Archive for April, 2011

VGHVI Minecraft: April 28, 2011

Apr 30 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Our April VGHVI Minecraft session was on April 28. Eric Swain decided to work on the towers that had been started last time: he finished the sky bridges, and also created a rectangle of glass that was floating unsupported in the air above the temple. Some pictures:

Finishing off the skybridge: because of a graphics glitch due to the height, I couldn't see Eric, so the glass was appearing out of nowhere!

The glass platform hanging above the temple

Looking down at the temple at night

The moon rising above one of the towers

The sun setting past another tower

A strange, perilous diagonal skybridge

I decided to experiment with power rails: they’re not as powerful as the boosters I’d been using, but they’re a good deal more straightforward and less prone to chaos created by cows. Miranda helped, and we ended up looping the rails around to the other side of the temple, so now they make an almost complete circle.

My first powered rail

Rails crossing a waterfall

The new end of the line

After that, we decided to build a train station near the other end of the line (right where the tracks had gone plunging into the lava, though we blocked that off).

Building a railroad station

On top of the railroad station

The cows really like that booster

More progress on the railroad station

Finally, Pat and Jonathan decided to build an underwater tunnel. They did that by building a wood core surrounded by glass, and then burning out the wood, which worked really well.

Burning out the underwater tunnel

A view of the burning tunnel from the surface of the water

The fire is dying down and the tunnel is appearing

Extending rails into the tunnel

The entrance to the tunnel

We do this every month, so feel free to come join us on May 26!

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Minecraft: Exploring East

Apr 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

After I finished mining on Sunday, I did go exploring as planned. I’d already headed north, south, and west, so that left going east as the obvious next step! First, the requisite departure pictures, looking east from inside the house, the roof, and through the gateway arch.

Looking east from inside the house

Looking east from the roof

Setting out through the gateway arch

Of course, I knew the first landmark on my journey east: that’s where the ravine is. Here’s one of the views down, as well as a view up into a bridge I built in the trees when I first exited the ravine.

Peering down into the ravine

Trees with stone bridge above the ravine

But I was in unfamiliar territory soon after that. It was quite charming, with a lovely little pool, and my first wolf sighting! Too bad I’m in peaceful mode and hence don’t have easy access to bones; hopefully I’ll find some in a dungeon eventually…

Pond a little further east

My first wolf sighting!

The first real landmark was a mountain: here’s a view of it barely visible in the distance, and a closer view.

Is that a mountain in the haze?

Approaching the mountain

As I got closer, it turned out to be impressively large and to come with a waterfall. And with steep sides: I managed to climb up part way, but eventually I dug a spiral staircase into the walls.

The waterfall at the base of the mountain

A view of the spiral stairs from ground level

The stairs up close

You could see a long way from the top: here are the views west (towards home) and east.

Looking back towards home from the mountain top

The view east

After that, I continued east. First, some tree pictures: a strange tree with mixed branches, a view of my inventory after chopping down my first birch tree, and a view of some trees high up whose branches extended out impressively far from the trunk. Do trees that you plant not grow that well, or have I just not been patient enough with my tree farm?

A tree with a strange mixture of leaves

Birch saplings and blocks

Looking up at a tree with spreading branches

And some non-tree scenery: a bay with pigs swimming in it, a watery cave, and a pool of lava right in the middle of the desert!

A pig swimming in the bay

Looking into a watery cave

A lava pool out in the open in the desert

Note the water in all of those pictures: in general, I ran into rather more water in this direction than in some of my recent journeys. And eventually, I hit some water that I couldn’t see across at all. At least not with the normal graphics settings: when I bumped it up to high, trees slowly popped into view. In retrospect, I’m actually kind of sad that I bumped it up to high, I kind of preferred the mystery…

Is there land across the ocean?

A couple of trees pop into view

More trees appear, with the moon behind them

That seemed like a good place to stop, so I turned around. I took a slightly different, more coastal route back, and didn’t take as many pictures. Here’s another tree with huge branches and a strange partial skybridge.

A tree with huge branches

A strange partial skybridge

I also ran into the only large cave on this journey: not nearly as impressive as the cave I’d run into on my western trip, but not bad.

Looking down into the cave

It's a pretty deep cave

I approached the lava sands area from the water side: here’s a view of the bay next to it and one of the lava sands at night. Incidentally, I brought a bed with me on this trip so I didn’t have to wait out the nights.

A spit of land in the bay next to the lava sands

The lava sands at night

And two final pictures: a rather impressive waterfall snaking down a sand mountain, and the beginnings of my birch tree farm!

Long waterfall flowing down from sand mountain

Starting a birch tree farm

That’s enough exploring for now, I think. Minecraft being what it is, there’s doubtless quite a lot more exploring to be done near my home base (in particular I’m planning to get to know the waterfall area a little better), but I don’t see any urgency in doing that. (Probably the eventual release of maps will give me a nudge in that direction.) Instead, I think I need to do some more domestic tasks: I want to set up an above ground house somewhere (trying to so so in a way that teaches me a bit more about Christopher Alexander), and I want to begin a rail system. The natural direction for rails would be south of my home base, so I’ll see if I can find a nice place to build across that desert.

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Minecraft: Underground Pools

Apr 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I had planned to continue my exploring from last week when I played Minecraft this weekend, but it was dark out, so I decided to work on my mine for a bit first. Which started off as normal: a decent ore haul, but not enough iron, despite the following:

Several blocks of iron ore

But then, as I was digging one of my branches, I found an opening beneath me, and saw water beneath. Heading down, there was a quite lovely little pool down there, with a surprising amount of ore in its ceilings!

Water beneath me

The inside of the pool cavern

So I went down and mined out the ore that I could find, and then went back up the entrance that I came in. The thing was, though, it felt like I should be pretty much at the end of that branch, about to rejoin the central corridor; and that part of the corridor was interrupted by a lava pit! (This underwater cavern was actually beneath the lava layer, only four or five blocks above bedrock.) So I was afraid that, if I kept going, I’d accidentally set off a lava flow: in fact, I wasn’t completely convinced that I wasn’t already under lava. So I dug over into an adjacent branch, and carefully counted off the squares: it turns out that no, I wasn’t underneath the lava, but I was right underneath a corridor wall. I carefully dug down there, creating a second entrance into the pool.

Looking out the second entrance to the pool: those low walls are protecting me from lava

After that, I extended my main mine corridor, and ran into some ore and a couple of diamond blocks. And, when I dug the bottom of those out, I ran into another suprise: more water!

Water coming from behind diamond blocks

I’m not used to that much water right at or beneath the lava layer. I swam up in there, and there was another quite nice pool; here’s a view from inside the pool, looking back at the main mine corridor, along with a view of some of the redstone that was in the pool walls.

Looking at the mine corridor from the second pool

Redstone in the walls of the second pool

I did a bit more mining after that, but nothing else as spectacular; here’s another ore picture, and a picture of my final loot for the day. (Tons of redstone, but mediocre iron.)

Blocks of iron and gold

Today's mining haul

After that, I went back up to my house to smelt the ore. Here’s a picture of my current stash, along with a view of a cow in the distance through the window and the achievements that I took the time to earn. Surprising how many achievements I haven’t earned, given their small number (and it’s not that I haven’t earned them since 1.5 was released, I’ve never done them): I’d been consciously avoiding combat, but I really should give farming a try at some point.

My current loot stash

Achievements are here

A cow far off in the distance

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Pro Guitar Status: April 24, 2011

Apr 24 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This weekend was pretty busy, so I didn’t get to play Rock Band as much as I would have liked, but I did have time to make it through most of the Apprentice songs on Medium Pro Guitar. Which would have been awesome—Medium Pro Guitar continues to be fascinating—except that I had some quite annoying hardware problems.

It started on Saturday: Liesl decided to give Pro Guitar a try, and was getting (justifiably!) really frustrated because the game wasn’t picking up her strums. The high strings were a particular problem, and I’d had problems earlier with upstrums on those, so I looked up the instructions for adjusting the pickup to make that more sensitive. That helped, but not enough when she was plucking by hand; switching to the pick seems to have mostly fixed it, though.

Today, the game was acting funny for me, too, and Liesl suggested the batteries. I replaced those, and it started behaving better. In retrospect, then, that was probably much of the problem yesterday as well. (I probably accidentally left the guitar turned on last week: easy to forget that it needs to be turned off.) So most of the session today went well; but, towards the end of the session, I started getting really weird behavior, where the guitar would sporadically refuse to detect any strums or insist that a fret was held down when I wasn’t touching the fingerboard at all.

Eventually, the controller became almost completely unresponsive; also, the MIDI box was blinking in a strange way, which I didn’t remember seeing. Looking in the manual for the guitar, it looked like that was probably a sign that the guitar needed to be reset (I don’t remember if the box was actually blinking in an SOS pattern, but it might have been); I held down start and back on the guitar, and in the little bit of experimentation I did right then, it seemed to be behaving better. At the very least, it was no longer completely broken; I had to stop fairly soon anyways, and I was frustrated enough that it was hard to get back into the flow of things, so I didn’t test it out thoroughly.

I really hope that was the problem: if so, it’s annoying, but now I know what the signs are, and it’s easy to fix. I’m a little worried that I may have gotten the sensitivity wrong when fiddling around with it yesterday, and I’m also worried that the hardware may just not be working well at a more fundamental level; we’ll see what happens next week, I guess.

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Minecraft: Go West, Middle-Aged Man

Apr 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Hard to believe that I haven’t worked on my Minecraft world for almost a month; I guess I’ve been too busy in my weekends, and Rock Band 3 takes priority. But I did find time today to play for an hour or two.

I’d been doing a lot of mining recently; that’s strangely soothing, but I’ve built up a fair supply of materials now, so I figured it was time to stretch my legs a bit. I’d headed north and south before, but I had very little idea of what was to the east and west; so I packed my bags and headed west. (Actually, I didn’t pack my bags very well: next time, I should bring a bed, to avoid the tedium of waiting out the nights.)

Looking west from my front door

Sand and hills past the tree farm

There’s a tree farm immediately to the west of my front door; I knew there was a bit of sand beyond that, but I wasn’t sure what was past the sand. And water north of that area; it wouldn’t have surprised me if the water curved south and turned the western voyage into a very short trip indeed! That turned out not to be the case: the scenery to the west was, honestly, a little boring, and I ended up going north a bit to hug the coastline.

Water to the north

Hills, sand, and a bit of water to the west

Still more water to the north after I've headed west

Eventually, the terrain got a bit more varied, and I saw some mountains. There was a cave inside the mountains, but it didn’t end up being particularly large.

Mountains in the distance

A mountain cave

Inside the mountain cave

Continuing on from that, my next surprise was when I looked down at the grass below me and saw a hole! I dropped down, and it turned out to be another not particularly large cave, with a more normal exit on the other side.

A cave hidden under the grass

Inside the hidden cave

I kept on going until nightfall; not too much in the way of further excitement.

Another mountain

The sun is going down

Sunset over water

Moon past island with tree

Eventually, the sun rose, and I trudged on.

Morning at the beach

Meadow with pigs

A bit of snow

After a bit of hiking, I ran into a truly amazing cliff with a waterfall pouring down from it.

Tall cliffs with waterfall

The base of the waterfall

I swam up the waterfall; that cliff was really tall, bringing me up to cloud level! I’d never seen the clouds moving right past me before.

The view after swimming up the waterfall

Hullo clouds, hullo sky

Looking across the clouds over the valley

That really is a long way down

Somehow, I made it down without breaking my neck and kept going. The next bit that caught my eye was a canyon with water in the middle; for some reason, I felt like I should be flying a ship in a Star Wars game through it.

Water surrounded by steep walls

The canyon continues

At this point, the sun was setting; I was in a winter region, with very tall trees.

Sunset past snow and tall trees

I was almost ready to go home, but one last cave caught my eye, so I decided to take a closer look. And, when I went down there, it seemed quite deep, and there was iron visible, so I had to hop down and explore/mine.

Cave under the snow and sand

Iron and darkness below

And, unlike the previous caves I’d seen on this expedition, it kept going and going! Here’s an underground river, and another view down a steep drop, with what looks like water below. (And a light source, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see the water…)

An underground river

I think I see water below; but where's the light coming from?

As always when you have unexpected light in a cave, there was lava. (Like I said, this cave was very deep: I went all the way down from the surface to the lava layer.) And there were good mining opportunities to be found: I ended up with 25 iron and some redstone and gold as well.

I see lava way down there

Hello, lava layer!

Lava and water

At which point I was at the bottom of an enormous cave, with no clear idea of how to get up. (The vast majority of my descent had had a generous assist from gravity.) I didn’t even have a mental picture of which way I wanted to go; fortunately, at various points I could look up and see torches that I’d placed. So I took out my pickaxe and started climbing, finding a few more caves along the way.

I guess I'm supposed to head up there somehow?

Wow, I've got a big climb ahead of me

At some point in the ascent, I ran out of torches; I wasn’t worried about coal, but I’ve never been so relieved to open my inventory and see that yes, I do have wood on me. (My pickaxe was running low, too, but I had a spare of that as well, and wood is all I need to construct more of them.) After quite a while, I eventually made it up to the top; and, as I reached the top, I broke through the ice and accidentally flooded the cave! I’m curious what effect the water had on the cave, but not curious enough to have actually gone down and checked…

Looking down into the newly flooded cave

A truly glorious cave; a pity that it’s so far away from home, and that I have very little idea how to get back there! At any rate, I turned around and started trudging home after that. Which didn’t take so long, I made it home the same day, because I knew which direction to go and didn’t stop to take pictures and explore caves.

My house is visible in the mist

I'd never noticed this pool near home before

As I got close (quite close, you can see a sapling from my tree farm), I noticed a cute little pool under the sand; funny how such pleasant surprises can be lurking under your feet!

Once I got home, I smelted the ore that I’d gotten in the cave, and, to prevent subsequent animal incursions into my house, followed Steven’s suggestion and replaced the dirt floors with cobblestone. Though I was sad to see that my chicken had disappeared; I guess the game doesn’t track mobs when you’re far away? A pity, I kind of liked having a pet…

My loot from the cave

Cobblestone patch on the floor

Looking west from my balcony

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Pro Guitar Status, April 17, 2011

Apr 17 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I didn’t work on Pro Guitar last weekend, because I was too busy. Though part of the reason why I was too busy involved Rock Band: I spent Saturday evening hanging out with Kirk Hamilton, Dan Apczynski, Jorge Albor, and Scott Juster, eating and playing Rock Band. Which was a lot of fun! Kirk is rather good on (Pro) Drums, as it turns out; and I’m much less good on Pro Keys on other people’s TVs than I am on my own. (Though part of that was because the game wasn’t calibrated at all to the TV we were using all at the start; I got to an acceptable but not great level once we fixed that.)

I did get back to Pro Guitar today, though, working on my journey through the Medium songs. And they’re super interesting, even the easiest ones. Well, maybe not the very easiest ones, but today was a lot of fun even when I was going through the later Warmup songs.

In the easiest Medium songs, you play a lot of two-note chords: as far as I can tell, these would be barre chords on a real guitar, but the game didn’t want to make us deal with that on Medium. So that’s a little boring; but even the two-note chords were interesting when I was playing Rehab, because it had me picking out the two notes of the chord instead of strumming them together. So I got to translate the individual notes that the game showed me into (a stripped down version of) the underlying chords, which was fun to think about.

And then I hit Yoshimi, and all of a sudden the game got hugely more interesting: I had to play full G, D, and C chords! Which I failed at miserably the first time: but that’s what training mode is for, and I eventually got it. (After that, I decided to just start with training mode on new songs by default, though it wouldn’t surprise me if eventually my sight reading catches up and I don’t have to do that any more.) That was a real change of pace: for the first time, I came out of a piece feeling like I could play it on a real guitar and it would actually sound like the real song.

I saw those same chords in some later songs, too. Which is kind of interesting, actually: full E and A chords aren’t any harder to play than those chords, but the game doesn’t seem to throw those at me in Medium. Not sure if they wanted to restrict themselves to only three different chords to learn in Medium or if they wanted to reserve E and A for when we had to grapple with barre chords; I’m not complaining either way, it will certainly give me something to look forward to when I get to Hard.

The other interesting song for today was Good Vibrations. Most of the song is pretty straightforward, but at the start of the song (and in one or two places in the middle), there are sequences of individual notes, going between a couple of the strings in different ways. They were complex enough that I decided to spend a little bit of time thinking about how best to finger them, in order to minimize the amount of shifting that I’d have to do with my hand, and I really enjoyed that process. In a weird way (maybe I’ve been reading Steven O’Dell too much), it felt kind of like playing a technical racer: it’s analogous to the process of analyzing a turn on a race track, experimenting with different lines to see which one is most efficient, and then practicing over and over until you can hit it reliably.

I didn’t do a lot of songs today: I finished the Warmup songs and did two of the Apprentice songs. But my hand is feeling it a bit (and I was getting remarkably sloppy on my D chords as the session went on), and I want to play some Minecraft, too! So that’s enough for this weekend; I hope I’ll be able to finish the Apprentice songs next weekend.

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Lego Taj Mahal

Apr 16 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Liesl’s dad gave Miranda a Lego Taj Mahal kit for Christmas. And it was a lot of work! (Liesl, Miranda, and I did it together: I think we probably spent 15-20 hours on it, so 50 or more person-hours.) But also lots of fun. Here are some pictures.

First, we assembled the base of the building. We had to make six parts (front, back, plus four corner/side assemblies), which we then stuck together.

Miranda working on the base

The front of the base. (I thought the stairs were a nice touch.)

An unfinished corner of the base

The fully assembled base

Next, we put towers on the corners.

A closeup of one of the towers

The base with the towers in place

The kit had us assemble the large onion dome next, though we didn’t actually put it on until the very end. I’ve never seen that sort of curved layering done in Lego before.

A side view of the halfway done onion dome

A top view of the halfway done onion dome

A side view of the completed onion dome

A top view of the completed onion dome

Next, we created another building, to go on top of the base. Lots of fancy archways here.

A decorated archway

A corner of the top building

The fully assembled (except for its roof) top building

Finally, we put the base and top together, and added a roof and a few more onion domes.

A front view of the completed building

An angled view of the completed building

A top view of the completed building

Lots of fun.

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Pro Guitar Status, April 3, 2011

Apr 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

After finishing the songs on Easy last week, I started Medium this week. And I can attest to the fact that Medium is harder than Easy: I felt a lot more at sea on the easiest Medium songs than I did on the hardest Easy songs. Also, I’m super glad that I’d started training myself to not look at my left hand, otherwise Medium would have been even worse. (And I’m also glad to have built up calluses, they’re definitely helping a lot.)

Fortunately, Medium is also significantly more interesting than Easy! Even with the easiest songs (I’ve only done six songs so far, though I have gone through all of the Medium lessons), I’m having to go through them several times, but it’s worth it: I’m enjoying the process of understanding the chord progressions and getting to where I can play them with some small, I hesitate to say competence, but perhaps a small lack of total incompetence?

In fact, saying that “I’m having to go through them several times” is not accurate: I’m generally not failing out, and I’m (barely) managing three stars on the songs during my first try; it’s just that I don’t feel at all satisfied with the way I play a new song the first time. (At the very least, I don’t feel satisfied with the way I play the first half of it: sometimes I learn the chord progressions well enough to do okay in the second half.) So I dive right back into it, playing it another time or two until I don’t feel actively embarrassed. I’m getting the same sort of pleasure as I was from working out bits in my Pro Keys playthrough, though I’m not applying nearly the same standards: my goals now are not to do a great job, they’re to do well enough that I’ll be able to make it through all the songs on Medium and be prepared for Hard when the time comes for that.

Though I am toying with the idea of trying to do Medium and Hard in parallel to some extent: playing two note chords feels a little odd, and is probably building up some bad habits. I don’t have to actually play barre chords, for example; sometimes I try (and generally fail to hold down all the strings), but sometimes I don’t, even when that’s clearly what’s going on. So maybe I should try harder to make my fingering more realistic; but maybe that would be an easier habit to maintain if I had to play more than two strings? (Probably not, I’d probably just end up even more at sea.)

Coming from a piano background, it’s also a little weird that a given interval doesn’t correspond to a fixed distance between fingers of my left hand. I had to deal with that a little bit on Easy, but it’s much more of an issue when I’m sliding up and down with chords.

The Medium lessons had some bits where you were playing bass lines, and those were quite fun in a different way. So I’ll probably want to give Pro Bass a try at some point, either after Pro Guitar or as a break from it, if some of the difficulty jumps end up a bit daunting.

It’ll definitely be slower going on Medium than it was on Easy. The half a tier this week was an aberration caused by going through training, and if I’d had a bit more free time, finishing it would have been fine, so hopefully next week I’ll be able to finish a tier and a half. Maybe not, though, and in general one tier a week seems more realistic than anything more strenuous; if the difficulty curve is steep enough on Medium, and in particular if they throw enough more hand positions at me during the harder songs, then even that could be optimistic. Maybe not, though: maybe there’s only a small fixed set of hand positions that I’ll see during Medium. If that’s the case, I hope I’ll be able to make steady, if not particularly rapid, progress through it.

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VGHVI Minecraft: March 31, 2011

Apr 03 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

We’re planning to do VGHVI Minecraft sessions on the last Thursday of every month, which means that we had one on March 31st.

I spent most of my time experimenting with minecart boosts: I removed the circular boosts we’d had earlier (since they can apparently cause lag in multiplayer), and put in some boosts that looked like this:

One of the new boosters I added

They worked great: two of them provided enough power for a cart to traverse all of the existing track, including going up some hills. So I decided to keep going; rather than extend in the same direction, though, I thought I’d start looping back, maybe ending up at the temple from a different direction? I made a left turn, which led me into a mountain: it was a lot longer than I expected, but I tunneled through all of that, and fortunately no boosts were necessary in the middle.

The tunnel through the mountain

After that, I added another boost and then turned left, hoping I was close to the temple. That took me through some treetops:

Tracks across snowy treetops

Eventually, after adding another boost, I stopped; I’ll probably continue eventually, but as is the tracks are more than long enough for an entertaining ride. Here’s me giving Roger a push to make it to the first booster:

Giving Roger a push

Looking around, there are some familiar bits near the end of the tracks: here’s a view of the super tree at night, and of one of the new towers that I’ll talk about more in a sec.

The super tree at night

One of the new towers

A postscript on the train tracks: later in the evening, Jonathan helpfully popped out of nowhere, offering to give me a push. And, as one might expect from previous months, this offer turned out to not come without strings: the other end of the tracks had received a slight alteration.

A bend in the tracks, leading down to lava

Pretty awesome.

Leo built a nether portal, placing it right next to the statue that Nelson had created a few months ago.

A nether portal

Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything! (A pity, I’ve never been to the nether in person.) Talking it over, I remembered that I hadn’t turned on the nether in the server options; fortunately, somebody said that he’d heard that it didn’t work well and suggested I should make a backup, because when I turned it on and restarted, it was a complete failure: there was no world at all (not even the non-nether world from before), just us standing on bedrock. Oops. So I reverted to the snapshot I’d made, and we continued.

Back to those columns: several people decided to build some columns going all the way up to the top of the sky, with glass bridges between them. There was one tower picture earlier, here are a few more.

Looking up at a tower and skybridges

The entrance at the base of one of the towers

Up on one of the skybridges

Looking down at the temple complex from a skybridge

The plan was to have four pillars, surrounding the temple from a distance. I’m not sure whether we completed all of it this week, but you can see much of the scope of what was planned in that last picture. Here’s a picture of Pat working on one of them, and a view from the ground next to the temple.

Tower construction in progress

A view of some of the towers from the temple

Miranda built a house next to the temple: here’s an outside view and a view of the crops that she planted on its roof.

House next to the temple

Crops on top of the temple house

And Garenas built a bathhouse over closer to the spawn point: here are some pictures of that.

One of the bathhouse rooms

Columns (lockers?) inside the bathouse

One of the baths

The builder of the bathhouse

The entrance to the bathhouse

Lots of fun, and I continue to be amazed at the different projects we come up with (and carry out!) each month. If we follow our schedule, the next VGHVI Minecraft session will be on April 28th; subscribe to the VGHVI blog if you want to know for sure.

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