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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 3 min ago

Why a former Nazi sub base in Marseille is becoming a data center

7 hours 24 min ago

Marseille—France's largest city on the Mediterranean coast—is many things. It's the country's largest commercial port, the birthplace of French hip-hop, and the home of the French Foreign Legion. It's also a tech industry hotspot and the landing station for 13 major submarine cables. These cables connect Europe with North America, Africa, Cyprus, the Middle East, and Asia. Two more are scheduled to come online next year.

From a networking standpoint, the cables place Marseille very close to Cairo, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. According to Fabrice Coquio (the managing director for France of data-center-operator Interxion), there are only five or six milliseconds of network latency to any of those locations—less than to Paris 800 kilometers (roughly 500 miles) away.

That has made Marseille a magnet for data-center operations—where data and application providers can "put platforms in a safe environment in terms of legal and financial environments like Europe and particularly the European Union and at the same time be connected to 46 countries directly with a very low latency," Coqiuo explained. "Basically, in the last 15 years, we have [cut] the cost of a submarine cable to a [10th of what it was] and multiplied the capacity by 50."

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX just aced a critical Air Force test of its Falcon Heavy rocket

7 hours 49 min ago

On Tuesday afternoon—a little more than 12 hours after the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida—the US Air Force's Space & Missile Systems Center declared that all had gone well with the complicated mission. "All satellites are on orbit and have made contact," the Air Force unit tweeted.

SpaceX had a lot on its plate with Tuesday morning's launch, which occurred at 2:30am ET (06:30 UTC). Once again, the company recovered the two side-mounted Falcon 9 first stage boosters at a landing site along the Florida coast. But for the second time out of three Falcon Heavy launches, SpaceX was unable to land the center core on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. This is perhaps understandable because, due to mission requirements, the center core used in Tuesday's launch had to shed more energy than any previous launch—its attending drone ship was positioned more than 1,200km away from the launch site.

More favorably for SpaceX, the company succeeded in catching one half of a payload fairing for the first time. SpaceX did so with its rebranded Ms. Tree ship, which sports a large catcher's mitt-like netting. "Ms. Tree caught the Falcon fairing!!" company founder Elon Musk shared on Twitter. For a few years, the company has been experimenting with various approaches to capturing the payload fairing halves, which split apart after a rocket reaches space to allow the payload access to space.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft OneDrive gets a more secure Personal Vault, plus additional storage options

8 hours 11 min ago

Enlarge / Microsoft at a trade show. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan)

Microsoft is launching a new layer of security for users of its OneDrive cloud storage service. OneDrive Personal Vault is a new section of your storage that's accessed through two-step verification, or a "strong authentication method," although Microsoft didn't define the latter term.

Microsoft notes that fingerprinting, face scans, PINs, and one-time codes by email, SMS, or an authenticator app are among the acceptable two-step verification methods. And you’ll automatically get de-authenticated after a period of inactivity—that's the key to Microsoft's special security argument here. Two-factor authentication using text or email is less secure than other options. Using the more heavy-duty face or fingerprint verification will require the appropriate hardware, such as a device with Windows Hello.

It also has options for transferring physical documents to the OneDrive mobile app. You can scan documents or take photos directly into the Personal Vault section without needing to store the file in a less secure part of your device first.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FedEx sues US government over export controls after Huawei problems

8 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

FedEx is suing the US Department of Commerce, arguing that US export control laws are so onerous that it's impossible for FedEx to comply with them. US laws "require considerably more screening than possible from common carriers like FedEx," the company argues in a legal complaint filed in a DC federal court on Monday.

The lawsuit doesn't mention Huawei, but it was filed after a string of disputes between FedEx and Huawei that may be connected to US export control laws.

FedEx is one of the many international companies feeling pressure from the escalating trade war between the United States and China. Last month, the Trump administration added Huawei and its affiliates to an "entity list" under export control law. That made it illegal to ship a range of US-made technology to Huawei.

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Apple updates Pages, Keynote, and Numbers with new text-styling features

June 25, 2019 - 10:09pm

Enlarge / Pages in macOS Mojave. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple released Pages 8.1, Numbers 6.1, and Keynote 9.1 for Mac, and the company also updated the accompanying apps on iOS. This is a small features update for the iWork suite, but some of the additions give functionality users have been requesting for a while.

For example, you can now create a link from text in one sheet to another sheet in your Numbers spreadsheet document, and the same goes for linking from one document to another in Pages. In Keynote, you can now place objects in-line so they move with text dynamically as expected, and you can edit master slides while collaborating with another user.

All three applications have new text styling options—notably, the ability to apply a gradient to text. It's easy enough to fill text with a two-color gradient, but more colors are supported from the "Advanced Gradient Fill" menu option. In Pages, you can apply new outline styles, and filling text with images is also possible across all three apps.

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Declining monarch-butterfly populations may be hard to restore

June 25, 2019 - 9:31pm

Enlarge (credit: Beth Waterbury)

Monarch butterflies engage in a spectacular migration that encompasses multiple generations. They surf the green wave of spring as it spreads north, producing new generations on the way. Then, as autumn sets in, that generation of butterflies shuts down reproduction and starts heading south, eventually reaching their wintering grounds in staggering numbers. But in recent years, those numbers have grown far less staggering. The loss of some of those wintering grounds, habitat destruction across North America, and other threats have steadily reduced the migrating population to the point where it's under consideration for endangered species designation.

The declining population has inspired people throughout North America to try to give the butterflies a hand. Their efforts include planting more of the insects' favorite food plants, protecting the butterflies in their pupal stage, and even ordering monarch pupae from commercial suppliers. Raising monarchs is also a common school project.

But a new study raises questions about whether buying pupae is really helping the butterflies. A group of researchers at the University of Chicago have found that the monarchs purchased from commercial suppliers may not be able to migrate effectively and so might only give the monarch population a transient boost.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

North Korea reveals explosive HIV outbreak—after claiming to be disease-free

June 25, 2019 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 18, 2016, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the newly built Ryugyong General Ophthalmic Hospital in Pyongyang. (credit: Getty | KCNA)

North Korea is experiencing an explosive outbreak of HIV amid limited access to diagnostic testing and treatments, according to an exclusive report by Science.

Independent researchers and government health officials tell the outlet that the isolated East Asian country confirmed its first HIV case in 1999 and has quietly watched infections balloon to over 8,300 cases in the last few years. The researchers and North Korean officials have submitted a report on the matter to the new medical preprint server medRxiv, which is scheduled to go live on Tuesday, June 25.

The case estimate stands in stark contrast to a celebration in Pyongyang last year on December 1—annual World AIDS Day—in which government officials declared that North Korea is an “AIDS-free zone” and that there is “not a single AIDS patient” in the country.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Take 30% off a variety of Switch, PS4, and Xbox One games

June 25, 2019 - 6:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by an expansive 30%-off sale on video games for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One currently going on at Target.

The catch here is that the discount doesn't apply to typical shipping; instead, you have to select "free order pickup" upon checking out and physically get the games yourself at a nearby store. That's a little annoying, but Target isn't exactly a mom-and-pop shop, and many of the deals available as part of the deal are good enough for the Dealmaster to think it's worth a quick drive. For instance, the sale brings first-party Switch games like Super Mario PartyMario Tennis Aces, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe down to $35, beating their prices in Nintendo's own E3 sale from a couple of weeks back. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the latest from Dark Souls maker From Software, is down to $34 from its usual $48, while the recent Resident Evil 2 remake is down to $28 from its usual $40.

The 30% discount applies to literally hundreds more games beyond those, but note that not everything in the sale is at or near an all-time price low. The Dealmaster has curated a list of games he finds to be good bargains below, but as always, price tracking tools like Keepa and CamelCamelCamel can help verify whether other games are really a good bargain. (Particularly now that Amazon Prime Day is right around the corner.) Exactly how available these games are will depend on where you live, too, as will how much tax you'll have to pay on top of the prices listed below, though the latter should only add a couple extra bucks. In any event, Target says this sale will last until June 29.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Steam and Ubuntu clash over 32-bit libs

June 25, 2019 - 5:54pm

Enlarge / The new icon theme in Ubuntu 19.04. (credit: Scott Gilbertson)

It has been a tumultuous week for gaming on Linux. Last Tuesday afternoon, Canonical's Steve Langasek announced that 32-bit libs would be frozen (kept as-is, with no new builds or updates) as of this October's interim 19.10 release, codenamed "Eoan Ermine." Langasek was pretty clear that this did not mean abandoning support for running 32-bit applications, however.

Unfortunately, that part of the announcement may not have been entirely clear to all who read it. This group may include Steam lead Pierre-Loup Griffais, who responded by breaking up with Ubuntu in a tweet.

Ubuntu 19.10 and future releases will not be officially supported by Steam or recommended to our users. We will evaluate ways to minimize breakage for existing users, but will also switch our focus to a different distribution, currently TBD.

— Pierre-Loup Griffais (@Plagman2) June 22, 2019

Two days later, Canonical issued another public statement making it very explicit that support for commonly used 32-bit libs would be continued. That statement has been widely reported as an "about-face" from Canonical, but it appears to be more of a clarification of the original statement. The heart of the issue is that 32-bit computing represents an incredibly wide attack surface, with lessening amounts of active maintenance to discover, analyze, and patch flaws and exploits. Canonical, like any company, needs to apply its developer resources intelligently, so it looks for ways to remove unnecessary cruft where possible. The vast majority of 32-bit code is cruft.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

BMW speeds up plans to electrify 25 new models, now due by 2023

June 25, 2019 - 5:12pm

In Munich on Tuesday, BMW revealed it is speeding up the plan to electrify its model range. Previously, it had committed to introducing 25 electric vehicles by the year 2025. Now, those EVs will reach us by 2023. Of those 25, BMW says more than half will be battery EVs, with the remainder being plug-in hybrid EVs (hopefully).

"By 2021, we will have doubled our sales of electrified vehicles compared with 2019," said Harald Krüger, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, in Munich on Tuesday. "We will offer 25 electrified vehicles already in 2023—two years earlier than originally planned. We expect to see a steep growth curve towards 2025: Sales of our electrified vehicles should increase by an average of 30 percent every year."

The Bavarian car company has actually been rather proactive when it comes to electrification. It created the BMW i sub brand as a place to experiment with lightweight construction and electrification, which gave us the charming i3 city car and the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. When it introduced the 530e plug-in hybrid, it bucked the trend of making PHEVs more expensive than their non-hybrid siblings, offering it at the exact same price as the plain-old 530i.

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Cease-and-desist transforms Mario Royale into DMCA Royale

June 25, 2019 - 4:37pm

Enlarge / Mario? Who is Mario? My name is Infringio, and I'm a completely original character. (credit: Inferno Plus)

Web-based game Mario Royale attracted quite a bit of attention last week by taking Nintendo's well-known mascot and placing him next to 74 other human-controlled doppelgangers in a race through level designs taken directly from popular Mario games.

Given Nintendo's litigious reputation when it comes to fan games, it's perhaps no surprise that the "game got DMCA'd," as creator InfernoPlus noted in a comment on the game's YouTube trailer over the weekend. InfernoPlus himself didn't seem all that surprised. In an interview with Vice last week, he said he "anticiapate[d]" a letter from Nintendo. "I’d say it’s [a] 50/50 [chance of attracting Nintendo's legal ire], maybe more, because it got so big all of a sudden. If [Nintendo] does, I can just re-skin it."

Now, that's precisely what's happened. Following a June 21 "DMCA Patch," the game that was Mario Royale is now DMCA Royale. While the gameplay is unchanged, the game's music, sound effects, and in-game sprites have been replaced with much more generic versions—including a new player character named "Infringio."

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Guidemaster: The best dash cams worthy of a permanent place in your car

June 25, 2019 - 1:31pm

Enlarge / Garmin Dash Cam Mini. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Update: Our original Dash Cam Guidemaster was published in March 2018, but we recently tested out some of the newest options and updated our picks—just in time for 2019 summer road trips.

If you've ever been in a fender-bender or a serious car accident, you can appreciate the importance of a dash cam. These tiny car cameras stick to your windshield and silently record driving footage, capturing all the strange, mundane, and perilous things going on in front of your car. In addition to peace of mind during daily commutes, they can provide information footage to law enforcement, insurance companies, and other parties in accident situations, monitor your car when you're not around, and sometimes capture fun videos of you and your friends on a road trip.

But with the numerous big and small companies making dash cameras now, wading through the sea of devices before you choose one to buy is a formidable task. Ars reviewed the newest dash cams and revisited our testing of existing devices to pick the best dash cams available now.

Read 44 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Falcon Heavy rocket launched early Tuesday—two cores made it back safely

June 25, 2019 - 7:50am

2:50am ET Tuesday Update: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket launched at 2:30am ET on Tuesday morning, sending its payload of 24 satellites into space. Less than three minutes after the launch, the rocket's two side-mounted boosters separated from the first stage's center core and subsequently returned to make a safe landing near Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

At 3 minutes and 30 seconds into the flight, the rocket's upper stage separated from the center core and flew onward, into the first of several orbits. The center core then attempted to make the "hottest" landing of a Falcon rocket to date, more than 1,200km downrange on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX founder Elon Musk had warned earlier that, because of the core's exceedingly high energy during its return to Earth, it only had about a 50% chance of landing on the drone ship. It didn't quite make it, making a visible explosion as it hit the water nearby.

Meanwhile, the Falcon Heavy's upper stage still had much work to do. Over the next 3 hours and 30 minutes, it was slated to drop off 24 satellites into three different orbits.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon takes on TCL’s Roku TV with low-cost HDR Fire TV

June 25, 2019 - 2:10am

Enlarge / Seeing is believing when it comes to HDR, and this mock-up comparison of the display tech hints at what awaits Toshiba buyers. (Note: The TV pictured above is NOT the one we're writing about today.) (credit: Ars Technica)

Things are looking a lot brighter for Amazon's collection of Fire TV Edition sets. The company is introducing three new smart televisions made by Toshiba that bring HDR support to the product line for the first time. The displays are also going up for sale at an appealing price point.

The Toshiba 4K UHD Smart TV HDR is an LCD panel that promises a typical contrast ratio of 4,000:1, plus HDR in the Dolby Vision standard. The Amazon product listing doesn't give any specifics on the maximum brightness for this hardware. As the product name implies, it has a 4K resolution as well as a 60Hz refresh rate.

The largest model is 55 inches, and it is on sale now for $449.99. The other options are 50 inches for $379.99 and 43 inches for $329.99; those will be available starting June 30. All three of the new Fire TVs are exclusively available through Amazon or Best Buy thanks to the unusual alliance those sellers entered earlier this year.

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AT&T sued over hidden fee that raises mobile prices above advertised rate

June 24, 2019 - 9:22pm

Enlarge / An AT&T retail store in Chicago in 2018. (credit: Getty Images | jetcityimage)

AT&T is facing a class-action complaint over its practice of charging a $1.99-per-month "Administrative Fee" that isn't disclosed in its advertised rates.

As the complaint notes, "AT&T prominently advertises particular flat monthly rates for its post-paid wireless service plans." But after customers sign up, the telco "covertly increases the actual price" by tacking on the "bogus so-called 'Administrative Fee,'" according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in US District Court for the Northern District of California.

AT&T "hides" the fee in an easy-to-miss spot in customer bills, the complaint says, and it "misleadingly suggests that the Administrative Fee is akin to a tax or another standard government pass-through fee, when in fact it is simply a way for AT&T to advertise and promise lower rates than it actually charges."

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Bill Gates calls failure to fight Android his “greatest mistake”

June 24, 2019 - 8:06pm

Enlarge / Bill Gates speaks to Village Global. (credit: Village Global)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently gave a wide-ranging interview to VC firm Village Global, and at one point, the topic of mobile came up. Gates revealed his biggest regret while at Microsoft was a failure to lead Microsoft into a solid position in the smartphone wars.

In the software world—particularly for platforms—these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win, and you know it really is winner-take-all. If you're there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you're on your way to complete doom. There's room for exactly one non-Apple operating system. And what's that worth? Four hundred billion? That would be transferred from Company G to Company M. And it's amazing to me having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time—and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things—our other assets—Windows, Office—are still very strong. So we are a leading company. If we'd got that one right, we would be the leading company. But oh well.

In the interview, Gates takes full responsibility for not reacting to the new era of smartphones. But by that time, he already had a foot out the door at Microsoft to focus on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The original iPhone came out in 2007, and the first Android device was released in 2008. Gates had already announced his transition plan in June 2006.

The CEO of Microsoft at the time was Steve Ballmer, who famously laughed at the iPhone and called the $500 device "The most expensive phone in the world" while deriding its lack of a hardware keyboard. "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," Ballmer once told USA Today. "No chance."

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The 2019 Audi A7 might be all the car anyone ever needs

June 24, 2019 - 7:12pm

High expectations can be a killer. We see this all the time—the let-down sequel to a great movie or the indulgent sophomore follow-up to a brilliant debut album. It also applies to cars; ask any fan of the Mk2 VW Golf for their opinion of the Mk3 as proof. As humans we fall in love, too easily perhaps, with inanimate objects. When a replacement shows up, and our expectations exceed its ability, the result is disappointment. Which is a long-winded way of saying I was actually a little scared when I fired up the 2019 Audi A7 for the first time.

The previous A7 was a delightful car, particularly if you had a long way to go and wanted to do it in comfort and style. Here was an Audi that looked as good on the outside as it did on the inside thanks to its fastback body style. Back in the days before we knew they were belching NOXious gases, the TDI version would happily deliver 40mpg all day long. If you wanted something less economical but a lot faster, the RS7 and its snarling twin-turbo V8 offered close to the last word in all-weather, cross-country ability.

I first saw the second-generation A7 at last year's Detroit auto show. It follows the same script as before: lighter and less loaded down the A8 flagship, sleeker and more driver -ocused than the mainstream A6, but it's still built from the same toolbox and parts bin that Audi (and the rest of Volkswagen Group) call MLB Evo. It looks a lot like the car it replaces, but with sharper creases in the panels and some funky LED matrix headlights and LED tail lights that are meant to make it easier for you to see in the dark (as well as making you easier to see). That car is even available with a US-legal version of Audi's clever laser high beam headlights.

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DHS cyber director warns of surge in Iranian “wiper” hack attacks

June 24, 2019 - 6:58pm

Enlarge / An effective wiper of sorts. (credit: Getty Images)

With tensions between the US and Iran on the rise following the downing of a US military drone last week, the director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is warning that Iran is elevating its efforts to do damage to US interests through destructive malware attacks on industrial and government networks.

In a statement issued on Saturday, June 22, CISA Director Christopher C. Krebs said:

CISA is aware of a recent rise in malicious cyber activity directed at United States industries and government agencies by Iranian regime actors and proxies. Iranian regime actors and proxies are increasingly using destructive "wiper" attacks, looking to do much more than just steal data and money. These efforts are often enabled through common tactics like spear phishing, password spraying, and credential stuffing. What might start as an account compromise, where you think you might just lose data, can quickly become a situation where you’ve lost your whole network.

Krebs urged businesses and agencies to take steps to improve their security hygiene, including implementing multi-factor authentication for user credentials to prevent brute-force attempts to connect to exposed network and cloud applications.

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Capuchin monkeys have a 3,000-year archaeological record

June 24, 2019 - 6:52pm

Enlarge (credit: By Tiago Falótico - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60386655)

The archaeological record of human tools use dates back about 2.5 million years, and archaeologists use changes in stone tool technology to trace changes in human evolution, culture, and lifestyles. Now a team of archaeologists in Brazil has excavated capuchin monkey stone tools dating back to 3,000 years ago, and they reveal changes in behavior and diet over thousands of years—just like the early human archaeological record but on a compressed time scale.

Archaeology: Not just for humans

Bearded capuchin monkeys are more versatile tool-users than chimpanzees. They select rocks of the right sizes and shapes for a variety of tasks, from digging to cracking open a range of nuts and seeds (each has its own size and weight specifications for the perfect cracking tool). Female capuchins even flirt with potential mates by throwing rocks at them.

At Brazil’s Serra de Capivara National Park, a group of capuchins crack open cashews with round quartzite cobbles, which they choose and carry to the cashew grove from a dry streambed about 25m (82 feet) away. Capuchins have been processing their food at the same spot for at least 3,000 years—and leaving behind their distinctively banged-up tools. That’s about 450 monkey generations, and during that time, archaeologists noticed some major changes in the stone hammers and how they were used.

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Ex-chair of FCC broadband committee gets five years in prison for fraud

June 24, 2019 - 5:59pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | RapidEye)

The former head of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) was sentenced to five years in prison for defrauding investors.

Elizabeth Ann Pierce was CEO of Quintillion, an Alaskan telecom company, when she lied to two investment firms in New York in order to raise $270 million to build a fiber network. She also defrauded two individual investors out of $365,000 and used a large chunk of that money for personal expenses.

Pierce, 55, pleaded guilty and last week was given the five-year prison sentence in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman announced. Pierce was also "ordered to forfeit $896,698.00 and all of her interests in Quintillion and a property in Texas." She will also be subject to a restitution order to compensate her victims "at a later date."

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