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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 27 min ago

Scientists racing to save vital medical isotopes imperiled by shabby reactors

15 hours 2 min ago

Enlarge / A dose of Tc-99m to be used in an upcoming scan. (credit: Getty | Rene Johnston)

There’s a mad dash for a vital radioactive isotope that’s used in about 50,000 medical procedures every day in the US, including spotting deadly cancers and looming heart problems. Currently, access to it hinges on a shaky supply chain and a handful of aging nuclear reactors in foreign countries. But federal regulators and a few US companies are pushing hard and spending millions to produce it domestically and shore up access, Kaiser Health News reports.

The isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), decays to the short-lived Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) and other isotopes, which are used as radiotracers in medical imaging. Injected into patients, the isotopes spotlight how the heart is pumping, what parts of the brain are active, or if tumors are forming in bones.

But, to get to those useful endpoints, Mo-99 has to wind through a fraught journey. According to KHN, most Mo-99 in the US is made by irradiating Cold War-era uranium from America’s nuclear stockpile. The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration secretly ships it to aging reactors abroad. The reactors—and five subsequent processing plants—are in Australia, Canada, Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, and the Czech Republic), and South Africa, according to a 2016 report by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Private companies then rent irradiation time at the reactors, send the resulting medley of isotopes to processing plants, book the final Mo-99 on commercial flights back to the US, and distribute it to hospitals and pharmacies.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nintendo’s Labo playset slaps the Switch into build-your-own cardboard toys

January 17, 2018 - 11:24pm

Enlarge / Labo looks like a trip, Nintendo. (credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo has announced a new build-your-own-accessories line for the Switch console, dubbed Nintendo Labo. It will arrive on April 20 in the United States and Japan and April 27 in Europe.

Labo's two playsets, the $69.99 Variety Kit and the $79.99 Robot Kit, will come with marked cardboard sheets that must be punched and folded by players, along with connecting string, reflective stickers (for controller-sensing purposes), and other accessories. The foldable parts resemble everything from pianos to fishing rods, along with a full-body robot outfit. They accept both the Switch console and its Joy-Con controllers in various slots.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

With HomePod around the corner, Siri’s “give me the news” feature exits beta

January 17, 2018 - 11:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

When you say "Hey Siri, give me the news" to your iOS device, Siri will now immediately begin playing a daily news update from a popular news podcast—NPR by default in the United States. Coming shortly before the launch of the HomePod smart speaker, also powered by Siri, this small feature is the latest that brings some Alexa or Google Assistant-style interactions to Apple's ecosystem.

In the US, NPR's News Now podcast immediately begins playing as soon as you say the words. Note that hitting the home button and then saying, "Give me the news," won't do it, though. The feature has to be activated by the hands-free "Hey Siri" prompt used in CarPlay or in the upcoming HomePod's screenless interface.

Samuel Axon

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hackers can’t dig into latest Xiaomi phone due to GPL violations

January 17, 2018 - 10:51pm

Enlarge

Yet another Android OEM is dragging its feet with its GPL compliance. This time, it's Xiaomi with the Mi A1 Android One device, which still hasn't seen a kernel source code release.

Android vendors are required to release their kernel sources thanks to the Linux kernel's GPLv2 licensing. The Mi A1 has been out for about three months now, and there's still no source code release on Xiaomi's official github account.

Unfortunately, GPL non-compliance is par for the course in the world of Android. Budget SoC company MediaTek once tried charging users for access to GPL'd code. Motorola under Lenovo has been regularly accused of violating the GPL and releasing incomplete sources or sources that differ from the kernel shipping on devices. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these alleged GPL violators are from China, which often plays fast and loose with IP law.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple to pay $38 billion in US taxes on overseas cash

January 17, 2018 - 10:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Gary Waters)

Apple announced on Wednesday that it would pay $38 billion in taxes to the federal government as it brings cash earned overseas into the United States. The big payment is the result of President Donald Trump's tax cut bill, passed last month, which created a new, special tax rate for overseas cash.

Apple is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of that provision. The American company had around $250 billion in cash and other short-term assets held by overseas affiliates. Under previous tax law, Apple would have had to pay a tax of 35 percent in order to bring overseas cash back to the United States. Under the new law, that rate is cut to 15.5 percent, saving Apple tens of billions of dollars compared to what it would have paid to bring the cash home in 2017.

Apple didn't have a choice about this. Under the new tax bill, all overseas cash is subject to a one-time 15.5 percent tax whether Apple leaves it overseas or moves it to the United States.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New botnet infects cryptocurrency mining computers, replaces wallet address

January 17, 2018 - 10:20pm

Enlarge / A cryptocurrency mining farm. (credit: Marco Krohn)

Satori—the malware family that wrangles routers, security cameras, and other Internet-connected devices into potent botnets—is crashing the cryptocurrency party with a new variant that surreptitiously infects computers dedicated to the mining of digital coins.

A version of Satori that appeared on January 8 exploits one or more weaknesses in the Claymore Miner, researchers from China-based Netlab 360 said in a report published Wednesday. After gaining control of the coin-mining software, the malware replaces the wallet address the computer owner uses to collect newly minted currency with an address controlled by the attacker. From then on, the attacker receives all coins generated, and owners are none the wiser unless they take time to manually inspect their software configuration.

Records show that the attacker-controlled wallet has already cashed out slightly more than 1 Etherium coin. The coin was valued at as much as $1,300 when the transaction was made. At the time this post was being prepared, the records also showed that the attacker had a current balance of slightly more than 1 Etherium coin and was actively mining more, with a calculation power of about 2,100 million hashes per second. That's roughly equivalent to the output of 85 computers each running a Radeon Rx 480 graphics card or 1,135 computers running a GeForce GTX 560M, based on figures provided here.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fitbit Coach arrives on your TV with new Windows 10 and Xbox One apps

January 17, 2018 - 9:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Fitbit)

Now that FitStar's transition to Fitbit Coach is officially complete, Fitbit is expanding the devices that support its revamped personal training app. The company announced that the Fitbit Coach apps for Windows 10 and Xbox One devices will be available for download later today.

Fitbit owned FitStar for a while before it announced its impending transformation into Fitbit Coach last year. The app, which is separate from the main Fitbit app that all of the company's wearables connect to, holds guided workouts, video routines, and other personalized fitness programs.

Fitbit built off of FitStar's previous offerings and added more content that customers can access fully with a $39.99-per-year Premium subscription. There are some routines that users can access for free after downloading the app (which is free to download as well), but most of the content lies behind Fitbit's paywall.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: GM and Waymo lead driverless car race; Tesla lags far behind

January 17, 2018 - 9:32pm

Enlarge / Cruise second-generation test vehicles, assembled at GM’s Lake Orion plant in Michigan. (credit: Cruise)

In November, Waymo announced it would begin testing fully driverless vehicles with no one in the driver's seat. Then, last week, GM petitioned the federal government for approval to mass-produce a car with no steering wheel or pedals—with plans to release it in 2019. In short, driverless cars are on the cusp of shifting from laboratory research projects to real, shipping products.

A new report from the consulting firm Navigant ranks the major players in this emerging driverless car industry. Navigant analysts see GM and Waymo as the clear industry leaders, while Ford, Daimler (teamed up with auto supplier Bosch), and Volkswagen Group are also strong contenders in Navigant's view.

Dominating the driverless car business will require both advanced autonomous vehicle technology as well as the ability to mass-produce cars with the necessary sensors and computing hardware. In this respect, Silicon Valley tech companies and the OEMs face opposite challenges. Waymo has long been the leader in driverless software, but it needs to find a partner to help it manufacture the cars that will run that software. Conversely, car companies know how to build cars but don't necessarily have the expertise to create the kind of sophisticated software required for fully self-driving vehicles.

Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Free TV” box lawyer says video industry is “digging its own grave”

January 17, 2018 - 8:56pm

Enlarge / The Dragon Box. (credit: Dragon Media)

The entertainment industry is lining up against the maker of a "free TV" box in a lawsuit that alleges piracy, but the defendant's lawyer says the industry is in for a difficult and dangerous fight.

"I think this is a very, very dangerous lawsuit by plaintiffs," lawyer Erik Syverson told Ars yesterday. "If the case does not go the plaintiffs' way, they will have established very unfavorable law to their business models and they may be digging their own grave."

Syverson represents Dragon Media Inc., whose "Dragon Box" device connects to TVs and lets users watch video without a cable TV or streaming service subscription.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The 2019 Audi A7 is a sleek-looking fastback with some pretty cool tech

January 17, 2018 - 8:40pm

Jonathan Gitlin

DETROIT—It's fair to say that this year's North American International Auto Show has been a little lackluster. But one of the standouts was the North American debut of the new Audi A7. The previous model was—to my eyes—Audi's best-looking model, and I was worried that its successor wouldn't live up. Happily, that isn't the case.

But the new A7 is not just a pretty face; under the skin, you'll find almost all the same technology that Audi is packing into its A8 flagship sedan. That means class-leading infotainment and—once regulators are happy—some seriously advanced headlights and level 3 autonomous driving.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Immigrant-friendly policies make most whites feel welcomed, too

January 17, 2018 - 8:01pm

Enlarge (credit: National Park Service)

Immigration policy in the US has grown increasingly contentious, seemingly pitting different communities and ideologies against each other. But a new study suggests that a large majority of Americans appreciate a welcoming policy toward immigrants. Only a specific minority—white conservatives—generally feels otherwise. And the effect isn't limited to policy, as it influenced whether citizens felt welcome in the place that they lived.

The research, performed by a collaboration of US-based researchers, focused on New Mexico and Arizona. These states have similar demographics but radically different policies toward immigrants. Arizona has state policies that encourage police to check the immigration status of people they encounter; controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio ended up in trouble with the court system in part due to how aggressively he pursued this program. New Mexico, by contrast, will provide state IDs and tuition benefits to immigrants regardless of their documentation status.

The researchers reasoned that these states would provide a reasonable test as to how immigration policies align with the feelings of the public. So they surveyed nearly 2,000 residents of the two states, including immigrants, naturalized US citizens, and people born in the US, focusing on the states' Caucasian and Hispanic populations.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA’s internal schedule for the commercial crew program is pretty grim

January 17, 2018 - 7:51pm

Enlarge / Despite her smiles here, NASA's commercial crew program manager has concerns about schedules for Boeing and SpaceX. (credit: NASA)

Publicly, both Boeing and SpaceX maintain that they will fly demonstration missions by the end of this year that carry astronauts to the International Space Station. This would put them on course to become certified for "operational" missions to the station in early 2019, to ensure NASA's access to the orbiting laboratory.

On Wednesday, during a congressional hearing, representatives from both companies reiterated this position. "We have high confidence in our plan," Boeing's commercial crew program manager, John Mulholland, said. SpaceX Vice President Hans Koenigsmann said his company would be ready, too.

However their testimony before the US House Subcommittee on Space was undercut by the release of a report Wednesday by the US Government Accountability Office. The lead author of that report, Christina Chaplain, told Congress during the same hearing that she anticipated these certification dates would be much later. For SpaceX, operational flights to the station were unlikely before December, 2019, and Boeing unlikely before February, 2020, Chaplain said.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Meteor lights up southern Michigan

January 17, 2018 - 7:38pm

Enlarge / That's no moon!

Early last night local time, a meteor rocketed through the skies of southern Michigan, giving local residents a dramatic (if brief) light show. It also generated an imperceptible thump, as the US Geological Survey confirmed that there was a coincident magnitude 2.0 earthquake.

The American Meteor Society has collected more than 350 eyewitness accounts, which ranged from western Pennsylvania out to Illinois and Wisconsin. They were heavily concentrated over southern Michigan, notably around the Detroit area. A number of people have also posted videos of the fireball online; one of the better compilations is below.

A compilation of several videos from Syracuse.com.

The American Meteor Society estimates that the rock was relatively slow-moving at a sedate 45,000km an hour. Combined with its production of a large fireball, the researchers conclude it was probably a big rock. NASA's meteorwatch Facebook page largely agrees and suggests that this probably means that pieces of the rock made it to Earth. If you were on the flight path, you might want to check your yard.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Selling used PC games through the blockchain? We’re not buying it

January 17, 2018 - 7:05pm

Enlarge / A foolproof plan! (credit: Aurich / Getty)

Companies in industries ranging from iced tea to image processing to fast-casual dining are jumping on the recent blockchain-mania as a way to try to revolutionize often-moribund businesses. Now, startup Robot Cache wants to bring that same technology to bear in revolutionizing the way we buy and sell PC game downloads, with the backing of game industry luminaries like InXile's Brian Fargo and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

Robot Cache CEO Lee Jacobson said in a press release that "expertly leveraging the power, flexibility, safety, and transparency of blockchain technology" will bring benefits like lower fees for game publishers and the ability to resell digital purchases for gamers. But despite the buzzword-heavy promise, there are a lot of risks involved that have us skeptical of whether Robot Cache can actually deliver on its vision.

How it works

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Chromecast and Google Homes reportedly overloading home Wi-Fi [Updated]

January 17, 2018 - 6:48pm

Enlarge / The Google Home Mini, the original Google Home, and the Google Home Max. (credit: Google)

Update: Google has posted a support page for this issue promising a fix tomorrow (1/18). The page says the issue is limited to "People with an Android phone and a Chromecast built-in device (such as a Chromecast or Google Home device) on the same Wi-Fi network" and that a fix will be rolling out via Play Services.

The original story is below.

Users on the Google help forums and Reddit are reporting that Google Home and Google Chromecast devices are causing issues with their Wi-Fi networks. Users say hooking up these Google hardware products leads to an unstable Wi-Fi network or a network that goes down entirely.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How gold nanoparticles may make killing tumors easier

January 17, 2018 - 6:26pm

Enlarge / Nanoparticles (black dots) sit in the remains of a cell they've helped kill. (credit: University of Michigan)

One of the ways to kill a cancer is to cook it, since heat can kill cells. The trick, of course, is to only cook the cancer and not the surrounding tissue. To do this, you need to have an accurate idea of the extent of a tumor, a precise mechanism for delivering heat, and a damn good thermometer. It may surprise you to learn that gold nanoparticles do a pretty good job of achieving the first two. The third—a good thermometer—has eluded researchers for quite some time. But, now it seems that gold nanoparticles may provide the full trifecta.

Drowning a tumor in molten gold

Some cancers—the ones most people imagine when they think of cancer—form lumps of tissue. At some point, these lumps require a blood supply. Once supplied with blood vessels, the tumor can not only grow, but it has a readily available transport system to deliver the cells that can spread the cancer throughout the body. For the patient, this is not good news.

The development of a blood supply opens up new imaging and treatment options, though. Cancer tumors are not well-organized tissues compared to healthy tissue like muscle or kidney tissue. So there are lots of nooks and crannies in a tumor that can trap small particles. And this disorganization is exactly what researchers hope to take advantage of. Gold nanoparticles are injected into the blood stream; these exit the blood supply, but, in most of the body, they get rapidly cleaned out. Except that, inside tumors, the nanoparticles lodge all over the place.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

If you can’t beat them… Lamborghini joins the SUV set

January 17, 2018 - 5:04pm

Jim Resnick

Let me pre-empt you.

"Why?" you ask. "You're Lamborghini, not Range Rover!"

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cryptocurrency bloodbath continues as bitcoin falls below $10,000

January 17, 2018 - 4:39pm

Enlarge (credit: Oliver Mallich)

Bitcoin fell below the psychologically significant level of $10,000 on Wednesday morning, marking a second day of double-digit declines for the virtual currency. One bitcoin is now worth $9,700, less than half its peak value of $19,500 achieved just last month.

Bitcoin's fall is part of a broader cryptocurrency sell-off. For the second day in a row, every major cryptocurrency has suffered double-digit declines over the previous 24 hours.

Ethereum is now worth $810, down 42 percent from its peak above $1,400 just four days ago. Litecoin has fallen to $150—down 58 percent from its peak of $360 on December 19. Bitcoin Cash, a rival version of bitcoin, was worth more than $4,000 on December 20. It's now down to $1,500, a 65 percent decline.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

YouTube raises subscriber, view threshold for Partner Program monetization

January 17, 2018 - 3:54pm

(credit: Flickr: Rego Korosi )

After a tumultuous 2017, YouTube is making yet another change to its guidelines surrounding channel monetization and advertiser approval. In posts to its Advertiser and Creator blogs, YouTube details how it's changing the threshold for monetization through its YouTube Partner Program (YPP), from 10,000 lifetime views to 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months. That means that small creators who already passed the previous 10,000 lifetime view milestone, but not the new goals, will be removed from the YouTube Partner Program starting February 20 and will be unable to monetize their videos in that manner,

As of yesterday, any channels that newly apply for YPP will have to pass this new threshold in order to monetize videos. On its Creators blog, YouTube explains that the new required milestones "will allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community and help drive more ad revenue to them (and away from bad actors). These higher standards will also help us prevent potentially inappropriate videos from monetizing which can hurt revenue for everyone."

The company made a point of noting the types of channels that will be affected by the new rules. "Though these changes will affect a significant number of channels, 99 percent of those affected were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90 percent earning less than $2.50 in the last month. Any of the channels who no longer meet this threshold will be paid what they’ve already earned based on our AdSense policies."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The impromptu Slack war room where ‘Net companies unite to fight Spectre-Meltdown

January 17, 2018 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / The early disclosure of Meltdown and Spectre by Google and the fumbled responses by hardware vendors left cloud companies scrambling to react. So they united to fight the dumpster fire of poor communication and bad patches. (credit: US Air Force)

Meltdown and Spectre created something of a meltdown in the cloud computing world. And by translation, the flaws found in the processors at the heart of much of the world's computing infrastructure have had a direct or indirect effect on the interconnected services driving today's Internet. That is especially true for one variant of the Spectre vulnerability revealed abruptly by Google on January 3, since this particular vulnerability could allow malware running in one user's virtual machine or other "sandboxed" environment to read data from another—or, from the host server itself.

In June 2017, Intel learned of these threats from researchers who kept the information under wraps so hardware and operating system vendors could furiously work on fixes. But while places like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft were clued in early because of their "Tier 1" nature, most smaller infrastructure companies and data center operators were left in the dark until the news broke on January 3. This sent many organizations immediately scrambling: no warning of the exploits came before proof-of-concept code for exploiting them was already public.

Tory Kulick, director of operations and security at the hosting company Linode, described this as chaos. "How could something this big be disclosed like this without any proper warning? We were feeling out of the loop, like 'What did we miss? Which of the POCs [proofs of concept of the vulnerabilities] are out there now?' All that was going through my mind."

Read 50 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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