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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 54 min 30 sec ago

Unexpected Viking toilet discovery leads to controversy

8 hours 7 min ago

Museum Southeast Denmark

Archaeologists excavating at an ancient Viking settlement in southeast Denmark thought they were dealing with a typical country town from the Middle Ages. Then a single toilet changed everything.

Museum of Southeastern Denmark archaeology researcher Anna Beck was digging up what she thought was a semi-subterranean workshop, only to find that she was knee-deep in... yeah, you guessed it. She'd found a layer of medieval poop.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How the CIA infects air-gapped networks

8 hours 43 min ago

Enlarge / A configuration screen found in the Drifting Deadline exploit. (credit: WikiLeaks)

Documents published Thursday purport to show how the Central Intelligence Agency has used USB drives to infiltrate computers so sensitive they are severed from the Internet to prevent them from being infected.

More than 150 pages of materials published by WikiLeaks describe a platform code-named Brutal Kangaroo that includes a sprawling collection of components to target computers and networks that aren't connected to the Internet. Drifting Deadline was a tool that was installed on computers of interest. It, in turn, would infect any USB drive that was connected. When the drive was later plugged into air-gapped machines, the drive would infect them with one or more pieces of malware suited to the mission at hand. A Microsoft representative said none of the exploits described work on supported versions of Windows.

The infected USB drives were at least sometimes able to infect computers even when users didn't open any files. The so-called EZCheese exploit, which was neutralized by a patch Microsoft appears to have released in 2015, worked anytime a malicious file icon was displayed by the Windows explorer. A later exploit known as Lachesis used the Windows autorun feature to infect computers running Windows 7. Lachesis didn't require Explorer to display any icons, but the drive of the drive letter the thrumbdrive was mounted on had to be included in a malicious link. The RiverJack exploit, meanwhile, used the Windows library-ms function to infect computers running Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Riverjack worked only when a library junction was viewed in Explorer.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Pizzagate shooter sentenced to four years in prison

8 hours 54 min ago

Enlarge / Sign outside Comet Ping Pong in Washington, DC. (credit: Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A man who barged into a Washington, DC, pizzeria with an AR-15 rifle to "self-investigate" an Internet conspiracy theory was sentenced to four years in prison today.

District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said "the extent of the recklessness" exhibited by 29-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch was "breathtaking," according to a report by ABC News. Welch pled guilty in March to charges of transporting a firearm across state lines and assault with a dangerous weapon.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Steam Summer Sale’s best discounts, chosen by Ars’ cost-cutting braintrust [Updated]

9 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge / Ooh, AND stickers?! Those are fun, but we're here for the savings. (credit: Steam)

Sun? Beaches? Rooftop parties? Pish-posh! It's time to hide with your favorite acronyms—WASD, AC, 4K—as a discount-minded, summer-vacationing PC gamer. The annual Steam Summer Sale has returned just in time to keep you occupied and indoors.

Sam walks you through some great Steam Summer Sale discounts (video link)

After watching the sale kick off Thursday morning and seeing Steam's servers edge perilously toward utter meltdown, we at Ars have gotten just enough time to pick through the enormous list of games on sale (thousands already) and find guaranteed joy among the discounts. This list is, of course, just a hint at how many games are deeply discounted until July 5, and since there are no limited-time or "flash" deals this year, you have time to peruse, pick, and save. But if you can't help yourself, get started with these no-brainer Ars recommendations.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Shareholders fail to oust Mylan board, but down-voted massive salaries

10 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge / Robert J. Coury of Mylan (L) and Mylan CEO Heather Bresch will remain on the board. (credit: Getty | Gilbert Carrasquillo)

Mylan shareholders today did not unseat the drug maker’s board of directors, despite calls for an ouster over the EpiPen pricing scandals and remarkably large executive salaries.

In a vote during an annual meeting in Amsterdam, shareholders approved all incumbent nominees, including Chief Executive Heather Bresch, President Rajiv Malik, and Chairman Robert Coury, who earned a nearly $100 million salary last year amid intense backlash over EpiPen price hikes. The majority of shareholders did, however, reject such executive compensation plans—in a nonbinding vote.

In recent weeks, a group of shareholders had campaigned to overthrow the board for what it called “significant reputational and financial harm” and “new lows in corporate stewardship.” The disgruntled shareholders were backed by an influential advisory firm, the Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), which agreed that the EpiPen price increases and eye-popping executive salaries caused “significant destruction in shareholder value” and “long-term reputational damage.”

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Judge rips lawyers in IP rift over viral Facebook childbirth video

June 22, 2017 - 10:49pm

(credit: WSPA.com)

A year ago, the US Supreme Court announced guidance to lower courts in determining whether the prevailing party in a copyright lawsuit should be awarded attorney fees. Under US law, the losing side of a copyright suit can be ordered to pay the legal costs to the winners—no matter which side originally brought the case.

The Supreme Court said that the imposition of a fee award against a copyright holder should be denied if the rights holder held an "objectively reasonable" belief that there was infringement—even if the copyright holder loses the lawsuit.

Today, we're seeing another example in practice on how that ruling is playing out. A New York federal judge on Wednesday ruled that no "reasonable attorney" would have sued news organizations for broadcasting or publishing seconds-long clips from the 45-minute live Facebook video of a childbirth. Hence, the media outlets that were on the receiving end of the lawsuit are entitled to recover what may amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Scammer who made 96 million robocalls should pay $120M fine, FCC says

June 22, 2017 - 10:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Besjunior)

The Federal Communications Commission today said that a scammer named Adrian Abramovich "apparently made 96 million spoofed robocalls during a three-month period" in order to trick people into buying vacation packages. The FCC proposed a fine of $120 million, but it will give the alleged perpetrator a chance to respond to the allegations before issuing a final decision.

The robocalls appeared to come from local numbers, and they told recipients to "press 1" to hear about exclusive vacation deals from well-known hotel chains and travel businesses such as Marriott, Expedia, Hilton, and TripAdvisor, the FCC said.

"Consumers who did press the button were then transferred to foreign call centers where live operators attempted to sell vacation packages often involving timeshares," the FCC said. "The call centers were not affiliated with the well-known travel and hospitality companies mentioned in the recorded message."

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Valve tries to one-up Oculus Touch with five-finger “Knuckles” VR controller

June 22, 2017 - 9:35pm

Valve / SteamVR

We first heard about Valve's plans for a new SteamVR controller back in October when a few pictures and basic impressions started leaking out of the press-free Steam Dev Days conference. Now we're getting more details about the upcoming VR hardware—code-named Knuckles—thanks to documents posted on SteamVR's Knuckles Dev Kit group page.

The most important confirmation in the new documents is that the Knuckles controllers allow for full, independent tracking of all five fingers. Embedded, capacitive sensors in the handle of the unit track the position of the middle, ring, and pinky fingers, while similar sensors in the trigger and face buttons track the index finger and thumb. A ring of sensors around the thumbpad and the back of the hand helps track the unit in space through the standard Lighthouse system.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

House lawmakers endorse reusable rockets for military purposes

June 22, 2017 - 9:20pm

Enlarge / SpaceX launched its first military payload on May 1. Now the US House of Representatives said the military should consider reusable rockets. (credit: SpaceX)

The US Congress has begun the "markup" process to consider budget appropriations for fiscal year 2018, and on Thursday, the House subcommittee overseeing Strategic Forces held a hearing for the National Defense Authorization Act. This bill provides funding for the military, including the Air Force, which oversees efforts to launch spy and communications satellites, as well as other national defense payloads.

As part of the process, Arizona Republican Trent Franks offered an amendment that stated the government should move rapidly to evaluate the potential use of reusable space launch vehicles such as those being flown by SpaceX. Co-sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Donald Norcross, the amendment passed on a voice vote.

This represents a remarkable turnaround for SpaceX and the federal government. After filing a lawsuit against the Air Force three years ago for the right to bid on military launch contracts, the California-based company only began flying military payloads for the government in May. Now lawmakers seem to be warming quickly to the company's vision of low-cost access to space.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

So far, Beyond Good and Evil 2 prototype looks like No Monkey’s Sky

June 22, 2017 - 9:06pm

Enlarge / Fly, monkey, fly! (credit: Ubisoft)

Ubisoft Creative Director Michel Ansel took to YouTube on Thursday to finally show the world that, yes, Beyond Good & Evil 2 is more than an unplayable cinema sequence. However, anybody expecting to see gameplay that resembled the game's incredible E3 2017 reveal may be disappointed.

Ansel spoke over a 15-minute prototype gameplay demo, and he described vague design aspirations while mostly showing off the game's space-travel systems. This demo starred the same foul-mouthed monkey that stole the show in BG&E2's debut trailer. In Ansel's prototype, we see this simian pilot two spaceships, and he also floats around by himself using a jet pack. However, in spite of an apparent bustling city beneath our hero, Ansel never flies anywhere near it.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Distilled entanglement brings long-distance quantum communication closer

June 22, 2017 - 8:20pm

Enlarge / Atoms are always up to something. (credit: Jurgen Appelo / Flickr)

This seems to be a good week for talking about quantum memories and distributing qubits. The thing about working with quantum states, though, is that you don't have much room to avoid messing it up. And, afterwards, figuring out when you've made a mistake is difficult. Once you make a measurement on a quantum system, there is no going back to its original state.

To get around this uncertainty, you have to find some way to increase your confidence that the operation you performed has actually turned out as expected. One option for this is called entanglement distillation. And entanglement distillation is exactly what a group in the Netherlands has recently demonstrated.

Impure diamonds are the best diamonds

This is a story about generating entangled quantum states in different locations. To understand how the researchers can do that, we need to see how a qubit state can be encoded in a bit of diamond. Most diamonds have a certain amount of nitrogen. The bonding between the carbon and the nitrogen leaves a rather unhappy electron. It is still bound to carbon, but the electron doesn't really want to be. So it floats around in between the carbon and the nitrogen atom.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump plans to dismantle Obama-era “Startup Visa”

June 22, 2017 - 8:05pm

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security in January. (credit: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A regulation from the Obama administration that would have allowed foreign-born entrepreneurs who raise investor cash to build their startups in the US won't be allowed to go into effect.

The Department of Homeland Security will file an official notice to delay the International Entrepreneur Rule for eight months. The intention is to eliminate the rule entirely, according to sources briefed on the matter who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

The decision isn't final, and a DHS spokesperson told the WSJ that the department "cannot speculate" on the outcome of the review.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rhode Island bill sees highway surveillance cams ticketing uninsured motorists

June 22, 2017 - 7:04pm

Enlarge (credit: Jef Nickerson)

A Rhode Island legislative committee has approved a bill that would greatly expand the surveillance state through the deployment of license plate readers. For the first time in the US, these devices would be attached along Rhode Island highways and roads for the stated purpose of catching uninsured motorists from any state.

Jacquard.

The House Corporations Committee approved the bill on a 7-2 vote earlier this week. The legislation spells out that the contractor for the project would get 50 percent of the fines paid by uninsured motorists ensnared under the program. The state and the contractor would each earn an estimated $15 million annually. Fines are as high as $120.

Many police departments nationwide are using surveillance cameras tacked onto traffic poles and police vehicles to catch traffic violators and criminal suspects. The proceeds from traffic fines usually are divvied up with contractors. But according to the Rhode Island lawmaker sponsoring this legislation, it's time to put surveillance cameras to a new purpose—fining uninsured motorists.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nintendo: Switch shortages are “definitely not intentional”

June 22, 2017 - 6:54pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

Since the days of the NES, people have accused Nintendo of intentionally underproducing hardware in order to drive an artificial feeding frenzy of demand in the marketplace. With the Nintendo Switch remaining nearly impossible to find at retailers nationwide, those same accusations of "false scarcity" have been bubbling up in certain corners.

Nintendo Senior Director of Corporate Communications Charlie Scibetta wants to push back on those accusations. "It's definitely not intentional in terms of shorting the market," he told Ars in a recent interview. "We're making it as fast as we can. We want to get as many units out as we can to support all the software that's coming out right now... our job really is to get it out as quick as we can, especially for this holiday because we want to have units on shelves to support Super Mario Odyssey."

Far from intentional, Scibetta says the shortages are simply a result of Nintendo underestimating the interest in the system. "We anticipated there was going to be demand for it, but the demand has been even higher than we thought," he said. "We had a good quantity for launch, we sold 2.7 million worldwide in that first month, said we're going to have 10 million [more] by the end of the fiscal year... Unfortunately, we're in a situation right now where as quick as it's going into retail outlets it's being snapped up. It's a good problem to have, but we're working very hard to try and meet demand."

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Comcast accused of cutting competitor’s wires to put it out of business

June 22, 2017 - 6:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | BackyardProduction)

A tiny Internet service provider has sued Comcast, alleging that the cable giant and its hired contractors cut the smaller company's wires in order to take over its customer base.

Telecom Cable LLC had "229 satisfied customers" in Weston Lakes and Corrigan, Texas when Comcast and its contractors sabotaged its network, the lawsuit filed last week in Harris County District Court said.

Comcast had tried to buy Telecom Cable's Weston Lakes operations in 2013 "but refused to pay what they were worth," the complaint says. Starting in June 2015, Comcast and two contractors it hired "systematically destroyed Telecom’s business by cutting its lines and running off its customers," the lawsuit says. Comcast destroyed or damaged the lines serving all Telecom Cable customers in Weston Lakes and never repaired them, the lawsuit claims.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Waymo tells judge: Uber’s ex-CEO knew about Google files

June 22, 2017 - 5:39pm

Enlarge / Travis Kalanick, ex-CEO of Uber Technologies. (credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Uber's recently fired CEO, Travis Kalanick, knew that his top self-driving car engineer had Google files in his possession in March 2016, according to newly filed court documents.

The admission was made by Uber lawyers as part of a response to Waymo discovery demands. Uber lawyers served the response on June 8, and it was revealed in a public court motion (PDF) filed by Waymo lawyers late yesterday.

According to Uber, former self-driving car chief Anthony Levandowski told Kalanick that "he had identified five discs in his possession containing Google information." Kalanick told Levandowski not to bring any Google information into Uber. Levandowski later told Uber he destroyed the discs, and Uber never got the discs, according to Uber lawyers.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Charter promised more broadband but didn’t deliver, now must pay fine

June 22, 2017 - 4:06pm

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum vehicle. (credit: Charter)

Charter has agreed to pay $13 million to New York State after failing to complete broadband construction that was required as part of its purchase of Time Warner Cable. Charter can get $12 million of that back if it completes the buildout under a revised schedule.

Charter was required to extend its network to 36,250 homes and businesses in the state within one year of the TWC merger being approved, but it only completed the buildout to 15,164 of them by the May 18 deadline, state officials said in an announcement Tuesday. The NY Public Service Commission is taking public comments on the settlement before giving it final approval.

The $13 million payment includes $1 million in grants for computer equipment and Internet access for low-income residents. The other $12 million is "a security to meet its network expansion commitment going forward," which Charter can recover upon completing the merger conditions.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Air Force clears F-35 to fly again—with caveats—after hypoxia scares

June 22, 2017 - 3:42pm

Enlarge / An F-35 Lightning II performs a maneuver Sept. 12, 2016 at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. After a temporary grounding, the F-35 has returned to the skies at the base, but with some restrictions on how pilots fly the aircraft. (credit: US Air Force)

The F-35A has been cleared to operate once again from Luke Air Force Base, the primary pilot-training facility for the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft. The F-35 had been grounded at Luke since June 9, after five incidents over a month in which pilots experienced the symptoms of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). However, that return to flight, which began June 21, comes with some caveats: pilots have been instructed to "avoid the altitudes in which the hypoxia-like incidents occurred," according to press releases by the Air Force and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO).

The F-35 JPO convened a "formal action team" to investigate the incidents after the aircraft grounding to work with the Air Force to investigate the hypoxia incidents. So far, the team has only managed to rule out a number of "specific concerns," including aircraft maintenance issues and procedures surrounding pilots' flight equipment. So while the aircraft are being returned to service, some restrictions have been placed on F-35 operations out of Luke. In addition to avoiding certain altitudes, the Air Force said that "ground procedures will be modified to mitigate physiological risks to pilots." The specifics of those changes were not mentioned in the press release.

The Air Force will also increase the minimum acceptable amount of backup oxygen aboard F-35As. And pilots will be "offered the option" of wearing sensors that will collect "human performance data" during flight to monitor for signs of hypoxia. The Air Force will also expand its physiological training for pilots to help them recognize and respond early to hypoxia symptoms.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple may want to lower record label payout from Apple Music

June 22, 2017 - 2:52pm

Apple Music on iOS 10, with Senior VP Eddy Cue. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Changes may be coming to Apple Music, but for record labels rather than subscribers. According to a Bloomberg report, Apple may be looking to reduce how much it pays to record labels whose music populates the company's music-streaming service. Labels' deals with Apple expire in the coming weeks, and Apple may be looking to lower the percentage it pays to those labels with the hopes that any reduction will be offset by a consistent rise in subscriptions.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the deals that are set to expire soon will likely be extended even if Apple and the labels can't agree on new terms. But Apple might try to renegotiate thanks to renewed hope in the music industry due to the popularity of paid streaming. Bloomberg's report says that the recording industry grew 5.9 percent last year worldwide, mostly due to paid music-subscription services like Apple Music and Spotify.

Spotify recently renegotiated its rate with labels to 52 percent from 55 percent, but those numbers are tied to "certain guarantees of subscriber growth." When Apple Music debuted about two years ago, the company initially overpaid labels to stifle anxiety that the new subscription service would overshadow iTunes, which has been a big source of revenue for record labels for years. Apple Music's growth to the second-largest music streaming service hasn't hurt labels' revenue from iTunes much, but labels still clearly want to be careful with their streaming commitments going forward.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Heat can kill and we’re turning up the thermostat

June 22, 2017 - 2:37pm

Enlarge (credit: Jorge Quinteros)

‘Tis the season for heatwaves in the Northern Hemisphere, as folks across Europe and parts of the US west have been reminded this week. In addition to providing weather to complain about—seemingly a necessary component of human communication—heatwaves can be straight up deadly. The 2010 Moscow heatwave (combined with thick air pollution from associated wildfires) caused thousands of deaths.

The stress of extreme heat on the human body is real. While most of us don’t see those conditions too often, they do occur today. And that means that our warming climate will ensure they occur more often. But how often will that be?

Evaluating this risk with precision isn’t easy, because global data on deaths attributable to heatwaves aren’t very good. But a group of researchers led by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Camilo Mora gave it a shot, gathering together over 900 studies that covered 784 heatwaves in 36 countries.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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