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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 48 min 2 sec ago

Google’s “overpromising” led to Stadia “disappointment,” says RDR2 publisher

1 hour 15 min ago

A year ago, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said he was "pretty optimistic" about Google's Stadia game-streaming service. The concept of "being able to play our games on any device whatsoever around the world, and to do it with low latency, well that’s very compelling if that can be delivered," he offered in May of 2019.

Now, though, Zelnick has changed his tune a bit. In an interview given during the Bernstein Annual Strategic Decisions Conference late last week, Zelnick acknowledges what has been apparent to industry watchers for a while: "The launch of Stadia has been slow," he said. "I think there was some overpromising on what the technology could deliver and some consumer disappointment as a result."

While major publishers like EA and Activision stayed away from Stadia's "Founders" launch last November, Take-Two provided three of the service's highest-profile games in its early months—Red Dead Redemption 2, NBA 2K20, and Borderlands 3. And Zelnick said such Stadia support will continue in the future "as long as the business model makes sense." (Take-Two's PGA Tour 2K21, WWE2K Battlegrounds, and the Mafia series are currently planned for future Stadia release.)

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook employees revolt over Zuckerberg’s stance on Trump

2 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook profile that he had been "struggling with how to respond" to Donald Trump’s posts (credit: Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Mark Zuckerberg is facing a backlash from within Facebook after several senior employees publicly criticized the chief executive for refusing to take action over posts by President Donald Trump that Twitter censured last week for “glorifying violence.”

As protests and rioting over the death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, spread through several American cities this weekend, Mr. Zuckerberg was forced to defend Facebook’s position as—in his words—“an institution committed to free expression.”

On Friday, Mr. Trump posted on both Facebook and Twitter that he would respond to violent protests with military force, saying: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” But while Twitter slapped a warning on the post and hid it from view, Facebook left the message intact.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After Dragon’s historic docking, America has more new spaceships on the way

3 hours 3 min ago

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft made history for the second time on Sunday.

On May 25, 2012, a Cargo Dragon was grabbed by the ISS. It became the first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station. On Sunday, when Dragonship Endeavour docked with the station 15 minutes ahead of schedule, above the border of China and Mongolia, it became the first private spacecraft to fly crew there (or anywhere in orbit, for that matter).

After the docking, the spacecraft's commander, NASA Astronaut Doug Hurley, was complimentary after he and Bob Behnken spent some time flying Dragon manually. "It flew just about like the sim, so my congratulations to the folks at Hawthorne," he said, referring to SpaceX's headquarters in California, where the astronauts spent many weeks practicing in a flight simulator. "It flew really well, very crisp. We couldn't be happier about the performance of the vehicle."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Understanding epidemiology models

5 hours 18 min ago

Enlarge / People walk past a social distancing sign outside the Royal Botanic Garden on May 31, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Policy decisions to re-open facilities or to encourage citizens to shelter in place don't come out of nowhere—there's often (hopefully) data behind the scenes. (credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

One of the least expected aspects of 2020 has been the fact that epidemiological models have become both front-page news and a political football. Public health officials have consulted with epidemiological modelers for decades as they've attempted to handle diseases ranging from HIV to the seasonal flu. Before 2020, it had been rare for the role these models play to be recognized outside of this small circle of health policymakers.

Some of that tradition hasn't changed with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. International bodies, individual countries, most states, and even some cities have worked with modelers to try to shape policy responses to the threat of COVID-19. But some other aspects of epidemiological modeling life clearly have changed. The models, some of which produce eye-catching estimates of fatalities, have driven headlines in addition to policy responses. And those policy responses have ended up being far more controversial than anyone might have expected heading into the pandemic.

With the severity of COVID-19, it's no surprise that there has been increased scrutiny of epidemiological models. Models have become yet another aspect of life embroiled in political controversy. And it's fair for the public to ask why different models—or even the same model run a few days apart—can produce dramatically different estimates of future fatalities.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Good podcast vibes for the nerdy set: Our recent faves in science, research

May 31, 2020 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / Ars' creative director Aurich Lawson describes this image as: "good vibes, friends, and listening to the reaches of space." We like to think that fits well with our latest podcast recommendations. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In some ways, podcasts are among the most quarantine-proof forms of entertainment right now. Maybe some bigger hosts have been forced to move their microphones and wall padding to a home office, or they're now hiding in closets for better sound quality (but not as an anxious reaction to terrifying and confusing news headlines).

But that doesn't mean all podcasts currently in production are a perfect fit for a nerd's listening diet, whether because they're too flippant or too doom-and-gloom. In my case, at least, I seek a mix of emotional support, comfort, and normalcy in my regular podcast library. Hence, I'm recommending the five podcasts below as my favorites if you're looking for that much-needed connection to the outside world. (These are in addition to other podcasts I've previously recommended at Ars.)

My latest selections tell uplifting stories; they feature friends talking about things they love; and while they've had to adapt to keep their hosts safe from COVID-19, they've held onto the joy and optimism that drew me to them in the first place. All of these podcasts have new, regularly updated episodes in common, and all of them revolve around research and science.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Electrifying West Africa with a renewable grid

May 31, 2020 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / A new hydroelectric power station in the Ivory Coast. (credit: Xinhua News Agency)

There has been a lot of discussion about how areas that are seeing explosive renewable growth can manage the large amount of intermittent electricity sources. But these mostly focus on regions with mature electric grids and a relatively static growth in demand. What would happen if you tried to grow renewables at the same time you're trying to grow a grid?

A EU-US team of researchers decided to find out what a good renewable policy might look like in West Africa, an area similar in size to the 48 contiguous US states but composed of 16 different countries. Some of these nations already get a sizable chunk of their power from renewables in the form of hydropower, but they are expected to see demand roughly double in the next decade. Although renewables like solar and wind are likely to play a role purely based on their price, the researchers' analysis suggests that a smart international grid can balance hydro, wind, and solar to produce a far greener grid.

Hydro as a giant battery

The new work has a mix of focuses. It's run against the backdrop of the expectation that West Africa's demand for electricity will explode over the next decade. Right now, the region has nearly 400 million inhabitants who consume a bit over 100 terawatt-hours a year (compared to the United States' 4,000TW-hr). By 2030, that demand is expected to be more than 200TW-hr—a fourfold increase from where demand was in 2015.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Can we save the night sky from satellite streaks?

May 31, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / The solar eclipse and ISS transit back in August of 2017. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

As much of the world has slowed down amid COVID-19, the same cannot be said for the burgeoning small satellite broadband industry. In recent weeks, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced he hopes to move the company’s Starlink broadband service to public beta in about six months. And that very same day, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved new rules for preventing orbital debris and collisions in space (those rules have been revised so as to not hamper NASA, but they still require more analysis, tracking, and disclosure from satellite companies). It's a small snapshot of what's been an ongoing debate: astronomy advocates say we are running out of time to preserve pristine views in the night sky, companies sending satellite constellations into space say they are mitigating the threat their satellites could pose to skywatchers.

The fleets of low-cost satellites will certainly be beneficial for telecommunications and Earth observation customers, particularly those living in remote areas. Crowds of satellites decrease the "revisit time" between satellite passes and make it easier to stay in touch, or to get frequent images during natural disasters.

Yet astronomers warn that without care, the satellites could ruin science observations and also make it difficult for groups like Native Americans who see the sky as part of their culture. Space organizations in Europe and the United States are already sounding alarm bells in reports and press releases. The European Southern Observatory (which operates the Very Large Telescope in Chile, among others) recently warned their observatories would be "moderately affected" if constellations launch at current rates. The National Science Foundation's Vera C. Rubin Observatory in northern Chile said nearly every image obtained during twilight "would be affected by at least one satellite trail."

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Walmart employees are out to show its anti-shoplifting AI doesn’t work

May 31, 2020 - 11:45am

Enlarge (credit: Roberto Machado Noa | Getty Images)

In January, my coworker received a peculiar email. The message, which she forwarded to me, was from a handful of corporate Walmart employees calling themselves the “Concerned Home Office Associates.” (Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, is often referred to as the Home Office.) While it’s not unusual for journalists to receive anonymous tips, they don’t usually come with their own slickly produced videos.

The employees said they were “past their breaking point” with Everseen, a small artificial intelligence firm based in Cork, Ireland, whose technology Walmart began using in 2017. Walmart uses Everseen in thousands of stores to prevent shoplifting at registers and self-checkout kiosks. But the workers claimed it misidentified innocuous behavior as theft and often failed to stop actual instances of stealing.

They told WIRED they were dismayed that their employer—one of the largest retailers in the world—was relying on AI they believed was flawed. One worker said that the technology was sometimes even referred to internally as “NeverSeen” because of its frequent mistakes. WIRED granted the employees anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“The trampoline is working”—SpaceX returns human spaceflight to America

May 31, 2020 - 2:30am

The rain showers ended. The clouds parted. And so on Saturday afternoon, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket had blue skies above it during the final minutes of a countdown to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Falcon 9 rocket had launched 84 times before. In fact, no US rocket now flying has launched as much as the Falcon 9 rocket. So, this was all kind of routine in that sense. But for the first time, the Falcon 9 rocket carried two humans on board, inside a Crew Dragon spacecraft. That changed everything.

So much was at stake, the immensity of this almost became too much to bear as the clock ticked down.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dearth of women in classic Hollywood was result of studio system, study finds

May 30, 2020 - 11:41pm

Enlarge / Olivia de Havilland—pictured here as Melanie Hamliton in the 1939 Oscar-Winning film Gone with the Wind—successfully sued Warner Bros. in 1943 to free herself from her studio contract. The groundbreaking lawsuit contributed to the breakup of the Hollywood studio system. (credit: YouTube/MGM)

The so-called Golden Age of Hollywood produced some of the most memorable films ever made, from 1927's The Jazz Singer to Gone with the Wind (1939) and Citizen Kane (1941). But it wasn't so golden for women in the film industry, according to a recent paper published in PLOS One that analyzed a century's worth of data and concluded that the rise of the infamous studio system produced severe gender inequality. Female representation started rising again in the 1950s, after two pivotal lawsuits effectively broke the studios' stranglehold on the industry.

Lead author Luis Amaral, of Northwestern University, is a physicist by training, specializing in the study of complex systems. This latest work builds on a 2015 study that he co-authored, examining correlations between production budget, box office gross, and total number of user votes for films on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). That study concluded that the total number of IMDB votes was a strong indicator of a given film's prominence or notability.

Three years ago, co-author Murielle Dunande, then a high school student spending her summer break in Amaral's lab, proposed a study of the representation of women in the movies. Initially, she focused on films in the 1960s, but Amaral thought it would be interesting to go back to the birth of the film industry to better understand the historical origins of the gender disparity.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX successfully launches two humans into orbit [Updated]

May 30, 2020 - 6:40pm

After nine years without a human launch from Florida, it's about damn time, isn't it?

During Wednesday's technically smooth countdown, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken came within 17 minutes of launching before a scrub due to poor weather. The crew will suit up and try again on Saturday despite still iffy weather.

SpaceX is working toward an instantaneous launch at 3:22pm ET (19:22 UTC). The company's Falcon 9 rocket will lift Hurley and Behnken, aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, into outer space, and the Crew Dragon will carry them to the International Space Station. The big concern again today is the development of thunderstorms near the launch site this afternoon, which could violate a number of weather criteria, including not just precipitation, but also residual electric energy from lighting in the atmosphere. Overall, the chance of acceptable weather at launch time is about 50 percent, forecasters estimate. They are also watching for down-range conditions in case an emergency abort is required during the rocket's ascent to space.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An advanced and unconventional hack is targeting industrial firms

May 30, 2020 - 5:19pm

Enlarge / Binary code, illustration. (credit: KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images)

Attackers are putting considerable skill and effort into penetrating industrial companies in multiple countries, with hacks that use multiple evasion mechanisms, an innovative encryption scheme, and exploits that are customized for each target with pinpoint accuracy.

The attacks begin with emails that are customized for each target, a researcher at security firm Kaspersky Lab reported this week. For the exploit to trigger, the language in the email must match the localization of the target’s operating system. For example, in the case of an attack on a Japanese company, the text of the email and an attached Microsoft Office document containing a malicious macro had to be written in Japanese. Also required: an encrypted malware module could be decrypted only when the OS had a Japanese localization as well.

Recipients who click on a request to urgently enable the document’s active content will see no indication anything is amiss. Behind the scenes, however, a macro executes a Powershell script. The reason it stays hidden: the command parameters:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Vast of Night is an alien encounter film like no other

May 30, 2020 - 1:38pm

The official trailer for Amazon's The Vast of Night.

AUSTIN, Texas—Everyone kinda, sorta knows the story of The Vast of Night before they even hear of this movie. Filmmaker Andrew Patterson readily admits he partially based his debut feature on a real-life event—the 1965 Kecksburg incident—and even the initial idea that led him to researching Kecksburg struck Patterson as familiar. “I have a document in my phone of three or four dozen single line movie ideas,” he told Ars. “This one said, ‘1950s, black and white, New Mexico, UFO film.’”Ars at Fantastic Fest

View more stories

But The Vast of Night ultimately doesn’t hinge on how its plot plays out. This small budget, tightly scoped sci-fi film has wowed festival audiences enough to attract Amazon money largely on its spectacle—individual images you’d gladly frame for the office wall, dialogue that draws you in no matter the subject, sonic flourishes that stick with you long after the credits roll. Talking to the filmmaker after a recent Fantastic Fest screening, it becomes hard to shake the feeling he’ll be managing a much larger studio budget of his choosing in the very near future.

“We knew we were working in a genre that was shop-worn, nothing new,” Patterson says. “We wanted to let people know, ‘OK this is an abduction in New Mexico—we know this story, you know this story. How can we find a way in and do something special, to make something new?' I wanted to make it like the films I enjoy, which are usually about people learning about each other, their dynamics and relationships. So, OK, I want to start this like it’s a Richard Linklater movie… then we get side-swiped into something extraordinary.”

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Everyone’s ordering delivery, but apps aren’t making money

May 30, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / Two Uber Eats delivery courier wait outside Mc Donalds fast food in Ghent, Belgium on May 14, 2020. As Belgium takes steps in easing Restrictions, Restaurant and cafe are not allowed to open to customers only fast food and take away is allowed. restaurants and restaurants may not reopen before June 8. (Photo by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

When Luke Edwards opened OH Pizza & Brew in 2014, the Columbus, Ohio, restaurateur thought delivery apps could help his business. His chicken wings and specialty pizzas—the most popular and appropriately named “Bypass,” topped with pepperoni, sausage, ham, salami, bacon, and extra cheese—needed an audience. And he says working with apps such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Canada’s SkipTheDishes helped him build a loyal following, allowing him to open two more OH Pizza & Brews, with another location on the way.

But by January 2019, Edwards had had enough. For one, he didn’t think the services were helping his bottom line. “Even though we were bringing in more money, after paying out the commission rates, we were seeing a decrease in net profits,” he says. The drivers were inconsistent, he reports, and sometimes lacked equipment like insulated food bags to keep deliveries warm. Edwards also found it harder to get in touch with customer service reps for the apps, who would sometimes refund customers at the eatery's expense for deliveries he believed had gone well.

“Quickly, I realized [the apps] were good at the search and optimization thing,” he adds. “They were terrible at delivery.” Today, OH Pizza & Brew pays its own contracted drivers to deliver, which Edwards believes saves him money.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro mini-review: A vast improvement

May 30, 2020 - 12:30pm

The past year has brought big changes to the iPad. First, the branch from iOS to iPadOS—and some accompanying changes to the software—signaled an effort by Apple to make real productivity possible on the platform. Second, Apple introduced trackpad support, bringing a whole new user interface paradigm to the iPad.

The latest product of that particular effort is the introduction of the Magic Keyboard peripheral from the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models. It combines a keyboard modeled after the keyboard peripheral of the same name for Macs—a generally beloved design—with the first trackpad made by Apple specifically for the iPad.

After spending some time with the Magic Keyboard, we’re ready to share our impressions. It’s just a peripheral, though, so this is going to be a very short review. We’re not going to get too much into the software side of things, as we’ve done that in our previous coverage of iPadOS as well as our most recent iPad Pro review. And we’re going to go into even more detail in an upcoming article entirely about working with trackpads and keyboards on the iPad.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Whoooaaa duuuuude: Why we stretch words in tweets and texts

May 30, 2020 - 11:35am

Enlarge (credit: Paul Linse | Getty Images)

On Twitter, when a simple ha won’t do, there’s always hahahaaaa, haaaahaaaa, or even hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, indicating you’ve just read the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. (Or that you’re a sarcastic talking raccoon.) These are known as stretchable or lengthened words, and now researchers from the University of Vermont have figured out just how pervasive they are on Twitter, uncovering fascinating patterns about their use.

Stretchability is a powerful linguistic device that visually punches up a written word, imparting a wide range of emotions. That goes for the gooooooaaaaaaal of a soccer announcer, a teenager’s exasperated finallyyyyy, and a surfer’s aweeeeeesome. And booooyare they popular on Twitter. Writing today in the journal PLOS One, the researchers detail how they combed through 100 billion tweets, mapping how often these words are stretched, and how far they are elongated—haha versus hahahahaaaa, for example.

Consider dude and its many formulations. “That can convey basically anything, like ‘Duuuuude, that's awful,’” says University of Vermont applied mathematician Peter Sheridan Dodds, one of the study’s coauthors. On the other hand, “Dude!” is different. “It could be excitement; it could be joy,” says Dodds.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

CDC says its testing fail didn’t hurt US response. Experts disagree

May 29, 2020 - 10:45pm

Enlarge / Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attends an event about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

The botched rollout of COVID-19 testing did not cripple the country’s early response to the pandemic, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed Friday.

CDC Director Robert Redfield cited a new analysis published by the agency Friday. The analysis suggests the new coronavirus began spreading in the country in late January or early February—but only at low levels. The study appears in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

With the new data, Redfield argued that the level of spread was so low in those early days that additional testing would not have made a difference in detecting the spread of the pandemic virus. If the CDC had initially produced and scaled up a functional test for COVID-19—which it infamously failed to do—“it really would be like looking for a needle in a haystack," Redfield said, according to NPR.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Western Digital gets sued for sneaking SMR disks into its NAS channel

May 29, 2020 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Hattis Law isn't pulling any punches in the allegations made in its class-action lawsuit, specifically calling WD out not only for using SMR technology in less-than-ideal devices, but flatly accusing them of outright deception in the process. (credit: Hattis Law)

All three of the surviving conventional hard drive vendors—Toshiba, Western Digital, and Seagate—have gotten caught sneaking disks featuring Shingled Magnetic Recording technology into unexpected places recently. But Western Digital has been the most brazen of the three, and it's been singled out for a class action lawsuit in response.

Although all three major manufacturers quietly added SMR disks to their desktop hard drive line-up, Western Digital is the only one so far to slip them into its NAS (Network Attached Storage) stack. NAS drives are expected to perform well in RAID and other multiple disk arrays, whether ZFS pools or consumer devices like Synology or Netgear NAS appliances.

In sharp contrast to Western Digital's position on SMR disks as NAS, Seagate executive Greg Belloni told us that there weren't any SMR disks in the Ironwolf (competitor to Western Digital Red) line-up now and that the technology is not appropriate for that purpose.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

US “terminating relationship” with World Health Organization, Trump says

May 29, 2020 - 9:56pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Westend61)

President Trump today said the US government is "terminating our relationship" with the World Health Organization, alleging that the global health group has not implemented needed reforms and that it is controlled entirely by China.

"China has total control over the World Health Organization despite only paying $40 million per year, compared to what the United States has been paying, which is approximately $450 million a year," Trump said during a brief press conference at the White House Rose Garden (see video).

Trump halted funding to WHO in mid-April. On May 18, he sent a letter to WHO, saying that the US will permanently stop funding the group if it "does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days." It has only been 11 days since then, but Trump said today he is moving ahead with his threat.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

135-year-long streak is over: US renewable sources topped coal in 2019

May 29, 2020 - 9:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Rickaby)

Two weeks ago, we covered a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projection that renewable wind, solar, and hydroelectric power would top coal for total electricity generation in 2020. That was particularly believable given that renewables had beat coal in daily generation every day going back to March 24. As it happens, that daily streak finally came to an end this week, as coal picked up amid rising demand and a couple of low days for wind. Coal likely topped renewables on Tuesday, although it’s possible that rooftop solar generation (not included in EIA’s daily data) extended the run until Wednesday.

But the EIA also released some numbers Thursday that highlight a related and interesting piece of trivia: if you include energy use beyond the electric sector and all types of renewable energy, renewables actually beat out coal last year. And to find the last time that was true, you have to go all the way back to the 1880s.

(credit: US EIA)

This comparison includes biofuels (like ethanol and biodiesel), wood-burning, and waste incineration or landfill gas. And beyond electricity, it adds in energy used by industry, residential and commercial buildings, and transportation—uses where coal plays little or no role.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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