Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Single Most Important Tip About Tahoe

Go early.

For driving, parking, hiking, boating, biking, eating.

In the first seven days of my new book launch, I've been around the lake twice. And I've seen what most locals avoid. Which is tourists trying to get someplace - anyplace - find parking, beach spots, hiking trails, dinner reservations etc. Many are frustrated and get turned away by the various gate-keepers.

But even at the busiest times of the year, Tahoe can be a great experience if you simply go early. For hiking, try to be at the trail head by 7 a.m. For the beaches and parks, show up at the entrance gate 15 or 20 minutes before they open. (Google your destination to see what the hours are.) For a deli sandwich or other groceries and picnic supplies, get to the supermarket by 8 a.m., or much earlier if possible. Again, look up the hours online. 

Locals have to get their daily supplies, too. But we know that during summer one should be done with all errands and be off the road by 9 a.m.

If you get to your destination early, you'll be much happier.

Tahoe Beach before the crowds arrive.
Enjoy Tahoe!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Red Flag Warning!

The last two days, Cal Fire and the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for extreme fire danger. Not just Tahoe, but most of Northern California and Northern Nevada.

The warning comes when humidity levels are very low and wind predictions are very high. Even the tiniest spark can start a fire that grows explosively into a blowup. (Oh yeah, I wrote a book about that.)

So no yard work (a shovel hitting a rock can cause a spark), no campfires or barbecues (a hot ash can drift into vegetation), no parking off paved roads (a vehicle's exhaust and catalytic converter can ignite vegetation) and no cigarettes smoked outdoors.

Please stay safe.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Best Place In A Heat Wave?


While the rest of the West and Southwest bakes in monster heat (Sacramento, CA 105 degrees, Redding, CA 112 degrees, and Palm Springs, CA 117 degrees!), Tahoe hit 90. We think that's a major heat wave.

But here's a Tahoe secret. Even when it gets to 90, at night it drops down to the lower 40s.

We open all our windows at night. By morning it's 59 degrees indoors, and we wear sweatshirts with the hoods up and drink hot coffee to stay warm.

Add to that an occasional afternoon thunderstorm that produces cold downdrafts and hail (A few days ago, we were at Camp Rich on the South Shore and we got an inch of hail while we shivered under an overhang at Valhalla estate. It looked like winter on the lawn.

So come on up the mountain and cool down!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Writers, Beware How You Spend Your Time And Money

Writers are eager - sometimes even desperate - to find help with all aspects of writing and publishing. As a result, we often sign on for, and even purchase, "Questionable Help" that is usually presented in attractive packaging but in fact offers little reliable guidance.

Here are some "attractive" concepts that often require needless time and expenditure. They are enormously popular. They are also often overrated, sometimes seriously so.

Where appropriate, I make suggestions for alternatives.

Questionable Help: #1: Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) is increasingly assumed to be necessary to find readers and sell books. Yes, an active social media presence probably helps. But studies show it is an enormous time-suck. If you like social media, do it for the joy it gives. (It does bring you joy, right?) But you probably shouldn't do it because you think it will make your writing career. Full disclosure: I don't do social media. You may think that proves that I don't have a clue about its effectiveness. Can't argue with you there. But I've built a career without it. And I've met numerous authors who say that while social media does a great job of connecting them to readers they already have, it doesn't seem to be so successful finding new readers.

     Suggested Alternative: Take some, or all, of your social media time and energy and use most of it to write more good books and the rest of it to go out and give talks at libraries, service clubs, book clubs, and any other event where you actually meet readers face-to-face. My experience suggests that meeting readers in person is by far the most effective way to get them to try your books. The quality of the book they try determines if they read your other books.

Questionable Help: #2: Purchasing a publication package from an internet publisher. These people are in the business of taking money from writers with stars in their eyes. They are not in the business of selling books. You can check this by looking up their authors on Amazon and seeing their usually-dismal sales ranking.

     Suggested Alternative: Find an agent who will find a real publisher who pays you an advance instead of taking your money. Or publish your book with real self-publishing. According to several sources, 25% of all Amazon bestsellers are now self-published. I don't believe any of them were published by one of the internet publishing companies. According to some of those sources, over half of all authors making $100,000 per year are now self-published (using real self-publishing). (How is it that the self-published 25% of bestselling authors can comprise half of $100,000-plus earners? Because self-published authors keep far more of the sales income. Thus a smaller number of self-published authors end up making more than a larger number of New York-published authors.)

The following three posts give some explanation about self-publishing.

Questionable Help: #3: Purchasing books and/or consultations by so-called experts who describe themselves as book doctors or book coaches or "how to write" experts. How-to books and consultations have the potential to be helpful, but notice one very important thing. Many of these "experts" have little actual experience. Look to see if the author of the "how to write" book has had any significant success writing. Same for the authors of "how to get published" books, or "how to sell" books. I've seen books about writing mystery novels written by authors who appear to have written very few mystery novels. By their lack of sales, it appears they thought it might just be easier to write and sell "how-to" books. Yes, I know that some good coaches exist in arenas where they've had little experience. But in the absence of that experience, you should look for testimonials about their expertise, testimonials from best-selling authors.

     Suggested Alternative: Join writers groups and critique groups. Go to their meetings. Get to know other writers. Go to writers' conferences, especially the ones that offer critique.

Questionable Help: #4: Many authors write a book or two and then try to chase down marketing gurus and publicists to help them turn their book into a bestseller. This is putting the cart before the horse. (Remember, writers should never use cliches!) The most important component of building a writing career is more good books. After you have a bunch entrees on your menu - I mean, a bunch of books out - then is the time to start big-time publicizing of your restaurant.

     Suggested Alternative: See my two posts on finding Success at Writing.

As one of those posts explains, do like Hugh Howey and write ten or twenty books before you get all focused on marketing. If you wait, you will become a much better writer and have a much better likelihood of success.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Tahoe Skydrop Signing Schedule

Hi Everybody! My schedule for my new book release is now (mostly) set.

I've organized my appearances by area. So you can scan down to your area and see when and where I'll be waiting for you!

South Lake Tahoe, CA

August 3, 2018, 4:30 - 7 p.m. Signing for TAHOE SKYDROP, Artifacts 4000 Lake Tahoe Blvd (in the Raleys Village Center just southwest of Heavenly Village) (530) 543-0728
August 12, 2018, 8:30 a.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE SKYDROP at The Red Hut Cafe @ Ski Run Blvd and Lake Tahoe Blvd in South Lake Tahoe.
August 15, 2018, 6:30 p.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE SKYDROP and giving a talk at the South Lake Tahoe Library

Reno, NV

August 4, 2018, 11 a.m., My first Talk and Signing for TAHOE SKYDROP at Sundance Bookstore at 121 California Avenue, Reno, NV (775) 786-1188

Tahoe City, CA

August 4, 2018 3 p.m. Signing TAHOE SKYDROP at Geared for Games, Boatworks Mall, Tahoe City, CA

Truckee, CA

August 9, 2018 5 - 7 p.m. Signing TAHOE SKYDROP at Truckee Thursday street fair, at the Word After Word tent in Truckee, CA

Carson City, Minden, and Genoa, NV

August 10, 2018, 6:00 p.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOESKYDROP and giving a talk at Shelby's Bookshoppe, 1663 Lucerne St. in Minden Village, Minden, NV 775-782-5484.
August 11, 2018, 8:30 a.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE SKYDROP at The Red Hut Cafe 4385 S. Carson, Carson City, NV
September 29, 30, 2018 I'm exhibiting books at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, NV.
October 2, 2018, 4 - 6 p.m. I'm signing my new book (and the others) at the Minden Library's Author Day, Minden, NV
October 3, 2018, 11:30 a.m. I'm giving a talk at Nevada Talking Books, Carson City, NV
October 22, 2018, 5:30 p.m. talk and signing at Browser's Books, 711 E Washington St, Carson City, NV (Across from the Carson City Library)

Sacramento, CA

October 26, 27, 28, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the Sacramento Fine Arts Show,  Sacramento Convention Center, Sacramento, CA
November 16, 17, 18, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the Sacramento Harvest Festival at Cal Expo Fairgrounds

The Bay Area, CA

September 8, 9, 2018, I'm exhibiting and signing  books at the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival, Mountain View, CA
November 9, 10, 11, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the San Mateo Harvest Festival at the San Mateo Event Center.
November 23, 24, 25, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the San Jose Harvest Festival, at the San Jose Convention Center.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Astonishing Animal Intelligence

A new study by some scientists at the universities of Cambridge and Auckland shows that crows can figure out problems better than nearly any other animals.

The scientists created a type of food vending machine that dispensed treats when a paper token was inserted. Then they gave crows torn pieces of paper in a range of sizes. Only pieces of a certain size would make the machine work.

The crows experimented with the different pieces of paper until they figured out which sizes produced the treat. They quickly got good at picking up the correct-size pieces to use to get food from the machine.

Then the researchers removed all the pieces of torn paper.

After a period of time, the scientists gave the crows some large sheets of paper.

Working only from memory, the crows used their beaks and feet to tear the paper into smaller pieces. If their torn paper pieces were too small or too large, the vending machine wouldn't work.

The result? Crows remembered the task and the required size of the "food token" necessary, and they got treats from the vending machine.

This ability is something almost no animals can do.

So the next time you gaze up at a crow, it's fun to remember their amazing smarts.

P.S. The article is as "dry" as you might expect in a scientific journal, but here it is for the curious:
Nature Scientific Reports

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Bomb-Sniffing Dog At Work

We humans have a small-but-regular assorment of bad individuals among us. We've developed a lot of techniques to identify the bad eggs. Our techniques are useful in varying degrees. But one of the best ways to save us from ourselves is to bring in a dog.

Despite amazing machines we've developed that can sniff the air for any indications of chemicals that are associated with bad intentions, none is yet as good as a dog's nose.

A few days ago, we were coming back from Italy and caught the new JetBlue non-stop from JFK to Reno. The airport was a mob scene, with thousands of summer travelers lining up to go through airport security. The TSA was doing their best to cope. (I wouldn't have that job for anything.)

As the line grew, they suddenly interrupted the routine and stopped all the inspections. The crowds piled up. We couldn't tell why they would suspend the searches. The Airtrain and cabs and shuttles and Uber drivers kept dropping off travelers, and they flowed into the JetBlue terminal with no place to go except to get in the line, which went back and forth through the maze they'd set up to organize a huge crowd.

After 30 minutes of no activity, we finally got a hint of why they'd stopped the inspections. A Department of Homeland Security officer appeared with a German Shorthair Pointer, one of the preferred breeds (along with Belgian Malinois and Labs) that they train to sniff out explosives.

The dog had a DHS vest on. The handler took her around the edges of the maze that contained the crowd, letting the dog get familiar with the ambient scents of the airport. Then the handler brought the dog to a place adjacent to where the people in line would pass through once they started moving.

Other officers shouted out instructions to the crowd.

"Do not pet the dog. Do not reach out to the dog. Walk through the line. Keep moving."

They opened the end gate of the maze and let the people start to pass.

The dog stood, head down as if sniffing near the floor. The crowds moved past. The dog never looked up. Her job was just to sniff the air. If she smelled any of the scents she was trained to notice, she'd sit down next to her handler.

The huge crowd all walked past the dog, single file. The dog stared at the floor, her nostrils flexing. Her focus was intense. She radiated intelligence.

It was an impressive scene. Hundreds of travelers and an entire airport terminal were shut down. Whether or not the system would restart was dependent on the response of a single dog.

We eventually got past the dog's inspection. The flights eventually continued.

The travelers were of course worried. Having a DHS dog brought in to assess a crowd suggested that the TSA/DHS had acquired some disturbing information. On the other hand, when the DHS dog didn't "alert," it made us all feel much safer.

We can know that there are armed Federal Air Marshals incognito on the planes. But that does us no good if there is something really bad on the plane. So, in the end, the giant operation that is an airport comes down to a single dog, focused, well-trained. An animal with the concentration, and smarts, and a nose so powerful that it can detect the equavalent of a half teaspoon of sugar (or whatever else) in an Olympic swimming pool of water.

Let's all give thanks to dogs.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tahoe Wildlife - We Have A Very Prickly Neighbor

We've seen porcupines in Tahoe, but those sightings are rare. Yet on a recent hike, we encountered the biggest porcupine we've ever seen.

photo from
When that tough guy sensed our presence, he (she?) turned away from us and fluffed up its quills until it was a ball of spikes.  Yikes.

All we could think of was what it must be like for a coyote or bobcat or dog to come upon this creature and swat at it with a paw or start sniffing too close.

There is a rude joke that skunks and porcupines only have one natural predator - the automobile. Sad, but probably true.

So we waited, and our prickly neighbor eventually wandered into the brush, safer from any and all threats than rattlesnakes. Not even those master predators from the sky - the raptors - have much chance at taking a porcupine. Porcupines are a marvelous example of how evolution can conjure up impenetrable defenses.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tahoe Wildlife - Coyote!

Last summer, my wife and I saw a coyote pup wandering past our house, below our deck. It was small enough that we worried it didn't have a parent teaching it to hunt. Yet over the course of the summer months, it would reappear in the evening, on the prowl, while we were barbecuing dinner.

photo from

Gradually, it grew. It seemed robust and radiated health.

Then came winter and we didn't see it anymore. Or, more accurately, we didn't see any single coyotes on the prowl through our yard. Occasionally, as we always do, there would come groups of coyotes through the forest, carrying on their social-hunting routine. And we would awaken in the night to their loud, yipping, almost-screaming conversations.

photo from

This spring, our single coyote reappeared in our yard. We think it's the same coyote. Mostly full grown, quite large now and beautiful. Very robust. One can't help but admire the coyote, so smart, so adaptable, so able to do well even in areas where people have taken over.

They also keep down the populations of many creatures that would take over our yards and invade our houses.

Yes, they sometimes eat our pets. And that is a very sad day for everyone involved. But the coyotes were here first. So it's incumbent on us to keep our pets close so we can admire these amazing carnivores that thrive with no help from us and in spite of efforts from many people to exterminate them.

We feel lucky to see coyotes in Tahoe on a weekly - and sometimes daily - basis.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tahoe Wildlife - Bobcat!

Last winter, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a really large cat walking through the snow. After a moment, I thought it was too large to be a house cat.

After it wandered away, I got out my "animal tracks" book, went outside and looked at its prints.


After the snow melted, my wife and I were hiking in the woods near our house when we saw the movement of a good-sized animal as it ducked under a fallen tree. We stopped and waited. The animal turned around and came out. A gorgeous bobcat. It sat down and faced us from 40 feet away, curious, watching, wondering what the humans were doing.

After five minutes of all parties remaining motionless, it turned and disappeared among the manzanita bushes.

It was a beautiful animal.

photo from

For those who are curious, the telltale characteristics are a cat that is roughly twice the size of a house cat or a little less, black tufts at the tip of its ears, and a short "bobbed" tail.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

New Trail Up Angora Ridge

I've written before about Angora Ridge Road here. It leads up to the old Angora Fire Lookout and some of the world's best views looking down at Fallen Leaf Lake and across at the peaks of the Crystal Range.
The hike gives you views of Mt. Tallac, all the way up.
The hike always used to be along the Forest Service Road that climbs up to Angora Lakes Resort. It's a wonderful hike and great for chatting with your companions. However, when the Forest Service opens the gate in the summer, there can be many cars crawling up the incline.

However, now there is an alternative, a single track hike that leads to the same lookout but does it along the west edge of the ridge. This means that instead of being in the small valley that shelters much of the road, you are on a ridge with views all the way up. The improvement in view goes from spectacular to REALLY spectacular.

The water in the foreground is Fallen Leaf Lake.
The distant water is the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.
To get to the hike, follow the directions in my earlier post (link in the first line above). When you are standing at the entrance to Angora Ridge Road and facing the gate, don't walk toward the gate. Instead, walk the main road (Tahoe Mountain Road) downhill 20 yards to your right (toward the west). Then look to your left. You will find a trail head (unmarked as of this writing). The trail immediately goes up in gentle switchbacks. Almost immediately you start to get great views, which grow in grandeur and stay with you all the way up.

You will be looking across Fallen Leaf Lake toward Mt. Tallac and north up the West Shore of Tahoe in the distance. Bring your "Wow" meter, because views don't get better than this.

This was our view from our lunch spot up next to the fire lookout building.
Looking down at Fallen Leaf Lake is like looking down at a Norwegian Fjord. Gorgeous.

The trail eventually puts you back on the road. Be sure to continue up to the old fire lookout buildings and walk up to them so you can look out across at the Crystal Range, the highest West Shore mountains in Tahoe. In the distance above you, you'll see an almost year-round snowfield, where lies Lake Aloha. For those of you who drive Highway 50 home, you can't miss Horseshoe Falls as you come around the big curves from below Echo Summit toward Twin Bridges. That spectacular falls is the water that flows out of Lake Aloha.


P.S. I learned about this new trail last fall on our daily Tahoe news source:

Check it out. Even locals like me continually learn new stuff about Tahoe!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sailing Under Snowy Mountains

As the snows retreat up the mountain, the sailboats come out.

There aren't many places in the world where you can sail a big body of water and have a snow-covered mountain backdrop. Gorgeous.