Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 29 January 2010

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Niagara Falls Frozen

Top Ten DIRTIEST Hotels - #1 - Heritage Marina Hotel, San Francisco, California - list -

Reading - Top Ten DIRTIEST Hotels - #1 - Heritage Marina Hotel, San Francisco, California - list -

Dirtiest Hotels - United States

(based on TripAdvisor traveler reviews)

By the time Debbiie White spotted some uninvited guests of the insect kind in her hotel room, she had already had enough.

Earlier, the Sunnyvale, California, resident had found a dirty wash rag in the bathroom and a takeout container with old food in the microwave.

The room was filthy and the sheets creeped her out, White said, so she, her husband and their 10-year old niece slept on their own blankets.

But it was the bugs that pushed her over the edge.

"When we saw the cockroaches and I killed two of them, that was it. We were gone," White, 51, said of her stay at the Heritage Marina Hotel in San Francisco, California, over the New Year's holiday.

The travel review Web site TripAdvisor.com last week released its fifth annual list of what it calls the country's top 10 dirtiest hotels, with the Heritage Marina grabbing the unenviable top spot.

The hotel -- whose Web site bills it as "one of San Francisco's best values" -- has 320 reviews on TripAdvisor.com, with half rating it as "terrible." Eighty percent of TripAdvisor travelers who reviewed it did not recommend it.

The hotel's general manager said the rankings were based on "subjective, irate, anonymous postings" that did not reflect the true condition of the hotel nor the opinions of the thousands of guests who have stayed there. Any maintenance issues for the hotel from 2009 have been addressed, said Dan Brannan in a written statement, and a detailed renovation will continue through 2010.

TripAdvisor's list is based on reviews posted on the Web site by travelers, who are asked to rate a hotel's cleanliness on a scale of one to five whenever they evaluate a property. TripAdvisor then takes data submitted from January to December and sorts it using the cleanliness category to come up with the rankings for the year.

The Web site makes sure the list is based on a wide array of reviews, said Amelie Hurst, a TripAdvisor spokeswoman, but she declined to specify the minimum amount required for a hotel to be considered in the rankings, calling it internal company information.

"Regardless of a hotel's room rate or location, all guests have the right to expect good levels of cleanliness," Hurst said.

"It continues to amaze me that some properties in the USA fall short, given that as a country, we're world-renowned for offering great customer service."

Why they stay afloat

It is indeed hard to believe that in the age of extensive online ratings and reviews, dirty hotels still exist and manage to stay in business.

Sometimes they're in a convenient location, like an interstate exit, which brings in lots of customers and allows the hotel to thrive without repeat business.

Still others offer what some travelers care about the most: Rock bottom prices.

"People are looking for the cheapest room rate, so if a hotel offers an inexpensive rate then customers are willing to overlook almost anything," said Chris Elliott, a travel columnist and National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.

"I don't think anyone gets into the hotel business and says, 'I'm going to run a fleabag motel.' They do it because there's money to be made."

Max Hartshorne said his girlfriend will never let him forget the time he booked a hotel room in Los Angeles, California, based on the low price.

The couple, from South Deerfield, Massachusetts, were on their way to New Zealand and just needed a room for the night. Hartshorne, the editor of the travel Web site GoNomad.com, said he had a bad feeling when the hotel shuttle that was to pick them up from the airport turned out to be a dented, decrepit van. The hotel itself was a dump in a seedy neighborhood, Hartshorne said.

"It was dirty, it was a bummer and it was the classic thing where the woman is telling the man not to do something and the man thinks it's the cheapest," he added. The couple ended up scrambling to find another place to stay.

Few firm rules for hotels

Travelers may be surprised that it's up to each hotel to decide how it handles many cleanliness matters.

Hotels are subject to certain sanitation regulations, but there are no laws governing issues such as how often bed sheets have to be changed, the toilet scrubbed or the rug vacuumed in a hotel room, said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Big brand hotels, however, do set some rules for their franchisees.

"All the major chains have standards and specifications for their properties," McInerney said. "As an industry, we don't set standards ... but we provide a lot of educational materials."

There are 44,000 hotels with 50 rooms or more in the United States and some will not be clean, he said. The TripAdvisor list makes him cringe because it reflects badly on the industry, but his organization has no "hammer" to punish the offenders, McInerney said.

The state of hotel cleanliness has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, especially after high-profile media investigations that used black lights in various hotel rooms to reveal traces of urine and semen on items like bedspreads.

Many hotels have responded to those concerns by moving away from bedspreads to duvets, which they can better launder, said Daniel Mount, associate professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State University. Some hotels have even tried to reassure guests by declaring themselves "black-light clean."

"It's creepy if you imagine the possibilities, but if you experience the realities, the reality is that the large majority of hotels do a good job," Mount said.

Still, he recently had his own bad experience at a hotel. While pulling back the duvet on his bed, he found a 2-inch stain on the sheet. There may not be standards covering such issues, but a properly trained staff should have pulled the sheet from service, Mount said.

Check it out before you check in

Spotting and avoiding dirty hotels takes a little research and action. Don't be blinded by a hotel's low room rate, experts said, and be sure to read the property's reviews on several Web sites, like TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Yelp, to get an idea of what you can expect.

"It is a much more sophisticated marketplace out there for consumers," Mount said. "You've got to read the reviews. It's a great tool now, where 10 years ago you had nothing. You'd show up and it's like, 'Oh my God, the place is a dump.' "

Organizations like the AAA have their own hotel rating systems, which can be helpful. Elliott also advised checking the word of mouth on a hotel, asking friends who have stayed there about their opinion, for example.

If you can't research ahead of time and stop to stay at an unknown hotel, be sure to check out your room first before committing to stay for the night, McInerney said.

April fool or April Fools! - California controller: State will run out of cash before April -

Reading - April fool or April Fools! - California controller: State will run out of cash before April -

State Controller John Chiang issued a stern warning Friday about California's cash reserves, telling legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger they must act on nearly $9 billion in budget cuts the governor is seeking by March — or the state will run out of cash to pay its bills.

Without making those cuts — which Chiang says will pump $1.3 billion into the state's checking account — California would be broke by April 1, no fooling.

The state wouldn't climb back to what's considered a safe level of cash on hand, $2.5 billion, until later that month, when tax revenues are expected to begin flowing into Sacramento.

"While our current cash condition is marginally better than it was one year ago," Chiang wrote to leaders, "it is still precarious."

Even with the budget cuts, the state's cash reserve would still be far below that cushion in March and April.

To that end, Chiang is calling for an additional $2 billion in cash-flow "solutions." Looking at previous cash crunches, that could mean some payments, like income tax refunds, would be delayed for a few weeks to keep the cushion intact.

"Call it overdraft insurance," said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Finance Department. He stressed that officials are still huddling over specific solutions.

If the budget gridlock lingers all the way to July, then IOUs could come back into play.

And because many budget cuts require months of ramp-up to take effect, delaying action on a new budget could inflate the state's overall $19.9 billion deficit by $2 billion, Palmer warned.

"Inaction ignores the projected cash shortfall which we face in less than 70 days," Chiang wrote. "Only you can prevent history from repeating this year."

Read more -http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_14249833?source=most_viewed

Fullest Moon of the year 2010 - Tonight! - Just go outside and look up -

Watching - Fullest Moon of the year 2010 - Tonight! - Just go outside and look up -

Tonight's full moon -- called the wolf moon -- will be the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. It offers anyone with clear skies an opportunity to identify easy-to-see features on the moon.

Tonight's full moon will be the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. It offers anyone with clear skies an opportunity to identify easy-to-see features on the moon.

This being the first full moon of 2010, it is also known as the wolf moon, a moniker dating back to Native American culture and the notion that hungry wolves howled at the full moon on cold winter nights. Each month brings another full moon name.

But why will this moon be bigger than others? Here's how the moon works:

The moon is, on average, 238,855 miles from Earth. The moon's orbit around Earth -- which causes it to go through all its phases once every 29.5 days -- is not a perfect circle, but rather an ellipse. One side of the orbit is 31,070 miles closer than the other.

So in each orbit, the moon reaches this closest point to us, called perigee. Once or twice a year, perigee coincides with a full moon, as it will tonight, making the moon bigger and brighter than any other full moons during the year.

Tonight it will be about 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter than lesser full Moons of the year, according to Spaceweather.com.

As a bonus, Mars will be just to the left of the moon tonight. Look for the reddish, star-like object.

Full moon craziness

Many people think full moons cause strange behavior among animals and even humans. In fact several studies over the years have tried to tie lunar phases to births, heart attacks, deaths, suicides, violence, psychiatric hospital admissions and epileptic seizures, and more. Connections have been inclusive or nonexistent.

The moon does have some odd effects on our planet, and there are oodles of other amazing moon facts and misconceptions:

* A full moon at perigee also brings higher ocean tides. This tug of the moon on Earth also creates tides in the planet's crust, not just in the oceans.
* Beaches are
more polluted during full moon, owing to the higher tides.
* In reality, there's no such thing as a full moon. The full moon occurs when the sun, Earth and the moon are all lined up, almost. If they're perfectly aligned, Earth casts a shadow on the moon and there's a total lunar eclipse. So during what we call a full moon, the moon's face is actually slightly less than 100 percent illuminated.
* The moon is
moving away as you read this, by about 1.6 inches a year.

The moon illusion

Finally, be sure to get out and see the full moon as it rises, right around sunset. Along the horizon, the moon tends to seem even bigger. This is just an illusion.

You can prove to yourself that this is an illusion. Taking a small object such as a pencil eraser, hold it at arm's length, and compare its size to that of the moon just as it rises. Then repeat the experiment later in the night and you'll see that the moon compares the same in both cases.

Alternately, snap two photos of the moon, with a digital camera or your cell phone, when the moon is near the horizon and later when it's higher in the sky. Pull both photos up on your computer screen and make a side-by-side comparison.

Astronomers and psychologists agree that the moon illusion is just that, but they don't agree on how to explain it.