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MIT student blogger Anthony R. '09

A Half-Century of Hacking by Anthony R. '09

MIT's original hackers are still alive and well, right on campus and just a short walk from the steps of the Student Center.

If you don’t go to MIT, when you think about “hacking,” you probably think of nefarious nerds tapping away at Internet terminals, fueled by caffeinated soda and delivery pizza. If you do go to MIT, resourceful rooftop applications might come to mind. And either way, it wouldn’t be hard to assume that hacking indeed originated at MIT, where computing and cleverness go hand in hand.

But what you might not know is that MIT’s original hackers are still alive and well, right on campus and just a short walk from the steps of the Student Center.

The Tech Model Railroad Club has been building, coding and crafting since 1946, when computers filled entire rooms and everything had to be done by hand. Today, club members design cityscapes, write software, solder circuit boards and plan operations, continuing the storied evolution of Gifford City and its railroad, the “Tech Nickel Plate.” Anybody at MIT can join right in, even freshmen, and get right to work on everything from scenery to signalling.

Remember AP Calculus and approximating integrals? Only at MIT: Club member Hugh Robinson explains an ingenious use of Simpson’s Rule for locating specific trains within a block of track.

Club member David Lambeth develops some property near City Hall. Gifford City includes numerous neighborhoods and districts, and even a scaled version of MIT’s Green Building.

The Club has its very own Software Cab system, inspired by the operation centers of freight and passenger services nationwide. Written in Python, it interfaces with homegrown switch cards and the network at large to control the movement of trains across the railroad.

You can find some pretty incredible detail in the Club layout, from tall buildings all the way down to the track level. The computer system can generate correct signals anywhere on the layout – here’s a spot in the vicinity of Middle Heights. And below, you’ll find a complete turntable setup.

6 responses to “A Half-Century of Hacking”

  1. Anonymous says:

    that looks like some interesting stuff

  2. Liamse Nanda says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I’m an avid reader of your blog. It provides an excellent perspective on life at MIT.

    With regards your previous entry, I couldn’t help bringing up a site I stumbled upon:

    This site has a guide to creating the ideal dorm room and covers what to bring, buy, and ship when first moving college.

    I just wanted to let you know, since your blog covered what to bring to your dorm.

  3. Ha says:

    Engineers Vs Doctors

    7 Engineers and 7 Doctors are going from PUNE to Mumbai. So all of them gather at Pune Station. Both groups are desperately trying to prove their superiority.


    7 engineers take only 1 Ticket and 7 doctors buy all 7 tickets..

    Doctors are desperately waiting for TC to comeТƒґТƒґ

    When TC arrives, All 7 Engineers get in one toilet SO when TC knocks, one hand comes out with the ticket and the TC goes awayТƒґ.Doctors say ТƒъDekh lengeТƒщ

    NOW on return Journey All of them donТƒфt get a direct train to PUNE.So they all decide to take a Passenger till Lonavala, as from there they can easily get a LOCAL to PUNE


    Doctors decided, Тƒъthis time we will prove that we too are equally SHAANEТƒщТƒґ.All 7 Doctors take 1 Ticket, Engineers donТƒфt buy any ticket at all!!!!!..


    One engineer gets out and knocks the door of Doctors toilet, One hand comes with the tickets, he takes the ticket and comes in engg BathroomТƒґ

    TC DRIVES out ALL the doctors from the toilet and they are heavily finedТƒґТƒґ..


    SO now both the group are on LONAVALA station. Doctors planning their move for last chance, they board the local to Pune.

    This time doctors decide that they will play the same (1 ticket ) trick.

    ALL Doctors take 1 ticketsТƒґEngineers BUY all 7 tickets this timeТƒґ

    SO TC Comes.. All Engineers show their ticketsТƒґ.. & Doctors are still searching for toilet in the LOCAL train!!!!!!!!

  4. J Hamon says:

    I don’t know the first thing about trains, real or models, but that looks pretty amazing.

  5. saurav says:

    this question seems out of place but is their any one in class of 09/10 who is from india??i am sure there would be many but how should i contact them??


    class of 2012 hopeful

  6. Shawn says:

    Whoa, that’s cool. It must have been difficult to build all of that so meticulously though…