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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 19 min ago

Intel ships (hopefully stable) microcode for Skylake, Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake

2 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / Intel Core i9 X-series Skylake X. (credit: Intel)

Intel reports that it has developed a stable microcode update to address the Spectre flaw for its Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake processors in all their various variants.

The microcode updates help address Spectre variant 2 attacks. Spectre variant 2 attacks work by persuading a processor's branch predictor to make a specific bad prediction about which code will be executed. This bad prediction can then be used to infer the value of data stored in memory, which, in turn, gives an attacker information that they shouldn't otherwise have. The microcode update is designed to give operating systems greater control over the branch predictor, enabling them to prevent one process from influencing the predictions made in another process.

Intel's first microcode update, developed late last year, was included in system firmware updates for machines with Broadwell, Haswell, Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake processors. But users subsequently discovered that the update was causing systems to crash and reboot. Initially, only Broadwell and Haswell systems were confirmed to be affected, but further examination determined that Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake systems were rebooting, too.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Prehistoric Europe much like a game of Civilization, according to ancient DNA

2 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge / Reconstruction of a Bell Beaker burial (National Archaeological Museum of Spain). (credit: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta via Wikimedia Commons)

We can understand the prehistoric past only by interpreting the things people left behind. Finds don't come with words to explain how an object arrived at a site or why people decorated a pot a certain way. So there’s a lot of detail about prehistoric people’s lives, cultures, and interactions that these objects can only hint at. In recent years, however, the DNA of ancient people has added depth and detail to the information gleaned from artifacts. Genomic studies, it turns out, can tell us who the people using those artifacts were and where they came from.

Most of the genomic work so far has been relatively small-scale due to the massive effort involved in sampling and processing ancient DNA, but two new studies add several hundred prehistoric genomes to the existing data.

“The two studies published this week approximately double the size of the entire ancient DNA literature and are similar in their sample sizes to population genetic studies of people living today,” Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich, who coordinated the studies, told Ars. “We can pick out subtleties in ancient demographic process that were more difficult to appreciate using the small sample size studies available before.”

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nest Cam IQ gets “OK Google” support, lower monthly fee

4 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / The Nest Cam IQ. The blue glow means it's recording. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google clearly has a goal of putting the Google Assistant just about everywhere. Today you can find it in smartphonestabletslaptopsTVswatchessmart speakersheadphones and soon, smart displays. There's one place you haven't seen the Assistant, though: a camera. Today Google is fixing that by updating the Next Cam IQ with Google Assistant support. The device is now basically a mini Google Home with a camera on top.

The Nest Cam IQ is Nest's top-of-the-line indoor camera, with a 4K sensor and an outrageously powerful (for a camera) six-core processor. All that power is put to work crunching that 4K video feed down to a more reasonable 1080p size, with the 4K sensor used to power the "12x digital zoom" feature available for its app. The Nest Cam IQ has always featured a microphone and speaker for remote communication, and now it will also be put to work to power your usual Google Assistant commands.

With the update, you'll be able to speak the usual "OK Google" commands, and the blue ring around the Nest Cam IQ will light up to show it's listening. Just like every other Google Assistant device, it supports questions, smart home commands, making shopping lists, buying stuff, controlling Chromecasts, and a score of other things.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The FCC’s net neutrality rules will officially expire in late April

4 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / Rally organizers carry away props following a protest outside the Federal Communication Commission building against the end of net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla )

The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules will officially come off the books two months from now, as the FCC is set to take the final step necessary to make the repeal official.

The FCC voted to repeal the rules on December 14, but the repeal takes effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. The Federal Register publication is scheduled to happen on Thursday this week.

That means the repeal will take place on or about April 23. But the lawsuits to overturn the repeal can get started this month or in early March.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review and interview: Brass Tactics finally brings true RTS to VR

5 hours 3 min ago

Enlarge / Boy, the flying units in Brass Tactics sure are pesky—and that's the point. (credit: Hidden Path / Oculus)

BELLEVUE, Washington—Virtual reality has been a thing for years, yet for some reason, it has had a lack of real-time strategy (RTS) games. To this, I can't help but say, what gives? Managing a giant army à la StarCraft seems like a nice fit for VR's mix of hand-tracked controllers and first-person twists—while also minding VR's limits. Stand above a battlefield (or, if your room is cramped, sit without losing the effect). Use your hands to become a war puppeteer. Enjoy a refreshing control and perspective alternative to ancient, mouse-driven menus.

It's a VR no-brainer... that nobody has truly attempted until this week.

Unlike other RTS-ish games in VR, this week's Brass Tactics is the first full-blown take on the genre to see a retail release. It's not perfect—indeed, it has a couple of glaring issues ahead of its Thursday launch—but Brass Tactics is clearly a few steps above "just good enough." It functions as a pure, solid RTS, while it also comes packed with nice VR touches. Best of all, thanks to a free, unlimited, works-online demo version, every single VR owner out there (even outside the Oculus ecosystem) can try it for themselves—and try it they should.

Clear RTS skies

Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Game industry pushes back against efforts to restore gameplay servers

5 hours 16 min ago

(credit: Flickr / craigfinlay)

A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play."

Both sides are arguing their case to the US Copyright Office right now, submitting lengthy comments on the subject as part of the Copyright Register's triennial review of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate.

The current state of play

In 2015, the Librarian of Congress issued a limited exemption to the DMCA, allowing gamers and researchers to circumvent technological prevention measures (TPMs) that require Internet authentication servers that have been taken offline. Despite strong pushback from the Entertainment Software Association at the time, the Register of Copyrights argued that the abandonment of those servers "preclude[s] all gameplay, a significant adverse effect."

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Electric car boom prompts Apple to get serious about securing cobalt

5 hours 43 min ago

Enlarge / Cobalt chips (credit: Alchemist-hp)

Apple may cut out the cobalt middlemen by obtaining supplies for its batteries on its own. According to a Bloomberg report, Apple is in talks with miners to buy long-term supplies of cobalt, a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries used in Apple's iPhones and iPads. Apple has reportedly been in discussions to secure contracts for "several thousand metric tons" of cobalt each year for at least five years.

If a deal comes to fruition, it would be the first time Apple has secured its own supplies of cobalt for batteries. The tech giant currently leaves cobalt buying to battery manufacturers, but now the company wants to ensure it can lock down enough of the metal to maintain a sufficient supply.

The growth of the electric car industry has prompted fears of a cobalt shortage—electric car batteries use much more cobalt than those of consumer electronics, and car manufacturers are already seeking contracts with cobalt miners to get the amounts they need for their vehicles. BMW is reportedly close to securing a 10-year supply deal, and Volkswagen Group tried but failed to secure a long-term cobalt supply deal at the end of last year. Cobalt prices are rising, and VW's plans failed partly because the company wanted to set a fixed price for the metal for the entirety of the contract.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ferrari and Porsche announce new cars for the wealthy track addict

5 hours 53 min ago

Enlarge

The Geneva Motor Show is just around the corner, and Porsche and Ferrari both have something special up their sleeves. Yes, it's a pair of track-focused supercars that promise to lap faster and thrill more than anything either company has built in the past. Meet the new 911 GT3 RS and 488 Pista, two cars that herald the end of the "regular" production models they're derived from—in this case the 991 generation Porsche 911 and the Ferrari 488, each of which is due for replacement in the near future.

In the red corner, from Maranello, Italy, weighing in at 2,800lbs...

We'll start with the Ferrari. The 488 Pista is the latest in a line that started with the 360 Challenge Stradale back in the early 2000s. Pista is Italian for track, and that's what this car has been optimized for.

It's not a race car, but it does incorporate a lot of the lessons that Ferrari has learned racing the 488 GTE and 488 GT3. In fact, Ferrari says that the Pista "marks a significant step forward from the previous special series... for the level of technological carry-over from racing."

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Uber will save you a few bucks if you just walk up the road

6 hours 21 min ago

(credit: Uber)

On Wednesday, Uber announced a new feature, where riders "wait a few minutes before their trips begin, and then walk a short distance to a nearby spot for pick up and drop off." If that sounds awfully similar to a bus, you’re not entirely wrong.

Uber calls it "Express Pool," an offshoot of an Uber option known as simply, "Pool," which allows Uber riders to save a few bucks by sharing rides (thus usually taking a little more time).

Express Pool, meanwhile, simply calculates what is ostensibly a more efficient route and asks the rider to walk a few minutes away.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

uTorrent bugs let websites control your computer and steal your downloads

17 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge / A screenshot of one of the uTorrent PoC exploits in action. (credit: Google Project Zero)

Two versions of uTorrent, one of the Internet's most widely used BitTorrent apps, have easy-to-exploit vulnerabilities that allow attackers to execute code, access downloaded files, and snoop on download histories, a Google Project Zero researcher said. uTorrent developers are in the process of rolling out fixes for both the uTorrent desktop app for Windows and the newer uTorrent Web product.

The vulnerabilities, according to Project Zero, make it possible for any website a user visits to control key functions in both the uTorrent desktop app for Windows and in uTorrent Web, an alternative to desktop BitTorrent apps that uses a Web interface and is controlled by a browser. The biggest threat is posed by malicious sites that could exploit the flaw to download malicious code into the Windows startup folder, where it will be automatically run the next time the computer boots up. Any site a user visits can also access downloaded files and browse download histories.

In an e-mail sent late Tuesday afternoon, Dave Rees, VP of engineering at BitTorrent, which is the developer of the uTorrent apps, said the flaw has been fixed in a beta release of the uTorrent Windows desktop app but has not yet been delivered to users who already have the production version of the app installed. The fixed version, uTorrent/BitTorrent 3.5.3.44352, is available here for download and will be automatically pushed out to users in the coming days. In a separate e-mail sent Tuesday evening, Rees said uTorrent Web had also been patched. "We highly encourage all uTorrent Web customers to update to the latest available build 0.12.0.502 available on our website and also via the in-application update notification," he wrote.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX scrubs Wednesday launch attempt due to high upper-level winds

21 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / SpaceX has a sooty booster on the pad in California, ready for a launch Wednesday morning. (credit: SpaceX)

Wednesday morning update: Due to unfavorable upper-level winds before the opening of an instantaneous launch window, SpaceX had to scrub the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday morning. The company's next attempt will come at 9:17am ET on Thursday.

Original post: After the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket two weeks ago, going back to launching a single core of a Falcon 9 rocket may seem like something of a letdown. But the next SpaceX launch, presently scheduled for early Wednesday morning, is worth tuning into.

The instantaneous launch window opens (and closes) at 9:17am ET Wednesday, and weather conditions forecast for the launchpad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, are 90-percent favorable. (Update: About an hour before the launch window, upper-level winds are too high, so SpaceX will gather additional data from a weather at T-25 minutes, and make a final launch decision from there. It has proceeded with propellant loading, however.)

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AT&T’s attempt to buy Time Warner suffers a blow in court

February 20, 2018 - 11:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart)

AT&T's court defense of its merger with Time Warner Inc. suffered a blow today, as a judge ruled against AT&T's attempt to find evidence that President Trump meddled in the government's merger review.

AT&T claims that its merger is being singled out by the Department of Justice because of Trump's hatred of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. This "selective enforcement" defense would require AT&T to show that the DOJ hasn't tried to block similar mergers and is selectively enforcing antitrust laws.

AT&T thus asked the DOJ to produce logs related to conversations with the White House and logs related to internal communications about the White House's views on the merger.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Five frigate finalists fingered for FFG(X) fight by Navy

February 20, 2018 - 11:06pm

Lockheed Martin

The US Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) has announced the award of development contracts to five contenders for the FFG(X) program—a 20-ship class of "next-generation" guided-missile frigates intended to fill the gap in capabilities left by the retirement of the 1980s-era FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class and not quite filled by the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. Two of the contenders are modified, more heavily armed versions of the LCS designs, while the other three are based on ship designs being produced for other navies—or in one case, for the US Coast Guard.

Since each of the designs is based on an existing "parent" ship design and should use existing technologies (rather than radical new designs), the Navy is hoping to keep the cost of each frigate at $800 to $950 million—about double the cost of an LCS ship but half the cost of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This Canadian city is plagued by an obnoxious humming—and it’s getting worse

February 20, 2018 - 9:59pm

Zug Island, from across the Detroit River. (credit: Gary Elrod)

Years before diplomats in Cuba were assailed by grating noises and left with baffling brain injuries, the residents of a Canadian city began hearing maddening hums and rumbles. The deep noises mysteriously wash in and out of their neighborhoods and homes, hitting the ears of some but not all residents. And according to recent local news coverage, the eerie disturbances are now getting bad again.

Since 2011, some residents of Windsor, Ontario—directly across the border/river from Detroit, Michigan—reported intermittent bursts of noise established as the “Windsor Hum.” It’s described as a low-frequency throbbing sound, like a fleet of idling diesel engines, a distant rumble of thunder, or a roaring furnace. Some “hummers” report feeling vibrations, too, and having items in their homes rattle. They’ve linked the hum to depression, nausea, sleep problems, heart palpitations, ear aches, headaches—not to mention widespread annoyance.

Windsor residents are not imagining it; there is a real hum. A months-long investigation by National Resources Canada in the summer of 2011 identified a prominent, air-borne frequency of approximately 35Hz. There have been plenty of recordings and reports since then. And its existence was confirmed in a 2014 investigation carried out by the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and the University of Windsor, which was supported by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Inching closer to a DNA-based file system

February 20, 2018 - 9:42pm

Enlarge (credit: Wyss Institute, Harvard)

When it comes to data storage, efforts to get faster access grab most of the attention. But long-term archiving of data is equally important, and it generally requires a completely different set of properties. To get a sense of why getting this right is important, just take the recently revived NASA satellite as an example—extracting anything from the satellite's data will rely on the fact that a separate NASA mission had an antiquated tape drive that could read the satellite's communication software.

One of the more unexpected technologies to receive some attention as an archival storage medium is DNA. While it is incredibly slow to store and retrieve data from DNA, we know that information can be pulled out of DNA that's tens of thousands of years old. And there have been some impressive demonstrations of the approach, like an operating system being stored in DNA at a density of 215 Petabytes a gram.

But that method treated DNA as a glob of unorganized bits—you had to sequence all of it in order to get at any of the data. Now, a team of researchers has figured out how to add something like a filesystem to DNA storage, allowing random access to specific data within a large collection of DNA. While doing this, the team also tested a recently developed method for sequencing DNA that can be done using a compact USB device.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Spotify plans to join the hardware race, but what can it offer?

February 20, 2018 - 8:53pm

Enlarge (credit: Spotify)

Job listings recently posted by Spotify suggest that the company is close to launching one or more connected hardware products. Currently open job listings relevant to the company's hardware ambitions include Operations Manager – Hardware Product, Project Manager – Hardware Production & Engineering, Product Analyst – Hardware Products, and Senior Project Manager Hardware Production.

The Operations Manager listing is explicit about Spotify's plans, saying:

Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products and setting up an operational organization for manufacturing, supply chain, sales & marketing.

The responsibilities listed for this role also suggest Spotify is far enough along with one or more products that it will soon be talking with vendors and planning distribution, if it has not started that already:

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla cloud resources are hacked to run cryptocurrency-mining malware

February 20, 2018 - 8:21pm

Enlarge (credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images)

Add Tesla to the legion of organizations that have been infected by cryptocurrency-mining malware.

In a report published Tuesday, researchers at security firm RedLock said hackers accessed one of Tesla's Amazon cloud accounts and used it to run currency-mining software. The researchers said the breach in many ways resembled compromises suffered by Gemalto, the world's biggest SIM card maker, and multinational insurance company Aviva. In October, RedLock said Amazon and Microsoft cloud accounts for both companies were breached to run currency-mining malware after hackers found access credentials that weren't properly secured.

The initial point of entry for the Tesla cloud breach, Tuesday's report said, was an unsecured administrative console for Kubernetes, an open source package used by companies to deploy and manage large numbers of cloud-based applications and resources.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Swype pioneered a new way to type on smartphones—now it’s dead

February 20, 2018 - 6:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Swype)

Swype, the influential smartphone keyboard, is dead. XDA Developers is reporting that Swype's owner, Nuance Communications, is discontinuing development of the popular keyboard app. While it might still exist in the iOS and Android app stores for now, it will be left to rot.

In a statement on its website, Nuance said it was leaving the "direct-to-consumer keyboard business" to "concentrate on developing our AI solutions for sale directly to businesses." Nuance—which bought Swype in 2011 for $102 million—has long been a force in voice recognition and text-to-speech software, and it helps companies build consumer products (like this BMW 7 Series) with its voice technology. Lately the company has also set its sights on the healthcare market.

Swype is noteworthy as the third-party smartphone keyboard that originated gesture typing. Rather than holding a phone in both hands and tapping on each letter, Swype let you hold the phone in one hand, hold a finger down on the screen, swing it around the keyboard from letter to letter, and lift off to spell a word. Swyping, as it was called, wasn't as exact of an input as tapping on each key, but it was close enough that the software could usually figure out your intent. Most of all, it was fast, especially considering that it only took one hand to type.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung crams 30TB of SSD into a single 2.5-inch drive

February 20, 2018 - 5:58pm

Enlarge / The 30TB Samsung PM1643 SSD. (credit: Samsung)

If you need to pack more storage into your enterprise systems, then boy has Samsung got the SSD for you. The new PM1643 boasts a capacity of 30.72TB in a standard 2.5-inch drive.

On the inside, the drive has nine flash controllers driving 32 1TB packages of NAND flash, with each package containing 16 layers of 512Gb 3-bit-per-cell V-NAND. There's also 40GB of DDR4 RAM. The RAM is unusual, too; the 8Gb chips are built using Through Silicon Vias (TSVs), enabling them to be stacked vertically. They're assembled into 10 packages each of 4GB.

The drive uses a 12Gb/s Serial Attached SCSI interface. Samsung claims it can reach 400,000 read and 50,000 write random IOPS, with sequential read and write speeds of 2,100MB/s and 1,700MB/s, respectively.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Where will the first full hyperloop track be built? Maybe India

February 20, 2018 - 5:03pm

Enlarge / The proposed route between Mumbai and Pune. (credit: Virgin Hyperloop One)

Virgin Hyperloop One signed an agreement with the Indian state of Maharashtra to conduct a feasibility study and build a demonstration track that could lead to the construction of a hyperloop system between two of the state's major city centers: Mumbai and Pune.

Ryan Kelly, director of marketing for the startup formerly known simply as Hyperloop One, said that the pact between Virgin Hyperloop One and Maharashtra represents "the strongest language we’ve seen from a government to date." The company, which recently received a sizable investment from the Virgin Group and counts billionaire founder Richard Branson among its board members, intends to complete a feasibility study within the next six months and complete a demonstration track in two to three years.

Kelly told Ars in an email that "the plan is that this track will go from use as a demonstration to part of the live track." He added that the track from Mumbai to Pune could be completed in three to five years.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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