Lazy Saturday Reads: Escape into Minecraft, Ferguson Updates, and Other News

cow reading

Good Day!!

I’m taking it slow this morning, so I’m glad JJ posted all those great cartoons last night. It’s been a long couple of weeks for news junkies, and I’m tired. I’ve been doing so much reading on line that reading books as a distraction isn’t that appealing.

Lately I’ve been  by escaping by playing Minecraft for hours at a time. I’m really glad now that I started playing it with my nephews a couple of years ago. Lots of people think it’s just a game for kids, but I really enjoy it.

When I play by myself, I like to just explore a world, go mining, and build houses in different environments. The possibilities are endless. The game is completely open-ended. When I first bought the game, I thought it was pretty expensive–I think it was $29. But once you buy it, you never have to pay for anything else. There are continuous updates, and the game keeps getting more interesting, sophisticated, and challenging.

Here’s a bit of recent Minecraft news to give you a sense of what it’s all about.

From CNet: Minecraft players build working hard drives.

Players of the popular open-world building game Minecraft, created by Markus “Notch” Persson in 2009, continue to push the game beyond any reasonable realm of everyday understanding. These players have built working components of computers within simulations running on computers.

Two such users have now revealed functioning hard drives built inside Minecraft that can read and write data. The first, created by Reddit and Imgur user smellystring can store 1KB of data, while a second, larger unit created by The0JJcan store 4KB of data.

That means it’s only a matter of time before things start going the way of “Terminator” or “The Matrix,” or at least to the point where we’re building virtual simulations of fully functioning computers that obey the laws of the physical world.

Read how they did it at the link. You can watch a video about it at Polygon.

Teachers have tapped into the popularity of Minecraft with kids and are using it in the classroom. Wired reports: New Minecraft Mod Teaches You Code as You Play.

Like many nine-year-olds, Stanley Strum spends a lot of time building things inMinecraft, the immersive game that lets your create your own mini-universe. The game has many tools. But Stanley is one of many players taking the game a step further by building entirely new features into the game. And, more than that, he’s also learning how to code.

He’s doing this with a tweak to the Minecraft game, called LearnToMod. Modifications like this, called “mods,” are a big part of the game’s runaway success. But this particular mod helps kids learn to create their own mods. For example, Strum built a teleporter that whisks him to a random location within the game world. Another lesson teaches kids to write the code to create a special bow that shoots arrows that become “portals” between different locations in the game, allowing them to reach spaces that would otherwise be quite difficult to access. It’s like being able to create your own cheat codes.

Strum is one of 150 students who are now tinkering with LearnToMod, an educational add-on teaches you the basics of programming while creating tricks and tools that you can use within the Minecraft. The mod will be available to the general public in October, and its creators hope it will help turn Minecraft into a kind of gateway drug for computer programming.

“Kids are already spending ridiculous amounts of hours on Minecraft,” says Stephen Foster, the co-founder of ThoughtSTEM, the company that’s built the LearnToMod module. “So we thought this would be a good way to help them learn skills.”

Fully functioning hard drive built inside Minecraft world

Fully functioning hard drive built inside Minecraft world

That’s great. I just hope adults don’t ruin the best part of Minecraft, which is that you can use it to express your own individuality and imagination.

Here’s a story from Fortune from Aug. 1: The new way to learn? Brick by brick.

“Minecraft is often referred to as ‘what LEGO should have done online,’” said Peter Warman, video game analyst at research firm Newzoo. “Now Minecraft has become a LEGO set itself, drawing so much time from kids and youngsters that it is seriously competing with the physical LEGO bricks. And it’s not just kids and young teens that play the game. Of the millions of Minecraft Pocket Edition players, 60% is older than 20 and one-third is female.”

“The game’s success can be attributed to the freedom of expression and the ability to build anything you can imagine,” said Carl Manneh, CEO of Mojang. “It gives people a way to visualize anything they can imagine. When you have a creative software like that, people tend to want to share it with friends. That’s really helped us in spreading the word about the game.”

When New York City teacher Joel Levin saw this explosion of popularity among his students, he decided to blog about the game. After all, kids weren’t just playing this game across multiple platforms, they were also spending countless hours perusing the 50 million-plus Minecraft videos on YouTube.

The educator had spent the past decade trying to incorporate video games into his classroom curriculum as a way to engage students and make learning more relevant to today’s generation. Levin said he was blown away at the range of possibilities that Minecraft offered, from building challenges, to having kids do research online and report back on what they learned, to exploring digital citizenship by building communities in the game that serves as virtual microcosms to high school.

“Teachers from all over the world started contacting me,” said Levin. Eventually, Levin was put in touch with Mojang. “I was able to open a dialogue with teachers and programmers in Finland, which is at the forefront of the world in education.” Levin partnered with Santeri Koivisto, a teacher in Finland, to formalize a company, TeacherGaming. A new developer named NetEnt recently announced that they are making an upgraded casino game — surely another vote of confidence in HTML5.

cow reading2

Back to the real world (reluctantly) for some Ferguson updates.

Last night The New York Times posted a piece on how police shootings are judged to be justified or not, Key Factor in Police Shootings: ‘Reasonable Fear’.

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

But as sweeping as restrictions on the use of weapons may be, deciding whether an officer acted correctly in firing at a suspect is not cut and dried. A host of outside factors, from the officer’s perception of a threat to the suspect’s behavior and even his size, can emerge as mitigating or damning.

Read the rest at the link. It’s really troubling to me that police shootings are evaluated based on the officers emotional reactions–whether he (or she) was in fear of his life. That’s far too subjective and there’s no way to prove what the cop was thinking at the time.

The other problem I’m having with all this justification of Wilson’s actions is that he didn’t really need to stop Mike Brown and Dorian Johnson in the first place. The stop was pure harassment–part of a demonstrable pattern of targeting of Ferguson’s Black citizens in order to fill the city’s coffers.

Once Wilson had made the mistake of aggressively engaging with Brown and Brown and Johnson began running away, Wilson should have remained in his car and called for backup. Presumably the Justice Department will be looking carefully at these aspects of the case.

hamster reading

For the past couple of couple of days, there’s been a lot of attention to a crowdfunding campaign established to raise money for Darren Wilson–even though he hasn’t been arrested or charged with anything. The site has been called out for posting ugly racist comments from the people who are donating; yesterday the site began deleting the worst of those comments, and now they have shut off comments completely. I guess it was too much work to keep deleting them one at a time. From NBC News, 

Created on Monday on the site GoFundMe, the campaign had raised over $225,000 as of midday Friday in support of Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. More than 5,600 people have pledged toward a goal of $250,000. Many donors added remarks while making their donations, some of which were incendiary. GoFundMe responded early Friday on Twitter saying the “comments posted in violation of GoFundMe’s terms have been removed.”

 According to the page, it was “created to support Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. We stand behind Officer Darren Wilson and his family during this trying time in their lives. All proceeds will be sent directly to Darren Wilson and his family for any financial needs they may have including legal fees.”

Please note that Wilson is still receiving his full paycheck of more than $45,000 a year. Little Green Footballs has been following the story closely, and blogger Lawhawk decided to find out who is really behind the Wilson GoFundMe campaign. He found that “the funds going to a 501(c)(3) charity, meaning donations are tax exempt.” And guess who’s behind the “charity?” From The Wire: Non-Profit Run by a Missouri Police Union Is Now Handling Fundraising for Darren Wilson.

The GoFundMe crowdsourcing fundraiser for the Ferguson police officer who killed Michael Brown has been taken over by Shield of Hope, a charity run by the local police union. Since Shield of Hope is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all donations from here on out will now be tax deductible. The original fundraiser had raised over $235,000 before passing on the torch to Shield of Hope. The new Shield of Hope-run page has raised over $11,000 on its own.

Originally called the Fraternal Order Of Police Lodge 15 Charitable Foundation, Shield of Hope was founded in late 2011. (The name was changed shortly after.) According to a filing with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, the charity’s board of directors include the Ferguson Police Department’s Public Relations Officer Timothy Zoll, Missouri State Rep. Jeffrey Roorda (a former police officer), and Florissant City Council member Joe Eagan.

brazilian pig reading

So quite a few of those now-excised racist comments must have been coming from law-enforcement types in Missouri {{shudder}} Read more about these folks at the LGF link.

The Washington Post has another interesting article on segregation in St. Louis, In St. Louis, Delmar Boulevard is the line that divides a city by race and perspective.

To get a sense of the fracture that cuts this city in two, drive along Delmar Boulevard, a major four-lane road that runs east to west. Hit the brakes when you see an Aldi grocery store and put your finger on the blinker. Decide which world to enter.

In the blocks to the immediate south: Tudor homes, wine bars, a racquet club, a furniture store selling sofas for $6,000. The neighborhood, according to U.S. Census data, is 70 percent white.

In the blocks to the immediate north: knocked-over street signs, collapsing houses, fluttering trash, tree-bare streets with weeds blooming from the sidewalk. The neighborhood is 99 percent black.

The geography of almost every U.S. city reveals at least some degree of segregation, but in St. Louis, the break between races — and privilege — is particularly drastic, so defined that those on both sides speak often about a precise boundary. The Delmar Divide, they call it, and it stands as a symbol of the disconnect that for years has bred grievances and frustrations, emotions that exploded into public view on the streets of the majority-black suburb of Ferguson after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager. Ferguson is north of Delmar; the suburb of Crestwood, where the officer lives, is south.

As for how St. Louis residents see the Michael Brown shooting,

Even the way people perceive the Aug. 9 shooting and the street protests that have followed is influenced by geography.

“I’m one of those people that feels sorry for the officer,” said Paul Ruppel, 41, a white business owner who lives just to the south of the divide. “For the most part, I believe the police of St. Louis are doing a great job.”

Said Alvonia Crayton, an African American woman who lives just to the north of Delmar: “My reaction is, what took them so long? Michael Brown was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The article is well worth a read.

Links to some interesting stories that are mostly positive

LA Times, Ferguson protests prove transformative for many, by Matt Pearce.

Huffington Post, Ferguson: The Untold Story, by Arianna Huffington.

Poynter, HuffPost’s Ferguson Fellow: ‘This is huge for me’, by Benjamin Mullin.

NPR, Is There Such A Thing As A ‘Good Psychopath’? by Linton Weeks.

The Atlantic, What an Introvert Sounds Like, by Olga Khazan.

The Atlantic, Your Gut Bacteria Want You to Eat a Cupcake.

The Paris Review, Mocha Dick, and Other News.

More on Mocha Dick from The Atlantic, The Whale That Inspired Moby Dick Swims Again.

Feministing, Fatal Hypothesis: How Belief in a Just World is Killing Us, by Katherine Cross.

Want some schadenfreude? Read this from TPM, Cubs Cut Workers’ Hours Too Avoid O-Care Mandate, Then Disaster Struck.

Bwaaaahahahahahah!

Bonus Cat Video

Hot Water. Simon’s Cat

 

What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!

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18 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads: Escape into Minecraft, Ferguson Updates, and Other News”

    • RalphB says:

      Keeping “mission creep” under any kind of control is going to be really difficult for the near future.

    • List of X says:

      So, not even year after seriously considering bombing Syria to help the rebels against Assad, we’re now seriously considering bombing Syria to help Assad against the rebels…. To me, that’s just another evidence for the least possible involvement in the Middle East.

  1. RalphB says:

    Super post BB. Katherine Cross is so right. Shifting the focus from just-worlds to just people would be helpful.

  2. List of X says:

    According to the word cloud for the introverts and extraverts, it looks like the extraverts just can’t spell the words correctly.

  3. dakinikat says:

    The folks crowdfunding the police must live in their own private Idaho. You can’t live in a city proper and not see these awful things happen with local police.

  4. bostonboomer says:

  5. dakinikat says:

    Simon’s cat has to be related to Miles.

  6. RalphB says:

    This could be a game changer and a half, if it comes to commercial fruition!

    Bell Labs, a division of Alcatel-Lucent, gets the credit for setting the record for the world’s fastest Internet connection. At 10 Gbps, Alcatel-Lucent’s XG-FAST technology blows the doors off old-school broadband connections. XG-FAST is 1,000 times faster than broadband, and 10 times faster than Google Fiber, taking connectivity to a whole new level.

    As impressive as the Bell Labs results are, the manner in which it was able to achieve its world-record speeds is even more remarkable. Unlike Google Fiber, XG-FAST doesn’t require running big, fiber pipes into homes or businesses. Why? Because the researchers at Bell Labs were able to achieve 10 Gbps using a fiber cable that then syncs with traditional copper lines.

    It works like this: let’s say there’s a fiber cable on the street and copper pipes are in place in the actual structure, as is the case with most homes and businesses today. That combination of fiber in the street, and copper pipes on site is all XG-FAST needs to deliver 10 Gbps. Don’t have fiber pipes in your city or state? Using existing copper pipes, XG-FAST is still able to match Google Fiber’s 1 Gbps download speeds, with none of the downsides of installing thousands of miles of fiber cable throughout a city.