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Industry & Technology

Real Genius turns 35—celebrating this cult classic is a moral imperative

Ars Technica - 7 hours 13 min ago

Enlarge / Mitch (Gabriel Jarret) and Chris (Val Kilmer) play young science whizzes trying to build a 5-kilowatt laser in the 1985 film Real Genius. (credit: TriStar Pictures)

Back to the Future justly dominated the summer box office in 1985, but it's too bad its massive success overshadowed another nerd-friendly gem, Real Genius, which debuted one month later, on August 9. Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, the film remains one of the most charming, winsome depictions of super-smart science whizzes idealistically hoping to change the world for the better with their work. It also boasts a lot of reasonably accurate science—a rare occurrence at the time.

Real Genius came out the same year as the similarly themed films Weird Science—which spawned a 1990s TV sitcom—and My Science Project, because 1980s Hollywood tended to do things in threes. But I'd argue that Real Genius has better stood the test of time, despite being so quintessentially an '80s film—right down to the many montages set to electronic/synth-pop chart-toppers. The film only grossed $12.9 million domestically against its $8 million budget, compared to $23.8 million domestically for its fellow cult classic, Weird Science. (My Science Project bombed with a paltry $4.1 million.) Reviews were mostly positive, however, and over time it became a sleeper hit via VHS, and later, DVD and streaming platforms.

(Spoilers for the 35-year-old film below.)

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Three algorithm-less streaming sites revive the wacky Web from days of yore

Ars Technica - 7 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / An average performance you can expect to see, and participate in, at Internet Temple. Co-creator Clayton Collins is in the center frame, performing as his alter-ego Long Distance Husband. (credit: Internet Temple)

In early May, I needed a change of pace from my usual YouTube rabbit holes, having gone down a few of those during months of quarantine. My discovery of Internet Temple almost felt like finding a good bar or music venue; instead of being served content by a video platform’s algorithm, I had to know someone, get a tip, and type an entire URL.

The Temple made a blunt entrance on my browsing tab with little more than a cropped YouTube embed and a chat box with no scrolling feature. And then it got weird.

I witnessed a startling musical performance drenched in autotune (the laughs between songs were also autotuned). The singer wore snowman print boxers, an oversized sweater featuring abstract humanoid images, and a hat reading "WWW DOT COM MY ASS." He danced with three stuffed sheep in his hands, while behind him, a green screen was flooded with imagery chosen by audience members. They had selected images of Shrek and Unicode shrimp emojis.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Chinese hackers have pillaged Taiwan’s semiconductor industry

Ars Technica - 9 hours 47 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Taiwan has faced existential conflict with China for its entire existence and has been targeted by China's state-sponsored hackers for years. But an investigation by one Taiwanese security firm has revealed just how deeply a single group of Chinese hackers was able to penetrate an industry at the core of the Taiwanese economy, pillaging practically its entire semiconductor industry.

At the Black Hat security conference today, researchers from the Taiwanese cybersecurity firm CyCraft plan to present new details of a hacking campaign that compromised at least seven Taiwanese chip firms over the past two years. The series of deep intrusions—called Operation Skeleton Key due to the attackers' use of a "skeleton key injector" technique—appeared aimed at stealing as much intellectual property as possible, including source code, software development kits, and chip designs. And while CyCraft has previously given this group of hackers the name Chimera, the company's new findings include evidence that ties them to mainland China and loosely links them to the notorious Chinese state-sponsored hacker group Winnti, also sometimes known as Barium, or Axiom.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

What's new in Fifa 21?

BBC Technology News - 11 hours 3 sec ago
A new trailer for Fifa 21 reveals new gameplay features. Newsround takes a look at them.

Snapdragon chip flaws put >1 billion Android phones at risk of data theft

Ars Technica - August 8, 2020 - 3:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Qualcomm)

A billion or more Android devices are vulnerable to hacks that can turn them into spying tools by exploiting more than 400 vulnerabilities in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chip, researchers reported this week.

The vulnerabilities can be exploited when a target downloads a video or other content that’s rendered by the chip. Targets can also be attacked by installing malicious apps that require no permissions at all.

From there, attackers can monitor locations and listen to nearby audio in real time and exfiltrate photos and videos. Exploits also make it possible to render the phone completely unresponsive. Infections can be hidden from the operating system in a way that makes disinfecting difficult.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Science, history, and purring cats: Brief podcasts for the nerdy set

Ars Technica - August 8, 2020 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Podcasts with your interests—and attention span—in mind. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

The beauty of the podcast format is also sometimes its curse: arbitrary episode lengths. Finding a new podcast to love can be daunting when episodes regularly exceed the hour-long mark. If you’re struggling to commit to podcasts on topics like history and science, don’t fret: We have recommendations for great series that typically serve complete episodes well under half an hour.

Science Diction

Sometimes the best way to recover from stress is to focus on learning something new. Science Diction helps with this by presenting the etymologies of familiar scientific technical terms alongside bite-sized usage histories of how people engage with science. The episode on "Meme," for example, tells the story of the word's coinage as a parallel to "gene" to show how ideas spread through a culture. Science Diction talks about the spread of "meme" itself, sometimes as a meme, until it became the one of the most common ways to refer to images and jokes passed around on the Internet. An episode titled "Vaccine," meanwhile, teaches us what happens when the public is scared of new science, describing antivax propaganda nearly as old as the first vaccines themselves.

Science Diction releases episodes monthly, and it only started this year, so many of its episodes are about concepts related to COVID-19. Even if you’re fatigued by that topic, I still recommend this podcast as a refreshing, historical overview of similar stories, told in a laid-back way.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

COVID-19 won’t impact climate much, but economic recovery could

Ars Technica - August 8, 2020 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / India saw a notable decline in aerosol pollution in April. (credit: NASA EO)

Given the radical changes people have undertaken to limit the spread of COVID-19 (hello month six of quarantine-except-for-groceries), many have naturally wondered what impact this has had on pollution, including greenhouse gases and climate change. Some short-lived pollutants dropped noticeably during the strong lockdowns of April, as businesses shuttered and travel was reduced. But CO2 levels don't fluctuate based on short-term events like that, so the long-term effect on climate change was expected to be trivially small—assuming economies rebounded fairly quickly.

A new study led by the University of Leeds’ Piers Forster (and his daughter Harriet) takes advantage of phone location data to re-examine the first six months of the year, tracking more than just CO2. While they ultimately find that the impact has been small, their results also highlight that the way economies choose to rebound could have a much bigger effect over the long term.

The work relies on mobility data made public by Google and Apple, covering 114 countries. Using that along with energy and emissions datasets, the researchers converted behavior changes into pollution changes. The phone data records changes in transportation use quite well, although purported changes in activity between residential, commercial, and industrial settings are harder to relate to energy. The researchers compared the changes they saw in their phone data to a May study that estimated April emissions using things like utility data. They found their phone-based estimate of home energy use probably overestimates the real change.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The quest to liberate $300,000 of bitcoin from an old ZIP file

Ars Technica - August 8, 2020 - 12:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

In October, Michael Stay got a weird message on LinkedIn. A total stranger had lost access to his bitcoin private keys—and wanted Stay's help getting his $300,000 back.

It wasn't a total surprise that The Guy, as Stay calls him, had found the former Google security engineer. Nineteen years ago, Stay published a paper detailing a technique for breaking into encrypted zip files. The Guy had bought around $10,000 worth of bitcoin in January 2016, well before the boom. He had encrypted the private keys in a zip file and had forgotten the password. He was hoping Stay could help him break in.

In a talk at the Defcon security conference this week, Stay details the epic attempt that ensued.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Bill Gates on COVID-19: Most US tests are “completely garbage”

Ars Technica - August 8, 2020 - 12:05pm

Enlarge / Despite trillions of dollars of economic damage, Bill Gates is optimistic that a strong pipeline of therapies and vaccines will carry the US through the pandemic. (credit: Jeff Pachoud | Getty Images)

For 20 years Bill Gates has been easing out of the roles that made him rich and famous—CEO, chief software architect, and chair of Microsoft—and devoting his brain power and passion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, abandoning earnings calls and antitrust hearings for the metrics of disease eradication and carbon reduction. This year, after he left the Microsoft board, one would have thought he would have relished shedding the spotlight directed at the four CEOs of big tech companies called before Congress.

But as with many of us, 2020 had different plans for Gates. An early Cassandra who warnedof our lack of preparedness for a global pandemic, he became one of the most credible figures as his foundation made huge investments in vaccines, treatments, and testing. He also became a target of the plague of misinformation afoot in the land, as logorrheic critics accused him of planning to inject microchips in vaccine recipients. (Fact check: false. In case you were wondering.)

My first interview with Gates was in 1983, and I’ve long lost count of how many times I’ve spoken to him since. He’s yelled at me (more in the earlier years) and made me laugh (more in the latter years). But I’ve never looked forward to speaking to him more than in our year of Covid. We connected on Wednesday, remotely of course. In discussing our country’s failed responses, his issues with his friend Mark Zuckerberg’s social networks, and the innovations that might help us out of this mess, Gates did not disappoint. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read 51 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Gigabit broadband: Rural households urged to claim upgrade cash

BBC Technology News - August 8, 2020 - 12:50am
The government's gigabit voucher scheme has £70m available to poorly served communities.

Screen-time messages designed to decrease phone use

BBC Technology News - August 8, 2020 - 12:06am
A new project encourages adults to communicate more with their kids and focus less on their devices.

In a consequential decision, Air Force picks its rockets for mid-2020s launches

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 11:46pm

Enlarge / Artist's rendering of a Vulcan-Centaur rocket launch. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

On Friday afternoon, the US Air Force answered one of the big questions that had been hanging over the US launch industry for more than a year: which two companies will be selected to compete for national security launch contracts from 2022 to 2026?

During a video call with reporters, William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said that United Launch Alliance will receive approximately 60 percent of the launch orders and SpaceX will receive the other 40 percent. Two other bidders, Northrop Grumman with its Omega rocket, and Blue Origin with its New Glenn vehicle, will not receive awards.

"The ability to meet our technical factors to do the mission is the most important thing," Roper said, in response to a question on the Air Force criteria. Secondary factors included past performance, the ability to work with small businesses, and total evaluated price. The military has nine reference orbits for large and complex payloads that these rockets must meet.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Appeals court rules 10¢-a-page charge for court documents is too high

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 10:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

A federal appeals court has ruled that the federal judiciary has been overcharging thousands of users for access to public court records. PACER, short for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is an online system that allows members of the public (including Ars Technica reporters) to download documents related to almost any federal court case. For PDF documents, the site charges 10 cents per page—a figure far above the costs of running the system.

In 2016, three nonprofit organizations sued the judiciary itself over the issue. The class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of almost everyone who pays PACER fees, argued that the courts were only allowed to charge enough to offset the costs of running PACER. Over the last 15 years, as storage and bandwidth costs fell, the courts actually raised PACER fees from 7 cents to 10 cents. The courts used the extra profits to pay for other projects, like installing speakers and displays in courtrooms.

The plaintiffs argued that the courts were only allowed to charge the marginal cost of running PACER—which would be a fraction of the current fees. The government claimed that the law gave the courts broad discretion to decide how much to charge and how to use the money. In a 2018 ruling, a trial court judge charted a middle course. She ruled that some uses of PACER fees had exceeded Congress's mandates. But she didn't go as far as plaintiffs wanted by limiting spending to the operation of the PACER system itself.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Doom Patrol comes back strong with fierce and fun S2

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 9:00pm

Trailer for the second season of Doom Patrol.

Lots of people missed last year's debut of Doom Patrol, a delightfully bonkers show about a "found family" of superhero misfits, because it aired exclusively on the DC Universe streaming service.  Fortunately, S2 also aired on HBO Max, expanding the series' potential audience. Apart from one sub-par episode, this second season expanded on the strengths of the first, with plenty of crazy hijinks, humor, pathos, surprising twists, and WTF moments. Alas, the season finale is bound to frustrate fans, since it ends on a major cliffhanger and leaves multiple dangling narrative threads.

(Spoilers for S1; some S2 spoilers below the gallery.)

As we reported previously, Timothy Dalton plays Niles Caulder, aka The Chief, a medical doctor who saved the lives of the various Doom Patrol members and lets them stay in his mansion. His Manor of Misfits includes Jane, aka Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), whose childhood trauma resulted in 64 distinct personalities, each with its own powers. Rita (April Bowlby), aka Elasti-Woman, is a former actress with stretchy, elastic properties she can't really control, thanks to being exposed to a toxic gas that altered her cellular structure. Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man, is a US Air Force pilot who has a "negative energy entity" inside him and must be swathed in bandages to keep radioactivity from seeping out of his body. (Matt Bomer plays Trainor without the bandages, while Matthew Zuk takes on the bandaged role.)

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Jersey prosecutors drop charges over tweeting a cop’s photo [Updated]

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 8:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Kevin Alfaro / Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

A New Jersey man is facing felony charges for a tweet seeking to identify a police officer. Four others are facing felony charges for retweeting the tweet, the Washington Post reports.

Kevin Alfaro was attending a Black Lives Matter protest in the New York suburb of Nutley, New Jersey in June. He snapped a photo of a masked police officer and tweeted, "If anyone knows who this bitch is throw his info under this tweet."

In a GoFundMe campaign to cover his legal fees, Alfaro explained that he had been "physically threatened" by counter-protesters during the Black Lives Matter demonstration. He was trying to identify an officer who seemed to be friends with one of the counter-protestors, who Alvarao considered a "blatant racist."

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Apple won’t let Stadia or xCloud into iOS, citing App Store guidelines

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 8:24pm

Enlarge / Androids only. (credit: Microsoft)

Cloud gaming is increasingly becoming a thing, one that lets you play AAA games on a device regardless of the hardware specs. If your device can stream a video, it can probably play Red Dead Redemption on Google Stadia or Halo on Microsoft's xCloud (which is now technically called "Cloud gaming (Beta) with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate"). If your device is an iPhone or iPad, though, you're out of luck. Apple says these apps violate its App Store policies and will not be allowed into Apple's walled garden.

Apple sent a statement to Business Insider:

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

Apple's App Store pitch is that it has real, live humans personally review each app for safety and quality, giving users a single, trusted place to get all their apps. Apple wants to approve these games individually and let users rate them individually through the App Store. The guidelines Apple cites flatly ban showing "store-like interfaces" on a remote computer and "thin clients for cloud-based apps," which Stadia and xCloud both run afoul of.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mass hijacking spree takes over subreddits to promote Donald Trump

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 8:05pm

Enlarge

Dozens of discussion groups on Reddit—including those dedicated to the National Football League, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Gorillaz—were hit in a Friday morning mass takeover spree that used the subreddits to spread messages promoting President Trump.

The hijacked accounts had tens of millions of combined members. The 148,000-member subreddit Supernatural, dedicated to the TV show by the same name, was emblazoned with pro-Trump images and slogans. Reddit personnel have since restored the moderator account to its rightful owner. The image above is how the subreddit appeared when the takeover was still active. The takeovers came five weeks after Reddit banned /r/The_Donald, a leading forum for fans of the president, and hundreds of other unrelated subreddits for violating recently rewritten content rules.

Reddit personnel published this post captioned, "Ongoing incident with compromised mod accounts." Reddit personnel then warned that moderator accounts were being compromised and used to vandalize subreddits. It asked moderators of affected subreddits to report them in responses. At the time this post when live, the list of reported subreddits included:

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

What is Tencent?

BBC Technology News - August 7, 2020 - 6:50pm
The Chinese firm's investments include Fortnite, Tesla and Universal Music - but it's under fire in the US.

Trump declares TikTok, WeChat “national emergency,” preps bans

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 6:12pm

Enlarge / If the Trump administration has its way, these logos will be scarce inside the US in a few weeks. (credit: Ivan Abreu | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

The White House's campaign against the China-based developers of popular apps escalated dramatically in the last day, as President Donald Trump declared both TikTok and WeChat to be national emergencies and said the administration will ban or curtail their operations in September.

Trump late Thursday signed a pair of very similar executive orders "addressing the threat" allegedly posed by TikTok and WeChat.

"The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," both orders read. "The United States must take aggressive action against the owners" of the apps "to protect our national security."

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HS suspends teen who tweeted photo of hallway packed with maskless students

Ars Technica - August 7, 2020 - 5:14pm

Enlarge / Photo from North Paulding High School, tweeted by student Hannah Watters on Tuesday. (credit: Hannah Watters)

A 15-year-old high school student who posted a viral photo of a crowded school hallway says the school suspended her for five days for allegedly violating a social-media policy. But the school has since backed down and lifted the suspension.

Hannah Watters, a student at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, posted a photo to Twitter on Tuesday, noting the "jammed" hallways and "10 percent mask rate." Her tweet received 1,800 retweets and 4,500 likes. She also posted a 10-second video of a hallway at the 2,000-student school and says she was suspended around noon the next day.

This is what it looks like even with split dismissal. pic.twitter.com/erCA2lhOUb

— hannah (@ihateiceman) August 4, 2020

"The policies I broke stated that I used my phone in the hallway without permission, used my phone for social media, and posting pictures of minors without consent," Watters said, according to a BuzzFeed article. Watters called her actions "good and necessary trouble"—an apparent reference to a John Lewis quote—saying she is worried about the safety of students, faculty, and staff as the school reopens despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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