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.

source

That’s all I have for now. Get off my lawn.

Comments

  1. #1 MadScientist
    July 17, 2009

    Wow – that was almost 2 generations ago. I’m getting old. Well, at least I’m not old enough to have seen the original broadcast. :)

    I remember the ancient TVs though – the tuner would go “ka-thunk!” as you twisted this large handle on it. The volume control was a little knob that you turned. I can’t remember when the first clickers came onto the scene but in the TV were motors geared and attached to the tuner – I thought it was great because now I could just press a button and the TV went “ka-thunk! ka-thunk!” and switched channels on its own. Now the tuning is done with electronic chips. The old TVs also had a mesmerizing glow in them from the vacuum tube filaments and some tubes even put out measurable amounts of X-Rays. Ah, who doesn’t miss the bad old days?

  2. #2 The Science Pundit
    July 17, 2009

    I watched the moon landing, but I was just a small kid so I barely remember my parents forcing me to watch. I grew up watching TV in the 70′s, when most people I knew had a color TV (and some people had a nice big color TV and an old B&W). I also remember that a lot of the “good” shows were on UHF stations. I wonder if the moon landing was before the age of UHF?

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 17, 2009

    Our TV had a knob on the front to adjust the “Vertical Hold.” We were right on the cusp of the Television signal range between the U.S. channels in Grand Forks and the Canadian Channels from Winnipeg (with a small station in Pembina, ND to watch re-runs.) The signal was just strong enough to give us a picture with only a slight amount of “snow,” but not strong enough for the beam to consistently settle on the vertical, so we would often have to adjust it as meteorological conditions varied slightly. There were times when the best we could hope for was that the top of the picture was actually the bottom of the screen, and the bottom of the picture was the top of the screen with a nice black band in the center. But, we learned how to watch and get into the show nonetheless.

    I think that having learned how to tune in “mentally” through crappy shows is part of the reason that I don’t need a big screen TV with 1080 DPI to enjoy a show.

  4. #4 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 17, 2009

    Not to hijack the thread, I mean I was totally engrossed in Armstrong bouncing around like a kid, but here is an example and an explanation of the vertical hold problem.

  5. #5 davery
    July 17, 2009

    Not to be overly pedantic, but today we don’t celebrate anything. Yesterday (July 16) was the anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. Monday (July 20) is the anniversary of the moon landing and subsequent moon walking.

    Unless you meant you specifically are celebrating today, which of course is your damn right if you want.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2009

    Bloggins is an inexact science.

  7. #7 Ray Ingles
    July 17, 2009

    Our first VCR had a remote control. It was a little box with buttons, and a wire connecting it to the VCR. Yes, between knobs and ‘clickers’ there was a generation of wired remotes.

  8. #8 The Science Pundit
    July 17, 2009

    Yes, between knobs and ‘clickers’ there was a generation of wired remotes.

    I remember when I was a kid (and we only had old fashioned antenna TV), one of our neighbors had Home Box Office. Their TV had a wire connected to a portable brown box that had a row of radio buttons on it which were used to change the channels. Sadly, my parents kept informing me that that was too expensive and not worth really it. :-(

    Amusingly, it was not until years later–when I found out what a box office actually was–that I realized that the B in HBO didn’t refer to that brown plastic box with all the radio buttons. ;-)

  9. #9 DuWayne
    July 17, 2009

    Shit, I remember being terribly enamored by my grandparent’s fancy squeaker. They had plugged their tee vee into this box that, when you squeezed the squeaker, would cut power. It was rather inexact, because it was just like a squeaker you find in chew toys and the like – so if you didn’t squeeze just right, the sound would be wrong or not loud enough. And I recall that we didn’t get one, because our tee vee repair guy (yeah, back then you didn’t just throw the damned thing out and get a new one) told my parents that using it would damage our particular tee vee.

    All that, and unlike Greg, I wasn’t around to hunt dinosaurs…Or see the moon landing, though I did see it several times in re-runs – many, many years later. Because as I mentioned – I’m not nearly as old as Greg. Though I am old enough to wonder just what the fuck these kids today are listening to and how they get away with calling it music…

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2009

    Oh, I do remember the TV repair guy. There were actually truck driving around that were TV Repair Guy trucks. THis actually went into the 1980s.

    The guy would come and take the TV apart all over the living room and then put it back together and then tell you where to buy a new one.

    Of course, that was because by the time that happened, my brother and I had popped the Bakelite back off the TV and pulled all the tubes and brought them down to the hardware store to run them through the tube tester, and gotten new replacement tubes for the ones that were blown and replaced them. Every couple of months for the previous year. So by the time the TV Repair Guy came by it was probably the “Picture tube” gone out.

  11. #11 DuWayne
    July 17, 2009

    Meh, I got in enough trouble the one time I started to take the tee vee apart, that I still remember it – never tried to fix it again. Though we had a tee vee guy who was actually pretty damned good, so it was all good. Kept the tee vee that was older than me (’76) from dying until a little more than twenty years after it was manufactured. I remember renting VCR’s when they first came out and needing this super-special box to connect it. I also remember the absolute thrill when we actually bought a VCR and were able to change the channel with a remote (though we still had to turn it on, off and adjust the volume manually. That was actually more exciting than cable, until Nickelodeon came on the air and I discovered Flipper and The Flying Nun.

    Good times, good times…

  12. #12 Roadtripper
    July 17, 2009

    Greg,

    I realize old habits die hard, man…but they don’t call it a ‘clicker’ any more. All the kids (anyone under 35) call it a remote these days.

    I’m just sayin’.

    Rt

  13. #13 The Science Pundit
    July 17, 2009

    I also remember the absolute thrill when we actually bought a VCR and were able to change the channel with a remote (though we still had to turn it on, off and adjust the volume manually.

    I remember those days! :-) Times sure have changed.

    One of my favorite VCR stories was from when I bought a VCR back in 1995. It was one of those fancy programmable VCR’s. It was cable-ready! I could set it to record while I was at work or out of town. I could even program it to record regular programs because it knew what day of the week it was based on the date–and it adjusted itself for daylight savings time. The only problem was that it used a two digit year. When I asked the salesman what would happen when the year 2000 came along, he said “Don’t worry, you’ll have a newer VCR by then.” If it wasn’t just what I wanted at just the right price, I would’ve walked out right then and there.

    ps—He was right of course.

  14. #14 D. C. Sessions
    July 17, 2009

    Hmmm. I well remember 20 July 1969 — I had some friends over to celebrate. Their parents were pretty much in tune with the times; one was an aerospace engineer and one was a PhD physicist. My mother, on the other hand, made fun of me for years about reading stories of people landing on the moon and other obviously impossible things.

    Curiously, though, last night she called me up for help tracking down the other women she spent that evening with so they could catch up on the events in each others’ lives over the last 40 years. All three are still alive, though two of them are widows.

    The real champ that evening, though, was my grandfather. He was born to a time when travel meant foot, horse, or railroad and long-distance communication was either handwritten or telegraph. By the time he died in 1970, he had watched men walk on the moon live on TV.

    Clickers and color TV aren’t quite on the same level as the horses of 1894 to regular air mail in 1934, or telegraphs to weekly fireside chats by the President.

    Laugh if you will at people like my mother who have decided that they’ve absorbed all the technological change that they’re willing to. When you’ve seen as much as she has in the last 80 years we can talk.

  15. #15 CyberLizard
    July 17, 2009

    All the kids (anyone under 35)…

    Yay, I’m still a kid! For another few months anyway.

    But I’m old enough to remember the fun days of VHF/UHF dials, rabbit ears, the excitement when the first cable tv truck showed up in our neighborhood; the cable box actually connected to the tv via these little clips you had to screw in. And we weren’t allowed to move the box over by the sofa like our neighbors did because that would be lazy and since our legs weren’t broken we could just damn well get up and change the channel. *sigh* Good times.

    Alas, I missed out on the glory days of space exploration, but I was present in Titusville for the launch of the first shuttle. And I was awed to watch near real-time pictures as the mars landers landed.

  16. #16 Spiv
    July 17, 2009

    I’m a generation or two after, but I’m still awestruck with the whole ordeal. My father worked at KSC back then, and now I do. Hopefully I can help to make something so incredible happen again.

  17. #17 Nathan Myers
    July 17, 2009

    The fancy clickers had wee tuning forks in them and went “sproing!” when you pushed the button, The TV listened for the noise. You could shake your key ring in front of the TV to make it do funny things. You had to push the button pretty hard, against a spring, kind of like the button on a (“modern”!) piezoelectric lighter.

    Funny, they could have made piezoelectric lighters any time, but the lighters all had flints and scraper wheels then.

  18. #18 Bill James
    July 18, 2009

    Greg L: “Oh, I do remember the TV repair guy. There were actually truck driving around that were TV Repair Guy trucks…

    In my neck of the woods you pulled all the tubes out and took them to the Rexall drugstore where they had a tube tester and the cabinet below was filled with replacements. Look up your tube type, insert tube into the proper socket, set the dials accordingly, press the test button and read the meter divided into bad, weak or good.

  19. #19 The Science Pundit
    July 18, 2009

    In my neck of the woods you pulled all the tubes out and took them to the Rexall drugstore where they had a tube tester and the cabinet below was filled with replacements. Look up your tube type, insert tube into the proper socket, set the dials accordingly, press the test button and read the meter divided into bad, weak or good.

    Did you also change your own points and sparkplugs? ;-)

  20. #20 Bill James
    July 18, 2009

    Absolutely.

  21. #21 DuWayne
    July 18, 2009

    All right Bill, the next logical question would be; Did you sharpen utility blades? If so, did you get really pissed when you (or worse, someone else) either snapped one or chipped the blade badly?

  22. #22 DuWayne
    July 18, 2009

    I would also note that I have a close friend who actually had to buy a rather large, rambling building in the middle of nowhere, to house his massive collection of “stuff.” Amongst the stuff he stores there, is a tube tester, complete with Rexall logo… And though he no longer has a tee vee that takes them, he also has a bunch of tubes. And to help clarify – three of his bookshelves (he has a fairly substantial library) are shelves out of a Rexall store that closed right around the time I was born…

  23. #23 Caravelle
    July 18, 2009

    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.

    I was expecting this to be followed by :
    THE MOON.
    WE WALKED ON IT.
    ‘Nuff said.

    DC Sessions : Laugh if you will at people like my mother who have decided that they’ve absorbed all the technological change that they’re willing to.
    When you’ve seen as much as she has in the last 80 years we can talk.

    Eh. And here I am hoping that when they do begin interstellar colonization, they’ll allow old geezers like I will be to join.
    (on the other hand, I am quite willing to believe I’ll have trouble with what computers or nanotechnology could think up. Not to mention that field nobody is thinking of right now that will revolutionize everything)

    Nathan Myers : Funny, they could have made piezoelectric lighters any time, but the lighters all had flints and scraper wheels then.

    A cost thing, perhaps ?

  24. #24 daedalus2u
    July 18, 2009

    In another time and in what would seem another world, on a day when two young men were walking on the moon, a very old woman on Long Island would tell reporters that the public excitement over the feat was not so much compared to what she had seen “on the day they opened the Brooklyn Bridge.”
    The Great Bridge page 542

    http://www.ilfilosofo.com/blog/2005/09/28/the-great-bridge/

  25. #25 D. C. Sessions
    July 18, 2009

    Funny, they could have made piezoelectric lighters any time, but the lighters all had flints and scraper wheels then.

    Actually, no. There’s a world of difference between the piezoelectric materials we use now and the ones available 40 years ago.

    This underlines my long-standing contention that the applications technologies get all the credit (microelectronics, aircraft, improved automobiles, medical devices …) but that every single one of them for the last few thousand years has been driven by new materials: bronze, iron, steel, aluminum, titanium alloys, monocrystalline silicon, graphite, …

    Or piezoelectric composites.

  26. #26 Og
    July 18, 2009

    bronze, iron, steel, aluminum, titanium alloys, monocrystalline silicon, graphite,

    What? How dare you ignore Basalt, Quartz, and eventually the life changing discoveries of Chert and Flint!

    … And then was the obsidian age….. Oooh, shiny….

  27. #27 D. C. Sessions
    July 18, 2009

    What? How dare you ignore Basalt, Quartz, and eventually the life changing discoveries of Chert and Flint!

    I do most sincerely apologize. You are absolutely correct.