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WSU provost appointed to study economic inequality

OGDEN – The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) appointed Weber State University’s Provost Michael Vaughan to study economic inequality and its effects on democracy. Across the country the AASCU accepts 31 institutions. WSU is the only Utah school represented on the AASCU council and one of only four organizations in the western United States. Vaughan feels the appointment couldn’t have come at a better time. “I had already decided to go back to faculty, then I saw this national initiative. I thought that’s something I would be interested in,” Vaughan said. He feels the national initiative to study economic inequality’s primary objective “is to increase knowledge and understand about the issue among college students.” There are six other faculty members at WSU who will work on disseminating information on economic inequality. Vaughan will teach a new course starting fall semester on economic inequality in the United States. The team at Weber State plans to work on educational videos to promote and disseminate information on the topic. “We plan to put it on YouTube for anyone to use,” Vaughan said. The national initiative has already produced one video found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM. The video covers the results from a Harvard Business professor’s survey of 5,000 Americans. The results compared the perception of distribution of wealth in the United States to what Americans feel the ideal distribution should be. Finally it contrasted both perceptions to the reality of wealth distribution. The survey showed 92 percent of people believe wealth distribution should be more equitable. In fact, the “ideal” distribution suggested the top 20 percent only receiving roughly 10 to 20 times as much as the bottom 20 percent. The actual distribution of wealth, however, shows the top one percent have more of the wealth than what 92 percent of Americans feel the top 20 percent should have. The video also states the top one percent of the wealth distribution makes 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. In 2009 the wealth in the United States totaled $54 trillion, which means the top one percent of the nation made over $21.5 trillion. The video concludes by explaining that a CEO makes 380 times more than their average worker’s salary. Weber plans to create a video of their own. Vaughan plans to create a 10 to 15 minute, factual video showing statistics and charts on wealth distribution. The team will complete the video in time for fall semester. Vaughan hopes he can contribute to the effort by focusing on different misconceptions on the topic. “It’s important because there is a great deal of misunderstanding on the issue,” Vaughan said. “There’s a discrepancy between people’s thoughts and the reality (on wealth distribution).” The AASCU initiative has a three-year time frame to focus on informing university students, their primary audience, on economic inequality in the United States. “Their belief is if they set a time frame too long, people start postponing things,” Vaughan said. He hopes, however, the project will be long term. Vaughan does expect to collect “primary data” as a part of his contribution to the initiative. “I know where the existing gaps (in economic inequality data) are, but I’m not prepared to say, ‘We’re going to undertake that project,’” he said. All 31 of the national selections have been made. The AASCU initiative started collecting data and distributing information in January 2015.

Papa John's spending $100 million a year to clean up menu

Papa John’s International Inc. is spending $100 million a year to eliminate artificial ingredients and other additives from its menu, underscoring the cost of the restaurant industry’s shift to more natural foods. The company removed monosodium glutamate, or MSG, from its ranch dressing last year and pulled trans fats from its garlic sauce. Now Papa John’s has homed in on a list of 14 ingredients, including corn syrup, artificial colors and various preservatives, that will be banished by the end of 2016. The ingredients are mostly in the chain’s dipping sauces, which some customers use for pizza, and other items like chicken poppers. After high-profile moves by Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Panera Bread Co. to purify their menus, restaurant chains are under pressure to go all-natural — and make sure consumers notice. Papa John’s started posting its ingredients online this year, shining a spotlight on its food. But the push to remove artificial ingredients comes at a cost. In addition to the $100 million in added expenses each year — the result of using higher-priced natural ingredients — the shift has affected the taste of some items, said John Schnatter, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. “It’s hard to remove some of these things and still get the flavor and functionality you want,” said Schnatter, the “Papa” in the company’s name. “We gave up flavor on the ranch dressing because I wanted to get the chemical out.” Papa John’s latest push on menu transparency started after a food blogger criticized the chain’s ingredients in 2013. To track its progress, the company created an internal color-coded “Clean Label Scorecard” that compares it to Chipotle and Panera, two chains seen as standard-bearers for the natural-food push. Panera has spent the last year removing artificial additives from its food and reformulating its salad dressings. Chipotle, meanwhile, has eliminated genetically modified organisms from its ingredients. It also debuted a marketing campaign that touts its use of simple, unprocessed ingredients. Larger fast-food chains are getting into the act as well. Taco Bell said last month it would eliminate unnatural ingredients, and McDonald’s has pledged to stop serving chicken raised with some antibiotics. Papa John’s is the third-largest pizza chain in the United States by sales, trailing Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza. Pizza Hut, owned by Yum Brands Inc., said last month it would remove artificial colors and flavors from its “nationally available” pizzas by the end of July. The chain previously eliminated trans fats and MSG. The movement has spread to the packaged-food industry too. General Mills said on Monday that it was removing artificial flavors and colors from its full lineup of breakfast cereals. Schnatter said his effort to clean up Papa John’s menu has nothing to do with moves by competitors. It all started back in 1996 after he visited a factory in Kansas and didn’t like how the sausage was being made, he said. Over the years, Schnatter made changes like removing fillers from the meat used for toppings and improving the pizza dough. The company also previously pulled cellulose, an anti- caking agent, from its mozzarella cheese. Each adjustment has boosted food expenses, he said. It costs more than $2 million just to serve pepperoni free of the preservatives BHA and BHT, Schnatter said. Papa John’s, which has more than 4,600 restaurants worldwide, has long marketed its menu under the tag line “better ingredients, better pizza.” Its pizza is generally more expensive than the other major chains, according to Michael Halen, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Customers already give Papa John’s credit for quality ingredients, as shown by their willingness to pay a dollar or two more for their pizzas,” Halen said. Still, the bet on natural ingredients may not be a “game changer” the way the switch to digital ordering was, he said. Ten of the ingredients marked for elimination at Papa John’s will be gone by the end of this year, with the final four following by the end of 2016, the company said. That will put the chain in a position that’s hard for competitors to match, Schnatter said. “Everybody wants Papa John’s quality, but they don’t want to take the time or spend the money to do it,” he said. “They’re going to have to spend a bunch of money to get where we’re at. And if they don’t, we’ll let the customers make the decisions.”

Taxes

Understanding the basis of rental property

When you change property held for personal use to rental use (for example, you rent your former home), the basis for depreciation will be the lesser of fair market value or adjusted basis on the date of conversion. The fair market value is considered the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts. Sales of similar property, on or about the same date, may be helpful in figuring the fair market value of the property. The adjusted basis is considered the amount paid for the home and any permanent improvements made to the home. The rule is the “lesser” of the two choices. One error that is often made by taxpayers owning rental property is the misconception that depreciating the home is an option. Taxpayers may think that to avoid recapturing the depreciation when selling the home they will not depreciate the home during the time it is rented. However, this is not true. You must begin depreciating rental property when it is placed in service and you stop depreciating the property when it is no longer used as rental property or you have depreciated the cost of the property. When the property is no longer used as a rental, the depreciation taken in prior years must be recaptured on the tax return for the year it stopped being used as a rental. Another area that is often misunderstood is that just as a business must have a profit 3 out of 5 years, rental property must also make a profit for 3 out of 5 years. If the property does not show a profit, the rental activity is considered “not-for-profit” rental income. This income must be reported on line 21 of the tax return and the expenses taken on Schedule A. You may choose to postpone the decision of whether the rental is for profit by filing Form 5213. You must file Form 5213 within three years after the due date of your return (determined without extensions) for the year in which you first carried on the activity or, if earlier, within 60 days after receiving written notice from the Internal Revenue Service proposing to disallow deductions attributable to the activity. Rental property can benefit taxpayers in a number of ways. Initially, there may be a loss when beginning to rent the property. This helps the taxpayer reduce other taxable income. However, there are income thresholds that may hinder the taxpayer from taking the loss and thereby carrying the losses to future returns. If a taxpayer’s income is under $100,000 (MFJ) a loss of up to $25,000 on rental property activity can be taken on the tax return. However, as the taxpayer’s income goes above the $100,000 the cap of $25,000 is reduced by $1 for every $2 above the $100,000 threshold. Rental losses are considered passive losses and these losses stop when a taxpayer’s income is $150,000 or more. All passive losses are carried forward to future tax years. Rental property also benefits a taxpayer by providing additional income from the rental activities. A taxpayer should remember that this additional income is taxable and could increase the tax liability on the tax return. Estimated payments to the IRS may be necessary to avoid owing taxes at the time of filing the tax return. Tracy Bunner is an enrolled agent and tax preparer with an office in Harrisville. She can be reached at 801-686-1995 or at tracy.bunner@hrblock.com.

Obama Supreme Court Gay Marriage-2

Marriage ruling ends couples' personal-finance confusion

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow same- sex marriage nationwide will remove tax and personal-finance headaches that have bedeviled gay couples. The 5-4 decision by the court is a particularly significant victory for many residents of the 14 states where same-sex marriages were banned until Friday, often under state constitutional amendments. Gay couples who are married will now be able to file joint state tax returns, inherit property easily and enjoy hospital- visitation rights just like opposite-sex couples can. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited these and other practical benefits of marriage as a reason to require states to recognize same-sex marriages. “By virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same- sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage,” Kennedy wrote. “This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives.” The financial gap between gay and straight married couples has been narrowing over the past few years. The Supreme Court, in a separate case in 2013, overturned the core of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That decision meant gay couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal could file joint federal tax returns and get spousal exemptions under the estate tax. Some states, however, then required gay couples to split their tax returns for state purposes. One of the biggest areas ripe for change will be health and medical benefits. Currently, some employers offer health benefits to unmarried same-sex couples while others don’t, said Todd Solomon, a partner in the employee benefits practice group at McDermott Will & Emery. Some employers may drop coverage for unmarried same-sex partners now that same-sex marriage is a national right, Solomon said. The ruling also may simplify traveling across state borders for those who are already married, said Janis Cowhey, a partner at Marcum in New York and co-leader of the firm’s Modern Family & LGBT Services Practice Group. Cowhey has told clients who are married in New York, for example, to keep their marriage license and other documents such as a health-care proxy and living will on a flash drive — in case they are traveling in a state where their marriage isn’t recognized. If there’s a car accident, they then would have the documentation needed to see their spouse in a hospital or help make medical decisions, she said. “This should mean certain state-run health-care programs and adoption rights and community property rights will be extended to married couples, which can have some significant economic and non-economic benefits,” said Alex Popovich, a wealth adviser at JPMorgan Chase & Co.‘s private bank. “You seemingly equalize rights across the board to couples regardless of gender of the married persons.” For example, in community property states including California, Arizona and Texas, assets held and earned by one spouse are generally treated as community property and therefore the equal property of both. That right would extend to same-sex married couples, which is extremely relevant in many situations including divorce and bankruptcy, Popovich said.

National Business

NASCAR Michigan Auto Racing

A bet on NASCAR with high stakes for godfather of ethanol

Jeff Broin’s silhouette shines in the glossy hood of the modified grass-green Chevrolet SS. It’s moments before the start of NASCAR’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan, and Broin is having a quick chat with young driver Austin Dillon. A racing fan for a decade, Broin is now a NASCAR sponsor. And what really has him revved up is what’s splashed in bold white letters across the hood of Dillon’s racer and the stuff in its fuel tank: “E-15,” spelled out more precisely as “15% Ethanol.” The 49-year-old Broin, founder of Poet LLC, the biggest U.S. ethanol producer, is the architect of a promotion by which NASCAR uses gasoline mixed with 15 percent concentrations of the corn-based fuel to power its $150,000 supercars. He and the trade group American Ethanol have been counting on that sales job to help sway public opinion -- a task getting harder every day. “It’s just a great way to show how our product performs under some of the harshest conditions on the planet,” says Broin above the din of revving engines and amidst the singular smell of race day -- the aroma of barbecue pits, beer, gasoline and motor oil all mixing on the humid air. The problem is that if the sponsorship has raised the profile of ethanol among race fans, it’s done little to quiet a decade-old debate about whether ethanol is a renewable-fuels godsend or a government-subsidized mistake. Ethanol’s enemies cross political lines. Many conservative outfits see ethanol requirements as an insult to free-market energy thinking. Liberal-leaning green groups say ethanol production encourages farming on marginal lands, increases food prices for the poor by raising commodity prices and actually takes more energy to make than it produces. They seem to be making headway. Only last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the ethanol program, proposed a sharp cutback in ethanol mandates that were expanded by Congress in 2007. This year, refiners will blend 13.4 billion gallons of ethanol, 1.6 billion less than the 2007 targets and two billion gallons short of the 15.4 billion the U.S.‘s 212 plants have capacity to produce. In Broin’s view, such setbacks are precisely why he and ethanol’s advocates have to take the marketing offensive. “What I know about ethanol is that it’s not only the cleanest fuel on the planet earth,” says Broin. “It’s the only liquid transportation fuel that’s in sync with the environment.” Which is certainly the message he has come to spread on this sultry June day at the Michigan speedway. A lanky, fit, sandy-haired man with piercing blue eyes and a bushy brown mustache, he weaves through the pre-race crowds, a group of ethanol-industry supporters in tow, talking up what he sees as the wonders of the fuel that he’s become synonymous with -- and which has made his family rich. In his starched khakis and black polo shirt, “American Ethanol” stitched across the pocket, Broin stays relentlessly on point. Ethanol’s real enemy first appeared in 2008 when gasoline demand started to slow, he says. The feds at the time only allowed a 10 percent mixture of ethanol for most vehicles. One way to get around the slowdown was to get higher-blend ethanol approved. That’s when Broin formed Growth Energy -- which he calls “a more aggressive voice for renewable fuels and agriculture” and one that “could change the argument” in favor of 15 percent ethanol. Growth Energy filed a waiver with the EPA in 2009 to get the 15 percent mixture approved and the EPA obliged in 2011. However, E-15’s rollout has been limited so far because of refiners’ worries that the new blend might impede engine performance or even cause engine damage. Broin sees that as bunk -- and says his promotional deal with NASCAR, which will run through 2019, shows E-15 is safe. As for NASCAR, “We wanted to be a greener sport across all platforms,” says Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president. The race cars, meanwhile, run fine on E-15 -- actually gaining horsepower, he says. Broin, the trade group and NASCAR all declined to say what the sponsorship costs. On its racing circuits website, NASCAR prices a primary sponsorship at as much as $35 million per season. If Broin sounds utterly missionary about ethanol, it’s in his roots. His father, Lowell, got the idea to build a 250,000- gallon per year plant on his Minnesota farm in the early 80’s after reading a magazine story on the nascent biofuels movement. Only a few years before, President Jimmy Carter, citing lingering concerns over gasoline shortages caused by the Arab oil embargo, had signed legislation awarding generous tax incentives for the corn-based fuel. Over the past two decades, Broin has grown Poet, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based company, to 27 plants with a capacity of 1.7 billion gallons and revenues of $7 billion last year. “From that one little plant on the farm we grew to five percent of the corn crop,” Broin says. “It’s a real American success story.” Now, though, ethanol has a new and potent enemy. The shale revolution -- employing hydraulic fracturing or fracking -- helped the U.S. last year pump more oil than at any time since 1983, vastly reducing fears of the shortages that started the ethanol boom in the first place. Ethanol’s discount to U.S. gasoline futures has averaged about 28 cents so far this year, less than half the average of about 66 cents last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That may also help to explain why the EPA is dialing back those ethanol targets. Mild-mannered most of the time, Broin, who stepped down as Poet’s CEO in 2012 to focus on ethanol advocacy and philanthropic efforts, gets riled up about the reductions. Farmers are sitting on a big corn crop, plant capacity is more than adequate, yet some plants have already been idled. “It was a blow to the industry,” says Broin. “They really pulled the rug out from under us.” Broin’s other problem is that while consumers may abide ethanol-blended gasoline nobody seems to love it. Entire boating websites are given over to a debate about whether ethanol damages outboard motors. (Ethanol defenders blame the oil industry for spreading a lot of ethanol-is-damaging stories.) Still, a short walk around Michigan International shows the NASCAR campaign isn’t changing all minds. Mike Meyer, a 57-year-old Detroit grocery-store loading- dock worker, is a 30-year NASCAR fan. In between drags of his Pall Mall Menthol 100’s, he says he won’t put ethanol-blended gas in his 1999 Honda motorcycle, seeking out unblended regular instead. “That ethanol thing -- you get less miles per gallon,” he says.

MILLENNIALS-OFFICE212

Trends that are reshaping your office

A couple of years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made the controversial announcement that her employees could no longer work from home and would need to return to working in the office. But lots of companies wrestling with how to get people to show their face at work, in an era where telecommuting is increasingly popular, are trying to lure them back rather than mandate it. While organizations have long embraced the benefits of “hoteling,” where employees reserve desks for themselves rather than getting a dedicated space to work every day, many are taking that concept even further, adding concierge-like staff and other perks to give workers more reasons to come onsite. That’s one of the big takeaways of a new report released this week at NeoCon, the annual mega conference attended by major designers of Corporate America’s offices and cubicles. The report was put together by Knoll, the workplace design company, and UnWired, a U.K.-based publishing and events business focused on the future of work. It surveyed leaders in charge of the facilities and real estate of 46 global companies. Here are highlights from the new report that reflect how the modern office is changing: _People spend only about half their professional time at corporate headquarters. The leaders surveyed said their workers spend about 49 percent of their time in the company’s main office, with the rest of their time divided between other offices, client sites, working from home and “third spaces” such as coffee shops or the sidelines of their kids’ soccer field. They also spend a lot of time away from their desks. On a typical day among the companies surveyed, desks are in use only 47 percent of the time, and meeting rooms are only in use between 50 and 60 percent. That latter statistic comes from a previous UnWired report, done with Microsoft. It found, in addition, that the average annual cost of providing a desk in London or New York is $18,000. No wonder fewer companies are giving employees dedicated spaces at work. _The “hoteling” concept is expanding. Many companies have been practicing the idea of “hoteling” for a while, in which employees reserve desks when they need them rather than having their own. Some, however, are taking that concept even further now. As the modern workforce increasingly includes collaborative teams of clients, partners, freelancers and contract workers_as well as traveling employees_the office is becoming more of a hospitality hub than a home base. “These ecosystems have expanded,” said Knoll’s workplace vice president, Tracy Wymer. “The facility needs to accommodate them. The closest analogy is a hotel lobby experience,” he said, where both hotel guests and the people they need to meet with can congregate together. _That’s leading to more, and different, perks. Knoll’s report states that “the move to concierge service” is changing the nature of the workplace. “At some offices, a host, often created from a combined facilities management and IT support function, provides a one-stop shop for all support needs, from travel to technology and personal shopping, dry cleaning to bicycle repair.” While providing those extra services may be costly, the report says, “it offers employees a recognizable exchange for the loss of their dedicated desks.” In other words, while perks such as onsite gyms and child care are a way to retain and recruit talented workers, they also do double duty as a way to get people onsite. “How do you make that base of where people work more inviting?” Wymer said. “As much as everyone can work anytime, anywhere, what the office has a role to do is in engineering serendipity.” The report cites the rise of offerings like onsite massages, dentist appointments and good quality coffee. “And the thing we didn’t cite in the report is that beer is the new coffee,” Wymer added. “It’s amazing how many companies have kegerators in the office, and HR doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.” _New technology could make spending time in the office more attractive. While some may think the future of the work means we’ll all be working from home in our pajamas, Knoll’s report describes a future for corporate real estate that turns the office into yet another part of the “Internet of Things"_the tech industry’s term for Web-enabled everyday objects. Already, sensors can help companies manage their energy or their supplies based on how many people are in the building. But Knoll’s report says much more is coming. “Real-time real estate,” Wymer said, could one day provide workers with information on conveniences (like whether the espresso line is too long on the 3rd floor, or which bank of elevators has the longest wait) as well as opportunities for collaboration. For instance, it could let you know if your team members are eating lunch together in the cafe, or when an expert colleague usually based elsewhere has entered the building. Such tools could one day help you “know who’s around you, who may have worked on something similar to you,” Wymer said. “The ultimate goal is to drive a higher degree of innovation.”

TRACTOR221 CX

Farm tractors lead the way in self-driving technology

Google has received tons of gushy press for its bubble-shaped self-driving car, although it’s still years from the showroom floor. But for years, John Deere has been selling tractors that practically drive themselves for use on farms in America’s heartland, where there are few pesky pedestrians or federal rules to get in the way. For a glimpse at the future, meet Jason Poole, a 34-year-old crop consultant from Kansas. After a long day of meetings earlier this month and driving five hours across the state to watch his little girl’s softball game, he was still able to run his John Deere tractor until 2 a.m., thanks to technology that left most of the driving to a computer. The land is hilly on Poole’s family farm, so he drives the first curved row manually and handles the turns himself to teach the layout to his tractor’s guidance system. But after that, he takes his hands off the steering wheel and allows the tractor to finish. “We kind of laugh when we see news stories about self-driving cars, because we’ve had that for years,” Poole said. The advancements being rolled out on the farm could soon show up next door: Your neighbor can already replace his lawn mower with the John Deere equivalent of a Roomba robotic vacuum for his yard. The self-driving technology being sold by John Deere and some of its competitors is less technically complex than the fully driverless cars that big tech companies and car manufacturers are working on. For now, the tractors are still supposed to have a driver behind the wheel — even if they never touch it. They’ve already started to transform farming in America and abroad: John Deere is selling auto-steering and other self-guidance tech in more than 100 countries, said Cory Reed, vice president of the company’s Intelligent Solutions Group. “John Deere is the largest operator of autonomous vehicles,” said Catherine Sandoval, a California public utilities commissioner, at a recent event hosted by the Federal Trade Commission. Some farmers aren’t shy about their enthusiasm for the technology — even uploading videos showing it off online. One appears to show a tractor hauling a planter making a tightly choreographed turn without a driver in the cab. In another, the driver takes pictures, throws paper airplanes and balances a water bottle on his nose before appearing to nod off while the tractor keeps working his field. The systems come with their own risks, including concerns that they could be hacked. But because farm-equipment makers operate almost exclusively on private land, they’ve been able to bring products to market much more quickly than consumer automakers — and without the same level of regulatory scrutiny. There are no federal rules specifically addressing self-driving tech for tractors, largely because farm equipment is designed for use in fields where it doesn’t pose the same level of risk to other vehicles or people as a self-driving vehicle on a public road. The closest thing to national regulations are safety standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the agency does not have any rules directly aimed at self-driving technology. That lack of regulations is one reason that the future reached the farm first. But another is pure necessity: There’s a labor crunch in rural America — young people move to the cities, leaving the average age of U.S. farmers at 58, according to the Agriculture Department. Similar forces are pushing self-driving tech into other industrial sectors at a pace that outstrips the consumer market. Earlier this year, the first self-driving semi-truck licensed to drive on public roads in the United States made its debut in Nevada with a splashy press show. Self-driving trucks are being rolled out for mining and oil operations in remote parts of the world. The success of self-driving technology in agriculture could serve as a guidepost for carmakers who are trying to figure out how to move similar technologies onto U.S. streets. Tractor makers started exploring the possibility of putting software in the driver’s seat decades ago. At first, they used satellite technology to help farmers plot courses they could drive manually. About 15 years ago, John Deere started using similar systems to guide the tractors automatically, Reed said. Crops are generally planted in one long row after another — and farmers want to make sure they use up all their land. Before auto-steering, that often meant a few feet would get reworked in every row. But with modern technology, that overlap can be reduced to less than an inch so it takes fewer passes to cover each field — saving farmers time and money. Tractor buyers today can pile on modular systems that give computers more and more control over operations. You start with a basic satellite guidance system and a touchscreen interface, but from there the options are almost endless. Some add-ons let the tractor make very precise turns without the driver even touching the steering wheel. Others use radio base stations set up around fields to provide even more accurate navigation than satellites. John Deere isn’t the only company selling this kind of tech; its main competitor, Case IH, markets similar systems, as do lesser-known companies. Some are going even further than modifying existing tractor designs: The aptly named Autonomous Tractor Corp. designed a fully autonomous tractor prototype that looks like a golden, boxy tank, but without a seat for a driver. The systems are pricey: Outfitting a new tractor with top-of-the-line auto-steering, navigation and guidance tech could cost upward of $20,000, Reed said. There are also activation and subscription fees if farmers want to use the company’s satellite or radio signals. There are risks to reliance on software. Poole said one neighbor using self-driving technology downloaded a software update that disabled his tractor for a week in the middle of planting season this spring. If a system is working, farmers will often hold off on updates rather than risk complications, he said. Those gaps could raise added cybersecurity risks. John Deere takes this issue seriously, Reed said, and encrypts its systems to protect them from hackers. Still, issues such as digital security fears, along with more traditional physical safety concerns, make it hard for consumer automakers to get their self-driving vehicles past various regulators and on to public roads. But tractor makers have shown that much of the technology needed to fulfill the promise of autonomous vehicles is here. “All of the things we’re doing on the farm will find their way into the consumer market in the coming years,” Reed said.

Digital Life Review Cheaper Smartphones-2

What you need to know about buying a new phone

For some, buying a new phone is an annual activity and really doesn't require much thought. The process goes something like this: as soon as the latest model of the user's current phone is released, he replaces his phone with the new one. But for others, the process can be fraught with uncertainty, especially if it's been more than two years since their last purchase. Last week, I accompanied my dad to the AT&T store to buy a replacement for his 3-year-old BlackBerry phone, and the experience was a real eye-opener. After meeting with a sales rep, he had more questions than answers. Instead of buying a phone, we went home to discuss the basics of cellular data versus WiFi, phone storage and the reasons why he might want a new phone. The trip would have been a lot smoother had we had this discussion before we left for the store. With that in mind, here are the basics you need to know about buying a new phone and the questions you should ask yourself before you head out to your mobile phone store. Why do you want a new phone? Your phone could be several generations old and unable to run newer versions of the apps you like (not an issue for Dad, who shuns apps with the exception of United Airlines), you may want a larger, higher-resolution display that will be easier to read, or perhaps you like the idea of fingerprint security. Just as important as what you'd like to gain with your new purchase, is what you'd like to retain. Maybe you want to stick with your current operating system, which makes choosing an iPhone easy, but if you like Android, you'll be faced with a number of phones by various manufacturers, including Google, Samsung (the market leader), HTC and LG. According to recent media reports, BlackBerry continues to struggle, so that was a reason why Dad wanted to make the leap to a new type of phone, and had decided on a Samsung Galaxy. Check when the next model will be released and what new features are expected. Every phone company has a release cycle: Apple now releases new models in September and Samsung releases its phones in the spring, timed to correspond with the big mobile show in Barcelona. For instance, the Galaxy 6 was just released in March, so the 7 isn't due until the same period next year. However, it may come with some big new features, such as a 30-megapixel camera and waterproofing. Even if you're not a watersport enthusiast, a waterproof phone would provide protection unavailable in other phones. As for Apple, this is an "S" year, so analysts do not expect big innovations until 2016 and the launch of a full-generation update. Knowing when the next phone will be released will help you decide if now is the time for a new phone or if you should wait for the new release. But the cycle is not as important as it once was now that AT&T and Verizon offer plans that separate device payments from service payments. With AT&T Next, you will not have to pay a down payment for the phone, which was typically $200 on a $650 phone. Previously, you paid the $200 for a new phone and the balance was spread over the life of your two-year contract. Instead, your device payments are allocated in equal payments based on the payment period you select. So for a 24-month Next plan on a Galaxy 6, you would pay around $23 for 30 months. The advantage comes with the 12-month plan, which enables customers to pay around $35 per month and upgrade their phones once a year. If you want the lowest payment and don't care about frequent upgrades, choose the longest period. If you're really looking to save money, pay close attention to your data use. The AT&T salesman scoffed at Dad's 300MB data plan, saying he'd need more data with the Galaxy smartphone. Why? Because he'd have all those apps! While that may be true for the typical smartphone user, it wasn't for him. And even if you like the idea of watching a Netflix movie on your phone, you won't use any cellular data as long as you stream video while you are connected to WiFi. You also don't need to pay for extra storage for your phone, which means an additional $100 to move from 32GB to 64GB, as long as you sync with a cloud service or download larger files like photos to your computer and then delete them from your phone. After a thorough discussion, Dad and I decided to wait until his Thanksgiving visit to reassess his need for a new phone — he's happy with what he has and now he has a plan in place that will make purchase easy when the time is right. Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.