Archive for September, 2015

Startup Connects Rural Farmers with Urban Customers

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

rural farmers

There’s a big problem facing a lot of independent farmers in America. The areas with the highest concentration of potential consumers — cities — aren’t exactly conducive to farming, which often requires a lot of space.

So, farmers have to find a way to get their products from their rural farms into cities with a lot of potential consumers in as little time as possible.

This particular problem is very prominent in Vermont, where there are only about 600,000 residents in the whole state. Boston would be the largest city nearby for Vermont farmers to target. But doing so on their own can be a challenge. Candace Page, food writer for the Savorvore Section of the Burlington Free Press in Vermont told NPR:

“If you think about it, the system of food distribution in the U.S. is not friendly to small, organic, diversified farms. Farms don’t have the time to get their products on supermarket shelves in Boston, even if the supermarkets were willing to deal with it, which they aren’t. If you live in an urban area and you want to eat locally grown food, you’re going to have a hard time doing it.”

Enter Farmers to You. The Berlin, Vermont, startup aims to create a partnership between rural farmers, mainly those based in Vermont, and urban families in and around Boston.

The customers can order various farm-grown items once per week based on what’s available. Then, Farmers to You delivers the items to several pick-up locations around Boston. Or, customers can choose to have the items delivered to their homes. Customers can have their same order delivered each week, or change it up. But the company asks that customers spend about $40 each week to keep ordering and production consistent.

For farmers, the benefit is the ability to focus completely on their farming work, since Farmers to You handles all of the ordering and transportation. And the company’s rates, according to the farmers that Page has spoken to, are better than most wholesale markets to which they have access.

For families, the obvious benefit is a regular selection of healthy, sustainably produced food items. But another part of the process is their ability to really learn about their food and from where it comes.

Page said:

“They get very good, Vermont-raised food, of course … Most of the food sold is organic, but I think even if it isn’t organic, people have more confidence in what they eat if they knew who grew it. Farmers to You has gone to great lengths to make a connection beyond the food, an emotional connection between the consuming families and the farmers. The website has wonderful videos where the individual farmers on their farms talk about how they grow their food and why they are in the business of growing food.”

Image: Farmers to You/Facebook

This article, “Startup Connects Rural Farmers with Urban Customers” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Court blow to Obama fracking safeguards

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Injunction issued after challenge by oil sector groups and states

Mexico buoyed by successful oil auction

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

ENI and Pan American among winners of blocks in Gulf of Mexico

Onboarding Microsoft’s Cortana to Your Small Business Team

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

cortana commands for business

Cortana is Microsoft’s version of the voice-activated virtual assistant.

This app and new base feature of Windows 10 first started on the Windows Phone operating system. She stacks up against the other heavyweights like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Echo, and Google Now.

If there’s a superficial difference between each, give Cortana the edge in personality.

Named after the AI in the video game series Halo, Cortana identifies herself as a female but not a woman. That is the reply she gives you if you inquire about Coratan’s gender.

This answer should give an indication of the great lengths Microsoft has gone to make its VA more personable and, by all accounts, it has worked.

With Cortana, small business owners now have an assistant that is much smarter, never forgets, is always on, and much, much cheaper than an assistant of flesh and blood.

Here’s a guide with Cortana commands to begin using her as your small business virtual assistant:

Setup and Introducing Yourself

If you want to speak to Cortana, you need a microphone, but if you don’t have one, typing a question or requesting a service in the search box gets the same result.

If you are using your keyboard, these two shortcuts will save you time:

  • Windows Logo + Q – Opens Cortana’s Home View, so you can search by speech or text.
  • Windows Logo + C – Opens Cortana’s speech prompt.

Since the most efficient way to communicate with Cortana is through voice, you can set it up to answer anytime you say, “Hey, Cortana.”

To do that, open Cortana home > Notebook > Settings > and turn on “Let Cortana respond when you say ‘Hey, Cortana’.”

From here on, when you say those words, Cortana’s ready to help.

Cortana learns from the information you give her, so get into the Notebook and select the About Me icon to personalize it. This includes events, finance, getting around, entertainment, news, sports, travel, weather and more. The more you are connected with Microsoft applications, the better an assistant Cortana becomes.

Getting Cortana to be Your Right Hand

Create Appointments

You can create and modify detailed appointments with the voice command, including moving them to a different time or date.

Set Reminders

Reminders can be set to do anything and it can be triggered when you reach a particular location, when you talk to a person or they call you, or when a date approaches.

Set Alarms

Alarms can be set with the exact time or just simply by saying wake me up in 45 minutes.

Take Notes

You can start dictating and Cortana saves it in OneNote.

Getting the Information You Need

“What is My Schedule?”

Any events you have scheduled will be displayed. You can ask a day, week or months ahead.

“Show Me My Notes”

This will show you any notes you have taken.

“Show Me My Reminders”

This shows you any upcoming reminders, along with the option of the history of completed tasks.

“Show Me My Alarms”

This can list all of your alarms that are active and allow you to make necessary changes.

“What is the Weather Like?

You can ask the weather for where you are or another location.

“What is the Status of My Flight?”

Using information from your email, Cortana can give you the latest info about your flight.

“How Long Will it Take to Get to …”

If you have set up different locations with identifiers, you can ask how long it will take you to get there.

“Show Me Directions to …”

If you know the address of a particular place, Cortana will find it using Bing Maps.

“What Time is it in …”

Although it might seem simple, getting a quick answer to this question is very important depending on the context.

Getting Cortana to Look It Up For You

Factoids

Cortana gives you basic information on many subjects, including science, history, people, entertainment, dates, currency exchange and much more.

Using Cortana to Search the Web

With the help of Bing, Cortana can search for anything, and with the integration of the new Edge browser, she can do much more. Whenever you’re online, look for the small blue Cortana logo pulsating. This means you can access supplemental information such as location, reviews, menus, images, and other data.

So Where is All the Fun?

Select the “Let’s chat” option and you can pretty much ask Cortana anything. And because it is a system that is continuously learning and adapting to your particular taste, you never know what you will get. You can tell her to sing a song, tell you a joke, or play a trivia game.

Shutting Cortana Down

If you don’t find Cortana helpful, you can always shut her down.

To do so, go to Notebook > Settings and turn it off. This deletes what Cortana knows on your device … but not, of course, in the cloud.

Windows Desktop Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Onboarding Microsoft’s Cortana to Your Small Business Team” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Tanya Raykovska Elected Constitutional Court Judge

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Tanya Raykovska, Deputy Chair of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS), has been elected Judge at the Constitutional Court (KS).

Raykovska won a run-off with Boyan Magdalinchev, Deputy Chair of the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS).

Raykovska was backed by 112 votes of the General Assembly of the Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Court of Cassation, while Magdalinchev won 52 votes.

In the run-off stage there were 12 invalid votes.

In the first stage of the vote there were four candidates, the two others being judges Borislav Belazekov and Simeon Chenachev, who won 39 and 25 votes, respectively.

Raykovska will replace outgoing Constitutional Court Judge Blagovest Punev, according to reports of mediapool.bg.

Raykovska is one of the four replacements that need to be appointed in the place of KS members whose terms in office expire in the fall, including one nominee by the President, two by Parliament, and one by the judiciary.

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Bulgaria’s National Security Agency To Process Flight Reservation Data

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

A special unit tasked with processing flight reservation data is to be established at Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security (DANS), according to a set of legal amendments proposed by the government.

The changes to the State Agency for National Security Act are to be submitted to Parliament.

The data will be processed only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, and criminal persecution of serious offences and in compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act, according to the press office of Bulgaria’s government.

The bill creates a new chapter of the State Agency for National Security Act, Chapter 6 a, which lays down the procedure according to which the new entity will receive and process flight reservation data, as well as the status of its director.

The bill includes administrative penal provisions on the case of a failure to meet the obligations to provide flight reservation data.

The bill introduces the requirements of Directive 2004/82/EC on the obligations of air carriers to communicate passenger data into Bulgarian legislation.

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Russian owners bid to take Polyus private

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Independent board committee calls $9bn valuation “disappointing”

5 Timesheet Best Practices Your Small Business Should Implement

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

timesheet best practices

One of the biggest challenges many companies face when trying to stay compliant with certain government regulations is properly implementing time-tracking software. With a plethora of options, including both low-tech and high-tech, it can be a challenge to determine the right software, the right methods and the best practices to implement company-wide.

Here’s a look at some timesheet best practices that include some of the most basic and important practices for finding the right time tracking software for your organization.

Implement Time Tracking From the Top, Down

Nothing can demoralize employees more than feeling that there’s a double standard, especially when it comes to tracking their time. When the boss not only promotes time tracking, but uses it, this helps emphasize to employees the importance of time tracking for everyone involved.

There are many creative ways to hold the entire organization accountable. Ad agency Colle+McVoy implemented not only a timesheet system, but a software solution that allows a company-wide beer fridge to open every Friday, provided that all employee timesheets are submitted on time.

According to Adweek:

“Colle+McVoy has built a wondrous machine called the TapServer — a “multi-keg beer deployment system” that uses RFID and custom-written software to verify whether you’ve stopped being a lazy git, finished your timesheets and earned your free pint.”

Especially with something as potentially unpopular as time tracking, knowing the boss values it enough to do it themselves and apply the same rules company-wide can be a powerful motivation for everyone else to do their part.

Offer the Necessary Training

Communication is everything. Making sure everyone understands what’s involved in accurate time tracking can change the way your employees respond to your new timesheet policies by leaps and bounds. Despite an employee’s good intentions, if they don’t understand what is involved, it can lead to errors and missing information on timesheets.

This is especially important for companies that work with government agencies, have either hourly or salary employee types, or any other organizations who have stringent time tracking requirements. Proper training can often mean the difference between remaining compliant and losing a valuable contract altogether.

Automate the Entire Process

DCAA News is an organization that provides information for contractors looking to become DCAA-compliant and secure government contracts. Since maintaining DCAA compliance requires accurate time tracking, it’s worth noting one of the recommendations DCAA News makes:

“… Skip any form of manual bookkeeping; make your life easy with an automated software system that is DCAA compliant. These software packages can inform what data needs to be tracked, can automate approvals, can allow for employees to clock in or out from anywhere, creates invoices, enables downloads into QuickBooks, tracks leave time, can create extremely detailed ad hoc reports, provides password protection and so on. These software packages can allow managers to managers on more tangible tasks while at the same time being able to view accurate timesheet data.”

Not only will automating your business processes keep you government compliant, but it will also massively help in keeping your company data secure. According to a study from IBM, “95 percent of all security incidents involve human error.” Yeah, that’s insanely high.

Automating your processes will not only mitigate that data risk, but will also help keep you compliant, and as long as you’re properly training your staff to follow these new systems, your organization will be able to make the most out of your timesheet system.

Move to Hourly Employees

While salaried employees may sound good in theory, in practice, the arrangement rarely works out for employer or employee. It’s far too easy for an employee to take advantage of the non-results oriented paycheck, while many employers try to get more than their money’s worth from the employee. The result is often a tug-of-war struggle where productivity is the ultimate casualty.

April Dykman, writing for Get Rich Slowly describes some of these challenges:

“At another job, I was told that being on salary meant that ‘if we close the office early, you’ll still get paid.’ But we closed the office maybe two or three afternoons out of the year, and there were many, many events that required 8+ hour days. Once I put in a 22-hour day for a particularly big event.”

A far better solution is to move all employees to hourly pay, where each party clearly understands what’s expected and there’s far less room for one to take advantage of the other.

Record Your Time Daily

One of the biggest mistakes many make is recording time sheets at the end of the week. Many of us can hardly remember what we had for breakfast yesterday, let alone remember and recreate entire work days after the fact. To maintain good records and best practices, make sure everyone in the company is recording their timesheet at least once daily.

Conversely, to help facilitate that, make sure the process of recording a timesheet is not so convoluted that it’s a major chore to do so. Recording a timesheet should take no more than a few minutes each day.

While certainly not exhaustive, these timesheet best practices are some of the most important, and sadly, overlooked.

If your organization can implement these while the timesheet system is being implemented, and can continue to communicate clearly and effectively with your employees – your company will function all the better for it.

Stopwatch Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “5 Timesheet Best Practices Your Small Business Should Implement” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Bulgaria Moves to Adopt IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard Plus

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Dimitar Radev, Governor of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB), acting in his capacity as Governor of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Bulgaria, has expressed the country’s willingness to adopt the IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard Plus.

Radev sent a letter to the Director of the IMF Statistics Department on Wednesday, declaring the interest of Bulgaria and the local institutions in charge of compiling macroeconomic statistics (the Finance Ministry, the National Statistical Institute (NSI), the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB)) in adopting the IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard Plus.

BNB is to coordinate the work under the project for Bulgaria’s subscription to the IMF’s SDDS Plus, according to reports of investor.bg.

The adoption of the SDDS Plus takes place after the IMF decides that the respective country meets the adherence requirements.

The goal of adopting the IMF’s SDDS Plus is in line with the priorities presented by Radev regarding the management and institutional development of Bulgaria’s C-bank.

The IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard Plus was established in 2012 to reinforce and supplement the Fund’s Data Standards Initiatives.

It builds on the IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard, which was adopted by Bulgaria in 2003, and its purpose is to assist member countries with regard to the publication of comprehensive, timely, accessible, and reliable economic and financial statistical data in a world of continuing economic and financial integration, according to the IMF.

Subscription to the SDDS Plus shows local and foreign investors, credit rating agencies, and international financial institutions that the quality and reliability of statistics used to make important macroeconomic and business decisions are in line with the highest international requirements in the sphere of statistics.

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Rio Tinto: out of a hole

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

The miner is, wisely, bowing to pressure to reduce its coal exposure

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