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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 40 min 20 sec ago

Review: The BMW X4 can’t decide what it wants to be

1 hour 24 min ago

Enlarge / The 2019 BMW X4 xDrive 30i. (credit: BradleyWarren Photography)

BMW's display at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show was bewildering. Among the massive lineup of vehicles, the company had at least four obviously different models that were all connected by a common thread. From biggest to smallest, the BMW had a bunch of fastbacks—the 640i GT, X6, 330i GT, and X4—on display. To be sure, having multiple options across a body style is no different than, say, the Volvo XC40, XC60, and XC90, or Audi's Q3, Q5, and Q7. Automakers churn out different-sized cars for different market segments, and there's nothing odd about that.

But the BMW lineup stuck with me enough to bring it up in conversation later with Ars' automotive editor Jonathan Gitlin. BMW is taking this approach to fill automotive niches not even recognized by most other carmakers, and its recent fastbacks are proof. For all that unites them—those four doors and a sloping rear-hatch body style—there's plenty to differentiate. Size, for one thing: simple math tells us the 640i GT and X6 are obviously bigger than the 330i GT and X4. So we decided to review as many as we could to see if the world really needs all the fastback options.

I started with the 640i xDrive GT last March and came away impressed. The GT truly drove like a grand touring car, offering a quiet and posh ride coupled with excellent performance and handling but with a price tag starting well north of $70,000.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New 100-mile electric van matches diesel vans on price, Workhorse says

12 hours 16 min ago

Enlarge / Workhorse's new truck starts initial production this week. (credit: Workhorse)

Electric-vehicle maker Workhorse announced today that it has begun initial production of a 100-mile range electric delivery truck called the NGEN-1000. The truck is meant to replace diesel-powered delivery trucks, but this vehicle weighs less than half of what a comparable internal combustion van usually weighs.

In a press release, Workhorse said that it "believes this weight reduction, coupled with the 100-mile range, will have cost-savings implications that will make the EV alternative to traditional fleet delivery vehicles all the more appealing."

Workhorse CEO Stephen S. Burns added that the van would have "an off-the-lot cost on par with traditional fuel delivery vehicles, and substantial savings from there."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: Former top Waymo engineer altered code to go on “forbidden routes”

October 17, 2018 - 8:34pm

Enlarge (credit: Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In the early days of what ultimately became Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division (known at the time as "Project Chauffeur"), there were "more than a dozen accidents, at least three of which were serious," according to a new article in The New Yorker.

The magazine profiled Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer who was at the center of the Waymo v. Uber trade secrets lawsuit. According to the article, back in 2011, Levandowski also modified the autonomous software to take the prototype Priuses on "otherwise forbidden routes."

Citing an anonymous source, The New Yorker reports that Levandowski sat behind the wheel as the safety driver, along with Isaac Taylor, a Google executive. But while they were in the car, the Prius "accidentally boxed in another vehicle," a Camry.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How did Easter Islanders survive without wells or streams?

October 17, 2018 - 7:25pm

Enlarge / A freshwater seep in the tidal zone near Tongariki. (credit: Brosnan et al. 2018)

Archaeologists are piecing together more details about how the Rapanui people once erected the formerly enigmatic stone statues, or moai. But one of the island’s lingering mysteries is how the Rapanui found enough water to sustain thousands of people on a small island. Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, has no permanent streams, and its three lakes are hard to reach and far from archaeological evidence of settlement. But when European colonists arrived in the late 1700s, thousands of people already lived on the island, and they had to be getting their drinking water somewhere.

According to geoscientist Tanya Brosnan of California State University, the Rapanui probably got at least some of their drinking water from places along the coast where fresh groundwater seeped out of the island’s bedrock and into the sea. The resulting mixture would have been brackish but safe to drink, and it could have sustained populations of thousands on an island with few other reliable sources of fresh water. That’s common knowledge among the modern Rapanui people, but it hasn’t been clear that pre-contact people got their water the same way.

“Our work was certainly not ‘discovering’ anything that people didn’t already know about. Rather, we worked to put together an overall picture of groundwater and its accessibility for past populations,” Binghamton University archaeologist Carl Lipo, a coauthor on the study, told Ars.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Spotify comes to Wear OS with stand-alone app, Spotify Connect support

October 17, 2018 - 7:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Spotify/Fossil)

Wear OS gains a popular new app today that many have been waiting for, as Spotify announced that it's bringing a stand-alone wearable app to Google's smartwatch platform.

Spotify's stand-alone app lets you browse and control music from your wrist. It seems to be a lighter version of Spotify's mobile app, allowing you to browse your tracks and playlists and quickly save songs to your library. You can also control playback from your wrist—it appears similar to Wear OS' native music controls, just built into a dedicated Spotify app.

The Wear OS app also integrates with Spotify Connect, the company's method of connecting and controlling playback on Bluetooth devices. Now from your wrist, you can manage connections between Bluetooth speakers, laptops, and other devices and quickly change the playback source.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Up to 9.5 million net neutrality comments were made with stolen identities

October 17, 2018 - 7:05pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC, the day of the FCC's vote to repeal net neutrality rules. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong )

The New York attorney general's office is widening an investigation into fraudulent net neutrality comments, saying it estimates that up to 9.5 million comments were submitted using stolen identities.

NY AG Barbara Underwood "subpoenaed more than a dozen telecommunications trade groups, lobbying contractors, and Washington advocacy organizations on Tuesday, seeking to determine whether the groups submitted millions of fraudulent public comments to sway a critical federal decision on Internet regulation," The New York Times reported yesterday.

The NY AG last year said it found 2 million net neutrality comments filed in people's names without their knowledge; some comments were submitted under the names of dead people.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Meet Helm, the startup taking on Gmail with a server that runs in your home

October 17, 2018 - 6:52pm

Enlarge (credit: Helm)

There’s no doubt that Gmail has changed the way we consume email. It’s free, it gives most of us all the storage we’ll ever need, and it does a better job than most in weeding out spam and malware. But there’s a cost to all of this. The advertising model that makes this cost-free service possible means some of our most sensitive messages are being scanned for clues about who we are, what we care about, and what we do both online and offline. There’s also the possibility of Google either being hacked or legally compelled to turn over contents.

On Wednesday, a Seattle-based startup called Helm is launching a service designed to make it easy for people to securely take control of their email and other personal data. The company provides a small custom-built server that connects to a user's home or small-office network and sends, receives, and manages email, contacts, and calendars. Helm plans to offer photo storage and other services later.

With a 120GB solid-state drive, a three-minute setup, and the ability to store encrypted disk images that can only be decrypted by customers, Helm says its service provides the ease and reliability of Gmail and its tightly coupled contacts and calendar services. The startup is betting that people will be willing to pay $500 to purchase the box and use it for one year to host some of their most precious assets in their own home. The service will cost $100 per year after that. Included in the fee is the registration and automatic renewal of a unique domain selected by the customer and a corresponding TLS certificate from Let's Encrypt.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mad scientists flip the Earth’s spin in climate models, watch water go nuts

October 17, 2018 - 5:31pm

Enlarge (credit: Gabriela Pinto)

Climate models—computer simulations of Earth’s climate system—are crucial tools for scientists, given that it's impossible to run experiments on the entire planet. Access to these digital laboratories also gives people the option to occasionally play “mad scientist” and mess with the Earth a bit. One newly published study falls into that category, asking the question “What would happen if the Earth spun backward?” You can almost hear the maniacal laughter.

Back flip

If you’ve ever learned about the atmosphere, you know that Earth’s rotation makes swirling weather like hurricanes possible through something called the Coriolis Effect. Simply put, fluids heading in a straight line on a spinning globe deflect off to the side—to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. And if the Earth’s rotation reversed, fluids (including ocean currents) would deflect the other way.

It may sound like a trivial bit of pondering, but it’s actually a scientifically interesting question. A group led by Uwe Mikolajewicz of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology effectively set the planet spinning backward to find out just how many things would change when they let their model run for a few thousand years.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After $5 billion EU antitrust fine, Google will start charging for Android apps

October 17, 2018 - 5:19pm

(credit: Aurich Lawson)

Google is adjusting to life in the EU after the $5.05 billion (€4.34 billion) antitrust fine levied against it by the European Commission earlier this year. Google is still appealing the initial ruling, which found that Google used Android to illegally dominate the search market, but for now Google will comply with the ruling and offer looser licensing agreements to Android device makers.

In a post on the official Google Blog titled "Complying with the EC’s Android decision," Google outlined a few changes coming to the Google app licensing agreements that it offers to Android OEMs. As you might recall from the numerous times we've written about it, this announcement is a change to the secretive "Mobile Application Distribution Agreement" (MADA) document that is a requirement for getting access to the Play Store and other Google apps. What we think of as a commercial "Android" device comes in two parts. The core Android OS is free and open source—anyone can take it and do whatever they want with it without Google's involvement. If you want the Play Store, Google Maps, Gmail, and all the other Google apps you need to make a viable commercial smartphone, though, you need to talk to Google and sign a MADA, which comes with a ton of restrictions.

The new rules

Google's new MADA makes three big changes. First, Google's blog states "Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the European Economic Area (EEA)." The last time we saw a MADA document (back in 2014), it had an "anti-fragmentation" clause, which said that any company signing the agreement has to be all-in on Google's Android. If you produced any Android device without Google's apps, you got booted from the Google ecosystem. This means that a company like Amazon, which makes forked Kindle devices, could never ship a smartphone with Google apps.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break: Getting high and breaking faith

October 17, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Let's go on a journey. A journey with drugs! (credit: NBC Universal)

Today we’re presenting the second installment of my wide-ranging interview with outspoken author, podcaster, philosopher, and recovering neuroscientist Sam Harris. Part one ran yesterday. If you missed it, click right here. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.

In today’s installment, we discuss some of the experiences that shaped Sam's perspectives and interests. His father was raised Quaker, and his mother was Jewish—but neither were at all religious, and Sam had a wholly secular upbringing. As a freshman at Stanford (where he and I happened to overlap as undergraduates), he recalls being irked by the special treatment he felt the Bible received in a required course on Western culture. However, he didn’t label himself an “atheist” at the time—although in retrospect, he essentially was one.

Everything changed when he tried the drug MDMA (which is more commonly known to its friends as "Molly" or "Ecstasy"). This wasn’t at a party or rave but part of a quiet exploration of the mind’s capabilities (more of a Timothy Leary experience than a Ken Kesey one, for those versed in the history of psychedelics).

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fortnite, GTA V hackers face legal action for online cheating

October 17, 2018 - 4:26pm

Enlarge

It's pretty standard for game developers to use a variety of technical and community management methods to try to stop cheaters from ruining the online experience for legitimate players. But some game makers are increasingly using the courts to try to stop the spread of mods that give players an unfair advantage, as highlighted by a pair of stories this week.

The first such story comes from Rockstar and Take-Two, which have convinced an Australian court to freeze the assets of five people believed to be behind Grand Theft Auto V cheating software known as "Infamous." The full court order, as reported by TorrentFreak, also allows authorities to search the homes and computers of Christopher Anderson, Cycus Lesser, Sfinktah, Koroush Anderson, and Koroush Jeddian. Authorities are looking for evidence of the creation or distribution of "any software that provides a player of Grand Theft Auto V access to unauthorized features..."

The Infamous "mod menu" gives users pretty much full control over the world of Grand Theft Auto universe, online or off, granting abilities that include teleportation, flying, and full environmental manipulation. Perhaps most distressingly for Rockstar and Take-Two, the mod also let players generate arbitrary amounts of virtual currency for themselves or other players online, which could have a direct effect on the game's microtransaction-driven bottom line.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla buys 210-acre site for factory in Shanghai

October 17, 2018 - 3:06pm

Enlarge / A Tesla car is charging at a Tesla electric vehicle charging station in front of Baolong building on July 15, 2018 in Beijing, China. (credit: Photo by VCG / Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Tesla announced that it had purchased a 210-acre site in Shanghai, China, where it will begin building a second battery and auto factory.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Robin Ren, Tesla’s vice president of worldwide sales, attended a signing ceremony in Shanghai today, stating, “Securing this site in Shanghai, Tesla’s first Gigafactory outside of the United States, is an important milestone for what will be our next advanced, sustainably developed manufacturing site."

A Shanghai government website tracking major land purchases in the city detailed a purchase in the eastern Lingang district for about $140 million, which likely reflects Tesla's latest acquisition.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Lab reveals new factory and launch site, aims for 16 flights next year

October 17, 2018 - 3:00pm

William Booth/www.photosport.nz

Rocket Lab last launched its Electron vehicle nearly nine months ago, in January, from its New Zealand launch site. This was the vehicle's second flight and first successful orbital mission. Nine months is a long gulf between launches for a company that ultimately aspires to send rockets into space on a weekly basis.

However, Rocket Lab has not been idle for much of this year. Earlier this month, the company opened a second rocket development and production facility in Auckland, New Zealand. And on Wednesday, Rocket Lab announced the location of its second launch site, Wallops Island in Virginia, on the East Coast of the United States. It hopes to have the site operational about one year from now.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Some of this year’s best microscopy images

October 17, 2018 - 2:25pm

Each year, Nikon runs a microscopy competition honoring the best images of all things small. And, well, we're kind of suckers for it here at Ars. So when the company got in touch and offered us the chance to share a peek at this year's winners, how could we say no?

Karl Deckart

While most of you may know Nikon as a camera company, microscopy is a sibling of photography in many ways beyond the involvement of high-end lenses. While it might not matter for scientific purposes, a compelling microscope image depends on things like composition, lighting, exposure, and more. And these days, both fields rely heavily on post-processing. Many of the images you see above are the product of multiple exposures, each on a different focal plane, all stacked and flattened to provide a full three-dimensional view that's actually not possible from a microscope alone.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Volvo’s new V60 is proof the station wagon must never die

October 17, 2018 - 1:52pm

Enlarge (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Forget the impending death of the sedan, as an automotive species the station wagon should be on life support. Which is a shame, because station wagons are great: the utility of an SUV without the high seating position, sure, but also without the high center of gravity and drag coefficient. In return, they are a much more elegantly proportioned vehicle, one that would be more popular but for the decades-old stigma of being a "mom car." (The same fate is coming for you, SUV.) Almost no one sells a wagon any more, which makes some people cross enough to leave angry comments online about the stupidity of car companies. In their defense, the car companies tell me angry Internet comments aren't really worth the same as an actual deposit, and they have too few of those to make it worthwhile. Not Volvo, though.

The Swedish automaker has been fascinating to watch these past few years as it has bloomed thanks to Geely's investment. Little happened for the first few years, but Volvo used the investment to thoroughly modernize the way it designed and built cars. Platforms have given way to modular architectures that simplify production yet at the same time allow for great flexibility when it comes to designing different vehicles.

In 2015, the XC90 SUV marked the introduction of the first of these new architectures, called Scalable Product Architecture. SPA lets Volvo build large and midsized vehicles, and it was soon joined by an S90 sedan and V90 wagon. Three years later and the SPA line-up is complete. Last year the XC60 arrived, a more moderate take on the 21st century Swedish SUV. Yesterday we wrote about the new S60 sedan, which means we've saved the best one for last. The new V60 wagon.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

What do we actually know about the risks of screen time and digital media?

October 17, 2018 - 1:15pm

Uh... this is fine, right? (credit: Getty Images)

“Yesterday after I wrote to you, I had an attack of asthma,” Marcel Proust wrote to his mother in 1901. “[It] obliged me to walk all doubled up and light anti-asthma cigarettes at every tobacconist’s I passed.”

While that sounds a bit crazy by 2018 standards, Proust was far from alone: “Medicated cigarettes marketed for respiratory complaints continued to be endorsed, and smoked, by doctors until well after the Second World War,” writes medical historian Mark Jackson.

Of course, tobacco eventually joined the list of treacherous substances once thought to be healthy and subsequently discovered to be harmful, keeping excellent company alongside radium and mercury. It's enough to make people constantly wonder what else might make it onto the list of friends turned foe. Could coffee be next? Processed meat?

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Advertisers allege Facebook hid the fact that no one watches video ads

October 17, 2018 - 11:30am

Enlarge

According to a newly public filing in an ongoing lawsuit, a group of advertisers now says that Facebook has been willfully withholding information about how much time its users spend watching paid ads—if more people spend more time watching ads, then those ads can command higher rates.

The case of LLE One LLC et al. v. Facebook, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal, was filed two years ago and is currently pending in federal court in Oakland, California. In it, the plaintiffs say that, as part of the discovery from their lawsuit, they have learned that Facebook's "action rises to the level of fraud and may warrant punitive damages."

As the plaintiffs' attorneys continued:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trivial authentication bypass in libssh leaves servers wide open

October 17, 2018 - 2:45am

Enlarge (credit: starwars.com)

There’s a four-year-old bug in the Secure Shell implementation known as libssh that makes it trivial for just about anyone to gain unfettered administrative control of a vulnerable server. While the authentication-bypass flaw represents a major security hole that should be patched immediately, it wasn’t immediately clear what sites or devices were vulnerable since neither the widely used OpenSSH nor Github’s implementation of libssh was affected.

The vulnerability, which was introduced in libssh version 0.6 released in 2014, makes it possible to log in by presenting a server with a SSH2_MSG_USERAUTH_SUCCESS message rather than the SSH2_MSG_USERAUTH_REQUEST message the server was expecting, according to an advisory published Tuesday. Exploits are the hacking equivalent of a Jedi mind trick, in which an adversary uses the Force to influence or confuse weaker-minded opponents. The last time the world saw an authentication-bypass bug with such serious consequences and requiring so little effort was 11 months ago, when Apple’s macOS let people log in as admin without entering a password.

The effects of malicious exploits, assuming there were any during the four-plus years the bug was active, are hard to fathom. In a worst-case scenario, attackers would be able to use exploits to gain complete control over vulnerable servers. The attackers could then steal encryption keys and user data, install rootkits and erase logs that recorded the unauthorized access. Anyone who has used a vulnerable version of libssh in server mode should consider conducting a thorough audit of their network immediately after updating.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla come together to end TLS 1.0

October 16, 2018 - 11:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Indigo girl / Flickr)

Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla have announced a unified plan to deprecate the use of TLS 1.0 and 1.1 early in 2020.

TLS (Transport Layer Security) is used to secure connections on the Web. TLS is essential to the Web, providing the ability to form connections that are confidential, authenticated, and tamper-proof. This has made it a big focus of security research, and over the years, a number of bugs that had significant security implications have been found in the protocol. Revisions have been published to address these flaws.

The original TLS 1.0, heavily based on Netscape's SSL 3.0, was first published in January 1999. TLS 1.1 arrived in 2006, while TLS 1.2, in 2008, added new capabilities and fixed these security flaws. Irreparable security flaws in SSL 3.0 saw support for that protocol come to an end in 2014; the browser vendors now want to make a similar change for TLS 1.0 and 1.1.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump’s coal rescue is getting more complicated

October 16, 2018 - 10:39pm

Enlarge / An eastbound Norfolk Southern Corp. unit coal train passes through Waddy, Kentucky. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

According to four people who spoke to Politico on conditions of anonymity, the Trump administration's plan to bail out coal and nuclear plants has hit a speed bump within the White House itself.

The most recent plan from the Department of Energy (DOE) involved invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, a wartime rule that allows the president to incentivize and prioritize purchases from American industries that are considered vital to national security.

Another potential plan involved invoking Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act to mandate that struggling coal and nuclear plants stay open either through compulsory purchases by grid managers or through subsidies. FirstEnergy, a power corporation whose coal and nuclear units are under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, petitioned the DOE to use this power in April.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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