The Golden Snitch

My Golden Snitch

© 2013 by Mark Carlson All Rights Reserved

 First printed in San Diego Pets Magazine, 2013

 All you Harry Potter fans out there know what a Golden Snitch is. Well I have one. Her name is Saffron. She’s a 2-year old Yellow Labrador. And like the seeker’s target in a game of Quidditch, she’s just as fast, just as elusive and when I catch her, the game is over.

But it’s not that easy. For one thing, I don’t have a Firebolt. And my eyesight is lousy. But I still have to catch my little Golden Snitch.

Saffron is a playful and energetic dog. When my older Guide Dog Musket retired, I went back to Guide Dogs for a new one. And I was given Saffron. Here’s the deal. I’ve been working with Musket for so long, I was used to his easygoing, slow pace. It was like driving a 40-year old VW Microbus and then getting a Formula One Ferrari. What a change. She’s a great Guide Dog, but that’s not the topic of this story.

Saffy loves to run, and play and fetch.

When I played fetch with Musket I’d throw the (ball, Frisbee, Kong, etc) down the lawn and he’d run for it. After about three throws it dawned on him that he was doing all the work. On the fourth throw, he’d say “Ah, you go and get it this time. I’m tired.”

So the blind guy had to go and find the (ball, Frisbee, Kong, etc). And often I never found it. They love me at Petco. “Ah, Mark. Another Frisbee, right?”

But Saffy is very different in temperament from Musket. She LOVES to run! I can’t keep up with her. She’s like a superball in a paint mixer. Jane calls her a ‘Gazelle on crack.’

Her favorite toy to fetch is a thick short rope knotted at both ends. I just throw it once and then I can sit down and have a beer. She’s off and running. And running back. And running off again. Back and forth. I’m no longer involved. She has more energy than a nuclear chain reaction. No, that’s not right. A runaway reactor eventually dies down. Saffron could provide power to the entire U.S. if I could just connect her to a grid. But I’d have to catch her first.

There must be some hunting instinct in her because she doesn’t just get the rope and run. She has to ‘kill’ it. With one end in her mouth she snaps her head from side to side as if trying to break her prey’s neck. I don’t know how she keeps from beating herself unconscious. That heavy knot bashes her on both ears like a nunchuck.

Finally I am tired from drinking a beer and say “Okay, Saffy, that’s enough. Let’s go inside.” Then I snap my fingers and she obediently comes to me.

If she’s ready. If not, I have to go get her. “Sigh, where’s my Firebolt?”

 There’s another reason she is a Golden Snitch. I’m not only blind I’m a guy. So sometimes I break things. It happens. In the morning after I feed the dogs I make tea for Jane and bring it up to her. Saffy always watches me until I bring the tea upstairs and then sits on Jane’s lap.

One morning I was at the counter and opened the upper cupboard and heard a ‘clink!’ noise on the granite counter. I was sure something was broken. But I couldn’t find it on the counter or floor. I began to panic. I knew there had to be something broken (and probably valuable) on the floor. I had to find and dispose of it before Jane came down. I was on my hands and knees, feeling my way around the floor. Cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck as time ran out.

Then I heard Jane call from upstairs, “Honey did you break something?”

Damn her Vulcan hearing. “Uh, I don’t think so. Why?”

“Because Saffy just brought me a piece of broken tea bag plate.”


So my loyal little Guide Dog Saffron saw the broken plate and grabbed it, took it up to Mommy and dropped it in front of her. “Daddy broke something! What are you going to do to him?”

That’s why Saffron is my little Golden Snitch.

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In Defense of the Book

In Defense of the Book – An Award-winning Essay

© 2011 By Mark Carlson All Rights Reserved

Let’s consider the book, little more than a collection of printed pages arranged and bound in a cover. Yet a book can convey ideas and information anywhere, any time and in any language.

Books are seeds, ready to germinate and grow, blossoming like paper roses to fertilize the world with the pollen of knowledge.

Books are time machines, portals into the past and future, instant travel to distant lands in the palm of the hand.

Books are dormant volcanoes holding hidden wonders ready to erupt in cascades of literary magma.

And just as good now as when they were printed.

Books are capable of inspiring readers yet unborn to learn, and will never be obsolete.

But in today’s fast-paced world of instant information and entertainment, books have lost their allure to many people. They can’t compete with the computer industry’s overwhelming multimedia hype. Speed and versatility are all that matter. E-books and E-readers have become the Serpent in the bibliophilic Garden of Eden.

But there has to be a point at which even the popular Kindle won’t fill every niche. For instance in some future courtroom will a witness place their hand on a Kindle and say “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me Google.”

Time is the enemy of computers and technology and it becomes more so with each generation. That hot new system bought today is already outdated before the box is opened. It is impossible to keep up.

Storing knowledge wasn’t always that way.

Cuneiform clay tablets inscribed in ancient Babylon 5,000 years ago still hold detailed information. Scholars and archaeologists, sifting through the layers of millennia can study the language, culture and lives of whole nations.

The classic poems of Homer are studied by scholars 2,800 years after his death.

Books on papyrus, the origin of our word for paper, from the Library of Alexandria twenty centuries ago still tell stories and thoughts of minds long since turned to dust.

The greatest single work of human intellect, Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosphiæ  Naturalis Principia Mathematica is still as readable as when it was published in 1687.

Newspapers from over a century ago contain vivid accounts of battles and events that happened long before even our grandparents were born.

Technology moves on, and not everything of value manages to go with it.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s sophisticated computers are unable to read data sent to Earth by Voyager less than a generation ago. The storage medium and hardware are no longer compatible. Billions of bits of information, lost forever.

Just imagine a time several thousand years in the future, when extraterrestrial archaeologists are sifting through the layers of our own civilization. What will they find? Computers, televisions, microwave ovens, Smart Phone, iPads and video games. After studying the remnants, they will undoubtedly conclude that we liked gadgets and entertainment. But they will not be able to learn anything about our culture, beliefs, language, philosophy, government, law, science or history. All the knowledge and information will be gone, eroded, erased to the last digital bit.

We will have left nothing to pass on to the future. Those archaeologists will have no choice but to dig deeper. And what will they find?

Perhaps a book.

Books are free at the library, friends and family freely loan good books to one another and eagerly discuss them. Many people like to read a good book more than once. It’s like visiting an old friend, and just as satisfying.

Book clubs are in every city in the country. Licensing agreements make lending out software a crime, and there are very few CD-ROM clubs.

In a world moving faster than we can comprehend, we should treasure the old ways to learn, to save knowledge, to expand our minds. Some things never go out of style.

Books never cause frustration from slow speed or balky hardware. Unlike computers, spilling a beverage on the book isn’t cause for frantically checking the system for shorts. Simply wipe the pages with a paper towel and continue reading.

For the technophile who prefers to read books on the computer, what happens when reading the last chapter of a good mystery and the system crashes?

They can yell or scream, throw a tantrum against Bill Gates. Or maybe sit back and perhaps…read the book. No virus ever wiped a dog-eared copy of Gone With the Wind.

A closing thought with more than a bit of irony.

What is the term in current use for saving the location of an Internet site? 

Bookmarking a webpage.

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71st Anniversary of D-Day

This June 6 marks the 71st Anniversary of D-day, the Allied invasion of Fortress Europe. That day defined a generation in a way we can’t even imagine today. It marked the beginning of the end of the Third Reich as hundreds of thousands of Allied sailors, pilots, airmen, soldiers, engineers, paratroopers and medical personnel drove into the coast of Normandy. In my book ‘Flying on Film – A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012’ I wrote about one of my favorite war movies, ‘The Longest Day.’ This film was epic in scope, vision and cost. But it was the only movie ever to show the entire Normandy Invasion from virtually every perspective.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

Darryl F. Zanuck committed Fox to producing the biggest and most extravagant war movie ever made in 1962 with The Longest Day, based on Cornelius Ryan’s bestseller. The big-budget epic of the Normandy Invasion has been the subject of many books, articles and documentaries, but here it will be just about the aviation sequences.

While most viewers recall the token appearance of two Luftwaffe fighters strafing Sword Beach during the landings, there were some stunning nighttime scenes of British gliders approaching the Orne River. The glider landing near Oistreham depicted the British 6th Airborne Division’s Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry’s assault on Pegasus Bridge.

Richard Todd, who had played Wing Commander Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters in 1955, played the role of Major John Howard. Todd himself had been in the 6th Airborne and fought at Normandy. The British Horsa gliders are shown at night and first seen as silent black silhouettes. Then the shot cuts to the flight deck of a Horsa. The towing plane veers off. The camera frame is fixed with the glider, so every movement of the control column by the pilots result in the glider banking against the back projection. The audience, seeing the pilots turning the wheel almost reflexively, leans into the turn. It’s very easy to believe the footage is real, right up to the almost-silent approach and violent, noisy landing.

Battle of Britain veteran Colonel Josef “Pips” Priller, played by the ebullient Heinz Reinke, leads his wingman in a strafing run along Sword Beach to attack the British 3rd Division. The planes are Messerschmitt Bf-108 Taifun monoplanes owned by the Spanish Air Force. Priller and his wingman, Heinz Wozardczyk, actually flew Focke-Wulf Fw-190s but in 1962 they were even rarer than 109s. The strafing footage was done from a camera ship while long rows of squibs buried in the sand were detonated in sequence. The mass of troops running from the approaching fighters stretches for nearly half a mile and is extremely effective. Exploding trucks and gas fires erupt as the plane flies over. Priller then laughs that the “Luftwaffe has had its day.”

HBO’s Emmy Award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) was based on Stephen Ambrose’s best-selling book. While only short sequences in the first two episodes depict aerial operations, the cinematography and flying are unforgettable. Several C-47s and C-53s were obtained from various European and American sources. The aircraft were painted with the bold black and white Invasion stripes on wings and fuselage. The stripes on the planes appear sloppy and crude, which is exactly how it was done in 1944. Since thousands of fighters, bombers, transports and gliders had to be painted, only cursory care was taken to make the stripes neat and clear.

With Michael Kamen’s evocative score accompanying the loading scenes on the evening of June 5, it is easy for the viewer to become mesmerized by the scope of the event. The takeoff and assembly footage was given greater impact by the use of CGI and miniatures but it’s hard to tell where.

HBO took great pains to assure technical accuracy, but a few minor concessions were made for the production. Instead of the usual 24 to 28 paratroopers normally carried in the C-53 Skytroopers, only twelve are seen in each aircraft. This may have been to keep from “crowding” the shot. The interior of a C-53 permitted little elbow room when fully loaded. Having flown in the last surviving Normandy C-53D, Inland Empire CAF’s D-Day Doll, the author can say the sound effects of the shaking planes on takeoff and in flight fully convey what it was like on the way to Normandy. Ed Pepping, a veteran of the famous Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne agrees. “Band of Brothers was incredible.”

© 2012 by Mark Carlson All Rights Reserved

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Flying on Film

From the back cover of ‘Flying on Film

A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912 – 2012’

© 2012 By Mark Carlson All Rights Reserved

Airplanes and motion pictures were born within a year of one another. In 100 years they have both risen from uncertain infancy to growing adolescence to robust maturity. While Hollywood’s actors and directors learned the art of making movies, the aircraft industry and pilots learned how to conquer the sky. In peace and war, prosperity and depression, the airplanes and motion pictures have become a part of American culture.

In Flying on Film movie fans and aviation buffs can find their common bond with tiny biplanes dueling in the skies to vast armadas of bombers, from majestic China Clippers to huge 747s, from slow monoplanes to swift jets. The movies told the story of the airplane. William A. Wellman’s 1927 masterpiece Wings was the first of the breed, a standard to be emulated.

Flying on Film tells the history behind the films, the story behind the camera. Veterans and aviators from past and present tell the real story of one of the most fascinating genres of motion pictures in Hollywood.

From the Foreword by William A. Wellman, Jr.

“Mark Carlson has produced a remarkable and insightful chronicle of a 100-year history of aviation in the movies. He sketches an incredible portrait of the films, the diversity of aircraft, and the highly skilled and courageous flyers who helped make these films the spectacles that they became.

In this book, he has flown a resolute route, through brilliant blue skies surrounded by billowy white clouds, into 100 years of aviation in the movies. It is a book my father would have loved.”

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73rd Anniversary of the Battle of Midway

This June 4 is the 73rd Anniversary of the historic battle of Midway. While it sounds like hyperbole to say Midway changed the course of the Pacific war, that’s exactly what it did. In a five-minute period during a day-long clash between two huge fleets, a group of SBD Dauntless pilots rained total destruction on three Japanese carriers. From that moment on Japan no longer had the numerical superirority it had enjoyed since 1941.

In my book ‘Flying on Film – A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012’ I wrote about the two major motion pictures that told—if in a highly dramatized and semi-historical form—the story of Midway. Here is an excerpt from the book.

One of the most interesting Pacific war films was Fox’s Wing and a Prayer in 1944, starring Don Ameche and Dana Andrews. With Midway as its climax, the film follows the crew of an unnamed aircraft carrier tasked with decoying the Japanese. Commander Ed Moulton’s (Andrews) rookie torpedo squadron causes no end of frustration for Air Wing Commander Bing Harper (Ameche). The captain, played by the grandfatherly Charles Bickford, has orders to avoid battle while allowing the ship to seen all over the Pacific.

Meanwhile morale aboard the carrier plummets. A pilot who loves his wife dearly is killed. A loudmouth who bragged he would personally sink a Japanese carrier brings shame on the squadron by disobeying orders. A movie star’s crew is comprised of an underage gunner and a too-old radioman. A Navy Cross winner named Cunningham is unable to face combat.

Finally the captain reveals their true mission: to make the Japanese think the navy is scattered all over the ocean, leaving Midway ripe for the picking. They charge into battle with the Japanese fleet. Cunningham flies his plane into an oncoming torpedo, saving the ship. The movie star’s crew gets lost in the fog. Moulton begs Harper to break radio silence but the strict Harper refuses. It is only when his plane crashes into the sea that Harper reveals that he cares deeply for every man in his air group.

Directed by Henry Hathaway, who would later direct True Grit (1969) and How the West Was Won (1962), Wing and a Prayer was written by Jerome Cady. He later wrote the suspenseful Call Northside 777 in 1948.

Even though it is a fictional account of the Battle of Midway, Wing and a Prayer contains some excellent aerial sequences. Hathaway and three camera operators spent seven weeks aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10) during her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. Hathaway was able to get more than 50,000 feet of film covering every aspect of carrier operations for use in studio process shots. There is compelling footage of arming, fueling and spotting planes, run-up, takeoff and landing. All of the footage had to be approved by the War Department because they depicted current U.S. Navy carrier operations.

Several Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, Grumman F6F Hellcats and TBF Avengers were provided for filming on a large carrier deck mockup on the Fox backlot. The aerial battle scenes were filmed on Stage 9 and on the Fox lake with miniatures of ships and planes, combined with process shots, stock wartime footage and some impressive camera trickery.

Of note is the lateral hangar deck catapult used by Cunningham in his suicidal dive on the torpedo. The catapult was fitted on Yorktown-class carriers. They took up valuable hangar deck space better utilized for extra aircraft. They were rarely used in combat and after Midway were removed from Enterprise and Hornet.

What Wing lacks in reality it makes up for in character development and dialogue. Life and death aboard a carrier in wartime are given great attention. After being shot down, a crew desperately try to escape their sinking plane but are strafed by the ruthless Japanese while the ship’s crew hears it all on the P.A. system.

© 2012 by Mark Carlson All Rights Reserved


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Introduction to ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog – The Blonde Leading the Blind© 2011 By Mark Carlson All Rights Reserved 

“First of all, I’m not sure I agree with the title. To call it ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog’ seems to imply I have something to confess.

Well I don’t. It’s not that kind of book. I’m not going to air all my dirty laundry or expose any skeletons in the closet. Well…I will confess how food-driven I really am. I love food! 

I love my mommy and daddy, but if there’s a treat anywhere in the vicinity, I can’t focus on anything else. My attention is totally aimed at the treat and nothing on earth but Daddy’s stern command can deter me. It’s like the Postal Service Motto.

‘Neither pulling on my leash nor calling me nor pretending you have nothing in your hand will stay this beggar from the swift consumption of his intended morsel.’ 

How’s that for a confession?” 

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Wondering What to Get for Father’s Day…..



cover-encyclopedia vol 1

Hey have you been fretting over what to get Dad for Father’s Day?

Fret no more! Does Pop like the movies? Does Dad like airplanes?

A POPular new book ‘Flying on Film – A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012’ by Mark Carlson is the perfect gift for the man who likes watching jets and biplanes, fighters and helicopters on the silver screen. Called ‘the best aviation in film book to come out in thirty years,’ Flying on Film’ by acclaimed aviation historian Mark Carlson is available in paperback at Amazon. Or you can get an autographed copy from Mark by e-mailing him a:

$25.00 + $2.75 S/H.

430 pages, 260 photos and more than 170 films, full of trivia and fun baskstory.

Give Dad a gift he’ll want to keep right next to the remote control!