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February 2020
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Game Jam Winner Spotlight: Legends of Charlemagne

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Last week, we featured Hot Water in the first Winner Spotlight from our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It's 1924. This week, we're taking a closer look at the winner of the Best Deep Cut category, reserved for games that used 1924 material that doesn't appear on the popular lists of works entering the public domain this year. Abelardsnazz snagged the prize this year with the beautiful deck-building card game Legends of Charlemagne.What's the "deep cut" that pushed this game into the winner's circle? A collection of amazing public domain paintings by N. C. Wyeth, primarily from a 1924 edition of Thomas Bulfinch's book that shares the game's name, Legends of Charlemagne. This collection of legends, more commonly published today as one third of Bulfinch's Mythology, was originally written in 1863 and has been republished many times over the years, but the illustrated edition from 1924 contained this complement of then-new artwork that is easily missed by people searching for things that have just entered the public domain. The paintings are prime specimens of the work of Wyeth, who was a prolific and unique artist in the early 20th century with over 3000 paintings to his name, and is known especially for his work for books, magazines and advertising, perhaps most notably the Scribner Classics series. His illustrations for Bulfinch are classic examples of his realist style, and boy do they ever make for some nice looking cards.

It's especially cool how this material turns the game into a link in a public domain chain: an adaptation of newly-copyright-free paintings that were themselves originally created to breathe new life into a classic work that was itself outside copyright, which was itself originally based on popular mythology and old stories with their origins lost to history. (Of course, it also really highlights how long copyright terms have gotten, with these paintings made for a then-60-year-old work being protected for nearly a hundred years before entering the public domain last month.) And as you can see, the designer didn't solely lean on Wyeth's eye-catching work: the cards themselves are perfectly designed to incorporate the paintings and bolster their aesthetic, resulting in a game that looks so professional and high-quality you can immediately picture it as a printed and packaged product in its current form.The game itself is a straightforward, well-designed deck builder that will be familiar to a lot of players while still throwing them a few twists and offering plenty of strategic decisions to consider. It's a prototype and a proof of concept, and as such only has a small set of cards for now: this sort of game notoriously requires extensive playtesting and very careful rules calibration to stay playable and balanced as you add options and variety to the deck. But it's a sturdy foundation on which to build a truly great game — perhaps drawing on more work by Wyeth, or even other public domain sources. And for that to happen, people need to play it! So grab a copy, admire the art (there are several more fantastic pieces beyond those featured in this post), and go to battle in the age of Charlemagne.You can download everything you need to play Charlemagne over on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam. And come back next week for the another winner spotlight!

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Feb-2020
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Well Then: Activision Issues DMCA Subpoena To Have Reddit Unmask Whoever Posted That CoD Image Leak

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Well, okay then. We had just been discussing Activision's silly attempt to DMCA to death a leaked image purporting to be the cover art or marketing material for a new Call of Duty game. The whole thing was idiotic in that once word got around that Activision was trying to bury the leak, it immediately caused everyone to think the image was for a real game, rather than some faked pretend leak, which is a thing that sometimes happens. From there, reporting and reproduction of the image in question went mildly viral. In other words, Activision Streisanded the leak it was attempting to bury. Pretty dumb.But it turns out that Activision isn't screwing around. There were some in our comments who posited that perhaps this was some marketing attempt to create virality of the image. That certainly doesn't appear to be the case, as Activision has issued a subpoena to have Reddit unmask the user who posted the image.

In a filing on February 14, 2020 at a California district court, attorneys acting for Activision requested a DMCA subpoena against Reddit.“Petitioner, Activision Publishing, Inc. through its undersigned counsel of record, hereby requests that the Clerk of this Court issue a subpoena to Reddit, Inc. to identify alleged infringers at issue, pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’), 17 U.S.C. § 512(h),” the request reads.“The DMCA Subpoena is directed to Reddit, Inc. Reddit is the service provider to which the subject of the subpoena – Reddit user ‘Assyrian241O’ – posted infringing Activision content.”
At first, it's hard to see how this makes any sense. Yes, it surely must be annoying to a content creator to have any plans for future content to be upended by a leak. On the other hand, first DMCAing that leak in a failed attempt to bury it, and then going to the lengths of unmasking a Reddit poster is surely the nuclear option when it comes to how to handle a leak of game art.Except, it seems, this might not be about the Reddit post itself so much as where the leak originally came from.
Contrary to the initial claim, that the user “found this image online”, he or she later confessed to it being sent to them by an “inside source”. That raises the question of who Activision is more interested in – the Reddit user or the person who sent them the image, possibly from inside Activision or a related company.
In other words, this is all looking like an attempt to unmask the leaker of the image, not the Reddit user. Still, these are extreme lengths to go to combat a leak that would have barely been noticed had Activision not gone into legal rage mode.Instead, the company could have chosen to try to use this all as a marketing opportunity, as comments on the previous post thought they had.

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-Feb-2020
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Russia's War On Encryption Stumbles Forth With Ban Of Tutanota

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The Russian government continues to escalate its war on encrypted services and VPNs. For years now, Putin's government has slowly but surely taken steps to effectively outlaw secure communications, framing the restrictions as essential for national security, with the real goal of making it harder than ever for Russian citizens to dodge the Putin government's ever-expanding surveillance ambitions.The latest case in point: starting last Friday, the Russian government banned access to encrypted email service Tutanota, without bothering to provide the company with much of any meaningful explanation:

In a blog post, the company notes that Tutanota has been blocked in Egypt since October of last year, and that impacted users should attempt to access the service via a VPN or the Tor browser:
"Encrypted communication is a thorn in the side to authoritarian governments like Russia as encryption makes it impossible for security services to eavesdrop on their citizens. The current blocking of Tutanota is an act against encryption and confidential communication in Russia....We condemn the blocking of Tutanota. It is a form of censorship of Russian citizens who are now deprived of yet another secure communication channel online. At Tutanota we fight for our users' right to privacy online, also, and particularly, in authoritarian countries such as Russia and Egypt.
Except VPNs have been under fire in Russia for years as well. Back in 2016 Russia introduced a new surveillance bill promising to deliver greater security to the country. Of course, as with so many similar efforts around the world the bill actually did the exact opposite -- not only mandating new encryption backdoors, but also imposing harsh new data-retention requirements on ISPs and VPN providers forced to now register with the government. As a result, some VPN providers, like Private Internet Access, wound up leaving the country after finding their entire function eroded and having some of their servers seized.Last year Russia upped the ante, demanding that VPN providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, IPVanish, and HideMyAss help block forbidden websites that have been added to Russia's censorship watchlist. And last January, ProtonMail (and ProtonVPN) got caught up in the ban as well after it refused to play the Russian government's registration games. While Russian leaders want the public to believe these efforts are necessary to ensure national security, they're little more than a giant neon sign advertising Russian leaders' immense fear of the Russian public being able to communicate securely.

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-Feb-2020
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The Next Risk In Buying An IOT Product Is Having It Bricked By A Patent Dispute

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In the world of the Internet of Broken Things, there is nothing more impressive to me than the fact that these things actually sell as well as they do. The risks associated with internet-connected devices seem insurmountable, save for the fact that we are all cattle being marched along to the slaughterhouse, our faces as serene as could be. Between companies simply deciding that supporting these products isn't worth it any longer and reducing functionality, firing off firmware updates that simply kill off selling-point features, or leaving security holes wide enough to drive a malicious creepster through, it seems that very little thought goes into the fact that customers are, you know, buying these things. Once that purchase is made, how long that purchase is functional and secure appears to be an afterthought.But the risks apparently don't end there. Let's say you bought an IoBT device. Let's say you enjoyed using it for months, or years. And then let's say that the company you bought it from suddenly got sued for patent infringement, settled with the plaintiff, and part of that settlement is, oops, your shit doesn't work any longer? Well, in that case, you're an owner of a Flywheel home exercise bike, which settled for patent infringement with nevermind-you-already-know-who.

Every morning at 4:30AM, Shani Maxwell would throw on her Flywheel T-shirt and hop on her Fly Anywhere bike. An avid fan who’s been riding with Flywheel since 2013, she’d leapt at the chance to own the company’s branded bike when the company released its Peloton competitor in 2017.So it came as a surprise when she received an email from Peloton, not Flywheel, informing her that her $1,999 bike would no longer function by the end of next month. Flywheel settled a patent dispute with Peloton earlier in February and decided after the lawsuit to discontinue the at-home bike product.“It shocked me,” Maxwell says. “We knew the lawsuit was in progress and we heard the settlement had been reached — we just didn’t realize they would shut down. ”
In fact, I'm sure Maxwell wasn't even aware that it was a possibility that the product she bought just wouldn't work anymore some day. Due to some intellectual property dispute to which she wasn't a party. To be clear, there wasn't any real choice given in any of this, either. The settlement included having Peleton reach out and offer to replace the Flywheel bike with a refurbished Peleton. If the customer didn't want the used Peleton bike, well, they could fuck right off with no recompense.It's important to keep in mind at this point that people paid for these bikes and the service they came with. Paid very real money for a product that, poof, disappeared one day. Most Flywheel customers apparently took the deal with Peleton. After all, the other option sucks out loud. Some of them were quite mad about it.But most? Well, serene-faced cattle marched towards the slaughterhouse.
For Podnos, the Flywheel experience was just another lesson in taking a chance with the Internet of Things. “It’s the risk you take when signing up for a platform that is still in development. It was a risk factor that we weighed from the onset, and were comfortable with,” he said. “I don’t think it will dissuade me from trying new IoT services, but it’s certainly a cautionary tale that consumers should be aware of.”
This is why we can't have nice things. Or things at all, it seems.

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posted at: 12:01am on 21-Feb-2020
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