Sunday, September 15, 2019

South Lake Tahoe Whole Foods Update

There have been lots of rumors regarding the Whole Foods that is coming to South Lake Tahoe.

Here's what we know for sure:

The building is up.
The sign is up.
The lights are on inside.

Here's what we don't know for certain:
When is it going to open?

The answer according to the Whole Foods website is November.

So,  it's looking good. And we can probably assume it will happen.

Get ready for more food options during the coming holiday season,

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Atmospheric Science And The Brilliance Of My Readers

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog about why it's usually colder in the mountains than in the valleys.
My focus, as I recall, was on the rate at which air cools as you gain elevation (roughly 4 degrees for every 1000 feet of altitude gain.)

I got some things right, but I got some major points wrong. Six years later, a reader I haven't met, Neal Mielke, wrote a response to that blog. He was gracious in his corrections, and I appreciated his input very much.

Neal's smarts are self-evident. After I wrote him back, I found out what I suspected - that he was a Physics major back in the day. (It must grate on fellows like Neal when a physics dilettante like me rambles on without expertise). So I print his response here.

Thanks again, Neal.

Here is his letter:

Hi Todd,
I just discovered your mystery novels, and your blogs, and I am enjoying both.  I’d like to comment on your 2013 blog about “why mountains are colder than valleys.”  OK, it’s an old blog, and I’m years late in making a comment.  But I just bought your 5th novel, and that’s even older, so hopefully you’ll forgive me. 
You wrote: “The simple only-kind-of-techy answer is that the lower you are the more atmosphere is above you, and the more the air gets squeezed by all the air above it. The molecules in compressed air have more energy and they bounce around faster than they do in air that isn't so compressed.”
Pressure being the root cause just isn’t right, and thinking that it is will lead a person to be confused about a lot of situations where higher pressure doesn’t correlate at all with higher temperature.  The air in a scuba tank isn’t hot, even though its pressure is more than 100 atmospheres.  There are also a bunch of real-world meteorological effects that would make no sense if higher pressure led to higher temperature:
1) Christmas Valley was colder than Echo Summit last night, even though Christmas Valley is lower
2) Frost often forms on valley bottoms when the nearby hilltops are frost-free
3) Meteorologists often refer to inversion layers, when warm air is above cold air
4) An upstairs loft in a townhouse or condo can be baking when the bottom level is cold
5) Once one hits the stratosphere, air temperature starts to rise with increasing altitude
6) Water temperature drops as one dives further below the surface of water, while pressure dramatically increases.
Thinking in terms of pressure also misses out on explaining why thunderheads form over mountains rather than valleys.  And why hawks (or a hanglider) circling overhead is a visual manifestation of the lapse-rate effect.  Understanding the reality behind the lapse rate is pretty cool, I think, and it’s worth really understanding it.
Localized heating combined with convective heat flow (warm air rising and cooling as it expands) is the real reason for all of this: the lapse rate effect that you blogged about, the seemingly contrary examples that I listed above, plus thunderheads and circling hawks.  If you want a simple non-techy answer to give people, it would be better to say “it gets colder as you go higher because you’re getting farther from the source of heat, which is the sun hitting and warming the Earth’s surface.”  The atmosphere is nearly transparent to the sun, which means that the sun warms the earth rather than the atmosphere directly.  The atmosphere gets warmed only indirectly, from contact with the surface.  When the surface air gets warmed it rises and carries heat higher into the atmosphere, so the whole atmosphere gets warmed.  You “see” that effect when you see hawks circling in a thermal – they’re riding the rising warm air.  The lapse rate of (about) 4 degrees per thousand feet exists because that’s the natural rate at which warm air rising cools as it expands.  That lapse rate can actually be calculated on a single sheet of paper, from a handful of equations including the Ideal Gas Law. 
  Think of the sun-baked earth (or surface of Tahoe) as a hot plate, and a lot of things will make sense.
Christmas Valley was colder than Echo Summit last night because the surface heating went away when the sun set – the hot plate got turned off.  Even more than that, the Earth’s surface radiates more infrared energy than the air does (otherwise night-vision goggles would see nothing but murky air).  So the surface cools faster than the air – the hot plate turns into a cold plate.  This cools the air in contact with the ground, and the cold air is stuck there because cold air wants to sink rather than rise.  Because of that there are no “reverse thermals” of warm air above flowing down to the ground.  The cold air clings to a narrow boundary layer close to the ground, trying to sink.  The cold air in Christmas Valley stayed there, and the cold air up on Echo Summit flowed down to join it.  That cold-air-flowing-downhill effect is the same reason why frost often forms on valley bottoms but not on hilltops.  And inversion layers happen because warm air rising is a one-way street.  If anything causes warm air to be above cold air, it’ll tend to stay that way.  Inversion layers are common in the morning, because of the cold-plate effect, and they can happen when a warm air mass moves sideways over a colder one.
Convection is also why upstairs lofts are hotter than rooms downstairs.  The warm air from the heat registers rises.  It wants to cool as it rises, but merely at 4 degrees per thousand feet, to that’s a negligible effect indoors.
Temperature starts rising with altitude once one reaches the stratosphere, because there’s actually a second hot plate up even higher.  That’s the ozone layer, which absorbs most of the sun’s UV energy.  Up there, the temperature rises with altitude because you’re getting closer to that source of heat.  It’s an inversion layer (higher temperatures at higher altitudes), so this is stable – the warmest air is generated way up high and it doesn’t want to sink.  Similarly, if you dive below the surface of the ocean (or Tahoe), it gets colder as you go deeper.  That’s because the heat source is above you where the sun hits the surface, and you’re getting farther away from it as you go deeper.  This too is an inversion layer.  Warmer water is less dense than colder water, so warmer water stays near the surface.  (This effect, famously, reverses near the freezing point, at which point colder water is actually less dense than slightly warmer water.  Everyone knows that ice floats, but water that’s very near freezing also floats to the top.)
What about those thunderheads?  Well, if you think about it, why should Tahoe be cooler than Sacramento, if sunlight is all that matters and pressure is irrelevant?  The sunlight at Tahoe is just as strong as in Sacramento.  Why doesn’t the surface of the Tahoe basin heat up to 100 degrees, the same as Sacramento?  Well, it would ... if you surrounded the Tahoe basin with a wall that extended up into the stratosphere (and made it transparent so that it didn’t block the sun).  But at 10,000 feet the temperature would be about 85 above Tahoe and 60 above Sacramento.  If the wall went poof, the warm Tahoe air would rise and the cold Sacramento air would rush in, because cold air is heavier than warm air.  This air movement would stop only when the temperature at 10,000 feet was the same in both places, which (because of the lapse rate) would mean that the temperature at Tahoe’s surface would be the same as above Sacramento at 6200 feet.  So, horizontal airflow guarantees that Tahoe is cooler than Sacramento.  There’s no wall going poof, so the effect is a gradual one, but it’s there, and it’s responsible for afternoon thunderheads.  The sun “tries” to heat the air at the summit of Mt. Tallac just as much as it’s heating the surface air in Sacramento.  But hot air at Tallac’s altitude doesn’t belong there – on all sides it’s surrounded by colder, denser air.  So when the sun is out there will always be a thermal rising from the summit of Mt. Tallac.  And if the humidity is right you’ll get a cloud forming above the peak.  Thunderheads form in the afternoons because the effect builds and builds as the day progresses, until the sun starts to set.
I hope that this is interesting to you, and not an annoyance.  Again, I’m enjoying your novels and your blogs.
Neal Mielke
(from the Bay Area ... love the Sierras though!)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Mountain View Art & Wine Festival Sept 7 & 8

This coming weekend my artist wife Kit Night and I are both exhibiting at the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival.

This is a candidate for the biggest art festival in Northern California - something approaching 600 artists. If you want to see a wide range of artists plus at least one author - me, come on down to Mountain View AKA Google Country. 

(For those interested in tech, Apple is just 5 miles to the southeast, Facebook is 5 miles to the northwest, and a thousand other tech companies populate the surrounding area.) 

The Mountain Art & Wine Festival is worth the visit. Sept 7, 8, 2019

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Even Dogs Get Shut Out By Phones

We've all seen it, the couple or family at a restaurant, and one or more of them are on their phones. Anyone not on their phone, whether it's the husband or grandmother or little kid, is locked out of that world. They sit alone even as they should be part of the group.

It happens to dogs, too.

Dogs are very social and focused on people. It used to be that people were focused on dogs. Now it seems that people care more about what's on their phones. Dogs are shut out.

Maybe it's time that we rethink our priorities. Maybe a phone addiction should be treated like a cigarette addiction, limited to short periods of time, outside, away from other people and dogs. Others, people and dogs, don't want our secondhand smoke. They probably don't want our secondhand attention either.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

How To Start A Writing Career

Another newish writer just wrote me, saying they were finishing their first book and were looking for advice and direction specifically in regards to getting critique, writing query letters, and dealing with agents. As I assembled some thoughts, I realized that they were suitable for this blog. This isn't earth-shaking stuff. But it is practical information that I wish I had known in the beginning. If you or someone you know are a new writer, read on.

This was my response to the writer.

Congrats on writing a book! That is a big deal, and you should be very proud! You sound articulate and intelligent, and you will likely find success in this business if you are tenacious.

To find critique partners and beta readers, it is good to join a writing group. They are all over. We have one on the South Shore: Tahoe Writers Works. I recommend joining and going to their monthly meetings. Over the years, many of their members have gotten great benefits, and several have published books. Here is their website: 

First, a caveat. I've learned that writers generally don't want to hear advice on how to succeed in writing because success takes more than writing a single book. (But your first book is what makes it all possible!)

I don't want to sound tedious but it is worth repeating. Success comes from constant writing and many books. Making up stories for a living is the best job in the world. When you finish your book, start another and then another and then another. It may be that the single most important component of finding success is that, like all successful writers, you have to write many books. (Check out your favorite successful authors and notice how many books they have. Use them as role models. Plan to write as many as they have.)

As for publishing, the world of agents and traditional publishing has been shrinking fast. Many agents have gone out of business with the rise of self publishing. If you want to pursue agents, there are many books and blogs on the process. Just spend a few days Googling your questions.

But the bottom line is that pursuing agents takes an enormous amount of time and rarely yields results. If you can eventually get a publishing contract (the average advance on a novel is just a few thousand dollars), you give up all control to the publisher, yet as author, you still have to sell the book to readers. The publisher takes 90% of the book's earnings and the agent takes 15% of what's left. This is why the vast majority of New York-published authors still have to have a day job their whole lives. 

In contrast, with self publishing you retain control and you get most of the money. The pundits who study this stuff say that half of all Amazon bestsellers are now self-published, and many those authors make much more money than the other half that are giving their profits to publishers. 

Love it or hate it, Amazon now controls the book business. You can self publish on Amazon for free. (Although a professional cover is a huge help and is worth the few hundred dollars it usually costs.) To learn about Amazon self publishing, check out:

Self publishing is a lot of work. As with all professions, success comes to those who are the most focused and work the hardest. (Sorry to sound harsh, but I assume you want the truth.) But if you write lots of books (the one thing that all successful authors have in common is they write lots of books), you can do very well.

I launched my writing career with two books. In the eyes of readers, two books immediately made me seem more serious than one-book authors. If I did it all over again, I would launch with three books. (Bestseller Hugh Howey wrote 20 before he launched - talk about learning your craft!) Write a few books before you do anything else except for participating in a writing group. Make your books in a series with the same characters. Have the titles and covers coordinate. (Study your favorite authors for examples. And notice that you probably have no favorite authors with just one book!)

If you choose to self publish, please don't go with one of the thousands of so-called self publishing companies. They are scams preying on authors with stars in their eyes. Self publishing is doing it yourself, where you have complete control and give no rights to anyone. You can self publish at nearly no cost. It takes some research of course, but it's nothing compared to the work of writing a novel. Except for paying for professional covers and professional editing, don't pay anyone else! If someone wants money to do what you can do yourself for free, run the other direction.

When you get specific questions, feel free to write and ask.

Good luck!


P.S. On my blog, click on the "on writing" link on the right side. There are over a hundred articles on publishing and writing. Most of what I know about the business is there. Scroll down and you will find many ideas on how to find success in writing.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Black Bear At City Hall. No, Make That IN City Hall

A gentleman named Robert A Eplett was at the South Lake Tahoe City Hall not long ago, when a bear walked up to the automatic doors. Of course, they opened. The bear walked inside. Robert took a picture of the bear going inside.

Not long after, the bear turned around and walked back outside. Robert also took a picture of the bear going back outside. A news organization or two did a story and included the photos.

(I don't have time to track down Robert and get his permission to post the pics. But I'm pretty sure you can imagine what they looked like. Or you can Google it.)

Hmmm. What was in City Hall that was not to the bear's liking?

Whatever it was, not many city halls across the country have to wonder if a bear is going to join the employees for lunch... But that's Tahoe.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Dream Book Launch

I couldn't have been luckier than I have with my 17th mystery, TAHOE DEEP. It was an instant Amazon bestseller, rising to #6 on the Private Investigator bestseller list, then hanging out in the top ten for a while.

Lots of eager readers out there! My events have been overflowing. As this gets posted, I've already given talks to large crowds at Sundance Books in Reno and Shelby's Books in Minden, NV. Sunday morning I'll be at The Red Hut cafe in Carson City at 8:30. Come Wednesday, I'll see what is traditionally an SRO crowd at the South Lake Tahoe library at 6 p.m. Come join us if you can!

It's a dream for an author to have people want to read one's book.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

TAHOE DEEP Is Almost Here

My new book, TAHOE DEEP, is going to be published in four days.  This is #17 in the series. I've just gotten the first advance reviews, and they are raves. So I'm excited!

TAHOE DEEP will be available in both the paper version and the Kindle version.

I have lots of events coming up, and I just sent out an email with my signing schedule. If you aren't on my mailing list, you can see my events and signing schedule by going to my Events page. Here's the link:

I hope to see you at one of my events!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Learn About Moon Landing At South Tahoe Library Talk

The Moon landing was July 20th, 1969, 50 years ago. Wow. At the time it seemed utterly amazing.

In some respects, it seems even more amazing now. Could politicians and government officials find the political will and the dollars to do such a thing today? Could they even agree on something long enough to put such a plan into action?

If you'd like to learn more about that extraordinary event, come to the South Lake Tahoe Library at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24. Dr. Cathy Cox will be talking about the moon landing, answering questions. The program is free. It should be fun.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Hey, Bicyclers, Here's A Cool New Trail

If you've ever biked the highway that heads south from Incline Village toward Sand Harbor, you know it is a dangerous ride but with some of the world's most beautiful views.

It just got much less dangerous. A fabulous new section of trail has opened. The trail is exclusive to bikers and walkers, meaning non-motorized traffic. It cost a lot, and it appears that many thousands of people will think it was really worth it.

Hmmm, does Tahoe offer any really pretty bike trails? No, I mean, REALLY pretty ones?Oh, I suppose this pic answers that question...

Here's what part of the trail looks like from a drone

A portion of the trail down by the water

Not many bike trails have views like this

For more info, go to

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Signing Schedule For Tahoe Deep

My new book will be out in a few weeks. Here is my initial signing/appearance schedule:

August 2, 2019 6:00 p.m. I'll be giving a Talk and Signing my new book TAHOE DEEP at Shelby's Bookshoppe 1663 Lucerne St. in Minden Village, Minden, NV 775-782-5484.

August 3, 201911 a.m.,  Talk and Signing for TAHOE DEEP at Sundance Bookstore at 121 California Avenue, Reno, NV (775) 786-1188

August 3, 2019 3 p.m. Signing TAHOE DEEP at Geared for Games, Boatworks Mall, Tahoe City, CA

August 4, 2019, 8:30 a.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE DEEP at The Red Hut Cafe 4385 S. Carson, Carson City, NV

August 7, 2019 6:00 p.m. I'll be signing my new book, TAHOE DEEP, and giving a talk at the South Lake Tahoe Library, Rufus Allen Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA. NOTE: Room opens at 6 p.m. for signing, Talk is at 6:30 p.m.

August 8, 2019 5 - 7 p.m. Signing TAHOE DEEP at Truckee Thursday street fair, at the Word After Word tent in Truckee, CA

August 17, 2019, 8:30 a.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE DEEP at The Red Hut Cafe @ Ski Run Blvd and Lake Tahoe Blvd in South Lake Tahoe

September 7, 8, 2019, I'm exhibiting and signing  books at the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival, Mountain View, CA

September 28, 29, 2019 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Exhibit books at the Candy Dance Festival, Genoa, NV

September 30, 3019 4 - 5:30 Minden Library Author's Day, I'll be signing my new book, Minden, NV

November 15, 16, 17, 2019 Exhibit and sign books at the San Mateo Harvest Festival at the San Mateo Event Center, San Mateo CA.

November 22, 23, 24 2019 Exhibit and sign books at the Sacramento Harvest Festival at Cal Expo Fairgrounds in Sacramento

Sunday, June 30, 2019

What A Castle, Vikingsholm!

Last week, I was invited to give a talk at the Vikingsholm Castle for a Trivia/Murder Mystery event.

My talk was fun, and I gave it to a sold-out crowd assembled in the courtyard behind the castle. My name might have been on the invitation, but the star of the show was of course the Vikingsholm Castle. No finer place like it exists.

If any of you haven't been there, go. The castle was built by Lora Knight in 1929. It is considered as good example of this type of Scandinavian architecture as anywhere on the planet. Add to that its location at the head of Emerald Bay, one of the most beautiful and most photographed places on the planet, and you have an amazing experience.

Look it up and visit. Bring your camera. Plan to spend some time taking the tour, hiking the short distance to Eagle Falls, maybe renting a kayak and paddling out to Fannette Island.

You'll be glad you went. Here's a link: Vikingsholm Castle