Bluetooth is king of new technology

News-DemocratJanuary 13, 2014 

Why is the wireless technology that we use with our cell phones called "Bluetooth"? Why not "Red-ear" or "Green-dial" or something associated with telephones? -- M.H., of Belleville

You just never know what you might learn while you're drowning your sorrows in a few cold, frosty ones. That's how Intel engineer Jim Kardach discovered an ancient Scandinavian king named Bluetooth, which eventually led to one of the world's best-known trademarks.

In the mid-1990s, a number of companies were developing a means of linking various devices (phones, computers, headsets, etc.) through short-range radio. Intel initially called its program "Biz-RF"; the Ericsson company in Sweden was working on a similar idea called "MC-Link."

But on a business trip to Toronto, both Kardach and Ericsson's Sven Mathesson had their ideas "firmly rejected" by a group of other companies developing the same thing. So Jim and Sven did the only thing left to them: They went pub-crawling on a blustery winter night.

"Being a big history fan, I would trade stories of history with Sven," Kardach wrote in a 2008 issue of Electronics Eetimes.

"Now Sven knew lots about radios, but not too much about history. But he had read this book called "The Long Ships" by Frans G. Bengtsson and would relate the history through this story."

The book follows a couple of Danish warriors as they travel the world looking for adventure. And what Scandinavian monarch were they swashbuckling for? Why, none other than King Harald Blatand, who reigned from 940 to 985 -- and whose name became translated in English as "Bluetooth."

(Don't worry, the name didn't describe the state of his teeth. Blatand referred to his dark hair, which apparently was unusual for Vikings.)

Then, serendipitously when Kardach returned home, he found a book he had ordered waiting for him -- "A History of the Vikings" by Gwyn Jones.

"Thumbing through the book, I found this picture of a giant rock -- or runic stone -- which depicted the chivalry of Harald Bluetooth, the guy Sven had just told me about!"

Obviously, the incidents coming so close together left a deep impression on Kardach. So when Intel, Ericsson and Nokia met in Sweden to form a Special Interest Group (SIG) in late 1996, Kardach suggested that it be called "Bluetooth" until marketers came up with a name that better described the technology.

Harald Bluetooth, Kardach explained, was known for uniting dissonant Danish tribes into a single kingdom, introducing them to Christianity as well. Similarly, Kardach thought, the technology companies were trying to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

In any case, the name stuck, probably because it is both memorable and, as you suggest, a little odd. Even the Bluetooth logo is steeped in history: It's a symbol that merges Blatand's/Bluetooth's initials from an ancient Scandinavian alphabet -- the runes Hagall and Bjarkan.

Something I've always wondered about: How do your newspaper vending machines know when I've put in enough coins so that the door opens? -- G.N., of Belleville

It's really quite simple, says John Grove, the News-Democrat's vice president of audience and operations, who has been working with the gizmos for as long as he can remember.

As you drop quarters into a slot, they slide down and start to stack one on top of the other. When they reach a certain height -- as predetermined by the number of quarters needed -- the machine works its magic.

When you pull on the door, the latch pushes up the quarters.

"They hit a bar, which causes resistance, which then allows the quarters to push the latch down. Then, the door opens up (and the quarters drop into the coin box)."

That's why you can't get by with 75 cents for a $1 paper, because three quarters aren't tall enough to activate the latch. And the mechanism is easily adjustable to quickly switch between the daily and more expensive Sunday papers.

Newer, more complex machines apparently can scan coins by size and metallic properties to determine what it is. Then you keep feeding the coins until the machine calculates that you've reached the purchase price. Machines that take paper money may use ultraviolet light or a magnetic scan to determine which bill has been inserted.

Today's trivia

How did Jimmy Stewart get his voice to crack so convincingly in the filibuster scene in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: If you guessed the New York Yankees as the pro sports team with the most retired numbers, you'd be kind of close -- but wrong. As it turns out, no team has honored more of its athletes than the Boston Celtics, which has retired 21 or 22 numbers depending how you count them. Jim Loscutoff, who led the Celts to their first NBA title in 1957, asked that his No. 18 not be retired, but it finally was in 1981 after the great Dave Cowens retired. By comparison, the Yankees have retired 17 numbers -- including No. 8 in 1972 for both Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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