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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 4 min 8 sec ago

Microsoft posts bumper Q4, with Windows, Surface, Azure all up

5 hours 13 min ago

(credit: Julien GONG Min / Flickr)

Microsoft has posted the results of the fourth quarter of its 2018 financial year, running up until June 30, 2018. Revenue was $30.1 billion (up 17 percent year-on-year), operating income was $10.4 billion (up 35 percent), net income was $8.8 billion (a rise of 10 percent), and earnings per share were $1.14 (an increase of 11 percent).

This brings the full-year revenue to $110.4 billion (up 14 percent on the 2017 financial year), with operating income of $35.1 billion (up 21 percent) and net income of $16.6 billion, a drop of 35 percent, attributed to the impact of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act's $13.8 billion repatriation tax. Without that, the company would have been looking at a net income of $30.3 billion, up 18 percent on 2017.

Microsoft currently has three reporting segments: Productivity and Business Processes (covering Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Dynamics), Intelligent Cloud (including Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Enterprise Services), and More Personal Computing (covering Windows, hardware, and Xbox, as well as search and advertising). This reporting structure has been retained even though the Windows division has been reorganized with responsibilities split between different groups.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The 5,000% price hike that made Martin Shkreli infamous is no longer paying off

6 hours 18 min ago

Enlarge / NEW YORK - AUGUST 4: Shkreli was found guilty on three of the eight counts involving securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

Martin Shkreli’s former pharmaceutical company lost more than $1 million in the first quarter of 2018 amid waning sales of the drug made famous by Shkreli’s more than 5,000-percent price increase. That’s according to financial documents recently reviewed by Stat.

Vyera Pharmaceuticals, formerly known as Turing Pharmaceuticals, had brazenly maintained Shkreli’s despised price hike of the drug Daraprim, which treats relatively rare parasitic infections that often strike babies and HIV/AIDS patients. As founder and CEO of Turing, Shkreli bought the rights to the cheap, off-patent drug and—without any generic competitors—abruptly raised its price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill in the fall of 2015.

The move was wildly unpopular (to say the least) and attracted intense public scrutiny to the country’s quickly escalating drug costs. But it was a lucrative decision for Turing and later Vyera—at least until recently.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

$1 million heist on Russian bank started with hack of branch router

July 19, 2018 - 9:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Henry Burrows / Flickr)

A prolific hacking group has struck again, this time stealing close to $1 million from Russia’s PIR Bank. The July 3 heist came about five weeks after the sophisticated hackers first gained access to the bank’s network by compromising a router used by a regional branch.

The theft—which according to kommersant.ru is conservatively estimated at about $910,000—is the latest achievement of a group researchers at security firm Group-IB call the MoneyTaker group. In a report published last November that first detailed the group, researchers said its members had conducted 20 successful attacks on financial institutions and legal firms in the US, UK, and Russia. In a follow-up report, Group-IB said MoneyTaker netted about $14 million in the hacks, 16 of which were carried out on US targets, five on Russian banks, and one on a banking-software company in the UK.

While MoneyTaker is skilled at concealing its activities, Group-IB was able to connect the heists by tracing a common set of tactics, techniques, and procedures. After initially gaining access to a target’s network, members often spend months doing reconnaissance in an effort to elevate system privileges to those of a domain administrator. Members also try to remain active inside hacked networks long after the heists are carried out. The attackers also use a variety of freely available tools popular among hackers and security professionals alike, including the Metasploit exploit framework, Microsoft’s PowerShell management framework, and various Visual Basic scripts.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Fingerprint” of humanity’s climate impact seen in the seasons

July 19, 2018 - 9:33pm

Enlarge / Trends in the satellite-measured seasonal temperature cycle of the troposphere (red means larger temperature swing, blue means smaller temperature swing). (credit: Santer et al./Science)

One reason climate scientists have been able to confidently determine that humans are responsible for modern warming is that they have more than just weather records to work with. There are many places where a human cause can be identified if you know how to dust for fingerprints. For example, while the lower atmosphere warms, the stratosphere is actually cooling. That’s what you expect when greenhouse gases—rather than the Sun—are behind the warming.

A new study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Ben Santer looked for fingerprints in a new place: the seasonal cycle of temperatures. The ideal tool for analyzing this is the global temperature record produced by satellites, which began their watch in 1979. That means they don’t go back nearly as far as weather-station records, but the dataset is now long enough to be useful for studies like this.

Hot and cold

While everyone uses the same satellites, several different groups actually maintain separate satellite temperature datasets. This is because the measurements are far from straightforward, and a ton of work goes into all the necessary processing to spit out temperature maps. As a result, the different datasets don’t always line up perfectly with each other—or with those analyzed with previous versions of their processing algorithm. So in this study, the researchers used the most recent two versions of three different datasets.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New MacBook Pro keyboard design may fix dust problems after all

July 19, 2018 - 6:05pm

Enlarge / The keyboard on the 2016 Touch Bar MacBook Pro. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

While Apple's redesigned keyboards in the new MacBook Pro models are made to be quieter, they also appear to be designed to prevent another problem. According to a document sent to Apple Authorized Service Providers and obtained by MacRumors, the new keys have a "membrane" underneath that helps "prevent debris" from getting into the butterfly mechanism.

"The keyboard has a membrane under the keycaps to prevent debris from entering the butterfly mechanism," state the Canadian and European versions of the document. "The procedure for the space bar replacement has also changed from the previous model. Repair documentation and service videos will be available when keycap parts begin shipping."

The US version of the document doesn't mention the membrane specifically. However, it does link to another document entitled Butterfly Mechanism Keycap Replacement MacBook Pro (2018), which references the membrane under the keycaps as a method of stopping debris from entering the keyboard.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Project Loon signs its first deal for Internet-delivering balloons—in Kenya

July 19, 2018 - 5:50pm

At the AAAS 2018 conference, Loon's Sal Candido shared this video aid when the time came to explain how Project Loon functions. "The team back in Mountain View knows presentations aren't my strength."

Project Loon, the Internet-delivering balloon system that grew out of Alphabet's Project X division, has announced its first commercial deal. According to multiple reports, the recent Project X graduates will partner with Telkom Kenya to increase connectivity in the country.

“Connectivity is critical. If you are not online, you are left out,” Joe Mucheru, Kenya's information, communication, and technology minister, told Reuters. "Loon is another technology that is being introduced that the licensed operators hopefully can be able to use.”

Public details of the deal appear scarce for now—no firm timeframe for deployment or financial details were available as of press time. The BBC notes that with this new partnership, Telkom Kenya will provide the Internet signal, and Loon will spread it over remote areas of Kenya.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC votes against Sinclair/Tribune merger, likely dooming deal

July 19, 2018 - 5:45pm

Enlarge / A sign for the Sinclair Broadcast buildings seen on October 12, 2004 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. (credit: Getty Images | William Thomas Cain)

The Federal Communications Commission has voted unanimously against approving Sinclair Broadcast Group's acquisition of Tribune Media Company, likely dooming the merger.

Technically, the commission adopted a Hearing Designation Order that refers the merger to an administrative law judge. Mergers usually don't survive that legal process. Besides referring the merger to a judge, the FCC's other options included denying the merger outright, approving the merger, or approving it with conditions. The unanimous vote to refer the merger to a judge was finalized on Wednesday evening.

Sinclair's problems stem from its plan to divest some stations in order to stay under station ownership limits. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the designation order on Monday, saying that Sinclair's proposal to divest certain stations "would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law."

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Halo devs not working on battle royale mode for Infinite

July 19, 2018 - 5:15pm

Enlarge / Don't expect this to be the setting for a survival-style battle on an ever-shrinking map anytime soon.

The stratospheric success of games like Fortnite and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds in the past year has led to a wave of copycat battle royale survival games and modes. Even franchises like Call of Duty aren't immune, with Black Ops 4 adding a new battle royale mode called Blackout while ignoring the usual single-player campaign.

It seems the Halo series will not be following the trend, though. In a Halo 5-focused "social stream" hosted on Microsoft's Mixer platform last night, 343 Industries writer Jeff Easterling said the studio is not working on a battle royale mode for the upcoming Halo Infinite .

A viewer plainly asked, "Will there be battle royale in Halo Infinite?" Easterling responded definitively, "I’ll tell you right now, the only BR we’re interested in is Battle Rifle, the original BR. So calm yourself."

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break: The consequences of a government genetic database

July 19, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Do you want GATTACA? Because this might be how we get GATTACA. (credit: Columbia Pictures)

Below you’ll find the third and final installment of my interview with medical geneticist Robert Green about the promise and pitfalls that could lie in reading out your full genome. Please check out parts one and two if you missed them. Otherwise, press play on the embedded player or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.

Today we open with a heartening story about an infant who went through one of Robert’s studies and may have picked up fifteen IQ points as a direct result (this is neither a metaphor nor an exaggeration)! It’s an early—and perhaps even the first—hard example of how full-genome sequencing at birth could one day save innumerable lives and preclude untold human suffering.

Click here for a transcript and click here for an MP3 direct download.

We then talk about the vast potential of pre-conception genetic screening and an early initiative in this area that has almost eradicated an awful genetic disease that long plagued the Ashkenazi Jewish population.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Gorilla Glass 6 tackles the problem of cumulative smartphone damage

July 19, 2018 - 4:40pm

Enlarge

Coming soon to a smartphone near you: it's Gorilla Glass 6, the latest version of Corning's ubiquitous smartphone display cover. Gorilla Glass typically sits between the display and the outside world, protecting your precious pixels from damage. Lately, manufacturers have been using it for the back of the phone, too.

Every year, Corning says the newest version of Gorilla Glass is better than the last. Gorilla Glass 4 survived drops "up to 80 percent of the time" when dropped "face down from one meter," while Gorilla Glass 5 survived "80 percent of the time" from 1.6-meter drops onto a rough surface. This new glass concoction is designed to take multiple drops, though, with Corning saying it can survive "15 drops from 1 meter onto rough surfaces." (One meter is a little more than three feet.)

This year, the company is tackling repeated damage that is inflicted on a display. While a brand new piece of Gorilla Glass might survive any single drop, the micro abrasions incurred from multiple drops weaken the display panel and make it more likely to break next time. Corning says Gorilla Glass 6 should reach the market in "the next several months."

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Windows 10 will get better at telling time with new leap second support

July 19, 2018 - 4:10pm

Enlarge (credit: michael)

One of the things that to me sums up the utter futility of existence and the inevitability of humanity's eventual extinction is the fact that the world is slowing down. About every 18 months or so, the Earth takes about a second longer to rotate on its axis, ever so slowly grinding to a halt. There's at least a possibility that when this happens, the Earth will be tidally locked to the Sun, with one side in Sun-scorched perpetual daylight (probably Texas—they frankly won't notice the extra heat) and the other side eternally dark. The future is really bleak.

But between now and then, we have to handle the problem of keeping track of the time. Not only is a day not exactly 24 hours (86,400 seconds) long, but it's also getting longer at about 2 milliseconds per century due to drag. Today, there are two main sources of time: a whole bunch of atomic clocks averaged together to produce International Atomic Time, and the astronomical time that comes from measuring how long the earth actually takes to spin on its axis. This latter time, named UTC ("coordinated universal time"), is used in science and engineering. For most purposes, it's the time reference that we want our watches, clocks, phones, and computers to be set by. Because UTC is based on the Earth's actual spinning, it slowly falls behind atomic time. Every time the gap is more than 0.9 seconds, an extra second is added to UTC—a leap second—to bring the two back in sync.

The next major update to Windows 10, likely due in October, and the next major version of Windows Server, named Windows Server 2019, will both include support for leap seconds. Whenever UTC needs an extra second to catch up, the clock in Windows will include the extra 61st second before rolling over to the next minute.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After 500 years, a UV lamp solves the mystery of the Basel Papyrus

July 19, 2018 - 3:56pm

Enlarge (credit: University of Basel)

The University of Basel has dozens of ancient papyrus texts in its collection, but one has been known for centuries as the Basel Papyrus. The 2,000-year-old work has been in the university’s collection since the 1500s, when it was acquired from a lawyer and art collector named Basilius Amerbach. And throughout those 500 years, no one could decipher it.

The writing on the Basel Papyrus looked like the ancient Greek script commonly used during the waning days of the Roman Empire, around the 3rd century CE, but the letters were reversed, like writing held up to a mirror.

“A few individual letters were readable before, but no sense could be established,” Sabine Huebner, professor of ancient history at the University of Basel, told Ars. “There were several theories circulating [about] why the papyrus was written in mirror script: to hide a secret message? As a joke? A medieval forgery?” Generations of archivists have puzzled over the mystery since the papyrus arrived in the university’s collection, but until recently, they’d all been stumped.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Comcast admits defeat in bidding war for Fox, clearing path for Disney

July 19, 2018 - 3:30pm

(credit: Comcast)

Comcast is abandoning its attempt to purchase 21st Century Fox properties, the cable company announced today.

"Comcast does not intend to pursue further the acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets," Comcast said in a statement.

That doesn't mean Comcast is done trying to buy media properties, however. Comcast's statement said that it will focus on its attempt to purchase Sky, a British media and pay-TV company. Comcast last week raised its bid for Sky, topping a previous offer made by 21st Century Fox.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AI plus a chemistry robot finds all the reactions that will work

July 18, 2018 - 11:00pm

Simple robots have been part of chemistry for years. (credit: Greg Russ)

Chemistry is a sort of applied physics, with the behavior of electrons and their orbitals dictating a set of rules for which reactions can take place and what products will remain stable. At a very rough level, the basics of these rules are simple enough that experienced chemists can keep them all in their brain and intuit how to fit together pieces in a way that ultimately produces the starting material they want. Unfortunately, there are some parts of the chemical landscape that we don't have much experience with, and strange things sometimes happen when intuition meets a reaction flask. This is why some critical drugs still have to be purified from biological sources.

It's possible to get more precise than intuition, but that generally requires full quantum-level simulations run on a cluster, and even these don't always capture some of the quirks that come about because of things like choice of solvents and reaction temperatures or the presence of minor contaminants.

But improvements in AI have led to a number of impressive demonstrations of its use in chemistry. And it's easy to see why this works; AIs can figure out their own rules, without the same constraints traditionally imparted by a chemistry education. Now, a team at Glasgow University has paired a machine-learning system with a robot that can run and analyze its own chemical reaction. The result is a system that can figure out every reaction that's possible from a given set of starting materials.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“An almond doesn’t lactate:” FDA to crack down on use of the word “milk”

July 18, 2018 - 10:32pm

Almond milk (credit: Amazing Almonds)

The US Food and Drug Administration seems to have soured on nondairy milk-alternative products that use the term “milk” in their marketing and labeling—like popular soy and almond milk products.

In a talk hosted by Politico, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced Tuesday that the FDA will soon issue a new guidance on the use of the term. But he added that products aren’t abiding by FDA policies as they stand now. He referenced a so-called “standard of identity” policy that regulates how milk is defined and should be identified.

“If you look at our standard of identity—there is a reference somewhere in the standard of identity to a lactating animal,” he said. “And, you know, an almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why is InfoWars allowed on Facebook? Zuckerberg: Because it doesn’t cause “harm”

July 18, 2018 - 9:58pm

Enlarge / Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., holds his phone after the morning session at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on Friday, July 13, 2018. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Last week, Facebook invited some media outlets to an event to hear what the company plans on doing about misinformation disseminated on its platform.

But many journalists, including CNN's Oliver Darcy, were left dissatisfied with Facebook's response.

Facebook invited me to an event today where the company aimed to tout its commitment to fighting fake news and misinformation.

I asked them why InfoWars is still allowed on the platform.

I didn't get a good answer.https://t.co/WwLgqa6vQ4

— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 12, 2018

So why won't Facebook ban sites that peddle obviously false information, like InfoWars?

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: The best Amazon Prime Day deals that are still going on

July 18, 2018 - 9:30pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. We'll be honest: the Dealmaster is still a bit woozy from the flurry of deals Amazon Prime Day threw at him. But today is a new day, which means there are new deals to discover.

Or, in this case, old deals—we're checking back in a bit sooner than usual this week to lay out a few Prime Day deals that are still live even after the official end of Amazon's event. To boot, many of them don't require a Prime subscription. To keep things tidy, we're also including deals from retailers beyond Amazon, since a few sales events that ran counter to Prime Day are still ongoing.

While some higher-profile deals have died down, good discounts can still be found on Samsung SSDs and microSD cards, the Apple Watch, DJI drones, and more, plus you can find a few new offers on Xbox memberships. Have a look for yourself below. The Dealmaster will see you on his regular schedule next week.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Israeli defense firm demos kamikaze drone bomb that can be called off

July 18, 2018 - 9:10pm

The Rotem "suicide drone" in action.

In early July, Israel Aerospace Industries demonstrated the Rotem UAS—a proof-of-concept quadcopter drone capable of providing both airborne surveillance and an explosive punch. The lightweight drone, which can be carried in a backpack and flown by one person, comes with a "combat head" that turns it into a guided weapon.

Rotem folds down into a package 38 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 5 inches high. According to a report from Israel Defense, the drone has a number of "automated modes." It has automatic take off and landing control, an emergency "return home" feature, and can navigate to a given set of coordinates or follow a pre-specified route without operator interaction. It can also be put into automated observation and attack modes once a target is designated, and the drone can "safe ditch" and disable its warhead if an attack is aborted.

A number of fixed-wing "loitering munitions" have been produced in the past, such as Aeronautics Defense Systems' Orbiter 1K—a suicide drone that drew unwanted attention when Aeronautics' live-fire sales demonstration to Azerbaijan turned into an attack on an Armenian military position. In the US, Textron developed Battlehawk—essentially a fixed-wing loitering hand grenade—in 2013. And the US Army started purchasing the tube-launched fixed-wing Switchblade from AeroVironment back in 2011.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rooftop solar could save utilities $100 to $120 per installed kilowatt

July 18, 2018 - 6:05pm

(credit: Lawrence Berkeley Labs)

When you install rooftop solar panels, the electricity you create cuts into the amount of electricity the utility must provide to meet your needs. Add up the reduced demand of all the homes with solar panels, and you've got a pretty sizable amount of electricity that's no longer needed.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantified that reduced demand and found that solar panels installed between 2013 and 2015 in California saved utilities from having to purchase between $650 million and $730 million dollars' worth of electricity. Those avoided purchases create slack in demand, pushing wholesale prices lower.

Lower wholesale prices "should ultimately reduce consumers’ costs through lower retail rates," the researchers write (although whether and how those savings get passed on to retail customers is not discussed in the paper).

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Jeff Bezos said they’d test the heck out of New Shepard—he wasn’t kidding

July 18, 2018 - 5:11pm

Blue Origin live video

With its ninth flight test, the New Shepard launch system put on quite a show on Wednesday morning. Flying from West Texas, the rocket and spacecraft ascended toward space before separating after about 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Then, three minutes into the flight, the spacecraft's escape motor fired to pull the spacecraft rapidly upward and away from the booster.

This dramatic test pushed the spacecraft higher into space than it had ever been before, reaching an altitude of 119km. Engineers at Blue Origin wanted to see whether the capsule's reaction control system (RCS) thrusters could stabilize the spacecraft in the space environment, and from all appearances the RCS system did just this. After about 11 minutes of flight, the spacecraft returned to Earth. The rocket, too, made a safe return to Earth.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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