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Comment Uploading grants is literally my job. (Score 4, Informative) 256

I am an Administrative Official for a large organization. Uploading grants is literally a major part of my job. (As a research scientist, I also write my own grants - so I understand this from several angles.)

The argument that open standards should be used is a fair one, but it is missing the bigger picture here. The vast majority of grants (NIH, NSF, Veterans Affairs, DoD, etc.) are SF-424 NIH standard packages obtained through Grants.gov and submitted by an AO such as myself, not by the applicant. Very few grants require the person authoring them to be the signing official who agrees on behalf of the organization to administer funds if the grant is successful. The vast majority of the applicants therefore route grants through a corporate or University network, where Windows (and to a lesser degree OS X - I'm a Mac user myself) predominate. In all of these cases, the organization will be providing the tools necessary - Acrobat is handed out like candy in my organization. It's part of the corporate image for all computers. Using Acrobat forms streamlines and simplifies submission for 99% of the applicants. The government is not going to change this to address a few edge cases.

The suggested alternative - web forms - is laughable. It might be good for one person, but in an average submission cycle I am sending 10-15 grants with widely varying requirements including esoteric formatting issues, hard-coded naming conventions, and etc. - not to mention that the typical grant includes dozens of required components and attachments, each with set formatting restrictions. It is hard enough to comb through an assembly SF-424 package to check for errors prior to submission as it is. If I had to manually upload each of these grants, one at a time, one piece at a time, into a web forms system, I would not be able to do my job. Period.

Post-submission, forms are processed by a clunky system in eRA Commons, then get referred to Grants.gov for eventual routing to the reviewing agency. The system has a series of automated checks built in to verify that the package is complete before it is assembled. This requires the various bits and pieces to be separate documents, as they are in an Acrobat package (and it is a package, with embedded attachments, not a flat PDF). This process is flaky and fragile enough as it is. Web forms are not going to improve the process, but they certainly would increase the workload for the AO by about 1000% and would definitely increase the error rate. This is also ignoring the fact that the forms are modular, in that some sections (like the budget) are only inserted as needed, and the necessity of being able to assemble and pre-check these things offline precludes any kind of web form system. The article writer is being intentionally obtuse and a bit naive here to make a shallow argument in favor of open standards. Heart is in the right place but reality is being ignored here.

Tl;dr version: it's hard. We do the best we have with the tools provided. Just be glad Grants.gov didn't decide to use InfoPath instead of Acrobat.

Comment Re:Ask Comcast? That's rich (Score 1) 349

Connectivity issues and network lag for streaming, plus, modem wasn't getting any response from upstream servers, and was logging errors because of it. Tech wanted to send someone to the house to "do an update". I had to tell her that DOCSIS modem updates cannot be applied by end users and must be pushed down the network, from their end, so I wasn't going to take a day off work and pay a tech for a home visit when it wouldn't help the issue. Plus, it's my damn modem, not theirs. Tech was (a) shocked that I owned the modem - she didn't think we could do that - and (b) was unfamiliar with Roku, Netflix, and at least three other very common streaming devices/services. Plus she's telling me that network congestion was the problem with my streaming, as I was looking at the bandwidth test telling me the connection was wide open. This was just before Netflix blinked and paid Comcast for better speed. The company was flat denying any traffic shaping was occurring. Gee weird it works better all of a sudden.

Comment Ask Comcast? That's rich (Score 3, Insightful) 349

Last time I had to talk to anyone in the company I had to explain to the tech how DOCSIS modems worked. You will never get an individual from that company on the phone who knows enough to give you a real answer. Turnover is too high in call centers, and people who know the answer are not on support phone detail.

Comment Re: Long live openwrt (Score 1) 241

My WRT54G is a Rev. 1 model. Tomato, running strong. I use it as a secondary these days, with an Asus RT-N16 as primary (for gigabit throughput on the LAN). Also have a Rev. 4 set up, currently using it as an emergency backup should either of the others crap out on me.

The Rev 1 was picked up for $1 at a yard sale, the Rev 4 was a freebie from a friend. Never underestimate the possibilities older hardware can offer if you know how to dump the stock firmware.

Comment Well... (Score 5, Insightful) 547

The only possible way to survive is to develop a niche. Streaming services are usually pretty good for recent movies, but a lot of back catalogue stuff is hard to find. Specialize in the stuff that's out of print, rare, etc. But really, I'm hard-pressed to see how that business model would be sustainable as a primary income source in most communities. There simply isn't enough demand for the content, especially given the huge amount of material available through Netflix's mail catalogue.

Comment Re:Only if you've had your brain injected... (Score 1) 77

Biggest issue with the technique right now is selective targeting. To do it you need to know the promoter sequence for a gene of interest, and it has to be small enough to be packaged into the viral vector along with the channelrhodopsin (to activate neurons) or halorhodopsin (to inactivate neurons, responds to yellow rather than blue wavelengths). For many genes the promoters are either not well characterized or too big, which is why so much of the current work in optogenetics is being done in mice - we have the genome mapped out and can easily generate transgenics to avoid the use of viral approaches. I really wish we could do this in rats as easily as in mice. My entire lab is having to switch over from rats to mice for some planned studies and grants, because the tools just aren't as mature in rats. And it's expensive as hell to get up and running... And mice are cheaper than rats. (Lasers are expensive too... Our lab is going with the LEDs, but the original work was all lasers.)

About a year ago I did the trip to Stanford to see how this is done... I mean, seriously people. Have you ever actually SEEN a mouse with laser beams shooting into its head? It's what we always expected science would look like when we were kids.

Comment Re:OfficeMetro and WinMetro can DIAF (Score 1) 711

I work in a US government facility. Today I got a message telling us we need to take some training for the upcoming transition to Windows 7 and Office 2010. We've been stuck on WinXP / IE7 forever precisely because they were scared of Vista, and that delayed the move to 7. I've already been told that they have zero interest in implementing Windows 8. By the time our IT people upgrade again, MS will be releasing Office 16.

Comment Re:Lol (Score 1) 711

Yet LaTeX persists because people in academia find that it fits their needs better.

People in certain fields of academia. I've worked with people in a lot of academic research fields - statistics, Alzheimer's research, behavioral neuroscience, energy expenditure, circadian biology, food science, etc. I've been employed at three major research universities and a government research facility. I haven't ever worked with anyone who used LaTeX. 99% use Word; the single exception I can think of prefers Pages. My colleagues include people who spend half their time in SPSS or R, and I do a reasonable amount of scripting to automate data file processing, but nobody I know has bothered with LaTeX. Comp sci and engineering folks might use LaTeX. But even leaving out social sciences, "academia" encompasses a whole lot more than comp sci and engineering. If you want to collaborate with anyone outside of the limited circle who use LaTeX, you're going to be using Word, or dealing with those who do.

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