Genetic Engineering: The Ethical Side

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This article by was prepared for the October 17, 2001 edition of

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Linking Computers? It’s Getting Simpler

Connectivity in your office rings like "habeas

corpus"

in the courtroom — fancy words that cost you money. Typically

budgets get bruised pretty badly when it comes to linking up computers

so they can swap messages without an annoying electronic snub.

Establishing

even the simplest interface has required an expensive, incoherent

wizard, who would swoop in, perform his tricks, and then vanish,

leaving you all alone.

But now, more and more of this magic is translating into a very simple

science. On Thursday, October 18, at 12:30 p.m. the tricks of this

trade are revealed in a free "Networking Technology for Smaller

Businesses" seminar at Mercer County Community College’s James

Kearney Campus at North Broad and Academy streets in Trenton. Long

time tech veteran Ray Ingram, director of Central NJ Centers

for Workforce Excellence in Information Technology

(www.NJ-ITCenters.com),

will join MCCC technology instructor Rafael Cortes in showing

you how to link up your system with minimal cost. This is a Trenton

Small Business Week seminar. Call 609-396-8801.

"The real truth," says Cortes, "is that few people have

even the vaguest awareness of the software and networking aids already

available in their own hardware." But Cortes does. He is one of

those fast-fading, old style wizards who has made himself much sought

after by major firms. Born, raised, and seldom moved far from Trenton,

Cortes swiftly shifted from high school through a string of technical

training centers, all the while freelancing his talents to such firms

as Betz Dearborn, a Pennsylvania hydrotreatment plant in need of

system

linkage.

In l992 Mobile Oil hired Cortes to interconnect all the computers

within its Hopewell Research and Development plant. He knows the

workings

of that humming strange box on your desk as few folks do.

Cortes’ prime directive to business owners is to rid themselves of

computer fear and create a wish list. Without imagining limitations,

design the exact networking flow pattern your business needs —

in all its offices and stations. "Odds are," he says, "you

can get that very link from your current system cheaper than you

think."

Keeping it simple. Currently 90 percent of all technical

learning in the office is achieved over the Internet. The how-to

information

lies within reach of your keyboard and phone in most cases. Cortes

suggests that you first examine your own systems, call your

manufacturer

support people, and find out exactly what capabilities already exist

within the box. Frequently, the phone support folks can lead you to

sites with special linking instructions. From there you can move into

outside compatible software on the Internet and, if the need arises,

through a local computer store.

Both Ingram and Cortes warn against purchasing blind from a catalog

and dumping the entire task in the lap of some outsourced wizard.

Previewing purchases in cyberspace allows you to read more copiously

and compare products. Catalogs only have room for a brief blurb.

Further,

net-sold products are more often linked directly to the manufacturer’s

free support group.

Outside tech wizards frequently will build you a network that is

simple

to operate, but monstrous to debug or even upgrade. Their support

capabilities are necessarily limited. This does not mean that you

shouldn’t hire them. It means simply that they serve best as advisors

while several people from your own business get their hands dirty

with the actual network set-up.

Go for Thrift. "A few years ago, major corporations

were spending up to $2 million on a client page that web hosts now

offer for $200 a year," says Cortes. There is so much in-computer

linkage, downloadable shareware (nominal fee software) and freeware

available, he insists, that most small and mid-size businesses can

have all their computers interfaced for petty cash.

Online firms like Flash or Tech Republic lead customers directly to

specific websites where software can be instantly downloaded and

installed

with online support standing by. Clients can register, define their

needs, and receive news of current updates, or actually have the

upgraded

system automatically installed. Web hosting companies will install

and tend your set-up, with prices beginning at $24.95 to about $200

a month.

Mac vs PC. This ancient tech feud is no longer a major

connective obstacle, according to Cortes. Using the Unix-based

software

of Linux and Novell, the two types of machines should be able to

grudgingly

chat with one another. (Though Heaven knows how they bicker when the

operator is away.)

Virus Protection. Being very vulnerable to viruses, most

small businesses appear justifiably hesitant to merrily go

a-downloading

unknown software. Yet Cortes advises that Internet or store-bought

virus protection products, particularly those offering free instant

updates, offer ample protection.

Storage Capabilities. Once you have all your fax machines

and printers linked, and all your sales data shared and instantly

updated, the question becomes: Where do you center all this stuff?

If cataloged by Microsoft Office suites or some infinitely cheaper,

yet capable, shareware, probably much of the day-to-day stuff can

be based in the boss’s own system. The rest can be farmed reliably

to an outsource server, which can daily update, tend, and reshuffle

the data on demand. Costs are minimal, particularly compared with

the necessary hardware purchases required for in-house storage.

In choosing such a such an outside web host, Cortes advises,

"Support

is the main issue. Be it a web host, or shareware vs. Microsoft, you

get the support system you pay for." Generally a local web host

physically nearby proves best. In any case, make sure dedicated backup

is part of the contract.

Ingram proffers one final caveat. "It’s fun to play with

technical toys. But the real question you have to keep asking yourself

is what works best for you? Some transfers will always be best made

on paper. The whole concept of `multimedia’ is to provide you choices,

not to make you conform to a system."

Top Of Page
Genetic Engineering: The Ethical Side

Right here, right now in central New Jersey, scientists

are working on genetically manipulating mice and pigs to achieve new

breakthrough in medical technology and drug development.

Mice and pigs — no problem there for most of us. But, as Princeton

University biologist Lee M. Silver points out, sooner or later

the object of scientific inquiry will be the genetic alteration of

people. Sooner or later, Silver predicts, geneticists will be able

to genetically modify human embryos so that children can be born with

new genes that were not present in either parent.

Silver will address some of the ethical implications on Thursday,

October 18, at the 10 a.m. meeting of 55 Plus at the Jewish Center

of Princeton, 435 Nassau Street. The non-sectarian 55 PLus is an

informal

group of retired men or those with flexible work hours. It meets on

the first and third Thursdays of each month from September through

May. For information call 609-737-2001 or E-mail joelmay@yahoo.com

Silver’s topic has the same title as his recent book: "Remaking

Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning will Transform the American

Family."

"It all boils down to two strong desires," Silver said in

a 1999 interview with U.S. 1, "the desire to have one’s own

biological

children, and the desire to `advantage’ one’s children as much as

possible."

Comparing biotech to transportation, Silver says that this decade

marks the birth of biotechnology. Two hundred years ago, horses were

the major means of transportation, and now mankind is almost ready

to land on Mars. Given that amazing improvement, it is hard to imagine

where biotechnology will be in 200 years.

For those who object to repro-genetics on ethical or religious

grounds,

Silver points out the similarities between the polio vaccine and a

genetic vaccine. Almost everyone gets the polio vaccine, so why can’t

the genetic vaccine be made available? Would it be wrong for parents

to give their child a gene (say, an anti cystic fibrosis gene) that

some other child gets naturally?

Everyone is going to draw the line in a different place, and curing

fatal diseases will obviously get more support than upgrading IQs.

Possible uses of repro-genetics:

To eliminate serious childhood diseases such as cystic

fibrosis, Tay Sachs, and muscular dystrophy. "Even the Vatican

approves of this," says Silver.

To eliminate the predisposition to less serious or adult

diseases such as cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, or

asthma.

Some people would allow the pre-birth elimination of cystic fibrosis

but would insist on treating asthma with drugs after birth.

To enhance health attributes beyond the normal: to select

for AIDS resistance, longevity, and resistance to senility.

To give advantages far beyond health such as mental

acuity,

physical beauty, or perfect pitch.

Another ethical quagmire is the conflict between liberty and

justice, whether rich families should be allowed to

"advantage"

their children genetically when poorer families cannot. "Is it

wrong to start life with a huge advantage that other families can’t

afford?" asks Silver. His answer: It’s the American way, and it

is going to happen, whether or not ethicists approve. Rich families

send their children to the best schools and give them every advantage.

Meanwhile poor families can’t afford to buy their children a computer.

"If it is right for after birth — why not before?" he

asks.

However, principles of social equality might lead society to reject

the use of a technology that could greatly widen the gap between

affluent

and non-affluent people and societies.

Silver is a Professor at Princeton University in the Department of

Molecular Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and

International

Affairs. He graduated from Harvard University with a Ph.D. in

biophysics.

His book has been published in 15 languages. Dr. Silver was a member

of the New Jersey Bioethics Commission Task Force formed to recommend

reproductive policy for the New Jersey State Legislature, and has

testified on reproductive and genetic technologies before

Congressional

committees.


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