Breakfast with Evie

I had a delightful experience this morning before I left for work: having breakfast with my granddaughter, Evelyn.

There was a time when this wouldn’t be such a remarkable event. For most of human history, families typically lived in close proximity across several generations. In many cases, extended families might live under the same roof.

The mobility made possible by the internal combustion engine brought many benefits, but one of downsides from a parental perspective is that children grow up and move away instead of raising their kids close to home. We’re happy for the opportunities, but we miss our babies (and their babies).

I’m now starting to appreciate the bittersweet moments we created for my parents when my wife Lisa and I moved to the Twin Cities (100 miles away) in the late 1980s, taking our two children with us in pursuit of gainful employment. And when we moved back home to Austin in 1994, with two more little girls (one of whom turned 20 today!) and a baby boy on the way, it was really special to be able to be close to their grandparents.

Still, during that eight-year period, I think my parents probably got to see our kids about every six weeks or so.

Now my two oldest kids are married, and my daughter Rachel and her husband have moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Kyle is going to seminary. They have two children, Evelyn and Judah. Anyone who has been in one of my presentations has been introduced indirectly to Evie.

But I see Evie and Judah much more frequently than my parents saw our kids, even though we’re about 500 miles away.

This morning I had a really special experience that illustrates the power of technology to strengthen those family bonds weakened by distance. Through the magic of Skype (and I do mean magic), I had breakfast with Evie (click photos to enlarge):

Evie was having a bowl of oatmeal at her table in Grand Rapids at 8 a.m. her time, while I had my gluten-free Corn Chex at 7 a.m. my time in Austin, a nine-hour drive away.

For us, though, her breakfast with “Bapa Eeee” was just like being directly across the table from each other. And I think I speeded up her eating, because when Grandpa took a bite, so did she:

What applications can you see to enrich your life and work by using free videoconferencing?

Privacy begins at home

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Last week when I was in the Netherlands (See “Putting the ‘Global’ in SMUG”) I had the opportunity on Wednesday to help lead a couple of master classes on Web 2.0 for health care communicators from UMC Radboud, one of six academic medical centers in the Netherlands, in Nijmegen.

I often like to demonstrate Skype and its videoconferencing capabilities (and the fact that it’s FREE) in my presentations. It’s one thing to say, “Skype is like the video phone in The Jetsons.” That gets heads nodding. But it’s entirely different to show just how easy and cool it is. So I have sometimes Skyped with my daughter Rachel and granddaughter Evelyn, and also have done videoconferences with Darrin Nelson (a Mayo patient from Rochester, NY who shared his story about robotic heart surgery here, here, here and here on Sharing Mayo Clinic.) In those cases I had sent messages on Facebook (for Rachel) or Twitter (for Darrin) to arrange the times for our conversations and to ensure that they would be available.

Our Wednesday morning master class in Nijmegen went off flawlessly, as @JohnSharp and @CiscogIII and I tag-teamed as teachers, but in the afternoon they had to head back to Amsterdam, so I was on my own (along with my host, Lucien Engelen.)

I was doing fine until I got to the reference in my slides to Skype, and then I got what I thought was a great idea: I went to Skype and saw that my lovely wife, Lisa, was on-line.

So (on the spur of the moment, not to mention a classic case of y-chromosome poisoning), I decided to just “surprise” Lisa with a Skype call without advance warning. I’ll let the Facebook conversation she started tell the rest (click to enlarge):






Lesson Learned: Privacy isn’t just something to be concerned about from a HIPAA perspective. It begins at home.

And a special note of thanks to Lucien for providing his own peace offering (although he personally had done nothing to offend), in the form of this beautiful bouquet of roses, pictured below next to my now fully showered bride of nearly 25 years.

Picture 11

Skype Videoconference Tutoring

I first experimented with Skype when I stayed at a hotel in central Wisconsin in which there was no cell phone reception. It was a great way to avoid the obscene per-minute charges for the hotel’s phone service.

I haven’t really needed it since then. Until today, when I wanted to set up a videoconference for tomorrow. We have a videoconferencing unit at work, and when I called an external collaborator to get the IP address for her videoconferencing service, she replied, “We just always use Skype.”

While we were still on the phone, I downloaded Skype on my (relatively) new MacBook Pro and signed in using my previously established account. Within a minute or so I got a message telling me that videoconferencing was enabled using my built-in iSight camera. A few seconds later we were talking face-to-face.

My main point in writing this post is to call your attention to Skype if you haven’t used it previously. I expect to be using it all day tomorrow for a videoconference (which will be free, like everything else you see here.) And when my daughter and her husband move to California next year with our first grandchild (who’s due in September), I’m sure we’ll be videoconferencing regularly.

But meanwhile, if you’re a SMUG student and would like to have a “Chat with the Chancellor” for some videoconference tutoring, send me an e-mail (leeaase at and we can arrange virtual office hours.