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Soon, Marketers May `Visualize' Your Phone Calls

Developments to Watch


PHONE COMPANIES ARE SITting on gold mines of information. Details about who calls whom, how long they're on the phone, and whether a line is used for fax as well as voice can be invaluable in targeting sales of services and equipment to specific customers. But these tidbits are buried under masses of unintelligible numbers.

AT&T's equipment spin-off, Lucent Technologies Inc., is using "data visualization" to bring information to life. Instead of people trying to extract meaning from columns of endless digits, a computer converts the numbers into graphics that can unmask previously hidden patterns. For example, each line in the illustration above is a call between dots, or phones. Note the island at the center. This marks a cluster of heavy callers who talked to one another a lot. Yet they made few outside calls.

The software can peel away low-volume callers, find the people who account for most calls, or display only calls that lasted more than an hour. Many marketing programs could be fine-tuned with the use of such information, says Daniel E. Fyock, technical manager in Lucent's data-visualization products group.EDITED BY OTIS PORT $by By Peter CoyReturn to top


ENGINEERS HAVE USED ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT TO ZAP BACteria in industrial wastewater for a decade. The process is expensive, though, and it doesn't kill some hardy parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia. So UV technology has yet to be used for treating drinking water. But one day, it could be--thus ending the need to lace tap water with chlorine.

Safe Water Solutions in Milwaukee, a joint venture between two pollution-control-equipment makers, one British and one American, has developed a UV-based system now under evaluation by the American Waste Water Assn. The key is a superfine filter that collects the parasites and exposes them to a longer dose of UV light than they would receive simply by flowing in water under the light source.

Another potential solution is being developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Triton Thalassic Technologies Inc. in Ridgefield, Conn. Los Alamos created a special lamp that emits just one narrow segment of the UV light spectrum. This not only saves energy, says the chairman of Triton Thalassic, Barry Ressler, but also improves bug-zapping power tenfold by concentrating the UV output in a highly lethal band.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top


POUR SUGAR INTO A CAR'S gasoline tank today, and it's sure to gum up the works. But tomorrow, dumping sugar into the gas tank may be just the ticket for cleaner air and cheaper fuel. Sugars and starches, from glucose and dextrose down to the cellulose in grass mowings and other plant waste, would be converted into hydrogen, perhaps the least polluting fuel of all.

The secret to this magical transformation: two deep-sea enzymes. They come from bacteria that live near the volcanic vents in the deepest, darkest abysses of the sea. Unlike enzymes that evolved under normal conditions, the new enzymes have unusual properties. For example, one of them can donate an electron to a chemical reaction. As a result, the enzyme pair can pluck atoms from glucose molecules and reassemble them into hydrogen molecules.

If the process can be scaled up, "we could obtain large volumes of hydrogen fuel from renewable resources," says Jonathan Wood- ward, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He works with biochemist Michael Danson at Britain's University of Bath.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top

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