Above is the chart for Apple stocks over the time period that my lab has been operational. I’d like to think I have played some small part in that, since I’ve converted a few incoming students from the Windows world to Mac, bought a few big ones for the lab myself, and pitched the utility of having an iPhone while in Faculty Senate meetings.
More recently, to celebrate some good news (and to blow a little bit of summer salary), I bought an iPad. Yes, I’m riddled with guilt for buying a new gizmo, no matter how benign they claim the construction materials to be. I was worried that I was just going to find it as another toy, and assumed I could always sell it if it wasn’t truly being useful.
I have to say now, having had it for a month, it is actually a really nice part of my “productivity”. Administrators, please don’t laugh! I’ve been effectively paperless since getting it, reading and marking up a couple dozen PDFs, reading books (and most recently a monograph on the biology and oceanography of the Humboldt Current System), and even reading Science updates on there. I can take decent notes with the Note Taker HD app, and I’m learning how to use tools like 2Screens to give presentations - I think this will be useful for teaching, as I can annotate my cryptic slides on coalescent theory in real-time.
Of course, I could have done that with an overhead projector, but I don’t know if we even have one of those anymore....
Anyway, after getting over my bashfulness about bringing it to lab group and seminar, I find it nicely indispensable. It is more friendly to have in meetings than a laptop that you hide behind, though of course it has its limits. Then again, a laptop isn’t as easily handed to a 4-year-old as an iPad is, with nicely intuitive games and puzzles that are actually decent educational material. I wonder if any of our sequence alignment software will get ported to the iPad soon....?
Despite my profligate spending in other regards, there are some things around the lab that I’m extremely tight about. One piece of equipment I’ve always hated has been the gel documentation system. It is ridiculous how much UVP and others charge for what is basically a camera hovering over a UV transilluminator. The system I purchased when I started my lab worked OK; all we did was take pics, adjust them a bit with the software on an old Dell, and print to the laser printer if we needed. But, I grumbled about printing out each gel - why do we need all those pictures? In our line of work, we essentially only need this documentation to figure out which reactions worked (a check mark in your lab book does as well) or to put in a presentation (you would only put a photo of an agarose gel in your talk if you have nothing else interesting to say, I’m guessing). So, we phased out printing. And then the camera stopped working about a year ago, and the amount of effort it takes to find a camera that fits all the input/output requirements, and the cost of cameras that do (generally only higher-end cameras have the proper I/O, accept a UV filter, etc.), kept me frustrated. So the gel doc has remained broken, but we have come to the point where everybody working in the lab generally has a pretty good camera phone that can email images - ta da! The new gel doc era is born....now I’m wondering if there is an App for this....
I’m delighted to announce the arrival of a second salad spinner, this one purchased for $2 at Potter’s House, to the lab. We use these - with hot-glued PCR racks inside - as pre-PCR centrifuges. You can buy such things of course, Phenix Research has a small plate centrifuge for about $500 (and my refrigerated plate centrifuge for high-throughput DNA isolation and precipitation cost $15,000), but when all we need to do is get the bubbles out of our PCR mixes, the salad spinner does just fine!