Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Moral Development and the Concept of Right and Wrong

Morality describes the principles that govern our behavior. It is such a complex issue because its development lies on a variety of factors such as gender, culture, religion, government systems and ethnic background. In principle, it is an important aspect of our lives because it impacts the choices we make in our everyday life. As we strive to survive in a world of growing complexity we are constantly faced with the question of morality. As part of society where we have to live by a set of rules, we learn to adjust our expectations based on a model of conformity to these rules. Such rules are important because they are intended to ensure impartial treatment and harmony among all people. In short, morality has to do with fairness and survival in a world of many conflicts and ruled by indifference.

Lawrence Kohlberg, a Psychology professor in both Chicago University and Harvard University specialized in research on moral education and reasoning, created the theory of stages of moral development. According to Kohlberg, moral development sustains that moral reasoning, the basis of ethical behavior, has three levels of two identifiable developmental stages each. He determined that the process of moral development was mainly concerned with justice, and that it continued throughout the individual’s lifetime.

During the Pre-Conventional level the children would associate right or wrong based on whether they are rewarded or punished. In stage one moral development is defined by obedience and punishment orientation in which the child reasons about how he can avoid being punished. In stage two he guides his moral choices towards satisfying his needs.
At the conventional level the adolescent defines right behavior as that which pleases or helps others and is approved by them. A recognition of what makes a good citizen and the importance of looking up to authority are some of the various abstract social virtues incorporated to them in mid-adolescence stage. Both forms of moral reasoning require an ability to think abstractly about values such as “duty” and “social order”.


The Post conventional level of moral reasoning pushes the individual into a more deeply abstract form of thought. He reasons about the meaning of abstract principles such as “justice”, “freedom” and “equality”. At that point the individual has more solid moral standards to decide what is right and wrong. He realizes then, about the gaps which exists in what he views as morally acceptable and what society has determined to be legal.

In a large sense, teaching morality is quite challenging because each person lives by different values and has a different view of what morality is, depending of his or her environment and upbringing. But individuals can be conditioned to develop a certain pattern of behavior to reflect the code of ethics of his parents and the environment he belongs to. Some of the core values and beliefs that a given person acquires in early childhood and through their teenage years are preserved throughout his lifetime. At a young age, the individual will learn from his parents his first lessons of “right and wrong” and “should and should not” and it does not take long before he perceives the consequences of choice and behavior. As he grows through his teenage years and reaches adulthood, he develops awareness and concern with the larger society and reasons more abstractly about right and wrong.

One can imagine how chaotic societies would have become if we did not have to abide by certain principles. Without such a sense of order, chaos and conflict would have resulted and we would be left to our own devices and desires. Without such a sense of control, the strongest individuals would have destroyed the less privileged in order for themselves to benefit. Since early years in history of civilization, man has adopted rules meant to ensure fair play and provide individuals with certain basic protection. Societies have adopted codes of ethics in order to create an environment of mutual respect among its citizens. That increases the odds of individual’s survival and the integrity of the group.

We find ourselves constantly debating the subject of morality as advancements in technology and scientific knowledge become bolder. Some of the topics that become increasingly conflicting are: genetic research, abortion, fertility methods, sexuality, ecological conservation, racism, euthanasia, warfare, drug use and human rights, just to name a few. Establishing boundaries for moral behavior have become even more challenging as human choices and responsibilities have grown dramatically over the years in response to growing scientific developments. This is so because the human mind has not been able to process all the new information with the same speed with which it is presented. Besides, we humans are naturally fearful of what is different and act conservatively in regard to change.

Morality exists to gauge and standardize our behavior. It has to do with the survival of the species. We can discuss the validity of various people's ideas of morality, but the underlying reason for morality is to provide society with order and stability. Morality tells us that it is not acceptable to kill people simply for the sake of killing. Morality protects a person's right to his possessions. If there were no morality, then people would be free to do as they wish which could mean that some would not be stopped from committing crimes such as, stealing, murdering or raping. Society would succumb and eventually cease to exist if there was no establishment of rules or order as a result of our morality.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Computer Science Sets the Pace for Advancements in the Area of Medicine

It is a fact that computers have caused many changes in every aspect of our lives. In the areas of Life Science and the Health Care industry the utilization of computer applications has created a major impact on the way the work is performed in labs, clinics and hospitals all over the country. Powerful computer applications have played important roles in ongoing research projects such as Genome and Stem Cell. These projects may lead to treatments or even cure of certain health conditions which have challenged the scientific community for years.

Thanks also to computer sciences many innovations in the Health Care Industry have helped to reduce operational costs and increased efficiency on different fronts. [1] The use of computer applications has definitely changed the way professionals look at human biology and health care over the years.

The utilization of software applications has made it possible for scientists to develop new approaches in order to target diseases in a much more aggressive manner. The contribution of computers is vital and it extends from the work performed by technicians at the lab bench, all the way to the medical clinics and emergency rooms. With the use of applications, professionals have been able to identify and address issues in a way that had not been possible decades ago. One effect of all the technological growth in recent years is that life expectancy has increased significantly as people have managed to live longer than ever before.
A great accomplishment in Life Sciences in recent years, which would not have been possible without the use of computers, is the genome project. The benefits that mankind stands to gain as a result of that study are immeasurable. The Human Genome Project’s goal is to elucidate the information that makes up the genetic blueprint of human beings. It consists of sequencing the chemical bases of DNA and subsequently storing that information in a database for future scientific references. The information from this database will be used over time by the scientific community to target diseases which have puzzled scientific minds for decades. In order to compile the genome database, powerful software applications have been used to perform complex mathematical operations in various phases of the process. [2]

Stem Cell Research is still in its preliminary stages. Despite all of the controversies raised over the subject, the scientific community strongly believes that stem cell therapy has great potential to revolutionize the way human diseases are treated in the future. Medical researchers are excited about the prospect of using technologies derived from stem cell research to treat diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and a number of other debilitating illnesses. [3] At this time, there are a number of projects in progress and some cell therapy already exists despite the widespread uncertainty about the social and ethical challenges. Companies like StemSoft Software Inc. have an important role behind the scenes as it provides software solutions and technical support to organizations and physicians in order to meet the clinical and research high standards. [5]

The Stem Cell Studies would be virtually impossible if it was not for the use of computers. According to Mike Wininger, a graduate student from Rutgers University who had been involved in Graduate studies in Asia, “Merging statistical pattern recognition and computer vision to cell imaging, I am addressing the problem of cell sorting with novel quantitative methods. By processing hundreds of cell images and extracting salient parameters of cell size, morphology and structure, I seek to rigorously and objectively determine a stem cell's status…” [4].

I have been working with biopharmaceutical research and development activities for the past sixteen years. The scope of my work encompasses the use of microorganisms as hosts to produce certain proteins which will be used in vaccine formulation. I participate in the preliminary stage of the process where the final product will eventually end up being injected into humans. In order to guarantee the success of the whole operation, people in my group have to work in synergy with other groups and we all rely heavily on computers to make our product. Most of the instruments I use in the lab have a built in computer which perform a specific task during the process. Some examples of such instruments are spectrophotometers, pH and conductivity meters, centrifuges and biochemistry analyzers. Each instrument will help me monitor the culture and build a profile of the cell growth.

The Health Care Industry has also benefited in many ways due to computer availability. Electronic medical record systems allow medical practices to manage all the information collected for their patients electronically, therefore protecting the safety of the information and improving the efficiency of medical practice. [1] [2] Implementation of electronic medical records has contributed to the reduction of organization operational expenses by eliminating in-house and off-site storage costs, as it drastically reduced the amount of paperwork generated for patients. It cut down the cost of buying paper for keeping records and paper for making copies. It also eliminated potential confusion related to interpreting professional’s handwritten instructions and it reduced the amount of people utilized to perform cumbersome tasks.

The internet has been a continuous source of information and diagnostic resources for physicians. It also has helped patients gain a better understanding of his/her health condition as people get more engaged in reading about health issues pertaining to them. Reference databases such as MEDLINE and Stat Ref. as well as drug databases have proven to be great resources for doctors and health professionals. Doctors will refer to these reference databases to make sure they choose the appropriate medication, correct dosage and avoid drug interaction. But despite all of these developments in Health care, there is still a lot that must be accomplished. [7]

President Obama’s stimulus package is putting aside $29 billion for health care technology and the development of electronic healthcare records. It is believed that doctors will be more empowered to make decisions when it comes to diagnosis and subsequent treatment of a given health condition if they have a more centralized system in which they can access every bit of information pertaining to a patient’s health history, according to NextGen, a Health Care Information System company which has offices in different states. [6] It is evident that the new stimulus bill will help every physician in America to burst their IT capabilities and that may translate into providing better care to patients all around the country.

Computer Information Technology has revolutionized the Biomedicine and Health Care industries and has caused a major impact for human quality of life over the past few decades. Besides being a great ally in the fight against life threatening diseases, computers also have contributed enormously as a diagnostic and prevention tool. With the help of computers, new systems have been implemented to make the work of scientists, doctors and health care professionals more dynamic and efficient.



Works Cited

[1] Illinois Institute of Technology, http://www.iit.edu/~marajos/CS485/project/emr.html
[2] Educational Facilities of the Michael Smith Labs, The University of British Columbia, www.bioteach.ubc.ca/human-genome-project-biology-and-computers-together/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell#Treatments
[4] Mike Wininger, National Science Foundation, http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111169&org=DGE
[5] http://www.stemsoft.com/.
[6] NEXTGEN, Health Information System, http://www.nextgen.com/stimulus/?_kk=healthcare%20stimulus&_kt=011447d5-3d26-4083-8b55-b1f4a52a043b&gclid=CPf3vuDnk5oCFUpM5Qodn3MnNA
[7] Computer Concepts, June Jamrich Parsons/ Dan Oja, 11th Edition.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Discrimination, the Basis for Denial of Basic Rights of Minority Groups

Throughout the history of civilization, different groups of people have had the need to migrate to new locations in search of better resources. For ancient men that could mean finding a place where they could hunt and work the land to produce the means to satisfy their basic needs.While this phenomenon could be prompted by harsh conditions of their natural environment, other antagonistic forces like war and religious and ideological differences have been a major factor for those migratory motions to occur. [1 Univ. of Calgary]
Even though these migratory movements happen for a legit cause from the prospective of the individual or groups who migrate, they are historically faced with hostility by native inhabitants. Natives may see the newcomer as a potential threat to their freedoms.

Despite societal advancements throughout the centuries, humans carry a trait of resisting what is different and can be dominated by fear that a newcomer may influence their environment in a negative light and deplete their resources. [2 Doherty].

Because this country has a long history of being very ethnically diverse, discrimination has been a reason for tension and overtime prejudice has become the basis for the denial of basic rights for minority groups. [3 Helpme]

The United States of America is a nation made up of immigrants. People from every corner of the globe have continuously landed here in search of freedom and certain opportunities to improve their life standards. Most people came here willingly; however, some were forcibly drawn into slavery, such as Africans and Native Americans.

The 1920’s marked the boiling point in which discrimination was openly expressed and subsequently caused a lot of tension. Minority groups suffered most at the hands of those concerned with preserving the long established White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (W.A.S.P.) values that were an integral part of American life at the time. [3 Helpme]

African Americans were the most discriminated group through the act of segregation; however, other ethnic groups suffered with such policies as well. People from these groups were separated from whites in most public places, including restaurants, trains, parks, theaters and even cemeteries. [3Helpme]

African and Native Americans were the ones who suffered the most hardship due to discrimination. African’s came here as slaves for southern plantation owners and Native American’s was stripped from their own habitat and relocated to secluded reservation areas in result of the greedy white man driven westward in search of wealth.

African American’s lived in moments of hope after the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th amendment which freed them from the hands of the southern masters. Unfortunately, the political power and social protection condition envisioned by the black people never materialized and the cycle of discrimination and fear continued.

Criminal organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia conspired to maintain an environment of oppression and fear among black people for years. Those organized groups targeted the few who started to succeed in the climb of the social ladder in an attempt to discourage others from following the same path.

Black people were forced to keep to their “rightful place” meaning the very bottom of the social ladder and stripped from any basic rights, just like the Native Americans. Blacks were subjected to segregation and kept from the political scene by not being allowed to vote. Many civil rights advocates were threatened and in many instances ended up being lynched.

The civil rights bill was passed by congress in 1866 under which discrimination against black people was made illegal by the constitution. That was a starting point for blacks to pursue other rights as citizens.[4 Everything2]

The Gilded Age and westward expansion was marked by a lot of corrupt politics, exploitive businesses, social inequalities and Indian genocide.[5 American History Notes]. Millions of indigenous people were massacred and others driven away by settlers who moved west in search of gold and other opportunities.

Eventually, the remaining groups surrendered and were confined to reservations which they considered prisons. Stripped from their basic rights and dignity, their only hope was to one day be able to go back to where they came from and live the kind of life they once had before the white man came into the scene. [6 Foner, p.30]

During a speech made to dignitaries including President Rutherford Hayes, Chief Joseph, the leader of Nez Perce Indians tried to convince the authorities to grant his people freedom by allowing them to go back to where they came from.

”…When I think of our condition of my heart is heavy. I see my men of my race treated as outlaws and driven from country to country, or shot down as animals”,…”we only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men…Let me be a free man” [7 Foner p.33].

One difficulty in granting Chief Joseph’s request is that freedom from the Native American standpoint conflicted tremendously with white man interests and Chief Joseph died without ever seeing his people set free from the conditions in which he considered the same as those of a prison. [6 Foner p.30]

One ethnic group which experienced harsh acts of discrimination is Asian Americans. They did not take full advantage of the expansion of rights resulting from the Civil War and Reconstruction according to Frederick Douglass, an Equal Rights Activist who advocated for the Asian American population. “ There are clouds, wind, smoke and dust and noise, over head and around and there will always be; but no genuine thunder, with destructive bolt, menaces from any quarter of the sky…I want a home here not only for the negro, the mullato or the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours”, said Douglass in his 1869 speech in which he challenged the social observers and politicians by condemning anti-Asian discrimination acts and advocated for the acceptance of Chinese immigrants into the mainstream American life. [8 Foner, p.20] [9 Black Past]

In 1882 Chinese immigrants were barred from entering the United States temporarily by the Chinese Exclusion Act, a United States Federal Law. [10 Foner, p.68]That caused a big reaction among Chinese advocates. Some critics of the law considered it as nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination. [11 Wikipedia] Saum Song Bo, a Chinese-American writer contrasted the treatment his group was receiving with the celebration of liberty which took place after the United Stated received the Statue of Liberty from the French as a gift to the American People. [10 Foner, p.68]

“Liberty is holding a torch which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country. But are the Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationality enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from insults, abuses, assaults, wrongs, and injuries from which men of other nationalities are free?” [10 Foner, p.69], said Bo in a tone of protest against the government’s measure.

It is understandable the frustration the Chinese-American felt with regard to the government’s decision to stop Chinese immigration. On the other hand, the government was concerned with the growing numbers of Chinese immigrants gathering in the cities as the gold rush was over. Many of them were forced to move to the urban areas of West Coast cities and compete with locals for job opportunities which were already scarce even before the Chinese workers started to arrive.

During the twentieth century, the United States was the epicenter of immigration as millions of people from Europe, Asia and Latin America landed here in search of opportunities. Among these newcomers there were approximately one million Mexicans who crossed the border with the vision that they would find the solution to their problems in the United States. [12 Foner, p.82]

No matter what the driving force was which led to the phenomenon of migration, it seams that economics have always been a key factor to motivate people. Economics has led masses of people to come to America. The majority of the people who came here in search of opportunities could hardly anticipate the dimension of obstacles they would face in order to make their dreams come true. Immigrants have always been the subject of prejudice and faced difficult times while attempting to participate in the mainstream of American life regardless of background.

Racial prejudice has always existed and it will never go away as long as distinct groups occupy a common geographic space. Prejudice rests in a prejudgment based on ethnical background, color of skin, religion, without any knowledge of any relevant information about the person’s character and behavior. In article 97, Frederick Douglas, an advocate for Asian-American rights points out in his “Composite Nation” speech that, “…In any struggle the good things of this world they (White Americans) need to have no fear. They have no need to doubt that they will get their full share. But I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men”. [8 Foner p.24].

Many government laws have been created to discourage the public display of discriminatory acts. Still there is a tendency for certain races to look down on other cultures and position themselves as superior. There is a tendency, however, that an educated mind is less likely to underestimate the abilities of a person to attain success in life based purely on his physical make up or where he came from.

It took many generations for most people in this country to reach the consensus that all races of the world have equal possibilities for achieving the highest level in intellectual, social, economic, cultural and political development provided they are presented with the right opportunities. Racial differences are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors and they have to be respected. History has proven that exclusion is wrong and it represents a setback for any society.

During the period of this country’s formation and development prejudice was quite a common occurrence, especially in the 1920’s. Minority groups suffered tremendously from prejudice especially from those who wanted to preserve the old and traditional WASP values. Eventually laws were made to attenuate this grave problem and slowly minority groups started finding their place in this society.

Although discrimination still exists to this day, people are more discrete and likely to come to terms when faced with conflict related to social and racial differences. This is, in part, because the laws of this country protect individuals from any discrimination acts.

Citizens are given equal opportunity to flourish as human beings and participate in the country’s business provided that the individual does not take illegal shortcuts in order to accomplish his goals.

The United Stated is a highly diversified nation formed by people from many different cultures. The opportunities that immigrants find here are unmatched by any other nation. As I look back in history and reflect on the conditions of early immigrants and ethnic groups, I have to recognize that despite all of the controversies and difficulties, this was and still is the land of opportunity for millions of people who have taken the risk and made America their home. [13 Foner, p.132]


Work Cited


[1Univ. of Calgary], University of Calgary, “Early Migration to the Americas”, www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/migrations/

[2Doherty], James H. Doherty, “The Historical Roots of Discrimination”,
http://www.humanrights-germany.org/print/issues/eng/ethn/page03.htm

[3Helpme],"Racial Discrimination in America During the 1920's." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Apr 2009.

[4Everything2], “African American and Native American discrimination from 1864 to 1954”,
http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1463139,

[5American History Notes], “The Gilded Age”,
http://www.stegen.k12.mo.us/tchrpges/sghs/mruch/WestwardExpansionandtheGi ldedAge.htm

[6 Foner, p.30], Chief Joseph, “An Indian’s View of Indian Affairs” (1879) America’s Gilded Age, 1870-1890, Eric Foner, Article 99, p.30

[7Foner, p. 33], Chief Joseph, “An Indian’s View of Indian Affairs” (1879), Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 99, p.33

[8 Foner, p.20], Frederick Douglas, “The Composite Nation” (1869); Voices of Freedom, Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 97, p.20

[9 Black Past], BlackPast.org,
http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1869-frederick-douglass-describes-composite-nation
[10 Foner, p.68], Saum Song Bo, Chinese-American Protest, from American Missionary (1885), Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 108, p.68

[11 Wikipedia], Chinese Exclusion Act,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Exclusion_Act

[12 Foner, p.82], Manuel Gamio, “Manuel Gamio on a Mexican-American Family and American Freedom (ca.1926); Voices of Freedom, Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 112, p.82

[13Foner, p.132], Randolph Bourne, “Trans-National America” (1916), Eric Foner, Voices of Freedom, Article 123, p.132

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Concept of Free Speech and the Internet Environment

As part of a free society, citizens are left to their own decisions and have the choice to do whatever they please, as long as they do not break the law or interfere with someone else’s liberties. Despite the perception that in a liberal society we are free to express ourselves in a very open manner, we still have to abide by certain rules and be cautious not to interfere with other people’s privacy.

The same rule applies for free speech. A citizen is not really free to say whatever comes to mind without taking into consideration the fact that other people may be offended by such remarks. One thing one should keep in perspective is the fact that there are always consequences resulted from our actions.

In regard to free speech on the internet it gets even more complicated because the Web offers a vast array of ideas based on different cultural values, religious beliefs and social differences. When we put all these elements together what we see is a head on collision with the concept of free speech. Such conflict quite often results in some kind of censorship. [1]

Each human being has a unique way of expressing his perception of the world. Depending on the context of one’s ideas and the material exposed on the Web, he may be restricted in certain areas to protect the viewer’s interests and values. Three countries that have such strict rules about what can be viewed on the internet are China, Saudi Arabia and Ira.

“The Great Firewall” of China is a typical example of how strict the government can be in regard to the subject of free speech. “There are Internet police in China. They have websites, lots of them. They engage in law enforcement duties. They also investigate websites. It is also, in my view, safe to assume that they investigate and arrest dissidents…” says Nart Villeneuve, Internet Censorship Explorer. [4]

In both, Ira and Saudi Arabia, there is a concern on the part of authorities that immoral material content from the Western world may reach its citizen’s homes and that represents a serious threat to the Islam traditions [2]. Besides those three countries, Australia is known to have the most restrictive Internet Censorship regulations among the Western world countries.

One of the greatest concerns in the US is the danger of exposing children to pornography. In that regard, the parents play an important role in preventing their children from being exposed to such materials. [1][2][3]. There are many ways in which the implementation of Web censorship can take place. The most widely used methods are through firewalls, Internet filters, blocking, PNS Poisoning and Internet zoning.

Censorship can happen at different levels. Parents may restrict their children from viewing certain material which they consider inappropriate. Government agencies can block certain pages they consider to be a national security risk.

A growing number of people have become increasingly unsatisfied as they reinforce that Web censorship “ignores free-speech rights and violates the civil liberties of internet users” over the years [1]. I realize that when so many different cultures, beliefs, and ideas cross the line in this vast environment which makes up the Web, it is unavoidable to compromise freedom and free speech.

I personally believe that the internet is a great tool but it needs to be used wisely considering the vast array of options presented to me. In regard to free speech I am always entitled to express my ideas freely as long as I obey certain rules.

I find it important to give careful consideration to proper use of language or imagery to avoid present and future annoyances. Despite the internet being considered a great vehicle for exchanging of ideas, one will always have to deal with the fact that free speech has its boundaries and it could mean different things for different people.



Work Cited

[1] http://www.infoweblinks.com/content/webcensorship.hml, Infoweblinks, “web censorship”
[2] Infoweblinks, “china finds freedom behind great wall”[3] http://opennet.net/studies/saudi, Infowebliks “internet filtering saudi arabia in 2004”[4] http://www.nartv.org/2005/07/13/why-exaggerate/, Nart Villeneuve

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Who's Stealing my Signal?

Wi-Fi technology has made it possible for a growing number of people to gain access to the internet for free as long as a laptop with an 802.11b or Wi-Fi network card is installed and positioned within 300 feet of the broadcast location.

Many hotspots scattered all over the major cities in the US have made it possible for people to access the internet from places like airports, conference rooms, lounges and cafes.

Hotspots have also found their place in suburban areas where many residents are unable to afford the main NSP's (Network Service Providers) charges. Free WLAN’s can be established as long as a computer is set up to transmit the signal to nearby wireless units.

The broadcaster pays for the high speed or DSL signal from a NSP’s and then retransmit it with the help of specific software. This kind of behavior has raised some concern among the main NSP's who do not agree with that approach and refer to such free services as “parasitic networks”. However, the broadcasters claim they do it purely to help people within their communities who can not afford the high service charges.

NYC Wireless, one of the groups who broadcast the internet signal, rebuffs the allegation made by some NSP’s and bristles at the term “parasitic networking”. They point out that the high access rate charges applied by the service providers are the true parasites. NSP’s such as Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and others feel they have been taken advantage of and sustain that those networking groups are violating service agreements and they have become more forthcoming in cracking down on those networking groups by seeking legal action against them in an effort to try to stop their work.

Besides New York City, there are 20 free internet access points in Seattle and many others scattered all over the country. Coffee retailer Starbucks is one of the groups that has increased its rollout of Wi-Fi hot spots as this appears to be a commodity which helps to attract more customers to the business.

Most free network groups do not see benefits in the work they are providing at the present moment; however there is a potential they will do better in the future as they seek for nonprofit organization status with the government. As a nonprofit organization they can legally establish fundraising programs in order to cover the operation expenses.

According to John Patrick, former IBM vice-president of internet technology, “The advent of Wi-Fi is about to change all of our lives in a major and positive way. I will go further. Wi-Fi is one of those grassroots phenomena that will soon become as ubiquitous as the PC itself. The latest laptops have Wi-Fi antennas built into the lids, while the wireless access points, which send and receive the Wi-Fi signals, now cost less than $100. The issues, which are many including security and privacy, business models the scalability of the infrastructure. Looking back at how the internet evolved from the early years there are many similarities with what is going on at this early Wi-Fi stage. The emergence of the Wi-Fi is a grassroots trend that is irreversible”.

While WLAN’s offers the commodity for people to use the internet for free at specific locations, it also requires that the user takes extra security measures as a result of going wireless. There is always a concern that hackers may be using the signal to gain access to one’s computer and steal confidential information.

It seems that free WLAN’s movement is picking up fast as more people are becoming adept to the idea despite all the controversy with the big network companies. While operators are now working under the radar of most consumers and wireless providers, the trend poses questions for those seeking to charge for a service that these volunteer organizations see as essential as water.


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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Software Piracy and its Consequences


As the software industry has become more diverse and sophisticated over the years, it has played a significant part in adding value to companies and individuals alike. The use of software applications has revolutionized our world in many ways as they have been used as critical tools to accomplish the most simple tasks to the most complex operations in daily life. The use of software has also helped individuals and companies manage their time more efficiently.

Thus, as software industry grows every individual who makes use of their applications, whether for business or for pleasure, benefits from it. While most people respect and abide contract agreements for the applications they use, there are those who just ignore its clauses of copyright protection and violate the laws therefore committing the act of piracy, despite the benefits available to them.
According to SIIA, an anti-Piracy organization, industry loses about $11 or $12 billion each year due to piracy. About $2 billion of that comes from North America. Piracy rates have reached 25% of sold applications in the US. That means that for every four copies of software, one is acquired illegally. SIIA fights fiercely against acts of piracy based on agreements it has with US and foreign country governments. According to SIIA, Asia hosts the greatest number of individuals who engage in piracy acts.

Despite efforts on the part of interested parties and tough government legislation, the problem of piracy is far from being eliminated. There is an alarming number of people out there who do not hesitate engaging themselves in such acts regardless of the consequences it may incur. More still needs to be done by law makers, software industry and developers in order to discourage the cycle of breaking copyright protection laws.

People have different motivations for taking the risk and engaging in piracy acts. Those who copy software from a friend for his own use are as guilty as those who copy it with the intention of illegally reselling and profiting from it. Software piracy is just one aspect of copyright infringement. There is a wide range of products which are indiscriminately reproduced and sold in the market as if they were the original brand.

Using, reproducing or profiting from an intellectual property without an abiding agreement is considered illegal. According to SIIA.net, “Anyone who uses, copies, distributes, or displays (in whole or in part) someone else’s copyrighted content without authorization may be violating the owner’s copyright rights. Such violations can result in a lawsuit and money damages, and in some cases, criminal prosecution with jail time”.

Software piracy is considered theft and those caught in the act of piracy should be held accountable. In order to prevent that kind of crime, software companies should be more proactive and take some responsibility as well. By releasing a more affordable version of their products people may be discouraged from making copies and selling them for profit. The way things are the software piracy problem is far from being controlled. It not only harms the developing companies which may fall short from its projected revenues but also consumers who rely on such products to execute their projects. As those companies become limited in their resources, they may be forced to cut their research efforts and compromise the quality of their products.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tracking Technology and Privacy

There are many tracking devices imbedded in a vast array of products that we consume nowadays of which everyone may not be aware of. Such products can range from cars to cell phones and even children’s toys and food. Most of those items carry tracking applications for different purposes such as to provide statistical data, manage inventory and to monitor geographical positioning among others.

While many of those applications are used for legitimate reasons, they can potentially be instrumental for abusive uses and act against public interest. It is undeniable that many such technologies offer, to some extent, a certain commodity to consumers and to organizations alike; however, there is a great danger that they may eventually be used by unscrupulous organizations or individuals to invade people’s privacy and even commit criminal acts. The question is to what extent those technologies will be beneficial or detrimental to the general public.

According to an article on howstuffworks, “Some of the current technologies being used to create location-tracking and location-based systems include: a) Geographical Information Systems (GIS), used for large scale location-tracking systems integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. GIS is most often associated with a map [1]; b) Global Positioning Systems (GPS), facilitated by a constellation of 24 to 32 orbiting satellites are used to send microwave signals to GPS receivers on earth’s surface. An individual receiver picks up to those sources with a considerably small margin of error. c) Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Those are thin battery-less microchip which can be attached to just about any surface such as, vehicles, cattle, consumer goods, and literally any moving object with the purpose of tracking its geographic location as it moves around; d) Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) are devices which use frequency such as 802.11b”.

Most commonly, one or more technologies are converged to create one product. An
example of that is a system called OnStar developed by GM which utilizes GPS and mobile telephone systems. A new feature of the product permits the safe recovery of a vehicle by authorities in case it is stolen. A law enforcement agent will be able to send a signal and cut the engine power off and the vehicle will slow down until it comes to a complete stop. That ensures a safe recovery and prevents dangerous chases according to Onstar Developers.


“Some inconveniences about tracking technologies is that when chips being embedded in your ID cards, your clothes, your possessions, you are effectively broadcasting who you are to anyone within range, the level of surveillance possible, not only by the government but by corporations and criminals as well, will be unprecedented. There simply will be no place to hide”, says Bruce Schneier, a security expert at Counterpane Internet security, Inc.

There are many ways in which abusive use of tracking technology can take place. Wiretapping may be a classical way to follow a person’s footsteps. But the internet has become very popular to that end as well. The use of spiderware and adware which are cookies obscurely deployed to gain access to one’s computer and relay information about the user’s routine to a third party, are examples of that. The cell phone combined with GPS can potentially be used with the malicious purpose to tracking someone’s whereabouts without the person’s knowledge.


A behavior which may be viewed as abusive consists of implementing RFID to monitor the performance and conduct of employees in the workplace. What follows is a quote from an article published at law.bepress.com by William A.Herbert, Deputy Chair and Council for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board, in which he expresses his concern about such measures:

“Various federal and state laws have been proposed and enacted to place restrictions on both governmental and private use of human tracking technology. Increasingly, public and private employers are utilizing human tracking devices to monitor employee movement and conduct. Due to the propensity of American labor law to give greater weight to employer property interests over most employee privacy expectations, there are few current limitations on the use of human tracking in employment”

Even though new technologies continuously open up a large array of possibilities for consumers, it is inevitable that it will also bring new ethnical and safety concerns for society. Tracking technology is not different and despite the fact that it has proven to be useful and may be used for justifiable reasons, it also poses a threat to individual privacy and integrity as some applications may be used for dubious purposes. As these applications get more sophisticated, we as a society may have to revisit and redefine the meaning of privacy as we could more often become an element of interest in illegimate data plots.


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Friday, January 30, 2009

How About Trying a Cup of Kopi Kuwak for a Change?


As a person of habit I do not miss an opportunity to have a cup of hot coffee in the morning. As I can not always have the luxury to sip my “cafezinho brasileiro” (the Brazilian version of the espresso coffee) I settle for a café latte from Starbucks or a Panera Bread hazelnut coffee. As much as I enjoy the black stuff pure or combined with milk, I would definitely live without it if I found one day that I would have to pay as much as fifty bucks a cup, or about seven hundred per pound. Somehow, based on the cost factor alone I would not be able to enjoy coffee as much as I do now.

There is more to it than just pricing. One particular product is called Kopi Kuwak, an exotic coffee produced on the Islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in Indonesia. What makes it so special is the way it is processed. The ripest and the reddest Arabica coffee berries are eaten by an animal called the Asian Palm Civet, which lives in tree tops and is commonly found in that region. The berries pass through the animal’s digestive system and are easily broken down by the action of acids and other enzymatic factors. The beans whithin the berries are not digested and are eventually expelled in the animals feces.

Those beans are then harvested in the field in a very meticulous way by qualified professionals. They are washed, then roasted and ready to serve. Eventually the product will end up in the cup of some privileged individuals, who can afford to have such exotic pleasures.

From the perspective of my culture that is something quite “different” and hard to understand. I have great respect for the person who enjoys this rarest coffee delicacy. All I can say is that knowledge makes all the difference in the world. If somebody offered it to me without giving me the history behind it I might have drunk it and enjoyed it as much as I would enjoy drinking my regular Starbuck’s coffee. I do not think I will be willing to try it any time soon but if I change my mind I will let you know.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Racial and Social Inequality

Contrary to what one would think, many of us are unconsciously racist. At least that is what a study published recently in the Journal Science says, according to an article that came out on CNN Website last Thursday. The study suggests that in general, blacks are largely perceived in a negative light by non-blacks who consider themselves tolerant and egalitarian.Just for the record, the study which was conducted by Dr. Kerry Kawakami, an associate psychology professor of York University of Toronto, Ontario, used blacks and non-blacks as subjects to conduct her experiment.
One comment made by Dr. Kawakami with regard to the study is that “Some people might think that they are very egalitarian and they don’t have to deal with their prejudice, and that is not related to them at all, when in actual fact they may hold these hidden biases”. In general when one thinks of prejudice there is an immediate association with the color of the skin. However, prejudice is an evil of multiple faces which encompass more than just the color of the skin. What I gather from Dr. Kawakami’s study is that regardless of what one says about himself with regard to racism, there is still a tendency to behave in a discriminatory way. It appears that people just do not let this tendency rule their behavior so much because it is not politically correct and is perceived as an unacceptable behavior by society.
Exteriorizing racist views even in a humorous manner could easily get someone into trouble and lead him to face unwanted consequences. In that light, I find it wise to always respect differences regardless of whether I am agreeable with them or not. In industrialized nations where a vast majority of citizens have higher education and better standards, prejudice attitudes are attributed more towards ethnical than social differences. It appears that in every society that has migratory history there may be hostile behaviors associated with racism. It is natural that humans will be in conflict when faced with something that is considered abnormal or different. I may be wrong but, in regard to Dr. Kawakami’s experiment; color of the skin was the main factor that drove the study. I assume that subjects were hand picked to match a certain criteria.
Is it possible that the people involved in the study have higher education, hold a decent job, have family and live a regular middle class life? According to National Urban League’s report, an article on Racial Inequality, publicized by ABC News in March 2008, in real life“…blacks were much worse off than whites across a range of economic indicators, including measures of employment, poverty, housing, income and wealth”. Inequality definitely intensifies the drama of racism even farther.

As I was reading through those articles I started thinking of how the problem of racial inequality affects other societies specially those from developing nations around the world. Factors like, social status, religion and ethnic differences all contribute to discrimination the subject of exclusion. Dr. Kawakami’s experiment was conducted in a totally controlled environment and looked at racism at a mild way. From such an experience one can just get a glimpse of the problem of intolerance. From a global standpoint, the most serious examples of intolerance is due to social differences. It is known that poverty levels have grown dramatically as the world population has sky rocketed over the years and that has contributed largely to all kinds of issues in urban areas such as: high crime rate, drug dealing and the creation of parallel power, inability of governments to provide health care and other basic needs to citizens, just to name a few.
According to Global Issues, an entity that deals with Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues, “nearly a billion people around the world entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names”. That is especially true about countries from Southern Asia , sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Such uncontrollable growth usually leads to disastrous outcome for those societies. The inability to fight inequalities has put them in a state of emergency as they metaphorically grow a monster in their own backyard. A monster made of hatred and distrust which may turn each citizen into a victim, regardless of social status. Exclusion literally hurt the poor and the rich alike and there is no easy way out.

Morumbi Slums, Sao Paulo, Brazil


When I see masses of people who live in total disbelief of society’s ability to create mechanisms to relieve them from a profound state of misery makes me wonder how exactly we made this destructive path? What kind of corrective measures can be taken? How can the situation be reversed or at least minimized? More education, dissemination of information, more structured legal, justice and law enforcement systems, more aggressive government incentives to social programs? All these items may be a good starting point and may be in place already in many countries but, are these enough? The fact of the matter is that whatever is being done currently falls short of resolving the mounting problems of inequality. The situation is complex and there is no quick fix to address all the burdens that modern society has to face.
There is no cheap solution either. It may cost a fortune for the local governments and other institutions to take a course of action to put a plan into action that actually works. However, such cost is infinitely less than the high price society has to pay for the burdens of illiteracy, ignorance and complete exclusion. I really believe that the major obstacle for making the world a fairer place for every citizen comes down to one thing: the unwillingness on the part of all parties that are in the position to make a difference in the process of change and the unwillingness on the part of a vast majority of individuals who are affected by it. I am a believer that things can turn around when there is good will and when multiple voices strike the same tone. I believe that change can only take place when each single individual gets bothered enough to get involved and do something about the issues.

The world is nothing but a perfect and romantic place. We are governed by good and evil, as we strive for our own survival. We treasure our uniqueness but we can not forget that we live in a world of diversity. Each individual is unique regardless of the color of his skin or social status. Blacks and whites and everything in between have to coexist in order to protect common interests. It is important to learn to be tolerant and willing to compromise for the benefit of all. That is true in regard to ethnic or social differences because in the crevasse of inequality, every single citizen is a loser. There is no safe haven for anyone. The apparent success of the rich is overshadowed by the fear he carries inside. His home becomes a bubble surrounded by layers and layers of security systems. The poor are victimized many times and in multiple ways. Pistols suddenly find their way to the hands of children. Lost bullets become a reminder that life is too shallow and meaningless. And the cycle of human tragedy goes on and on until it becomes almost natural. That is my greatest fear.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge


"The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge is one of Boston's beautiful post cards. This cable-stayed bridge was built during The Boston Big-Dig Project and it was named after the civil rights activist Leonard Zakim".

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