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Industry & Technology

135-year-long streak is over: US renewable sources topped coal in 2019

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 9:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Rickaby)

Two weeks ago, we covered a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projection that renewable wind, solar, and hydroelectric power would top coal for total electricity generation in 2020. That was particularly believable given that renewables had beat coal in daily generation every day going back to March 24. As it happens, that daily streak finally came to an end this week, as coal picked up amid rising demand and a couple of low days for wind. Coal likely topped renewables on Tuesday, although it’s possible that rooftop solar generation (not included in EIA’s daily data) extended the run until Wednesday.

But the EIA also released some numbers Thursday that highlight a related and interesting piece of trivia: if you include energy use beyond the electric sector and all types of renewable energy, renewables actually beat out coal last year. And to find the last time that was true, you have to go all the way back to the 1880s.

(credit: US EIA)

This comparison includes biofuels (like ethanol and biodiesel), wood-burning, and waste incineration or landfill gas. And beyond electricity, it adds in energy used by industry, residential and commercial buildings, and transportation—uses where coal plays little or no role.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX’s Starship underwent a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly—we do mean rapid

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / Aftermath of SN static fire test on Friday. (credit: Screengrab from NASASpaceflight.com video)

On Friday, SpaceX prepared its latest iteration of the Starship prototype vehicle, known as Serial No. 4, or SN4, for a static fire test in Texas. The Raptor engine appeared to fire nominally for a couple of seconds at 1:47pm local time and then shut down as planned.

However, about one minute after engine shutdown there was some kind of uncontrolled gaseous leak, and one minute later the vehicle exploded almost instantaneously—a truly rapid Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.

The Starship prototype, fueled with liquid oxygen and methane, appeared to be mostly destroyed when the fire and smoke cleared. The test stand also sustained substantial damage. Some of the surrounding ground support equipment appeared unharmed, but it is possible the shock wave from SN4's demise may have also damaged those structures.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Border Patrol flies anti-terrorism drone over Minneapolis protestors

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 8:42pm

Enlarge (credit: Customs and Border Patrol)

Thousands of people took to the streets of Minneapolis on Friday to protest the death of George Floyd, a local black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest. All the while, a Customs and Border Patrol drone kept a careful eye on the unfolding unrest.

The drone, using the tracking signal CBP104, took off from Grand Forks Airforce Base at 9:08 am Central Daylight Time and shortly afterward headed directly to Minneapolis, this feed from live flight tracking service FlightAware showed. The drone then circled the city six times from about 10:45 until noon. The aircraft maintained an altitude of about 20,000 feet.

Grand Forks AFB is the home of the Air Force's 319th Reconnaissance Wing. It is also a site Customs and Border Patrol personnel use for takeoff and landing of the Predator B unmanned aircraft system. CBP uses the drone in anti-terrorism operations by helping to identify and intercept potential terrorists and illegal cross-border activity.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC Republican excitedly endorses Trump’s crackdown on social media

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 7:40pm

Enlarge / FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Republican Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission is cheering on President Trump's attack on Big Tech this week. The commissioner also accused social media platforms of bias against the president and of trying to swing the 2020 presidential election.

Carr has supported Trump's action in a series of tweets, in an official statement posted on the FCC website, and in interviews including one with Lou Dobbs on the Fox Business channel.

"This is really welcome news," Carr told Dobbs. "Since the 2016 election, the far left has hopped from hoax to hoax to hoax to explain how it lost to President Trump at the ballot box. One thing they've done is look to social media platforms and they've put pressure on them for the crime, in their view, of staying neutral in the 2016 election and they're committed to not letting those platforms stay neutral in the run-up to 2020. So this step by President Trump shines a light on some of that activity and tees up some steps that can be taken."

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Big Tech goes on pandemic M&A spree despite political backlash

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 7:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Big technology companies are hunting for deals at their fastest pace in years, racking up acquisitions and strategic investments despite increased regulatory scrutiny during the coronavirus-led market turmoil.

Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have announced 19 deals this year, according to Refinitiv data from May 26, representing the fastest pace of acquisitions to this date since 2015.

The Financial Times on Tuesday reported Amazon was also in advanced talks to purchase the self-driving car company Zoox, which was valued at $3.2 billion two years ago. Meanwhile, Facebook in March announced its largest international investment yet, purchasing a $5.7 billion stake in the juggernaut Indian telecoms operator Reliance Jio.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

YouTube makes video chapters official

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 6:38pm

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images)

In your travels around YouTube the past few weeks, you might have seen a video or two that features "chapters." Chapters allow creators to timestamp and name sections of their videos for easy navigation. The feature has been in experimental mode for the past few weeks, but now YouTube is making chapters official.

Chapters add a lot of functionality to the YouTube seek bar. The bar is now chopped up into segments instead of being a solid red line. Mouse or drag over the segments and you'll get a thumbnail with the title of the chapter for that section of the seek bar. Below the seek bar, after the time, you'll now get the title of the current chapter, too. (Here's an example video.)

Video chapters result in a segmented seek bar and titles. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

YouTube creators can add chapters to their videos via the description. Just start a list of timestamps with "0:00" followed by chapter titles, with one timestamp on each line. If you don't want chapters, just don't start a timestamp list with "0:00."

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iPhone privacy prompts discriminate against non-Apple apps, complaint says

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 6:28pm

Enlarge / Tile Mate, one of Tile’s tracking hardware products. (credit: Tile)

Tile, a maker of hardware and software for digitally tracking the location of personal possessions, has written a letter to the European Commission accusing Apple of anti-competitive behavior as rumors abound that Apple plans to launch a competitor to Tile in the near future. This follows similar complaints by Tile in the United States.

The letter claims that Apple favors FindMy, the tech giant’s own device tracking app, over Tile’s in a few specific ways and asks for the European Commission to open a probe into Apple’s business practices. Here’s an excerpt from the letter by Tile general counsel Kirsten Daru, which was acquired by Financial Times:

In the past twelve months, Apple has taken several steps to completely disadvantage Tile, including by making it more difficult for consumers to use our products and services. This is particularly concerning because Apple’s actions come at the same time that Apple both launched a new FindMy app that competes even more directly with Tile and also began preparing for the launch of a competitive hardware product.

One of Tile’s key arguments is that Apple defaults the “Always Allow” flag to "on" for location-based tracking in the FindMy app when users set up their phones, but third-party apps that perform similar functions default to "off." The result is that third-party apps must frequently show dialogues asking the user for permission until the user opts to manually turn on “Always Allow” for the app. This “denigrates the user experience,” according to Tile’s letter.

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The Ars verdict is in: Space Force is the best new series of 2020 (so far)

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 5:21pm

Earlier this week, Ars Senior Space Editor Eric Berger explored the space-tech accuracy of Netflix's new series Space Force. Now that its first season is in its entirety, the Ars culture section split up the duties of reviewing its fun, humor, and watchability. If you're looking for a TL;DR: We all like it for different reasons, and we think it's a sharp comedy in ways Ars readers will both appreciate and be surprised by. We've managed to leave everything below mostly spoiler-free, with the exception of a couple of jokes and plot points used to clarify our opinions.

Returning to TV comedy for the first time since The Office wrapped seven years ago, Steve Carell plays a general assigned the unenviable task of founding a new military branch in the new Netflix comedy series Space Force. And the Ars staff verdict is in: the series is a winner, eminently bingeable, and our favorite new show of 2020 so far.

Created by Carell and Greg Daniels (who also created Parks and Recreation and the new comedy series Upload), Space Force was inspired in part by the Trump administration's announcement that it would establish a national Space Force. The impressive cast also includes John Malkovich (The New Pope), Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation), Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley, Crazy Rich Asians), Noah Emmerich (The Americans), Lisa Kudrow (Friends), and Jane Lynch (Glee, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), among others.

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump space speech in Florida likely to test apolitical nature of NASA

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 4:04pm

Enlarge / President Trump signs an Orion capsule hatch that will be used for the Artemis II mission as Vice President Mike Pence, First Lady Melania Trump, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (wearing a mask) look on. (credit: NASA)

After President Trump appointed a conservative Republican congressman from Oklahoma named Jim Bridenstine to become NASA's administrator, the legislator faced hard questions. During a Senate confirmation hearing in late 2017, Bridenstine was asked repeatedly whether he would honor NASA's tradition of remaining a bipartisan, apolitical agency.

"I want to make sure that NASA remains, as you said, apolitical, and I will do that to the best of my ability should I be confirmed," he said at the time.

Democratic senators were not convinced, and Bridenstine was ultimately confirmed on a party-line vote in 2018. However, in the two years since then, Bridenstine has remained true to his word. He has transcended politics and sought to reach out to both Republican and Democratic lawmakers during his tenure. He even appointed one of his harshest critics at the Senate confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, to NASA's Advisory Council after Nelson lost his re-election bid in 2018.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

PlayStation 5: Sony confident coronavirus won't change release plans

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 4:00pm
The CEO of PlayStation reveals how it's responded to coronavirus as it prepares to release the PS5.

White House, Trump accounts both get Twitter rulebreaker warning

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 3:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Twitter is once again facing the ire of its most famous user, President Donald Trump, after putting a warning label on one of Trump's tweets signaling that it breaks the service rules against glorifying violence.

Speaking about the unrest in Minneapolis, Trump tweeted, "These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"

Twitter does not generally delete Tweets posted by newsworthy figures. Instead, it puts a warning on the message indicating that it violates site rules but remains live due to potential public interest. Twitter's communication's team posted a notice that it was placing the public interest exemption label on Trump's tweet, explaining that, "based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today, the message fell afoul of the site's explicit policy prohibiting the glorification of violence.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Glastonbury Council plays down link to 'anti-5G' device

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 2:32pm
Glastonbury report insists recommendation of 5GBioShield came from committee member - not council.

BBC orders review of social media use by staff

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 1:02pm
The former director of global news at the BBC will examine online posts from programmes and staff.

Trump is desperate to punish Big Tech but has no good way to do it

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 12:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Donald Trump is mad at Twitter, Facebook, and other big technology companies, and in an Oval Office statement on Thursday, he pledged to do something about it.

"A small handful of social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States," he said. "They've had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter, virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences."

After his comments, Trump signed an executive order designed to bring social media companies to heel. But Trump has a problem: US law doesn't give the president much actual authority over technology companies. Indeed, the First Amendment arguably prohibits the federal government from second-guessing the editorial decisions of private companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

Read 57 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: Virgin Orbit flight ends quickly, Netflix’s hybrid rocket

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / The mighty Delta IV Heavy rocket takes to the skies. (credit: Aurich Lawson/United Launch Alliance)

Welcome to Edition 3.01 of the Rocket Report! Yes, we are entering our third year of producing this weekly report, and we hope to celebrate this weekend with a Crew Dragon launch. Until then, there is plenty of other news to cover.

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.

Virgin Orbit's first launch attempt ends quickly. After more than seven years of development, testing, and preparation, Virgin Orbit reached an important moment on Monday—dropping and igniting its LauncherOne rocket over the Pacific Ocean. After ignition, the engine burned for "a couple" of seconds before something happened with the booster and it exploded.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Thousands of TalkTalk users hit by internet problems

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 11:57am
Firm says the issue is now resolved after customers across the UK reported connection difficulties.

Facebook dominates cases of recorded social media grooming

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 11:07am
About 55% of the online offences logged by police in England and Wales were on a Facebook-owned app.

Trump signs executive order targeting Twitter after fact-checking row

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 10:18am
The US president's move follows a decision by Twitter to add a "fact-check" notice to his tweets.

A Raspberry Pi robot with emotions and other tech news

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 7:36am
BBC Click's Paul Carter looks at some of the best of the week's technology news stories.

Flawed COVID hypothesis may have saved Washington from being NYC

Ars Technica - May 29, 2020 - 3:07am

Enlarge / KIRKLAND, Wash.: A patient is shielded as they are put into an ambulance outside the Life Care Center of Kirkland on March 7, 2020. Several residents have died from COVID-19, and others have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. (credit: Getty | Karen Ducey)

When cases of COVID-19 began popping up in Washington state in late February, researchers were quick to dive into the genetics of the viruses infecting residents. Based on what they knew at the time, they hypothesized that those cases in late February were genetically linked to the very first case found in the state—one in a person who arrived in Washington on January 15 after traveling from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. The case was also the first infection identified in the whole of the United States.

If correct, the genetic hypothesis linking the late February cases to that very first case meant that early efforts to contain the pandemic coronavirus—isolating the initial patient, tracing contacts, etc.—had failed spectacularly. It also meant that the virus, SARS-CoV-2, had been cryptically circulating in the state for six weeks. And that would mean that, in addition to those early cases, there were potentially hundreds or thousands of others out there, undetected and possibly spreading the infection further.

The hypothesis played into state officials’ decision to issue some of the country’s earliest social-distancing measures. But now that we know far more about the genetics of circulating SARS-CoV-2 viruses, that hypothesis appears to be wrong.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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