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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 35 min 9 sec ago

AI learns to decipher images based on spoken words—almost like a toddler

49 min 23 sec ago

Enlarge / Given this picture and audio of the word "airliner," a neural network identifies the portions of the image where there's an airplane (indicated by the red lines). The software learned to do this entirely by looking at 400,000 pictures, each paired with a brief, free-form spoken description of the scene. (credit: David Harwath et al.)

Babies learn words by matching images to sounds. A mother says "dog" and points to a dog. She says "tree" and points to a tree. After repeating this process thousands of times, babies learn to recognize both common objects and the words associated with them.

Researchers at MIT have developed software with the same ability to learn to recognize objects in the world using nothing but raw images and spoken audio. The software examined about 400,000 images, each paired with a brief audio clip describing the scene. By studying these labels, the software was able to correctly label which portions of the picture contained each object mentioned in the audio description.

For example, this image comes with the caption "a white and blue jet airliner near trees at the base of a low mountain."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Two Japanese robots are now happily hopping on an asteroid [Updated]

September 22, 2018 - 3:15pm

Enlarge / The Hayabusa2 spacecraft spies its shadow Thursday night as it descends toward Ryugu to deploy two small rovers. (credit: JAXA)

Saturday update: More than 24 hours after they were released by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft to fly down to the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, the Japanese Space Agency has finally provided an update on the fate of the two tiny robots. And they're doing quite well indeed.

"We are sorry we have kept you waiting!" the space agency, JAXA, tweeted. "MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, 1a & 1b. Both rovers are confirmed to have landed on the surface of Ryugu. They are in good condition and have transmitted photos & data. We also confirmed they are moving on the surface."

Then, the rovers shared some pictures, including these two.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Founders of Gloomhaven groans beneath its own weight

September 22, 2018 - 3:00pm

Enlarge

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

“In the age after the Demon War, the continent enjoys a period of prosperity. Humans have made peace with the Valrath and Inox. Quatryls and Orchids arrive from across the Misty Sea looking to trade. It is decided that a new city will be built on the eastern shores—a hub of trade and a symbol of many races working in harmony. Each race brings their own specialty to the city, and each race holds a desire for influence over the city by contributing the most to its construction.”

This, the opening paragraph of Founders of Gloomhaven’s bewilderingly dense manual, might mean something to hardcore board gamers—but to anyone who hasn’t played the original Gloomhaven, the current heavyweight champion of board gaming, it’s confusing (to say the least). As you’ll see, confusion and complexity are the order of the day with Founders.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Post-Cody Wilson’s arrest, few know what’s up with his company or legal efforts

September 22, 2018 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / At Defense Distributed's nondescript space among the North Austin business parks, it was business as usual on September 21, 2018. (credit: Nathan Mattise)

AUSTIN, Texas—On the surface, everything appears to be normal at Defense Distributed, the firearms company founded by 3D printed guns activist Cody Wilson. Employees have been reporting to work as usual. Sales of the Ghost Gunner and the related 3D-printed gun files on a USB stick continue. And the Defense Distributed team has been working to fulfill those just like any other week.

But of course, it hasn't been just any other week for the Austin company. On Wednesday, September 19, an arrest warrant was issued for Wilson related to his alleged sexual assault of an unnamed underage girl. And on Friday, September 21, Wilson was arrested in Taipei, Taiwan. He flew to the country roughly two weeks earlier, and the Austin Police Department said that Wilson had skipped his return flight to the US after they believe the man received a tip about the allegations.

So while business at Defense Distributed rolls along at the moment, the company founder likely faces criminal charges upon returning to his home city. And that means Wilson could be effectively out at Defense Distributed.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ecuador wanted to make Julian Assange a diplomat and send him to Moscow

September 22, 2018 - 12:45pm

Enlarge / Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, gestures from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in London. (credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Last year, Ecuador attempted to deputize WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as one of its own diplomats and send him to Russia, according to a Friday report by Reuters.

Citing an "Ecuadorian government document," which the news agency did not publish, Assange apparently was briefly granted a "special designation" to act as one of its diplomats, a privilege normally granted to the president for political allies. However, that status was then withdrawn when the United Kingdom objected.

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that newly-leaked documents showed that Assange sought a Russian visa back in 2010. WikiLeaks has vehemently denied that Assange did so.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Newly discovered letter by Galileo resolves puzzling historical mystery

September 22, 2018 - 12:34pm

Enlarge / The original letter in which Galileo argued against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. (credit: Royal Society)

Renowned astronomer Galileo Galilei has been lauded for centuries for his courageous principled stance against the Catholic Church. He argued in favor of the Earth moving around the Sun, rather than vice versa, in direct contradiction to church teachings at the time. But a long-lost letter has been discovered at the Royal Society in London indicating that Galileo tried to soften his initial claims to avoid the church's wrath.

In August, Salvatore Ricciardo, a postdoc in science history at the University of Bergamo in Italy, visited London and searched various British libraries for any handwritten comments on Galileo's works. He was idly flipping through a catalogue at the Royal Society when he came across the letter Galileo wrote to a friend in 1613, outlining his arguments. According to Nature, which first reported the unexpected find, the letter “provides the strongest evidence yet that, at the start of his battle with the religious authorities, Galileo actively engaged in damage control and tried to spread a toned-down version of his claims.”

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe that I have discovered the letter that virtually all Galileo scholars thought to be hopelessly lost,’” Ricciardo told Nature. “It seemed even more incredible because the letter was not in an obscure library, but in the Royal Society library.”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Telltale Games begins wave of layoffs, cancels Stranger Things game [Updated]

September 21, 2018 - 8:52pm

Enlarge / If today's news about Telltale Games' closure is true, that "final" season description may prove more accurate than Telltale originally intended. (credit: Telltale Games)

Update, 5:49 p.m. ET: Telltale Games has issued a statement to Ars Technica confirming that the game maker has begun taking steps to shut down completely. The full statement, below:

Today Telltale Games made the difficult decision to begin a majority studio closure following a year marked by insurmountable challenges. A majority of the company’s employees were dismissed earlier this morning, with a small group of 25 employees staying on to fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners. CEO Pete Hawley issued the following statement:

“It's been an incredibly difficult year for Telltale as we worked to set the company on a new course. Unfortunately, we ran out of time trying to get there. We released some of our best content this year and received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, but ultimately, that did not translate to sales. With a heavy heart, we watch our friends leave today to spread our brand of storytelling across the games industry.”

Original report:

A wave of layoffs has apparently hit the video game studio Telltale Games, responsible for popular branching-narrative games based on the Walking Dead franchise. According to online reports, those affected by the layoffs have alleged that the studio is either shutting down entirely or staying afloat as a meager skeleton crew, ahead of The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series' final season launch throughout this fall.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Potential buyers for largest coal plant in the Western US back out

September 21, 2018 - 8:25pm

Enlarge / Navajo Generating Station and Navajo Mountain. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

Two investment companies that had been negotiating a purchase of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) outside of Page, Arizona, have decided to end talks without purchasing the coal plant. The 2.25 gigawatt (GW) plant is the biggest coal plant in the Western US, and it has been slated for a 2019 shutdown. That decision came in early 2017, when utility owners of the plant voted to shut it down, saying they could find cheaper, cleaner energy elsewhere.

The 47-year-old plant employs hundreds of people from the Navajo and Hopi tribes in the area. It is also served by Arizona's only coal mine, the Kayenta mine, which is owned by the world's largest private coal firm, Peabody Energy. After the news of NGS' proposed shutdown, Peabody began a search for a potential buyer for the coal plant so as not to lose its only customer.

The Salt River Project, the majority-owner of NGS, published a press release on Thursday saying Peabody Energy retained a consulting firm to identify potential buyers of the massive coal plant. That firm came up with 16 potential buyers who had expressed some interest. Salt River Project says that it hosted numerous tours for prospective buyers and set up meetings with various regulators as well as the Navajo Nation. Ultimately, a Chicago firm called Middle River Power and a New York City firm called Avenue Capital Group (which invests in "companies in financial distress") had entered into negotiations to potentially take over the coal plant and keep it running.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Skype support coming to Alexa later this year

September 21, 2018 - 8:12pm

Enlarge / Skype calling on Alexa hardware. (credit: Microsoft)

Later this year you'll be able to say "Alexa, call Mom on Skype" and have Amazon's digital assistant do the right thing with Microsoft's messaging network.

Microsoft and Amazon have been working to integrate their technology. Earlier in the year, Cortana and Alexa gained the ability to talk to each other (albeit with some limitations), and the Skype integration is another sign of cooperation between the two companies.

Any Alexa-enabled device will support voice calls, and hardware with screens and cameras, such as the Echo Show, will also support video calling. The Skype support includes SkypeOut support calls to phone numbers, and you'll be able to receive incoming calls on Alexa hardware, too.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

PayPal bans Alex Jones, saying he “promoted hate”

September 21, 2018 - 7:54pm

Enlarge / Alex Jones in Cleveland in 2016. (credit: Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

Payment processing giant PayPal has cut off the account of Alex Jones—the latest in a long line of technology companies to cut ties with the radio host and online provocateur.

"We undertook an extensive review of the Infowars sites and found instances that promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance," a PayPal spokesperson told New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper.

PayPal has given Jones' site, Infowars, 10 days to find a new payment processor.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

iFixit’s iPhone XS and XS Max teardown: Like the iPhone X with a couple surprises

September 21, 2018 - 6:40pm

iFixit

When we went hands-on with the iPhone XS and XS Max, we were mainly struck by how similar they felt to the iPhone X—particularly the iPhone XS. But it turns out that inside, it's the iPhone XS that diverges with an unusual new battery design. iFixit tore down both phones and provided analysis and gorgeous pictures as always. Be sure to check out their full teardown, but a few highlights stand out.

Let's be clear: both of these phones are the iPhone X in more ways than not. Last year brought that quasi-radical redesign of Apple's product, but what was quasi-radical in 2017 is standard in 2018. Most of the components in both phones are the same, or very close, to what we saw in the iPhone X. Small changes include an added antenna band on the bottom of each device near the Lightning port (which iFixit speculates has to do with Gigabit LTE), a 32 percent larger wide angle sensor and increased pixel size for the rear camera in both phones, and a larger taptic engine and extended logic board in the iPhone XS Max.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NYT sues FCC, says it hid evidence of Russia meddling in net neutrality repeal

September 21, 2018 - 6:02pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks to the media after the vote to repeal net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong )

The New York Times has sued the Federal Communications Commission over the agency's refusal to release records that the Times believes might shed light on Russian interference in the net neutrality repeal proceeding.

The Times made a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in June 2017 for FCC server logs related to the system for accepting public comments on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal of net neutrality rules. The FCC refused to provide the records, telling the Times that doing so would jeopardize the privacy of commenters and the effectiveness of the agency's IT security practices and that fulfilling the records request would be overly burdensome.

This led to a months-long process in which the Times repeatedly narrowed its public records request in order to overcome the FCC's various objections. But the FCC still refuses to release any of the records requested by the Times, so the newspaper sued the commission yesterday in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Drugged puppies blamed for spreading diarrhea superbugs in multi-state outbreak

September 21, 2018 - 5:15pm

Enlarge / I don't feel so good. (credit: Getty | Christopher Furlong)

Puppies given a startling amount of antibiotics have spurred a multi-state outbreak of diarrhea-causing bacterial infections that are extensively drug resistant, federal and state health officials report this week.

The finding, published in the September 21 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that the dog industry is in serious need of training and obedience classes. The “widespread administration of multiple antibiotic classes” to puppies, including all of the classes commonly used to treat diarrhea infections in humans, is an alarming finding, the officials suggested. They called for fairly simple fixes including better hygiene and animal husbandry practices, as well as veterinary oversight of antibiotic use.

“Implementation of antibiotic stewardship principles and practices in the commercial dog industry is needed,” they concluded bluntly.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Taiwanese authorities arrest Cody Wilson, intend to deport him

September 21, 2018 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / Cody Wilson speaks at the 2015 SXSW Conference for the premiere of the documentary, Deep Web. (credit: Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)

Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson was arrested at a hotel in Taipei City's Wanhua District at around 6pm local time in Taipei today, according to reports in Taiwanese outlets The Liberty Times (Chinese, Google Translate) and United Daily News (Chinese, Google Translate).

Authorities had seen Wilson on hotel security monitors earlier in the day, around 3pm local time. They soon sent staff to wait outside the door, and Wilson eventually walked out three hours later. Liberty Times notes Wilson did not have any contraband on him at the time of the arrest, and he appeared calm when approached by authorities. Wilson was arrested for illegally entering Taiwan after the US cancelled his passport (Google Translate).

Taipei police reportedly handed Wilson over to the National Immigration Agency. Though Taiwan lacks an extradition agreement with the US, the NIA told media (Google Translate) they are quickly making arrangements to deport him back to the US. Details about how that will be coordinated were not reported.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Valkyria Chronicles 4 review: Same as it ever was

September 21, 2018 - 4:30pm

Enlarge / Once you take aim, behind-the-scenes math takes control.

Turn-based tactics with an action game twist: that’s the simple, potent blend that made the original Valkyria Chronicles so immediately striking back in 2008. Now, two PSP sequels and one ill-conceived pseudo-spin-off later, that formula returns to consoles in Valkyria Chronicles 4. It has the same hooks of that original game, including the watercolor-and-pencil graphics and plenty of anime relationships to tease out over 35-ish combat-heavy hours.

In fact, despite being the fourth game in the series, VC4 even returns to the series’ original conflict—a sort of Norse-flavored, alternate-history World War II. An evil empire (a fantastical mix of Nazi Germany and the USSR) is invading the “Atlantic Federation,” and a plucky crew of volunteers from Gallia (basically fantasy Holland) signs up to bring the fight back to the fascists, big tank in tow.

All of these beats feel so much like that first game that VC4 comes across almost as a soft reboot of the original rather than a side story.

The more things don’t change

Combat and progression have been simplified compared to the previous sequels. Battle begins from an overhead perspective but shifts to an over-the-shoulder view when you select a unit. From there you can move your units in real time, limited only by the soldier’s dwindling “Action Points.” While you line up shots as in any over-the-shoulder shooter, a weapon’s precise aim is out of your control. It’s up to the JRPG math behind the scenes—massaged by your reticle placement—to land blows and critical headshots.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Get ready for a flood of new exoplanets: TESS has already spotted two

September 21, 2018 - 3:50pm

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

NASA's successor to the Kepler mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is already paying dividends. The satellite was only launched in April and spent time undergoing commissioning and calibration. But it has now started its science mission, and researchers have already discovered two new planets.

These are expected to be the first of as many as 10,000 planets spotted by TESS. So we thought this was a good opportunity to take a careful look at the planet hunter's design, the goals that informed the design, and what its success should mean for our understanding of exoplanets.

Four eyes

The body of TESS is pretty simple, being composed largely of a fuel tank and thrusters. It has reaction wheels for fine control of its orientation and a pair of solar panels for power. The business end of TESS consists of a sun shield protecting not one but four telescopes. Instead of being able to focus on faint objects, the telescopes (each a stack of seven lenses above CCD imaging hardware) are designed to capture a broad patch of the sky.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Matt Murdock is back and darker than ever in new trailer for Daredevil season 3

September 21, 2018 - 3:22pm

Marvel’s Daredevil season 3 trailer.

Man, Marvel is on a roll these days. Season two of Iron Fist just dropped a few weeks ago, and Marvel is already trotting out the teaser trailer for Daredevil's third season. It's clear Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock is in for a dark descent, psychologically, along with the regular beatings that leave him bloodied but unbowed. And could Kingpin be making a reprise as Matt's arch nemesis?

(Mild spoilers for first two seasons below)

Daredevil S1 is among my favorite stories in the Defenders universe, second only to Jessica Jones S1, in large part because Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin, played to perfection by Vincent D'Onofrio) was such an incredibly complex and even occasionally sympathetic villain. Strong villains are key to these series' success, and season two suffered a bit because of Fisk's absence (apart from a brief prison appearance), focusing instead on introducing the Chinese crime syndicate the Hand in preparation for their role as the Big Bad in the first Defenders series. But a vast syndicate isn't nearly as compelling as a violent psychopath with exquisite taste who also longs for love.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC angers cities and towns with $2 billion giveaway to wireless carriers

September 21, 2018 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / A Verizon construction engineer inspects a pair of radio heads on a mock small cell near Sacramento City Hall in 2017. (credit: Verizon)

The Federal Communications Commission's plan for spurring 5G wireless deployment will prevent city and town governments from charging carriers about $2 billion worth of fees.

The FCC proposal, to be voted on at its meeting on September 26, limits the amount that local governments may charge carriers for placing 5G equipment such as small cells on poles, traffic lights, and other government property in public rights-of-way. The proposal, which is supported by the FCC's Republican majority, would also force cities and towns to act on carrier applications within 60 or 90 days.

The FCC says this will spur more deployment of small cells, which "have antennas often no larger than a small backpack." But the commission's proposal doesn't require carriers to build in areas where they wouldn't have done so anyway.

Read 33 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Inside the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin

September 21, 2018 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / The Falcon 1 rocket ascends toward space on its fourth flight. (credit: SpaceX)

They bunked in a double-wide trailer, cramming inside on cots and sleeping bags, as many as a dozen at a time. In the mornings, they feasted on steaming plates of scrambled eggs. At night, beneath some of the darkest skies on Earth, they grilled steaks and wondered if the heavens above were beyond their reach. Kids, most of them, existed alone on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was the middle of nowhere, really.

And they worked. They worked desperately—tinkering, testing, and fixing—hoping that nothing would go wrong this time. Already, their small rocket had failed three times. One more launch anomaly likely meant the end of Space Exploration Technologies.

Three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, SpaceX tried to launch a Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek Island in the Pacific Ocean, a coral shelf perhaps a meter above sea level and the size of three soccer fields. Less than two months after the last failure, the money was running out. SpaceX had just one final rocket to launch, with only some spare components left over in its California factory.

Read 70 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: SpaceX says it would launch weapons, Bezos plays for defense, too

September 21, 2018 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace/Aurich Lawson)

Welcome to Edition 1.18 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news on medium- and large-sized rockets, including milestones for the Delta II and Ariane 5 rockets, as well as a round-up of SpaceX's big announcement of its first customer for the Big Falcon Rocket. Oh yeah, we even try to make some sense of propulsion based on quantized inertia. (We fail).

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Georgia's spaceport gets a tenant. The Camden County Joint Development Authority, which seeks to develop a spaceport near the Atlantic coast, announced this week that it has reached an agreement with ABL Space Systems to establish an integration and testing facility for the small launch vehicle that company is developing. The RS1 rocket, which has a test launch planned for 2020, is designed to place up to 900kg into low Earth orbit at a price of $17 million a launch, SpaceNews reports.

Read 28 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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