All Tech: Considering T-Mobile And Miley Cyrus

For this week's installment of All Tech Considered, host Michele Norris talks with Omar Gallaga, technology culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, about computer software that will measure your home's energy efficiency, a recent setback for T-Mobile and users of its Sidekick phone, and why Miley Cyrus is using YouTube to tell fans she's quit Twitter.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Sounds pretty cool. Well, let's find out a bit more about how all that technology works. And for that and more, I'm joined as we are most Monday's by Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman in Texas. Hello Omar, good to talk to you.

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Hi, Michele. Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Now, David just mentioned something called the Building Dashboard. Tell me a little bit more about the software and how close we might be to seeing something like this next door?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, that's made by a company called Lucid Design Group and it's primarily designed for universities and municipal buildings. It's not really - they're just now starting to kind of integrate that into homes and into pilot projects. But it is - it's real time energy consumption information put into really colorful charts. You can see kilowatt hours converted into pounds of carbon dioxide, if you want to see your carbon footprint in the home. What's happening is we were starting to see some of that kind of technology integrate into home systems and not just new homes, also existing homes.

NORRIS: Omar, I imagine it varies from product to product, but give us a sense of how much all this costs?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, traditionally, you're talking about tens of thousands of dollars even in a medium-sized home. But what's happening in the industry is that you're seeing a lot of cheaper wireless technology start to take the place of having to tap in to home wiring. You're seeing off the shelf components used. For instance, there's a company called Savant Systems that actually uses the Apple OS and uses Mac hardware for flat panels in the homes. So, instead of having these custom built system that have custom hardware, they're using existing hardware. You're using the iPhone or the iPod Touch as the remote control instead of $1,000 remote control. So, this stuff is coming down in price and you're talking about from tens of thousand of dollars to maybe, you know, $5,000. The Savant Systems has a system called Protege that's meant to be kind of a starter kit for about $5,000 for a medium home, but that's kind of where it starts. Hopefully in the next five, ten years, we'll see this stuff go from thousands or tens of thousand of dollars to hundreds of dollars.

NORRIS: If we can, let's move on to another story that you've been watching. I understand this one has some T-Mobile customers very worried right now. What's going on?

Mr. GALLAGA: Yes, the Sidekick, a very popular mobile phone that's great for text messaging and Internet, it has had a massive server failure. Now the company that makes the Sidekick…

NORRIS: Never a good sign…

Mr. GALLAGA: Never…

NORRIS: …massive server failure, something you never want to hear.

Mr. GALLAGA: You don't want to hear that on the weekend - no, no. Danger, the company that's make the Sidekick, is owned Microsoft. They were having these server problems and over the weekend, they let customers know that some of the data that they have that's stored on the cloud, stored on the Internet - personal contacts, photos, things like that - may not be able to be recovered. So, they were warning people don't take the battery out, don't let, you know, the battery die because all that stuff may go away and not come back. And so, a lot of T-Mobile Sidekick customers were very upset, writing down by hand their…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALLAGA: …phone numbers so they don't lose them. But, you know, this points to an issue of, you know, as we're putting more and more of our personal information online, you know, if there's not a good back up for it, you know, we could lose it.

NORRIS: But cloud computing was supposed to be this wonderful, great, new technology. What does this Sidekick failure mean for that technology?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, when it's done right, you know, you have the data backed up in redundant locations. You know, if something happens at one place, it exists somewhere else. And it sounds like in this case, it was just a matter of just bad planning. And it just wasn't backed-up properly and now customers are having to suffer for that.

NORRIS: Finally Omar, before I let you go, I understand there's a big, huge tech story that you're just dying to tell me all about.

Mr. GALLAGA: Huge, Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana has quit Twitter. She had two million followers and - but she decided to give it up despite all the love. And she told everyone that was following her about it in a YouTube video.

(Soundbite of song, "Good Bye Twitter")

Ms. MILEY CYRUS (Singer): (Singing) Everything that I type, and everything that I do, all those lame gossip sites, take it and they make it news. I want my private life private, I'm done trying to please. I ain't livin' for tabloids, no, I'm livin' for me…

NORRIS: Okay, I want my private life private but I'm going to sing about it on YouTube. Something about that just does not make sense.

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah, when I quit Twitter that's how I'm going to go out, is in a rap.

NORRIS: Step away from the keyboard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALLAGA: NPR listeners, you are welcome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Omar, it's always good to talk to you.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Omar Gallaga covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman and also for All Tech Considered. Always good to talk to you, Omar.

Mr. GALLAGA: Have a great week. And we will be posting the Miley Cyrus video on the All Tech Considered blog as well as the home automation stuff at npr.org/alltech.

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