Sunday, May 16, 2010

Railway modelling changed the world

It’s about time our hobby got the recognition it deserved, after all, it changed the world we live in.

To begin, a little history. The World Wide Web was invented back in the early 1990s by a scientist working at CERN in Switzerland. His name was Tim Berners-Lee. Looking for a way to share experimental data, he developed a system that allowed anyone with limited programming abilities to post hypertext documents (web pages) quickly and simply.

This system quickly took off far beyond the scientific community and now is everywhere. Without it you wouldn’t be reading this. Or selling stuff on eBay. Or watching videos of cats trying to play the piano. Or a host of other life changing activities. I and a lot of people like me, wouldn’t have the jobs we have now.

But how did a young Tim B-L get into science and computing ? I lifted this from his biography on the W3C (the people who set the technical standards for the web) website:

What did you do when you were a child ?

I grew up in south-west London. I wasn't very good at sports. When I was 11 I went to a school which was between two railway tracks, so I saw lots of trains and started train-spotting. I also had a model railway in my bedroom. It was a long thin layout with a 4-track station in the middle, and on each side pairs of tracks going off into tunnels to actually loop back to each other.

I made some electronic gadgets to control the trains. The I ended up getting more interested in electronics than trains. Later on, when I was in college I made computer out of an old television set. I bought the television from a repair shop down the road for £5 (about $7).

My mother and father were both working with the very early computers when they met. Later on, my mother taught maths in school. They taught me that maths is a lot of fun. (In England, mathematics is "maths", in the USA, "math").

When I went to Oxford University, I studied physics. I thought that science might be more practical than maths, halfway between math and electronics. In fact it turned out to be very special subject all of itself, and fascinating for all that.

To summarise. Tim liked trains. He built a model railway and then his interest developed, like that of anyone in MERG, towards the electrical side of things. From there the web was born.

If he had been into football or ballroom dancing, none of this would have happened, or at least it would have happened in a different way. Railway modelling, with its breadth of crafts and skills to be indulged in allowed him to develop an interest without really meaning to.

The rest is history.

1 comment:

Robert Thompson said...

model railways require a whole range of skills which someone who isn't even interested quite rightly pointed out to me some thing on the lines of....

"so you're a carpenter, a mechanic, a electrician, a artist, a photographer and a designer?"

quite a few of the skills that play a role in our hobby which are really handy in life as well as enjoyable which many of these i use in my other hobbies, work and businesses.