The Portal

I’ve been starting to get a lot more work done from home as I’ve started to feel a little better. However communicating via email and phone with lab peeps started to make me feel a little disengaged. One of my postdocs suggested using Skype to talk to people, but I had resisted since my previous experience with Skype was a few years ago when I was using it to video chat with my mom in Mexico or for the kids to see their cousins in other cites. The problem was that the video was always choppy so you got to see updates about once every two seconds, the sound echoed, was disembodied-like, and it would often crash. Plus the kids would always fight to get in front of the camera leading to screaming, punching and crying. It was never a pleasant experience. A perfect example of technology getting in the way. So I said fuck it.

But my postdoc insisted, so I updated my version and asked the lab folks to install it in one of the centrally located computers in the lab. I have to say that the software is much improved. Whenever I need to talk to someone in the lab, I just call in (apparently the ringtone is set to some very loud Arabic pop music) and whoever is nearby answers. The people in the lab call it “The Portal”. And it’s nice, because I can really have a regular conversation with people in the lab. Normally I used to drop by the lab to see what’s everyone was doing, and I can do that now with people lining up to chat about their projects or whatever. I also stay logged in when I’m online so if anyone needs to “drop by” to talk they can. I can also have regular meetings to share and discuss data. Lab folks have started to make fun of my different locations, since I’m always sitting in a different sofa or easy chair at home working on my laptop, and I’m beginning to feel a little bit like the Bond villain Blofeld, transmitting orders sitting in his leather chair from some hidden volcano hideout. All I need is to have a white Persian cat on my lap to gently stroke while I plot my world domination. It’s definitely nice to be to some degree part of the daily banter and life of the lab again, even if it’s just through the portal. Plus I can pop in at random times to see who’s working and who’s goofing off.

Does anybody use similar software to teleconference? Maybe something where you can share a slide presentation or a computer screen while retaining the video chat. Skype I think works great, but I’m curious what else is out there. Maybe a 3D superportal?

Oh, can I borrow someone’s cat?

Supervising my lab from my secret hideaway...

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10 Responses to The Portal

  1. CoR says:

    Get a toy cat, insist that it’s real.

  2. brooksPhD says:

    Dude that’s awesome!

    My grad school PI would randomly call while away at conferences to make sure we were in the lab. With Skype it’s much harder to BS “Oh, yeah, he’s here, but he’s just patching a new cell, he’ll call you back..*ahem*”

  3. Kristi says:

    I researched a bunch of different teleconferencing software recently, and Skype ended up being the easiest (plus, it’s free). The screen-sharing capabilities on Skype are not as awesome as some of the other software programs, but it’s decent for a quick look through of someone’s slides, and really, I think it’s the easiest program out there.

    Also, yay for being more connected to the lab!

  4. gerty-z says:

    That is awesome! It is great that you are able to interact more with your lab peeps. I can’t help on other software–but surely there has to be a big market for this kind of thing. There is also this, so you could have a mobile portal:

    And definitely get a fake cat. CoR = genius

  5. Bob O'H says:

    The Beast offered his services if you promise to feed him whenever he wants food. TBH, I doubt you’re rich enough to take him up on his offer.

  6. odyssey says:

    You need a cat, but you what would be better? A Mini-Me!

  7. Dr Becca says:

    Have you tried gmail video chat? That’s what I usually use, and though I’m not sure, it seems like there must be a way for it to link up with Google Docs. It is Google, after all.

  8. Dr. O says:

    I seem to remember Arlenna saying that she video chatted with her lab when she was out on maternity leave. Skype is great, though. I just wish my mom could block her former experience with it (similar to what you described) so that she could better keep in touch with her grandson!

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