Sunday, January 28, 2018

Mid-Season Snow Report

It depends on how you measure, but we are close to the middle of our snow season.

By averages, this is quite a dry winter. But it's not a bust. We've also had a fair amount of rain at lower elevations. Not the ideal, but better than not getting precipitation.

Last year at this time, we'd already had 20-some feet at our house on our way to a season total of 40 feet. We were beyond buried.

Tahoe locals love that the mountains are currently white, the skiing is good, and yet we haven't lost our lives to shoveling, and we haven't been snowed in for days at a time cooking on the woodstove waiting for the power to come back on. A dryer year also means that both tourists and locals can get around more easily, struggle less driving over the passes, and find it easier to park.

Heavenly reports that they've had 7 feet of snow so far. Squaw reports 8 feet. In our yard, the snow is currently about 2 feet.

We've still got three months left of snowfall. Right now, the sun is shining, the high temp is going to be around 50. Perfect.

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!