Fall break


The beginning of this week was fall break at Joe's school. We had considered a trip to Silver Dollar City, but we learned it wasn't open on Monday and Tuesday this time of year, so we decided to make day trips and visit places around Oklahoma.

The failure of our Mitusbishi Expo's transmission on Saturday changed everything. We borrowed a car from Mikki's folks for her choir reunion events. Monday we arranged to have the Mitsubishi towed back to Tulsa, and we lost nearly all of the day we had planned to spend sightseeing somewhere. Katherine got very upset as she saw the car being pulled up on the back of the flatbed tow truck.

Tuesday morning we went to the Oklahoma Aquarium -- my first time there, the sixth or seventh visit for my son. It's not Sea World, but there are a lot of interesting and exotic sea creatures on display, with a lot of useful interpretive information. The octopus was fascinating to watch. The shark tank is Joe's favorite, and it is amazing to watch these big creatures swim overhead. The triggerfish at the coral flat exhibit was another favorite. If you wiggle your finger around a few inches over the surface of the water, the triggerfish will think it's an insect, and the fish will skim along at the surface following your finger, almost on its side, then spit at the presumed bug to try to knock it into the water.

We only had a couple of hours there, as we wanted to see Apollo 13 at the IMAX theatre. Mikki and I had seen it back in 1995, and we wanted Joe to see it too. The first time I saw it, I was impressed at how faithful it was to Jim Lovell's book "Lost Moon". The film didn't make the astronauts the lone heroes, but showed the heroic efforts of the team on the ground -- hundreds of engineers working to solve the problems.

Another reason I love this film: Name another movie where flight simulators play a significant role. At the beginning of the film, we see the astronauts train, practice reacting to surprises, and learn to work as a team in perfect sync with each other. At the end, the simulator is used to test scenarios for restarting the command module within very narrow power constraints.

Watching Apollo 13 again, I paid more attention to the challenges of making a film about a situation where the tension and conflict come from the laws of physics, and where the people involved are trained to react calmly. How do you convey the urgency to a general audience? Dramatic music, of course, and closeups of gauges and indicator lights. Often a technical explanation would sneak into the dialogue. In the real mission control, for example, one controller might tell another that the projected reentry angle is 5.9, which might cause the other controller's brow to furrow with concern, as he begins to think of approaches to solving this new problem. No one would need to say, as in the movie, that the angle would cause the spacecraft to skip off the atmosphere and back into space -- everyone would know the significance of the number without being told. In a book, the significance of an event would be explained in the narrative. For a movie, I suppose you could have interruptions where Bill Nye the Science Guy explains each point in the drama, or use subtitles. Building the explanation into the dialogue is less obtrusive.

After the movie, we went to Joe's first flag football game of the year at Maxwell Park. He played last fall with a team from his school in a YMCA league. This year the school team -- the Raiders -- is part of a Tulsa Parks league. Joe scored the first touchdown for the Raiders and had a great "tackle" a few plays later. He's really catching on to the game -- now if he can just leave his mouthguard in his mouth between plays....

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 18, 2003 8:35 AM.

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