Natural Search Blog


Could Nanotechnology Save Print Yellow Pages?

Technological evolution continues to change our everyday lives, and the speed of changes over the last two decades has caused an acceleration of impacts to traditional forms of business. Nowhere is this more evident than in the impact to usage of printed yellow pages directories. Once the mainstay for locating businesses, many consumers now treat the books as doorstops or fireplace kindling.

The Yellow Pages Association‘s annual report and other research indicates that consumer usage of print directories is on the decline while usage of online yellow pages and local search are increasing. The main divergence of opinion seems to be in how long it will be before print dies completely – ten years, fifty years, or a century? Simba research indicates that profits of core yellow pages are down while independent publishers are increasing at double-digit rates, indicating that advertisers continue to see value in print YP exposure. Even though the print biz still has lots of money and usage, those who have watched tech trends during the Information Age know that transitions of this sort can often reach a tipping point rapidly, perhaps rendering print YP irrelevant at the closer end of the timeline estimates.

In all the rush to sound the death-knell for print most folks are looking upon it as merely a dinosaur, soon to die as a result of the meteor-strike of internet search technology. But, could there be another future in store for print directories?

Nanotech and Yellow Pages

I’ve been watching developments in a number of converging lines of technology for a while now, and I foresee another potential fate for the print directories: nanotechnology. Read on and I’ll explain.

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Dr. Paul W.K. Rothemund and Dr. Eric Winfree awarded the Feynman Prize at nanoTX Conference

Dr. Paul W.K. Rothemund and Dr. Eric Winfree were awarded the 2006 Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes at the nanoTX Conference last week, at a special awards reception. (I earlier blogged about H. Ross Perot’s keynote address at this conference.)

Rothemund was on-hand to receive the award, and I was fortunate to be able to attend his presentation on his and Winfree’s research. Rothemund delivered first a presentation on his work, and then he delivered a presentation on behalf of Winfree who could not attend.

Rothemund’s work is fantastic — he works upon Algorithmic Self-Assembly. He’s been able to program long strands of viral DNA such than when mixed in a suspension with other short DNA snippets (and heated slightly), the snippets or “staples” will bind to the long strand in particular order, causing it to fold back upon itself to form precise shapes. Rothemund has nicknamed what he does as “DNA Origami”, although the key concept is the ability to program the DNA to order itself into near two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional shapes. As proof of concept, Rothemund has programmed DNA to fold itself into words, stars, smiley faces, and other shapes.

DNA Smiley
Smiley composed of one long DNA strand
The staple snippets of DNA are not shown in this representation.
(Illustration copyright 2006 by Chris Silver Smith.)

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Governor Rick Perry & H. Ross Perot open Nanotech Conference, nanoTX ’06

Yesterday morning, Governor Rick Perry and H. Ross Perot each gave opening remarks at the nanoTX nanotechnology conference here in Dallas.

Kelly Kordzik (President of the board of the Texas Nanotechnology Initiative organization), and Rich Templeton (CEO of Texas Instruments) each gave some introductory remarks. Templeton’s talk was interesting, touching on work done by TI, and on how Nanotech is still in its infancy and very much dependent upon government investment/support. Governor Rick Perry spoke for a short while, mainly trying to hype up his support of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund which has enabled a lot of research in the field of nanotech, enabling Texas to be on the leading end of the work, worldwide.

Read on for more details…

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Through the Scanner Darkly

Seems strange, but there are only two degrees of separation between me and the late, famous, science fiction author, Philip K. Dick (“PKD”). If you aren’t familiar, Dick was the author of a number of stories which have since been made into major films such as: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and the recently-released film A Scanner Darkly. I’ve just got two degrees of separation from Philip K. Dick because of my “spare time” work on writing a soon-to-be-published book about two of his friends and protégés, Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock. In the course of writing that book, (A Comprehensive Dual Bibliography of James P. Blaylock & Tim Powers), I asked the authors questions about their old friend, Dick, and I spoke with other friends of his as well. He was apparently a very interesting character — brilliant, and more than a bit mysterious as well. PKD had a few unusual religious visions and appeared to suffer occasionally from paranoia and other schizophrenic bouts.

Last weekend, I got to see the most recent film inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater. The film was really great, telling a futuristic story of an undercover cop who becomes addicted to the drug of choice for his surveillance subjects, and then becomes required to spy on himself in the course of his investigation. The undercover cops all wear these camouflage suits which morph together features from millions of individuals to obscure their identies from others and from each other. The film is astoundingly well-made, and is pretty entertaining overall.

I saw that Nelson Minar, one of Google’s engineers, is also apparently a reader of PKD, and he blogged his impressions about A Scanner Darkly, too. He agrees that it’s good, though I disagree with him: he thinks it won’t appeal to people who haven’t read the book, and I think it will. It strikes too many chords with people, even today, and the actor’s humor in the early parts saves it from being too dry/boring.

Dick’s stories still seem relevant, over twenty years after his death. His stories contrasted realistic characters against a twisted reality where commercialism and technology seem to’ve evolved past a reasonable point. He played around with the nature of reality itself, and his work seemed to segue smoothly into the cyberpunk movement, which I previously posted about.

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