Next Generation Farming Techniques Involve the Clever Use of Technology

A drone hovering above farmland.

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The next generation of farmers believe that there are better ways to farm outside of mainstream techniques.

Millennial farmers are incorporating technology into everyday farming practices as a means of increasing productivity and streamlining conventional processes. For example, trends show that younger farmers are leaning towards organic and sustainable small-scale farming.

These small farms often gain support for their technology through crowd funding and are sustained by Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Many utilize farm shares where members subscribe for a portion of produce weekly, monthly, or yearly. They use technology that provides accurate tracking of their produce and livestock so that they are better able to plan for their farming needs and the production requirements to deliver goods to consumers.

Technology also offers opportunities to produce food more sustainably. A mixture of data, math, sensors, analysis, hardware and software allows farmers to go beyond what the eye can see. This data can be monitored all at once, creating greater efficiency in the agricultural process.

Forbes reports that “consumers have gravitated to mobile devices and smart technology to live healthier, safer, and more connected lifestyles–monitoring our thermostats and securing our homes and tracking our health. The migration of technologies that we use in our everyday lives into tools for farmers to grow crops more effectively and create sustainable farms is the model for a new generation of farmers.”

Farmers have successfully integrated such technology as moisture sensors, terrain contour mapping, smart irrigation, drones, and self-driving and GPS-enabled tractor technologies into their daily routines.

Drone technology is another powerful addition to smart farming. Drones allow farmers to map fields aerially in real time. Aerial imagery can expose heavily compacted fields and crop health issues, as well as show improvement in yields.

Drones can also help pollinate crops. Bio-inspired drones could have huge effects on the pollination crises and the decline of bees. They can be designed to fly from crop to crop, fertilizing plats mimicking natural pollination. These flight patterns might also provide researchers with some clues about how to help with pollinator declines.

The hope is that smart farming will help our agricultural industry reduce negative side effects on the environment, protecting our planet’s resources, while still producing the best food supply for a growing and hungry population.

Millennials: Start Saving for Your Retirement Today!

A jar with money in it. The jar is labeled "retirement."

Photo credit: Tax Credits at Flickr Creative Commons.

Millennials are in an ideal position to get started on retirement planning because the monies they set aside and invest now will grow over time. But starting now is the key.

Starting a savings plan as early as possible will enable Millennials to put aside small amounts of money each month. The smaller amounts are easier to budget for, and the longer the money is invested, the more time it has to grow into enough for a comfortable retirement. Many experts believe that the amount of money needed to retire is in the range of approximately $1 million.

Unfortunately, many Millennials postpone setting aside savings because many already have financial burdens like student loans or credit card debt. Additionally, they often lack access to 401(k) or similar retirement plans if they work seasonal jobs, are employed part-time, are self-employed, or work at small businesses that don’t offer 401(k) options.

In fact, many Millennials haven’t begun saving for retirement yet. A Wells Fargo survey identified that a full 41% of Millennials have not yet started saving for retirement. Some believe it’s fair to assume the percentage of non-savers would be even higher if they included unemployed Millennials in their survey.

There are a variety of reasons Millennials are holding out when it comes to planning ahead. For example, some have just started working or have irregular incomes, so emergency funds are more critical than retirement funds at the moment.

Women find it especially difficult to find the extra money to put aside due to the gender pay gap. In the Wells Fargo survey, women reported median personal income of $28,800 versus the $39,100 earned by men. It’s not surprising then that more women than men (54% to 43%) said they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck.

And the feeling of scarcity isn’t just gender-based: according to the survey, 64% of the Millennials said they would never accumulate $1 million in savings over their lifetime (though it’s worth noting that 73% of the total women surveyed felt this way).

There are a few steps Millennials can take to invest wisely and make the most of their 401(k)s. First, the recent Mobile Millennials survey from Retirement Clearinghouse found that, when changing jobs, 34% of Millennials cashed out of their 401(k)s at least once. Many experts suggest, however, that a 401(k) should be your last resort to cash out on for any reason. Better to find that cash you need elsewhere.

The Wells Fargo survey also reported that 44% who’ve started saving are only putting away 1-5% of their income—quite a small amount when considering your financial future. Wells Fargo advised that a target of 10% would be a better goal, if possible.

Educating Millennials on their finances is another important step. In the Wells Fargo survey, 35% of Millennials said they didn’t know enough about IRAs to consider them. Since IRAs and 401(k)s have nuances that only a financial advisor can really explain, it’s best to consult one in order to best understand the options for each individual.

Millennials come from a variety of financial backgrounds, and each has their own unique situation when it comes to saving for the future. Still, it’s important across the board for Millennials—and for every generation—to take a good, long look at best practices to ensure that retirement is something everyone can look forward to—not dread.

The Battle of Free Shipping Continues

A wooden crate with the words "free shipping" stamped onto it.

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It’s hard to be a big box retailer these days and charge a hefty price for shipping. We keep seeing big-name stores that were once prosperous now closing up shop, and a lot of that has to do with the ease and affordability of online shopping.

For a time, many still chose to shop in-person because that option offered no shipping fees, but that era is slowly coming to an end–and major stores are now battling it out for the best free shipping deal.

This week, Amazon announced that it would be (once again) lowering it’s free shipping minimum for non-Prime members. Shoppers now only need to spend $25 to forgo shipping costsa price that is very reasonable for most people. At the beginning of 2017, the spending minimum was $49, but that changed when Walmart came out with their own two-day, free shipping deal on orders of $35 or more. With the $25 limit, Amazon is now the cheapest place for shipping.

Yet, that could very well change.

Target, which has been offering free shipping at the $25 rate for quite awhile, is planning to run a test program on next-day shipping, starting this summer. As of right now, the pilot program will only be offered in the company’s native Minneapolis (and only to REDcard members), but if it’s successful, the company would most likely branch out to Targets countrywide.

That said, Target plans on charging a “low, flat-fee” for shipping, although executives have yet to determine what that fee will be. If it’s something insignificant (say, $2.95) and you’re ordering a $500 dresser, that fee is worth the next-day shipping. If people are willing to pay a small amount to ensure their items are delivered in a timely manner, it will be one more sting against Amazon–which is exactly what Target wants.

Airlines Making Billions From Baggage Fees

A huge pile of cash.

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Airlines are making a killing from fees. Last year, U.S. based airlines brought in a total of $4.2 billion from baggage fees alone, according to figures released by the Department of Transportation. That’s a 10% increase from 2015.

Yet according to airline executives, profits aren’t as high as they were in the past, even with lower fuel costs. Airlines reported $13.6 billion in profits total, down 45% from 2015, citing higher labor costs as the reason for the lower figures. Lower passenger fares also attributed to the lower revenue, as ticket sales fell one percent to $124.2 billion.

These lower profits are the main justification for extra fees, not just for luggage but legroom, seat selections, and early boarding to name a few. Airline executives claim these fees allow passengers to choose the kinds of service they want, even though few flyers are fans.

This news comes right as executives from America’s major airlines testified before Congress about their customer service protocols. While this was prompted by last month’s United Airlines debacle, many took the opportunity to vocalize their disdain for airline fees.

William McGee, a former airline executive now representing the Consumers Union, argues that the fees are disingenuous and unfair to passengers.

“We’ve heard a lot about pricing today, about fares being lower than they were 25 years ago,” McGee testified. “The fact is that obscures fees we didn’t used to pay. Every day there are higher and higher fees. Passengers are getting gouged.”

Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano agrees that customers are negatively affected by these business practices.

“I go in the computer to try to figure out which flight I want to take. Some charge fees for baggage. Some charge fees for oxygen. Who knows? You can’t get comparable prices,” Capuano said.

As expected, executives from United and American disagreed, saying the baggage fees help keep other costs, such a ticket prices, low.

ESPN Facing Major Layoffs

A photo of an ESPN microphone.

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ESPN is the latest organization to be hit by the digital craze. The sports network is laying off 100 employees this week (mostly on-air talent) hitting every facet of the organization as ESPN is moving toward a mostly digitized medium.

Sources say the decision comes after an increasing amount of costs and decreasing number of cable subscribers have cut into its bottom line. For a network that has spent billions of dollars in deals with major sports teams and events, layoffs are no surprise to anyone. So who is getting hit? Well, some big names at the network.

Yesterday, Deadspin posted a number of tweets from ESPN anchors, writers, and reporters who were given the bad news, some of who worked at the network for decades.

NFL Reporter Ed Werder was one of the first to go.

“After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I’ve been informed that I’m being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire,” he tweeted.

“SportsCenter” Anchor Jay Crawford, Big Ten Reporter Brian Bennett, and MLB Writer Jayson Stark are some of the other talent who are now gone. College Basketball reporter C.L. Brown found out about his firing while on vacation.

ESPN President John Skipper noted how difficult this decision was, thanking the former employees for their “great work” and “many contributions,” yet made it clear that the layoffs had to be done.

“Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value,” Skipper stated, “and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent–anchors, analysts, reporters, writers, and those who handle play-by-play–necessary to meet those demands.”

Many of the people laid off were at the end of their contracts and unwilling to take a massive pay cut. The rest of which were bought out of their contracts.

Meet the Unicorn Frappuccino That Everyone is Raving About

A photo of a pink and blue "Unicorn Frappuccino" from Starbucks.

Photo credit: Brian Chow at Flickr Creative Commons.

Starbucks’ new multi-colored drink is a dream come true for sugar enthusiasts and frozen drink lovers, offering an array of colors and flavors with every sip and giving drinkers one sweet-filled experience.

“Like its mythical namesake, the Unicorn Frappuccino blended crème comes with a bit of magic, starting as a purple beverage with swirls of blue and a first taste that is sweet and fruity,” a spokesperson for Starbucks said in a statement. “But give it a stir and its color changes to pink, and the flavor evolves to tangy and tart. The more swirl, the more the beverage’s color and flavors transform.”

This limited edition drink is only being offered from April 19 through April 23, and it’s caffeine free, so coffee lovers won’t be offended by this sugar-filled creation. The Unicorn Frap consists of the crème Frappuccino mixed with mango syrup and dusted with a pink powder and sour blue drizzle. Then it’s topped with vanilla whipped cream and sweet pink and sour blue powder, making it paradise in a cup for all sweets lovers.

Starbucks says its inspiration for the drink came from the Internet, as social media is blowing up with pictures and recipes of Unicorn-themed foods and beverages. Not one to shy away from a trend, Starbucks decided to play along and offer loyal customers something fun and festive before people moved on to something else. Case in point: last year’s Pokemon Go Frappuccino.

Naturally, people have been going crazy and posting their excitement on Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. It’s safe to say that social media will be bombarded with photos of the drink this coming week, as the frap is expected to sell out.

It should also be noted–although I’m sure it’s no surprise–that the Unicorn Frappuccino is not friendly to those watching their diet. A tall Frap with whole milk comes in at 280 calories, with 11 grams of fat and 39 grams of sugar.

New York Times and CB Insights Name Sandy Miller to Top 100 Venture Capitalists for Second Year

 

A trophy that says, "top 100."

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For the second year in a row, Sandy Miller of Institutional Venture Partners has been named as one of the top 100 venture capitalists in the world, according to The New York Times and CB Insights. The list is determined using data analytics focusing on investments, consistency, and reputation, among other factors. Miller is joined on the list by fellow IVP General Partner Todd Chaffee.

In addition to co-founding Thomas Weisel Partners with Silicon Valley investment banker Thom Weisel, Miller has 35 years of experience in venture capital and technology investment banking. He’s served on more than 25 public, private, and philanthropic boards. In his work he has led investments in companies such as AddThis, Constant Contact, Datalogix, OnDeck, Zynga, and many more. He was also a Managing Director at Montgomery Securities, Merrill Lynch, and DLJ, as well as a strategy consultant at Bain. Since 2006, Miller has been a Managing Director and General Partner at IVP. He ranks at #41 on the list.

Todd Chaffee, also of IVP, has been a Managing Director and General Partner since March of 2000. He has more than 25 years of experience with operating and investment, including investments in Akamai, Ariba, Business Insider, Netflix, Pandora, Yahoo, and many more. Prior to his work with IVP, Chaffee was Executive Vice President of Visa, overseeing Visa’s Advanced Technology, Strategic Planning, Corporate Development, and Equity Investment divisions. He ranks at #97 on the list.

IVP was one of the first venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road in the Silicon Valley. Founded by Reid Dennis in 1980, IVP focuses on financing later stage companies and helping with overall strategy to ensure company health.

This is the second year CB Insights and The New York Times have put together this list using CB Insights’s Investor Mosaic Algorithm. The algorithm uses straight data as well as submissions to determine the best firms and individual professionals in the venture capital market. Determining factors include investor exits, network centrality, illiquid portfolio company value, and recency of performance. Putting it all together, CB Insights and The New York Times are able to come up with a list of the current best-ranking VC professionals.

Best Practices for Responding to a PR Disaster

A filing cabinet. One of the files is labeled "disaster recovery plan."

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When it comes to PR disasters, how you respond can be the deciding factor in whether your company sinks or swims. That’s why it’s important to have a plan put in place should a crisis come your way.

Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Take action now.

You should prepare for a PR disaster for the same reason you prepare for a natural disaster: just in case. Regardless of whether or not you anticipate trouble coming your way, you should have all your steps outlined so you know exactly what to do if the situation occurs.

Respond within 8 hours.

This is an incredibly short time frame, which is exactly why statements need to be crafted ahead of time. There should be two statements: one from the CEO and one from an official spokesperson. For smaller companies, just one statement from the CEO will suffice.

While it’s difficult to craft a statement when the circumstances of the situation are still unknown, you should still have a general outline ready. Specifics can be inserted later and you can always make changes to the document. Basically, the last thing you want is to have no plan, no statement, and no clue what to do next.

Acknowledge the situation.

This doesn’t mean admitting fault. It means that you’re aware that the situation occurred.

Let the public know what you plan to do.

The public wants to know what steps you’re going to take moving forward. This can mean cooperating with law enforcement officials, it can mean launching your own internal investigation, or it could mean offering some type of compensation to your customers. The idea is to show the public that you’re doing everything in your power to make things right.

Follow through on your promises.

Following through on your promises is even more important than letting the public know what your course of action is. If you do not follow through on what you said you would do, the public will view you and your company as being untrustworthy.

There are many other best practices that you should implement in order to further prepare yourself for a PR disaster. This article is intended to be merely a beginner’s guide to the subject matter. For more in-depth tips, check out the following books:

Damage Control: The Essential Lessons of Crisis Management
Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control
The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management: How to Manage the Media in the Digital Age

New Self-Healing Polymer in Development

An Asian man running tests in a laboratory.

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Self-healing materials have long been something of a Holy Grail for chemists. For those unfamiliar with the term, self-healing materials are materials that, if say broken into two, can rejoin.

It may sound unrealistic, but that’s how our skin works. The trick is figuring out how to do that with artificial matter.

Believe it or not, self-healing materials have been in the works for a while now. Unfortunately, there are a few kinks that developers need to work out before this kind of technology can be brought to market. Humidity, for example, wreaks havoc on such materials since water gets into them and changes the chemical properties. A self-healing material isn’t all that useful if it only works in the desert.

But according to Dr. Chao Wang, who has been working on self-healing materials for a while now, things are looking brighter. He’s developed a material that is capable of self-healing and can conduct ions in order to generate current. It’s even stretchable, so it has a lot of potential uses, like in smart phones or soft robotics. He says he was inspired by Marvel’s Wolverine, known for his “healing factor” which makes him nearly un-killable.

And although the material doesn’t stand up to humidity (not yet anyway) that’s the next goal on Wang’s list. Wang plans to fix the problem by “tweaking the covalent bonds within the polymer itself.” Once he has that figured out, the polymer will be that much closer to being usable in a variety of real-world applications.

Wang uses the example of a smartphone which can repair itself after being dropped. Since the material in question is transparent, this would make for an ideal use. Of course, there are no doubt countless uses for such a material, in manufacturing or in consumer products, which could no doubt help us reduce waste with longer-lasting products.

Virgin America is No More

A photo of a Virgin America airplane in flight.

Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock

Sad news for fans of Virgin America: the airline is all but finished after its recent merger with Alaska Airlines.

Last year Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America for $2.6 billion, leaving many to wonder what would become of the two different airlines, as Virgin was popular for being flashy, fun, and more young-adult centric. Alaska plans on retiring the Virgin name and logo some time in 2019.

“While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name—for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares,” said Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing.

Frequent Virgin flyers can take solace in one thing: Alaska Airlines will be keeping the “flair” that Virgin offered, such as mood lighting, music, and free WIFI and entertainment.

One person who isn’t happy about Virgin’s departure is Virgin America founder Richard Branson.

“With a lot of things in life, there is a point where we have to let go and appreciate the fact that we had this ride at all,” Branson said in a blog post. “Many tears are shed today, this time over Alaska Airlines’ decision to buy and now retire Virgin America. It has a very different business model and sadly, it could not find a way to maintain its own brand and that of Virgin America.”

Starting next year, Virgin’s frequent flyer program will disappear, but members will not lose their status. Current frequent flyers have the option of converting their miles to Alaska’s at a rate of 1 to 1.3 miles, or they can wait it out and have their miles traded evenly when the program dissolves.

The merger between the two airlines created the fifth-largest airline in the United States, boasting 1,200 daily flights and close to 300 planes. Alaska Airlines plans on expanding their market to 21 new cities over the next year.

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