix Google) too holding other market shares. Today I got a flyer through the letterbox about Amazon Fresh. Amazon reminds me of Buy and Large from WALL-E. Anyway that’s another blog so let’s continue:

Where was I? Yes, Microsoft is not much better. Their original operating systems were built on DOS which they called MS-DOS but you could still open a shell to use DOS commands and write start up programs but they didn’t make it easy still it was better than Apple because you couldn’t do any personalisation or end-user programming with Apple Macintosh for the longest time. And now Microsoft have ‘invented’ MakeCode i.e., took Logo and called it MakeCode.

However, it was the designers of Logo and SmallTalk and HTML who believed in end-user programming, and the idea that everyone could be and should be empowered by computers and technology based tools. It is something I totally believe in and it all starts with the user experience of being able to easily install something, buy a license, or use opensource, thought up by the amazing Richard Stallman of taking other people’s code and being able to use it, free of charge. I get that people want to make a living and so fine charge money but there’s no need to be crap when you are creating software for other people to use, especially if you are doing it for their hard earned cash. Have a bit of respect for your user. By all means, get their data and their cash, but deliver your software well, do it with transparency, do it easily, make it fun. Game it up! And most of all, be honest. The truth is excellence starts with doing the basics really, really well. It is about doing the boring stuff too like maintenance. Yes, create a new sexy website and outsource stuff but update your rubbish, curate your website links, make it easy for someone to get their hands on your creation. It’s boring, it’s tedious, it’s also the fundamentals of being extraordinary. Seth Godin talks about being remarkable as being worthy of note. I say to this: Do the basics well!! That’s worthy of note and then you will be remarkable.

Okay, but back to the the joy of M:EE: I saved the link and we cracked on doing the tutorials. We made it rain chickens which is that we used the Minecraft spawn a chicken command, and then we used a loop to spawn 100 chickens. Then, we wrote our names in TNT using the ‘print’ statement – the ‘Hello, World’ of Minecraft. It was so much fun and I realised that one of the main reasons why I want to persevere with it is that both my girls have spent literally hours playing Minecraft. They instinctively understand matrix manipulation even if they cannot articulate it.

The hubby and I were hopeless, literally hopeless,at navigating the world of Minecraft. I can barely walk about (same way I can’t drive in Mario Kart or GTA). I can manipulate matrices using numbers as I coded a lot in OpenGL back in the day, but just walking through the matrix of Minecraft makes my brain ache, added to that I was creating routines which would make events happen. So, one event was: as my avatar walked forwards, to the west, my name would be printed in TNT (which is a type of dynamite) in the sky. The girls knew exactly where to look and how to do it and then change it loads of times, though my eldest wrote hers in flames and set fire to everything in her world, whereas I was falling over and generally not doing well and looking the wrong way. She knew immediately and instinctively where her point of origin was (where shr started) and where the writing would turn up and then she kept leaning over to help me, at which point my hubby said that it was a good idea that we were in separate worlds as he didn’t want her in his world destroying everything.

Another tutorial involved me walking forwards and tunnelling through the ground which would then fill with water to create a swimming pool. I got stuck underground and drowned several times as I wasn’t sure how it worked or why I was coding it. The girls again had no such problem. It was fab. It was also good for them to see that us parents who happen to be good at coding and mathematics etc., don’t know it all and sometimes they can do stuff better.

The blocks are really cool and I like this approach and we spent a couple of hours going through the tutorials and then writing our own events and then we went back through the slides to reinforce the learning of this first lecture.

I loved it. I just now need to get four licences as the hubby wants to take part too and unsign myself from the now spamming my inbox. Watch this space.

[ 2: Creating classrooms]


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