Because of the importance of pictures in low-dimensional topology, communicating electronically with with collaborators, students, etc., has some special challenges. (Not that other mathematicians have it easy — I’d hate to have send lots and lots of equations via email.)
Here’s some useful tools/ideas for dealing with this, some of which I use myself, and others which I’ve only heard about.
The first set is for communicating images while talking on the phone (or Skype, etc.)
- Web whiteboards allow several people to sketch things with the mouse so that all can see the results. The one I use, at Jordan’s suggestion, is Vyew. Personally, the problem is that I can’t draw fluently with a mouse. I have a Wacom tablet, but I don’t use it enough to get past the look-at-the-screen-not-my-hand issue. These things work much better, I’m told, with a tablet computer or a Cintiq, but these aren’t cheap and I’ve never sprung for one.
- Do a video chat, draw on a piece of paper and hold it up to the camera. Tara Brendle says that this work ok.
- In Dublin, Noel Brady mentioned eBeam, which turns an ordinary whiteboard into a giant electronic slate. (They also have a version that works in conjunction with a projector.) Not cheap, starting at about $800.
For emailing pictures, one can always draw on a sheet of paper and then scan it in. This works pretty well; my department’s photocopiers have a neat feature where they’re email you a PDF instead of making a paper copy. The results look good and the file size is very small, so much so that I’ve started scanning all my lecture notes.
Finally, if you use a Mac, you need Skitch. It’s a little program that allows you to effortlessly grab anything off the screen, annotate it with some simple drawing tools, and export as PNG, PDF etc. Rather that try to describe why it’s just so useful, watch the 3 minute demo.
The topology groups at Iowa and LSU apparently have a regular electronically joint seminar, using some software created by the NSF. Some day I’ll have to see it in action.