Open vs Closed Software

18 05 2008

In recent years, I have seen a lot of people (including myself) begin to switch from proprietary/closed products & services to the more ‘open’ alternatives. Now more then ever there is a strong push for companies across the globe to move toward open standards. Unsurprisingly however, many of the big corporations are reluctant do so.

Since this issue keeps popping up, I figured I should give a shot at outlining the pros and cons of both Open & Closed source software. Hopefully this will help developers make an informed decision on what’s best for them, and users can decide which type of software they would rather support the development of.

Open Source
PROS:
Expedited Development (large diverse group of programmers available to contribute to the program at almost any given time, usually at no cost other than a mention in the credits)
Freedom & Creativity (Programmers are able to focus on contributing their own ideas to their own area(s) of expertise rather than following a predefined design set out by an employer. Also speeds up development)
Minimal Development Costs (a community of programmers contribute their own section of code, usually free of charge)
Ongoing Updates & Improvements (new features and improvements are constantly being added on by developers, helping to ensure a bug free stable software platform that is also feature-full)
Many users prefer open source software over closed software (as it is usually free without DRM restrictions, and is also open for additions or customizations to the program to fit the user’s needs

CONS:
Loss of commercial value, hard to make profit from (a part from donations)
Can lead to loss of quality standards (e.g. a contributor to the program could add something very useful, but may leave out basic components like a user friendly GUI. In other words, contributors/programmers are faced with less expectations/requirements than they would be in a company environment)
Loss of control (companies who release their software under Open Source licenses give almost full control of the software development to the community of users & developers, making it difficult to keep development under control and making sure it fits the company’s image and doesn’t hurt its reputation)
Software may end up being a series of pieces rather than a whole puzzle

Closed Source
PROS:
Control (Gives developer(s) complete control over the software development. Developer(s) can still take in suggestions from users, but aren’t compelled to add certain features if they are viewed as unnecessary or unwanted, also gives more control over quality standards and overall design)
Profit (Better chance of earning profit through sales & making the software a business success)
Gives developer(s) more control over how the software is distributed
Complete Puzzle (Program is whole, complete & uniform rather than a composition of several different pieces of code)

CONS:
Significant Development Costs (Time = Money! Programmers and program designers have to be hired rather than having a community full of programmers volunteer for the project)
Longer Development Times (As I said earlier, Time = Money. With less programmers on the project and more standards, restrictions, and guidelines set by the company, development can take much longer)
Users must work with what the program has rather than making the program work with what they have (Users are forced to work around the limitations of the software instead of having the option to extend or manipulate the software’s code to make improvements, customizations, or other custom changes)

Bottom line: If you are a developer and you want to make money off your software, Open Source is probably not the way to go unless you want to live off donations. On the other hand if money isn’t your ultimate goal but you want your program to be a great success, Open Source could be the key to promoting the project and gaining public interest.

If you’re a user, Open Source on many levels is a better alternative to the costly commercial software out there. For example, instead of paying $900 for Photoshop, consider The GIMP as a free alternative with almost as many features with a unique creative user interface for accomplishing tasks. However it is sometimes advantageous to have the commercial (closed) product for compatibility, stability, and/or tech support reasons.

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Medical Triage Ethics

10 05 2008

Being a physician must be a tough profession, especially if you’re working in the ER. I wouldn’t know, but I can’t imagine there is anything worse than talking to someone one minute, and then watching their dead corpse shrivel up a moment later. And then to have that happen on a daily or even hourly basis is probably not something the majority of us could ever deal with.

Unfortunately, it comes with the job. It’s just something doctors have to find their own way of dealing with. But what is also unfortunate is that it’s not always death that is the most disturbing or traumatic part of being in the medical profession, it’s often the decisions that need to be made which can and do lead to death(s).

Medical Triage
A term that originated on the battlefield, triage is the evaluation of patient conditions for urgency and seriousness, and establishment of a priority list for multiple patients.

Every hospital is faced with triage everyday. It’s the process of deciding the order in which to treat patients. Most of the time this task is relatively straight forward; if someone is bleeding to death, it’s obvious they should be given treatment ahead of someone with a broken thumb or injured muscle.

But what happens in a crisis? What if all of a sudden twenty patients of varying ages flood the ER needing immediate medical treatment in order to survive, how do you decide who to save?

At this point you could say it’s logical to treat the children first because they have only just begun life, and are essentially the future of our society. On the other hand you could say children are much weaker, and it would be more effective to tend to someone who may respond better to treatment. But what happens if you let a child survive but not their parents? By doing that, you would be destroying a family and potentially ruining a child’s life. And by saving the parents you are denying treatment to others (possibly other children) who would have otherwise survived. And by not treating the parents nor the children, you could be wiping the family’s future existence off the face of the earth, just like that.

That’s tough.

To make matters worse, lets say you have come across two patients of a similar age and you can only save one of them. Then what? Do you save the one on the left because he’s closer, or the one on the right because he wears a Rolex? How on earth do you decide… Flip a coin? Roll a die?

If you decide not to treat either, and instead move on to one of the many other equally ill patients; is that fair? Is it fair to deny a patient’s treatment simply because it was too hard to decide which one to save? What if you knew one of them? Sure, that would make the decision easier in the short term… but what about the long term guilt of indirectly causing the death of a mother or father because you decided to save Mr. Drunk from the party you went to last weekend.

My point is: what do you think is the best way of rationing out treatment to patients needing immediate medical care if normal determining factors (such as age, vital signs or previous medical history) can’t be used to fairly give priority to one patient over another?

I’m sure some would prefer if the doctor made the decision based on instinct, others may rather trust their fate with a computer’s random output.. but one of the more interesting concepts I’ve heard is the idea of having a computer make the choice based on the patient’s calculated success or achievements (based on factors such as occupation, annual income or credit rating).

Bottom line: I know, you are probably sick with an overdose of rhetorical questions by now, but this is one topic I am really curious to see what people have to say. Please leave a comment below, and tell us what you think is the appropriate method of triage when two similarly aged patients with equal chances of survival need treatment.





Evolution

22 04 2008

I want to set the record straight from the start. Whether you believe all life evolved from a unicellular organism, or that a god or gods created us and everything around us, I am not here to dispute either claim. That is for you to decide on your own, and I’m not about to start a ‘Does God Exist?’ debate for this article’s discussion.

However what I am going to discuss is the fact that a species can evolve through the process of natural selection, and whichever belief you hold, this is not a fact that can be disputed.

Case Study:
A very recent study shows that the average length of elephant tusks has shrunk significantly over the past 50 years. This is the result of poachers hunting the elephants with large tusks for their valuable ivory. Over a period of only fifty years, elephant tusks have now become stereotypically shorter which makes them less appealing to poachers for hunting.

This is a classic example of how the logic of evolution of species through natural selection works. It’s the concept of how there are always variations of species (e.g. short or long tail, blonde or black hair, short or long fur, etc.) and some of these variations will allow certain organisms to survive better than others, and long enough to reproduce several offspring with the same or similar advantageous characteristics.

Example: It is only logical that giraffes with short necks will find it hard to find food and many of them will end up dying off from starvation. Meanwhile, their long-necked counterparts are thriving. In the end, it is the long-necked giraffes which are more actively reproducing off-spring and outliving the short-necked of the species. Eventually over time, the short-necked giraffes will become such a small group that they may eventually cease to exist.

What I’m trying to get at in this article is basically I am sick and tired of the people out there who down-right deny the concept of evolution through natural selection altogether.
Yes, I can’t say for absolute certainty whether we did in fact all evolve from a single cell. Yes, I can say there are missing links and a lack of proof to support either side of the story. But the fact is, nobody can say species don’t evolve.

Final thoughts: It’s up to you whether you want to believe one theory or another, but it is impossible to completely deny that species evolve over time. Whether we all evolved from a single cell, or if we had help from a supernatural force to get where we were some thousands of years ago is uncertain, and there is a lack of concrete proof on both sides of the argument. However we can’t deny that since human records have existed, evolution has occurred.





Alien Life

10 04 2008

The universe is massive. In fact it is so extensive; we have no idea where it ends, or if it even ends at all. Within this large expanse we have discovered so many planets, star systems and galaxies, that it would be very naive and arrogant of us to consider ourselves the ‘centre of the universe’ in the context of being the only planet able to sustain life.

Scientists have already estimated some 50 billion galaxies to exist just within visible range of modern day telescopes. Each one of these galaxies has as many as hundreds of billions of stars, most likely with their own solar system of orbiting planets.

Let us be conservative in our estimations and say there are only 10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten million billion) planets in the universe. It is extremely difficult to believe that only 1 planet out of those ten million billion has an atmosphere that can support life.

Even if no other planet in the universe could sustain life as we know it, this does not exclude the possibility of life existing in other forms that we cannot yet detect, see, or begin to understand. And let us not forget that the universe is so great that if alien life were to exist, the chances are it would be so distant from our world that it would be impossible for us to physically transport anything to their world using current space technology.

Even sending a radio signal which travels at 300,000 kilometres per second (the speed of light) could take decades or centuries before it reaches the planet of alien inhabitants. The chances of such life forms even receiving the signal, knowing how to interpret it, and then sending a signal back is virtually non-existent.

Such alien life forms could have also designed alternative communication technologies which we do not pick-up when scanning for radio frequency signals. Itis also important to realize that the alien life might be too primitive to even design and operate radio frequency communication technology.

Final thoughts: The existence of alien life is more than just a possibility; it is a theory with overwhelming certainty. Whether we will ever be able to communicate or seek-out such life is yet to be seen, and it is unlikely to happen for at least the next couple of decades, if at all during our life time.