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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 41 min 38 sec ago

After indictment, Russian hackers’ lives “changed forever,” ex-ambassador says

July 15, 2018 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (C) holds a news conference at the Department of Justice July 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking computers used by the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other organizations. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Friday, the Office of the Special Counsel handed down an indictment of several Russian intelligence officers that federal authorities say were critical in the operation to sway the 2016 presidential election.

Given that the United States lacks an extradition treaty with Russia and that the defendants are unlikely to have many Stateside assets, what meaningful effect does going through the motions of a prosecution have?

Experts say that there are a few primary objectives to this type of indictment: first and foremost, the indictment is likely to make the defendants' lives harder if they ever want to leave Russia. Countries that do have an extradition treaty with the United States will now be on notice in case any of these guys show up. A secondary objective is to alert both the American public and the Russian government just how much the Special Counsel knows.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The downfall of Theranos, from the journalist who made it happen

July 15, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Over the last few years, the failed biomedical startup Theranos has become synonymous with some of the worst aspects of Silicon Valley. Through a combination of hubris, mendacity, and paranoid secrecy, the company fooled investors and the press into thinking it had created a nearly magical medical tricorder, earning a "unicorn" valuation of $9 billion before the whole endeavor was revealed to be smoke and mirrors.

Much ink has been spilled documenting Theranos' rise and then fall—but the most important work has arguably been that of Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou. And Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, his recent book on the subject, is as good a retelling of that tale as any we could hope for. So good, in fact, that I devoured it in a single sitting.

The man who made it happen

More than anyone else, Carreyrou deserves credit for pulling the wool from so many credulous eyes regarding Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Outlets like Fortune and Wired were writing hagiographic puff pieces about this precocious college dropout and her plan to save the world; Carreyrou was pointing out inconvenient facts, like the company's inability to accurately conduct most of the hundreds of blood tests it claimed to have revolutionized. He credits pathologist Adam Clapper—who wrote the now-defunct Pathology Blawg—for tipping him off that something wasn't entirely right.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A look at Chrome’s new tab design

July 14, 2018 - 6:30pm

Chrome is getting a major redesign soon, and this week new changes have started to land in the Chrome's nightly "Canary" build. Google is launching a new version of Material Design across its products, called the "Google Material Theme," and after debuting in Android P and Gmail.com, it's starting to roll out across other Google's major products. On Chrome, this means major changes to the tab and address bar. Remember, this is just a nightly build, so things could change before the stable release. But these changes line up well with previous Chrome redesign documents.

The first thing you'll notice is the tab bar. Tabs now have a rectangular shape with rounded corners instead of the trapezoidal shape of the current design. Tab separation has also undergone a lot of changes. With a single tab open, you won't see a distinct tab shape at all. The current tab is always white, and in single-tab mode, the background of the tab bar is white too so everything blends together. I like the general idea here: if you aren't using multiple tabs, there's no need to show all the tab-separation cruft.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Altiplano review: A brain-tickling board game about… alpacas

July 14, 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.

Altiplano—or, as it is affectionately known 'round these parts, “the llama game”—displays a hobby in rude creative health. As you’d expect from noted German designer Reiner Stockhausen, the game is a formidable packet of innovative interlocking systems, confidently presented, and (once you wrap your head around the strategy) a tough but engrossing mental challenge.

This might look, on the surface, like a game for kids. Its mascot is, after all a goofy, boggle-eyed llama alpaca (llama?) with a pronounced underbite; the animal also appears as an elaborate in-game standee denoting the first player. The bold colors and vibrant illustrations, however, belie a game of real depth and complexity—perhaps a bit too much complexity for some.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Faster and farther: Bulls Cross E8 electric bike review

July 14, 2018 - 1:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Eric Bangeman)

As the managing editor of Ars Technica, one of my duties is to monitor the daily torrent of news tips and PR emails. The overwhelming majority of them is deleted after a glance, and the news tips and story ideas are passed along to the appropriate writer. Sometimes a product announcement will catch my eye, and I will follow up. Once in a blue moon, I'll say, "please send me one so that I may review it." And that's how I ended up riding an electric bike around the Chicago suburbs for two weeks.

I'm one of the hardcore cyclists at Ars, along with Jay Timmer and his new-as-of-last-fall road bike as well as copyeditor Kerry Staurseth. I love cycling, and it was a major factor in my dropping 120lb over a 12-month period starting in the summer of 2009. My daily rider/errand-runner is a 1998 Gary Fisher Marlin mountain bike. For longer rides, I use my 2009 Trek XO2 cyclecross bike. I've made a few modifications to it, including removing the bumpy cyclecross tires and swapping out the front 46-tooth chainring for a 50-tooth one. I went with a cross bike over a road bike because I'm still a Clydesdale, and I like the slightly longer wheelbase of a cross bike. I've also briefly owned a 2011 Trek Madone 5.9, which I sold not long after I bought it due to severely screwing up my right knee.

But electric bicycles—e-bikes—are new territory for me. Broadly speaking, there are two basic options in e-bike land: power-on-demand and pedal-assist. With the former, the rider can control the speed with a throttle instead of just pedaling. Think moped but with an electric motor instead of internal combustion. Pedal-assist, by contrast, requires the rider to do some of the work. The electric motor won't engage unless the rider is pedaling.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A years-old, one-letter typo led to Aliens: Colonial Marines‘ weird AI

July 14, 2018 - 3:30am

Enlarge / Want Aliens: Colonial Marines to better resemble this 'shopped image? Just remove one letter! (credit: Gearbox / Sega)

History may never be kind to Aliens: Colonial Marines, but the present tense isn't looking so good for the lawsuit- and complaint-ridden Gearbox game, either. This week brought to our attention one of the weirdest coding typos we've ever seen in a game—which has apparently been hidden inside of A:CM's PC version since its 2013 launch.

The first-person shooter returned to gaming's zeitgeist this week thanks to a 90-percent discount at gaming site Fanatical, which brings its asking price down to $3. (Buying the PC version outright from Steam currently costs the full $30 price.) This sale led one fan to plead with members of the popular gaming forum ResetERA to consider the game as a decent cheap-fun option, especially due to a 712MB fan-made patch at moddb.com that addresses many of the game's graphical and gameplay glitches.

Tether vs. teather

Upon researching this patch, ResetERA readers noticed something in the moddb.com notes that somehow escaped the gaming community at large in October 2017: the discovery of a one-letter typo in A:CM's INI files. As moddb.com user jamesdickinson963 pointed out last year, the game's "PecanEngine.ini" file references a "tether" system in assigning AI commands to the series' infamous monsters (which I'll call "xenomorphs" for brevity's sake, even though that term isn't necessarily the right one). However, one of its two mentions of the term "tether" is misspelled as "teather."

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Joss Whedon will return to sci-fi TV with HBO’s The Nevers

July 14, 2018 - 12:27am

Enlarge / Joss Whedon, courtesy of HBO. (credit: HBO)

Joss Whedon, the creator of acclaimed TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, has been announced as showrunner for a new HBO series titled The Nevers.

The Friday announcement confirms Whedon as "executive producer, showrunner, writer, and director" for his first-ever non-network TV series, following his RECENT executive producer and co-creator duties on the ongoing series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. HBO describes the show as "an epic science-fiction drama about a gang of Victorian women who find themselves with unusual abilities," and its statement makes no bones about Whedon's legacy by claiming it "follows in the footsteps of Buffy."

HBO did not announce a release window, actors, or other principal members of the cast and crew.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Alaska’s last two Blockbusters are shutting down, leaving one in US

July 13, 2018 - 7:25pm

On Thursday, Blockbuster Alaska announced that the rental chain's last two Alaskan stores will shut down on Monday, with liquidation sales to follow. The news means that only one Blockbuster store will remain in the United States, in Bend, Oregon.

"We hope to see you at our stores during the closing, even if it’s just to say 'Hello,'" the final two shops' managers posted in a Facebook announcement on Thursday. "What a great time to build your media library and share some Blockbuster memories with us."

In its report, the Anchorage Daily News confirmed with Border Entertainment, a Texas-based holding company that operated all of Alaska's Blockbuster stores, that closure plans had been in the works since before the end of 2017. At that time, Border decided to stop renewing any Blockbuster store leases, resulting in a series of closures across the state over the past nine months.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Open offices are as bad as they seem—they reduce face-to-face time by 70%

July 13, 2018 - 7:08pm

Enlarge / Looks like someone has a case of the Mondays. (credit: Getty | Ian Nicholson)

Tearing down walls and cubicles in offices may actually build up more barriers to productivity and collaboration, according to a new study.

Employees at two Fortune 500 multinational companies saw face-to-face interaction time drop by about 70 percent, the use of email increase between 22 percent and 56 percent, and productivity slip after their traditional office spaces were converted to open floor plans—that is, ones without walls or cubicles that ostensibly create barriers to interaction. The findings, published recently in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggest that removing physical dividers may, in fact, make it harder for employers to foster collaboration and collective intelligence among their employees.

Many companies have waged a so-called “war on walls” to try to create such vibrant workspaces, the authors Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban of Harvard wrote. But, “what they often get—as captured by a steady stream of news articles professing the death of the open office—is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Smart TVs are invading privacy and should be investigated, senators say

July 13, 2018 - 6:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | moodboard)

Two Democratic US senators have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate privacy problems related to Internet-connected televisions.

"Many Internet-connected smart TVs are equipped with sophisticated technologies that can track the content users are watching and then use that information to tailor and deliver targeted advertisements to consumers," Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote in a letter yesterday to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. "Regrettably, smart TV users may not be aware of the extent to which their televisions are collecting sensitive information about their viewing habits."

The letter asked the FTC to "launch an investigation into the privacy policies and practices of smart TV manufacturers." When contacted by Ars, an FTC spokesperson confirmed that the agency received the letter from Markey and Blumenthal, but the FTC offered no further comment.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

PC market appears to have grown for the first time since 2012

July 13, 2018 - 6:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Claveirole)

PC sales were up year-on-year in the second quarter of 2018, the first such increase since the first quarter of 2012. Market research firms Gartner and IDC both reported growth in the market, of 1.4 and 2.7 percent, respectively.

The two companies track numbers differently: Gartner includes Windows-based tablets but excludes Chromebooks and non-Windows tablets, whereas IDC includes Chromebooks but excludes all tablets, even those like the Surface Pro that are used and sold as PCs.

Gartner reports that the growth was driven by increased business sales and that consumer shipments declined. IDC similarly pointed to the "business-driven refresh cycle" as a reason for the increase. This mirrors Microsoft's financial reporting; the software giant distinguishes between business and consumer sales of Windows and Office, and the general pattern over the last few quarters is that business sales have been robust even as consumer demand continues to soften. Enterprises are migrating to Windows 10, and they're buying new hardware to do so.

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Modders revamp Super Mario Odyssey on hacked Switch hardware

July 13, 2018 - 6:32pm

Super Mario Odyssey modder TheSunCat takes you through his insanely difficult custom level for the game.

Since a simple method for unlocking most Switch hardware was revealed back in March, much of the hacking community has been focused on developing homebrew software/emulators for the system. But a small community of Super Mario Odyssey fans has been using their expanded Switch access to modify the game with new costumes, gameplay features, and even entirely new levels.

The modifications started a few months ago with simple save file edits that let players overflow the game's coin counter or unlock all the game's costumes, including some costumes that have yet to be officially released. From there, hackers started to figure out how to make cosmetic edits to in-game files, leading to mods that replace the power moons with old-school power stars or give Mario a Sonic the Hedgehog outfit, for instance. And why listen to that boring Mario music when you can replace it with "Despacito" (or watch a "Despacito" music video on a screen in Snow Kingdom)?

It wasn't long before the hackers were digging into the game code to modify the way Super Mario Odyssey plays, too. Hacker Simon Aarons created a mod that lets players run with super speed and "moon jump" to otherwise impossible heights. Others have made mods that let Mario breathe indefinitely underwater or play as Bowser in unintended areas of the game.

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Burglar breaks into “escape room” business, panics, and calls 911

July 13, 2018 - 6:06pm

Enlarge (credit: NW Escape Experiences)

A burglar in Vancouver, Washington, made four panicked 911 calls after breaking into an "escape room" business last weekend—and having trouble getting out.

Escape rooms are timed challenges that let groups of customers test their wits against a series of intricate puzzles. But NW Escape Experience's three escape rooms apparently so unnerved accused burglar Rye Wardlaw that he called 911 on himself.

The company offers customers three different rooms to choose from, including the "Kill Room," described by The Washington Post as "blood-spattered and designed to look like a serial killer’s basement hideout."

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

12 Russian intel officers indicted for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign

July 13, 2018 - 5:45pm

Enlarge / Red Square in Moscow, circa 1990. (credit: DEA / W. BUSS/De Agostini/Getty Images)

The US Justice Department on Friday filed criminal indictments that accuse 12 Russian intelligence officers of carrying out the 2016 hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. The officers—one of whom operated under the persona of Guccifer 2.0—then dispersed sensitive communications in an attempt to influence the results of the 2016 election, prosecutors alleged.

The indictments were filed by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the presidential campaign of President Donald Trump and the Russian spies US intelligence agencies say interfered with the 2016 election. So far, Mueller’s team has indicted 32 people, including members of a Russian company that blanketed social media with fake news stories and senior members of the Trump campaign. Friday’s indictments were disclosed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a press conference in Washington, DC.

"The objective of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of US persons and entities involved in the 2016 US presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage release of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election," prosecutors wrote in the 29-page indictment. The 12 Russians also allegedly breached computers at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a state board of elections, and a maker of software used to verify voter registration information. Friday’s indictments come ahead of next week’s scheduled meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Tesla drops $35,000 price from Model 3 page—insists plans haven’t changed

July 13, 2018 - 5:03pm

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

The release of the Model 3 was supposed to be the moment when Tesla finally made a car that was affordable for the masses.

"In terms of price, it'll be $35,000," Musk said at the March 2016 Model 3 announcement event. "And I want to emphasize that even if you buy no options at all, this will still be an amazing car."

For the last two years, Tesla's page for the Model 3 has touted a starting price of $35,000. "Model 3 achieves up to 310 miles of range while starting at only $35,000 before incentives," the page read on Thursday morning.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break, week 4: Our closing remarks on Fermi’s Paradox

July 13, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / "OMG I love this song." (credit: Warner Bros.)

Today, we present the third and final installment of my interview British astronomer Stephen Webb on the subject of Fermi’s paradox. Please check out parts one and two if you missed them. Otherwise, press play on the embedded player, or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.

We open by talking about some of the amazing instruments and projects that are coming online in the coming decade—both to extend the search for extraterrestrial life and to advance the much broader field of astrophysics. There’s some profoundly exciting gear on the horizon, which will do business under such wild and whimsical names as “The Extremely Large Telescope.”

We then talk about some of the signals this new apparatus might detect, which could be highly suggestive of life. Either oxygen or methane in a distant planet’s atmosphere would be electrifying, but not entirely definitive proof. Both of them together put the matter beyond a reasonable doubt (although there would still be many doubters, to be sure).

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hyper-targeted attack against 13 iPhones dropped malicious apps via MDM

July 13, 2018 - 4:47pm

Enlarge / Messages like this one would have come up every time hackers pushed a modified app to their victims. But YOLO, apparently. (credit: Cisco Talos)

In what appears to be a case of highly focused social engineering against a small group of iPhone users, malicious actors managed to get 13 iPhones registered on their rogue mobile device management (MDM) servers and then pushed out applications that allowed the hackers to track the locations of the phones and read victims' SMS messages.

The attacks, reported by Cisco's Talos, used the "BOptions" sideloading technique to modify versions of legitimate applications, including WhatsApp and Telegram. The initiative inserted additional libraries into the application packages, and the modified applications were then deployed to the 13 victim iPhones via the rogue mobile device management systems.

"The malicious code inserted into these apps is capable of collecting and exfiltrating information from the device, such as the phone number, serial number, location, contacts, user's photos, SMS, and Telegram and WhatsApp chat messages," wrote Talos researchers Warren Mercer, Paul Rascagneres, and Andrew Williams in a post on the attack. "Such information can be used to manipulate a victim or even use it for blackmail or bribery."

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Adobe plans to bring full version of Photoshop to the iPad next year

July 13, 2018 - 4:28pm

Enlarge / The 10.5-inch iPad Pro. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Adobe is working on a full version of the popular photo-editing program Photoshop for Apple's iPad, according to a Bloomberg report. Sources claim the software company plans to announce the new app at its annual MAX conference this October, with the app's launch scheduled for sometime in 2019.

The new app would reportedly allow users to run a full version of Photoshop on an iPad and continue edits on another device like a desktop PC. Scott Belsky, Adobe's Creative Cloud product head, told Bloomberg that the company is working on "cross-platform iteration of Photoshop and other applications," but he declined to provide a timeline for their release.

“My aspiration is to get these on the market as soon as possible,” Belsky said. “There’s a lot required to take a product as sophisticated and powerful as Photoshop and make that work on a modern device like the iPad. We need to bring our products into this cloud-first collaborative era.”

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nokia 6.1 Review—The best answer to “What Android phone should I buy?”

July 13, 2018 - 4:20pm

Ron Amadeo

As someone who spends a lot of time with smartphones, I often get asked, "Hey Ron, what Android phone should I buy?" The high-end answer is usually easy: buy a Pixel phone. But not everyone is willing to shell out $650+ for a smartphone, especially the types of casual users that ask for advice. Beyond the flagship smartphones, things get more difficult within the Android ecosystem. Motorola under Google used to be great at building a non-flagship phone, but since the company was sold to Lenovo (which gutted the update program), it has been tough to find a decent phone that isn't super expensive.

Enter HMD's Nokia phones, an entire lineup of cheap smartphones ranging from $100 to $400. HMD recently launched the second generation of its lineup, with phones like the Nokia 2.1, 3.1, and 5.1. We recently spent time with the highest end phone in this series that happens to be one of the few HMD devices for sale in the US: the Nokia 6.1. And for $269, you get a pretty spectacular-sounding package of a Snapdragon 630, a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, stock Android 8.1, fast updates, and a metal body.

Read 46 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ötzi the Iceman’s last meal shows how Copper Age people ate on the run

July 13, 2018 - 2:44pm

Enlarge (credit: (C)SouthtyrolarchaeologymuseumEuracM.Samadelli)

In his final days, the Iceman ate a hearty mountaineer’s diet of red deer, wild goat, and whole grain einkorn wheat—but he may also have accidentally eaten toxic ferns.

Even after being chewed up, swallowed, partially digested in Ötzi’s stomach, and then frozen in a glacier for 5,300 years, some bits of Ötzi’s last meal are still recognizable, at least under a microscope. Frank Maixner of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies and his colleagues saw compact bits of fatty tissue and bundles of muscle fibers, mixed with pollen from a genus of wheat called einkorn, which grows wild in the region but also includes some of the earliest domesticated wheat species. Mixed in with the partly digested food bits, however, were spores from a fern called bracken, which is toxic to humans and other animals if not properly prepared.

Red meat and healthy whole grains

Chemically, the remnants of Ötzi’s partially digested meal contained a compound called phytanic acid, which is a hallmark of fat or dairy products from ruminants like cattle, deer, and goats. There were also minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, and zinc, all of which are found in red meat and dairy products. And among the 167 different animal and plant proteins in the samples, Maixner and his colleagues found six that are specific to structures in the long contracting threads in ibex skeletal muscles—leg of wild goat, perhaps. Another protein in the mix is found only in deer muscles.

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