Hummingbirds These

These Hummingbirds Take Extreme Naps. Some May Even Hibernate. – The New York Times


To adapt to life in the Andes Mountains, some South American species go into exceptionally deep torpor to save energy.


Hummingbirds live a life of extremes. The flitting creatures famously have the fastest metabolisms among vertebrates, and to fuel their zippy lifestyle, they sometimes drink their own body weight in nectar each day. But the hummingbirds of the Andes in South America take that extreme lifestyle a step further.

Not only must they work even harder to hover at altitude, but during chilly nights, they save energy by going into exceptionally deep torpor, a physiological state similar to hibernation in which their body temperature falls by as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, as dawn approaches, they start to shiver, sending their temperatures rocketing back up to 96 degrees.

It’s an intense process, says Andrew McKechnie, a professor of zoology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

“You’ve got a bird perching on a branch, whose body temp might be 20 degrees Celsius,” or 68 Fahrenheit, he said. “And it’s cranking out the same amount of heat as when it is hovering in front of a flower.”

Now, Dr. McKechnie and colleagues reported on Wednesday in Biology Letters that the body temperatures of Andean hummingbirds in torpor and the amount of time they spend in this suspended animation vary among species, with one particular set of species, particularly numerous in the Andes, tending to get colder and go longer than others. They also report one of the lowest body temperatures ever seen in hummingbirds: just under 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a trip to the Andes about five years ago, Blair Wolf, a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and an author of the new paper, and his colleagues captured 26 of the little birds for overnight observation. They measured the hummingbirds’ body temperatures as they roosted for the night and found that almost all of them entered torpor, showing a steep decline in temperature partway through the night.

They also kept track of the birds’ weights, because hummingbirds, like many other birds, lose weight between dusk and dawn, as they burn through the calories they have consumed during the day.

The researchers were curious whether the birds were adjusting their temperatures to be close to the ambient air temperature. They also wondered whether the torpor of different species — six were represented — would look different, and whether longer, deeper torpor was connected with losing less weight.

“The extent to which birds can save energy by going into torpor might well affect how well they do at these high altitudes,” Dr. McKechnie said.


Credit…P. Morris/Blickwinkel/Alamy

Indeed, they found that birds that used torpor only briefly could lose as much as 15 percent of their body weight. Birds who took a longer break, on the order of 12 hours, lost only 2 percent. Birds that reached lower temperatures lost a smaller percentage, too.

Some species, like the sparkling violetear, descended to a set temperature (in this case, roughly 46 degrees Fahrenheit) regardless of the ambient temperature. Others, like the black metaltail, seemed to be tracking the air and got very cold. One metaltail hovered around 38 degrees Fahrenheit, scoring the lowest recorded temperature of any hummingbird, to the researchers’ knowledge.

In fact, the metaltail, the black-breasted hillstar and the bronze-tailed comet, which are related species, all entered colder, longer bouts of torpor than the others. This could help explain why this group is more common at high altitudes — they have worked out ways to minimize the stress of living in an extreme environment.

These birds were held in captivity overnight, but Dr. McKechnie says he thinks that in a natural setting, there is more to learn about how hummingbirds save energy.

There are stories of hummingbirds in the Andes that will enter a cave during cold spells and not emerge for several days, a pattern that, if confirmed, would suggest that the birds are capable of hibernation, he notes. Similar to torpor, hibernation saves an organism energy, but it goes on longer than a single night.

“For me, the next step beyond this study would be to get a clear idea of where they roost,” Dr. McKechnie said.

Read More

colleges These

These N.J. colleges are reporting COVID-19 cases publicly, even though they’re not required to –

Find all of the most important pandemic education news on Educating N.J., a special resource guide created for parents, students and educators.

As college students headed back to many New Jersey campuses over the last few weeks, institutions were handing out thermometers and masks, outlawing parties and otherwise trying to prevent their students from catching and spreading the coronavirus.

But if students do come down with COVID-19, depending on the school, you may be able to quickly look up their positive case numbers online.

Some schools have set up dashboards where people can see how many positive cases are associated with the university, while others are more detailed and include off-campus cases, or the number who are isolating in designated dorms.

However, other schools have opted not to post the information publicly.

Gov. Phil Murphy and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education have lots of requirements for colleges and universities to reopen this fall, but posting case numbers publicly is not one of them.

“While this is not currently a requirement, we encourage institutions to be as transparent as possible with COVID-19 updates that may impact their campus communities,” said Nicole Kirgan, a spokeswoman for the office. “Communication remains a key component of managing an emergency effectively.”

State schools with dashboards or sites sharing new case numbers include Rutgers University, Montclair State University, Rowan University, William Paterson University, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Stockton University.

Private schools with similar dashboards include Seton Hall University, Rider University, St. Peter’s University, and Ramapo College. Princeton University will also release the data weekly on its website. Monmouth University and Stevens Institute of Technology both said they plan to have dashboards but they’re not online yet, and Princeton University said it plans to release data in the next few days about the results of its asymptomatic testing program for all on-campus students or staff.

Montclair State University move in day during the coronavirus pandemic

Jamila Wright, 18, right, a freshman at Montclair State University get help from her father Fabian, right, as she moves into her dorm room on Thursday, August 20, 2020.

Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

The College of New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Caldwell University and St. Elizabeth College said that they don’t have public websites listing the numbers, they will keep the campus community updated via email.

The level of detail of the dashboards varies by institution. Rowan University reported that since Aug. 25, there have been 23 cases among students who have been on-campus for any reason, 29 cases among students who haven’t been to campus, and zero staff cases. The test results are also broken down by week.

Rutgers University provides the new case numbers each week, as well as the number of tests and the positivity rate — which currently stands at .07%. The university has reported between two and five cases each week since Aug. 1, when the Rutgers football team outbreak helped the weekly total hit 34 cases.

Montclair’s website offers more detail on each case. A student living on campus tested positive Aug. 22, a day after being on campus, and the student is doing well while his or her close contacts are quarantining, the university posted. A staff member also tested positive Aug. 18 but had no close contact with anyone on campus.

Princeton University reported four employee cases and Rider University reported three employee case and one positive student. Seton Hall and NJIT each reported three cases, and several other universities and colleges reported having no new cases since the start of the semester.

The College of New Jersey does not have a dashboard, but a spokesman said nine students who live off-campus in Ewing have tested positive, and contact tracing has identified 50 close contacts who may have been exposed.

Like other schools, colleges and universities had to submit reopening plans to the state, detailing how they would reduce capacity in dorms and classrooms, ensure social distancing and increase cleaning to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading.

They also had to lay out their screening and testing protocols, which vary by university, and how they plan to assist with contact tracing if or when someone tests positive.

This story was updated Sept. 6 at 1 p.m. with more recent case numbers.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to

Rebecca Everett may be reached at Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.

Read More

Business These

These business owners got a PPP loan. It may not be enough – CNBC

Robert Miller, a Pittsburgh area restaurateur, has watched with sadness as some of his favorite local eateries closed for good in recent weeks.

Union Standard, Pizza Taglio, Spoon — just a handful of the businesses lost in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re all places people would know by name,” Miller said.

Miller, 45, expects his restaurants would have been among the wreckage if it weren’t for aid received as part of federal coronavirus relief.

His three establishments — Sidelines Bar and Grill, Sidelines Beer House and The Fire Side Public House — collectively got about $212,000 in funding through the Paycheck Protection Program and $775,000 from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

But the PPP money has been gone for weeks, sales are down at least 50% from last year and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf curbed bar and restaurant activity again this week due to rising Covid-19 cases.

Miller fears his restaurants can only make it another six to eight months absent more federal aid or a resumption of normal business.

“It’s been difficult,” he said. “You could talk to 1 million people who have the same story as me.”

Funding issued through the Small Business Administration has been a financial lifeline for millions of small businesses during a recession that hit faster than any other in American history.

The Paycheck Protection Program, created by the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion relief measure enacted in March, offered low-interest loans of up to $10 million to small businesses.

Entrepreneurs who use the funding a certain way, like allocating the bulk toward employee wages, don’t have to repay the loan — a huge draw for businesses forced to shut due to government fiat and through no fault of their own.

Lisa Hess at Lucy’s Coffee in San Luis Obispo, California.

Shannon McMillen Photography

But now that business owners have used up their PPP funding, they’re facing uncomfortable questions amid the possibility of further shutdowns.

“How long will this last?” asked Lisa Hess, founder of Lucy’s Coffee in San Luis Obispo, California. The firm took a PPP loan of about $23,000 and used up the cash in approximately six weeks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently closed bars and indoor dining across the state amid a resurgence of Covid-19 in the Golden State. 

The shop has adjusted to the post-Covid-19 world by moving its service outside, setting up tables and purchasing umbrellas to make more seating available.

Hess has a second lifeline through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a federal loan for small businesses affected by the Covid-19 crisis. She is reluctant to continue borrowing, especially since cash flow is tight.

“If this goes on for a year and I use this money to pay the rent, then am I taking on a crazy amount of debt to keep the doors open?” Hess asked. “How much do you put into it before enough is enough, if I keep getting in debt to keep up?”

Emergency aid hobbled by delays, confusion

A man walks his dog past a placard stating “ALL SMALL BUSINESS IS ESSENTIAL” outside Atilis Gym on May 20, 2020 in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

Mark Makela | Getty Images

In addition to establishing the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government opened its existing disaster-loan program to businesses in all states due to the crisis.

Nearly 5 million businesses have gotten $518 billion in cumulative PPP funding, with an average loan of $105,000, according to the SBA.

Another $135 billion was issued through the disaster loan program, with an average loan of about $60,000.

Both programs were marred by administrative delays, changing rules and limitations that made it difficult for some businesses to take advantage.

We’re revisiting whether you can defer rent, how much do you need to retain a skeleton crew, who can you lay off assuming you don’t get a second round of funding.

Dan Herron

CPA and principal of Elemental Wealth Advisors

“I think clearly there were some mistakes,” said Chester Spatt, a professor of finance at Carnegie Mellon University and former chief economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission from 2004 to 2007.

Chief among them were rigid rules around how PPP funds could be spent, Spatt said. They created an inherent tension between employees and the continuation of the business itself, he said.

The program’s original framework required business owners to spend the funds over eight weeks or risk losing full loan forgiveness — which would essentially forfeit one of the program’s main draws.

The federal government later broadened that timeline to 24 weeks, but by then it was too late for many who’d gotten a loan early on.

More than just payroll costs

A customer wearing a protective mask receives a takeaway meal from a restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic on May 20, 2020 in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

Michael Tullberg | Getty Images

Robert Miller, for example, had already spent seven out of eight weeks’ worth of PPP funding on his restaurants by the time that update was announced.

“Eight weeks was nothing, considering we’re on month No. 4 [of the pandemic],” Miller said.

Due to another early limitation of the program — that at least 75% of funding be used for payroll — Miller, like many other businesses, didn’t have much left over for other costs. (Lawmakers eventually lowered that threshold to 60%.)

Miller has been spending more than $500 a week on Covid-19-related items (e.g., gloves, masks and cleaning supplies) alone. Items like umbrellas, tables and chairs for outdoor dining cost extra, too, all adding to the bottom line.

More from Personal Finance:
Coronavirus unemployment claims are worst in history
Treasury canceling stimulus checks to dead recipients
‘Jumbo’ loans may be harder to get. Here’s what to expect

Luckily, his disaster loans have helped supplement other business costs as sales have lagged — though the prospect of being indebted to the federal government for 30 years, the term of the disaster loans, isn’t a welcome thought, he said. 

For entrepreneurs along the coasts, rent expenses have also devoured their loan proceeds. Landlords, whose pocketbooks are also squeezed, are reluctant to give much of a break.

“Payroll is the biggest expense, but the rent?” said Hess. “I don’t know what the solution is here.

“I talked to my landlord about it, and he pretty much said no because he can’t afford it, either.”

Scraping more funding

Around 84% of small businesses that received a Paycheck Protection Program loan will have exhausted their money by the first week of August, according to a recent Goldman Sachs survey.

Under current law, companies can’t get a second bite at the apple. The Senate will start debating the contours of another round of coronavirus relief when the chamber reconvenes on Monday, but it’s unclear whether it will contain more aid for small businesses.

Even then, lawmakers have hinted that future aid for businesses would be more targeted than in the CARES Act. 

In the meantime, tax professionals working with business owners have been scrounging for additional ways to free up cash flow.

“We’re revisiting whether you can defer rent, how much do you need to retain a skeleton crew, who can you lay off assuming you don’t get a second round of funding,” said Dan Herron, CPA and principal of Elemental Wealth Advisors in San Luis Obispo, California.

It’s been difficult. You could talk to 1 million people who have the same story as me.

Robert Miller

Pittsburgh area restaurateur

Another strategy to consider is tapping the disaster loan after PPP funding runs out. Entrepreneurs with access to both can’t use them concurrently for the same costs.

“There’s nothing that says you can’t use one after you’ve used up the other,” said Albert Campo, CPA and managing partner of AJC Accounting Services in Manalapan, New Jersey. “If you have some suppliers you owe money to, you can use the disaster loan money for that.”

Other sources of liquidity may become scarce.

“Banks are a little more conservative when lending,” said Campo. “Restaurants have a harder time getting funding due to their failure rate.

“It’s very nuanced and specific to each client, depending on their credit and liquidity.”

‘Bit of a boom’

Some entrepreneurs may not require additional aid, though.

Alyssa Nix, owner of Posh Boutique, a women’s clothing boutique in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, got about $10,000 in federal funding — half through the PPP and the rest from a disaster-loan grant program

The timing of the loans was “crucial” for the business, she said. They gave her capital to stock up on product for the spring and summer seasons — money she hadn’t had due to the store’s closure. 

Her sales are now up about 10% to 15% over where they were a year ago, partly attributable to the state’s relatively low prevalence of coronavirus cases and crowds at big retailers pushing people to seek out less heavily trafficked stores, Nix said. 

“We’ve had a bit of a boom after things started opening up,” said Nix, who doesn’t anticipate needing additional federal aid. 

“Right now, I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” she said. “Things have been going well.”

Read More

Invest These

Got $4,000 to Invest? These 4 Top Tech Stocks Could Make You Rich in 10 Years – Motley Fool

Each of these category-leading technology companies had strong tailwinds before the pandemic struck, and even stronger ones now.

Danny Vena

The stock market has largely shaken off the historically steep declines that made headlines earlier this year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is only down 6%, the S&P 500 is sitting near breakeven, and the NASDAQ is up about 17% year to date.

While it’s unclear what will happen on Wall Street in the near future, one fact is indisputable: Investing in high-quality stocks remains the surest way to build wealth over the long term.

Assuming you have sufficient emergency funds to fall back on and $4,000 (or less) that you don’t expect to need over the coming three to five years, here are four stocks you could invest in that will stand the test of time and could make you rich in the coming decade — even in the face of the continuing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sheet of $1srcsrc bills rolling off a printing press.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Facebook: Staying connected in the stay-at-home era

With new coronavirus diagnoses surging to record levels across this country (and in others), many people continue to hunker down at home, venturing out only occasionally for the essentials or to break up the monotony. But that’s not changing their desire to stay in touch with family and friends, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of that need to feel connected will continue to be Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).

Every month, 2.6 billion people log into the social media platform, and more than 1.7 billion use it daily. The unmatched network effect created by that vast system of users gives Facebook unparalleled advantages in its space. Another important data point is that despite scandals and the growing threat of regulatory intervention, Facebook shares been remarkably resilient to external factors, gaining more than 57% in 2019. 

Facebook’s reach also extends far beyond its namesake platform, with Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger filling out its family of services. Nearly 3 billion people use at least one of those apps every month and more 2.3 billion log in daily. And as the pandemic struck, user engagement naturally increased.

It’s also important to remember that the company still has a couple of large untapped revenue opportunities. Ads are commonplace on Facebook and slightly less so on Instagram, but the company has only just begun to mine the vast potential for advertising that exists on WhatsApp or Messenger. Monetizing them offers Facebook an avenue for years of lucrative growth.

A person holding a smartphone near a touchless digital payment terminal

Image source: Getty Images.

2. PayPal: Helping make digital payments the standard

One of the trends that got a significant boost as a result of the pandemic was the shift toward digital payments. This was partially the result of increased adoption of e-commerce, but it was also due to the pressing desire for touchless payments as people and businesses looked for ways to reduce the chances of customer interactions spreading the coronavirus. No fintech company is better positioned to benefit from that ongoing change in consumer behavior than PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL).

The digital payments pioneer was already thriving, but COVID-19 kicked its growth into overdrive. PayPal moved quickly to roll out QR codes to provide additional touch-free payment options.

In the first quarter, PayPal added more than 20 million net new accounts, as its growth rate on that metric rose 17%. This brought its total to 325 million accounts, and that could be just the beginning. The company reported that after the close of the first quarter, it saw dramatic gains in transactions throughout April, and adoption and engagement trends accelerated in May.

“I would argue that April was probably the strongest month for PayPal since we became a public company,” said CEO Dan Schulman in a May interview with MarketWatch. That strength continued into May as PayPal reported the largest single day of transactions in the company’s history — beating out 2019’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday results. 

Digital payments are the future, and PayPal is helping pull that future into the present.

Family huddled around laptop looking at screen smiling

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Shopify: Bringing Main Street merchants into the e-commerce universe

As pervasive as e-commerce seems to have become already, it still has a long way to go. In the first quarter, online sales represented about 11% of total retail in the U.S. That’s about three times the percentage they accounted for a decade ago, and the growth shows no sign of slowing. Arguably no company is better situated to benefit from this shift than Shopify (NYSE:SHOP).

As massive numbers of shoppers decided to forego visiting brick-and-mortar retailers in person in order to reduce their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, mom-and-pop shops were among the hardest hit. In response, many of those merchants turned to e-commerce for the first time. Shopify specializes in helping such businesses make the transition and keep their online operations running smoothly. The company offers turnkey technology solutions for those making the jump to online sales, with plans starting for as little as $29 a month.

Shopify offers far more than just help building a website. It connects retailers with payment solutions, shipping and logistics, inventory management, analytics, advertising, and even working-capital loans.

That was just what the doctor ordered when the pandemic struck. In April, Shopify reported helping thousands of new businesses move online and said it was generating Black Friday level traffic on its platform every day. 

That’s not all. Between mid-March and late April, the number of new stores joining Shopify’s platform grew 62% compared to the prior six weeks and customers making purchases from merchants they had never previously bought from online jumped 45%. 

The growth of e-commerce is just getting started, which provides a massive opportunity for Shopify.

A man in business attire touching a virtual cloud icon.

Image source: Getty Images.

4. Microsoft: Cloud computing and so much more

When tens of millions of employees left their offices and began working from home at the outset of the pandemic, the shift to a remote-work model posed challenges for many businesses. Companies that were able to help smooth that transition were positioned to reap the rewards, and one of those was Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). More importantly, the same things that made its stock a buy as COVID-19 struck also make it a compelling choice to hold for the long term.

The need to conduct business doesn’t just stop even if work must be done remotely, and remote work actually plays to many of Microsoft’s strengths. Its commercial software products, including Office 365 (now called Microsoft 365) and Dynamics 365, are used by millions in their day-to-day business, and its Teams work collaboration platform has become a key tool for many companies over the past several months.

Cloud computing, too, has become more important than ever. Microsoft’s Azure was experiencing impressive growth even before the pandemic, and that continued in the most recently reported quarter. Revenue from the intelligent cloud segment grew 27% year over year, driven primarily by Azure’s 59% gains (61% excluding currency fluctuations), making this one of the company’s biggest growth areas. 

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” said CEO Satya Nadella. “From remote teamwork and learning, to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security — we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything.” 

With its fingers in everything from day-to-day business to cutting-edge cloud computing, Microsoft is a solid buy now and for the future.

Read More

Stunning These

These stunning pictures captured Comet Neowise soaring through the sky. Here’s how you can see it for yourself – CNN

(CNN)A three-mile wide comet named “NEOWISE” has lit up the skies, wowing people across the globe.

Being able to catch a glimpse of the comet — officially known as C/2020 F3 — is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as it won’t pass Earth again for another 6,800 years, according to the International Dark-Sky Association.
It’s extremely rare for comets to be visible to the naked eye. Comet Hale-Bopp, which experts describe as the “last great comet,” was seen in 1997, which was visible for a year and a half. NEOWISE is not considered a “great comet,” though it is still a spectacle.
“The early reviews are in,” said. “Comet Neowise is a hit.”
On July 3, Comet NEOWISE made its closest approach to the sun.
“This very close passage by the Sun is cooking the comet’s outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface and creating a large tail of debris,” NASA said in an article last week. “And yet the comet has managed to survive this intense roasting.”
Since then, the comet has been visible about an hour before sunrise in the US, close to the horizon in the northeastern sky.
It was spotted in England too, where photographer Jon Rees described the comet as a “little beauty.”
“A chance to shoot Comet Neowise over my favourite pier was very very special!” Rees wrote in the caption of his photo he posted to Instagram.
The window to spot NEOWISE is closing quickly — the fleeting comet is expected to remain visible in the northern hemisphere just through July.
Here are some tips on how to best catch a glimpse of it, courtesy of the experts with Sky & Telescope.
  • Before July 14, the best time to see the comet was before the sunrise. But from the 14th onward, you’re more likely to see the comet in the evening sky.
  • As it moves away from the sun and edges closer to Earth, the comet will fade away, but your chance of catching it improves if you can find a location that’s free of light pollution, meaning street lights, car headlights, apartment lights, and the like.
  • “Start looking about 1 hour after sunset, when you’ll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness,” the editors of Sky & Telescope said in a news release. “Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right.”
  • On July 23, Comet NEOWISE will be at its closest to Earth, but by then, you’ll probably need binoculars or a telescope. If you want to take a picture of the comet, use a tripod and a camera that’s able to take time exposure shots that are several seconds long, according to Sky & Telescope.

Read More

Practically These

Have $5,000? Buy These 3 Practically Invincible Stocks – Motley Fool

Betting on these winners is a lot smarter than betting against them.

Keith Speights

It can be dangerous to think that a company can never be defeated. There are too many once-powerful businesses that have either disappeared or are a shadow of their former selves to totally rule out the chance of being disrupted.

However, there are a handful of companies that have such strong business models that they’re likely to remain at the top of their markets for a long time to come. These are the kinds of companies that you want to invest in. If you’ve got $5,000, here are three practically invincible stocks that you can buy right now to make a lot of money over the long run. 

Smiling man wearing a coat and tie holding his hands in the air with $1srcsrc bills above him

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Amazon

It would be extremely difficult for a rival to dethrone (NASDAQ:AMZN) in e-commerce. The company has a well-known brand. It has a massive distribution infrastructure. Amazon claims roughly 40% of the online sales market, according to market researcher eMarketer. The No. 2 company, Walmart, has an e-commerce market share of only 5%.

Amazon has tougher competition for its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud hosting business. But it’s still the indisputed leader. As organizations migrate apps and data to the cloud, it seems highly likely that AWS will continue to deliver impressive growth even if it loses market share along the way.

Can anything stop Amazon? Perhaps the biggest threat is that government regulators could throttle the company’s expansion plans. It’s also possible (but I think quite unlikely) that Amazon could be broken up. Even if that happens, though, my hunch is that the sum of the parts would potentially be worth more than the whole.

Barring a major governmental roadblock, Amazon seems poised to continue delivering solid growth despite its huge size. The company has its eyes set on the lucrative healthcare market and is acquiring Zoox to get into the self-driving car technology arena. Amazon isn’t completely invincible, but it’s not too far from it.

2. Intuitive Surgical

Speaking of the healthcare sector, one company has absolutely dominated the robotic surgical systems market for two decades — Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG). More than 5,500 of Intuitive’s da Vinci systems are installed across the world. Over 7.2 million surgical procedures have been performed using these systems so far, with 1.2 million procedures in 2019 alone.

Intuitive Surgical’s success has attracted new rivals. Two healthcare giants, Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson, have robotic surgical systems that either already compete directly against Intuitive’s products or will do so soon.

However, I’m not too concerned about Intuitive losing its grip on the top spot in the market. Intuitive’s existing customers have ample motivation to get the most out of their investment rather than switch to a rival system. Newcomers will also be at a disadvantage going up against Intuitive’s long safety track record.

Most importantly, though, I think the market will expand enough to support multiple players with Intuitive Surgical remaining No. 1. Key growth drivers include aging demographic trends and technological innovations that increase the types of procedures that can be performed with robotic assistance.

3. Square

Some think that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause an acceleration of the ongoing shift from cash to digital forms of payment with consumers’ worries that using physical currency could increase their chances of being infected by viruses. Although some studies have shown those fears are overblown, perception is sometimes more important than reality. I think Square (NYSE:SQ) is well-positioned to be a big winner from the growth in digital payments regardless.

Square has firmly established itself as the leader in providing payment technology and services to small- and medium-sized businesses. You probably see the company’s small credit card devices frequently if you make purchases from these smaller retailers. What you don’t see, though, is the impressive ecosystem that Square has built to serve these businesses, from payroll apps to business debit cards.

I look for Square to leverage its relationships with small- and medium-sized businesses to gain more traction in helping them in new ways, including building e-commerce sites. I also expect the company to make further inroads with larger clients.

Square’s Cash App peer-to-peer digital payment is competing well against PayPal‘s Venmo. The company thinks it has an opportunity of at least $60 billion annually in the U.S. alone with Cash App. With its strength in both business and individual financial ecosystems, it’s not unreasonable to view Square as the “Amazon of financial services.” I think that the growth in fintech and Square’s leadership position make it another nearly unstoppable stock to buy for long-term investors. 

Keith Speights owns shares of Amazon, Intuitive Surgical, PayPal Holdings, and Square. The Motley Fool owns shares o

Read More

Lowest These

These Are The Lowest Mortgage Rates Being Offered Right Now – Forbes

Home Mortgage Refinance

Many homeowners want to refinance existing mortgages to take advantage of record-low interest rates.


Mortgage rates have been hitting record lows during the economic downturn and could fall even further. Lenders have responded to the increased economic uncertainty by raising minimum credit scores, requiring higher down payments, checking and rechecking employment status and eliminating certain loans altogether.

LendingTree, an online lending marketplace, analyzed data from loans being offered to borrowers to understand the current state of interest rates, looking at everything from mortgage to personal loans to uncover just how low interest rates are now. 

The report revealed that the average lowest mortgage rate being offered to borrowers with credit scores between 720-759 is 3.46%. The implied savings for a $250,000, 360-month mortgage at that rate is $50,148. 

For borrowers with credit scores between 640-679, the lowest mortgage rates being offered is 3.87% with an implied savings of $48,699.

When it comes to refinancing a mortgage, for those with credit scores 760 and higher, the average lowest rate is 3.23%. 

Below are the average differences, or spreads, between the highest (most expensive) and lowest (least expensive or best) annual percentage rates (APRs) offered to the same borrowers across loan types and credit score ranges on LendingTree’s platform in the previous calendar month.

For every loan inquiry that received at least one offer from a lender, analysts calculated the spread between the lowest and highest APRs offered to each prospective borrower. Lowest, highest and the spread were averaged across credit score ranges for each loan type.

Regarding the credit score range of less than 640 and the average lowest offer of 3.15%, Kali McFadden, senior research analyst at LendingTree, explained: “Very few people with scores that low would qualify for a mortgage at all, so the few who do must be bringing something pretty exceptional to the table.”

Read More

These Watch

Watch These Rover Models Wiggle Out of Alien Sand Traps – The New York Times

A choreography of swimming, walking and rolling could help future rovers avoid getting stuck in loose soil on the moon or Mars.



A mini-rover escapes from terrain made of poppy seeds. Video by Shrivastava et al., Sci. Robot. 5, eaba3499 (2020)

Kenneth Chang

Driving up a sandy hill on a distant world is a good way to get stuck.

A decade ago, NASA’s Spirit rover died on Mars after it drove into a sand trap. For months, the mission managers on Earth sent commands for the rover to spin its wheels, but Spirit could never wriggle free. When the Martian winter arrived, Spirit fell silent forever because its solar panels were pointed away from the sun, ending a mission that had spent more than six years aiding discoveries on the red planet.

Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have come up with a more elaborate choreography of motions — a combination of swimming, walking and rolling — that could help future rovers avoid a similar fate, and even allow them to traverse more challenging terrains instead of driving around them.

“When you only have wheels,” said Daniel I. Goldman, a professor of physics at Georgia Tech, “that limits your ability to go anywhere.”

The wheels of the miniature Georgia Tech rover do more than just roll. The researchers describe a motion in which the front wheels stirred up granular material — poppy seeds, it turns out, work well for this sort of experiment — and swept it toward the rear wheels. At the same time, the rear wheels wiggled side to side in a paddling-like motion, pushing the rover up a sandy slope.

With the material pushed toward the back, the rover was more level, and that helped it move up an incline.

The work builds on a NASA mission called Resource Prospector that was to send a rover to study ice in a polar region of the moon. The ice is expected to be a key resource for a future moon colony. The water molecules would not only give people living there something to drink, but could be broken apart into oxygen and hydrogen.



The RP15 rover wiggles its way out of a jam during testing on Earth. Video by Shrivastava et al., Sci. Robot. 5, eaba3499 (2020)

NASA engineers built a prototype called RP15, which included a suspension that allowed the rover to lift a wheel and move it forward, similar to the way you lift your foot as you walk.

Although the Trump administration’s goal is to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024, NASA canceled Resource Prospector in 2018, saying it did not fit into the current program. RP15 was packed up and put away.

Dr. Goldman had already started collaborating with the NASA engineers to study the different ways RP15 might be able to move. Siddharth Shrivastava, then a high school student working in Dr. Goldman’s laboratory, led the making of a miniature version of RP15, which they called Mini Rover.

The test chamber could be tilted at different angles, and the granular properties of the poppy seeds could be altered by blowing air through them.

Mr. Shrivastava, now an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, experimented with different motions to see what worked best. “I kind of just toyed with a lot of different gaits,” he said.

This was not the first time Dr. Goldman had tackled the problem of climbing sandy alien hills. In years past, he conducted experiments with a six-legged robot that looked somewhat like a rover on stilts and another, built by Carnegie Mellon University scientists, that resembled a sidewinder snake.


Credit…Carnegie Mellon University


Credit…John Toon, Georgia Tech

But the key for the earlier robots was to try to not disturb the soil, and to avoid digging a hole to get stuck in. “We found the rule seemed to be, ‘Do no harm,’” Dr. Goldman said. “Keep the material as solid as possible as long as possible.”

The Mini Rover upended this thinking, Dr. Goldman said. “You make this giant mess, particularly with this rear motor paddling gait,” he said. “And that mess, if you make it right, turns into a good fluid that you can kind of swim and crawl through, which we hadn’t expected.”

The four-wheel design, about the size of a golf cart, is largely based on Resource Prospector, but William Bluethmann, who is leading the rover development of VIPER and an author of the Science Robotics paper, said his team will be exploring some of the newer motion strategies.

The thinking is that the novel locomotion would be used only in emergencies “where you get stuck in soft soil and you need to get back on firm ground,” Dr. Bluethmann said.

There are currently no plans to incorporate the locomotion on rovers farther away, such as those exploring Mars. With a moon rover, mission controllers will have near real-time control, with a delay of several seconds between sending a command and seeing what happens.

But it still could be used for a Mars mission, if engineers are able to give the rover the smarts to react quickly on its own in the event that it started slipping or sinking into a sandy slope.

Still, Dr. Goldman thinks the technology could offer more flexibility to future rovers. “This combination of wheels and paddling and lifting, if sequenced properly, is really powerful,” he said. “No longer just wheels at the end of sticks but they are actually active appendages, and I think that’s exciting.”

Read More