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After 16 years of freeware, Dwarf Fortress creators get their $7M payday

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Screen from Dwarf Fortress Steam release

Enlarge / The quirky work of two brothers' lives has found a wider audience on Steam and Itchi.io, and now they have some breathing room. (credit: Bay 12 Games)

The month before Dwarf Fortress was released on Steam (and Itch.io), the brothers Zach and Tarn Adams made $15,635 in revenue, mostly from donations for their 16-year freeware project. The month after the game's commercial debut, they made $7,230,123, or 462 times that amount.

"The fairytale ending is reality, but you didn't kiss the toad," Zach Adams wrote on Bay 12 Games' forums. "You gave him money." He went on to write the kind of grateful response to fans you don't often see from game developers:

The appreciation you give us is part of our being now. It carries us in the cars we drive. It sustains us as the food that we eat. There is now no longer any existence except the one that you have provided. When we pass from this world, you will be the reason we are remembered.

Tarn Adams noted that "a little less than half will go to taxes," and that other people and expenses must be paid. But enough of it will reach the brothers themselves that "we've solved the main issues of health/retirement that are troubling for independent people." It also means that Putnam, a longtime modder and scripter and community member, can continue their work on the Dwarf Fortress code base, having been hired in December.

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Manzabar
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Let this Minimal Desktop Weather Display Point the Way

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A desktop weather display, with two yellow pointers, one for the time frame (Now, 3hr, 6hr, 12hr, 24hr, 48hr) and the other pointing to an iconographic description of the weather (sunny, cloudy, cloud with rain, cloud with lightning, snowflake and fog)

Much of the Northern Hemisphere is currently in the middle of winter, so what better way to brighten a potentially gloomy day than to put this charming, minimalist weather display on your desk.

[Joe] has created a weather gauge that uses two servo motors to position mechanical pointers to indicate weather symbols and time ranges. The electronics consists of a push button and two SG90 servos driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero W 2. The case is 3D printed including the pointers attached to the servos and the button brim of the switch. The Raspberry Pi Zero W 2 is programmed to automatically connect to the OpenWeather API to retrieve the latest weather conditions, with the latitude and longitude being configured into the update script during the configuration and assembly stages.

[Joe] has provided extensive documentation about the build and software setup, in addition to releasing the source code and STL files for anyone wanting to make their own. [Joe] even offers kits for those who don’t want to go through the trouble of putting one together themselves — not that we imagine many in this particular audience would fall into that category.

We love to see these delightful weather builds and we’ve featured others in the past, like a converted weather house for weather prediction or a weather reporting diorama.

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Manzabar
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Federal Court Says Election Disinformation Isn’t Protected Speech

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This is some bad looking precedent here. Everyone is right to be concerned about election disinformation, especially if that disinformation is intended to keep certain people from voting, but historically, it has been public officials facing criminal charges for voter suppression, rather than toxic Twitter trolls.

And Douglas Mackey, known as “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, is definitely toxic. He and his followers created social media campaigns during the 2016 election that attempted to dupe people (Hillary Clinton voters, specifically) into casting their votes via text message or social media posts, hoping to steer them away from venues where votes could actually be cast.

For that, Mackey was arrested and charged by the DOJ. Even the DOJ admitted this prosecution was novel: the first time a person had been criminally charged with election interference for trolling people on social media. According to the DOJ, Mackey’s efforts resulted in “4,900 unique phone numbers” attempting to vote by phone.

That’s pretty disturbing, if true. But is it actually a criminal act? Misleading people during election season is the national pastime, one often enjoyed by political candidates. The federal court handling this case says that something often considered to be nothing more than noxious speech — something often successfully countered with more speech — is actually a criminal act. (h/t Paul Seamus Ryan)

The decision [PDF] goes through a lot of legal paperwork before arriving at this conclusion, starting out with the question of venue. The court says that because tweets can be received nearly anywhere, the venue is proper, even though Mackey resides in the Southern District of New York, rather than in the Eastern District, where the prosecution is being brought.

Defendant Mackey argues in his reply brief that because the Government has not presented past cases where criminal venue was established by Tweets, communications using Twitter cannot properly support a finding of venue. (Reply at 2.) So narrow a reading of the relevant case law would ignore the interpretative dynamism necessitated by the rapid technological change of our era. As more and more Americans choose to communicate via Twitter and other messaging platforms rather than by phone or email, the judiciary’s understanding of how continuing crimes can be committed through electronic communications must keep pace and evolve. Although the cases discussed above did not deal directly with communications via Twitter, the Second Circuit’s cases on phone calls, emails, text messages, faxes, chat room messages, and wire transfers as overt acts illustrate that the government can establish venue where such electronic communications were sent to or received by individuals in the venue district. Tweets are themselves electronic communications, so the Government may establish venue based on where Tweets are foreseeably received.

The court then handles Mackey’s argument that he wasn’t “fairly warned” that attempting to deter voting by deception was a criminal act, something that violates his due process rights. It’s an important question to raise, since it deals with criminal intent — something that’s essential to criminal conspiracy charges. Here’s where things start looking pretty dicey. The court cites plenty of precedent, but none appears to be on point. Almost all of it deals with politicians, election officials, and others directly involved in tallying votes engaging in criminal acts of voter suppression. There are also several cases where voters engaged in voter fraud by stuffing ballot boxes, forging ballots, and “incorrectly filling out ballots on behalf of illiterate voters.” Almost every case deals with direct interaction with the ballot system, rather than someone just telling voters something that wasn’t true.

This is all fine, says the court. The law can be read to cover Mackey’s acts, and that’s how it’s going to be read by this court.

Defendant Mackey is correct that many–but not all–of the cases above pertain to physical acts such as stuffing a ballot box or counting fraudulent votes. These cases did not, however, rely on the physicality of the acts to reach their holdings. Indeed, many of those cases raised a similar question to the one before the court: whether the statute was “sufficiently broad in its scope to include the offense” charged. Foss v. United States., 266 F. 881, 882 (9th Cir. 1920). Not once has a federal court’s response to that question been defined by the offense’s corporeal tangibility. See e.g., Saylor, 322 U.S. at 388 (deciding that the statute included the charged offense based solely because there was a conspiracy “directed at the personal right of the elector to cast his own vote and to have it honestly counted”). Nor does the statute or the case law offer any reason why a court would rely on that fact.

Maybe the court feels this way, but it’s unclear whether Mackey truly thought he was engaging in a criminal act. Perhaps he might not have engaged in this expansive trolling effort if he thought it was actually a crime, rather than just a supremely shitty thing to do. Plenty of voter-related trolling occurred during the run-up to the election, with social media users deliberately misinforming others about voting dates, the legitimacy of absentee ballots, locations of ballot drop-off points, etc. But it appears Mackey (and some co-conspirators) are the only ones to be criminally charged for engaging in this heinous form of speech.

Mackey’s First Amendment challenge to the application of the law in this way is also dismissed by the federal court. The court says that the First Amendment does protect political speech, but this speech wasn’t political. It was deception intended to deter certain people from casting their votes.

The instant application of Section 241 does not attempt to regulate speech about the substance of what is on the ballot. Instead, it attempts to protect access to the ballot.

While it is possible that regulation of election misinformation or disinformation could, under other circumstances, be unconstitutional as impermissible proscriptions of political speech, this prosecution targets “speech that harms the election process,” rather than speech about a candidate or a candidate’s views. […] If Defendant Mackey had tweeted false statements about Hillary Clinton’s policy positions, for instance, a different analysis would be necessary. But the issue at bar is whether Tweets telling one candidate’s supporters that they can vote by text or Tweet, therefore making “false statements about election procedures, such as the day the election will be held, the proper place to cast one’s vote, or voting requirements” are proscribable utterances.

The courts sums things up by saying it’s a good law (even though it’s never been used this way before) and it’s fine that the government is using it this way, even though it had other ways of countering Mackey’s deceptive speech.

This compelling interest undoubtedly includes making sure voters have accurate information about how, when, and where to vote. Prosecutions such as the one before this court are one of the few tools at the Government’s disposal for doing so. Counter speech, a typical mode of countering false speech, is unlikely to be of much use in the context of tweets spread across the far reaches of the internet in the days and hours immediately preceding an election.

Yes, it’s true that counter speech during the “days and hours immediately preceding an election” would be of limited utility. But the standard isn’t what works best for the government. An arrest that took place more than four years after the alleged crime was committed isn’t exactly a timely response either. And it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on election disinformation unless the government is willing to treat everyone who engages in this form of speech the same way. Selective prosecution isn’t an effective deterrent. It tends to make people more skeptical of the government and less likely to believe these criminal charges aren’t politically motivated.

A jury may find the government’s acts and this apparent incursion into protected speech too problematic to deliver a guilty verdict. But until it’s in the jury’s hands, certain election disinformation — if disseminated by certain people — is apparently a criminal offense. When something is this vague and selective, it’s not a deterrent. It’s a chilling effect, which is suppression of free speech. And this court, unfortunately, seems fine with that.

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‘Mean-spirited’ bill restricting how teachers can support transgender students moves quickly through Iowa House

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A participant in the 2022 Iowa City Pride Parade holds a “Protect Trans Youth” sign. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

On Tuesday afternoon, the three members of an Iowa House subcommittee listened to an hour of testimony on HF 9, a bill aimed at preventing teachers and other school staff from acknowledging the identities of transgender students unless they first receive parental permission to do so.

With only a few exceptions, the speakers testified strongly against the bill. They explained how it would put vulnerable students at risk. How lack of support puts transgender kids at heightened risk of suicide and substance abuse. How parents who reject those students can become violent, or force them to leave home. And how the bill would rupture the bond of trust that schools try to develop between students and teacher, so students feel free to discuss difficult issues with a trusted adult. None of these things are controversial — all are well-attested to by decades of study — and some pointed out that the bill likely violates existing Iowa laws against discrimination in education and Title IX of the federal code.

But none of that was apparently what Rep. Skyler Wheeler, the subcommittee chair, heard on Tuesday afternoon.

“[W]hat I’ve heard today from those opposing the bill– this is [sic] your words, ‘Parents are evil’ That’s literally what you guys were saying,” Wheeler, a Republican from Hull, said at the end of the hearing. “‘Parents are evil, parents don’t know what’s best for their kids.’ That’s what was said to us today.”

No one at the hearing said that.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange County. — State of Iowa

“I cannot believe in the state of Iowa we have people saying that parents are going to abuse and hurt their kids, because they find something out at school,” Wheeler continued. “If they do, the law already applies to that, they don’t get away with that.”

In 2018, Wheeler told Little Village, “My worldview begins with the Bible and taking it in its literal form.” He went on to describe how that influences his work as a member of the Iowa House.

“As a state legislator, I will use the Bible as my starting point for making decisions on what legislation I should support and which I should oppose,” Wheeler explained.

Wheeler, who works part-time at a faith-based organization that supports people with disabilities and serves as the baseball coach at a Christian high school, is not a fringe figure in the Iowa Legislature. He is the chair of the House Education Committee, and was one of the Republicans leaders who pushed through the ban on transgender girls playing school sports.

According to the text of HF 9, it “prohibits school districts and charter schools from facilitating any accommodation that is intended to affirm a student’s gender identity, if that gender identity is different than the sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate, without the written consent of the student’s parent or guardian.”

“In a perfect world this topic wouldn’t even be an issue,” Lisa Stone, a teacher and the parent of a transgender child, told the subcommittee. “All kids would grow up in a safe and nurturing home, with supportive and loving parents. They wouldn’t be afraid to talk with their parents about anything.”

“But this isn’t a perfect world, and some kids fear their parents.”

Several teachers, representatives from Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the School Administrators of Iowa and Rural Schools Advocates of Iowa all testified against the bill, as did several parents and a transgender student.

Leslie Carpenter of Iowa Mental Health Advocacy also testified against the bill.

“Even just writing this bill, and having it listed on [the legislature’s] website, is something that is putting children at risk,” Carpenter said.

She explained, “I’m opposed to this bill because not every family is going to welcome the information that their child might be considering themselves to be of a different gender. Unfortunately, not all families are safe families.”

The only professional educator who spoke in favor of the bill was Patty Alexander, a retired teacher.

“It has never, never been my practice to keep secrets from parents,” Alexander said. Other bill proponents also characterized teachers not informing parents about confidential conversations with students on gender identity as an illegitimate form of “keeping secrets.”

Alexander, who unsuccessfully ran for the Indianola school board two years ago, is a familiar speaker in the Iowa State Capitol, having testified in favor of other conservative bills on education. Earlier this year, she spoke in favor of Gov. Reynolds’ school voucher bill, denouncing the public school system as an unhealthy “monopoly.”

“Public education has become socially destructive, ruled by selfish elitists that do not care about our family values or our society in general,” she told lawmakers last month in support of the voucher bill.

Alexander was more restrained in her testimony on Tuesday, telling the subcommittee that only parents are responsible for their children, not teacher or other school officials.

After the testimony concluded and subcommittee members had a chance to speak, Rep. Sharon Steckman, the subcommittee’s sole Democrat, called HF 9 “a mean-spirited bill.”

“It’s going after a vulnerable, tiny part of our community that needs our help,” Steckman, a retired educator, said.

“Iowa used to be the leader in progressive thinking about helping people, and it seems like we’re following the national ALEC path of going after vulnerable kids, transgender kids, LGTBQ. We’re following that same path of other states, vilifying these students.”

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. It prepares model legislation to advance conservative causes, which it provides to state lawmakers along with advice and training on how to enact its proposed bills.

As chair of the subcommittee, Skylar Wheeler had the final comments of the afternoon.

“This bill came to us from parents,” he said. “Parents are fired up across the state, they’re not happy about some of the things that they have seen taking place in local schools.”

Wheeler cited, and mischaracterized, the Linn-Mar Community School District policies on supporting students on matters of gender identity, calling it “probably one of the biggest pieces of trash I have ever seen in my life.”

Wheeler made it clear that the opposition to the bill was futile given the Republican majority in the House.

“We’re going to pass this bill, and it’s going to get to the governor’s desk,” he said firmly.

Wheeler and his fellow Republican, Rep. Brooke Boden, voted to advance the bill. Steckman voted against it.

In an unusual move this early in the legislative session, the House Education Committee took up HF 9 just hours after the subcommittee approved it. On Tuesday evening, the bill was approved, with all the committee’s Republicans voting for it, and all its Democrats opposing it.

HF 9 now goes to the full Iowa House for a vote.

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New wind, solar are cheaper than costs to operate all but one US coal plant

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Coal plant

Enlarge / A train carrying cars loaded with coal leaving a nearby coal mine is seen in front of Dry Fork Station, a coal-fired power plant operated by Basin Electric Power Cooperative, on Monday May 8, 2017, in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A coal-fired plant near Gillette, Wyoming, stands alone in the nation on one measure of economic viability—a positive distinction for that plant, but a damning one for coal-fired electricity in general.

Dry Fork Station, with generating capacity of 405 megawatts, is the only coal plant in the country that costs less to operate than it would take to replace the plant’s output by building new wind or solar plants in the same communities or regions, according to a new report issued today by the think tank Energy Innovation.

The report joins prior editions in 2019 and 2021 that, when viewed together, show how the economics of coal power are deteriorating. In 2019, the authors found that more than 70 percent of coal plants were more expensive to operate compared to the alternative of building new wind or solar. That share has now grown to 99 percent, with only the plant in Wyoming stopping it from being 100 percent.

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Unofficial Link to the Past PC port is a reverse-engineered gem

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Zelda running on a Windows PC window with a file directory next to it.

Enlarge / Among the many upgrades made possible by this project, A Link to the Past is now a game you can Alt+Tab out of when a supervisor comes near. (credit: Nintendo / Kevin Purdy)

It's a sad reality among retro emulation enthusiasts: You often spend far more time crafting your perfect setup than playing the games. You get your controller, linear filtering, sound engine, and everything else just right, and then you discover that your favorite game of yesteryear is far slower and more annoying than you remember.

That's why the hard work of reverse engineers is so valuable. Hobbyist decompilers have worked to turn ROM binaries into thousands of lines of human-readable code, allowing for far deeper audiovisual upgrades, features, and other tweaks. It has resulted in some impressive new takes on games, including Ocarina of Time, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Grand Theft Auto. And unlike many fan-based projects, reverse engineering generally passes legal muster as long as no copyrighted assets are distributed along with the decompiled code.

And they often far outshine game publishers' official offerings, which usually amount to little more than officially licensed, lightly tweaked emulation.

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