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6 minutes reading time (1105 words)

Warren Miller: Moon Landing And Electronics

Filmmaker Warren MillerOn a way-below zero December day in Montana, it is just too cold to ski. So I have been thinking about the other end of the thermometer.

But, before I go there, I have to tell you a good way to help keep you warm while you are skiing. Under the turtleneck of your T-shirt, wrap a small face towel tightly around your neck. It is an old skier’s formula to get the most out of your lift ticket. You will be warmer due to the friction on your neck. Try it. 

What have you got to lose? It is better than sitting in your under-heated hotel room with a panoramic view of the trash container, but back to the power of positive thinking.

On a blazing hot day in July 1969, I was about to be introduced to the wonderful world of electronics. It would be many years before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would invent what they invented.

I had spent the day at San Onofre riding shoulder-high, perfect waves in unusually glassy conditions. In short I had spent a perfect day enjoying perfect surfing conditions.

The cook stove had been put away and most of the people on the beach had gathered around the Hut for the Saturday night guitar, ukulele and sing along. 

There was a full moon shining brightly when a friend invited me to the tailgate of his station wagon to view something on his TV no one on earth had ever seen before. It was a small TV set that ran on his 12-volt car battery.

I sat in the sanctuary of the still warm sand from that July day while watching men landing on the moon. 

I knew from my astrophysics class in college that I was seeing the impossible happening in my lifetime.

I could sit there and watch the small TV and look up at the full moon in a mental state that was totally impossible to believe.  

I learned many years later that the computer capability of that entire space craft and lunar landing module had far less capability than your cell phone has today. It is truly amazing they could fire the rocket from earth containing the space vehicle and the landing module. 

Once in lunar gravity the vehicle would orbit the moon and, at the exact right moment, discharge the landing module that settled on the moon’s surface gently. 

The two astronauts climbed out in their low-bidder-made space suits and walked around for the ultimate photo op. Remember, this was 1969 and I was watching all of this on a small TV while staring wide-eyed at the moon overhead.

Then they climbed back into the landing module and blasted off to reattach to the rocket that would bring them back to earth. The mathematical probability of all of this working is so remote and complex that it is impossible to write the formula on a single piece of 8x10 paper.

I never did invest in a 12-volt television set so I could watch TV from remote the places where I traveled. I could never figure out how to get the signal. Now it’s so amazing you can get cell or Internet service anywhere and get just about anything. 

In retrospect, I doubt that I would have watched it even when I was home. I would rather spend the time with my kids learning from them and teaching them old stuff that I knew. Important stuff, such as beach erosion and how it affects breaking waves or how it can snow frozen crystals on a bright sunshiny day while riding the chairlift together on Baldy at Sun Valley. 

I was still shooting 16mm Kodachrome film with a hand-wind Bell and Howell, three-lens turret movie camera. I was recording my narration on 16mm magnetic tape with sprocket holes that matched those on the film. Then I would feed the sound track and the film through a synchronizer and match the words to the images. It was a very long, manual labor job. 

My film editor would cut out all of the bad narration and get it ready for me to put it exactly where it belonged in the film. This single process in a film’s creation took about 80-100 man hours. Eventually when we sold enough tickets to see the film, I would get paid for my long addiction to film making. I know how precise narration has to be on the format in which I created my ski films.

I know I missed tucking my kids in bed at night a lot of times when I worked all night long to make sure the film was done exactly right by my ever increasing standards.

I wished I had some of the electronic wizardry of today to make those films better, but it had not been invented yet.

Amazing what can be done these days just with an iPhone. Yesterday, I did a whole video shoot using just a cell phone. This century is already passing me by.

An iPhone with a camera that is the same thickness and dimension as half of a deck of cards has more computer capability than those astronauts had with them when they blasted off for the moon that July in 1969.

Since it costs $10,000 per pound to get stuff up to the space capsule, it costs $20,000,000 to get a 200-pound astronaut up there so don’t look for a village on the moon any time soon. 

Maybe that is why there are so many lady astronauts because their tickets are cheaper.

The morning after the first lunar landing, I was spreading the word that it had been staged in a sound studio in Hollywood and I had some of my less-clever surfer friends convinced my story was the true one. I’ve always been known to stir things up a bit.

However, I realized the next morning that nothing had changed in my surfing and movie-making world. You still had to scramble for a good spot on a wave, I still used wax on my surfboard and I still paid all of the bills of raising three young children.

Now it’s the time of year to get on the chairlift and ride up to the Timberline Cafe with Laurie and watch her ski down the hill once again.

I know it is below zero outside but being cold is a matter of ‘matter over mind.’ If you don’t believe you will get cold and wear that small towel wrapped around your neck, I know you will be warmer. 

Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Freedom Foundation)

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