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

Withings Pulse HR review: A longer-lasting competitor to Fitbit’s Alta HR

1 hour 46 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Withings has returned as its own company after a short stint under Nokia, and it's brought out some new fitness trackers to take on the top contenders. The $129 Withings Pulse HR looks and acts much like Fitbit's Alta HR: its svelte, rectangular module tracks heart rate all day and night as well as daily activity and workouts.

Plenty of fitness trackers have debuted in the past couple of years, but the Alta HR remains our top pick for most users. Withings is hoping to dethrone it in the minds of the public by offering a device that's even more subtle in design and promises weeks of battery life. But those things aren't achievable without sacrifices, and the options Withings left out of the Pulse HR may deter some from choosing it.

Design Withings Pulse HR Price: $129.95 at Amazon

Buy

The Pulse HR may be nondescript, but that doesn't mean it's not solid. Stainless steel makes up most of the module, along with a polycarbonate surface coating that makes the top part soft to the touch. The OLED display is only as big as it has to be—it doesn't take up the entire flat surface of the modular, rather only the middle third or so.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How Buke and Gase built a huge indie rock career—and its own guitars, software

January 19, 2019 - 7:50pm

NEW YORK CITY—The band brings to the stage: two stringed instruments, neither of which look exactly like a bass or a guitar; two grids of foot-triggered effects pedals and switches; two music stands, covered with a smattering of synthesizers, touchscreens, and touch-sensitive pads; two laptops, connected to this variety of inputs in a center console; and two foot-triggered pieces of percussion.

One of those is a compact kick-drum rig, connected to the laptops. The other is a bicycling shoe with tambourine parts welded onto its sides and sole.

This pre-show array of gear usually elicits curious looks from crowds who wonder what kind of noise is about to emerge. But the band Buke and Gase are here for a homecoming show of sorts. They're fresh off a nationwide tour with Shellac, among the esteemed post-punk bands to have ties to the genre's original DIY movement. They've just put the final touches on their new album, titled Scholars, set to launch two months later (as in, January 18). People are here to celebrate.

Read 51 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hermit crabs evolved longer penises to keep their shells from being stolen

January 19, 2019 - 7:06pm

Enlarge / An adult male hermit crab of the species Coenobita compressus ambling along on a leisurely stroll. (credit: Mark Laidre)

Hermit crabs protect their soft, curved abdomens from harm by scavenging seashells and turning them into portable homes. That poses a challenge when it comes time to mate, since a rival can steal the shell while its occupant is, shall we say, otherwise occupied. A new paper in the journal Royal Society Interface poses an intriguing new hypothesis: some species of male hermit crabs evolved substantially longer penises so they could mate without having to venture too far outside their shells.

Mark Laidre, a biologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, dubbed his hypothesis "private parts for private property." He's been studying the behavior of a particular species of hermit crab, Coenobita compressus, for the last decade.

Seashells are a valuable, limited resource—a kind of private property for hermit crabs and their most prized possession. This is particularly true for Coenobita compressus. This species engages in elaborate remodeling of scavenged shells to tailor them precisely to their liking, tearing out hard material inside the shell over several months to make more room for their bodies. Because the shells are so valuable, there is stiff competition to attain a really nice shell. Fights break out, crabs will kill another crab for their shells, and sometimes the beasts will just outright steal them. Since the remodeled shells prevent the creatures from drying out (which can happen within 24 hours), they are crucial to the crabs' survival.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed

January 19, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Wear OS seems nice, but it lacks apps and decent hardware. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google and Fossil Group were involved in some kind of acquisition deal yesterday. Despite being a fashion brand, Fossil is probably the biggest remaining seller of Android Wear OS hardware. Brands like Fossil, Michael Kors, Diesel, Emporio Armani, and Misfit are all part of Fossil Group, and all produce Wear OS devices. Fossil sold Google some IP and "a portion of Fossil Group's research and development team currently supporting the transferring IP" for $40 million.

Fossil's stock jumped 8 percent on the news, which was probably "mission accomplished" as far as this announcement was concerned. The press release sent the tech community into a tizzy, though.

"Google cares about Android Wear?" "This will fix everything!" "When is the Pixel Watch coming out?"

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Damning court docs show just how far Sacklers went to push OxyContin

January 19, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

With the opioid epidemic raging, you may at this point be familiar with Purdue Pharma. It makes the powerful painkiller OxyContin and has been widely blamed for igniting the current crisis.

After debuting OxyContin in 1996, Purdue raked in billions using aggressive and deceptive sales tactics, including ratcheting up dosages of the addictive opioid while lying about its addictiveness. As OxyContin prescriptions soared, opioid overdose deaths increased six-fold in the US, killing more than 400,000 people between 1999 and 2017. Of those deaths, around 200,000 involved prescription opioids specifically.

In 2007, Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty in federal court to misleading doctors, regulators, and patients about the addictiveness of OxyContin. The company has seen a flurry of lawsuits making similar allegations since then.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Toyota Sienna minivan mixes the solid with the subpar

January 19, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / The Sienna resplendent in an elementary school parking lot.

In the early 2000s, I was in the market for a big car. We needed something that could ferry our daughter and stuff around, carry drywall and other home-improvement stuff, and feel comfortable on cross-country trips to visit my family. Neither our Ford Taurus nor Saturn SL1 fit the bill, and we weren't feeling the SUV love. As we started looking into minivans, it became clear that there were three models to look at seriously: the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Town & Country, and Toyota Sienna.

Nearly 20 years later, not much has changed. Honda, Chrysler, and Toyota still rule the minivan market in terms of sales. We drove the Town & Country's successor, the Pacifica, last year and came away very impressed. So when I found out there was a 2019 Toyota Sienna on the local press fleet, reviewing it was a no-brainer.

The Sienna got a new powertrain in 2017, and last year's model saw some safety and ride quality improvements. Toyota Safety Sense, its suite of driver-assist technology, became standard on the Sienna. Toyota also tackled ride quality by making the cabin quieter. For 2019, support for CarPlay and Amazon Alexa has been added, and the all-wheel-drive powertrain is now available on the SE trim.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Our worst fears have come true,” VW Group exec wrote to Audi exec

January 18, 2019 - 11:43pm

Enlarge / A sign for car service for Audi and VW is pictured on January 09, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (credit: Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)

On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, indicted four Audi executives for playing a role in the diesel cheating scandals that rocked parent company Volkswagen Group in 2015 and 2016. The four executives—Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch, and Carsten Nagel—all worked for Audi in Germany, and they have not been arrested.

The four men have been charged (PDF) with conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act.

The indictment offered some new details on how emissions cheating unfolded at Audi and VW Group, especially with respect to emissions control system cheats on Audi's 3.0L diesel vehicles.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Verizon offers free robocall blocking, two years after AT&T and T-Mobile

January 18, 2019 - 9:34pm

Enlarge / A Verizon logo at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Verizon yesterday said it will make spam and robocall blocking features free for all wireless customers starting in March, about two years after AT&T and T-Mobile began offering free robocall blocking.

"In March, we will be rolling out our free spam alerting and call blocking tools to all of our wireless customers whose smartphones support these features, including iPhone and Android devices," Verizon's announcement said. "There will be more information on how to sign up for the free service as we get closer to launch."

Verizon added call and spam screening features more than a year ago to its $2.99-per-month Call Filter product, which also lets customers see contact details for unknown callers. Verizon pointed to research showing that its system "correctly identified potential problem phone numbers approximately 93.6 percent of the time."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook may be hit with “record-setting fine” by FTC, report says

January 18, 2019 - 9:13pm

Enlarge (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a Friday report by The Washington Post, federal regulators have discussed imposing a "record-setting fine against Facebook" for violating the company’s 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Post, which cited "three people familiar with the deliberations," reported that the total amount is "expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine" that Google previously paid in 2012.

Facebook has come under significant scrutiny over the last year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that erupted in March 2018. That now-defunct British data analytics company was revealed to have retained data on 50 million Facebook users despite claiming to have deleted it.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

VR headsets, augmented windshields, and multiscreen infotainment at CES

January 18, 2019 - 7:44pm

Enlarge / Yes, I am wearing VR in the backseat of an electric car. Yes, this is Peak CES. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

LAS VEGAS—I'd been on the ground for less than twelve hours before I strapped on the virtual reality headset. It was only 8pm but felt far later thanks to time zones and air travel. I had already been chauffeured about that afternoon by a self-driving car, and here I was sitting in the back seat of an Audi e-tron at a race track a little south of the city. I'd already reached Peak CES, yet the show wouldn't even officially start for another 36 hours.

We were at Speedvegas for a rather exclusive look at Holoride, which Audi thinks is the next big breakthrough in in-car entertainment. According to the company—which has spun Holoride as an independent startup—it's a "radically new way to entertain backseat passengers in a brand new way." The idea is deceptively simple: you take telematics info from the car in real-time and use it to construct artificial environments in VR. Or, to put it another way, imagine you're flying in a spaceship, and every time the car accelerates, brakes, or turns, your spaceship accelerates, brakes, or turns as well.

I know what you're thinking: "wearing VR in the back of a car is going to make me carsick!" Holoride's magic formula has been to better match the car's motion to what happens in VR. That means less conflict between the messages from your eyes and your vestibular system, which means less motion sickness. (Now, only 27 percent of users will experience severe nausea, down from more than one in two before Holoride worked out its digital magic. And 53 percent experience no nausea at all.)

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sen. Marco Rubio wants to ban states from protecting consumer privacy

January 18, 2019 - 7:19pm

Enlarge / Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks to reporters following a closed briefing on intelligence matters on Capitol Hill on December 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Zach Gibson )

US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has proposed a federal privacy law that would preempt tougher privacy rules issued by states.

Rubio's announcement Wednesday said that his American Data Dissemination (ADD) Act "provides overdue transparency and accountability from the tech industry while ensuring that small businesses and startups are still able to innovate and compete in the digital marketplace."

But Rubio's bill establishes a process for creating rules instead of issuing specific rules right away, and it allows up to 27 months for Congress or the Federal Trade Commission to write the actual rules.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

To fight climate misinformation, point to the man behind the curtain

January 18, 2019 - 5:51pm

Enlarge / Protest sign from a rally against the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, BC. (credit: flickr user: Mark Klotz)

In 2018, Gallup’s annual environment survey found that overall concern about climate change in the US was roughly stable. But within that stability was a growing divide. The 87 percent of Democrats who reported in 2017 that they believe global warming is a result of human activity bumped up slightly to 89 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, for Republicans, that number dipped from 40 percent in 2017 to 35 percent in 2018.

How can the misinformation campaign driving this divide be fought? Just reporting and reiterating the facts of anthropogenic climate change doesn’t seem to work. A paper in Nature Climate Change this week argues that attempts to counter misinformation need to draw on the research that is illuminating the bad actors behind climate denialism, the money funding them, and how their coordinated campaigns are disrupting the political process.

Facts alone won’t cut it

“It is not enough simply to communicate to the public over and again the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change,” write Justin Farrell, Kathryn McConnell, and Robert Brulle in their paper, because “individuals’ preexisting ideologies and values systems can play a significant role in whether they accept or reject scientific consensus.”

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft: Switch to iOS or Android because Windows 10 Mobile is ending

January 18, 2019 - 5:31pm

Lumia 950 (credit: Peter Bright)

Windows 10 Mobile will receive its last patches and security updates on December 10 this year, as Microsoft winds down the last remaining bit of development on its smartphone platform.

The last major notable to the platform was October 2017, when it was bumped to version 1709. At that point, Microsoft ended feature development entirely, shipping only security updates and bug fixes. That's going to come to an end on Patch Tuesday this coming December.

Certain online services will continue to operate beyond that date; device backups for settings and applications will work for three months, to March 10, 2020, and photo uploads and restoring devices from backups will work for 12 months beyond the end of support.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Elon Musk announces Tesla layoffs, warns about weak Q4 profits

January 18, 2019 - 5:18pm

Enlarge / Tesla CEO Elon Musk visiting China in January 2019. (credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tesla is cutting its workforce by about 7 percent, CEO Elon Musk announced in a Friday morning email to employees. Musk said that the cuts are necessary to help Tesla cope with what Musk described as an "extremely difficult challenge: making our cars, batteries, and solar products cost-competitive with fossil fuels."

Tesla's stock price fell more than 9 percent on the news.

Tesla grew its workforce by 30 percent in 2018, according to Musk, but that growth turned out to be unsustainable. And Tesla is facing a number of headwinds in the coming months.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Earth has been experiencing more frequent asteroid strikes

January 18, 2019 - 4:54pm

Enlarge / The craters used for this analysis and their locations. (credit: Dr. A. Parker, Southwest Research Institute)

How often does a big rock drop on our planet from space? As we've gotten a better understanding of the impact that did-in the dinosaurs, that knowledge has compelled people to take a serious look at how we might detect and divert asteroids that pose a similar threat of planetary extinction. But something even a tenth of the size of the dinosaur-killer could cause catastrophic damage, as you could easily determine by placing a 15km circle over your favorite metropolitan center.

So, what's the risk of having a collision of that nature? It's actually hard to tell. The easiest way to tell is to look for past impact craters and try to figure out the frequency of these impacts, but the Earth has a habit of erasing evidence. So, instead, a group of scientists figured out a clever way of looking at the Moon, which should have a similar level of risk. They found that the rate of impacts went up about 300 million years ago.

Erasing history

Some impact craters on Earth are pretty obvious, but erosion and infilling with sediments make others much harder to find. We wouldn't have noticed Chicxulub or the Chesapeake Bay Crater were there if we hadn't stumbled across them for other reasons. As we go back in time, plate tectonics can erase evidence of impacts from the sea floor, as the rock they reside in gets subducted back into the mantle. And then, about 550 million years ago, the Great Unconformity wipes off any evidence of impacts that might have been left on land.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Now That’s What I Call Ars Technica, Volume 1: Favorite stories from Ars’ 20 years

January 18, 2019 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Actually, I think that was a popular timepiece style when the site first started. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

It's true—Ars Technica is in the process of turning 20 years old throughout 2019. If you've ever looked at the whois info, our official birthday hits on December 29. But Ars was really birthed all throughout that first year, as Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher (err, Caesar) and his fellow computer prosumers figured out how to start the most comprehensive PC enthusiast outlet around. "Our love for the PC is gonna lead us into bad, bad things like NT, Linux, and BeOS content under the same roof," as the original Ars Mission Statement noted. "Please don't report us!"

Since then, well, Ars has definitely expanded. You can find anything from LARPing to archaeology industry trends alongside the latest Linux review on the site today. But throughout these past two decades and the site's numerous evolutions, Ars still feels like it has stuck with the ethos of that initial public declaration—"having fun, being productive, and being as informative and as accurate as possible," as Caesar put it.

So to cap off this week (itself likely a small start to what will inevitably be numerous trips down memory lane during our 20th anniversary year), we recently polled the Ars community—aka, staff and readers—to find out what folks consider some of the site's greatest hits. The first batch of story suggestions is below, but don't be shy about starting a second list in the comments.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The longstanding NASA-Russian partnership in space may be unraveling

January 18, 2019 - 3:14pm

Enlarge / Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin is photographed in October, 2018, after the launch failure of a Soyuz-FG rocket. (credit: Alexei Filippov/TASS via Getty Images)

After an American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit during the height of the Cold War, in 1975, the two leading space powers gradually worked more and more together on civil space activities. Over time, they forged a successful and, among astronauts and engineers at least, even a comfortable bond. But of late, that bond is fraying, and long-term it may unravel entirely.

The most immediate issue involves Dmitry Rogozin, appointed to lead the Russian space corporation Roscosmos in May 2018. Overtly political, Rogozin shares Vladimir Putin's antipathy toward the West. Following the Crimean crisis in 2014, Rogozin was one of seven Russian officials sanctioned by the Obama administration. In response, he taunted NASA, which relied then (and still does) on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station.

"After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” Rogozin, then a deputy prime minister of Russia over defense and space, tweeted in Russian at the time.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Star Trek: Discovery’s second season may boldly go where the first did not

January 18, 2019 - 3:05pm

Enlarge / Michael Burnham is all of us. (credit: CBS)

In many ways, this season felt very much like a much-needed reset from the previous one. The Klingon war is over, and the Federation is consumed by a new scientific pursuit: mysterious red bursts of light that have appeared across 30,000 light years.

The scene that really drove home the reset was the formal roll call, where our bridge characters say their names—really, directly to the audience.

It’s still baffling that we went an entire season without knowing most of the bridge crew’s names! Yes, we sort of got to know a handful of characters, but there are regular faces that we’ve seen many times on the bridge. If like the other shows, where the bulk of each episode happens in the nerve center of the ship, it would help to know who we’re interacting with.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Twenty legal battles that stand out across Ars’ 20 years of covering them

January 18, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / The US Supreme Court is shown on the day of the investiture ceremony for new Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh on November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The legal system is often a confounding place, where disputes are adjudicated—it’s a world full of jargon that we journalists try to explain as best we can. And over the last two decades, legal cases have remained a fixture on Ars Technica.

We’ve brought you endless news of initial criminal or civil complaints in that time. And in the most important cases, Ars has followed them, blow by blow, through various motions. We sat in every session for the criminal trial of Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht and took a similar approach to the API patents saga of Oracle v. Google, for instance.

Just this week, Ars sat in the courtroom as Defense Distributed and the State of New Jersey argued over legal jurisdiction and matters of free speech intersecting with future technology. It echoes back to our site's legacy of watching the march of technology and innovation directly intersect with an evolving legal system—it has been nearly 20 years since we covered Microsoft’s infamous antitrust battles around the turn of the century. These literally became the subject of CNN decade documentaries since then.

Read 119 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: Iranian booster failure, SpaceX cuts, Vulcan near final design

January 18, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (credit: Aurich Lawson/SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 1.32 of the Rocket Report! As we get deeper into the new year, the launch business is starting to heat up, especially among the smaller rockets. Companies are eyeing launch sites, securing launch contracts, and scrambling on development of their rockets. This is simply going to be a huge year for small-sat launchers, and we're going to do our best to stay on top of everything.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Relativity Space to launch from historic Florida site. The company that aspires to 3D print almost the entirety of its rockets has reached an agreement with the US Air Force to launch from historic facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Relativity Space said Thursday it has a multiyear contract to build and operate its own rocket launch facilities at Launch Complex 16, Ars reported.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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