Wednesday, January 06, 2021

A Political Post

In 1932, the National Socialist party won a plurality of seats in the Reichstag. The other political parties in Germany refused to join in coalition with them, leaving a minority government in control through the end of the year.

That changed in 1933, when Franz von Papen, the head of the conservative Zentrum Party, agreed to join in coalition with the National Socialists, raising Adolf Hitler to the post of Chancellor. Papen believed that Hitler was a useful fool, a buffoon, who he could manipulate and use to secure his own political position. Hitler had other plans. After the Reichstag fire, Papen supported the Enabling Act, ending representative democracy in Germany. Papen was shoved aside, along with the rest of his party, once the Night of Long Knives had passed and the Nazification of Germany was complete. Democracy would not be restored until more than a decade later after tens of millions of people had been killed.

History does not repeat itself, and America is not on the same course as Germany in the 1930s. Our poor are less desperate, and we do not yet have ubiquitous paramilitary forces. But we would be foolish to ignore the lessons of history.

Fascists always start out as political minorities. As long as they are shut out of power, they will stay that way: the tools of the state are sufficient defense against a dangerous and violent internal force. But once they are let in to power, they will not retreat or surrender. Fascism ultimately believes that the people must be subordinate to their rulers, not the other way around, so votes are meaningless. Fascism thrives on conflict, seeking glory in conquering enemies. And there will always be enemies. Fascism is predicated on differentiating the pure from the "other", and has an existential need for someone to fight.

One advantage the United States has at the moment is a relatively unified left. By its nature, the left will never be as united as the right; but we are in a much better situation historically than Germany was. If the left parties in Germany had managed to work together, a great crisis might have been averted.

But ultimately, it's the right in America that will have the more important job over the next decade. Will they give in to temptation like Franz von Papen, welcoming the energy and support of ultra-right nationalists? Or will they remain true to their stated principles, following the tradition of the post-WW2 GOP, and denounce the antidemocratic pull?

So far, the signs are very discouraging. It feels like a dike is bursting. The most powerful and influential leaders in the Republican Party are not using their power to defend representative democracy: they are pouring gasoline on the fire, parroting false grievances, systematically eroding faith in the democratic process itself.

I'm not one to impugn motives; I can't see into anyone's soul. They may think that desperate dictatorial measures are necessary because they fear what their foes may do in power. They may truly disdain democracy and think it unnecessary. Some might even have become unmoored from reality, believing the ludicrous conspiracy theories spun from the darkest corners from the Internet.

While I don't judge motives, I do judge actions, and far too many politicians have taken a dangerous plunge on the road from democracy to fascism, of overturning the voters' will and imposing their own. My goal over the next 2-6 years will be to get as many of these people out of office as possible. In some cases that might mean holding my nose and supporting a primary challenger. More often it will mean supporting their opponent in a general election.

While many are guilty, the senators who falsely claimed electoral fraud and opposed the peaceful transfer of power have the greatest responsibility for our decline. They are:

Marsha Blackburn
Mike Braun
Ted Cruz
Steve Daines
Bill Hagerty
Josh Hawley
Cindy Hyde-Smith
Ron Johnson
John Neely Kennedy
James Lankford
Kelly Loeffler
Cynthia Lummis
Roger Marshall
Rick Scott
Tommy Tuberville

Of all of these, Josh Hawley is probably the one that concerns me the most. He is the vanguard of a social-nativist movement, akin to the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany, or the PiS in Poland. While a big responsibility of the right will be to expel fascists and reaffirm faith in democracy, a big responsibility of the left will be ensuring people like Hawley cannot outflank on economic issues and create an enduring nationalist bloc. In my view, one of the biggest bullets we dodged during the Trump administration was Steve Bannon's failure to realign the Republican Party along economically populist lines. Folks like Hawley are picking up that cause, and it may be one of the biggest risks of our era.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it's incredibly important work. I hope you will help if you can.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

I Capture the Castle

This will probably be my last Minecraft post for a while. Here, as promised/threatened, is the base I've been building. I think the exterior is probably about 90% done, the interior maybe 50% or so, and I'm not sure how much more I'll want to do with the grounds.

Before getting into that, here's my current loadout.

I've been rocking diamond gear for a while. I really lucked out on this helmet with a crazy good enchantment roll. I kind of want to hunt down the Monument on my Ocean Explorer map while I still have this Respiration.

My first Chestplate was just a Protection III, but I stepped it up a notch with this one.

I think I Anvil'd two Boots together to get this. Depth Strider doesn't sound all that useful, but it's been kind of game-changing in practice.

I believe this was another anvilled piece, from a villager selling words with Sweeping Edge II and Knockback I.

This pickaxe has been insane. I tunneled out an entire railroad in what felt like five minutes, just gently tapping each block as I plowed my way through. Using Silk Touch on that would have felt silly, but by now I have three Silk Touch Diamond Pickaxes, so why not? As a bonus, it saves me a step on smelting Cobblestone back into Stone.

My castle, approaching from the village to the northeast.

The grounds out in front, currently just consisting of two rambling pastures, one for horses and one for llamas.

The main gate, with the portcullis open. The overall footprint of the castle is about 29x30 on the ground, with the highest towers rising about 30 more. Laying down the outline was pretty quick, but building up the whole thing took a while!

View from the south. The castle was very heavily based on a tutorial from Grian. I've seen a few of his videos and am really impressed, he has a great eye for aesthetics in this game. I made a few alterations to what's shown in the video. These changes were primarily motivated by me playing in Survival mode rather than Creative, and secondarily by me wanting to make a functional base to live in.

The most obvious difference is that I used stone bricks instead of gray concrete as my main building block. The thought of gathering and casting that much concrete powder in Survival makes my head hurt; but I generated a ton of cobblestone during my mining, and it was kind of fun to go digging for ores, end up with some extra stacks of cobblestone, smelt them into stone, cut the stone into bricks, add another story or two to my tower, then go back digging for more ores.

In the back of the castle, to the west, are my animal enclosures. I don't think I've done anything with the pigs since putting them in here. For a lot of these pens, I took advantage of natural hill rises, so in a lot of places like this, I ended up with a 2-tall dirt wall on a few sides, and a wooden fence on the others. This makes it a lot easier to lead new animals into the pen without letting others escape, and also lets me get in and out without using the gate. (I typically put one section of ladder on the topmost dirt block, so I can jump and get out while the livestock remains below.)

Here are my chickens. I was so mad when I woke up one day and discovered that a fox had gotten into the henhouse and murdered all my chickens! That is the downside to my dirt-barrier design; other animals can just as easily get in, which usually isn't a problem, but can cause issues with wolves or foxes. (Fortunately, monsters don't seem to care.) Like the pigs, I mostly ended up ignoring the chickens; I was planning to use their feathers to craft arrows, but I've enchanted a couple of Infinity Bows so that's become far less of a priority.

In the rear and slightly to the right you can kind of make out the sheep pen. I don't need a ton of wool, but it's super-handy to have them close by for that.

In my first post I'd mentioned the huge farm by "the office" that Charles built. It's an awesome farm, but it also has all of the livestock mixed in together. My pens in total are a lot smaller, but it's been nice to have each dedicated to its own animals, which makes it a lot easier to collect what I need, and also keep a closer eye on the population levels to discern whether I need to breed more of a certain animal or not.

My sugarcane farm is on the right. Harvesting sugarcane is one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Harvesting crops in general is super-satisfying. On the left and slightly further back is my cactus farm. I'm far from the desert, but was able to buy a single cactus block from a wandering trader and have built up a nice little patch. I mostly use the cacti to make green dye, which I use to dye green carpets that blend in with the grass when I need to cover something unsightly.

Here are my cows, which is the livestock I use most often: Leather is super-important for books and other stuff. A good amount of my wheat production goes toward feeding cows. A little tip: a Looting sword will make cows drop more leather.

Food-wise, my serious phase of the game started with me mostly eating bread. After setting up these farms, I switched over to baked potatoes. Now I'm mostly eating cooked steak. I wasn't specifically looking for steak, but I get so much of it while collecting leather that I decided to just eat it, and it is significantly more filling than the starchy foods I was eating before.

A side entrance into the castle. The structure is big enough that it was kind of time consuming to exit from the inner bailey to the outer bailey and run around to the back of the castle, so I dug a couple of access tunnels for multiple exits. We'll get a closer look later.

Welcome to Gourd Central. These are probably my main cash crops. I just recently enchanted a diamond axe with Silk Touch, which has significantly increased the profitability of my melons. I'm using the center strip for half of my honey operation. Bees are awesome: they pollinate crops as they fly (after gathering nectar from flowers), which speeds up the maturation of plants.

The northern face of the castle. On the left are my newest fields; at first I planted crops in rows for faster maturation, but now I'm taking a more monocultural approach and solidly planting fields so I can just collect a specific crop when I need it. In this case it's potatoes in the foreground, wheat in the background.

This is where that tunnel we saw before comes out. After coming out in the morning, I can hop up the ladder to reach my crops, or go through the tunnel to reach the livestock. There's a double iron door to safeguard against intruders (and accommodate human visitors with uncouth manners). The door uses pressure plates on the inside and a stone button on the outside. I'm thinking of swapping in a wood button for the stone. On the server, lag can sometimes make it hard to get through the door in the short time it's open. Apparently wood buttons can remain depressed for many minutes if shot with a skeleton arrow, which ordinarily would be a concern, but this particular button is tucked underground so I feel like it would be much less of a risk.

Some of my original row-planted crops; here it's beetroot and wheat. Each field is a 9x9 plot, surrounded with fencing or natural barriers, with a single block of water in the center. It's a lot different and more efficient than my original wheat farm!

Looking at the portcullis from the outer bailey. This was another variation from Grian's castle design, which featured a fixed door: pretty, but not practical for Survival. I saw a lot of designs for portcullises that looked cool, but most of them were way too tall for my build. I ended up finding one from an Indonesian YouTuber that I really liked, which was simpler and more compact than most other designs: It doesn't have any slime blocks or complex circuitry, just one set of sticky pistons on the bottom to push it up and another set of sticky pistons on the top to push it down. I ended up having to raise my front wall by a single block, not too bad at all.

I covered up most of the redstone, but if you climb the access ladder you can see part of it from the side. This is the only redstone thing I've made so far, and it was really fun to do. From what I understand, redstone is incredibly versatile and powerful in Minecraft: You can even make logic circuits like NAND gates and people have built Turing-complete computers inside the game, which is pretty insane. I haven't messed around with it much yet, but it could be fun to explore it more deeply in the future and try to design my own stuff.

This is part of the 10% that isn't complete yet. I'm on top of the outer bailey here, just below the top of the front towers, and I don't know what I want to do with this big wall. Grian put another door here, which might be cool, but if so I'll want to build up the inside a bit more so it actually connects to something. I could maybe do something with banners, or just more detail work.

Looking east from one of the towers. Another difference is that Grian used cobblestone walls as "windows", which confused me a lot at first. I think it was so they register as windows without actually letting you see inside, which would maybe look a little weird since it's gray concrete everywhere. In my case, I really wanted to look outside, so I put in more transparent windows. At lower elevations I generally used iron bars for a more defensive appearance, and higher up I used wooden fences for a more friendly look.

One of my map rooms. This is a start at a 1:8 map. Still a ways to go!

Another map room on ground level. On the left is a 1:1 map with a fairly detailed look at the castle grounds; you can even make out the animal pens and crop fields there. On the right is a 1:4 map that I'm still working on.

And, to the right here is the 1:2 map, which shows the nearby village and the western part of the main office development area.

Here's the main courtyard, where I spend most of my working time at the base. I have a layer of "scaffolding" up at the battlements level which I initially built to make it easier to move around between towers; it's less necessary now so I may take it out at some point. Grian's castle is solid blocks on top, but I thought that would be too depressing, so I added some glass blocks so I can see the sky. I ended up using diorite to separate the panes; I usually hate how diorite looks, but it's a much lighter-colored rock, and I liked having the ceiling be a lighter color.

So, yeah... lots going on in here. Storage chests, a guest bed in the foreground, my personal bed in the background. At some point I'd like to move these into the towers, but for now it's really convenient all just being in the open. My work station is against the far wall, including the crafting table, a blast furnace, regular furnace, stonecutter, smoker, and lots more chests.

Oh, and lots of cats! Like many things in this game, getting my first cats was hard, but now I can breed more whenever I want. I've read that Creepers are scared of cats, which would be awesome, since the biggest annoyance at this stage of the game is a Creeper blowing up and wrecking a thing that I'm building. I'm vaguely thinking of distributing cats around construction zones to form an anti-Creeper defense force. I need to clear this plan with PETA first, though.

I really have no idea what I'm going to do with this space. If I put all the work stuff into towers, I might make this a more natural courtyard, with paths and plants and things. I might add another ceiling at the level where I currently have the scaffolding and divide this space into multiple rooms. I really don't know. 

While the courtyard is where I spend most of my time at base, most of the space is in the towers. Each tower has seven stories, plus the open top, which adds up to a lot of room for activities. I'm only using a fraction of it now. The most interesting is probably the middle of my northwest tower, which is my enchanting area. On the fourth story, I keep a grindstone, an anvil, and a chest with previously-enchanted items that I may want to combine in the future.

Here's my current stock. Man, I remember what a big effort it was to finally mine and craft my first set of diamond gear. Now, it's a lot more accessible. I've trained up Master Weaponsmiths, Master Toolsmiths, and a Master Armorer in my village, all of whom will sell me enchanted Diamond gear for Emeralds. Most of the enchantments are bad, but that's OK, I just grind them off and then apply my own. 

Up on the fifth story is my actual enchanting room. I had to be very precise in where I placed everything to fit it all in here while keeping maximum enchanting power, and am happy with how it looks. I typically run back here soon after I reach Level 30 and capture that XP in a thing.

For convenience, I keep a chest here with unenchanted gear and Lapis Lazuli so I can easily grab it all and flip through available enchantments. My current MO is to pick whatever seems to be the best and/or rarest enchantment on any of my equipment, instead of, like, picking the best enchantment for a specific item.

Standing on top of the castle at night. I lit most of it as I was building, but had a few dark spots, and had a few nights when I had to kill zombies or skeletons that spawned in my area. I think it's all secure now, though.

Looking down at my crops. One of the most recent changes I've made is to the center of each plot: I used to put a lily pad on top of the water, which looked nice and kept me from falling in (realism!!), but I think the center of the plots weren't getting enough light to continue growing at night, so now I'm putting scarecrows in with jack-o-lantern heads. (Plant growth in Minecraft is based on light level, and not necessarily sunlight, so hydroponic farming is totally viable given enough light sources.)

Looking to the west. As you can see, I have not really lit up my grounds at all, so I'm careful not to go out there at night. I should probably do that sooner rather than later. There are some monsters visible here to the right of the sheep; fortunately, monsters don't attack animals.

Looking south. I'm not sure what that light on the horizon is!

And now I'm looking east. You can see the bridge over the river near the center. Another item on my agenda is upgrading it; currently it's a simple cobblestone path that crosses a deep river, I'd like to make something prettier.

Whoa, a full moon! I should have gone slime-hunting tonight.

This is the highest point in the castle.

From here, the draw distance is far enough that the llamas aren't rendering.

Walking along the lower battlements. One negative side-effect of my materials switch from gray concrete to stone bricks is that the polished andesite doesn't pop as much as it did in Grian's original video: it still looks nice, but is far less of a contrast. I kept the polished andesite for the crenelations and battlements, but tried to find other materials for other places. One thing I liked was using spruce logs as reinforcing pillars, which does have a much stronger contrast with the brick. 

Looking back up at the battlements. I've had a couple of fun encounters sniping pillagers from up there.

So, the stairway to the left leads down to... lots of stuff. I have a semi-finished basement below the castle, and an Elevation 12 mineshaft a lot further down, and in between it hooks up with a rambling natural cave system. To the left of the archery target is a ladder leading down... somewhere that you'll see soon. And the right is my side exit leading to the crops.

Here's my "basement". I dug this out pretty early on, but haven't done much with it yet. I mostly wanted to make sure that there weren't monsters spawning in areas that would mess with my sleep.

More recently, though, I needed a safe place to put something secure, so I added an iron door and dug out a new room.

Inside that room: a Nether Portal! The door on the right has a ladder behind with direct access to the courtyard. This whole room is fireproof and secure against extradimensional invaders.

The Nether seems... challenging. I was happy to see that my new portal does not link up with the one by the office, despite being closer than 1024 blocks distant. The bad news is it still opens into a Basalt Delta biome, and after quite a lot of time exploring I haven't found any piglins or nether wart or blazes or fortresses or bastions. But I guess it wouldn't be exploring if you could easily find everything!

Anyways, that's my current home in Minecraft! It was really fun to build, and has been a comfortable space to live in and operate from. I feel like my most pressing needs are now taken care of. Of course, there's lots more that I still want to do, but I'm pleased with where I'm at for now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


As I mentioned in my earlier post, my experience of playing Minecraft has changed over time, from initially being more of a passive observer into my current active builder phase. It's been fun all along, and a really interesting in-game experience.

Just getting the game is a little different to start with. For any other PC game, I would go to Steam and buy it; but Minecraft is one of the very few titles not available on that or any of the other PC stores (Origin, Epic, etc.). A further obstacle is that there are two different, incompatible versions of the game. I am playing the Java Edition, which is based on the original codebase; it is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux boxes, and since most of the office crew have Macs that was the one we wanted to use. The alternate version is dubbed Bedrock; that version works on Playstation, X-Box, Android, iOS, and Windows, but not on Mac or Linux.

Mel set up a private server for us, which you connect to with the hostname and a port number. This particular server uses a whitelist, so we all had to send him our Mojang account names to get access; but we can be assured that no griefers will invade our lands. We are playing in Survival mode, the standard version with limited resources and hostile monsters, set to Standard difficulty.

Since we're doing multiplayer, I wanted to get a unique skin. Out of the box only two models are available, "Steve" and "Alex". Fortunately there are a huge number of alternate skins available. I ended up selecting a Monopoly Man-style business tycoon in a suit and a monocle.

Launching into the game for the first time, my first impression was "Wow, everything is so blocky!" One of the first things I saw was some "trees" ahead of me, which had brown "trunk" blocks on the bottom and green "leaf" blocks up above. An on-screen prompt instructed me to break the trunks. I eventually did this by pressing the left mouse button to repeatedly strike the trunks. They broke, and dropped as logs... and the rest of the tree remained suspended up above. "Huh," I thought. "That's not how gravity works!"


Minecraft does have its own internally consistent logic, but it takes some time to get acclimated to that logic. It's kind of a neo-Newtonian physics: An object at rest will remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. To make things more confusing, some other blocks are affected by gravity, namely sand and gravel.

Fortunately, I was playing with some Minecraft veterans, as well as fellow newbies starting around the same time, and was able to get oriented. During our scheduled events, everyone uses Discord for audio chatting, where I could ask all my stupid questions: "Is there fall damage in this game?" "Will you respawn if you die?" At other times, we typically use the in-game text chat for brief questions and comments.

For my first several sessions, each a couple of hours long and separated by a few weeks, I would log in, visit "the office", chat with the others, walk around and see the cool stuff folks had built. See my previous post for lots of pretty pictures!

As I played, I was surprised by how quickly my initial impression of blockiness was getting updated and replaced with a more immersive feeling. One of the best examples of this is probably the Sun. In Minecraft, the sun is, yes, a block: a giant square in the sky. But, after the first few seconds of seeing it, you just take it for granted. It just feels like the sun: it rises in the east, moves gradually across the sky, and eventually sets in the west, often with an impressive orangey sunset. It takes startling little time for your brain to accept that "Yup, that square is the sun."

And that sense applies to everything just as well. You can instantly recognize waterfalls and volcanoes, even though they don't really look like they would in real life. The cues in the game are so good that it takes very little art-wise to buy in to the world. The whole process reminds me of one of my favorite axioms about creating art: it's often best to follow a minimalist approach in your creation, and leave the viewer/reader/player free to color in the results with their own imagination.

There's a gentle on-ramp to learning the game mechanics thanks to those on-screen prompts, which guide you to collect wood, break the wood into planks, create a crafting table, make an ax, and so on. For several weeks I was stuck as the step of "Collect iron ore". I would spend entire gaming sessions digging, without finding any. In retrospect, the problem was that I didn't know what iron looked like: now I know that rock blocks with dots in it are more special than rock blocks without dots. (That also helped overcome my torch shortage issue; previously I was burning wood for charcoal, prior to learning how to collect coal, which, uh, it turns out is really not rare at all!)

Once I wrapped up my big Stellaris campaign I resolved to figure out how to play properly. I dug iron, got iron tools, and dug some more. My survivability got a huge increase once I was able to craft iron armor.

Around this time, I also started looking for a home for myself. Up until now I'd been hanging out at the office basement, which really is a great base (in no small part due to all the free cake!), but I was feeling like a bit of a moocher, and wanted to figure out how to do stuff properly. I headed out past the well-lit periphery of the settled areas and went looking for a wilder spot to settle.

I eventually picked a hilltop, which had nice views of the surrounding area. I plopped down a bunch of cobblestone blocks to make a wall, then more cobblestone blocks on top to make a ceiling. I used some wood to craft a door. (One very nice feature of the game is a searchable crafting interface: Once you gather raw materials, you will learn a recipe for what you can make with them, and then you can just type in the name of the thing you want to make, or browse through several categories.) I added some torches, a chest, and a bed: bam! It was way less comfy than the last space, but it felt great to have a spot of my own.

I resolved to dig, and made a simple tunnel running at a 45-degree angle from inside my cobblestone hut into the hillside; I was worried I would break through to air, but did not. It eventually opened into a large cavern, which in turn linked up into a cave system. Around this time I started developing my basic spelunking and survival skills, replacing my earlier system of "Run away from whatever is attacking you".

To me, there is a basic rhythm to spelunking. You rush forward, planting torches on the wall as you go. I like to place torches on the left wall, so if I ever get lost, I can find my way back to the entrance as long as I keep the torches to my right. If I run into any monsters, I backpedal into the light and fight them there or flee altogether. If I flee altogether (which was more common in my earlier days), I will come back days later. My previously-placed light now makes the tunnels safe, and the enemies will be fewer in number and further back than before. After enough of this forward-and-back-and-forward movement, the way will be clear. At this point I can safely start mining for precious metals or doing whatever else needs doing in the deeps.

The emblematic activity of Minecraft is mining, but I think the game is so successful because of the enormous breadth of activities you can undertake in it. The world is incredibly vast and varied and full of opportunities to explore. The crafting system is really deep and interesting. You can go into dark places and fight monsters if you want, but you can also just stay on the surface in the daylight and never worry about them.

The next major system I got wrapped up into is agriculture. Like many good games, the systems in Minecraft are interwoven, and your activities in one will naturally lead you towards experimenting in another. As you fight, you will naturally take damage. Damage is healed by eating food, sort of. If your "food" meter is near full, you will deplete some food and rapidly regenerate health. Food also depletes quickly while you sprint, or more slowly from other activities like mining.

So, if you want to stay healthy, you need to eat food. If you're not going to eat cake in the office basement, you'll need to get your own. I started off eating random apples that fell from trees, but this is a very inefficient way to survive. So I started what would soon become a very common activity for me: Checking out the minecraft wiki and learning how things work.

In my case, I broke some nearby tall grass to collect wheat seeds. I crafted an iron hoe, hoed the banks near a small pond at the foot of my hut's hill, sowed the seeds, and waited. After a few days, the wheat crop had sprouted. I collected the crop, consisting of both wheat sheaves and wheat seeds. The seeds were re-planted. The wheat sheaves I crafted into bread. Then I ate the bread. Tada!

As odd as it may seem, getting bread was probably the single best aid to combat that I've gotten in the game. As long as your food meter is near full, you can heal through the hits you get in combat, and once you get a steady food supply, you won't have trouble falling to enemies.

I was fond of my hut, but it wasn't perfect. I started off with a single chest to hold the stuff that wouldn't fit in my inventory, but that rapidly became insufficient, so I added more and more chests. I occasionally had trouble sleeping at night, due to a supposed monster being near, so I added a second story onto the hut, turning it into more of a fort; the extra elevation brought me outside the range of the monster and let me sleep peacefully.

Most Minecraft players I know eventually pick up one or more projects, ambitious multi-day undertakings. Once I was feeling secure in my fort and had expanded my farm a bit, my first real project was building a road. I used my iron shovel and pickaxe to level some ground near my farm, then led it through towards a larger lake. But I realized belatedly that I didn't really have a destination for the road. I came up with the idea of building a string of hilltop forts like my home, with the idea that I, or other players, would be able to spot them from anywhere in the area and navigate by them or find a safe shelter at night. So I explored some more, and found another, steeper and taller hill, really more of a small mountain, and built a second fort there too.

While exploring around this fort, I found a much more exciting resource: A village! Our office crew had found one village already on the other side of an ocean by the office, but this was the first one I personally had located. At first I thought it was deserted, but it turned out that an overgrown spruce tree had blocked the doorway to a house, and once I broke the leaves a half-dozen villagers came rolling out of the door like clowns out of a car, "Hrrrrm"-ing all the way.

I had a new task now, and spent a few days building up defenses for the village: I crafted a ton of fences and fence gates, encircled the village, and placed a lot of torches around.

Around this time, I started to plan for relocating my base. I'd always thought of my hut as a temporary home, and now that I had a firmer grasp on the game mechanics and building, I wanted something more ambitious. The village seemed like a great resource; I didn't want to live in the village, as that seemed like it would risk the villagers for any spawns I attracted, but somewhere within walking distance seemed appealing. With some exploration, I found a wide-open plain with gently-rolling hills not too far away. It seemed like an ideal site: Not much need for terraforming, good sight lines right around the site, forests not too far away for wood, lots of wild livestock (including horses) in the area, some small ponds for water, and, most intriguingly, some caves opening up into what seemed like an absolutely enormous abandoned mine shaft and deeper caverns.

I'll probably write another post about the actual structure I built here, as it took a long time and I'm pretty proud of it. For now I'll just note that I was living and working in the same place, and it took a surprisingly long time to get a roof over my head, but I'm glad with how it turned out!

Some more recent stuff I've been working on includes:

I've been mapping the territory around my base, hoping to eventually build a series of 3x3 map walls with progressively larger zoom levels. So far I've completed the 1x and 2x zooms, and am 2/3 done with the 3x zoom.

Getting some farms around my base up and running. I've massively improved on my old strategy of "throw some seeds in the dirt near the shore", and have a much nicer set of fields now: Each is an 11x11 enclosure, with crops planted in rows inside. I'm raising bees at the edges of the crops, and the bees help pollinate the plants and make them grow more quickly. A little further out I have several animal enclosures, divided between sheep, chickens, pigs and cows. In front of my base are more rambling areas for my horses and llamas. A compact sugarcane farm and a small cactus farm are in back. I'm really happy with how everything looks, how it works, and how accessible it is.

Collecting various rare-ish resources. One recent challenge was getting Slimeballs, which I needed to get to craft Sticky Pistons for a machine I was building. After some failed ventures with Rick, we were able to get a ton by visiting a not-too-far swamp during a full moon.

Leveling up villagers. The village near my house had way too many grindstones, so I broke all but 3 of them and have encouraged a Librarian, Toolsmith and, more recently, an Armorer to take up professions. Breeding villagers is very hard, and I think I've thrown something like 10000 carrots at them, but it eventually worked. In the last week I found a new, much larger village in the tundra to my northwest, and have been getting that one running smoothly as well.

Getting and enchanting high-end gear. I got my first full diamond set by clearing out a large cave near my first hut. I have another stack-and-a-half of diamonds from my newer caves, but I'm actually doing something different now that I have all my villagers trained up: You can get a lot of diamonds by selling crops to farmers (with pumpkins and melons particularly lucrative), then buy diamond gear from the villagers. These often come with minor enchantments on them, which you can keep, but I often grind them off and then enchant them myself. I do really like this system, and I think it might be fun to play a future game as, like, a farmer and a trader who never lifts a sword or goes underground, and who still ends up with full diamond gear.

Building a railroad! I just got my first line up and running, connecting my two villages (which I still need to name). The railroad isn't yet connected to my base; I'm thinking of building that spur as a subway so it doesn't mar the beautiful landscape around my home.

The next big item on my agenda will be spending some time in the Nether. I'm still mulling over where to build my portal. There's an existing one near the office, and I think I'm close enough that a portal in my base would link to that one. I may make a new portal at the end of my railroad, or do one in my base after all and then manually build another one in the Nether to link to my base location.

So, yeah! It's been a lot of fun digging into this game (literally and figuratively). Open-ended games like this can be really dangerous for me, but I feel good about the stuff I've accomplished so far in it. It's humbling to realize that I haven't really even scratched the surface of what it has to offer: in particular, I've done almost nothing with Redstone, which can be used to build computing machines and tons of automatic systems; and I'm nowhere near The End. I may hit the pause button at some point and go back to my bi-weekly excursions with the work crew; but I feel like I could just as easily spend a year inside the game, discovering new vistas and gaining more knowledge. It's pretty fun!