When giant leaps were a thing | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 30, 2014

If you asked me to be as general as possible, to avoid labels and schools of thought and faith systems, and as much controversy as possible, distilling my personal outlook on life into a couple of words (and who is asking me to do this?), I guess I’d call myself a sentimental determinist.

I believe I came to this place gradually, too, a combination of a fascination with (if surely misunderstanding of) physics and being a parent.

In other words, I believe everything happens for a reason. It just better be a pretty good reason, young lady.

Other than the above completely theoretical question, though, I mostly see life as random acts, their provenance unknown to a mere mortal like me who’s had 56 years to figure it out and hasn’t yet.

I turned 56 last weekend and nothing got clearer other than the sky. We had perfect weather, as we always do on my birthday. This could be just random, statistical noise, or it could be because God likes me best.

As I said, I have no real answers. I just enjoyed the sunshine.

But randomness was on my mind, particularly when it came to movies, which have also been on my mind. I’ve been a movie watcher my entire life, it seems, and as the big Five-Six approached I started wondering exactly how many I’ve seen over the decades.

I have no idea. Hundreds. Maybe more. Probably not less. In theaters, in living rooms, in classrooms, on planes. Sitting in the backseat of the family station wagon at drive-in theaters.

I had a project, then. For a couple of weeks, when I had some spare time, I picked one movie from every year of my life. Not necessarily my favorite, or even one I particularly liked.

Just one that jumped out, again mostly random, done quickly, and only if I could find a clip of the film on YouTube or another site.

I edited these together, again in my spare time, until I had a 20-minute collage of moments that I thought might be instructive, or at least entertaining to the few friends I showed it to.

I noticed some order in the randomness, though. Certain actors popped up a few times, as did directors. I covered genres pretty evenly, as it turned out, from noir to sci-fi to comedy (a notable exception being horror, since I’m not a horror fan).

And I noticed something I never had before. There was a period in our film history, and I guess our cultural history in general, when computers made us nervous.

For maybe 20 years, arbitrarily starting with the computer error that sent bombers toward the Soviet Union in “Fail Safe” to the semi-sentient HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” to “War Games” in 1983, it seems we had some underlying anxiety, as a society, about computers taking control.

This seems quaint, now, even though most of us deal with computers every day, and it would be easy to drum up some anxiety, particularly about privacy and fraud. But we’re not scared that our laptops are going to refuse to open the pod bay door.

And it feels quaint because computers of that era were pretty pathetic. The guidance computers onboard Apollo 11, which landed men on the moon 45 years ago, would be considered toys today in terms of hardware, memory and processing.

Like the chip that plays a song when you open up a birthday card.

I remember a comment my daughter made, on seeing the film “Apollo 13.” In one of the many tense scenes, engineers at mission control began working on a problem using slide rules.

“How did we manage to get to the moon,” she wondered, “before we invented the calculator?”

Good question. Better answer.

Because we said we would.

When President Kennedy, in 1961, made it a national goal to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before 1970, he was asking us to skip epochs of human technology, from cave painting to the steam engine in eight years. It was crazy.

But as anyone over 50 almost certainly remembers firsthand, we did it.

The technology, particularly the software that ran on that laughable hardware, was invented as we went. Calculators would come later. So much would come later, so much of it directly related to the moon landing, too.

I was a little disappointed on July 20 with the anniversary, although I imagine in five years it’ll be a bigger thing. By then, only senior citizens will remember watching, and younger generations will have grown up with missions and shuttles and space stations.

And disasters, and lack of funding and general disinterest.

There’s an argument to be made there, too, even if I disagree. An argument against exploring space when there are so many terrestrial problems. But that’s why we should remember, I think. Because there are problems.

This is what we should have celebrated. That once, as a nation, we decided it was worth the time and money and lives do so something that seemed impossible.

Pick a problem: Energy, immigration, climate change, infrastructure, education. Then tell me an Apollo 11 isn’t possible.

This is the sentimental part, in case you missed it. I believe in good reasons.

They used slide rules because they were too busy sending humans to the moon. Because it was a challenge. Because it was hard. Because we said we would.

Because we said so.

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