Tracking nature's forces

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Roger Frost looks at a weather monitor that's a joy to use

Kestrel 4000 Pocket Weather Tracker. AU Enterprises Ltd, pound;335 complete with PC interface. Tel: 01707 266714. www.advisory-unit.org.uk

On a fine, warm afternoon you could be forgiven for wondering why anyone needs a pocket weather monitor. However, today it's not so warm. In fact, according to the Kestrel 4000, it's 15 degrees Celsius and the wind is blowing at 3 ms metres per second, peaking at 5 ms. With the help of this weather tracker you can also find out the altitude, air pressure and humidity, as well as the dew point, heat index, wind chill and wet-bulb temperature. To cap it all off, it can record all these every couple of hours over a 20 day period. I'm yet to come across a unit that does even half of this as easily.

Having only needed to read the leaflet once and use guess-work thereafter, makes this is my idea of technology. The key to the ease of use is a four-direction keypad and a "do" button. It's bit like fumbling with a mobile phone. For example, you can scroll through all the weather parameters and look at several screens of readings. You'll also see a bar graph of the last 250 readings and you can skip through these to see any actual value. A single button is all you need to take a snapshot of the weather. It's a joy to use.

While computer devices normally need to be in the right "mood" to do anything, there are no big moods or modes here. If you delve deeper you can set the unit to take readings automatically every few seconds or after anything up to two hours. When set to record every hour the batteries last months, because the unit shuts itself off to save power.

If you want to get this data into your PC, you put the handset into a docking unit and run a piece of software. Unfortunately, this is a primitive text window through which you see your data roll as it saves to an Excel readable file.

I think most of us, especially students, will need something that helps to draw charts and analyse the data. Seeing how weather changes is the whole point of it and for that you need some weather software.

Some may have this, but without it you and your students are on your own.

This makes the Kestrel feel unfinished, but apart from this it beats anything you could borrow from a science department. There are good reasons for this: it measures lots of things at the same time, the battery life suits the need and it's built for the task.

The Kestrel will mostly suit geographers, information and communication technologists and anyone who likes the outdoors.

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