- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

SEATTLEGreener Dell tries for more

Computers are far from being truly clean machines, but Dell Inc. and other PC makers are trying to make their own business operations greener.

Dell said Wednesday its facilities worldwide are now carbon neutral, a goal the Round Rock, Texas-based company had set to achieve by the end of 2008.

Dane Parker, its director for environment, health and safety, said Dell buys renewable energy - including wind, solar and methane gas - directly from utilities to fulfill one-fifth of its energy needs.

There is not enough green energy available for all of Dell’s requirements, so for the other 80 percent, Dell buys regular “brown” power, Mr. Parker said, plus enough renewable energy credits to offset that power’s carbon emissions. Those credits subsidize purchases of renewable energy by other organizations, in places where more green power is available.

Dell’s preference for renewable energy isn’t just about global warming or public relations. Buying green power at a predictable cost can serve as a hedge against rising oil prices.

The company also said it has cut its energy use with more efficient lighting, modern climate-control systems and software that shuts off idle office computers after-hours, for a savings of $3 million a year, or about 5 percent of its annual energy bill.

Dell isn’t the first company to declare its operations carbon neutral, but it’s the first global high-tech player to do so, said Stephen Stokes, a climate-change and business analyst for AMR Research.

“They do deserve some congratulations,” Mr. Stokes said, noting that the company took steps beyond just buying energy credits.

“Even if you were the worst carbon emitter in the world, if you wrote a huge check … you could claim to be carbon neutral,” he said.

Dell, the world’s second-largest computer company, also is ahead of No. 1 PC maker Hewlett-Packard Co. on this matter.

HP said in 2007 it purchased credits to offset 2 percent of its worldwide energy use, and bought green power for a relatively small portion of its operations. The Palo Alto, Calif., company did say that its energy consumption fell 4 percent in 2007, and that it is consolidating its power-sucking computer clusters known as data centers.

Mr. Parker said Dell still aims to make products in a more environmentally sensitive manner and to increase electronics recycling.

“This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.

Scientists hope for new tricks in data analysis

ATLANTA | It turns out even computers can have information overload.

Powerful computers can make millions of calculations in a blink of the eye, but that leaves a nettlesome challenge: the task of analyzing the resulting mountains of data.

In response, scientists are exploring new ways to sift through huge troves of information and transform them into tidbits that researchers, health officials and even police officers can act on. The idea received a boost last week as Georgia Tech announced it received a $3 million grant aimed at establishing visual and data analytics as a distinct research field for the first time.

The school hopes to use the grant, funded by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation, to recruit faculty and staff and develop guidelines for the field.

Researchers have high hopes for the nascent science, but they must first find an efficient way to mine the loads of raw data pumped from the Internet and sophisticated scientific instruments.

“We’re looking at fundamental science, fundamental mathematics that in many ways are a mess of jumbled data,” said John Stasko, a Georgia Tech professor of interactive computing. “We try to give them a structure, because as humans we make these inferences so much better when our data has structure.”

For example, some researchers may use the science to respond to disease outbreaks by analyzing reports of medical ailments and drug purchases.

Mr. Stasko will focus some of his work on how new data-analysis methods could be used to crack down on crooks. Satellite images, witness statements and other clues could be pumped into an innovative program to help authorities find new leads, he said.

Of course, a computer can go only so far. “Then an investigator needs to put this all together and connect the dots, find the coherent story,” Mr. Stasko said.

Study finds Net search becoming far more prevalent

NEW YORK | The search box is everywhere online these days. It’s built into Web browsers. It’s incorporated into Web sites of all sorts. And it’s a major driver of traffic and revenue for Google Inc. and the like.

So it should come as no surprise that nearly half of Internet users conduct a search on a typical day, up from about a third in 2002, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said last week. Search is approaching e-mail as the most popular thing to do on the Internet; about 60 percent use e-mail on any given day.

Users with college degrees, higher incomes and broadband connections are more likely to conduct a search. So are men and younger users.

Firing off queries to search engines seems to be replacing a different kind of Internet starting point that people used to favor: making rounds of checks on previously visited, bookmarked sites.

Whether this shift is making people smarter remains to be seen, of course.

And by launching their Web surfing with precise search terms, people might be less likely to serendipitously come across off-topic content that might have interested them.

Nonetheless, greater use of search is inevitable as people grow more comfortable with the Internet, said Susannah Fox, an associate director at Pew.

“As more and more content is being uploaded to the Internet, people are putting themselves in the driver’s seat, instead of waiting for Web sites to serve up the content,” Ms. Fox said.

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