The Holy Grail of communication technology

Imagine this: You're bringing in the last of your crop; the yield monitor is ticking away, counting each bushel as it flows to the grain wagon. This yield information is automatically downloaded to the personal data assistant (PDA) in your combine. Then as you walk into your office with your PDA in hand, the information is automatically synchronized with your docked, mobile PC and you haven't even touched a button.

That is what the designers of Bluetooth wireless technology say you can expect in just a few short years. Bluetooth is basically a tiny, short-range transceiver that will be embedded in each mobile device you own (from your yield monitor to your PC) to allow the devices to talk to one another and share information. The electronic components need to be within 30 ft. of each other. Bluetooth is expected to link anything that is electrical or has computer-based technology, including tractors, monitors, grain bins, laptops, cell phones, and even toasters and coffeepots.

Industry confidence is high: IBM (one of the company backers) claims it will not produce another computer that doesn't have a Bluetooth chip in it. Some experts expect that this technology, coupled with lasers and other devices, will allow each plant in your field to talk to Bluetooth, which will then talk to your computer, which will tell you what area of the field needs water.

Bluetooth technology was created in May 1998 by Ericsson, the Swedish mobile phone and network infrastructure company, American computer companies Intel and IBM, Finnish phone company Nokia, and Japanese electronics company Toshiba. Chip makers now include industry giants such as Microsoft, Lucent Technologies and Motorola. And more than 2,000 developers are building components with Bluetooth technology.

As with many introductions, expectations were higher than what has been delivered so far. The hope was to have the product ready to do amazing feats by this year. However, problems with power consumption, usability and price developed. And the technology proved more complicated than many supporting companies expected. Still, industry analysts expect that, in a short time, problems will be solved; components will become less expensive to produce; and in about three years, a billion Bluetooth devices will be on the market.

Should you worry about cell phone radiation?

The safety of cell phones has been a topic of debate in the media lately. After a guest on a popular late-night talk show claimed his wife's brain cancer was caused by the low-power radiation emitted by her cell phone, other cancer victims soon made similar claims. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) denied these allegations but also agreed to sponsor a six-year research program to investigate whether cell phones pose any health risk.

Recently, the CTIA passed a resolution requiring that all new CTIA-certified cell phones contain information about the phone's radio-wave levels or specific absorption rates (SAR). According to the CTIA, a cell phone's maximum SAR must be less than 1.6W/kg. Phones with the highest SARs and those with the lowest rates are as follows:

Highest radiation cell phones Manufacturer and model SAR (digital)
Ericsson T28 World 1.49
Nokia 5170i 1.49
LG IC TP1100 1.4838
Nokia Digital 5160 1.45
Nokia 5170 1.45
Lowest-radiation cell phones
Motorola StarTAC 7860 0.24
Qualcomm pdQ-1900 0.2634
Mitsubishi Trium Galaxy G-130 0.35
Motorola TalkAbout 2297 0.35
Motorola ST7797 0.39
Motorola T8097 0.39
Motorola P8097 0.39

Some experts recommend that children use mobile phones for emergency calls only. Evidence shows that a cell phone's electromagnetic field penetrates more deeply into a child's head than an adult's.

However, according to Scientific American, researchers also say the only proven danger from cell phones is that they lead to higher rates of traffic accidents when used while driving.

Never miss a call while surfing

Your callers won't get a busy signal while you are on the Internet when you use the Call Waiting Switch (CWS) from Internet Home Office Gadgets (HOGS).

The CWS notifies you of incoming calls when used with the call waiting tone from your current phone service. It works in two modes. In automatic mode, the CWS automatically disconnects you from the Internet and your phone will ring. You reconnect to the Web site you were viewing when you finish your conversation.

In manual mode, the CWS will beep to notify you of the incoming call. You have 0 to 30 sec. to talk before you are disconnected from the Internet. According to HOGS, it only takes 10 to 12 sec. to answer the phone and tell your caller you'll call him or her back.

The switch has a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year warranty. Price: $100. Contact Internet HOGS, Dept. FIN, 277 Cty. Rd. 300 N., Sigel, IL 62462, 217/844-2414, www.internethogs.com or circle 194.

Electrical needs

New lines of Stanley extension cords, power strips and surge protectors will keep your shop tools, electrical appliances and computer hardware running safely.

Belkin Components, maker of the Stanley line, offers extension cords in five categories: contractor grade (has an oversized plug and a cord reel), general-purpose grade (for home or office use), outdoor grade, workshop grade and power tool grade.

The Stanley Power Protection line includes power strips and surge protectors and is available in four categories: general-purpose grade, computer grade, electronics grade and contractor grade. The contractor grade can be used almost anywhere and features hanging holes for storage, rubber outlet covers for extra safety and a system to wrap excess cord while storing. Prices range from $1.50 to $70. Contact Belkin Components, Dept. FIN, 501 W. Walnut St., Compton, CA 90220, 310/898-1100, www.belkin.com or circle 193.

New weather tools

MPower3 offers four new products to help you with crop planning.

The All-Raw Weather Data Chart includes precipitation, temperature, dew point and other basic weather parameters. It can be viewed and printed as a table or downloaded as a file. It provides the information you need to closely monitor soil moisture, irrigation needs and other crop conditions.

The Growing Degree Days Map shows degree-day trends throughout the country. You also can zero in on your region to decide if conditions are right for planting, disease or pest emergence/scouting, and other field management activities.

Hourly Regional Weather Graphics give the most up-to-date readings on winds, relative humidity, dew point, temperatures and heat index.

The Augmented North Dakota and Nebraska Weather Data use the WSI information available for these two states to provide extensive weather data for them. It also uses the hundreds of weather stations of WSI across the country to triangulate weather data specific to your field or acreage.

The company plans to add other regional weather data. Contact mPower3 , Dept. FIN, 4687 W. 18th, Greeley, CO 80634, 877/676-9373, www.mpower3.com or circle 192.