Like many kids around the world, our kids love Minecraft.

They started out on the xBox. Then they started realizing the YouTube gurus like Stampy (9.3 million subscribers FFS!), Squid and SB_737 were all on the Java edition, added to the fact there's one xBox and 3 boys all wanting to do different things lead to a bit of a conflict.

To resolve the situation we decided we'd buy laptops.

A recent Birthday and Christmas seemed like a good time to sort it out so I bought our older two boys a second hand laptop each.

I think it cost me about £350 for two Thinkpad T440's, core i5 processors and I forget what HD and RAM, not top spec latest stuff, but still respectable machines for under 10 year olds! And certainly great for older kids if you're on a budget and they need a computer to complete school work.

I reinstalled windows to hopefully clear any rubbish that had been installed and set them up with Google and Microsoft accounts for email and Minecraft and installed some Malware scanning software.

Both set up with family parental stuff so I can limit apps, I'd really like them to develop into managing it themselves, but that's perhaps a deeper discussion I can't do justice to here.

Buying those machines I had the naive hope they'd morph into studiously learning to code, maybe getting into some white hat hacking / bug bounty stuff that I would be proud of and engaging in other wonderful tech adventures.

What has actually happened is that they spend as many hours as they possible can on the Hypixel Minecraft servers.

Probably a parenting fail as much as anything that I've got to hold my hands up to. They do occasionally do some stuff on the MIT scratch thing so there's some hope.

I get it.

I've got fairly addicted to daft phone games in the past.

There's some serious intellect applied to most game design to make it addictive.

Way stronger mental-fu than a 9 and 7 year old can be expected to fight, like social media for adults the engagement and likes gives you that hit of dopamine to keep you coming back.

I guess a lot of it comes down to being a part of a team / guild, that feeling of belonging, being one of the insiders, not letting your team mates down - plus the reward of whatever points / status the game uses - which Hypixel does a great job of in it's games.

For us as parents it's a bit of a challenge managing screen time.

It's all smart stuff. One of the best books I've read about it is Hooked but is screen time really that bad?

I kind of know the answer is probably yes, but it's a balance - it's the world we're living in, and the world we're going to be even more immersed in, and it depends what you're doing.

Binging a Netflix series: not great, but a nice mental switch off for us adults. Solving problems online with a geographically diverse group of friends with Discord chat and shared screens: OK ish and probably the world they're going to be working in in the future ... not too bad?

Maybe that's me as a parent making excuses for my failure ... haha ... just going to grab another beer ... and ponder.

Gaming addiction aside, I'm amazed at the quality of ex-corporate type laptops you can get.

For the past few years I've just been buying second hand Thinkpads and installing Ubuntu on them for my main work machine (personally I like the T series - things like this).

I love Thinkpads from my old corporate days, and Ubuntu is a great OS imho - I know there's some Linux fans that would argue there are better versions but it's nice and easy for me as a daily machine to use, and occasionally tinker with some code.

Anyway that's all got into the weeds.

Prior to them finding Hypixel in my happy bubble of raising astute little tech savvy coders,  I set up a nice little home Minecraft server with the dream that we could all log in and play together and perhaps tinker with some Minecraft coding and make some crazy fun mods like Logdotzip which I wanted to document in case it's of use to any other parents out there.

My steps were:

Set up the server:

Buy a cheapo old corporate desktop from eBay. Like one of there Dell Optiplexs almost anything will do but check RAM and HDD specs if you're at all concerned.

Find some good instructions to install Ubuntu Server (there's plenty of other guides out there - essentially you need to create a bootable USB with the operating system on it and then follow the installation instructions)

I created a bootable USB (or I the past I've used this), found an old monitor, keyboard and mouse to get it up and running, and once running did everything else via SSH from my laptop.

Install the Minecraft server software:

There were a couple of articles I read and followed to install the Minecraft software:

Linuxize: How to Install Minecraft Server on Ubuntu 18.04 and

Linode: How to Set Up a Minecraft Server on Ubuntu or Debian I also read this

Gamepedia: Setting up a server

(as an aside I've very tempted to try Linode next time I'm looking for a new or additional VPS - currently using OVH and a couple of others for sites I run, but I seem to keep hearing pretty good stuff about Linode)

That's pretty much it for set up.

It's worth looking at some security for your new server.

Mine is sat in the home network and not open to the world but in case someone got access to your network it's worth securing individual machines. Security in layers and all that.

A few of these steps could help, or I really like the Digital Ocean guides on lots of things. I tend to always at least set up fail2ban, ufw and change some of the standard ports for SSH etc on any new server I set up, but I'm a farmer not a tech admin, so my tech skills aren't something to be looked up to :)

There's plenty of tips available online - back to the Minecraft stuff.

I created a run.sh file to fire up the Minecraft server:

#!/bin/sh
java -Xmx1024M -Xms512M -jar server.1.15.2.jar nogui

I then log into the server via SSH from my laptop - navigate to the minecraft installation folder and run that script with ./run.sh

My laptop is pretty much on all the time so it works fine for us. If you want to be a bit more professional about it the instructions above from Linode explain how to run it without requiring the SSH session to the box.

The only hassle with it has been having to update the software on the server when a new version comes out or the kids want to play the latest snapshot that all their YouTube Minecraft hero's are talking about.

It's a simple wget the latest jar file and change the run.sh script if the name has changed which could be automated with a cronjob and a script to check versions.

It's not something I've bothered doing yet ... so they'll have to wait for me to update or learn to do it themselves.

I think I'll try and write them some instructions about how to SSH, wget and anything else they need and see how they get on ... maybe being self-sufficient with Minecraft updates will ignite the spark that I wanted at the beginning.

Worst case hopefully they only brick a £65 old corporate PC and learn some lessons :)