Sunday, January 21, 2018

Humpback Whales... Wow!

Humpback whales can be more than 50 feet long and weigh over 80,000 pounds. Like all cetaceans, Humpbacks are highly intelligent and have a complex social structure rivaling our own.

Like most whales, Humpbacks possess much (oil, blubber, meat) that can entice humans. So how have we responded to them over the years?

People are clever and rapacious in their view of the Earth's resources. So naturally, we hunted Humpback whales to the brink of extinction.

Fortunately, some forward-thinking people saw the big picture, and in 1966 a moratorium on hunting most Humpbacks was put in place. In the decades since, the Humpback whale population has recovered somewhat.

Although Humpback hunting is still largely banned, the whales still suffer from the effects of humans. Their habitats are threatened. They get hit and killed by ships. They get tangled in fishing nets. They suffer from human-caused noise and chemical pollution.

With that history and the ongoing stress we cause them, how do Humpback whales respond to us?

With caring and benign interaction.

Recently, Nan Hauser, a marine biologist in the Pacific Ocean's Cook Islands, described a Humpback whale pushing her away from a Tiger Shark. A Humpback could of course kill a person with a tiny flick of its tail. But like most whales around humans, this Humpback was gentle, even putting its fin over the diver in a protective way.

The video doesn't show the shark. But it does show how a monstrous whale came in contact with a diver and took great care to be gentle with the human.

Check it out:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Work In Hotel Management? Read This

Hey, hotel people. Worried about AIRBNB taking over?

If I'm looking for a charming vacation hideaway, then an AIRBNB or VRBO cottage is perfect. But when I'm traveling for business, I want a hotel that I don't have to research, a website that makes booking easy, a hotel I don't have to wonder about and figure out.

What makes a hotel great is reliability and predictability. (This is why Starbucks has taken over the world.) If they give me that predictability and avoid irritating me, I'm a good customer, easy to retain.

I do a lot of traveling for book events and festivals. One of the hotel brands I use just upgraded me to "Platinum" because I stayed over 60 nights in the last 12 months. So I'm a good customer. I'm quiet, and I tip the cleaning staff well. 

Yet hotels routinely screw up. So what should hotels do to avoid irritating customers like me? That's easy. Here are a few, mostly simple, things a hotel can do to keep customers happy.

*The next time you remodel rooms, don't put in those toilets that are so loud you have to wear earplugs. Please. What was the designer thinking? There are plenty of low-flow toilets that don't make you cringe and flinch with adrenaline shock when you hit the button.

"Don't put out those little signs that proclaim how the hotel is trying to conserve water when you have a shower head with no volume control! I can't count how many showers I've had where the only control is temperature and you have to be very careful that the water doesn't hit your ears or eyelids lest the fire-hose pressure causes physical damage. If I have a shower with volume control, I use only one-third as much water. Multiply that by hundreds of rooms and you have much more water conservation. And you don't make your customers frustrated about the waste.

*Don't give me a bed that sags like a hammock. It's amazing how often an expensive hotel has a bed that always "rolls" you to one major depression. (Hint to single travelers, sleep on the side that's farthest from the bathroom, as that has been used the least.)

*Don't have an air conditioner/heating unit without a constant "on" fan setting. First, the people above you are always stomping around like a marching band, and you need that "always on" fan to provide white noise to help cover the thumping from other hotel guests. Second, if the fan only turns on and off when the air conditioner compressor turns on, then it wakes you up all night long. Third, don't design rooms with a super-quiet air system. We need that white noise - preferably with both a low and high setting - to keep out outside noise.

*Don't make the room attendants fold the toilet paper and Kleenex and wash cloths into decorative flower shapes. Yes, I get that they want guests to feel attended to. But do I really want to blow my nose or wash my face with something that looks like it was manhandled for twenty minutes by the same person who cleaned the bathroom? The housekeepers work very hard. Let's limit their work to cleaning instead of wasting time on stuff we don't care about or want.

*Last, and most important, don't set the room key card to stop working an hour before checkout. (I heard one hotel employee refer to this as "keybombing.") There is nothing more irritating than walking the stairs to get your last load of stuff before checking out and finding out your key doesn't work. Does hotel management really think this serves them to get people to clear out earlier? If you want people out sooner, then move your checkout time up an hour. To have this be my very last experience at a hotel ensures that I'll never go back to that hotel again. (And for those hotel people who claim they don't understand why this happened, know that you're not fooling anyone. Funny how my key card never stops working at 8 p.m. But many times it stops one hour before checkout. And it's always after the hard labor of taking down a book exhibit the night before - at the end of a long 3-day show - and I really need to sleep in a bit.)

Most of these things would be easy to prevent. Some hotels get it so right. The rest of you might want to know why your business is struggling to compete with AIRBNB.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Biggest Hoarfrost Crystals I've Ever Seen

Like everybody, I've seen my share of frost crystals. But these might be the most amazing.

We were walking along the Upper Truckee River one chilly morning. The air was cold and the ground was colder. Apparently, the flowing water had just enough heat in it to loft lots of water vapor into the air. When that vapor hit the cold air over the ground, the water molecules condensed out in a nice orderly fashion, linking elbows with the molecules that came before them. These built up in beautiful crystal formations. 

What was a surprise was the size. Many of these crystals were two or more inches long. And they grew into large, flat leaves, for lack of a better word. Hard to capture with my phone camera.

The hoarfrost crystals made beds that looked like they'd be comfortable to lie down on. The total area was in the range of 10 feet by 50 feet.

Here, I tried to reach my fingers behind the big crystals. But of course, as soon as I got close, the heat from my hand melted the crystals.

Nature can certainly serve up some serious beauty!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Here's What's Great About The Dry Winter So Far...

Walking along Pope Beach, December 29th. Crystal clear water. Warm sun. Blue skies. The town is filled with ski tourists skiing on what I'm told is good snow. Yet, this beach is deserted.

A picture says it all.

Those mountains in the distance are Jakes Peak and its pals.
They form the 3000-foot-high wall of rock on the north side of Emerald Bay.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Free Book Day Is Tomorrow

Hey readers, I hope you all have a great holiday filled with - natch - books, whether they be treebooks or ebooks.

If you or any of your friends like ebooks, my latest, Tahoe Payback, is free starting Christmas and will stay free through Friday, Dec 29th.

The link:

Best of everything to you and yours...

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Freebie Coming Soon!

My blog readers get an early "heads-up" on certain goodies.

On Christmas, eight days from when this posts, my most recent book, Tahoe Payback, will be FREE on Kindle. It will remain free for four more days after Christmas. You can download it from the following link:


As of this writing, Tahoe Payback has 199 reviews at an average of 4.8 stars.

If you'd like more reason to go to the trouble to download a free book, Kirkus Reviews just gave the book a glowing review. They called it "an engrossing whodunit that should keep readers guessing through the final twist."

One more thing... Readers are often curious how free books help an author. There are several reasons. The main one is that some readers will try a free book that they might not otherwise notice. If they like the book, they may buy more by the same author. Another reason is that the more readers try a free book, the more Amazon will recommend it to others. So there is a kind of positive feedback loop that benefits authors. 

Some readers have also noticed that my first book, Tahoe Deathfall, is permanently free on all ebook platforms. The reason is the same.

So please download both if you haven't already. And if you have friends who read mysteries, please let them know about my free books as well.

Thanks very much for your continued interest and support!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Best Tahoe Excursions - Summer And Winter

I know, it's winter. But I've thought many times about one of our explorations last fall, a place that's open in the winter, too!

I very much recommend taking a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, including the tour of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion. Or camp at their campgrounds and explore for a week.

One of Tahoe's grandest houses, available to tour (although the tour may only be open in summer).

Sugar Pine Point Park is on the West Shore of Tahoe, just south of Tahoma. It is comprised of a couple of thousand acres of gorgeous forest right on the lake, and it has two miles of shoreline. The park has many hiking and cross-country ski trails, beaches, hidden coves, and much to explore including the really big house.

A view from Sugar Pine Point State Park

The land was originally acquired by Isaiah Hellman, a German immigrant who came to SoCal in 1859. Mr. Hellman began in retail in Los Angeles, moved into banking, and became the most important banker on the West Coast. He had many achievements, including becoming the first president of Wells Fargo Bank.

In the late 19th century, Hellman decided he wanted a place at Tahoe. This was before there were roads at the lake, or electricity, or any other infrastructure, for that matter. He bought big chunks of land and had a place built. Much of the stone and wood was cut from the land. The rest of the building materials was brought in on the narrow-gauge railroad from Truckee to Tahoe City and then put onto the steamer to boat down the West Shore to the site. The house construction was begun in 1903, finished a few years later, and it served as a grand summer lodge for family members and their guests for many years.

(For those curious about the "Ehrman" in the name Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, one of Hellman's daughters married a man named Ehrman, and that couple lived longer at the house than anyone before or since.)

Most of a century later, the surviving family members sold the property and house to the state of California to use as a park. The state was going to tear down the house, which was rundown. Fortunately, a private group raised funds for restoration, and the house was saved. Now we, the public, own, and get to enjoy, the park.

Here's the link: Sugar Pine Point State Park

P.S. One of the cool things about being a writer is that when I'm struck by a particular place, as I was by Sugar Pine Point, I can set scenes there in a book. Look for Sugar Pine Point Park and the Hellman-Ehrman mansion in my next book, due out August of 2018

Sunday, December 3, 2017

An Ocean Of Fog

We don't get a lot of fog in Tahoe. But one morning a few days back, we woke up to a thick gray soup. As it happened, I was heading up Echo Summit and drove out of the fog and popped into the sunshine just a few hundred feet up. I pulled over at the top of Meyer's Grade and snapped a pic. It looked like the fog was an ocean, and the mountains rose up out of it like tropical islands.

Islands at 7000 feet of elevation.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Whole Foods Is Coming To Tahoe

Whole Foods has gotten a lot of press since the Bezos/Amazon steamroller bought it for 14 or so Billion dollars.

But there's another bit of news about Whole Foods. It is coming to South Lake Tahoe. It will be on the main drag, between Herbert and Ski Run. (Ski Run is where the largest of The Red Hut breakfast cafes is, known, by a few select, discerning readers, as a place that sells my books. Now, Whole Foods has a chance to become known, by a few select, discerning readers, as the fancy grocery story just down the street from the breakfast cafe that sells the adventures of Owen McKenna and his Great Dane Spot.)

It has been reported that the South Lake Tahoe Whole Foods will be one of the "365" store versions, whatever that means.

As for opening date? I haven't heard. But the fence is up around that block, and there is heavy equipment inside the fence doing heavy equipment work. It takes a long time to build such a store. But the time will pass.

South Lake Tahoe has long held the distinction of being the only community in Tahoe that has substantial grocery store choices with two Raleys, two Safeways, one Grass Roots Natural Foods, one Liras, one Overland Meats, and other smaller venues.

I'm sure they are all looking over their shoulders.

As for consumers, more choice is usually good, right?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Isn't He Supposed To Be Asleep In A Cave Or Something?!

Some ice like stucco on the walkway Friday morning.

Those boards are 2 X 6s. Which means those paw prints are 9 or 10 inches long not counting the claws. Glad we lock the doors. Don't want to share my breakfast with this guy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Movies vs. Novels

I've often noticed that people go to see the next Hollywood blockbuster and get enthralled and excited.

I also often notice that when someone writes a review of a book by one of my favorite authors (or even one of mine), I'll see comments suggesting that the book stretched credulity.

When that happens I sometimes wonder if those same readers watch movies with the most ridiculous scenarios and never question a thing.

Writers care. Really. We want readers to "buy in" to our story, care about the predicament in which our poor characters are stuck, and enjoy the ride.

However, it's hard to constantly be held to a higher standard than that grandest of story vehicles, the movies.

I'd guess that the root of the problem is "seeing is believing." When we watch a character on the big screen get into more outlandish situations than any 16 script writers can dream up, and yet we still get invested in the character's problems, the writers out there can't help but notice that if it were a novel, the audience would be in an uproar of protest. "That's not believable!"

Maybe some readers dismiss movies as unbelievable fluff and go along for the unbelievable ride because movies are, well, unbelievable by nature. Or, maybe some readers simply hold writers to a higher standard because novels are a higher art form? I doubt it.

Movie makers certainly get a pass of sorts. When the audience sees stuff on the big screen, they tend to buy in and get invested. Why? They saw it with their own eyes.

I don't need to bore you with examples. Suffice to say, the next time you watch an action/adventure/mystery/thriller movie, imagine if it were a novel. Would you pause and question the creator for telling such an out-sized tale?

Enjoy the next book you read!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Winter 7 Months A Year

Where would one think winter lasts 7 months a year? Greenland, Lapland, the northern parts of Alaska and Russia, the high Alps, Andes, and the Himilayas.

Oh yeah, and Tahoe.

As I write this from the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival where I'm exhibiting my books, Tahoe is getting a winter storm. Before the storm started, the prediction was 1 - 3 feet total accumulation above 7000 feet of elevation before the skies clear. (What we get at our house.)

November 4th, Winter's Back In Tahoe

So when we get home, we get to start shoveling again. I last shoveled about two weeks ago (we had two small snowfalls in October). Before that, I cleared about 6 inches in the middle of June. We did get some snow on August 23rd, but I didn't bother shoveling.

That means that the only months in the last twelve when it didn't snow was July and September. Then again, maybe it did snow a little in September.

Discounting the summer months because the snow melts almost right away, that means actual winter-like weather only persisted much in May. So add it up... November through May. Seven months of winter.

Don't get me wrong. Snow is beautiful. And snow is fun to play in. And snow on the mountains is California's water savings account.

But shoveling? Again? Already?

If I have free time at this exhibit, I'm going to look at pictures of Hawaii.