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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 9 min 27 sec ago

Alita: Battle Angel rises above its ugly ads, flies to a cloud city of awesome

February 14, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / There's just no getting around the eyes, huh, 20th Century Fox? So be it. (credit: 20th Century Fox)

Alita: Battle Angel lands in theaters on Thursday, February 14, with—if my own pessimistic assumptions are any indication—some significant baggage attached.

I know I'm not the only person to sigh after seeing the oversized, Avatar-esque eyes in Alita's trailers. Worse, those eyes are attached to a James Cameron script that adapts an early '90s Japanese manga into a multimillion-dollar film that casts zero Asian actors as leads. Nothing about that bullet-point trio, which reminded me of the 2017 ScarJo stinker Ghost in the Shell, got me excited ahead of Alita's press screening.

But the name "Robert Rodriguez" made me interested. Could one of my favorite directors of the past 20 years strike gold again, even while saddled by so much apparent baggage?

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Good Omens fans will love finding all the Easter eggs in new teaser

February 14, 2019 - 1:55am

Animated versions of the angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley take a walk through history in latest Good Omens teaser.

We've been on tenterhooks for months, waiting for news of when the long-awaited TV adaptation of Good Omens would air. And now the wait is over.

In conjunction with an announcement at the Television Critics Association regarding an airdate of May 31, Amazon Prime dropped a charming animated teaser trailer. Huzzah!

(Mild spoilers for the novel below.)

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

MalwareTech loses bid to suppress damning statements made after days of partying

February 14, 2019 - 1:19am

Enlarge / Then-23-year-old security researcher Marcus Hutchins in his bedroom in Ilfracombe, UK, in July 2017, just weeks before his arrest on malware charges. (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Marcus Hutchins, the widely acclaimed security researcher charged with creating malware that sold for thousands of dollars on the Internet, has lost his bid to suppress self-incriminating statements he made following days of heavy partying at the 2017 Defcon hacker convention in Las Vegas.

Hutchins—who, under the moniker MalwareTech, unwittingly helped neutralize the virulent WannaCry ransomware worm—was charged with developing the Kronos banking trojan and an advanced spyware program known as the UPAS Kit. The then-23-year-old UK citizen was arrested in August 2017 at McCarran International Airport as he was about to fly home. He had spent the previous week attending the Black Hat and Defcon conferences. Hutchins has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to court documents, federal agents questioned Hutchins in an airport interview room shortly after he was arrested. When asked about his involvement in developing malware, the court records show, Hutchins grew visibly confused about the purpose of the interrogation. Eventually, prosecutors said, Hutchins acknowledged that, when he was younger, he wrote code that ended up in malware, but he denied that he had developed the malware itself. After reviewing some source code produced by the agents, Hutchins asked if the investigators were looking for the developer of Kronos. Hutchins then told the interrogators he didn't develop Kronos and had "gotten out" of writing code for malware before he turned 18.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Super Mario Maker 2, Link’s Awakening remaster headline latest Nintendo Direct

February 14, 2019 - 12:31am

The latest "Nintendo Direct" announcement video came packed with surprises, and none shattered more earth than the big Mario and Zelda games at the video's beginning and end.

As seen in the above gallery, Super Mario Maker 2 is heading to Nintendo Switch in June, 2019, and it appears to include enough new tools and systems to rank as a bona fide sequel, if not at least a serious "deluxe" edition. The revealed footage sticks primarily to the four games that the original build-your-own-platformer game supported (SMB1, SMB3, SMW, NSMB), but it adds tools like auto-scrolling paths, clear tubes, piranha plant pathing, more platforms, and the cat-suit power-up.

Though Nintendo issued only a vague release window of "2019," the company had a lot to showcase for its upcoming, surprise-announced remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. This apparently faithful remake retains the 1993 Game Boy game's top-down perspective (along with its occasional drops into underground side-scrolling), but it otherwise remakes the entire game as a fully 3D adventure.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple’s insider-trading policy enforcer accused of insider trading

February 14, 2019 - 12:20am

Enlarge (credit: Andrew / Flickr)

The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought suit against Gene Daniel Levoff, who was Apple's senior director of corporate law until September 2018. Levoff is accused of using his position to make illegal trades of Apple shares.

Levoff was part of Apple's Disclosure Committee—one of the people who could review the company's quarterly financial reports ahead of their publication. The SEC maintains that he used nonpublic information obtained as part of the committee to inform trades he made of Apple shares. For example, in July 2015 he learned that Apple was going to miss analyst estimates for iPhone unit sales. Between July 17 and July 21, when Apple published its quarterly earnings report, he sold nearly his entire holding of Apple stock, totaling nearly $10 million. When the news became public, Apple's share price dropped by more than 4 percent—selling early avoided losses of approximately $345,000.

The SEC alleges that, between 2011 and 2012, Levoff reportedly made $245,000 in profit and, in 2015 and 2016, avoided losses totaling $382,000.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Raw milk drinkers in 19 states at risk of rare, dangerous infectious disease

February 13, 2019 - 10:53pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Thomas Trutschel )

If the explosion of measles cases hasn’t made you question what year it is, this health alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may inspire a double-take at the calendar: Unpasteurized milk may have sickened people in 19 states.

Yes, as the country grapples with five—count’em, five—outbreaks of a vaccine-preventable disease, the CDC is warning that another infectious disease of yore poses a risk to widespread dairy drinkers—at least the ones who soured on the standard, decades-old process to remove deadly pathogens from their milk.

The infectious disease is Brucellosis. It’s a hard-to-define febrile illness caused by Gram-negative Brucella bacterial species that infect a variety of animals and the occasional unlucky human. There are four species that pose particular risks to humans: Brucella suis, found in pigs; Brucella melitensis, found in sheep and goats; Brucella canis, from dogs; and—the one at the center of this current health alert—Brucella abortus, which is carried by cattle. Usually, the disease pops up in developing countries. But in the US, meatpackers, hunters, veterinarians, farmers, and careless microbiologists are at risk—as well as those who consume unpasteurized dairy.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Aluminum may be key to making exosolar systems with water worlds

February 13, 2019 - 10:43pm

Enlarge / Should we expect all the planets of an exosolar system to have similar levels of water? (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mini-Neptunes. Super-Earths. There's a huge diversity of exoplanets out there, many of them unlike anything we have in our Solar System. So how does a single physical process—the aggregation of bodies within a disk of gas and dust—produce so many different outcomes?

That's a question tackled by a paper in this week's Nature Astronomy. An international team of researchers has modeled the formation of planets early in the history of exosolar systems. And they find it's possible to radically change the water content of planets based on the amount of a radioactive element present in the material forming the exosolar system. The difference, they suggest, can determine whether a system is filled with ocean worlds or whether it winds up looking more like our own Solar System.

Wet or dry?

We already have some idea of what sets the level of water on a planet. The material in a planet-forming disk is heated both by collisions among its material and from the inside-out by the star once it ignites. Different materials will freeze out at specific distances from the star, creating multiple snow lines for water, carbon dioxide, methane, and more. Depending on which side of the snow lines an exoplanet forms, it will have more or less of these materials.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Selling 911 location data is illegal—US carriers reportedly did it anyway

February 13, 2019 - 10:13pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | skaman306)

Three of the four major wireless carriers have been accused of breaking US law by selling 911 location data to third parties.

"Telecom giants broke the law by selling detailed location data" that was "meant for use only by emergency services," consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said last week in a blog post that urged the Federal Communications Commission to punish the carriers.

Public Knowledge's statement came in response to a Motherboard article last week that provided new details about how carriers collect location data from customers and sell it to third parties.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Android Things is no longer for “Things,” focuses on smart speakers and displays

February 13, 2019 - 8:00pm

Enlarge / This Lenovo Google Assistant Smart Display is one of the first devices to ship with Android Things.

Android Things, Google's stripped-down version of Android named for its focus on the "Internet of Things" (IoT), is now no longer focused on IoT. A post on the Android Developers Blog announced the pivot, saying, "Given the successes we have seen with our partners in smart speakers and smart displays, we are refocusing Android Things as a platform for OEM partners to build devices in those categories moving forward."

Originally, Android Things was Google's stripped-down version of Android for everything smaller than a smartphone or smartwatch. The goal was to have the OS be the IoT version of Android, but rather than the skinnable, open source version of Android that exists on phones, Android Things is a "managed platform"—a hands-off OS with a centralized, Google-managed update system. Just like Windows, manufacturers would load an untouched version of the OS and be restricted to the app layer of the software package. Today, legions of IoT devices are out there running random operating systems with basically no plan to keep up with security vulnerabilities, and the result is a security nightmare. The wider Android ecosystem doesn't have a great reputation when it comes to security, but Android Things updates are completely managed by Google via a centralized update system, and just like a Pixel phone, devices running Things would have been some of the most up-to-date and secure devices available.

Seeing Android Things undergo a major pivot now is pretty strange. The OS has just survived a lengthy initial development cycle (originally, Android Things started out as a rebrand of "Project Brillo"), and it only hit version 1.0 nine months ago. The first consumer products with Android Things, third-party smart displays like the Lenovo Smart Display, only launched in July.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

In 2017, the feds said Tesla Autopilot cut crashes 40%—that was bogus

February 13, 2019 - 7:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has egg on its face after a small research and consulting firm called Quality Control Systems produced a devastating critique of a 2017 agency report finding that Tesla's Autopilot reduced crashes by 40 percent. The new analysis is coming out now—almost two years after the original report—because QCS had to sue NHTSA under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the data underlying the agency's findings. In its report, QCS highlights flaws in NHTSA's methodology that are serious enough to completely discredit the 40 percent figure, which Tesla has cited multiple times over the last two years.

NHTSA undertook its study of Autopilot safety in the wake of the fatal crash of Tesla owner Josh Brown in 2016. Autopilot—more specifically Tesla's lane-keeping function called Autosteer—was active at the time of the crash, and Brown ignored multiple warnings to put his hands back on the wheel. Critics questioned whether Autopilot actually made Tesla owners less safe by encouraging them to pay less attention to the road.

NHTSA's 2017 finding that Autosteer reduced crash rates by 40 percent seemed to put that concern to rest. When another Tesla customer, Walter Huang, died in an Autosteer-related crash last March, Tesla cited NHTSA's 40 percent figure in a blog post defending the technology. A few weeks later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk berated reporters for focusing on stories about crashes instead of touting the safety benefits of Autopilot.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ex-director of FBI, CIA takes on a phone scammer—and wins

February 13, 2019 - 6:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Money - Savings)

If you're trying to extort money from people, there are probably better choices for a victim than William H. Webster. Back in 2014, Webster was called by a Jamaican man, 29-year-old Keniel Aeon Thomas, who was attempting to perpetrate the all too common advance-fee fraud scam (often known as the 419 scam, after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that addresses fraud). According to Thomas, Webster and his wife had won $15.5 million and a Mercedes-Benz in the Mega Millions lottery, and the caller would be all too happy to release those funds, just as long as Websters first paid $50,000 to cover taxes.

Over a number of weeks, Thomas, calling himself David Morgan, made a series of calls to the Websters, and they soon turned threatening: he described their house, and he said that if they didn't hand over $6,000, he'd shoot them in the head or burn their house down, boasting that the FBI and CIA would never find him.

But unknown to Thomas, William H. Webster is a man with a considerable past. He was director of the FBI under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (1978-1987), and then director of the CIA under Reagan and George H.W. Bush (1987-1991), making him the only person to have led both intelligence agencies. Now aged 94, he still works in government and has been chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council since 2005. As such, he's a little better connected than most victims of these phone scams, and both he and his wife Lynda swiftly took advantage of these connections. They reached out to contacts at the FBI, calling an agent while talking to Thomas so that the agent could listen in.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Elsa and the gang are back and in a dark place in first teaser for Frozen 2

February 13, 2019 - 6:08pm

Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell return to voice Anna and Elsa, respectively, in first teaser trailer for Disney’s Frozen 2.

We awoke this morning to the first teaser trailer for Frozen 2, the sequel to Frozen, Disney's inventive 2013 re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen." The original was such a blockbuster that it will be hard for any sequel to recreate the magic, but the new teaser certainly looks promising.

(Spoilers for original Frozen below.)

The first film told the story of two princesses of Arendelle. The elder, Elsa (Idina Menzel), has the power to control and create ice and snow, but she struggles to control it. When she accidentally injures her young sister Anna (Kristen Bell), local trolls heal Anna but caution that Elsa must learn to control her magic. In response, their parents lock them both away. When Elsa turns 21, she's crowned queen but a spat with Anna after the coronation reveals her magic. She's exiled from the kingdom, flees to the mountains, and builds a gorgeous castle of ice and snow in which to live out her days in isolation. But she doesn't realize Arendelle has also frozen over, endangering the people.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amid layoffs, Blizzard won’t release a “major” new game in 2019

February 13, 2019 - 5:40pm

Enlarge

Blizzard fans are going to have to wait a little bit longer for any major new titles from the company. In a conference call accompanying yesterday's quarterly earnings announcement (where the company announced record results and significant layoffs), Activision Blizzard CFO Dennis Durkin said the company is "not planning a major frontline release for Blizzard in 2019," and it expects "materially lower financial performance" for the developer in the coming year.

That doesn't mean Blizzard will be taking the year off, of course. The company will be diving into its past catalog for previously announced releases like World of Warcraft Classic and Warcraft 3: Reforged, both coming later this year. Continuing games like Overwatch and Hearthstone will also see their usual slate of regular content updates.

But Durkin's statement makes it clear we'll have to wait until 2020 for any truly new titles from Blizzard. That includes the recently announced mobile Diablo Immortal and any other PC or console-based Diablo titles. It also means no new World of Warcraft expansion is expected for the year—Durkin specifically used 2018's Battle for Azeroth expansion as a contrast with the 2019 slate.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Metro Exodus: A beautiful, brutal single-player game—with insane RTX perks

February 13, 2019 - 4:01pm

Enlarge / Four seasons of Metro await. (credit: Deep Silver / 4A Games)

The best thing I can say about Metro Exodus, to anybody unfamiliar with its place in a trilogy of post-nuclear, first-person monster combat games, is that this is the best Eurojank game I've ever seen.

"Eurojank" is an unofficial term for that class of sprawling, verbose, and oftentimes glitchy action/RPG titles originating from Eastern European nations like Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. (At the top of that heap is The Witcher 3, whose previous two games were decidedly less even; more recent examples include Elex, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and The Technomancer.) And rarely do these games hold players' hands, usually because they lack tutorials or because of unclear GUI elements.

Metro Exodus, like the two Metro games that 4A Studios made before it, has all of those qualities in spades—though it's definitely the most accessible Eurojank shooter I've come across. And yes, calling this the "most accessible Eurojank shooter" is like calling Taco Bell the "most flavorful national Mexican chain restaurant." But its strides toward accessibility are important, because this is a game of high highs and so-so lows. You'll need to slog through some obvious imperfections. Do that, however, and you're in for the kind of player- and challenge-respecting solo experience that people say they're always dreaming about in comment threads about always-online games.

Read 34 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Opportunity did not answer NASA’s final call, and it’s now lost to us

February 13, 2019 - 3:40pm

Enlarge / The Opportunity rover leaves its landing site in Eagle Crater on Mars back in 2004. (credit: NASA)

Late Tuesday night, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their final data uplink to the Opportunity rover on Mars. Over this connection, via the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday crooned "I'll Be Seeing You," a song that closes with the lines:

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their long-silent rover, which had been engulfed in a global dust storm last June, likely coating its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the team of scientists and engineers has sent more than 835 commands, hoping the rover will wake up from its long slumber—that perhaps winds on Mars might have blown off some of the dust that covered the panels.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple in talks to create “Netflix for news” subscription service

February 13, 2019 - 3:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Apple CEO Tim Cook alluded to more services coming this year, and this week we're learning more about what the company has in store for news. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Apple has been in talks with publishers about a subscription news service that would be a new paid tier of its existing Apple News app. However, the company has been butting heads with publishers over monetary details—Apple reportedly wants to keep 50 percent of subscription revenue from the service.

This so-called "Netflix for news" service would allow customers to access an unlimited amount of content from included publishers for a monthly fee. The service could be around $10 per month, similar to Apple Music, but the cost hasn't been finalized yet.

Apple has talked with publishers including The New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, but they (and others) have concerns about Apple's terms. The company wants 50 percent of revenue for itself, and the remaining 50 percent would be divided among participating publishers "according to the amount of time users spend engaged with their articles."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Danish haunted-house studies seek to reveal the seductive appeal of horror

February 13, 2019 - 9:30am

Enlarge / Visitors to a haunted house in Vejle, Denmark, respond differently to being confronted by "scare actors" depending on whether they are "adrenaline junkies" or "white-knucklers." (credit: Andrés Baldursson, Baldursson Photography)

It's no secret that many of us here at Ars are genuine fans of horror. As a child, I would compulsively devour horror short stories and watch classic movies on late-night TV, like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) or I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). Then I'd lie awake at night in terror, convinced a werewolf was lurking just outside my bedroom window. (In reality, it was a trick of light and shadow against the curtains.) That's the central paradox of horror: we both fear the experience of watching a scary movie, or reading a terrifying book, and compulsively seek it out.

According to Mathias Clasen of Aarhus University in Denmark, we seek out being afraid in controlled settings as a means of confronting our fears in a safe environment. Clasen specializes in studying our response to horror in books, film, video games, and other forms of entertainment, and he is the author of Why Horror Seduces. It's one way we can explore "issues of morality and evil and the contours of our own psychological landscape," he said. "We find and challenge our own limits. And we may even practice coping strategies. It does not make us fearless, but it does seem to make us better at regulating fear."

Like me, Clasen has a lifelong love of horror, even though as a child he was terrified of scary stories. "I would have nightmares and would sleep with the lights on," he admitted. That changed in his teenage years. "What psychologists call a hedonic reversal took place," he said. "I started feeling this weird attraction [to horror] that I couldn't really understand." He devoured the writings of Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft. While earning his various degrees in literature, he found a rich collection of dark gothic material in the English literature canon.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft patches 0-day vulnerabilities in IE and Exchange

February 13, 2019 - 7:25am

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan)

Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday this month had higher-than-usual stakes with fixes for a zero-day Internet Explorer vulnerability under active exploit and an Exchange Server flaw that was disclosed last month with proof-of-concept code.

The IE vulnerability, Microsoft said, allows attackers to test whether one or more files are stored on disks of vulnerable PCs. Attackers first must lure targets to a malicious site. Microsoft, without elaborating, said it has detected active exploits against the vulnerability, which is indexed as CVE-2019-0676 and affects IE version 10 or 11 running on all supported versions of Windows. The flaw was discovered by members of Google’s Project Zero vulnerability research team.

Microsoft also patched Exchange against a vulnerability that allowed remote attackers with little more than an unprivileged mailbox account to gain administrative control over the server. Dubbed PrivExchange, CVE-2019-0686 was publicly disclosed last month, along with proof-of-concept code that exploited it. In Tuesday’s advisory, Microsoft officials said they haven’t seen active exploits yet but that they were “likely.”

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Activision-Blizzard lays off 775 people after “record results in 2018”

February 13, 2019 - 12:40am

Enlarge / A central location from the Blackout map in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. (credit: Activision)

Game publisher Activision-Blizzard will lay off 8 percent of its work force, or around 775 people, CEO Bobby Kotick announced on the company's earnings call today. The move is being made in an effort at "de-prioritizing initiatives that are not meeting expectations and reducing certain non-development and administrative-related costs across the business," Kotick explained.

The layoffs, which will mostly be in non-game-development areas like publishing, will impact Activision, Blizzard, and King. In one case, an entire studio of 78 people was shut down—Seattle-based mobile game studio Z2Live. This is in spite of Kotick saying that the company achieved "record results in 2018." Activision made a statement about exceeding its expectations, but other market-watchers clearly had higher numbers in mind.

The implication is that the positive results reported came thanks to a fairly narrow bench of franchises, with many of the company's efforts outside those franchises not meeting expectations.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mozilla to use machine learning to find code bugs before they ship

February 12, 2019 - 11:15pm

Ubisoft's Commit-Assistant

In a bid to cut the number of coding errors made in its Firefox browser, Mozilla is deploying Clever-Commit, a machine-learning-driven coding assistant developed in conjunction with game developer Ubisoft.

Clever-Commit analyzes code changes as developers commit them to the Firefox codebase. It compares them to all the code it has seen before to see if they look similar to code that the system knows to be buggy. If the assistant thinks that a commit looks suspicious, it warns the developer. Presuming its analysis is correct, it means that the bug can be fixed before it gets committed into the source repository. Clever-Commit can even suggest fixes for the bugs that it finds. Initially, Mozilla plans to use Clever-Commit during code reviews, and in time this will expand to other phases of development, too. It works with all three of the languages that Mozilla uses for Firefox: C++, JavaScript, and Rust.

The tool builds on work by Ubisoft La Forge, Ubisoft's research lab. Last year, Ubisoft presented the Commit-Assistant, based on research called CLEVER, a system for finding bugs and suggesting fixes. That system found some 60-70 percent of buggy commits, though it also had a false positive rate of 30 percent. Even though this false positive rate is quite high, users of this system nonetheless felt that it was worthwhile, thanks to the time saved when it did correctly identify a bug.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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