Sunday, December 8, 2019

How To Get Audio Versions Of My Books

I get lots of requests to put my books on This is the modern version of Books-On-Tape. Audible works well, and I'd love to have my books available that way.

But it is a big project, and I haven't gotten to it yet.

However, there is a new technology that is fast improving and may eventually render Audible obsolete.  It is Kindle's Text-To-Speech function.

You don't have to read your Kindle books, you can LISTEN.

Here's the basics of how it works. Most books available on Kindle have the text-to-speech function enabled. It says if that's the case on every book's detail page on Amazon. If you have a recent version of a Kindle, it will likely "read" those books.

My books, for example, are all available to listen to with Kindle's text-to-speech.

All you need to do is learn a few steps for how to make it work. You can choose the type of voice you like, female, male, American, British, etc. There are Many choices. You can control the speed, certain accents, and other qualities.

The voice can be projected through a Kindle with speakers or through a separate speaker. You can connect your Kindle up to your car speakers or to headphones so you can listen during your commute.

You are of course wondering if the voice sounds like a synthetic robot or a real human. I was initially prejudiced and assumed that only a recorded human voice would be a reasonable way to listen to a book.

Yet I've listened to several of the voices and have been pleasantly surprised at how realistic they are. In fact, I was shocked at how good they are. I recommend you give it a try.

There are many Youtube videos that explain and show the process of how to get your Kindle to "Read" books out loud. Here are some links:

If these videos don't make it clear enough, I'm sure you can search out one that will make the process clear.

No doubt you can also find a fellow Kindle reader who can help show you the process. Call your friends and ask. It won't take long before you will hook up with a Kindle "Listener" who can walk you through the process.

Enjoy! I think you'll be surprised at how good the voices are.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Super Cold Temps As The Earth Warms??!!

This past week saw several cold temperature records fall in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California. When this happens during the constant news stories about the unmistakable warming of our planet, people often wonder how it can be.

If the Earth is warming, how can we have record cold temps?

Here's an answer by way of a metaphor.

Think about a rushing river. Many of us have stood at a river's edge and seen, among the gush of downward current, the odd eddy current here and there. Because of the randomness of flow, or the shape of the river bed, or the boulders and other obstructions in the river, some water often flows the opposite of the general current. Another way to say it is that while most of the water flows downhill, some of the water goes uphill for brief moments.

Think of global warming as a river. The general warming trend is as visible to scientists (and those of us old enough to seen glaciers decades ago) as the flow of a river.

And yet, all rivers have eddy currents. If one focused closely enough on an eddy current, one would think the water was going up the mountain instead of down. But when one stands back and looks at the big picture, the general trend is obvious.

Expect temperature eddy currents. They may even increase as the river volume grows.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Ski Resorts Open, I'm Watching Harness Racing Horses Under Palm Trees

Some ski resorts are now open, and the rest open soon.

Mt. Rose, Alpine Meadows, and Squaw Valley are all open. Heavenly is due to open soon, and the rest won't be long. Yes, the territory is currently very limited. However, winter weather is supposed to hit us on Tuesday.

No snow where I am... I'm exhibiting books down at the Sacramento Harvest Festival at Cal Expo for my last major book launch event. It runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

What do I love about California? Well, among other things, the weather is spectacular.  It might be cold up in Tahoe, but before the Harvest Festival opens each morning, I walk over to the race track and watch the Harness Racers in training. With a backdrop of palm trees, they come around the track, trotting and pacing.
For those who are curious, when trotting, horses move their legs on the diagonal. Left front and right rear at the same time, then right front and left rear.

When pacing, horses move both right legs forward at the same time, then both left legs. I'm told that pacing is faster than trotting. (When I was young and had horses, they didn't pace, they only walked, trotted, cantered, and galloped.)

As always, regardless of gait, horses are gorgeous animals.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Whole Foods Is Open In South Lake Tahoe

Whole Foods is open. Judging by the parking lot which was way overflowing, people are at least curious if not very excited. The vibe I got was very exciting.

It's on Lake Tahoe Blvd, just a half-block to the west of Ski Run Blvd. For those of you who know the town, that's a half block west of The Red Hut Cafe.

The address is 3600 Lake Tahoe Blvd. Phone number is 530-578-4555. But judging by the crowds at the slowest time of the year (early November), don't expect them to answer their phone now or maybe ever.

Talk about a hot business. Is it because Amazon bought them? Or is it simply that people want whole foods?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Spring In The Fall

Speaking of snow - you do remember that I wrote about snow last week? - there are multiple places where we still have snowfields left over from last winter. The Crystal Range on the west side of Desolation Wilderness. Steven's Peak. Mt. Tallac even has a few patches left. Just a bit south of Tahoe in Hope Valley, you can see large snowfields on Roundtop and The Sisters, and on Highland Peak and Raymond Peak down by Markleeville.

Would you like a dose of Spring during the Fall? Hike up to one of those snowfields and look in the soil/Grus just to the edges of the snow. These are areas that were covered with snow a week or two ago and they have just melted. In those places, you'll find plants that have suddenly felt the warmth of the sun after being buried in snow for most of a year. Those plants have evolved to take advantage of this sudden, short "spring" in the beginning of November. They do a little bit of growing in the few hours of sunlight that they see each year. They have to be fast because they could get covered by snow any time and be buried again for 12 months. Or more.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Major Daily Temp Variation

Last week we had beautiful sunny days, but some really cold nights. Check out the National Weather Service report. 47 degree difference between day and night. You see this in high deserts. But you won't generally see it in the Midwest or Back East. And you'll never see it in the tropics.

P.S. While Tahoe has some high desert temperature characteristics, we usually get so much snow in the winter that our annual precipitation (water equivalent) is up there with places in the east that regularly get summer rain. Tahoe gets no summer rain outside of the rare thunderstorm.

The Sierra foothills to the west get even more precipitation, however that precip is mostly rain in the winter. It adds up to more precipitation than most places in the US outside of the Pacific Northwest. Parts of the West Slope of the Sierra average over 50 inches of precipitation.

I knew you'd want to know this...

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rats Driving Cars!

The news this week that scientists have observed pigs using tools - finding pieces of wood to dig with - comes as no surprise. The list of animals that use tools, which is considered a sign of high intelligence, is large.

But the news that scientists have taught rats to drive little cars is a real surprise. First of all, most of us probably have a hard time thinking of rats as smart like pigs or dogs or dolphins or all the primates. Second, it sort of elevates rats in our minds. We (I) simply don't think of rats the way we (I) think of dogs. (Maybe I don't want to.)

Here's what happened. Scientists at the University of Richmond developed little vehicles in which a rat could fit. They figured out a steering mechanism. Then they taught the rats to drive using Fruit Loops as a reward. The rats quickly figured it out.

When the researchers placed Fruit Loops in different places around the lab, the rats got very good at driving their cars to each different Fruit Loop, where they could stick their heads out the little car window and grab their treat.

The study didn't just end there. The scientists wondered if this new, complicated skill would stress the rats out. So they rigged them with sensors to study rat stress (mini EEGs). The results were the opposite of what they expected. As the rats zoomed around in their cars, looking for Fruit Loop treats, they actually got calmer.

Hey, it's relaxing to go out for a ride, right? 

If this experiment had been about teaching chimps or gorillas to drive, we'd be so pleased to watch the results.

But these are rats!


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Rethinking How New Writers Should Think About A Writing Career

Last week, I was interviewed by a college student who wanted to know what a writing career entails. She wasn't asking about how to write. She was asking advice on how to have a career as a writer.

I've written many times about the importance of writing multiple books if you want a career as a novelist. For some reason, this recent interview put things in a clearer perspective for me.

Writing seems to be unique among creative endeavors in that people think they might like to write a book and then, before they've even started it, imagine that the book might get published, and they might find an audience, and then it might sell enough to bring in good money.

Just One Book??

Way back in the past, when people have asked me about the process, I didn't make a big deal out of the multiple books aspect. I thought it was best for people to run with their enthusiasm and not face any more hurdles than necessary. (Like the realization that one book won't do it.)

Not so far back in the past, I've been more forthright about the need for lots of books. But I haven't pushed it very hard. I was still trying to walk carefully so that I didn't dampen the writer's enthusiasm.

Over the years, I've now watched many writers produce one book, and sometimes two or three books, and then feel dejected and, sometimes, profoundly disappointed when the audience didn't materialize.

Am I doing someone a service by playing to the idea that a writer should dive into writing a book without considering up front that it is just the first brick in the building? After all, most writers need a lot of encouragement to follow through on such a long, complex project as writing a novel.

Or am I doing writers a disservice if I don't explain right up front that, statistically, a single book has just about zero percent chance of finding success. (Yes, some do, although many of those "one-book-success" stories aren't true and are merely spin put out by publishers who've dreamed up a new pseudonym for an experienced author.)

It's a tough choice. If I describe only the joys of writing, that helps a new writer be excited. But they may get through the work of writing a novel only to be devastated when they find out that one novel won't likely go anywhere. (Certainly my first didn't.)

If instead I'm realistic about the task ahead and think that new writers are best prepared for the journey by knowing that they will need many books, I will serve them well. But I risk discouraging a new writer who is excited about their first book idea.

I've often used the metaphor of the restaurant menu. If you want to find success in the restaurant business, you need a full menu. It's the same in any field.

No architect wannabe would ever dream that they could find success by sitting down at the kitchen table night after night and designing one significant building.
No doctor wannabe would ever think they could find success by watching Youtube videos of a complex surgery and then attempting to perform it. .
No athlete would ever think they could find success by entering one very difficult marathon.
No oil painter would ever think that they could find success by exhibiting just one show of paintings.
No astronaut would ever... You get the picture.

Yet, when you think about those examples, you realize that every architect/doctor/athlete always assumes from the beginning that they face a very long and tough slog to find success.

So why is it that writing is one of the only things where a majority of people who consider the idea of writing a book imagine that success could possibly come from that single book?

I've decided to change my approach. When I look at the pros and cons of advice about writing, I think I will be more direct about the need to write many books before one can hope for success. I'll model it on all the other professions. I'll phrase it in these terms: Writing novels must be done in significant numbers in order to gain traction. If you are prepared to put in that work, you will have good odds of success, and you will enjoy the world's greatest job, with the potential for unlimited rewards, both reader excitement, and freedom of schedule, and creative satisfaction, and income.

As a writer, this picture depicts your goal. Lots of books.

Every Writer Should Plan A Whole Lotta Books
Here's a closing question for all people who want to become writers. Think of your favorite writers. How many books have each of them written? There's your mission.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Maybe The Evil Power Company Ain't So Bad Afterall

As everyone knows, PG&E has gotten excoriated for all of its major mistakes and infrastructure problems that have led to deadly fires in the past.

One of the solutions was to anticipate Red Flag fire conditions and turn off the power lines that often spark the fires.

This last week, they did just that and, predictably, their turn-off procedure left something to be desired. In many cases they turned off the power nearly 24 hours before there was any wind. People were furious.

Turning this stuff on and off doesn't look very simple.
I'm no apologist for the power company. But I wondered if turning off power was not very easy to coordinate. For example, in our house, if you are worried about a fire in the back bedroom and you turn off the breaker that supplies the electricity to that bedroom, you end up also turning off power to the bathroom, where there may have been no fire concern.

In addition, the people working the switches to turn off power to ABCville probably aren't in ABCville and have never even been there. Hard for them to know the nuances of ABCville powerline risks etc.

Now that the Red Flag warning has passed, it seems that NorCal had no major powerline-caused blowups. Maybe no deaths from fire at all.

So while we're piling on our complaints about how PG&E handled the power shutdown, let's try to remember that.

Maybe, just maybe, PG&E succeeded at doing what everyone wanted them to do. Which is to minimize the fire risk to Northern California.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Writers and Persistence

Do you want to write novels? Perhaps no aspect of writing is more important than persistence.

Have you ever run a marathon? Talk about needing persistence.

There are lots of quotes about persistence, and most of them ring true. The most famous may be the one by Calvin Coolidge, who was our 30th president. 

Coolidge said, 

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” (Read: Persistence is the single most important thing to getting your book done.

A shorter quote about persistence comes from Woody Allen.

"Eighty percent of success is just showing up." (Read: Just keep showing up at your writing desk - whatever that is - until you finish the book and, then, keep editing and rewriting until you make the book good.)

Shorter still is the famous Nike ad line "Just Do It." (Read: Just do it.)

For writers, the message is clear. 

Is there a single rigorous approach that gets the book done? No. For example, many times people assume that there are certain techniques that are critical to writing. Perhaps the most common is that you supposedly have to write a certain amount every day. While that may be smart, it isn't necessary. Although I work full time as a writer, I don't write every day. There are too many other writing-business chores to allow me the luxury of writing every day. A daily writing goal is great but hard to achieve. I still have a writing goal. It is annual rather than daily. I have to finish the book by a certain day each year. Then I have to do it again next year. Then again and again. Just do it.

Over time, my bookshelf grows.

Is there a good time to start this slow but steady creation? Yes.

RIGHT NOW. Just do it.

Many writers do two or more books a year. I'm more like the slow tortoise. I've only been doing one book a year. If you only average one page a day (or 7 pages a week), you can still write a book in a year. You could, for example, plan to get an entire month's worth of writing (30 pages) done in two intense days of creation. Having said that, I don't recommend that approach, as it moves perilously far afield from what works best for writers. Even slow writers know that writing every day is ideal.

So all of us who haven't gotten our book done need to remember Coolidge/Allen/Nike. Stop hesitating. Stop waiting for inspiration. Stop looking for the perfect moment/place/time to be a writer.

Just do it.

P.P.S. While I make no promises, I am writing more than one book a year, slowly building a second series. Check back in two or three years to see if it produces much of a result.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Candy Dance Rain, Wind, Snow

This weekend I'm exhibiting books at the 100th annual Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, Nevada, which is Nevada's oldest town.

The festival brings huge crowds. This weekend, the weather forecast is daunting. Cold, wet, windy, colder still, windier still. Sunday, it is supposed to snow, the high temp is supposed to be 38, and the winds are supposed to gust to 35 mph.

I guess I'll wear my ski suit. So I'll be there if you want to come out and brave the weather!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Snowing In Tahoe And Summer Ain't Over!

The SacBee headline last Monday was great. Six days left of summer and it's SNOWING IN TAHOE.

Nothing new for us locals. Here's the link:

Check out the pics from High Camp at Squaw at 8200 feet. There's a shot of the swimming pool, and all the surrounding country is white.