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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Lithium giants feud over competition, brine in Chile’s Atacama Desert

October 21, 2018 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / A general view of Laguna Colorada located near the border with Chile, in the Uyuni salt flats, Bolivia. The Uyuni salt flats are estimated to contain 100 million tons of lithium, making it one of the largest global reserves of this mineral, according to state officials at the Bolivian Mining Corporation. (credit: MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Two of the world's biggest lithium producers, Albemarle Corporation and Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (otherwise known as SQM), are tangled in two disputes: the first over water rights in Chile's Atacama desert, and the second over ownership of SQM.

Both Albemarle and and SQM have significant operations in the Atacama desert, where some of the world's best lithium resources exist. As electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries become more popular, lithium resources are becoming more valuable. That has created some conflict in an industry that has long remained relatively quiet.

Who's drinking whom's milkshake?

This week, Reuters reported that both Albemarle and SQM have accused each other of overdrawing brine from the Atacama's underground aquifers. Both companies have operations in the Atacama's Salar, and their operations are just three miles apart from each other. The brine water that has been accumulating for millennia under the Atacama is lithium-rich, and companies pump it out and send the brine to evaporation ponds where heat extracts the water and leaves the reactive alkali metal behind.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Guilty review: Even in 2018, a simple phone can be utterly thrilling

October 21, 2018 - 3:00pm

Ars chats up The Guilty writer/director Gustav Möller in a particularly Ars-y (and dark) karaoke room at Fantastic Fest 2018 (produced/edited by Nathan Mattise; transcript available). (video link)

AUSTIN, Texas—Browsing through written descriptions (whether in this year’s Fantastic Fest brochure or this weekend’s movie listings), The Guilty might sound remarkably unremarkable: a cop on desk duty takes a panicked 9-1-1 call and has to figure out what’s happening. It sounds like a classic high-stakes, detective-against-time story, but what makes its intriguing is that the entire film never leaves the detective’s office—the cinematic equivalent of a bottle episode.

Danish writer/director Gustav Möller has created something special with those constraints, and anyone lucky enough to find The Guilty playing nearby during its limited US theatrical release should take advantage of it. The film feels like a masterclass in minimalism in all aspects, from the way it doles out information to the performance of its lead to the so-good-you-can’t-help-but-notice-it sound design. The Guilty is a film you can’t look away from despite the visuals being its least interesting part.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

First thing we do, let’s kill all the experts

October 21, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Here lies an expert (maybe). (credit: Nicolas Raymond / Flickr)

There is a Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. Take a moment to consider the implications of that fact. The inhabitants of what, under other circumstances, would be an obscure academic backwater need legal defense. Non-scientists have convinced themselves so thoroughly that these experts have to be wrong that they claim the whole field is swimming in fraud and have engaged in legal assaults to try to confirm their beliefs. The scientists need legal defense because their opponents are convinced they can provide evidence of the fraud—if only they could see every email the scientists have ever sent.

Climate scientists may suffer from an extreme example of this sort of vilification, but they're hardly alone. The US has had a long history of mistrust in highly educated professionals, but we seem to have shifted to a situation in which expertise has become both a disqualification and a reason for attack.

That's the central argument of Tom Nichols' recent book, The Death of Expertise, which has recently come out in a paperback edition. Nichols is a professor at the Naval War College and an expert himself, having done graduate studies about the former Soviet Union. While he's gained some prominence as a never-Trump conservative, the arguments in his book are evenhanded at distributing blame. And they make disturbing reading for anyone in science who's interested in engaging the public—especially in the science arena.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hack on 8 adult websites exposes oodles of intimate user data

October 20, 2018 - 8:45pm

Enlarge / One of the hacked websites, wifelovers.com, as it appeared on October 12. (credit: Internet Archive)

A recent hack of eight poorly secured adult websites has exposed megabytes of personal data that could be damaging to the people who shared pictures and other highly intimate information on the online message boards. Included in the leaked file are (1) IP addresses that connected to the sites, (2) user passwords protected by a four-decade-old cryptographic scheme, (3) names, and (4) 1.2 million unique email addresses, although it’s not clear how many of the addresses legitimately belonged to actual users.

Robert Angelini, the owner of wifelovers.com and the seven other breached sites, told Ars on Saturday morning that, in the 21 years they operated, fewer than 107,000 people posted to them. He said he didn’t know how or why the almost 98-megabyte file contained more than 12 times that many email addresses, and he hasn’t had time to examine a copy of the database that he received on Friday night.

Still, three days after receiving notification of the hack, Angelini finally confirmed the breach and took down the sites on early Saturday morning. A notice on the just-shuttered sites warns users to change passwords on other sites, especially if they match the passwords used on the hacked sites.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft’s problem isn’t how often it updates Windows—it’s how it develops it

October 20, 2018 - 3:15pm

Enlarge / Windows 10 during a product launch event in Tokyo in July 2015. (credit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It's fair to say that the Windows 10 October 2018 Update has not been Microsoft's most successful update. Reports of data loss quickly emerged, forcing Microsoft to suspend distribution of the update. It has since been fixed and is currently undergoing renewed testing pending a re-release.

This isn't the first Windows feature update that's had problems—we've seen things like significant hardware incompatibilities in previous updates—but it's certainly the worst. While most of us know the theory of having backups, the reality is that lots of data, especially on home PCs, has no real backup, and deleting that data is thus disastrous.

Windows as a service

Microsoft's ambition with Windows 10 was to radically shake up how it develops Windows 10. The company wanted to better respond to customer and market needs, and to put improved new features into customers' hands sooner. Core to this was the notion that Windows 10 is the "last" version of Windows—all new development work will be an update to Windows 10, delivered through feature updates several times a year. This new development model was branded "Windows as a Service." And after some initial fumbling, Microsoft settled on a cadence of two feature updates a year; one in April, one in October.

Read 49 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Collapse of ancient city’s water system may have led to its demise

October 20, 2018 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / The Cambodian city of Angkor was once the largest in the world until vast swathes of the population decamped in the 15th century. Its famous temple, Angkor Wat (above), survived. (credit: Stefan Irvine/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Cambodian city of Angkor was once the largest in the world... then the vast majority of its inhabitants suddenly decamped in the 15th century to a region near the modern city of Phnom Penh. Historians have put forth several theories about why this mass exodus occurred. A new paper in Science Advances argues that one major contributing factor was an overloaded water distribution system, exacerbated by extreme swings in the climate.

Angkor dates back to around 802 CE. Its vast network of canals, moats, embankments, and reservoirs developed over the next 600 years, helping distribute vital water resources for such uses as irrigation and to help control occasional flooding. By the end of the 11th century, the system bore all the features of a complex network, with thousands of interconnected individual components heavily dependent on each other.

Such a configuration, hovering at or near the so-called critical point, is ideal for the effective flow of resources, whether we're talking about water, electricity (power grids), traffic, the spread of disease, or information (the stock market and the Internet). The tradeoff is that it can become much more sensitive to even tiny perturbations—so much so that a small outage in one part of the network can trigger a sudden network-wide cascading failure.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Istanbul: The Dice Game rules the bazaar

October 20, 2018 - 1:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Nate Anderson)

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

When it comes to gaming, I am a man of simple pleasures. I need no boxes of sculpted minis, no hour-long setup, no manuals the size of novels. Let me chuck huge handfuls of dice, collect colorful goods, earn chunky gems, and I am content. Wrap the whole package in elegant artwork with a clear ruleset and a low price, and I am ready to play, anytime, anywhere.

That's why I love Istanbul: The Dice Game, the (inevitable) dice-driven implementation of 2014's award-winning board game, Istanbul. In that earlier big-box game, players moved their "merchants" around the "bazaar" to collect and trade goods, or to gamble in the tea shop, or to spring a relative from jail and send him on an errand for you. (Don't ask.) The goal was to collect enough shiny acrylic rubies to retire rich.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Another Defender bites the dust as Netflix cancels Luke Cage

October 20, 2018 - 6:08am

Enlarge / Luke Cage (Mike Colter) will have to put another dollar in the swear jar when he hears the news. (credit: Netflix)

Just one week ago, Netflix surprised us all by canceling Iron Fist after a much-improved second season. Now we can add Luke Cage to the casualties.

Netflix unexpectedly pulled the plug on a third season today. This reduces the original Defenders to Jessica Jones, The Punisher, and Daredevil, whose third season just made its debut.

This is frankly a huge disappointment to fans of the Defenders series. Luke Cage had a strong first two seasons, with a terrific supporting cast—most notably Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard and Theo Rossi as her right hand, Hernan "Shades" Alvarez. While season 2 was a bit uneven, it ended with the dearly departed Mariah turning the tables on Luke, deeding him the Harlem's Paradise nightclub. We were looking forward to seeing what kind of corrupting influence that kind of power might have had on Harlem's hero.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple CEO Tim Cook calls on Bloomberg to retract its Chinese spy story

October 19, 2018 - 8:55pm

(credit: Wikipedia)

Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling on Bloomberg Business to retract a story that said his company was the victim of a hardware-based attack carried out by the Chinese government. It's the first time Apple has ever publicly demanded a retraction, according to BuzzFeed.

Since Bloomberg published the exclusive article 15 days ago, a gaggle of companies, well-placed government officials, and security researchers have publicly challenged its accuracy. Apple and Amazon have said they have no knowledge of ever finding or removing servers that contained the kind of spy chips Bloomberg alleged were found in the companies’ networks. Supermicro has also denied knowing anything about malicious chips being secretly implanted into any of its motherboards during the manufacturing process, as Bloomberg reported.

Meanwhile, an official from the US Department of Homeland Security has said he has no reason to doubt the Apple and Amazon denials, and a top official with the National Security Agency has said the vast resources at his disposal have been unable to confirm the report. As Ars reported last week, hardware experts, including two who were contacted by Bloomberg when reporting the story, said the kind of chip-based backdoors alleged by Bloomberg are extremely complex, particularly when introduced in the supply chain. They said state-sponsored attackers likely would prefer to exploit the numerous firmware vulnerabilities that affect motherboards from Supermicro and other makers.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Comcast gigabit cable ($105 with 1TB data cap) now available in 39 states

October 19, 2018 - 8:50pm

Enlarge / A Comcast DOCSIS 3.1 modem. (credit: Comcast)

Comcast's gigabit cable service is now available to nearly all of the 58 million homes and businesses in the company's US territory, Comcast announced yesterday.

Comcast, the nation's largest ISP with more than 26 million subscribers, began rolling out gigabit cable in early 2016. It's now available almost universally through Comcast's territory that includes 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Comcast's gigabit cable relies on DOCSIS 3.1 technology to deliver download speeds of up to 1,000Mbps, though Comcast notes that speeds will vary based on network traffic and "actual download speeds might be limited to 940Mbps due to Ethernet technical limitations." Upload speeds are still limited to a comparatively paltry 35Mbps.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Entire broadband industry sues Vermont to stop state net neutrality law

October 19, 2018 - 6:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | eccolo74)

The nation's largest broadband industry lobby groups have sued Vermont to stop a state law that requires ISPs to follow net neutrality principles in order to qualify for government contracts.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in US District Court in Vermont by mobile industry lobby CTIA, cable industry lobby NCTA, telco lobby USTelecom, the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, and the American Cable Association (ACA), which represents small and mid-size cable companies.

CTIA, NCTA, USTelecom, and the ACA also previously sued California to stop a much stricter net neutrality law, but they're now expanding the legal battle to multiple states. These lobby groups represent all the biggest mobile and home Internet providers in the US and hundreds of smaller ISPs. Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile US, Sprint, Cox, Frontier, and CenturyLink are among the groups' members.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

More exclusive than a supercar: A beginner’s guide to buying a GT3 race car

October 19, 2018 - 5:53pm

Audi

In the past decade, the well-worn automotive cliché Race on Sunday, sell on Monday has taken a surprising twist. Now, automakers have realized that they can race on Sunday and sell race cars on Monday. If you've got the money, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi, Acura, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Nissan, Bentley, and more have a race car for you—for around $500,000.

The rise in popularity of supercars worldwide has been paralleled by explosive growth in international GT3 class sportscar racing. GT3 cars are racing versions of the road-going supercars/GT cars that star in video games, YouTube channels, and print platforms. Instead of being built to a specific set of technical rules, in GT3 each make of car is benchmarked and then "performance balanced" by the FIA (the sporting organization that governs world motorsport) to create a relatively level playing field.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google to charge Android OEMs as much as $40 per phone in EU

October 19, 2018 - 5:04pm

Google's Building 44, where Android is developed. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

We're still seeing the fallout from the European Commission's $5 billion antitrust fine against Google. Earlier this week, Google announced it would comply with the ruling by unbundling the Google Android app package, allowing OEMs to skip Chrome and Google Search in favor of alternatives. The catch is that, since ad revenue from these Google services was used to support Android development, Google will start charging device makers that license Google apps but choose the unbundled route.

Now, thanks to a report from The Verge, we're getting an idea of just how much this more flexible app licensing scheme will cost OEMs. Citing "confidential documents" that were shown to the site, The Verge says Google will charge device makers as much as $40 per device if they don't use Google's preferred Android setup. The pricing is flexible based on the country and the pixel density of the device's screen. The EU is split into three tiers, with the UK, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands in the most expensive tier. Lower-end phones in bottom-tier countries can cost as little as $2.50 per device. Android tablets, if any of those still exist, get their own pricing tier that is even across all countries and caps out at $20. It all sounds very complicated, but if we imagine this pricing structure applied to the $720 Galaxy S9 sold in the UK, slapping on the top-end $40 fee works out to a 5.5 percent price increase and a $760 phone.

That's not the only spot in Android OEMs' wallets Google will hit. If OEMs don't pre-install Chrome, the report claims they will no longer get a share of search revenue generated by Chrome users. The report says the new rules will kick in February 1, 2019, which is strange given that Google's new licensing rules from earlier in the week start at the end of the month.

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Ars on your lunch break: Theaterwide biotoxic and chemical warfare

October 19, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / "Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I've come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks." (credit: MGM/UA)

Today we’re presenting the fourth and final installment of my conversation with the outspoken author, podcaster, philosopher, and recovering neuroscientist Sam Harris. Please check out parts one, two, and three if you missed them. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript, both of which are below.

We open today’s conversation by talking about bioterrorism. Because that’s not uplifting enough, we then move on to the dangers a super AI could present in certain worst-case scenarios (which was the topic of a popular TED talk of Harris'). This conversation builds on yesterday’s cheerful discussion of nuclear terrorism.

Click here for a transcript and click here for an MP3 direct download.

The final part of the podcast is a conversation between me and podcasting superstar Tom Merritt. In it, Merritt and I discuss my interview with Harris—as well as a chunk of my novel After On. This section exists because I originally thought my podcast would be a limited set of just eight episodes connected to that novel. But the podcast acquired a life of its own, and I’m about to publish episode #38 in the series of eight.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New material could up efficiency of concentrated solar power

October 19, 2018 - 4:37pm

Enlarge / A 110 megawatt (MW) solar plant in Israel’s Negev desert. (credit: OPIC)

With the price of photovoltaics having plunged dramatically, solar is likely to become a major contributor to the electrical generating mix in many countries. But the intermittent nature of photovoltaics could put a limit on how much they contribute to future grids or force us to develop massive storage capabilities.

But photovoltaics aren't the only solar technology out there. Concentrated solar power uses mirrors to focus the Sun's light, providing heat that can be used to drive turbines. Advances in heat storage mean that the technology can now generate power around the clock, essentially integrating storage into the process of producing energy. Unfortunately, the price of concentrated solar hasn't budged much, and photovoltaics have left it in the dust. But some materials scientists may have figured out a way to boost concentrated solar's efficiency considerably, clawing back some of photovoltaics' advantage.

Feel the heat

Solar thermal revolves around transfers of heat. Sunlight is used to heat up a working fluid at the mirrors' focus. That then transfers the heat either to a storage system or directly to another fluid that is used to drive a turbine—typically steam. Higher temperatures typically mean more work can be extracted, making the efficiency of these transfers critical.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review: War games, now with battle royale!

October 19, 2018 - 4:25pm

Enlarge / Players duking it out in the new Blackout mode.

Call of Duty, like video game war simulations in general, is caught in a paradox. It never changes, and yet, every year, it definitely does change. Approaching a new Call of Duty, especially from the multiplayer side, is a bit of a challenge. How much do the various iterative changes matter, and do they manage to reshape the core of the game in any meaningful way? Call of Duty has long been a game about moving fast and shooting guns; what makes the latest version worth playing over the dozen-plus iterations prior?

To be fair, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 changes more than most. The highly choreographed, extravagantly cinematic single-player campaign that has been de rigueur for the series' entire lifespan has been excised. That leaves an awkward hole at the core of the experience, which developer Treyarch has filled with Blackout, an 88- to 100-player battle royale mode in the vein of Fortnite or PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. The rest of the game modes—the standard-by-now multiplayer suite and the ridiculous-but-addictive Zombies mode—fall in line around Blackout, creating a three-tiered experience of hyper-violence and militaristic energy.

Black Ops 4 is the biggest single-game change for the Call of Duty franchise in ages. But it's still, when it comes right down to it, just another Call of Duty.

“Where we droppin’, soldier?”

Black Ops 4 doesn't present its content in any particular order. As a player, you can jump freely between its three modes, and nothing—except for player progression in each mode—is gated from the start. The natural place to start, though, is Blackout, the newest part of the Call of Duty package, both the most derivative and the most distinct mode on offer. Taking place on a sprawling map stitched together from locations and motifs in Call of Duty's multiplayer past, Blackout heavily resembles just about any other battle royale game, both in concept and execution.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Two orbiters begin their long journey to Mercury Friday night

October 19, 2018 - 3:41pm

ESA

One might think it's a relatively easy thing to reach Mercury, the innermost planet in the Solar System. At its closest approach, Mercury is just 77 million kilometers from Earth, or not all that much farther than the closest that Earth comes to Mars. The Earth-Mars transit typically only takes about six months.

However, the Sun's enormous gravity makes putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mercury quite difficult. How much gravity are we talking about? The g-force at the surface of the Earth is 9.8 meters/second^2. By comparison, the Sun's gravity is nearly 30 times greater, at 274 m/s^2.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla quietly drops “full self-driving” option as it adds $45,000 Model 3

October 19, 2018 - 2:52pm

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

Elon Musk took to Twitter (where else, right?) on Thursday evening to inform his followers of a new addition to the Model 3 lineup. This is not the long-awaited $35,000 version, however; the mid-range Model 3 starts at $45,000. Musk also revealed that the Model 3 ordering process has been simplified and now has fewer options. One that's missing—from all new Tesla orders, not just the Model 3—is the controversial "full self-driving" option. The reason? It was "causing too much confusion," Musk tweeted.

The mid-range Model 3s will be rear-wheel drive only, prompting some to wonder if the company was using software to limit battery capacity on existing RWD inventory in order to get it out of the door. But Tesla says it's able to build these slightly cheaper cars by using the same battery pack as the more expensive, longer-range cars but with fewer cells inside (so no future software upgrades can increase their range at a later date).

However, Tesla is promoting the car as costing as little as $30,700 by factoring in "gas savings" and all possible federal and local electric vehicle tax incentives (but not the destination charge). That it did so is a little surprising; just seven days ago Tesla said that it could not guarantee any order received after October 15th would ship before the beginning of next year. Any new Tesla delivered after January 1st 2019 (but before July 1st 2019) is only eligible for a $3,750 IRS credit. Tesla says delivery for the new mid-range Model 3 should take six to 10 weeks.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Vivaldi 2.0 review: The modern Web browser does not have to be so bland

October 19, 2018 - 2:10pm

Vivaldi

The Web browser is likely the most important piece of software on your hardware, whatever that hardware may be. In fact, whenever a new bit of hardware arrives that somehow lacks a way to browse the Web, invariably one of the first things enthusiasts will do is figure out a way to run a browser on it.

Despite their ubiquity, though, there remains very little difference between common Web browsers. Most people seem to get by with whatever was installed by default, and no wonder. Modern browsers like Edge, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera are largely indistinguishable both in appearance and features—why bother with one over the other?

Read 48 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This business card-sized Japanese phone bucks the giant-phone trend

October 19, 2018 - 12:30pm

Kyocera

With Apple and most Android OEMs making increasingly larger phones while Apple discontinues the small iPhone SE, it's pretty clear where the smartphone market is going—at least for the near term. But that doesn't mean there aren't some companies bucking the trend by going smaller, not bigger. Earlier this week, we heard that Palm's brand is rebooting with a very small phone that's not meant to be your main portable computing device. But this phone from Kyocera is even smaller.

The Japanese company has been producing unusual phone designs off and on for years, like a Nintendo DS-like dual-screen handset in the early Android days. The latest experiment is the KY-O1L, a phone that would likely fit in one of the credit card slots in your wallet or purse. We said the Palm phone was "about the size of a credit card," and that was true—except in depth. This phone is a little closer to that goalpost in depth. Unfortunately, it's only being released in Japan—but it's an interesting concept to see even if you're not in that region.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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