ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: And it's time now for our weekly technology segment, "All Tech Considered." Joining me as always is our tech guru, Omar Gallaga. Hello, Omar.
Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Technology Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Hi, Robert. Good to be here.
SIEGEL: And as people have already noticed, you sound a little bit different. That's because when we usually talk, I'm in Washington, you're in Austin, Texas, so I can't see you. But right now, I'm looking at you, all two inches of you, thanks to a laptop computer that I have here with a Web camera.
Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah.
SIEGEL: I'm going to bring you back at better audio quality right now.
Mr. GALLAGA: Hello, Robert. How are you doing today?
SIEGEL: Hi, here's looking at you. We're talking about Webcams. Last Monday, we asked people to go to our blog and tell us how they use technology, specifically Web cameras, to stay in touch with long-distance friends and family.
Mr. GALLAGA: Right. You know, on the "All Tech Considered" community site, we got almost a hundred responses from people about how they're using Webcams and how they're communicating with loved ones all over the country, overseas. We just heard some really amazing stories about how people are harnessing this cheap, readily available technology and really keeping in touch with everyone.
SIEGEL: Yeah. And it reminded me of a personal story involving fairly low to middle tech when I was working and living in London with my wife and two daughters. We were 3,000 miles from their grandparents. Trans-Atlantic phone calls were very expensive, so we used an audio cassette machine and we sent tapes back to the grandparents. I still have them. Here's an example, Omar.
(Soundbite of vintage recording of Robert Siegel's daughters)
Ms. ERICA SIEGEL: Leah said she would like to tell you about, well, what she calls the tooth news. She says that she's got four new teeth growing back, and Leah wants to tell you a bit about that.
SIEGEL: Leah, you want to tell us more about these teeth?
Ms. ERICA SIEGEL: Do they hurt?
Ms. LEAH SIEGEL: Little bit.
SIEGEL: So you see, the test for me of what we're doing here is our means of communication from long distance. Good enough that it leaves a record with which you can embarrass your children when they grow up by hearing a fun (unintelligible) when they were two years old.
Mr. GALLAGA: You would hope so, yeah. I mean, you can keep a lot of this stuff as audio files or video files. And you know, we're - that's a big problem is where are we going to store all this stuff? But hopefully, there'll be better ways to organize all this information and keep it safe somewhere.
SIEGEL: OK. In a moment we'll talk about just how easy or inexpensive - or maybe for some of us not so easy - it is to install a Webcam. But first, we did, as you said, hear from listeners. And we called up a few of them who wrote to us and we asked them to record their Webcam stories. Let's listen.
Ms. RHONDA HERRING (Caller): My name is Rhonda Herring. I live in Hot Springs, Arkansas. My daughter became seriously ill about two years ago. We ended up spending a very extended period of time in and out of the hospital. My mother missed us. We missed her. And telephone calls just didn't quite make it. For one thing, it's really difficult to get telephone calls when you're sitting in ICU.
But through my Webcam, mother could look at Katherine in her hospital bed. She could see the equipment. She could see that Katherine was sleeping comfortably. She could see when she woke up and smiled for that first time. And it made my daughter and I feel as if we weren't in this medical nightmare completely by ourselves and helped mother feel that she was being a part of what was going on with us.
Ms. KAYTEE BUTE (Caller): My name is Kaytee Bute and I live in Ogden, Utah. And my husband is currently deployed in Afghanistan. A couple months ago, I received an email from him telling me that his base had been attacked. I was really worried. And even though he told me that he was OK, it was really hard for me to believe him. Like, I needed to see that he was safe. And so the next night, he was able to call me using Skype. And the second I saw him, I just started crying. When I saw him on the Webcam, I just had this feeling of relief wash over my body because there's just something amazing about being able to see him and know that he was not harmed. For a brief moment, I felt like I was with him again during a really difficult time.
Ms. SARAH ADAMS (High School Math Teacher, Long Beach, California): I'm Sarah Adams, and I'm 64 years old, and I teach high school mathematics in Long Beach, California.
Ms. KESTRAL ADAMS UNGER: My name is Kestral Adams Unger. I'm seven years old and I live in Hong Kong.
Ms. ADAMS: My granddaughter wanted a fancy dress for a school concert, and so I went shopping at a local store and sent them via U.S. post office mail.
Ms. UNGER: The first one I tried on was like black on the top. The other one was a green one with sparkles.
Ms. ADAMS: And she said, would you like to see me with them on? And I said, sure, that'd be great. So she put on each of the dresses and came and modeled them for me.
Ms. UNGER: It's like talking to a little person thing that has the same voice and head as your grandma or your papa.
Ms. ADAMS: It's the best thing short of a supersonic jet getting me there in person with them.
SIEGEL: That was Rachel Adams(ph) and her granddaughter Kestral Adams Unger. We also heard Kaytee Bute and Rhonda Herring, just some of the many listeners who wrote to us with their Webcam stories.