Red hot gadget

Toplikar: Laser-sighted gun tells temperature of surfaces

Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium seemed like an oven as I struggled through what seemed like a never-ending final lap.

The last I had heard it was 106 degrees – the hottest day of the year so far.

Despite the heat, several hundred of us were finishing up the 6 p.m. Red Dog’s Dog Days workout.

Heading over to find my water bottle, I stopped to talk to Don “Red Dog” Gardner.

“How … hot … is it?” I asked, catching my breath.

“At noon it was 160 on the field and 144 on the track,” he said.

“No way. … What is it now?”

He sent me over to where his wife, Beverly, and Catherine Glidewell, the chief organizers of the workouts, were sitting.

I was expecting them to have a familiar-looking mercury-style air thermometer.

Instead, Catherine brought out a pistol-shaped device that looked like a prop from a sci-fi movie.

“You just point it and press the trigger,” she said, handing it over.

Instant readings

I pointed it down and pulled the trigger. A red laser dot appeared on the track.

And instantly the temperature gun gave me a reading on its gray LCD screen: 120 degrees.

Catherine urged me to get other readings around the stadium.

With the Raytek Raynger XT-20 Temperature Gun in hand, I sauntered off over to the artificial turf.

I tried it out in the south end zone still in the sun: 112 degrees.

“This is really cool,” I called back to Beverly and Catherine.

Maybe I was just giddy from the heat, but I felt like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” If only this had “a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time.”

Non-contact readings

Most of the thermometers I was familiar with were either air thermometers or contact thermometers with probes, such as meat thermometers. And there are the medical thermometers you stick under your tongue.

But there’s another way to measure temperature, using the infrared band of the light spectrum. Tools designed to do so use a lens to take readings of the infrared energy being emitted from the surface of an object.

Non-contact IR thermometers are helpful in industry to measure extremely hot temperatures, moving objects or objects that are too dangerous or cumbersome to reach.

Related link

Such units are used by auto mechanics to work on engines, brakes or catalytic converters and by HVAC technicians to diagnose problems on heating and air conditioning systems. They also have numerous uses in food safety.

I could think of a number of uses myself around the house:

¢ Checking a steak on the grill;

¢ Seeing if the six-pack has cooled down yet;

¢ Testing the microwaved pizza before taking a bite;

¢ Measuring the driveway before doing the “hot coals” walk to get the mail.

Hot products

I found several IR thermometers online:

¢ Sears has a hand-held Craftsman model with a laser pointer (about $60) that runs off two AAA batteries. It’s supposed to give a fairly accurate measure up to six feet away. It will read temperatures from minus 58 to 518 degrees. There’s only one thing I didn’t like about it – it looked more like a calculator than a ray gun.

¢ has a pistol-style consumer model for $75 that sports a temperature range from minus 75 degrees to 1,000 degrees.

¢ Raytek has numerous pistol-type infrared thermometers, including several for use around the house. The MiniTemp MT-6 costs $99 and has an accuracy of plus or minus 3 degrees for temperatures between minus 20 and 932 degrees.

While industrial infrared thermometers aren’t made for medical use, some are.

Braun has the ThermoScan ear thermometer (about $40), for taking a child’s temperature. It can measure temperatures in the ear canal ranging from 93.2 to 108 degrees.

Exergen has a Temporal Thermometer, which scans the forehead. It has been used in Hong Kong by some employees to check people coming into work to see if they might be running a fever from the SARS virus.

Hot head

One of my fellow Dog Days survivors was near the south goal post, resting on the ground in the shade.

I walked up to him, grinning as I shot a reading from the Raytek Raynger XT-20.

“Wanna know what the temperature is on the field?”

He must have been too hot to care. He didn’t even open his eyes.

“108,” I said, moving on.

I took the gun back, reporting my readings to Beverly and Catherine.

Somehow, the heat was making me feel like a kid.

“Hey, check the top of my head,” I said leaning down.

“I07,” Beverly said, laughing.

She pointed it at my sweaty shirt.

“91. You’re not so hot, after all.”

We both laughed.

I went to get water, wondering if I should ask my wife if I could get one. But I could already imagine her response: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”