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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 38 min 50 sec ago

Trump puts 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules

58 min 49 sec ago

Enlarge / Long Island solar farm. (credit: Brookhaven National Lab)

On Monday afternoon, the Trump administration released a fact sheet (PDF) detailing new tariffs on imports, including a tariff schedule for solar cells and modules starting at 30 percent.

The solar tariff determination had been tensely anticipated by the US solar industry, with manufacturers arguing that cheap imports from Asia have harmed their businesses. Solar installers, financiers, and sales people, however, argue that cheap imports have created a bigger boom in employment than manufacturing ever could.

The news is likely a blow to the wider solar industry, although it's not entirely unexpected. Trump has been vocal about his preference for tariffs and has shown little desire to extend a hand out to the solar industry, which is often seen as a competitor with fossil fuels. When the International Trade Commission (ITC) voted in favor of imposing tariffs on solar imports in September, the trade association Solar Energy Industries of America (SEIA) prepared for the worst.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Making tools gives crows a big food boost

1 hour 23 min ago

Enlarge / A crow gets to work manufacturing a tool. (credit: Jolyon Troscianko)

Tool use among animals isn't common, but it is spread widely across our evolutionary tree. Critters from sea otters to cephalopods have been observed using tools in the wild. In most of these instances, however, the animal is simply using something that's found in its environment, rather than crafting a tool specifically for a task. Tool crafting has mostly been seen among primates.

Mostly, but not entirely. One major exception is the New Caledonian crow. To extract food from holes and crevices, these birds use twigs or stems that are found in their environment without modification. In other environments, however, they'll remove branches from plants and carefully strip parts of the plant to leave behind a hooked stick. The behavior takes over a minute, and the crows will typically carry the tool with them when they explore new sites, and they will sometimes store it for future use.

Understanding how this complex behavior came about in crows requires us to understand the evolutionary advantages that might be had from a good tool. A group of researchers, mostly from the University of St. Andrews, has now done just that: the researchers have quantified how tool manufacture influences food harvesting. The results show that the use of bird-crafted tools can increase food extraction by up to 12 times the rate the crows could achieve by using unmodified sticks.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX gets good news from the Air Force on the Zuma mission

January 22, 2018 - 11:29pm

Enlarge / The launch of Zuma was pretty, but the aftermath has been anything but. (credit: SpaceX)

A little more than two weeks have passed since the apparent loss of the highly classified Zuma mission. Since then, SpaceX has publicly and privately stated that its Falcon 9 rocket performed nominally throughout the flight—with both its first and second stages firing as anticipated.

Now, the US Air Force seems to be backing the rocket company up. "Based on the data available, our team did not identify any information that would change SpaceX's Falcon 9 certification status," Lieutenant General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, told Bloomberg News. This qualified conclusion came after a preliminary review of data from the Zuma launch. That's according to Thompson, who said the Air Force will continue to review data from all launches.

However tentative, this statement buttresses the efforts by SpaceX to say that, from its perspective, the mission was a success. The statement also adds to the concerns of Northrop Grumman, which built the Zuma payload and the adapter that connected it to the Falcon 9 rocket. Northrop Grumman was also responsible for separating after the second stage of the Zuma rocket reached space. The aerospace veteran has yet to publicly comment on specifics of the Zuma mission since the launch.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sorry, FCC: Montana is enforcing net neutrality with new executive order

January 22, 2018 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Montana Governor Steve Bullock. (credit: Getty Images | William Campbell )

Montana will require Internet service providers to follow net neutrality principles in order to receive state government contracts.

Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, today signed an executive order imposing that requirement beginning July 1, 2018.

"There has been a lot of talk around the country about how to respond to the recent decision by Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality rules, which keep the Internet free and open," Bullock said. "It's time to actually do something about it. This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can't wait for folks in Washington, DC, to come to their senses and reinstate these rules."

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Windows VR headsets now available with deep discounts

January 22, 2018 - 10:10pm

Enlarge / An array of Windows Mixed Reality headsets. (credit: Microsoft)

With its Windows VR headsets, Microsoft wanted to make it simpler and cheaper to get into PC-based virtual reality.

But perhaps not quite this cheap. Most of the Windows VR headsets on the market are now available on Amazon in the US for around 50 percent off; for as little as $200, you can get a headset complete with a pair of motion controllers that will run Windows Mixed Reality software and which has beta quality support for SteamVR titles, too.

When it first announced the products, Microsoft promised its headsets would cost around $300-500, compared to the $600 or more for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Since then, both the Rift and the Vive have some big price cuts of their own, and while the Windows VR devices do still retain the pricing edge, the difference is much less pronounced than it once was. For the moment, the Windows hardware retains one advantage—it doesn't need base stations to track movement because all the tracking is handled in the headset itself, which makes installation and setup substantially easier. But this benefit, too, is set to disappear in the near term, as this style of tracking is going to become the norm.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A Comcast net neutrality commitment from the NBC merger just expired

January 22, 2018 - 9:37pm

(credit: https://arstechnica.com/author/aurich-lawson/)

A commitment made by Comcast to follow net neutrality rules expired on Saturday, seven years after the cable company agreed to the requirements in order to purchase NBCUniversal.

When Comcast bought NBC in 2011, it pledged to follow the net neutrality rules the Federal Communications Commission had passed in 2010 even if those rules were later overturned in court. Comcast thus continued to face rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization even after a federal appeals court struck down that version of net neutrality rules in January 2014. Comcast (but not other ISPs) faced net neutrality requirements for more than a year until June 2015, which is when a new set of net neutrality rules took effect.

But Comcast's merger agreement with the FCC expired, as per schedule, on January 20. The expiration, combined with the FCC's decision last month to repeal the industry-wide net neutrality rules implemented in 2015, will free Comcast of FCC oversight when it comes to net neutrality. Comcast will still face some merger-related oversight from the Department of Justice until September, though.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An end to in-flight Wi-Fi misery is at hand with Gogo’s 2Ku

January 22, 2018 - 8:13pm

Enlarge / You'll know your plane has 2Ku if you see a larger radome on it, like the one pictured above. (credit: Gogo Air)

For this demo, Gogo Air provided a round-trip ticket on Delta Air Lines from DCA>DTW>DCA. I sat in coach and never left Detroit airport before boarding the return leg.

If you're one of those people with the misfortune to follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the occasional complaint about the poor state of in-flight Internet service. After all, it's incredibly frustrating when you're on a deadline and unable to get any work done because you can't even load the Ars CMS. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as I discovered late last year. Gogo Air, which provides in-flight connectivity on most of the major US airlines, noticed one of my frustrated outbursts and invited me to try out its latest service, a satellite-based system called 2Ku. Compared to the ATG4 system that most flyers are currently saddled with—including this author right now, currently on AA2617 at 37,000 feet—the difference is night and day.

Gogo Air provides in-flight Internet connectivity to most US passenger airlines (and quite a few international ones) and has been doing so since 2008. Originally, that was with a cellular service called ATG—for Air-To-Ground—which leveraged the old Airfone cellular network. More recently, Gogo Air upgraded that system to ATG4, bumping per-plane bandwidth from 3.1Mbps to 9.8Mbps. (For a much more in-depth look at the state of in-flight Wi-Fi back in the day, check out this comprehensive feature from 2011.)

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon Go debuts, and its prying cameras foil our shoplifting attempts

January 22, 2018 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / Amazon Go: The bottle. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

SEATTLE—A little more than one year ago, I tried, and failed, to sneak into Amazon Go. The pilot version of Amazon's first grocery store experiment advertised a first in the world of brick-and-mortar shopping: if you want to buy something, just pick it up, toss it in your bag, and walk out. A camera system watches you and uniquely tags every item you pick up, then the store automatically charges a pre-registered credit card for the purchases. No clerks, no check-out aisles.

Amazon's late-2016 announcement of this store was more about building buzz than letting the public in, however. Initially, it was limited only to Amazon employees. Worse, promises that the shop would open for average consumers in "early 2017" didn't come close to fruition, with insiders indicating to Ars that the store's camera-tracking system didn't hold up to larger testing scrutiny as anticipated. But with only 24 hours' notice, that changed on Monday. That same Seattle pilot shop—the one Amazon staffers refused to let us into in December 2016—finally opened its doors to anybody with a smartphone and the Amazon Go app.

Meaning, customers didn't even need an Amazon Prime membership. If you want to stroll into the world's first Amazon Go store, all you need is an Amazon account with valid credit card information and a working smartphone. Turns out, I had both of those, so I walked, bleary-eyed, into the shop shortly after it opened at 7am Pacific time on Monday.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla owner attempts Autopilot defense during DUI stop

January 22, 2018 - 5:56pm

Enlarge (credit: California Highway Patrol)

A San Francisco Tesla owner has learned the hard way that Tesla's Autopilot feature does not excuse getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. On Saturday, January 13, police discovered a man in his Tesla vehicle on the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "the man had apparently passed out in the stopped car while stuck in the flow of busy bridge traffic at 5:30pm, according to the California Highway Patrol."

When police woke the man up, he assured officers that everything was fine because the car was "on autopilot." No one was injured in the incident, and the California Highway Patrol made a snarky tweet about it:

When u pass out behind the wheel on the Bay Bridge with more than 2x legal alcohol BAC limit and are found by a CHP Motor. Driver explained Tesla had been set on autopilot. He was arrested and charged with suspicion of DUI. Car towed (no it didn’t drive itself to the tow yard). pic.twitter.com/4NSRlOBRBL

— CHP San Francisco (@CHPSanFrancisco) January 19, 2018

Needless to say, other Tesla owners—and people who own competing systems like Cadillac's Super Cruise—should not follow this guy's example. No cars on the market right now have fully driverless technology available. Autopilot, Supercruise, and other products are driver assistance products—they're designed to operate with an attentive human driver as a backup. Driving drunk using one of these systems is just as illegal as driving drunk in a conventional car.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

America finally gets Honda’s best: The 2018 Civic Type R

January 22, 2018 - 4:35pm

Type R-ism has long been vacant in the American car world. Used but once before, on the holy Acura Integra Type R (sold as a Honda in Europe and Asia), Honda has reserved its sharpest tools for other markets. But that stops now: the new Civic Type R is the very first Honda to wear the R badge in America, and it's here to fight its bigger and more established competitors. There's no mistaking how and where on the grand automotive scale the new Civic Type R is placed, even for the casual layperson. With a prominent splitter, wing, roof spoiler, air-channeling lumps and vents, and the curious three exhaust tips, it's replete with boy-racer visuals.

But this boy arrives with the right tools. Tucked under the cornucopia of aero and design appendages sit some drop-dead serious bits of hardware that check all the boxes. But there's a far more elusive and important box that this car manages to check—one of mechanical harmony.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Today’s the day you can go to Amazon Go—a store with no queues and no cash

January 22, 2018 - 3:35pm

Enlarge / "Let's go shopping!" "No, let's Amazon Go shopping." "Dave, I hate your puns." (credit: Sam Machkovech)

After over a year of testing, Amazon will open its convenience store with no checkout queues and no cashiers, dubbed Amazon Go, to the public. The allure of Amazon Go is customers' ability to enter the store, put their items into their own shopping bags, and walk out. Amazon Go has no human cashiers to interact with, as all transactions are made wirelessly through the Amazon Go app and your Amazon account.

The online retailer announced Amazon Go in December 2016, opening its single location to Amazon employees only. Customers have to scan the Amazon Go app on a turnstile-like entryway before they can go into the store and shop. Once inside, customers can pick up any items they want—food, drinks, essential items, and even alcohol—and leave when they wish, without standing in a checkout line or interacting with a cashier. One of the few store employees will have to check your ID if you purchase alcohol, but otherwise you can leave when you've finished shopping and your Amazon account will be billed for the items you chose.

Amazon Go works thanks to an outfitting of special cameras, shelf sensors, and the company's computer vision system that together monitor your actions in the store as well as the movement of items on shelves. The technology isn't fool-proof, though, and it can get confused when the store is crowded or when items get misplaced in the store. According to a Recode report, these instances pushed back the debut of Amazon Go to the public. The company originally planned to open the Seattle location of Amazon Go to the public early last year.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Lab makes it into orbit, nears commercial operations

January 22, 2018 - 3:15pm

Rocket Lab

Last Sunday afternoon in New Zealand, Rocket Lab successfully made it into orbit on just the company's second flight attempt. Launching from a new spaceport that juts into the South Pacific Ocean, the Electron rocket climbed into orbit and deployed its customer payloads at 8 minutes and 31 seconds after lifting off.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in commercial access to space. We’re thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch,” Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a statement. “Our incredibly dedicated and talented team have worked tirelessly to develop, build and launch Electron. I’m immensely proud of what they have achieved today.”

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Here’s how to make sure Hawaii’s missile warning fiasco isn’t repeated

January 21, 2018 - 8:00pm

This is a guest post from Steve Bellovin, a professor in the computer science department and affiliate faculty at the law school at Columbia University. His research focuses on networks, security, and public policy. His opinions don't necessarily reflect the views of Ars Technica.

(credit: EUGENE TANNER/AFP/Getty Images)

By now, most people have heard about the erroneous incoming ICBM alert in Hawaii. There has been scrutiny of how the emergency alert system works and how international tensions and the flight times of missiles can lead to accidental nuclear war. I'd like to focus instead on how the systems design in Hawaii led to this problem—a design that I suspect is replicated in many other states.

One possible factor, of course, is hurried design:

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Poison arrows inspire new male contraceptive, scientists report

January 21, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Aim carefully. (credit: Getty | Brian Seed )

According to scientists, a poison arrow in the quiver may let loose a very sticky nether-region massacre.

The poison in question has spattered from the tips of African weapons for centuries, rubbing out wild beasts and halting the hearts of warriors. But, according to a study in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, a crotch shot of an ancient toxin called “ouabain” can also take out sperm. By tweaking the poison’s chemical backbone (or scaffold), it can selectively paralyze trouser troops and prevent them from storming eggs, the authors report.

The study’s authors, led by Shameem Sultana Syeda of the University of Minnesota, are optimistic that, with further aiming, the poison’s progeny could one day strike as a safe, reversible male contraceptive.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla’s Model X: A lovely roadtripper with stiff daily driving competition

January 21, 2018 - 4:00pm

Jordan Golson

It has been quite an unexpected decade at Tesla. In 2007, if you said that the EV company would release an all-electric sedan that became one of the fastest accelerating vehicles of all time and sold tens of thousands of units with numerous hardware and software improvements along the way, you’d have been sent to the loony bin. And if you then predicted the company would release an all-electric SUV that would do the same and develop and release (sort of) an affordable, stylish, and long-range EV... well, maybe you’d have been mistaken for a member of the Musk family.

And yet, Elon Musk and Tesla have done all those things with the Model S, Model X, and Model 3. The company has gone further with things like the Gigafactory; home, commercial, and utility battery products; and previews of the new Tesla Roadster and Tesla Semi, too. To be sure, Musk has made a lot of ambitious promises and really missed a lot of deadlines over the years—but people who have bet against Tesla have lost a lot of money. (Tesla's stock price is up almost 1,700 percent since its June 2010 IPO, fyi.)

Read 62 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Realizing you can’t have enough JK Simmons, new sci-fi spy series doubles him

January 21, 2018 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / Counterpart is ready to give you all the JK Simmons you can handle. (credit: Starz)

Warning: The following preview outlines general details for the premise of Counterpart, a new Starz sci-fi series debuting this weekend.

The “actor as multiple roles” genre has been done in a seemingly infinite amount of ways as of late: clones, siblings, whatever Cloud Atlas was. With Starz' new series Counterpart debuting this Sunday (8pm ET), the premise gets a slight twist. Beloved institution JK Simmons (everything from those insurance ads to Justice League and Whiplash) portrays mild-mannered office man Howard and alternate-universe spy bad-ass Howard Prime.

Confused? Luckily, audiences get the gist of this situation early in the series premiere: 30 years ago during the Cold War, scientists were experimenting when something went wrong, opening a passage between two seemingly distinct worlds. “Go through this door,” bossman Peter tells Howard, “and you’re in a world identical to ours.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An MMO goes full circle, promises to bring subscriptions back this year

January 21, 2018 - 1:30am

Enlarge / Starting sometime this year, you'll be able to pay up front to fake as any of Rift Prime's heroes. (credit: Trion)

The online game-subscription model has generally waned in recent years, overtaken by the popularity (and apparent profitability) of the "free-to-play" (F2P) paradigm. One of the earliest MMORPGs to switch to a F2P model, the Trion-published Rift, announced a curious change coming to its payment model: a branch-off of one Rift server, and its entire gameplay and payment structure, to return to the flat subscription model later this year.

As reported by Kotaku, the game's developers announced plans for this new version, dubbed Rift Prime, in a Friday blog post. The plan actually began life months earlier when Trion asked fans about the idea of a "challenge server" product—meaning, a version of the game that was harder and segregated interested players into their own, higher-difficulty pool of players. Fan response to the pitch went a different direction.

The players' "strongest cues," the devs write, revolved around "how to make the business model more appealing."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A randomly generated, totally novel enzyme rescues mutant bacteria

January 20, 2018 - 9:30pm

Enlarge / Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli (E. coli), grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip. (credit: NIAID / Flickr)

Proteins are chains of amino acids, and each link in the chain can hold any one of the 20 amino acids that life relies on. If you were to pick each link at random, the number of possible proteins ends up reaching astronomical levels pretty fast.

So how does life ever end up evolving entirely new genes? One lab has been answering that question by making its own proteins from scratch.

Way back in 2016, the same lab figured out that new, random proteins can perform essential functions. And those new proteins were really new. They were generated by scientists who made amino acid sequences at random and then kept any that folded into the stable helical structures commonly found in proteins. These proteins were then screened to see if any could rescue E. coli that were missing a gene essential to survival.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A flaming superhero car and dieting trucks at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show

January 20, 2018 - 3:00pm

Jonathan Gitlin

DETROIT—Once upon a time, the North American International Auto Show was a mighty thing indeed. The American auto industry ruled the world, and this was their home event with all the bells and whistles that implies. But the world has changed. For one thing, people can and do use the Internet to work out what car they're going to buy. And with the LA Auto Show, CES, and NAIAS in such close proximity to each other on the calendar, there just aren't enough new things to fill all three events. The take-home impression from NAIAS this year—hot on the heels of a mediocre CES—was of a lackluster performance with little in the way to stop one in their tracks.

Ford opened the events at the Cobo Center with a trio of new models that we covered early in the week. Mercedes-Benz had a new G-Class that looks almost identical to the 1979 model, an example of which could be seen embedded in synthetic amber outside the front doors. By midweek this nearly-50 ton act of corporate whimsy was roped off, riven by cracks thanks to the sub-freezing temperatures. BMW gave the i8 hybrid a mid-life bump, and Audi showed its new A7 on this continent for the first time.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

First Martians board game makes a powerful case for staying on Earth

January 20, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / The components are (generally) good quality. (credit: Owen Duffy)

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

For millennia, humans have been captivated by Mars. To the ancient Romans, the “red planet” represented the god of war, presiding over conquest and glory. To the 19th-century astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, it was a world connected by vast canals, evidence of an advanced civilization. Today, our cosmic neighbor is a place to be explored, analyzed, and understood; the prospect of setting foot on Martian soil seems tantalizingly close.

But if the board game First Martians is anything to go by, we shouldn’t bother. Mars doesn’t want us.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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