This week we celebrate the anniversary of the first time human beings walked around on the moon, and as part of that celebration we find NASA releasing improved versions of the original scratchy black and white low resolution images of the first steps taken on the moon by Neil Armstrong. I’m worried that the youngsters out there do not understand the momentous nature of this event. So stand still for a minute while I force some wisdom on you.
Back in those days I was hanging around a lot with Bob Miller, a classmate who wanted to grow up and be an oceanographer. Bob had a pool in his backyard, and he’d put on a mask and a snorkel and swim in circles in that pool for hours. Hey, Bob, are you out there? Did you ever become an oceanographer? I recall this because during some aspect of one of the space flights Bob and I were noisily playing a game of Chess in my dining room and my father yelled at us from the other room to keep it down, because he couldn’t hear Walter Cronkite giving the latest update.
Which made me think of this: I’ve been pondering ways to impress on you youngsters how long ago this space flight thing was, culturally, technologically, and in other ways. How it was a thing that happened at the beginning of a new eara, or in an old era now bygone.
So, how long ago was it?
Well, it was so long ago that we were embroiled in an international debate over climate change, but the great fear was that we were going to have an ice age! It was so long ago that Bob wanted to be an oceanographer because of Jacques Cousteau’s special. Of which there had only been one! It was so long ago that most of the TV’s in American homes at the time were Black and White!
But then it dawned on me. Here’s the kicker:
It was so long ago that my Father had to tell Bob and me to take it down a notch because the other obvious option … to grab the clicker and turn up the TV … was not available to him!
He didn’t have a clicker. The reason he did not have a clicker was not because it had disappeared into the couch. (Actually, we didn’t have a couch either … we were very poor) but rather, in those days, nobody had a clicker! And nobody had a clicker not because everybody’s clicker had disappeared into the couch.
No. The clicker had not been invented yet!
There was a time when we all had TV’s but nobody had a clicker. Youngsters, imagine a world in which everyone has a TV but there is no clicker. How did we operate in such a world?
Well, we walked, dammit! We walked over to the TV and back to our chairs, up hill in both directions and often through the snow, to change the channel, turn the TV volume up or down or, incredibly, to adjust the horizontal and vertical hold and the contrast! The contrast! We had to adjust our own contrast! These days, you’all just take your contrast for granted!
My uncle and his friends thought up the TV clicker and invented one. Not the one that got patented and everybody else uses today, but his own version. He and his friends were Franciscan priests and electronic aficionados. They operated ham radios and figured out how to steal cable signals and one of them built an airplane from scratch back before everybody was doing that.
The clicker was just for volume control. They de-wired the volume control of a TV and created some circuitry that would turn a switch on and off every time a photocell got a signal. They put the photocell in a tube pointing in the general direction of those who would be watching the TV. So, when you shined a flashlight into the tube, the sound would turn on or off. Digital volume control.
Then they got one of those old fashioned flashlights with the red button on it like the one they used in The Day the Earth Stood Still to send the signal to the killer robot. And that was the clicker.
Klaatu barada nikto, Earthlings!
The moon landing was indeed the beginning of an era. An era of incredible technological change. And very little cultural change.
On September 9, 2002, filmmaker Bart Sibrel, a proponent of the Apollo moon landing hoax theory, confronted Aldrin outside a Beverly Hills, California hotel. Sibrel said “You’re the one who said you walked on the moon and you didn’t” and called Aldrin “a coward, a liar, and a thief.” Aldrin punched Sibrel in the face. Beverly Hills police and the city’s prosecutor declined to file charges. Sibrel suffered no permanent injuries.
That’s all I have for now. Get off my lawn.