Category Archives: Education

The Lone Wolf, Fifteen Months Later; Recent Minecraft Project

Good morning, afternoon or evening, hopefully this day finds everyone well.

A lot has happened within the past fourteen months that I simply don’t know where to begin.  Since I’ve last written my “final” post and went to Ghost (and found it to be horribly insubstantial to my writing and media-sharing needs), I’ve accomplished two years of university, worked in a blue-collar environment during the summer, successfully completed an internship, among other things.  I’ve learned that while Macintosh hardware is excellent in regards to build quality, it’s also the best at running Windows 10 via a virtual machine.  I’ve learned that GOG Galaxy (while lacking) is a nice partner to, but not exactly a full alternative of Steam.  I’ve learned that Colossal Order’s Cities: Skylines‘s premise becomes too easy once you master the mechanics at the start of the game (initial layout of your city), that rechargeable batteries drain too quickly when used in Apple’s Magic Mouse, that it stinks being a Mac hardware shopper (the first 5K Retina iMac was launched mere days after I spent $2,500 on a customized 27-inch 3.4 GHz Haswell model with a GTX 780M, CRAP!), and that Microsoft has come a LONG way from it’s horrible Vista days.

In short, for a middle-aged student/gamer, I’ve learned a lot since I left.  Gaming has had to take a backseat to my Accounting/Business studies, but thanks to the hardware I have (iMac and iPad), my habit of getting up at 3:30am to study, and decent software (VMWare Fusion 8, Windows 10, MS Office 2013, Notability and Documents 5 for iPad) my grades have kept me in decent shape, though my GPA is 0.1 point shy of automatic acceptance to grad schools here in Ohio.  My hope is to graduate from Wittenberg University with honors (still two years away), move to Columbus, work as a staff accountant in a mid-size firm, pay off my student loans and then enter Ohio State or DeVry for urban planning or environmental studies, so in order to realize my goals, I’ve spent little time on gaming, preferring to open books or hit the campus library instead.  Whether this was for my social detriment remains to be seen as I’ve had very few conversations with my gaming friends since.  I have however made several acquaintances throughout the campus despite my age, so in a way it balances out.

I still can’t get over the fact that I’m now a junior in college; this was something I failed to accomplish when I was a Temple University student around eighteen years ago.  Poor academic decisions on my part plus a lack of academic advisement led me to drop out of college after three semesters due to lack of financial aid, and it took three sad years of working for places such as Macy’s, BJ’s Wholesale, and even a SalvationArmy thrift store in horrible conditions before I got my life back on track.  I swore that I wouldn’t fall that far again, and so far things are paying off as of now.  I’m almost finished with my Business minor and have only a few Accounting classes left for the major, I have a decent part-time job as an accounts payable assistant, by February I’ll have enough funds to (finally) move into my first apartment, and too many other things which are in the planning phase over the next few months.  Games, however, just aren’t a part of any of this.  In fact, the few waking moments I have left when I’m not studying, working, writing papers or searching for an apartment are for Hulu Plus and a premium Crunchyroll account.  It’s not as sad or as pathetic as it sounds; again, I have decent grades to show for giving up console gaming in general and going on a computer gaming diet.

Recent Minecraft project

Luckily it hasn’t all been interpreting regressions, calculating amortization costs, studying Japan’s marketing of “cute” (called kawaii) or wondering why in Heaven’s name my class needs to learn about accounting information systems (seriously, that class was worthless, and DON’T get me started on the professor).  Inspired by many Minecraft players’ large-scale projects, I started working on my own months ago (a sprawling, mid-sized city with working light-rail systems and surface transit).  It’s hard keeping the zombies from harassing the first citizens because the town (Birchland) is set in an extended birch forest biome, and for some reason the iron golem police officers either spawn inside buildings and get stuck, or are defeated by the skeletons that spawn, allowing the zombies to thin out the population.  It’s also hard because unlike other Minecraft players I’m trying to furnish every spot, room by room, building by building.  It’s been a lengthy process but I’m rather proud of how it’s shaping up so far.

Besides, since I’m now on winter break (both university and work) I figure that I would end this post on a fun note, saving tech and other gaming musings for later this week.

Behold, Birchand
Behold:  Birchland (for lack of a better name; city is a work-in-progress).

 

Set up in an extended birch forest biome, Birchland will comprise of several parts.  Shown above is the old section of the town built, with the view pointing southeast.  The foreground shows a Japanese bathhouse/community pool and water slide on the left, a fully-stocked deli on the right with apartments above it, and the large orange building was my first major project – a public library.  The newer sections are in the background, with boat access to the area lit by beacons and the massive white building in the back is the municipal services building under construction (Birchland County’s City Hall, with courtrooms and civil offices!).

Looking west along Olde City's Somerset Street
Olde City (first section of the town); Somerset Street (named from a North Philadelphia street) houses old but mostly furnished apartments, surface transit and shops.

Not all of the apartments are furnished; in fact once I had an idea for a new building I had the bad habit of rushing off to level more land and start building.  I am planning to come back and finish…

Massive regional rail system being built - this is Somerset Station
Regional rail station set up about 15-20 blocks underneath Somerset Street – the four-track Somerset Station.  Carts here will enter and leave the city for the beaches on either side of the forest.
A below-surface,surface LRT station, Advena Station
Off-street transit service is accomplished by Birchland’s light-rail transit.  The stations are smaller because of stops every two or three city blocks.

Transportation is planned in three ways:  conventional long-distance high-speed mine cart systems set up far underground, “light rail” transit which runs in open cuts in the ground with smaller button-powered stations, and surface transit systems which stop at bus-like shelters which are also powered by manual stop-and-go redstone power.  At this time I have the light rail network set up to interchange for the regional rail line without having to exit the station (Somerset Station), but the street transit vehicles are a problem thanks to villagers and golems getting in the way…

Birchland Municipal Services Building - Advena Pike runs E-W underneath it
The newest project:  Birchland Municipal Services Building (City Hall).  Advena Pike (the main street) runs underneath it and out of the city proper.
BMSB still under constrcution
It had to rain while I was taking pictures of an unfinished building.  In any case, we’re claiming the stairs to the main entrance…
Information desk, courtroom down the hall, and cafeteria at the end
BMSB’s Information Desk.  The left will host the judge’s chambers and jury room, the right hallway leads to the courtroom and a cafeteria sits at the far end.
Birchland Court of Comman Pleas
Birch land’s Court of Common Pleas, complete with witness benches, plaintiff/defense tables, a twelve-unit jury box, judge’s bench and witness stand.
Cafeteria at the rear of the complex
City Hall’s cafeteria/lounge…
with additional outdoor seating!
…with upscale additional outdoor seating.

Back to the old section of the city, here’s shots of the public library:

One of my first major projects - a public library!
Birchland’s Public Library (Central Lending [main] branch).  This was the first major project I undertook when constructing the city.
Another shot of the public library near the entrance
Catalogues, references, materials, printers and computers inside the main entrance.
The first floor's private study rooms
Private study rooms have been added on the rear of the first floor, with windows showing occupants.
The second floor of the library
Natural, unnatural lighting, carpeting and furnishings on the second floor of the library.

One more feature in the “old section” would be the Olde City’s deli.  I wanted to keep track of Minecraft’s recipes in case I finally switched this file from creative to survival, so I built an old-style deli inside of a four-story row house; this allowed me to build apartments over the deli realistically.

I've got your food, RIGHT HERE!
Somerset Delicatessen.  Across from the library and the bathhouse, and with mine carts running along the side of it, the fully-stocked deli has all foods as of Minecraft version 1.8.
Somerset Delicatessen (Olde City section) has a full menu and all ingredients stocked
Call it cheating, but I needed a way to keep track of all of the recipes.  And yes, I stocked the “refrigerators” along the wall with ALL of the necessary ingredients.

The new section has a LOT of things going on, including the City Hall (under construction), the Sunken Forest underneath it, large heavily-furnished apartment complexes sitting alongside a tree-covered parkway (Advena Pike), transportation, parks, a well-lit port for boats, and shops that I haven’t even thought of yet.  Here’s just a couple of locations:

World Records - a record store in Birchland's Olde City section
“World Records”, a record store (with record players).  Every record found in Minecraft is stocked in the chests (multiple copies).
The partially-furnished Advena Heights complex
Advena Heights, a seven-story mixed space (efficiencies, small, large, condo and penthouse) apartment complex sitting alongside a tree-covered parkway.  The blue building at it’s foot is the Advena light-rail station (Advena Pike runs underneath it through a short tunnel).  More apartments and shops are being constructed.

Smaller houses are planned for the town’s outskirts, as well as better lighting and security to stop the hostile mobs from attacking the golems and the villagers.  That won’t be for a long while however.

Taking a break from writing now as this is my first day of vacation.  Definitely catching up on my Hulu and Crunchyroll backlogs later, but for now…time to find something to eat.

Jay

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Meta Update: Successful First Semester, Now a “Student” Employee

Todd Rundgren - Influenza
Current 80s favorite: Influenza (Todd Rundgren)

 

Six-hour study sessions pay off

Good morning, afternoon or evening.  It’s been six weeks since I last posted, but for a good reason – FINALS.

Cramming for finals

If I want to earn a scholarship or graduate with honors, there comes a time where one must neglect sleep, food, games, social life (and basically everything else) and concentrate on the grades.  Leading up to the finals, it was a marathon of class-study-class-homework-type-study-food-study-sleep up to May 13th, the date of the last final.  All of the studying has paid off, and with two As and an A-, plus my additional credits transferred from my out-of-pocket community college attendance in New Jersey (all As), my GPA is in great shape as I prepare to enter my sophomore year.

Fortunately the university has a very busy yet effective Career Services department; busy in that they do everything they can to not only place graduates but also undergrads in summer or year-round positions, which is amazing for a two-person department.  Ironically, I was able to land a lucrative Accounts Payable/Purchasing position within the university with almost no effort (as a student), but before I enrolled in the university my applications for employment were turned down three times during the first seven months of my being an Ohio resident.  It was only after proving myself academically and then showing the school my resume that I was able to get my foot in the door.  Not that I’m complaining – by both studying Accounting full-time and working in the financial field it’s basically the same as killing two birds with one stone.

The pay isn’t high but it’s more than enough.  If I was still in Philadelphia I’d be starving, but in Springfield small wagers still go a LONG way.  The hours are great – meaning I can work a full day and still have time to enjoy the town and it’s amenities or write before collapsing.  One thing I still need to get used to is being classified as a “student” employee when I’ll be thirty-six next week.  There’s a difference between being an “internal” employee and a “stranger” hired off of the streets, but after so many temporary assignments I have trouble performing in the former role.

In any case, so far so good.  Should the position stretch into the fall semester then I could integrate campus life with work (working, eating and attending classes, all on the same campus or within walking distance), and then home to sleep.

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Current Mac wallpaper - Cave Story+

I don’t have much to talk about which is worthy of going into full detail for this post, mainly because all of my energies had been spent cramming for finals, completing them, praying for straight-As and learning duties for my summer job.  What free time that I had was spent on the Mac version of Minecraft (again, thanks Dan for the addiction!), Gumi’s Brave Frontier for iOS, playing Cave Story+ on Steam and researching options for a new desktop this September to replace the five-year-old Mac that still (grudgingly) runs, even with the recent Mavericks 10.9.3 update.  To round out the post, I’ll touch briefly on three of these things in order.

Minecraft – the REAL version (PC/Mac)

Ravine ObservatoryCentral base to work from, check While still waiting for Mojang’s 0.9.0 update for the mobile version, I went to a game store and bought a PC/Mac license.  Playing the game for the first time on a desktop instead of a mobile device makes the experience a LOT better on so many levels – especially the nigh-limitless landscapes, a larger variety of enemies and biomes, more objects to craft, and a end-goal to the game (the End biome with it’s resident Ender Dragon).

I managed to open a portal to the Nether over the previous weekend, and found that going in unprotected is a HUGE mistake.  I knew what to expect from religiously reading official wikis, but I wasn’t prepared for was Zombie Pigmen wandering around in the Overworld once I emerged from the portal after being attacked by Ghasts whose fireballs I couldn’t deflect accurately.  After accidentally hitting one of the two Pigmen, they knocked me out in three rapid hits.  Fortunately I dropped all of my loot near the base closest to the portal, but while trying to re-obtain the loot I found that my diamond sword was missing.  Well, guess who now held it…and used it to VERY QUICKLY pound my a-double-s.  Again.  And again.  AND AGAIN.

After that I said “screw that!”, disabled the portal and blocked off the path to both it and the now-Zombie Pigman-owned base (they managed to find a way in!) until I was ready, opening new files and gathering better materials during the meantime.  The Nether…just no.  The Glowstone is worth the trekking alone as I was able to rebuilt the Dust into lamps for my home base (far, FAR away from the one close to the portal), but trying to attack Ghasts on unstable ground with 100-block high sheer drops into lava oceans while hunting down Blazes for their Rods to press forward to the endgame…yeah.  That can wait for a bit.

For the first time ever - color-stained glass

Brave Frontier (iOS) – Guardian Boss #1 defeated (video)

Gumi’s Brave Frontier is a rather easy yet enjoyable Japanese RPG in which you collect and summon elemental characters to fight an evil god’s denizens and prohibit them from wiping out the planet (typical RPG story).  Though there’s not much to the game besides collecting, selling and fusing summoned characters, there’s item crafting, enlisting other players’ characters to address elemental deficiencies in your group or for simple backup,  battling in arenas and participating in weekly and special events.  Though I say the game has little in the way of substance, it appeals to me due to having a Shining Force III-type of vibe.  It has the look and feel of a late Sega Saturn title, and that by itself is a plus in my book.

Recently I defeated the first guardian boss of the game, which one reaches only after completing dozens of fights.  Gumi had recently added an update which allows easy and quick uploads of battles to YouTube, and since this was an important battle I decided to upload it.  I therefore leave an imbedded HD-enabled video for your review.

Researching the next desktop replacement: few good alternatives

*WARNING:  RANT!*

We’re just a couple of weeks from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2014), but my faith in the Mac platform is starting to dwindle.  First, the 2013 Mac Pro was released, and for all of the hype of being Apple’s most powerful desktop they’ve neglected two essential items:  an optical drive and more hard drive space.  Why in God’s name would a company release a $3000+ USD computer with only 256GB of storage!?

“But James,” you may be saying, “it’s a workstation.  It’s not meant for Jane and Joe Schmuck consumers like us”.  BullCRAP!  Just the mere fact that it’s a WORKSTATION AND that it’s replacing a machine which allowed TERABYTES of hard disc space with a few lever flips and a couple of tray slides is simply inexcusable.

But NO, they didn’t stop there!  THEN they had to axe the only Macbook Pro that was worth the bang for the buck – the classic unibody Macbook Pro.  The “classic” model lacked a retina display but had user-accessible RAM and hard drive slots, as well as an optical drive for those who needed a drive slot and didn’t want to spend $80.00 USD to get Apple’s USB alternative, or scour Newegg. Instead, Apple forced the hand of would-be customers by killing off the optical drive, soldering the RAM into the slots, and chopping down the amounts of storage.  So instead of merely opening our computers to add more RAM or larger storage drives, we’ll be purchasing new Macbook Airs and Retina Macbook Pros every three years instead of every six or seven.  Good job, Apple.  Good FREAKIN’ job.

That’s two strikes for Apple, with the foul tip being the same things being done to the entire iMac line.  Well, not the entire line.  I mean, you can access the RAM slots on the high-end machines – which you SHOULD, being that the user has to spend over TWO GRAND on the hardware to gain that privilege…

Here’s what I call the potential third strike – either a refusal to update the aging Mac mini line (STILL no Haswell architectures anywhere in the minis, they’re the only ones using Ivy Bridge chipsets since October 2012), an insane update to the line mimicking the gimped Mac Pro in having low amounts of storage while also mimicking the gimped Macbook Pros in having soldered RAM, or killing the Mac mini line altogether for “beefier” Apple TV hardware (there’s a good reason why some people hook up Mac minis to their home entertainment centers instead of Apple TVs, thank you!).  June 2nd is the make-or-break date as far as I’m concerned; give me one good reason why I shouldn’t build a Linux machine.  Otherwise, I’m GONE.

And it’s not like there’s much in the Windows-based pickings, either. Acer and HP hardware is fast, but they’ll require a graphics card purchase before I can reliably start playing games, as the best integrated chip I’ve seen is an Intel HD 4400 (at least with most of today’s desktop Macs, you get…well…something).  CPU speeds are rather lackluster, even when spending $800 USD and up, though this could be because of their turbo boost abilities (Intel).  The last time I purchased AMD CPU-equipped machines, AMD was the king, and Intel was a laughingstock (remember those days?  I barely do.), but today, with Haswell and Broadwell, with power plus efficiency as well as having integrated chips worth using, AMD looks to be a mere shadow in such a way that I’m wondering if their graphics card line can save them from potential bankruptcy.

I don’t know, perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, mainly because I have this feeling that I should shut up and wait for WWDC and Apple’s announcements.  Still, there used to be a lot of ready-made Windows-based hardware which could easily rival Apple-based hardware; all one would have to do is buy it, take it home, plug it in, and turn it on, the only future purchase being more RAM and a graphics card later on.  Nowadays, from looking at sites like HP and Acer…not so much.

*NOTE:  Another reason why desktop pickings could be weak; it’s because (and you may say “no duh” to this) it’s mid-2014.  The world has all but moved on from desktops.  Frankly, laptops are slowly but surely being forced aside for better and better tablets, so if laptop sales overall are starting to lessen, then what could I expect from ye olde desktops?  Does this make my ranting irrelevant?  In some cases yes, in other cases no.  In some ways, the raw power and expandability (well, on Windows and Linux-purposed machines anyway) cannot be duplicated on a laptop or a tablet, but then again, with a tablet or a laptop, you’re no longer chained to a desk.

Then again, some desktop-like builds allow you to leave the desk; they just have compromises.  Sigh…

At least downgrades from Windows 8 to 7 are plentiful.  Win7 is a decent, stable version if I really have to go down that dark ell-ridden road.

/RANT

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Steam's Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)
Steam’s Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)

Images are uploading rather slowly to WordPress (my Minecraft images for one) so I have to cut short this update.  Memorial Day is coming up, there’s a lot of topics I’ve placed on hold and some free time later so I’ll post something less hodgepodge-y then.

Jay

Meta Update: American Literature Term Project (Graded) – Edith Wharton (video)

It’s been a really busy time as the professors have doubled up on all of the required work to be completed before May 6th, the last day of classes.  As I’ve been either researching dualism (how both the mind and the body are both essential for interaction within the world) for Philosophy class, screwing up some journal entries in my Financial Accounting exams and (just today) having one of my American Literature papers torn to bits by the professor thanks to the stress the other two classes were generating (I still have an A average, thank God!), I haven’t had time to relax properly, let alone update The Lone Wolf Blog.  I have tried to create a quick gameplay video regarding Gameloft’s Modern Combat 4:  Meltdown Edition for iOS, but for some reason Gameloft is barring my AirPlay streaming from my iPad to my Mac, showing a static title screen when I attempt it.  Oh well, I guess you’ll have to get your tablet FPS action somewhere else.

Instead, what I’ll do for an update is embed my American Literature project, the result of which I got a perfect grade.  Admittedly I only picked the Progressionist-era Edith Wharton on which to focus a project as her last name was similar to the street where I grew up during my (very bad) high school years in Philadelphia (it should be noted that Wharton Street was named after a different author and philanthropist).  From my research I found her to be very prolific, was able to self-educate herself to an enormous degree despite her wing denied a formal education, had displayed her creativity in designing her own estate (The Mount) and surrounding herself with a vast intellectual and powerful circle, including Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, future president Theodore Roosevelt, among several others.

The short story Wharton wrote which I was supposed to base this video on was The Other Two, a 1904 story about a man who’s experiencing his first marriage with a wife who had already been divorced twice.  Mr. Waythorne faces changes in society and women’s rights in 1900s New York City by his wife’s practice of divorce and child custody (both practices new at that time in real life), as well as constant invasion of his life by her two ex-husbands, one in shock at having to constantly battle for visitation rights and child welfare (rights that men [until around the late 1800s] NEVER had to fight for as women were “meant” to be subservient) The second ex-husband is an immature, irresponsible playboy who needs constant financial advice from Waythorne, of which being a stockbroker and mindful of his obligations to the brokerage firm of which he’s employed, must give.

The story itself is in the public domain, so if you’re interested it should be really easy to find.  As for myself, I have assignments to finish and am in the midst of picking classes for the next semester; once I do this I can then calculate what funds I’ll have available to finally replace the five-year-old machine that I spent hours creating this movie via iMovie (and praying that iMovie X wouldn’t crash on me).  I was thinking on getting a new Mac mini, but Apple and Intel have held up Haswell chipsets for the Mac mini line for so long that Broadwell is more likely.  It’s a question of when though, and we won’t know until the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which starts on June 2nd.  I’ll save my frustrations regarding Macs for a later date.

In any case, enjoy the movie, and all sources are listed in the credits.