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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 20 min ago

Google Play starts manually whitelisting SMS and phone apps

2 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge

Google is implementing major new Play Store rules for how Android's "SMS" and "Call Log" permissions are used. New Play Store rules will only allow certain types of apps to request phone call logs and SMS permissions, and any apps that don't fit into Google's predetermined use cases will be removed from the Play Store. The policy was first announced in October, and the policy kicks in and the ban hammer starts falling on non-compliant apps this week.

In that October blog post, Google laid out its vision for SMS and phone permissions for Google Play apps, saying, "Only an app that has been selected as a user's default app for making calls or text messages will be able to access call logs and SMS, respectively." That statement also comes with a host of exceptions, some of which were added after communicating with members of the developer community, but the end result is still that SMS and phone permissions will be heavily policed on the Play Store.

Google says the decision to police these permissions was made to protect user privacy. SMS and phone permissions can give an app access to a user's contacts and everyone they've ever called, in addition to allowing the app to contact premium phone numbers that can charge money directly to the user's cellular bill. Despite the power of these permissions, a surprising number of apps ask for SMS or phone access because they have other, more benign use cases. So to clean up the Play Store, Google's current plan seems to be to (1) build more limited, replacement APIs for these benign use cases that don't offer access to so much user data and (2) kick everyone off the Play Store who is still using the wide-ranging SMS and phone permissions for these more limited use cases.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC asks court for delay in case that could restore net neutrality rules

2 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / The Federal Communications Commission seal hangs inside a meeting room at the headquarters ahead of an open commission meeting in Washington, DC, on Thursday, December 14, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday asked judges to delay oral arguments in a court case that could restore Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Oral arguments are scheduled for February 1 at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will rule on a challenge to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal of net neutrality rules. The court confirmed this week on its website that its schedule "will not be affected, at least initially, by the partial shutdown of the federal government" that began on December 22, 2018. The court has enough funding to operate for now and said that "[o]ral arguments on the calendar for the month of January and February will go on as scheduled."

But the FCC, which is partially shut down, filed a motion yesterday asking the court to postpone oral arguments in the net neutrality case.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“This isn’t like shipping wine”—Defense Distributed v. Grewal has its day in court

4 hours 38 min ago

Enlarge / Defense Distributed was looking forward to this day enough that it produced a movie-like trailer. (Srsly) (credit: Defense Distributed)

AUSTIN, Texas—“I see nuances that require more thought,” US District Judge Robert Pitman told the assembled attorneys and small crowd of onlookers (new Defense Distributed Director Paloma Heindorff included). “All presentations have been of great use, and these are fascinating and important issues.”

Pitman, clearly, would not be making any rulings in Defense Distributed v. Grewal (PDF), a suit brought last summer by the 3D printed firearms company (and colleagues like the Second Amendment Foundation) against New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. But just as clearly, the judge appeared to recognize the fundamental and futuristic questions at play as the idea of free speech collides with the idea of digitally distributing CAD files for printing a firearm.

This case largely hinges on a newly enacted state law, SB2465, aimed at regulating “ghost guns.” Texas-based Defense Distributed believes it violates the Constitution. The company has failed twice to argue for a temporary restraining order against New Jersey. Now Judge Pitman gathered the two legal teams to consider a preliminary injunction, a wider-reaching legal maneuver that could potentially halt an array of actions.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

T-Mobile CEO, execs stay at Trump hotel while lobbying Trump administration

5 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / Entrance to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. (credit: Trump International Hotel)

T-Mobile's CEO and other executives have repeatedly stayed at President Trump's hotel in Washington, DC while lobbying the Trump administration for approval of T-Mobile's proposed acquisition of Sprint, according to a Washington Post story published today.

The Post's investigation is titled, "T-Mobile announced a merger needing Trump administration approval. The next day, 9 executives had reservations at Trump's hotel."

T-Mobile and Sprint announced their $26 billion merger on April 29 last year and are still seeking approval to merge from the US Department of Justice, Federal Communications Commission, and state regulators. T-Mobile executives have faced skepticism about the deal from federal and state regulators, according to a report by The Capitol Forum. A coalition of consumer advocacy groups has been warning regulators that the deal will harm competition, raise prices for wireless consumers, kill up to 30,000 jobs, and result in worse wireless service.

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Microsoft removes Forza dances amid Fortnite lawsuits

5 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge / Actor Alfonso Ribeiro shows off "The Carlton" during a Dancing with the Stars performance.

Forza Horizon 4 no longer features two dance emotes—the Carlton and the Floss—which were previously available for use by in-game avatars. The removal is listed under the "Other Improvements" section in the notes for the game's Series 5 update, which launched yesterday with a new online adventure playlist and new Mitsubishi cars for the game, among other changes.

Microsoft has not offered a public explanation for the removal, though a spokesperson told Kotaku "Forza Horizon 4 features a large portfolio of content and is continuously updated." The move comes, though, after both dances became the subject of lawsuits regarding their similar inclusion in Epic's Fortnite.

The Carlton—popularized by actor Alfonso Ribeiro on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air—and the Floss—popularized by Russell "Backpack Kid" Horning in a Saturday Night Live performance—are the apparent inspiration for two Fortnite emotes that can be purchased as part of various Battle Pass DLC packages. Lawsuits filed against Epic by those dancers accuse the Fortnite maker of illegally profiting from their copyrighted dance creations.

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Video: Inside the artistic mind of Dead Space designer Glen Schofield

5 hours 54 min ago

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Paul Isackson. Click here for transcript.

Our recent visit to Dead Space designer Glen Schofield's home to discuss the challenges of developing the horror classic left us with an enormous amount of footage to sort through. Glen was very generous with his time and allowed us more than simply a peek behind the curtain—we got a full tour through the man's artistic mind and processes.

This video is perhaps not as directly game-focused as our previous one, but Glen was brimming with words of wisdom for aspiring game artists—and aspiring artists in general. He tells of his professional beginnings, dutifully toiling away in the Barbie mines at Absolute Entertainment and getting the last laugh when he was promoted over other Barbie-eschewing coworkers. He discusses the artist's eye and how immersing oneself in art alters the way one perceives the world—an engineer might look at a machine and see in their mind the way the parts mesh and the gears turn, while an artist sees the machine and thinks of how to represent it on a canvas in terms of light and shadow. Both disciplines see things that are hidden or non-obvious to everyone else, and both require a blend of talent and training.

My mother is a painter and illustrator, and I hear many of the things she told me growing up echoed in Glen's advice. Artists see the world in a way that other disciplines do not, and the best artists—artists like Schofield—are able to create compelling images that draw the viewer in and allow them to experience some of the artist's own emotions.

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YouTube updates policies to explicitly ban dangerous pranks, challenges

6 hours 59 min ago

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Pranks and challenges have always been popular on YouTube, but now the Google-owned company has set stricter guidelines for such content. A new YouTube support page details the company's updated policy surrounding "harmful and dangerous" content to explicitly ban pranks and challenges that cause immediate or lasting physical or emotional harm.

"YouTube is home to many beloved viral challenges and pranks, like Jimmy Kimmel’s Terrible Christmas Presents prank or the water bottle flip challenge," the FAQ post says. "That said, we’ve always had policies to make sure what’s funny doesn’t cross the line into also being harmful or dangerous."

The updated policies page now highlights three specific types of videos that are prohibited:

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Where will NASA go in 20 years? It may depend on private space and China

8 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / NASA's human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years? (credit: NASA)

Anniversaries offer a moment for reflection, so when Ars Technica reached the start of its 20th anniversary recently, I inevitably paused to consider the state of US human spaceflight in 1998.

In 1998, NASA launched the Lunar Prospector mission, which found water on the Moon. It was also the year when 15 countries came together to agree upon a framework for the International Space Station and later launched the first piece of the laboratory into orbit. And also that year, promisingly, NASA’s new X-38 spacecraft made its first successful test flight. All of these events would, in various ways, help determine the course of US spaceflight development that led us to today.

Looking back, one thing soon became clear: past is prologue, and the rhythm of history repeats itself. The human spaceflight achievements of 20 years ago seemed to foreshadow the current state of play in space, so seeing how the seeds planted then have both bloomed and withered likely offers some helpful perspective on what may happen in the future.

Read 35 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Eight months after discovery, unkillable LoJax rootkit campaign remains active

8 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Lino Mirgeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Last May, researchers published a bombshell report documenting sophisticated malware attributed to the Russian government. The malware, dubbed "LoJax," creates a persistent backdoor that survives operating system reinstalls and hard drive replacements. On Wednesday, researchers published new findings that indicate the campaign remains active.

LoJax in May became the first known case of a real-world attack harnessing the power of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface boot system found in virtually all modern Windows computers. As software that bridges a PC’s firmware and its operating system, UEFI is essentially a lightweight operating system in its own right. That makes it a handy place to hide rootkits because once there a rootkit will remain in place even after an OS is reinstalled or a hard drive is replaced.

LoJack repurposed

LoJax gets its name from LoJack, an anti-theft product from developer Absolute Software. The rootkit is a modified version of a 2008 release of LoJack (then called Computrace). The anti-theft software achieved persistence by burrowing into the UEFI of the computer it was protecting. The design ensured that even if a thief made major changes to a computer’s hardware or software, a LoJack “small agent” would remain intact and be able to contact Absolute Software servers.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Travis Strikes Again review: Switch may already have its weirdest game of 2019

8 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Grasshopper Manufacture)

Have you heard of video game developer Goichi Suda, better known to fans as Suda51? If so, you're likely familiar with his brand of weird games, from Western cult classics Killer 7 and No More Heroes to decidedly Japanese visual novels like The Silver Case.

But Suda51 has mostly lingered on the edges of the Western game industry, in part because his biggest games didn't attract huge audiences here. One big reason is that his best fare on the GameCube and Wii targeted older gamers, who were arguably too busy playing PlayStation and Xbox consoles during those eras to notice. And his decidedly Western-minded followups, Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, suffered from development issues and sloppy gameplay.

This week, Suda51 will enjoy a rare moment of front-and-center attention thanks to a cozy spot on the Nintendo Switch's quiet January calendar. Between the usual dump of indies and a six-year-old New Super Mario Bros. U re-release comes the latest game from studio Grasshopper Manufacture: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. "Hey, I've heard of No More Heroes, and that Suda-fifty-something guy," you may think to yourself while flipping through the Switch's "latest games" listings. "I could go for some of that slick, weird Japanese action he's all about."

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The original Ghostbusters franchise is getting a new film in 2020

18 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / Who ya gonna call? Three of the four original Ghostbusters: Bill Murray, the late Harold Ramis, and Dan Ackroyd. (credit: Columbia Pictures)

Fire up your proton packs, people, because there's going to be another Ghostbusters movie from Sony Pictures, according to Entertainment Weekly. Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) will direct the new film, which will be set in the same fictional universe as the 1984 original and its sequel—unlike Paul Feige's 2016 all-female Ghostbusters.

Reitman is a fitting choice, seeing as how he's the son of Ivan Reitman, director of the 1980s films. You may have glimpsed Jason, his mother, and his sister in the original Ghostbusters, as residents fleeing their haunted skyscraper. Jason even had a line in the 1989 sequel: he was the birthday boy who told the 'Busters, "My dad says you guys are full of crap."

Reitman resisted following in his father's footsteps for years, but it seems he's finally succumbing to the call. “I’ve always thought of myself as the first Ghostbusters fan, when I was a 6-year-old visiting the set. I wanted to make a movie for all the other fans,” Reitman told EW. “This is the next chapter in the original franchise. It is not a reboot. What happened in the ‘80s happened in the ‘80s, and this is set in the present day.”

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Apple releases official battery cases for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR

20 hours 39 min ago

Today, Apple quietly began taking orders for battery-equipped cases for all three 2018 iPhone models—iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. The value proposition and designs are essentially the same as with battery cases made by Apple for prior iPhones.

As pictured above, each phone gets a black and a white option. The cases are made of silicone and closely resemble the existing, not-battery-equipped silicone cases that began shipping with the phones first became available late last year, except for the significant bumps on the lower two thirds of the backs of each case. The bump houses the battery, of course. Since the three phones are each different sizes, these cases are not interchangeable between models.

These cases work with Qi wireless chargers, and you can charge both the case and the phone at the same time from said chargers—though it should probably be said that Qi speeds on iPhones are nothing to write home about, and that's a whole lot of lithium-ion battery to fill up. In many cases, you'll be better off going wired, and that's OK, because the cases support fast-charging from USB-PD compatible chargers.

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Report: EA’s beleaguered open-world Star Wars game is no more [Updated]

20 hours 59 min ago

Artist's approximation of the status of EA Vancouver's Star Wars video game. (credit: Lucasfilm)

Ahead of an official EA announcement, Kotaku has gone forward with major Star Wars gaming news. The most troubled game in the EA and Star Wars deal, which was signed in 2013, has been canceled.

The game in question was once codenamed "Ragtag" while in development with wholly owned EA subsidiary Visceral Games. That changed in late 2017 with a formal announcement of that studio's closure, along with the game's assets and development being primarily handed over to the EA Vancouver studio. This handover was officially described as "a significant change" to the in-development game due to "fundamental shifts in the marketplace."

Kotaku's Tuesday report alleges that the resulting, rebooted Star Wars game, which had been built as an "open-world" adventure, has since been canceled. The report, from Jason Schreier, cites "three sources," but it does not confirm an exact timeline of the cancellation. Schreier says that EA has neither offered its own news post nor responded to Kotaku's questions.

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EPA at a 30-year low for referring pollution cases for criminal prosecution

22 hours 23 min ago

Enlarge / Acting Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA Andrew Wheeler listens as President Donald J. Trump leads a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 18, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Polluters likely had a good year in 2018. According to numbers from advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the number of criminal pollution cases that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) referred to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution was lower in 2018 than it had been in 30 years.

That's probably not because industry in America is becoming more environmentally conscious. PEER suggests the reason for the low number of referrals is that the EPA is only employing between 130 and 140 special agents in the agency's Criminal Investigation Division, less than the minimum 200 agents specified by the US Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.

The EPA only referred 166 cases to the Justice Department in 2018. According to numbers from the Associated Press, referrals peaked in 1998, with 592 cases referred for prosecution. Throughout the George W. Bush presidency, referrals ranged somewhere between 300 and 450. Referrals dipped during the Obama presidency to a range between 200 and just over 400. Referrals have been on a downward trend since 2012.

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New federal rules would let drones fly at night and over crowds

23 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / A drone is flown during a property inspection following Hurricane Harvey in Houston in 2017. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed Monday to relax rules governing commercial drone operations. Since 2016, the FAA has allowed the commercial operation of unmanned aerial vehicles weighing less than 55 pounds under certain limited circumstances. New rules proposed this week would relax two of the restrictions in the 2016 rules: drones will now be allowed to operate at night, and they'll be able to operate over people.

The agency already allows some nighttime flights, but only on a case-by-case basis. The agency says that since 2016, it has received thousands of requests for waivers for nighttime operations and granted 1,233 of those requests. The FAA says that it hasn't had any reports of accidents due to these nighttime operations. So the new FAA proposal would allow people to operate drones at night without special permission from the agency—provided the operator gets extra training and that the drone has lights that are visible from three miles away.

Current rules prohibit commercial drone operations over people who aren't directly involved in operating the vehicle. The new rules would allow drones to fly over people if the drone manufacturer certifies that doing so is safe. Specifically, manufacturers would need to demonstrate that in the event of a malfunction, the drone won't fall with more than an FAA-defined maximum of kinetic energy (either 11 or 25 foot-pounds, depending on the situation).

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Psychologists defend claim of “destructive aspects” to masculinity

January 15, 2019 - 11:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Photofusion)

The American Psychological Association is on the defensive over its newly released clinical guidance (PDF) for treating boys and men, which links traditional masculinity ideology to a range of harms, including sexism, violence, mental health issues, suicide, and homophobia. Critics contend that the guidelines attack traditional values and innate characteristics of males.

The APA’s 10-point guidance, released last week, is intended to help practicing psychologists address the varied yet gendered experience of men and boys with whom they work. It fits into the APA’s set of other clinical guidelines for working with specific groups, including older adults, people with disabilities, and one for girls and women, which was released in 2007. The association began working on the guidance for boys and men in 2005—well before the current #MeToo era—and drew from more than four decades of research for its framing and recommendations.

That research showed that “some masculine social norms can have negative consequences for the health of boys and men,” the APA said in a statement released January 14 amid backlash. Key among these harmful norms is pressure for boys to suppress their emotions (the “common ‘boys don’t cry’ refrain”), the APA said. This has been documented to lead to “increased negative risk-taking and inappropriate aggression among men and boys, factors that can put some males at greater risk for psychological and physical health problems.” It can also make males “less willing to seek help for psychological distress.”

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Intel reported to have a new 5GHz chip that’s literally priceless

January 15, 2019 - 11:07pm

Enlarge / This is a 10-core Skylake-X processor. It uses the low core count (LCC) version of the Skylake-SP die. (credit: Fritzchens Fritz / Flickr)

If the $1,979 Core i9-9980XE isn't enough processor for you, Anandtech reports that Intel will soon have an even more expensive Core i9 processor: the i9-9990XE. But you won't be able to buy it, and Intel won't even have a price for the thing.

The current i9-9980XE has 18 cores/36 threads and clock speeds between 3.0 and 4.5GHz, and it draws 165W. The new i9-9990XE has fewer cores—14 cores/28 thread, same as a 9940X—but it boasts clock speeds between 4.0 and 5.0GHz, with a monstrous power draw of 255W. It will use the existing LGA2066 socket and X299 chipset. This configuration is still a long way off the one that Intel teased in the middle of last year, when the company demonstrated an overclocked machine with 28 cores running 5GHz across all cores.

The price of this new chip is likely to sit above that of the 9980XE, but where exactly isn't clear. According to Anandtech, Intel won't be selling this chip through regular retail channels, and it won't have a regular list price. Instead, the chip company is asking system builders to bid for the chips in an online auction. The auctions will be held quarterly, with apparently only three system integrators bidding in the first.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Chinese firm scores a win in smallsat-launch competition

January 15, 2019 - 10:55pm

Enlarge / Satellogic satellites being prepared for launch. (credit: Satellogic)

China’s new Long March 6 rocket has won a major commercial launch contract, with an agreement for up to six flights over two years to deploy 90 small remote sensing satellites for Argentina-based Satellogic.

The contract—which will allow Satellogic to deploy a constellation capable of imaging the entire planet at a 1-meter resolution on a weekly basis—is significant in that it comes at a time of increasing competition in the small-satellite launch market. Satellogic and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (or CGWIC), which sells Chinese government launch services on the commercial market, did not disclose terms of the agreement.

However, the Chinese launch marketer made clear that this is an important milestone for its Long March 6 (or LM-6) rocket. "Satellogic's constellation will introduce a new era of affordable Earth observation just as the LM-6 will open new opportunities for the global space industry," Gao Ruofei, executive vice president of CGWIC, said in a statement.

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Nine defendants charged in SEC hacking scheme that netted $4.1 million

January 15, 2019 - 10:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)

Federal authorities have charged nine defendants with participating in a scheme to hack a Securities and Exchange Commission database to steal confidential information that netted $4.1 million in illegal stock trade profits.

Two of the defendants, federal prosecutors in New Jersey said, breached SEC networks starting in May 2016 by subjecting them to hacks that included directory traversal, phishing attacks, and infecting computers with malware. From there, the defendants allegedly accessed EDGAR (the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system) and stole nonpublic earnings reports that publicly traded companies had filed with the commission. The hackers then passed the confidential information to individuals who used it to trade in the narrow window between when the files were stolen and when the companies released the information to the public.

“Defendants’ scheme reaped over $4.1 million in gross ill-gotten gains from trading based on nonpublic EDGAR filings,” SEC officials charged in a civil complaint. It named Ukrainian nationalist Oleksandr Ieremenko as a hacker, along with six individual traders in California, Ukraine, and Russia, and it also named two entities. A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors in New Jersey charged Ieremenko and a separate Ukrainian named Artem Radchenko with carrying out the hack.

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Microsoft’s fonts catch out another fraudster—this time in Canada

January 15, 2019 - 9:49pm

Enlarge / The Calibri font. Don't use this if you're forging anything written before 2007. (credit: Peter Bright)

You'd think that people forging documents would have learned by now. Canadian Gerald McGoey was judged to have falsified documents in an attempt to protect certain assets from bankruptcy proceedings because—and stop me if you've heard this before—the documents used Microsoft's modern "C" fonts, which didn't become widely available until 2007. This would have been fine were it not for the minor detail that the documents were dated 2004 and 1995. Whoops.

McGoey was CEO of Look Communications when it collapsed and left him bankrupt. The company was liquidated, and McGoey was ordered to pay $5.6 million to creditors. McGoey claimed that the assets in question—homes, in this case—were held in trust by his wife and three children and hence beyond the reach of the courts. To prove this, he presented two signed documents. Unfortunately for him, he'd created the documents using typefaces that didn't exist at the time of the documents' purported creation.

The first trust document was dated 1995 and used the Cambria font. The second, dated 2004, used Calibri. Cambria was designed in 2004, while Calibri was between 2002 and 2004. But neither became widespread until 2007, when they were bundled with Windows Vista and Office 2007. That software included seven different fonts with names beginning with "C"—the "C fonts"—that were optimized for ClearType antialiasing. With their release, Microsoft changed Word's default font from the venerable Times New Roman to Calibri. Using the new fonts instantly betrays that a document wasn't written any time prior to 2007.

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