Sunday, January 31, 2010

Home and memories

It's kind of strange in some ways to still live in the same town in which I grew up, and to have lived in this town since the age of 7, with a few years break for college and 2 years of graduate school. It's strange to me because having lived here so long means that a lot of the places around me are associated with many, many memories, from quite a few different times in my life. What makes it even stranger is that I have lost touch with most of the people who I knew here growing up, even those who still live in the area, and I have formed few new connections. I am not a person who makes new friends easily for a variety of reasons, and most of my connections now are with old college friends and some co-workers. So, I live in my old hometown as a stranger now. Sometimes I feel like I'm almost as disconnected as a person from the same town 100 years ago would be if they stepped out of a time machine today. A lot of the places are familiar and loaded with memories, but the people are strangers.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Public transportation - 19th century - 1; 21st century - 0

A couple of days ago it was raining and over 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), and tonight it's about 8 degrees, with windchills of about -8. Such is winter in New England.

I met with an old friend and co-worker a couple of days ago - he's come back to the historical archive where I work (and he used to work) to do some research on 19th century railroads in Massachusetts, specifically the railroad that runs east-west across the state between Boston and Albany, N.Y. One interesting bit of information he provided was that according to the oldest schedules that he found, the trains in the 1850s could travel between Boston and Worcester in slightly less time than the commuter rail trains that follow the same route today. This is especially interesting (and depressing) to me because I used to travel on those commuter trains when I worked in the Boston area. It's interesting (and slightly depressing) to learn that a traveller in the pre-Civil War period could get a faster trip than present-day commuters! Granted, the seating on those early trains probably made even the most cramped old commuter rail cars today seem like luxury hotels on wheels - I think that the early seats were usually plain and rickety wood, on cars that had very limited shock absorbing capabilities.

This kind of ties in with the fact that the USA once had one of the world's best passenger rail networks, and then we basically dismantled most of it in the mid-to-late 20th century because interstate highways and automobiles seemed like a superior method of travel at the time. You could once travel to almost any small city and many decent-sized towns in the USA by rail. Even the electric streetcar networks were pretty comprehensive - I heard somewhere that in the early 20th century one could travel all the way from Boston to Chicago using only electric streetcars, although nobody would actually travel that way because you would probably have to change streetcar lines 30 times or something. I'm not sure if that is actually true or not!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why do I have such trouble ...

with writing anything. I have a job that, fortunately or unfortunately, does not require much in the way of real writing (as in well-constructed sentences that are arranged in such a way as to effectively convey information and ideas). When I need to write anything else, though, on paper or on a computer, I often hesitate again and again, agonize about whether what I have to write is worth writing, and ultimately conclude that no, RPS, nothing you might write is really worth the time and effort. The only time I can avoid the agonizing is if I basically just spew out what's going through my brain at this very second - kind of like in this post. This doesn't make for high quality writing. So, if anyone wonders "why doesn't RPS post more often, and when he does, why does it just seem like random verbal spew?", there's your answer in a nutshell.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Republican Senator from Massachusetts

In an interesting political development, my home state of Massachusetts, normally known for being one of the most (possibly the most) Democratic state in the country has just elected a Republican to the United States Senate to fill the seat held for over 40 years by leading Democrat Ted Kennedy. The Republican victory is being variously attributed to the Democratic candidate running a very poor campaign, and general dissatisfaction with the Democratic party as the US economy continues to do poorly and the national debt rises to more and more astronomically high levels.e

There was once a time when I would have been thrilled by this - I used to be a strong Republican who registered to vote in my first election so that I could vote for the doomed Republican candidate who was running against Ted Kennedy in an earlier election. The George W. Bush years gradually ended most of my faith in the Republican party, although I've never learned to particularly like the Democrats either. Ironically, I voted for the Democrat this time, who turned out to be just as doomed as the Republican candidate I voted for some 16 years ago.

This does not seem to bode well for the Democrats. I know that the Republicans are fondly hoping that Obama will turn out to be another Jimmy Carter - a president elected on an idealistic platform of "change" who proved to be ineffective and unpopular and who was replaced by a conservative Republican in a political backlash. I wonder if they will get their wish.