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Fred Blauer’s Web log

August 23, 2009

Please note that this is my personal blog.

The Fred Blauer and Associates blog on Open source business software and cloud computing is now at:


How the Brain Changes When You Meditate

August 19, 2015

By | August 5, 2015

By charting new pathways in the brain, mindfulness can change the banter inside our heads from chaotic to calm.

Not too long ago, most of us thought that the brain we’re born with is static—that after a certain age, the neural circuitry cards we’re dealt are the only ones we can play long-term.

Fast-forward a decade or two, and we’re beginning to see the opposite: the brain is designed to adapt constantly. World-renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with this colleagues, want us to know three things: 1) you can train your brain to change, 2) that the change is measurable, and 3) new ways of thinking can change it for the better.

It’s hard to comprehend how this is possible. Practicing mindfulness is nothing like taking a pill, or another fix that acts quickly, entering our blood stream, crossing the Blood Brain Barrier if needed in order to produce an immediate sensation, or to dull one.

But just as we learn to play the piano through practice, the same goes for cultivating well-being and happiness. Davidson told Mindful last August that the brain keeps changing over its entire lifespan. And he thinks that’s very good news.

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Tesla’s 3 Huge Competitive Advantages

May 7, 2015
Originally published on EV Obsession.

Tesla has several big competitive advantages, imho. I’m actually going to discuss 5 below, but I want to particularly highlight 3 of them, hence the title. [Full disclosure: I’m long TSLA… for obvious reasons.]

Tesla’s huge competitive advantages, imho, are:

1) The battery supply chain it is building for itself (and maybe some friends)

Tesla Gigafactory

I thought it was obvious before, but it seems that many mainstream investors and analysts are just picking up on the fact that batteries = a big part of Tesla’s business advantage. But are their batteries really better than the competition?


Well, it certainly seems to be so. Tesla’s battery packs are routinely estimated to be a good tier cheaper than other EV batteries. Part of that is thanks to the quality of Panasonic’s cells, but part of that is also Tesla’s continual improvement of the packs and the battery chemistries.

Tesla’s constant work to improve its batteries is one side of the cost-cutting calculus, but another important side is simply scale. Scaling up production results in greater manufacturing efficiencies, manufacturing improvements, and cost reductions. Tesla is scaling up its production big-time via the under-construction Gigafactory, and no competitor (other than BYD, perhaps) is showing that anything similar is in the works.

GM has announced the Chevy Bolt, which could theoretically compete with the Tesla Model 3 (on range and cost), but it is targeting ~30,000 sales a year rather than Tesla’s target of ~500,000. Why they huge disparity? Perhaps it’s the battery supply chain….

And note that Tesla’s batteries are valuable far beyond electric vehicles, and it is doing quite well winning stationary energy storage contracts. That just further boosts its battery production scale and competitive advantage.

2) Its wonderful Supercharger network


Another thing that Tesla really “gets” that others haven’t demonstrated to understand is that electric car consumers want ubiquitous fast-charging stations. Not somewhat scattered charging stations. Not slow-charging stations. But ubiquitous fast-charging stations. Other automakers have left this to the market to solve. Tesla has built its own Supercharger network (or networks), and nothing else compares to it/them.

Furthermore, rather than meddle with an annoying, penny-counting pricing system, the price of these charging stations is rolled into the price of Tesla’s cars, and Tesla drivers get the psychological relief of a lifetime of free Supercharging. While the cost may be the same (or even more), the convenience and the way we think about these things gives Tesla the strong upper hand.

Again, there’s no sign that another electric car manufacturer has picked up on the importance of the Tesla Supercharger network, as none of them are implementing anything that genuinely compares.

If the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 come out at the same time with the same specs, I’m choosing the Model 3, in large part because of the Supercharger network.

3) Software that is several leagues above the competition

electronics and software tesla

Another reason I’m (theoretically) choosing the Model 3 is because Tesla’s approach to software is a tier (or more) above the competition. It used to be that cars were big machines with small computers in them. In the future, cars are going to be computers on wheels, and Tesla is leading us there. Its software team rolls out over-the-air updates like we get on our smartphones, tablets, and computers, continuously improving owner vehicles.

Even a “recall” can be done virtually, Tesla has shown.

With an electric car, the improvement capabilities that come from better software are beyond imagine. I think it’s safe to say that cars of 2025 and 2035 will be very different animals than cars of 2015. If I were to put my money on who most leads us to those computers on wheels, I’d put it on Tesla (oh wait, I have).

4) A reputation for building superb products that “wow” people

Above are some of the tangible ways Tesla has set itself apart from the competition, but there are a couple of “intangible” strengths the company has developed as well. One is that it has developed a reputation for producing superb products. The Tesla Roadster transformed the image of electric cars from small, slow vehicles to blindingly fast vehicles of desire. An early investor, after driving away in his hot new sports car (I think a top-of-the-line Porsche) following the test drive of a Roadster prototype called the Tesla crew to angrily complain to them about how they had just ruined his expensive new gasmobile toy for him.

As if that wasn’t enough, Tesla produced the cheaper Model S sedan that ended up winning just about every big auto award. After some updates, it also set the record for quickest production sedan in history, with a 0 to 60 (mph) acceleration that beats even some supercars. It’s simply on another level.

Based on these initial two products, but especially the latter, people who “don’t like electric cars,” adore Tesla. With this reputation for excellence, again, who’s going to buy an affordable Tesla competitor when a comparable Tesla is on the market?

5) A reputation for wanting to serve customers in a direct, honest way — not just take their money

Another important intangible is that Tesla has shown repeatedly that it cares more about providing the customer with good service, a good product, and honesty than making a little more money off of them. That kind of reputation for integrity and morality is something long lacking in the automobile world, and there’s no doubt that customers have found it to be very refreshing and desirable. If tesla keeps it up, it’s going to gain more and more brand loyalists, and I haven’t seen any sign that other automakers have figured out how to adjust their business approaches to compete in this “human” side of the equation.

The Future Is… Tesla

Excluding the 2 subjective points at the end, I’m not seeing another automaker offer something comparable for 1, 2, or 3, let alone 1, 2, and 3. These are critical pieces of the electric vehicle future. If other manufacturers don’t quickly catch up by making some big (many would say risky… I wouldn’t) moves, they are going to end up 1) waiting a long time until they can catch up to Tesla in EV sales (assuming they ever can)… just looking at the supply side of the equation, 2) having to pay Tesla to use its Supercharger network, or simply offering inferior products year after year, and 3) offering inferior products year after year (and perhaps someday revolutionizing the software side of their business).

It’s hard to see any other manufacturers as being serious about electrification when they are so far behind Tesla on 1–3. Or, they are simply far too slow-moving to compete in this new sector, which is no better for their businesses and shareholders, but at least lets them off the hook a bit morally. In either case, though, it looks like Tesla dominates the future of automobiles.

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Starved for Time? Here’s a Surprising—and Easy—Solution

November 20, 2014

From Mindfulness magazine – see link below –

Although I think I spent most of my childhood daydreaming, I seldom do it anymore. Occasionally, I’ll catch myself spacing out in the shower, just standing there, and I’ll try to hustle myself back on track, lest I waste any more time or water.

Rarely do we just let ourselves stare into space these days. Like many people, I feel uncomfortable when I’m not doing something—uncomfortable “wasting time.”

We humans have become multi-tasking productivity machines. We can work from anywhere, to great effect. We can do more, and do it far more quickly, than we ever dreamed possible. Our fabulous new technologies buy us tons more time to crank out our work, get through our emails, and keep up with Modern Family. Time my great-grandmother spent making food from scratch, or hand-washing the laundry, we can now spend, say, driving our kids to their away games.

So now that we have so much more time to work and do things previous generations never dreamed possible (or even deemed desirable), why do we always feel starved for time?

The obvious answer is that we have so much more work, and expectations about what we will accomplish on a good day have expanded, but the number of hours in that day have stayed the same.

That’s true, but I also think there is something else at work here: We have gotten really, really bad at just doing nothing.

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Master’s Degree Is New Frontier of Study Online

September 3, 2013

Zvi Galil, the dean of the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The institute plans to offer a master’s degree in computer science through massive open online courses, or MOOCs.


Next January, the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a master’s degree in computer science through massive open online courses for a fraction of the on-campus cost, a first for an elite institution. If it even approaches its goal of drawing thousands of students, it could signal a change to the landscape of higher education.

Sebastian Thrun, a founder of Udacity, a Silicon Valley MOOC provider. He and Dr. Galil have teamed up to offer the online degree, which will cost students $6,600, far less than the $45,000 that it would on campus.

From their start two years ago, when a free artificial intelligence course from Stanford enrolled 170,000 students, free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have drawn millions and yielded results like the perfect scores of Battushig, a 15-year-old Mongolian boy, in a tough electronics course offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But the courses have not yet produced profound change, partly because they offer no credit and do not lead to a degree. The disruption may be approaching, though, as Georgia Tech, which has one of the country’s top computer science programs, plans to offer a MOOC-based online master’s degree in computer science for $6,600 — far less than the $45,000 on-campus price.

Zvi Galil, the dean of the university’s College of Computing, expects that in the coming years, the program could attract up to 10,000 students annually, many from outside the United States and some who would not complete the full master’s degree. “Online, there’s no visa problem,” he said.

The program rests on an unusual partnership forged by Dr. Galil and Sebastian Thrun, a founder of Udacity, a Silicon Valley provider of the open online courses.

Although it is just one degree at one university, the prospect of a prestigious low-cost degree program has generated great interest. Some educators think the leap from individual noncredit courses to full degree programs could signal the next phase in the evolution of MOOCs — and bring real change to higher education.

“Perhaps Zvi Galil and Sebastian Thrun will prove to be the Wright brothers of MOOCs,” said S. James Gates Jr., a University of Maryland physicist who serves on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. “This is the first deliberate and thoughtful attempt to apply education technology to bringing instruction to scale. It could be epoch-making. If it really works, it could begin the process of lowering the cost of education, and lowering barriers for millions of Americans.”

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Here is a certificate that I got from a course that I took online at coursera:


AUGUST 21, 2013
Statement of Accomplishment
Internet History, Technology, and
This undergraduate (first-year level) course reviews the history of
the Internet, explores the technical underpinnings of the Internet
and finishes with an overview of how we communicate in a
secure manner across the Internet.

Here is the certificate from the guitar course that I took:




Today’s Phones and Tablets Will Die Out Like the PC

July 22, 2013
       The mobile computers killing the PC will themselves be replaced as computing becomes embedded into the world around us.

The personal computer is dying. Its place in our lives as the primary means of computing will soon end. Mobile computing—the cell phone in your pocket or the tablet in your purse—has been a great bridging technology, connecting the familiar past to a formative future. But mobile is not the destination. In many ways mobile devices belong more to the dying PC model than to the real future of computing.

Instead, the future of computing is at a very large scale. I am not referring to the room-size monstrosities from computing’s dawn in the 1960s. I’m talking about a diffuse and invisible network embedded in our surroundings. Chips and sensors are finding their way into clothing, personal accessories, and more. These devices are capturing information whose impact is not yet meaningful to most people. But it will be soon enough. The question we need to answer is: how will these intertwined systems of hardware and software be designed to meaningfully add to our lives and to society?

Today we are enjoying what computing has done to enhance our lives, but we do not like having to baby-sit all the devices that give us access. We have to tell them what to do. The next wave of computing devices will be different because they won’t wait for our instructions. They will feel more like natural extensions of what we do in our lives. The hardware and software technologies behind this ubiquitous-computing model will become the focus of a radically changed computing industry.

These technologies will also change the way we look at computers. For example, making payments through a smartphone requires that the user unlock the phone, swipe to find the application, launch the application, and then initiate the payment function. But a smart watch could be designed to initiate a payment when you tap it on a payment terminal. There are so many of these ordinary functions that can be enhanced by computers but should not involve the overhead of operating a computer.

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Watch A Great Short Film On The Future Of Technology And Education

November 2, 2012

We’re still teaching our kids using a 20th-century paradigm, but many visionaries–like the ones in this video–have plans to take our advances in computing and technology and use them to explode the idea of what education can be.

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And the World’s Most Educated Country Is…

October 18, 2012
By Samantha Grossman | @sam_grossman | September 27, 2012 |
Image Source / Getty Images
Image Source / Getty Images

With spiking tuition costs, insurmountable loan balances, and the unemployment rate for recent college graduates hovering around 53%, it’s clear that a college education hasn’t gotten the best rap lately. Despite the ongoing financial woes across the globe, though, many think that college is still worth the investment. A new study shows that we’ve continued to flock to institutions of higher learning, enrolling at record rates over the past few years. Not surprisingly, the percentage of adults with degrees soared highest in developed nations, reaching 30% in 2010. But which of these nations can boast the status of most educated?

(MORE: Where Are America’s Most Well-Read Cities?)

Based on a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of the 10 countries with the highest proportion of college-educated adult residents. Topping the charts is Canada — the only nation in the world where more than half its residents can proudly hang college degrees up on their walls. In 2010, 51% of the population had completed a tertiary education, which takes into account both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Canada commanded the top spot in the last study in 2000, but even still has shown serious improvement. A decade ago, only 40% of the nation’s population had a college degree.

Snagging the number two most-educated spot was Israel, which trailed Canada by 5%. Japan, the U.S., New Zealand and South Korea all ranked with more than 40% of citizens having a higher-education degree. The top 10 most-educated countries are:

1. Canada

2. Israel

3. Japan

4. United States

5. New Zealand

6. South Korea

7. United Kingdom

8. Finland

9. Australia

10. Ireland

Read the original article here at 24/7 Wall St., for a detailed breakdown of each nation and its education status.

MORE: And the Most Peaceful Country in the World Is …

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Colin Dodds – Debit Credit Theory (Accounting Rap Song)

October 17, 2012

23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health?

July 18, 2012

The Potential and Promise of Open-Source Judaism

June 20, 2012

Jun 12 2012, 12:03 PM ET 14

One community’s pioneering effort to make its materials of worship more widely available and remixable.

jericho_615.jpgMap of Jericho in the Farhi Bible by Elisha ben Avraham Crescas, circa 14th century (Public Domain).

New technologies are naturally and generally controversial, but perhaps nowhere more so than in religious communities. For many religious leaders (and their followers), recent digital technologies are corrosive solvents of community life: the old ways are surely best. For others, new technologies offer opportunities to extend the reach of religious bodies, to draw more people into the fold.

One might think that a highly traditional religion like Judaism — whose core practices are so ancient and burnished by custom — would be inclined to techno-suspicion. But Aharon Varady doesn’t see it that way: for him, digital technologies can come to the aid of traditional practices. Varady is a man of wide-ranging gifts who, among other things, runs the Open Siddur Project. A siddur is a Jewish prayer book containing the daily prayers, and the Open Siddur Project is working to create the first comprehensive database of Jewish liturgy and liturgy-related work — and to provide an online platform for anyone to craft their own siddur. In this way Varady hopes “to liberate the creative content of Jewish spiritual practice as a commonly held resource for adoption, adaptation, and redistribution by individuals and groups.” For him, openness is key to the success of the project.

The Open Siddur Project strikes me as a deeply thoughtful, innovative way of trying to make new technologies and modern religious life reinforce each other, instead of being inimical or at cross-purposes. So I proposed that Aharon answer a few questions about the ideas behind his work, and he readily agreed. Here’s our conversation.

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