Continuous disruption

Trains were once seen as icons of freedom. They freed riders from the dust and bumps of horse or stagecoach travel, and dramatically shortened travel times. But that view of trains as agents of freedom changed with the development of the automobile—and the way it shifted control of routes and schedules from the railroad to the driver.

This isn’t about transportation policy1, it’s about how previously novel solutions become subject to disruption once they become the baseline against which alternatives are compared. Railroads didn’t realize they were competing against automobiles until it was too late.

Who are you competing against?

This is a revision of something I originally posted ten years ago.

Photo CC NC-ND by Schnitzel_bank.

  1. If you do want to explore the policy side of this, consider this comparison of transit volume, part of the broader question of whether cars take up too much space, and this inquiry into why public transport works better outside the US↩︎

The EOS M system might as well be dead

Amazon is now selling EOS M cameras for $329 with free shipping. At that price you have to think about buying it as a joke, but that’s exactly what it is. The camera is hobbled by Canon to avoid cannibalizing sales of their other products. Consider this: Fujifilm’s X series, Sony’s mirrorless NEX 6 and 7 […] » about 300 words

First They Ignore You, Then They Ridicule You, Then They Fight You

It’s an aside to Kathryn Greenhill’s larger point, that all this 2.0 stuff is about a shifting power to the user, but she places L2 somewhere on Ghandi’s continuum of change between ridicule and fight. The photo above (original by Monster) is in support of Greenhill’s larger point: control is shifting. Trains were once seen […] » about 200 words

David Halberstam On Competition

Speaking at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism last month, David Halberstam struck the chord of competition journalists must struggle with. As a newspaper man who started at the smallest newspaper in Mississippi and worked his way up to the New York Times, where he won a Pulitzer for his reporting on the Vietnam War, he […] » about 300 words

This Guy Can Draw Circles Around You (And Me)

Found at, where the author expresses some amount of whiteboard-skills envy.

The video shows Alex Overwijk, head of Glebe Collegiate high school‘s math department (more trivia: Alanis Morrisette went there) drawing what appears to be a perfect circle.

This is something I do in my spare time. I draw freehand circles and then I found out there was a world championship…It’s like winning the Masters. Once you win, you automatically get invited back every year.

You won’t hear Overwijk claim it, but the video is often suggested to show the world freehand circle drawing champion at work. The Ottawa Citizen reports, however, that no such competition exists.

“It’s my schtick with my kids. I’ve been telling them this story for 10 years,” the Citizen quotes Overwijk, who later revealed that he’s thinking about starting a competition.

“We’ll do it for real. Yeah, why not?” he asked. “It’s pretty popular, apparently.”

And, if we remember our history, circle drawing and similar feats have been used to impress people for years.

Presentation: Collaboration, Not Competition

ALA Midwinter 2007, ALCTS Future of Cataloging presentation: Collaboration, Not Competition. (slides: QuickTime & PDF.) Stir my writings on The Google Economy and Arrival of the Stupendous post with frame four of the ALCTS And The Future Of Bibliographic Control: Challenges, Actions, And Values document: In the realm of advanced digital applications, we are interested […] » about 300 words

Competition, Market Position, and Statistics

Watch this video a few times. It’s funny. It’s catchy. It’s kitsch. Now watch it a few times more. The ad, for a Lada VAZ 2109, appeared sometime in the 90s. It reflects the influence of MTV and other cultural imports from the West, but the details betray it’s command economy provenance. The snow appears […] » about 400 words

Rock Paper Scissors

This weekend’s Fifth Annual Rock Paper Scissors World Championships have ended, and Brit Bob Cooper has come out a winner. The Toronto event drew a reported 500 competitors and 250 spectators from 26 U.S. States, four Canadian provinces, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Wales, the UK and Ireland and paid a top prize of CAN$7000. “I […] » about 200 words

Will Google Eat Itself?

Once upon a time Microsoft was the gorilla to beat. Once upon a time we thought Google could do it.

Perhaps not any more. Amazon has dropped Google’s search results from their A9 search aggregator in favor of Microsoft’s Live search, and while Yahoo!’s on again, off again partnership talks with Microsoft appear dead after Y!’s announcement Thursday of a partnership with eBay, Microsoft still hasn’t given up on the notion.

The Yahoo! news may dull my argument, but look how quickly the board changed, how easily these companies switched allegiances or considered partnering with Microsoft, a company known for swallowing its partners.

Google may or may not truly depend on the goodwill of its customers, but the moment its image turns from all-knowing and happy to big and evil could rearrange the chess board.

Q: Why Do Some Things Suck?

A: Because we compare them to the wrong things. I’m in training today for a piece of software used in libraries. It’s the second of three days of training and things aren’t going well. Some stuff doesn’t work, some things don’t work the first (second, third…ninth) time, and other things just don’t make sense. At […] » about 600 words

Nuns Vs. Librarians In Spelling Bee

From Yahoo! News and Ryan Eby, there’s a funny spelling bee planned in Erlanger Kentucky: ERLANGER, Ky. – After a five-year hiatus, the Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery in Villa Hills are ready to show whether they are superior spellers. The sisters were champions of the annual Corporate Spelling Bee for Literacy in northern Kentucky […] » about 300 words

MIT Origami Competition

Ryan Eby and MAKE magazine alerted me to MIT’s student origami exhibit, in which Jason Ku’s ringwraith won the Best Original Model prize, and Brian Chan’s beaver — the MIT mascot — got special attention from the MIT News Office. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, beaver, competition, mit, nazgul, origami, paper, ringwraith » about 100 words