Wednesday, June 22, 2011

6-22-11: The Thrill of Mass Transit for Rural/Suburban Youths

I grew up in two places: a cow town in New Hampshire with a large state university, and an old farming town in Fairfield County, Connecticut populated by “new money” white collar outsiders who work in Manhattan. Both places have their own appeal to different people. I liked both, not necessarily equally, for what they offered. I think many people who grow up in towns like these appreciate what the towns have and residents don’t really look for much change. They like the prospects of the big city, but are comfortable in their bedroom communities. It’s nice.

The only other time when I took mass transit to or from work, before yesterday, was in Bangkok, Thailand for two months while doing a project in college. It was great. It was fast, cheap, and convenient. We lived a short walk from a terminal station, so we always had a seat while we zipped through the city on a 20 minute train ride on the Sky Train to the hospital where we worked. Each train ride cost about 50 cents, if that. I'd do that again in a heartbeat.

Yesterday I took the T (MBTA) home from work. It was certainly convenient, since the commuter rail stops at the GE plant in Lynn, and I was lucky enough to not pay the $4.75 fare since the conductors didn’t bother to check tickets for the 20 minute ride into North Station. I paid $1.70 in total (subway and bus) and got home in just about an hour. Not too bad. It was nowhere as nice as the Sky Train, but it was nowhere near as bad as what I’ve seen out of India and China during rush hour.

I like trains and buses. I think they’re a wonderful escape from the torture of city driving. I’d rather take the bus or subway than drive in Boston 9 trips out of 10. The first time I drove into Queens, to drop my dad off at LaGuardia, I became physically ill on the way home. I’ve done it a few times since; it takes practice.

Mass transit is viewed differently by people based on their background. I think people who grow up in cow towns and bedroom communities probably feel the same way about mass transit that I do, but people who grow up in cities probably don’t appreciate the system for what it is. I don’t knock them for that: it’s part of the 20th century version of the American dream of owning a car and being mobile. The car is a normal good due to its convenience, but in a city it’s a burden.

For a semi-suburban (partly rural, partly suburban) youth, driving around your home town is just how you get around, and driving in a city with its traffic and constant rush is painful and detracts from the experience. You’d rather just take the train and enjoy it, even if it costs a bit more. The city is just an experience at that point.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

6-16-11: The Bruins Victory

The Bruins are a team that represents something different to everyone. They’re the last team in this great era of Boston sports to win it all (oddly enough, the Patriots are the current title “drought” holders in the area), but it wasn’t for lack of talent. They’ve had some good teams over the years since their previous win in 1972 in the hey-day of Orr and Bucyk. My favorite team was the 1992 team featuring Neely, Oates, Moog, and the great Ray Bourque. I wanted desperately for them to win, but they came up short in the conference finals against Pittsburgh.

The strange part about this year’s team is that going into the season, few fans really felt confident that this was “the year.” The Bruins were coming off a heart-breaking conference finals collapse to the Flyers, but it wasn’t all that disappointing considering their sixth place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Things were in flux to start this season. Do you remember who was the starting goaltender for the season opener in Prague? Tuuka Rask. Tim Thomas, the recently crowned Conn Smythe winner, was the back-up. And this wasn’t even “the year” for this team. Two years ago, they finished top in the Eastern Conference. This year they finished third. Few people thought they could beat Washington or Tampa Bay, let alone San Jose or Vancouver later on. Things didn’t start off well, down 2-0 to Montreal, the historical nemesis for the Bruins. At that point, many people felt that if the team made it to the conference finals, it would have been a good year.

Somehow, the Bruins fell into an area where few teams who win it all do: they were neither a complete under-dog or a favorite. They kept winning series with little pressure. Through grit and hustle, they beat teams with more talent and scoring power. Their power play was abysmal for most of the playoffs. They were hot and cold on offense. Tim Thomas was a rock in goal.

What makes this team different than the 2009 or 1992 (or the promising 1990 and 2004 teams)? I think it’s Cam Neely.

Neely (who played for Vancouver to start his career before coming to Boston) was a hard-working fiery player who got results. Injuries plagued his career, but it was his grit that people loved. Neely came to the Bruins in 1986, and had a terrific career until retiring in 1996 with almost no cartilage left in his knees.

Neely never won with the Bruins as a player. In 1990 they ran into the red hot Edmonton Oilers starring Gretzky and Messier. In 1992 he was injured and could not help the team overcome Pittsburgh in the conference finals. Then the Bruins went into a funk while Neely’s ability to play effectively dwindled for several years. Neely retired in 1996 with 694 career points (and 1,241 penalty minutes) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005.

In September of 2007, Neely was appointed Vice President of the Bruins, and was promoted to President exactly a year ago today – 364 days from President to Stanley Cup champ. Neely’s grit and hustle trickled down to his team in how it played and, more importantly, how it was built. Neely has repeatedly stated that he believes in the Bruins depth. There are no real stars beyond the giant captain Zdeno Chara, and I think Neely was aiming for that. The team got results from all four lines during the playoffs, and it simply wore down the Canucks towards the end. By the third period of last night’s game, you could see it right in front of you: Vancouver was spent.

What Neely has done as an executive is remarkable. Claude Julien has finally earned the respect he deserves as a coach. The Bruins are champions again. And it’s sunny outside!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

6-14-11: The Quadrennial “No Soccer” Summer

Let me start by saying that I do know about the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and plan on watching a couple games. I suggest you do, as well. This post focuses on men’s international soccer.

But for most of the world, the summer of 2011 is a “no soccer” summer. The four year cycle of men’s international soccer tournaments has one summer with no major tournaments beyond the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is limited to North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Though many people follow the action of the biennial Gold Cup, it pales in comparison to the European Championships and the FIFA World Cup as far as quality of play. When you look at the (controversially calculated) FIFA World Rankings, you won’t find many CONCACAF members very high on the list. The U.S. is top in CONCACAF at 22nd in the world, followed by Mexico at 28th and Honduras at 43rd. In contrast, UEFA (the European soccer federation) has 13 teams ranked higher than the U.S.

It’s not to say this is a bad thing; you don’t want to saturate the market or devalue the major tournaments by playing them more frequently. I think it’s good to take a break. Next summer will be the European Championship, which will be hosted by Poland and The Ukraine and will be watched by hundreds of millions of fans. The qualification for that tournament is still ongoing. I don’t know if it will be as good a tournament as the 2008 installment, which was the beginning of Spain’s dominance over world soccer, but it should be fun. I don’t like how it’s being co-hosted by two teams ranked outside of the top 16 in UEFA (Ukraine is 23rd and Poland is 36th), though. With a 16 team tournament, it means that two teams that would have likely qualified over the two host countries won’t make it. To be fair, the 2008 tournament was also co-hosted by two mediocre UEFA members in Switzerland and Austria, and the tournament still went well. Still: wouldn’t you want the 16 best countries in the tournament? It would certainly enhance the quality of play.

Well, at least UEFA is moving in the right direction from 2016 onward. The 2016 tournament will be hosted by France and will have an expanded format of 24 teams. Time will tell if the tournament will be better than in it is with its current format.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup began last week. The U.S. plays again tonight, and will advance to the quarterfinals so long as they don’t lose to Guadaloupe.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" - Episode 1

Covers a lot of ground. Very, very intriguing. Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

6-2-11: New Job

It’s been about two months since I started my new job at GE Aviation after nearly four years at Sikorsky Aircraft, my first employer out of college. It’s been quite the transition thus far.

It hasn't been that difficult in general. The hardest part so far is dealing with the fact that I’m new to the group and have to prove myself all over again. That’s something you don’t really think about until you arrive at a new job. I forgot how long it took at Sikorsky to warm up to the group and build some clout. It’s a totally different ballgame when you start somewhere new. Fortunately, the position at GE Aviation is a promotion of sorts from my last job, so I’m not treated the same as I had been starting out of college. I’ve already been given small bits of responsibility, which is nice, but it’s a process. I need more patience.

This process had reminded me of how my generation is thought of as generally feeling entitled. I think there’s unfortunately some truth to that, but there are also some misconceptions from older workers towards people my age (in their mid 20's). In general, people my age don’t feel as tied to employers as in the past, partly because we grew up in the age of new opportunity and a more global job market. It’s also much easier to apply for a new job today than it was 15 to 20+ years ago when most of the older workers began their careers. I won’t say it’s easier to land the job itself, but the fact that you can apply to a job with only a few mouse clicks provides applicants with a reduced sense of “marriage” to their current employer. That's simply not "how it used to be."

The past few years have been tough for job applicants of all ages, but I would bet that turnover will pick up among employees under the age of 30 in the next few years once the economy picks back up. Companies should take this into account. Keep the younger employees engaged. If an employer takes advantage of the employees' fear of their job security during a recession (Sikorsky did not do this, in fact I applaud them for their treatment of employees throughout the slowdown), they will not forget it when the economy picks back up and other opportunities present themselves. I simply made a choice. It was far from easy, but I left with a good feeling and miss my former group. That's the sign of a good working environment.