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Reference Content

 
Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 11 min 49 sec ago

Daimler included emissions-cheating software on diesels, German magazine says

2 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images) (credit: getty images)

US investigators are looking into whether Mercedes parent company Daimler used illegal software to cheat emissions tests on diesel vehicles in the US, according to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, whose report was picked up by Reuters. Though the investigation itself is not new—it was reported as early as April 2016 that the Department of Justice was looking into Daimler's actions around emissions testing its diesel vehicles—the new reports of emissions-cheating software draw parallels to Volkswagen's notorious emissions scandal.

The German paper allegedly saw documents indicating that one software function on Daimler diesel vehicles turned off the car's emissions control system after driving just 26 km (16 miles). Another program apparently "allowed the emissions cleaning system to recognize whether the car was being tested based on speed or acceleration patterns," according to Reuters.

Software that turns an emissions control system on and off depending on whether the car is being tested in a lab or not is called a "defeat device," and unless the automaker gets explicit permission to have one, a defeat device's inclusion in an auto system is illegal in the US. In 2015, Volkswagen Group was discovered to have hid defeat device software on its VW, Audi, and Porsche diesels. The automaker has since spent billions of dollars in buying back vehicles that were emitting up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Residential solar is cheap, but can it get cheaper? Paths to $0.05 per kWh

February 18, 2018 - 8:45pm

Tesla smooth black glass solar roof tiles. (credit: Tesla)

The price of solar panels has fallen far and fast. But the Energy Department (DOE) wants to bring those costs down even further, especially for residential homes. After all, studies have shown that if every inch of useable rooftop in the US had solar panels on it, the panels could provide about 40% of the nation's power demand. Right now, the DOE's goal is residential solar that costs 5¢ per kilowatt hour by 2030.

In a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), researchers mapped out some possible pathways to that goal. Notably, the biggest barriers to cost reduction appear to be the stubborn "soft costs" of solar installation. Those soft costs include supply chain costs, labor costs, and sales and marketing costs that aren't related to the physical production of solar cells at a factory.

NREL wrote: "Because the 2030 target likely will not be achieved under business-as-usual trends, we examine two key market segments that demonstrate significant opportunities for cost savings and market growth: installing PV at the time of roof replacement and installing PV as part of the new home construction process."

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Project Loon team gave Puerto Rico connectivity—and assembled a helicopter

February 18, 2018 - 5:00pm

Slide from Juan Ramirez Lugo at AAAS 2018 (credit: Nathan Mattise)

AUSTIN, Texas—"So this happened—this is September 2017," Juan Ramírez Lugo, president of the AAAS Caribbean division, tells the audience at the 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference. The slide that soon greets the room depicts an almost surreal reality: the available power (or lack thereof) on the island of Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

"The island went dark; the Virgin Islands basically disappeared off the map. This blew my mind to not have my cell phone in this day and age," Ramírez Lugo continues. "The routine eventually became get up in the morning, then try to check the news and Status.pr to see how much service has returned to normal."

Ramírez Lugo cited estimates that the cost of Hurricane Maria's damage will total 34.1 percent of Puerto Rico's GDP, so calling the storm devastating almost seems like an understatement. The routine Ramírez Lugo shared highlighted another crucial (re)building block for disaster recovery, one that's now joined general infrastructure and health needs: connectivity. With the vast amount of electrical grid and ground towers damaged, FEMA estimates put cell service availability at a mere 60 percent an entire month after the storm.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Poop Talk docu-comedy flings open bathroom doors, dives into stinky humanity

February 18, 2018 - 4:00pm

 Poop Talk, loaded with renowned comedians. (credit: Copyright 2017 Comedy Dynamics and Party of Seven Entertainment)

For some, a 75-minute film of famous and talented comedians letting rip a steady stream of explicit jokes and messy misadventures involving fecal matter is an easy sell. Sign me up. For others, some pushing and straining may be needed to get them to plop down and watch.

Those hesitant viewers are just the ones the film’s creators are hoping to bag.

With the funny and sometimes cringe-inducing docu-comedy Poop Talk, comedians try—and do—use humor and tales of their deeply personal bodily functions to squeeze out the humanity of it all. The ultimate goal, its creators told Ars, is to flush the stigma associated with the stinky act—not to mention a whole host of gastrointestinal disorders.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Judge shuts door on attempt to get a new trial for Ross Ulbricht

February 17, 2018 - 4:40pm

Enlarge / Max Dickstein stands with other supporters of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged creator and operator of the Silk Road underground market, in front of a Manhattan federal court house on the first day of jury selection for his trial on January 13, 2015 in New York City. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The federal judge overseeing the trial of Ross Ulbricht, the man convicted of creating the underground Silk Road drug website, has denied the Ulbricht legal team's attempt to extend the normal three-year window for "post-conviction relief." In essence, the move stifles Ulbricht’s new attorney's extraordinary effort to re-open the case with new exculpatory evidence, on the off-chance that it exists.

On February 5 in a brief, handwritten note, US District Judge Katherine Forrest blocked efforts by Ulbricht’s new lawyer, Paul Grant, to go beyond the standard 36-month period allowed in what is called a "Rule 33 motion." (Grant took over the case from Ulbricht’s previous counsel, Joshua Dratel, in June 2017, shortly after an appellate court upheld Ulbricht’s conviction and double life sentence.)

"The motion to extend time for a Rule 33 motion is DENIED," Judge Forrest wrote. "A Rule 33 motion is not an opportunity to relitigate that which has been litigated, or to engage in a fishing expedition for new evidence. The Court appreciates that Mr. Grant was not involved in the trial, but the transcript reveals that the very evidence to which he now points (that the FBI was monitoring the defendant's online movements) was explicitly known at the trial."

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Good news: Chrome debuts automatic blocking of annoying ads

February 17, 2018 - 4:05pm

Enlarge (credit: Daniel Oines)

Google developers this week debuted a long-anticipated feature in Chrome that automatically blocks one of the Internet's biggest annoyances—intrusive ads.

Starting on Thursday, Chrome started filtering ads that fail to meet a set of criteria laid out by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group. The organization is made up of Google and others, and it aims to improve people's experiences with online ads. In a post published Wednesday, Chrome Engineering Manager Chris Bentzel said the filtering will focus on ad types that were ranked the most intrusive by 40,000 Internet uses who participated in a survey. On computers, the ads include those involving:

For mobile devices, intrusive ads include those with:

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New studies zero in on roots of depression and why ketamine reverses it

February 17, 2018 - 3:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia)

While we have a number of treatments available for clinical depression, many of them have a significant side effects, and a lot of people struggle to find a drug that they respond to. The situation is made worse by our limited understanding of the biology underlying depression. We don't know how to create targeted drugs, so most of the available treatments are blunt instruments that can take weeks to months before having an effect.

In that light, it came as a bit of a shock when we discovered a drug we'd been using recreationally and for anesthesia could lift the symptoms of depression in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately, the drug in question, ketamine, also has a collection of unpleasant side-effects, and we had no idea how it was working.

But there's been significant progress in unravelling the confusion over ketamine, with researchers identifying a ketamine derivative that tackles depression with far fewer side effects. And this week, a team of researchers at China's Zhejiang University announced that they've figured out where in the brain ketamine acts when it blocks depression, a finding that gives us significant insights into the biology of the disorder.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mueller flips American who unwittingly sold bank info to Russian trolls

February 17, 2018 - 12:35am

Enlarge (credit: Richard Pinedo)

On Friday, shortly after Department of Justice officials announced the indictment of 13 Russians accused of being involved in a multi-year effort to spread false information online surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign, the DOJ also announced the guilty plea of a California man, Richard "Ricky" Pinedo.

The Californian, who did not respond to Ars’ attempts to contact him, admitted selling bank information to the Russians accused of being part of the criminal conspiracy.

Pinedo—28, of Santa Paula, California northwest of Los Angeles—ran a website called Auction Essistance. That site appears to have been in operation for at least a few years, and it offered "services that will enable you to get back onto eBay or Amazon ranging from pre-made eBay & Paypal accounts or verification tools."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Infamous Google memo author shot down by federal labor board

February 16, 2018 - 11:42pm

(credit: Shutterstock)

Former Google engineer James Damore has attempted to take civil and legal action against his former employer after being fired in August, but on Thursday, a federal memo revealed that one of Damore's filings has been unequivocally denied.

The National Labor Relations Board published its memo this week, which was issued in January after Damore filed a charge against his former employer on August 8. In spite of Damore withdrawing his NLRB filing in September, the board proceeded to examine and issue its own ruling: Google "discharged [Damore] only for [his] unprotected conduct while it explicitly affirmed [his] right to engage in protected conduct." The NLRB emphasized that any charge filed by Damore on the matter should be "dismissed."

In explaining the board's reasoning, NLRB member Jayme Sophir points to two specific parts of the controversial memo circulated by Damore in August: Damore's claim that women are "more prone to 'neuroticism,' resulting in women experiencing higher anxiety and exhibiting lower tolerance for stress" and that "men demonstrate greater variance in IQ than women."

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Robotaxi permit gets Arizona’s OK; Waymo will start service in 2018

February 16, 2018 - 9:50pm

Enlarge / You'll know it's a Waymo Pacifica Hybrid by the roof bar covered in sensors. (credit: FCA)

On Friday, we discovered that Waymo, the self-driving Google spinoff, has been granted a permit to operate as a Transportation Network Company in the state of Arizona. This means that it can launch an official ride-hailing service and start charging customers for their journeys. It also confirms the findings of a recent report that put Waymo at the front of the autonomous vehicle pack, meaning my colleague Tim Lee was right when he said the launch of a commercial operation by Waymo in Arizona was imminent.

Arizona has become a popular state for autonomous vehicle programs. It has rather permissive testing oversight compared to California, for example. That, plus well-maintained roads and little harsh weather, has encouraged both Uber and Waymo to expand their presence in Phoenix.

In recent months, self-driving cars have become commonplace in the city.  Waymo has been running a pilot program that lets people hail rides in its cars, at first with safety engineers riding in the driver’s seat, but fully driverless since November 2017. Evidently that hasn't thrown up any red flags to prevent this expansion.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

32 lawsuits filed against Intel over Spectre and Meltdown flaws

February 16, 2018 - 9:42pm

Enlarge / This may become the new default imagery for Spectre and Meltdown around Intel. (credit: Brian Turner / Flickr)

In its annual SEC filing, Intel has revealed that it's facing 32 lawsuits over the Spectre and Meltdown attacks on its processors. While the Spectre problem is a near-universal issue faced by modern processors, the Meltdown attack is specific to processors from Intel and Apple, along with certain ARM designs that are coming to market shortly.

Per Intel's filing, 30 of the cases are proposed customer class-action suits from users claiming to be harmed by the flaws. While Meltdown has effective workarounds, they come with some performance cost. Workarounds for Spectre are more difficult and similarly can harm system performance.

The other two cases are securities lawsuits that claim that Intel made misleading public statements during the six-month period after the company was notified of the problems but before the attacks were made public.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Charter fails to defeat lawsuit alleging false Internet speed promises

February 16, 2018 - 9:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Steven Puetzer)

Charter Communications cannot use the federal net neutrality repeal to avoid a lawsuit over slow Internet speeds in New York, the state's Supreme Court ruled today.

The lawsuit was filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against Charter and its Time Warner Cable (TWC) subsidiary in February 2017. Schneiderman alleges that the Internet provider "conduct[ed] a deliberate scheme to defraud and mislead New Yorkers by promising Internet service that they knew they could not deliver."

Charter thought that the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality repeal would help it fight the lawsuit. In November, Charter argued in a court filing that its motion to dismiss the case was bolstered by the repeal because the FCC also preempted state-level regulation.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple dictates that all new apps must fully support the iPhone X screen

February 16, 2018 - 8:00pm

Enlarge / Here is a comparison of the safe area in landscape mode on the iPhone 8 and on the iPhone X. (credit: Apple)

Today, Apple emailed iOS developers to explore new features in iOS 11 like ARKit. In that email, the company also announced that all new apps submitted from April 2018 onward must be built with the iOS 11 SDK and must support the iPhone X's new display.

This was Apple's complete message to developers on the subject:

iOS 11 has brought innovative features and the redesigned App Store to hundreds of millions of customers around the world. Your apps can deliver more intelligent, unified, and immersive experiences with Core ML, ARKit, new camera APIs, new SiriKit domains, Apple Music integration, drag and drop for iPad, and more.

Starting April 2018, all new iOS apps submitted to the App Store must be built with the iOS 11 SDK, included in Xcode 9 or later. All new apps for iPhone, including universal apps, must support the Super Retina display of the iPhone X.

The email didn't clarify exactly what support for the iPhone X's "Super Retina" screen means—does it just mean the resolution and aspect ratio must be supported, or do developers also have to update their apps to respect the rounded corners, sensor array (which many people call "the notch"), and the home indicator?

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Distracted driving: Everyone hates it, but most of us do it, study finds

February 16, 2018 - 7:56pm

Enlarge

Insurance company Esurance has a new study out on distracted driving, and it makes for interesting reading. Almost everyone agrees distracted driving is bad, yet it's still remarkably prevalent. Even drivers who report rarely driving distracted also report that they engage in distracting behaviors. The study also raises some questions about the growing complexity of modern vehicles, particularly the user interfaces they confront us with.

Almost everyone does it

According to official figures, around 10 percent of all road deaths are due to distracted driving. That percentage has held steady for a while now after peaking at 15 percent a decade ago. In the time since, governments and the auto and tech industries haven't been ignoring the problem. Texting-while-driving bans are ever more common. Smartphones now have do not disturb modes, some of which can turn on automatically. Phones can also cast their displays and certain apps to the car's center stack using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

And modern vehicles are increasingly packed full of advanced driver aids—what the industry calls ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems)—like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, blind spot monitoring, collision alerts, and so on.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Special Counsel indicts 13 people, Russian troll farm on conspiracy charges

February 16, 2018 - 7:39pm

Enlarge

On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller released a 37-page indictment against the Internet Research Agency, a well-known Russian bot and troll factory, and named 13 Russians on charges of “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” wire fraud, and bank fraud, among others.

As he wrote:

Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system, including the 2016 US presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of US persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as US grassroots entities and US persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as US persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.

At a press conference in Washington, DC, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave brief remarks and took only a few questions from reporters.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Bitcoin miner in NYC home interfered with T-Mobile network, FCC says

February 16, 2018 - 7:28pm

Enlarge / An Antminer S5. (credit: Bitmain)

A New York City resident was ordered to turn off his bitcoin miner after the Federal Communications Commission discovered that it was interfering with T-Mobile's wireless network.

After receiving a complaint from T-Mobile about interference to its 700MHz LTE network in Brooklyn, New York, FCC agents in November 2017 determined that radio emissions in the 700MHz band were coming from the residence of a man named Victor Rosario.

"When the interfering device was turned off the interference ceased," the FCC's enforcement bureau told Rosario in a "Notification of Harmful Interference" yesterday. "You identified the device as an Antminer S5 Bitcoin Miner. The device was generating spurious emissions on frequencies assigned to T-Mobile's broadband network and causing harmful interference."

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AMD sending out free processors to solve firmware flashing Catch-22

February 16, 2018 - 6:43pm

Enlarge / An original Ryzen die; this one doesn't have a GPU so it should work with any firmware. Well; this one won't, it's been etched to expose the die so that it could be photographed. (credit: Fritzchens Fritz)

So you want to build a PC using AMD's new Ryzen processors with Vega graphics. You buy a motherboard, processor, some extraordinarily expensive RAM, and all the other bits and pieces you need to construct a PC. Open them all up at home and put them together and... they don't work.

Then it hits you. The motherboard has an AM4 socket. The processor fits the socket fine, and the chipset is compatible with the new Ryzen 5 2400G, but with a catch: the board needs a firmware update to support this latest processor. Without it, it'll only support the GPU-less Ryzens and the even older AM4 processors built around AMD's previous processor architecture, Excavator. While some motherboards support installing firmware updates without a working CPU, many don't. So you're faced with an inconvenient predicament: to flash the firmware you need a working CPU, but your CPU will only work if you can flash the firmware first.

This isn't the first time this kind of situation has occurred. In the past, both Intel and AMD have posed this conundrum. It's pretty common every time a new processor comes out that works on existing motherboards. In a few months, most motherboards in the channel should have newer firmwares installed in the factory, solving the problem, but right now, buyers are stuck. The usual response from the chip companies is accurate, if unhelpful—"go out and buy the cheapest processor that's compatible, use it to flash the firmware, and then use the new processor"—and that would work here, too, but it's hardly a user-friendly response.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Black Panther reinvents the superhero origin story in a profound way

February 16, 2018 - 6:36pm

Marvel Studios

We've all seen a lot of bloated, meandering superhero movies over the past year, stuffed with exhaustingly large super teams and unmemorable villains. So what makes Black Panther a welcome change isn't just its hero, whose charisma and gravitas are undeniable, but that it is an elegantly structured adventure. The stakes are high, the reveals make sense, and the payoff is satisfying. This is the way superhero movies should be done.

Plus, the secret nation of Wakanda has tech that's way more inventive than anything Tony Stark has produced lately.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A solar panel on every roof in the US? Here are the numbers

February 16, 2018 - 6:17pm

Enlarge (credit: Jon Callas)

When you’re scoping out possible futures, it’s useful to ask a lot of “what if?” questions. For example, what if we could install solar panels on every suitable roof in the United States? How much electricity would they generate?

Plenty of research has followed this line of thought, though much of it has necessarily focused on working out the details for individual cities or regions. But now with enough of these studies in the bank, a group of researchers from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory decided to take another whack at a national estimate.

There are a lot of things you need to know to do this: number of buildings, size of roofs, direction the roofs are facing, strength of sunlight, number of sunny days, and so on. So first off, the researchers took advantage of a Department of Homeland Security program that laser-maps buildings, which now covers almost a quarter of buildings in the US. From this, it's possible to get roof area, roof tilt, roof direction, and whether the roof is shaded by trees. Roofs were tossed out if they were too small, too steep, north-facing, or otherwise would lose more than 20 percent of their possible solar output, but most roofs were suitable.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Internet rages after Google removes “view image” button, bowing to Getty

February 16, 2018 - 6:05pm

Enlarge / Google Image search will no longer offer the "view image" button, which directly linked to an image. (credit: Google)

This week, Google Image Search is getting a lot less useful, with the removal of the "View Image" button. Before, users could search for an image and click the "View Image" button to download it directly without leaving Google or visiting the website. Now, Google Images is removing that button, hoping to encourage users to click through to the hosting website if they want to download an image.

Google's Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, announced the change on Twitter yesterday, saying it would "help connect users and useful websites." Later Sullivan admitted that "these changes came about in part due to our settlement with Getty Images this week" and that "they are designed to strike a balance between serving user needs and publisher concerns, both stakeholders we value."

Almost two years ago, Getty Images filed antitrust charges against Google in the EU, taking issue with the company's image scraping techniques to display image search results. Earlier this week, Google and Getty Images announced a partnership and Getty withdrew its charges against Google. Changes like the removal of direct image links were apparently part of the agreement.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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