Earlier this year — I’d like to say April — I was convinced by Tyler Epperson to purchase Minecraft. Of course, this wasn’t my first time hearing about it. At this point, Minecraft was already nearly two years in development, but I never even considered spending money on it.
Can you blame me though? The game looked hideous. And, beyond that, I couldn’t really fathom a game which inherently had no purpose. It made me think of those horrible sandbox Flash lego games.
And yet, Tyler managed to coerce me to spend money on this. He set up a server on some old PC he dusted off, and began teaching me the basics of the game which he himself learned by watching Yogscast videos. Through the process of preparing for zombies in the night, I learned the basics of breaking blocks, crafting, placing blocks, and building basic tools.
At this point, while my buyer’s remorse was drowned out in the adventorous feeling of building a shelter and hiding from zombies, I still figured that I’d only play this game at most for 4 times. Nope.
About an hour in, I was hooked. We were trying to create this massive mine to extract as many valuables as we could find. To get extra help down in the mineshaft, we convinced the two other guys in our Skype call to also purchase Minecraft. And soon after, they were hooked. Our initial mining operation quickly developed into a small civilization of 4. Operating like a hunter-gatherer tribe, we were building and surviving in the face of some pretty damn scary monsters.
Of course, no civilization is complete without a proper system of handling waste. As our mining progressed, our inventories were stuffed with useless blocks that we didn’t need, so a 4x4 pit of lava was created as an incinerator. And while we were busy building up our village, an unlucky sheep got too close to the lava pit and caught on fire. The sheep, running in panic, managed to catch a tree on fire, and this quickly progressed into a full-blown forest fire.
It was fucking brilliant.
After making some minor repairs to the mining house where we all lived, we realized that it was time for all of us to venture out and build our own residences within the vicinity. I was building a simple wooden house with a lava waterfall suspended above it, Rafael was building something above the clouds, and Tyler was building some elaborate fortress.
In Tyler’s thirst for the land required to build this massive structure, he decided to evict me from my property. He wasn’t too happy when I refused his demands, so he began breaking bits of my house. This eventually turned into a full scale war. My house was pretty ruined, and the lava waterfall was used against me.
I decided to get him back. While he was off exploring, I used /give to fill my inventory with monster spawners, and subsequently, his entire fortress. We decided that we should just create a new world and made amends.
Within this initial few hours of gameplay, I quickly realized the beauty of it. Minecraft is this amazing sandbox game with a dynamic and interactive world. You can do pretty much anything that you want to. Build, survive, kill, destroy. All within an awesome dynamic world that you can endlessly explore.
But I can’t talk enough about how unexpectedly fun this game is. It’s graphically weak, the website just screams horrid, the game is very buggy (though this has been improved), and the laws of physics are at times ignored. And yet, all of these things play into the awesome experience of Minecraft.
If you’re skeptical, just buy the game. And when you do, I recommend that you set up a little server and play with some friends. This wiki is a great place to refer to as you play (i.e to quickly look up crafting recipes, different blocks and items, etc.)
I plan to continue doing so here.
Lately, Minecraft has begun to slowly exert domination over much of my free time, in similar fashion to a certain Metro-themed Twitter client that gradually begins taking over your PC’s available memory. Throughout time, I mainly played the game as a notorious criminal alongside fellow gangster Rafael Rivera.
On our adventures, we managed to connect to a vast array of servers, ranging from vanilla servers with nothing built beyond the naturally spawned landscape to complex Bukkit-powered servers with nearly every plugin since time immemorial installed. Getting this exposure tempted us to dip our feet in the server administration waters, so we unanimously decided last week that it was time to get to work.
As a result of several nights spent knee-deep in the disfigured world of Minecraft plugins, WorldEdit-powered mountain removal, my frequent abuse of the /smite command, and some help from user experience geniuses like David Golden and Long Zheng, Punching Blocks was born. A balance of both survival and creative game types, several plugins were required to implement the functionality we desired both for features we offer now, and features we’ll offer down the road once we launch our tiered subscription packages. We didn’t use anything out of the ordinary; pretty much everything we used is quite standard and can be found amongst the plethora of Bukkit plugins found on several popular servers.
Here’s a list of what we have installed:
- Bukkit - The widely-used framework that the most popular plugins are built to utilize.
- ChestShop - This mod allows us (and our users) to create shops using signs and chests. We use this in conjunction with iConomy.
- DynMap - This was installed mainly for Rafael’s app development. It essentially generates a Google Maps style, er, map of your Minecraft world and allows you to pan and zoom.
- Essentials - This is one plugin that bundles various desired functionality into one package. Pretty useful.
- GroupManager - To be used with the Essentials, GroupManager allows you to manage permissions for the various usergroups (or tiers) that you may have on your server. It allows for more complex permission designation than merely having ops and regular players.
- iConomy - This is a simple yet effective economy system for Minecraft.
- LWC - LWC (Lightweight Protection for Chests) is a plugin that will allow users to protect the chests that contain their valuables. It also allows for the protection of other stuff too, like doors, furnaces, and dispensers.
- OpenWarp - This plugin implements a teleportation functionality. It makes getting around much easier; use the /warp command to take advantage of it.
- PayDay - This allows you to configure automated payments for certain groups or individual players.
- WorldEdit - Though it can often be a pain in the ass to use as it lacks a visual UI, it’s a very powerful and effective tool for editing large portions of the map.
- WorldGuard - This allows you to create protected areas on the map. Perfect for those places that you don’t want to be ignited into flames.
Being a Windows fanboy, Rivera has seized this opportunity to get into Minecraft development. With Windows 8 on the horizon, he started working on a Metro application that allows you to see your Minecraft server at a glance. He’s working on some pretty awesome stuff which you can read more about on his blog.
With that all being said, we hope you come play with us.
Back in June, Parth Dhebar and I received a tip from an Apple enthusiast who decided to explore what occurred behind the scenes when you used iCloud. Setting up a test environment using the popular web traffic monitoring utility Charles, our tipster quickly discovered that iMessage utilized Azure and Amazon AWS when he sent images over the service.
In the tip, we were sent various screenshots of his findings, which detailed exactly what was happening in the steps of the web transaction. Parth wrote a post about it and it was covered throughout the blogosphere.
However, our hard facts were evidently not convincing enough for one GigaOM writer. In pursuit of the truth, she decided to run our screenshots by “three networking and cloud experts at major companies”, all of whom claimed that the proof was inconclusive.
What? So some industry “experts” hiding behind the veil of anonymity should be trusted over facts?
Let’s revisit what these “experts” had to say.
Two sources said that the log could simply show that the image sent over iMessage was itself initially hosted on Azure or Amazon.
Perhaps in an alternate reality where web-hosted images could be “embedded” then sent over iCloud in this fashion — and not in the form of just a link to the content, which is sent and then received as merely link text — this point may be considered valid.
The third expert did however make a somewhat legitimate speculation that iCloud may have been utilizing these services for a CDN.
A third source said Apple may be using Azure and AWS for content delivery network (CDN) purposes. That would mean that the files are ultimately hosted on Apple servers, but Apple is caching copies of some data on strategically placed CDN servers run by Azure and Amazon’s CloudFront to help speed up delivery. In other words, Apple could be leveraging cloud services from Amazon and Microsoft for short-term iCloud caching to boost speed and reliability — not because its own servers are incapable of handling the content.
Following GigaOM’s post, we wanted to dig deeper into this and bring additional facts to the table. I reached out to Rafael Rivera who then set up a test environment with Fiddler to see the HTTP traffic which occurred when the same task of sending an image via iMessage was performed. We saw that Apple were using Azure and AWS for storage purposes, and that iCloud was merely used to manage links to uploaded content.
This was detailed with a raw dump of the transaction included in the blog post we wrote about the discoveries. The post was circulated throughout the blogosphere once again.
Fast forward to Friday, September 2nd, The Register wrote a post about our discoveries, which stated that their “sources” have “confirmed rumours circulating in June that Apple’s iCloud is running on Azure and Amazon.” Rumors? If I remember correctly, we had already confirmed the use of Azure and AWS by iCloud three months ago.
The post that The Register published did not have any new insight or developments to contribute to the story. Surely, the tech blogosphere would experience a sense of deja vu when encountering this post, right? Sadly not.
Like machines, AppleInsider, VentureBeat, and Neowin all aggregated The Register’s report, citing them as the authoritative original source in the matter. Gizmodo had even written about this a second time, after already covering it in June. Clicking the link within The Register’s article to Mary-Jo Foley’s post from June would have revealed that The Register’s post was a useless repost of old news that they had no part in breaking.
Sadly, many tech bloggers are part of this echo chamber ecosystem. They robotically just scan the web for suitable content and mindlessly paraphrase without performing fact checking, or even adding value or insight to what they’re writing about. I’m not dishing out these remarks as some holier-than-thou blogger who has done no wrong; I’m saying this as one who has been a part of this problem in the past. I can completely understand the mindset of the bloggers who do this.
I’m fine with the aggregation of content as long as it’s done right. Fact-check, amend your posts if a mistake was made, add value by doing some investigation into the story yourself, sharing insight about it or in some cases by blogging your own opinions on it.
ReadWriteWeb penned a brilliant blog post criticizing the tech blogosphere from a different angle. Here’s a quote from it which I think applies to a lot of the content that’s posted within the tech blogosphere these days:
We’ll tweet about it, discuss it on Google Plus, blog about it. Then we’ll move onto the next such story, probably within a day, without having really learned anything.