A Trip to Laughlin, Nevada


by Ben Best

On May 7-9, 1999 I attended the 5th Annual High-Rollers Conference on cryonics and Low Temperature Medicine in Laughlin, Nevada. The Conferences are run by H. Jackson Zinn, a lawyer who for 5 years was President of the American Cryonics Society. Jack left ACS during one of the bitter intra-organizational feuds and is now head of the International Cryonics Foundation, of Stockton, California [(209) 463-0429]. Jack has cryopreservation ("suspension") arrangements with Alcor, whereas other ICF members have arrangements with Trans Time or ACS. I'm still unclear as to the role of ICF.

Several years ago Jack became extremely interested in the fact that Don Laughlin, who is reputedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars, has made cryonics arrangements with Alcor. Jack met with Don and arranged a "High Rollers' Conference" intended to be an elite conference for very rich cryonicists, focused on how that money could be used to further cryonics and, hence, their survival. Twelve people attended the first conference, including the screen writer for "Demolition Man" and some other wealthy people.

Jack continued to hold the conferences every year with only a few presenters and attendees. Aside from Don Laughlin, most of the more recent attendees have been "Low-Rollers or No-Rollers", but Jack likes the idea of having conferences that are open to everyone. The focus of the presentations has been toward scientific research that could benefit from "High-Roller" financing. Big money has not been raised thus far, but the size of the conference has been growing. It is always held on Mother's Day Weekend — which may be a sign that cryonicists don't spend much time with their mothers. But even more, it is probably a sign that fewer people take weekend trips for gambling that weekend — so Don Laughlin finds it a convenient weekend to donate time & space to cryonics.

For several years I attended every cryonics conference held anywhere, but the High Rollers conferences seemed too small to justify my expense & effort. (And I am not a "High Roller".) Nonetheless, I have been curious about them — and very curious about Don Laughlin, who is a cryonicist, who is very wealthy, who sponsors these conferences and who never contributes much money for research.

The conference sessions were scheduled for Saturday & Sunday, with a reception on Friday evening, but I booked a flight that would get me to Las Vegas Thursday evening so I could drive down to Laughlin and spend Friday evening exploring the city. Then I noticed a CryoNet posting that Russell Cheney would be conducting an Alcor Transport Technician certification/recertification course in Laughlin on the Friday. I thought this would be a better use of my time than being a tourist, so I sent Russell an e-mail message requesting that I be included in the course. Also, I have been working on patient alarm systems for cryonicists and I hoped to include this subject in the course.

Russell has only recently begun receiving CANADIAN CRYONICS NEWS, but he seems to be my most enthusiastic subscriber, judging by the fact he sends me an e-mail message full of comments and congratulations after every issue. Russell is a long-time cryonicist and a key Alcor member in Southern California. At the time, he was hosting Yuri Pichugin in his home. Yuri is the Ukrainian cryobiologist who has done research for the Cryonics Institute and is now involved in a project with Dr. Greg Fahy studying cryoprotectants for cryopreservation of brain hippocampal slices.

Russell told me that he would like to have me attend, but he had signed an agreement that the course would be "for Alcor members only". He went to the trouble of asking Linda Chamberlain for an exemption, but Linda expressed concern about legal repercussions. She did agree that I could make a short presentation about patient alarm systems. Since I am a member of CryoCare, not Alcor, I had thought there was only an outside chance that I could get into the course, so I wasn't too crestfallen. As it turned-out, I still have a lot of work to do before I will have a working patient alarm system — or before I can make a presentation on the subject.

I flew to Las Vegas, drove south, and arrived in Laughlin at 2:30am so that I could spend most of Friday being a Laughlin tourist. I had thought of going to Lake Havasu City, where the old London Bridge stands reconstructed in the desert (imported from England at a cost of $2.5 million in the late 1960s). After Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu City is the second most popular tourist attraction in Arizona. But I decided time was too precious to spend several hours traveling to London Bridge & back, when I was wanting to immerse myself deeply in the ambience of Laughlin.

Laughlin, Nevada is located across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, Arizona — near the tristate border of California, Arizona and Nevada. A few miles up the river is Davis Dam which, when completed in 1953, submerged Bull Head Rock — the shape of which gave the Arizona city its name. According to the US Weather Service, Bullhead City is the hottest town in the United States. An average January night in Laughlin is 44ºF, whereas an average July day is 113ºF. On June 29, 1994, Laughlin broke Nevada's high temperature record by hitting 125ºF.

In 1966 Don Laughlin bought a bankrupt baitshop/motel and six acres of land for $35,000 down. Having acquired a gaming license in Las Vegas, he was able to open a gambling establishment and rent four of the motel's eight rooms, while his family lived in the other half. Business grew, and two years later a US postal inspector named O'Reilly told Don that the emerging city needed a name for mail delivery. Don suggested that "Laughlin" would be a good Irish name for the town. Don has joked that the town was named after his mother.

By 1980 there were several casinos, and the population of Laughlin had grown to 80, while Bullhead City (where most of the hotel staff lived) had a population of 10,000. During the 1980s there was a great boom of hotel-casino construction so that by 1990 Bullhead's population was 25,000 and Laughlin's was 4,791. Bullhead's population is now nearly 40,000 and Laughlin is receiving about 5 million visitors per year.

Don spent roughtly a million dollars of his own money on road improvement, $4 million for a bridge connecting Bullhead to Laughlin, and $6 million on expansion of the Laughlin/Bullhead airport. In 1995 Don completed the South Tower of his Riverside Resort, which added 1,000 new rooms and a non-smoking casino. The city of Laughlin has a police & fire department, but no city government or Mayor.

THE LAUGHLIN NEVADA TIMES, the city's weekly newspaper is free of charge. On the front page of the issue I saw were stories about a summer reading program for children at the Laughlin library and a story of a Laughlin High School student who had won a state-wide competition for automobile repair. Page 10 contained a "Police Blotter" feature that listed every recorded police incident in and around Laughlin for the April 23-29 period. Many of these incidents involved consumption of alcohol by minors, indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. Real estate advertisements impressed me with the amazingly low prices for houses (by Toronto standards, certainly — see www.aroundtheriver.com. and judge for yourself).

Inexpensive food and hotel rates are part of Laughlin's attraction. Although High Rollers' Conference attendees were given special rates (weekend $35/night, weekday $15/night) at the Riverside Resort, this is only a few dollars less than the going rate for hotel/casinos on The Strip. But the attendees were given rooms on the top floor (mine faced the river).

I began my day of tourism with the Riverside Resort's boat tour of the Colorado River. The tour runs at a leisurely pace to Davis Dam in the north to the bottom end of The Strip on the south. Then I drove around Bullhead and Laughlin. I dropped into the Colorado River Museum in Bullhead City, where I was the only visitor. The caretaker was a retired school teacher who seemed pleased to have someone to talk to. He was informative concerning the history of the area.

The town of Laughlin is separated from The Strip by quite a few miles of desert road. The town is not old enough to have any run-down areas. The Shopping Centre was a quiet place with the exception of the supermarket, which was busy. I was almost shocked by the size and collection of merchandise in the gun shop — I've never seen anything like it in Canada — and yet it sits innocuously amongst restaurants and garment shops.

The Strip itself is a self-consciously tiny Las Vegas, consisting of ten large hotel/casinos, nine of which are on the river side of the road. Ramada Express, the only hotel/casino on the west side of the road, is encircled by a miniature railroad which goes round-and-round, giving free rides to anyone who hops aboard. The railroad has some utility for those wanting to go to or from the parking lot, but for riders like me it was just a novelty.

At the north end of The Strip is Don's Riverside Resort. At the south end is Harrah's, past which there is an abrupt transition to stark desert. The largest hotel, with 2,000 rooms, is Don's neighbor the Flamingo (the Riverside Resort has 1,450). The hotel/casinos have themes, but they are not the fantasy-extravaganzas of the Las Vegas Strip. The most radical transformation from the appearance of a hotel is the Colorado Bell, which is built in the shape of a huge steamship, with paddlewheel. As with Las Vegas, although all hotel/casinos have special attractions, the predominant feature is sprawling floors of slot machines.

I had never driven a skidoo or seadoo before, but I took the opportunity to rent a seadoo for an hour at the Pioneer Hotel. I found it somewhat frightening and hard to control at first, but soon I was zipping the length of the river from Davis Dam to Harrah's and pushing the limit of high-speed turns.

Don's Riverside Resort is a city unto itself, and I challenged myself to become so familiar with it that I would be able to go from any one part to any other part without getting lost. I can't say I was completely successful.

Throughout the casino there are monitors where, at the press of a button, you can watch a video of Don Laughlin's life story. It begins with Don's birth in 1933 in the rural district of Otatonna, Michigan. By age 11 he had saved enough money to buy his first slot machine and by age 15 he had a business that was earning him $500 per week. This was over twice the income of his high school principal, who told Don to "get out of slots or get out of school". Don dropped out of school and continued his enterprise until 6 years later when Michigan made the slot machine business a felony.

Don moved to Las Vegas with his wife & infant son, worked as a bartender & dealer for a few years and then bought a small bar, which provided him with a gaming license. Several years later he was able to buy the property near the Arizona border that was to make his fortune. On the video, Don described his efforts to build a bridge across the Colorado river at his own expense, saying that it took him four years to get approval from about 38 government agencies. Opened in June, 1987, the bridge was constructed in only four months. I bought a copy of the video at the gift shop.

On the second floor of the Riverside is a huge 24-hour bowling alley adjoined by some fast-food snack bars. Nearby is a room full of video games and related computerized entertainment equipment. The movie theatre has six cinemas. There is a large museum of antique & unusual cars & vehicles. The antique slot machine store sells several slot machines per week.

The Riverside Resort watch store is reputed to be the largest in the world — over 20,000 watches all selling for $20 or less. It has watches in rings, in necklaces, in stones, in toys, in chinaware — a mind-boggling assortment. I bought a talking watch for an uncle who is going blind, and a watch-in-a-hat for myself. A smaller luxury-watch store is located elsewhere in the casino.

I made sure my explorations did not continue beyond 5pm, when the 2-hour "Happy Hour" began in Don's Hideaway Lounge. There I met Jack Zinn, who was surrounded by Norm Lewis (of Trans Time), Dave Greenstein (of Alcor) and a number of other cryonicists I did not know. I had stayed with Dave when I was in Boston, and he had been very hospitable in driving me to MIT, Harvard, the Boston computer museum and other local attractions.

Jack said that his conferences continue to get bigger, and that he was expecting 60 people to attend this one. Since the conference is free and there is no formal registration, no one can say for sure how many attended, but judging from what I saw Jack's guess was probably close to the truth.

Other attendees continued to drift into the lounge including, to my surprise, 21st Century Medicine CEO Saul Kent. Saul's view of me as a person who attends every cryonics conference was immediately confirmed — since this was Saul's first time at a High Rollers Conference. Saul acknowledged hopes of getting Don to buy stock in 21CM. Despite Don's millions, the extent of his contribution to cryonics research has been to buy $10,000 worth of 21CM stock and $20,000 worth of Bio*Time stock. When asked to contribute money or invest in cryonics research stock, Don's response has been that he has millions of dollars of debts and financial obligations. I thought Saul had given-up trying to get Don to invest, but I was wrong. Saul mentioned that the last time he had asked Don to buy stock, Don declined on the grounds that he was spending $6 million on the airport.

I asked Saul if he was making plans to have 21CM researchers at the High Rollers' Conference the following year, but he said he was more interested in having his researchers make a special presentation to Don. I encouraged Saul to have a 21CM presence at the following conference, but only for the selfish reason that it would give me another update and a chance to meet with and question the presenters. Saul told me that he was planning another general seminar like the one he had in Fall 1998, but for this one he would invite any potential investors, not just cryonicists.

At around 6pm Don Laughlin came into the Lounge. I did not know how much opportunity there would be to talk with Don during the conference, but I feared it would be minimal so I abruptly left Saul and joined the crowd gathered around Don. I had lots of questions I wanted to ask him, but I wanted to be careful about not being too blunt about the $64,000 question (or the $64 million question) concerning the whys & whens of him putting big money into cryonics research.

When there was a lull in the conversation, I asked Don where he stood politically. He replied that politicians generally mess things up. Concerning the war of NATO against Serbia over Kosovo which was going-on at the time, Don said that people in the Balkans have been fighting each other for centuries, and that he did not believe NATO's involvement was going to resolve matters. This met with a lot of enthusiastic agreement from those around us. When the discussion from this topic started to die-down I asked Don what his next large project would be. He answered that he had no big projects planned and that his main focus is to pay off his debts — a project which he estimated could take about 30 years. I asked him if he was overly leveraged (having too much debt in comparison to equity in his property), but he denied this, saying that he simply didn't want to have any debt.

I pushed the envelope of risk by asking Don how many more years he expects to live. He acknowledged that this is an uncomfortable question to think about. He said that he did not know the answer, but that he is currently 68. My question bears crucially on how long Don can delay spending money on cryonics research if his wealth is to do the most good to save his life. But I did not raise this question. One thing I would hate about being rich (and there aren't many others) would be having people persistently asking for money.

I asked Don if any of his family has taken an interest in cryonics (he is divorced, but he has two sons and a daughter). He said no, but one son has agreed to be the trustee of his cryonics trust. Don agreed with me that South Dakota is the best state in which to establish cryonics trusts, and, in fact, he has established a trust there with Citibank. I had considered Citibank in my research, but decided it is too expensive. I would have liked to talk with him much more about this, but he abruptly left the room.

I saw Russell Cheney and asked him how the Technician Training had gone. His original thought had been that the team members would be attracted to the High Rollers' Conference and the recreational ambience of Laughlin, but as it turned-out there were only 2 others from Southern California (Dr. Robert Newport & Dr. Kat Cotter), plus one from Northern California (Bruce Cohen). Linda Chamberlain had joined Russell and the doctors in making it primarily a training session for Don's team. Initially Don's security people did not have a very high regard for cryonics, but their perceptions have been becoming increasingly favorable (or less unfavorable).

I was eager to meet Dr. Bob Newport because he is playing such a crucial role in the negotiations between CryoCare and BioTransport — not least because of the physician's expertise he is expected to lend. In light of that, I was surprised to discover that he is a psychiatrist. But when I spoke to him about his role, he seemed confident the surgical skills would not be a problem for him to master.

The Alcor people headed to The Gourmet Room for dinner, and I joined them, continuing my discussion with Bob. The Gourmet Room is one of the most expensive restaurants in Laughlin, and is the most expensive of the 6 restaurants in the Riverside. Laughlin standards of expensive food means more than $30 — the all-you-can-eat buffet in the Riverside costs about $7. (Prices of restaurants in Laughlin can be seen at www.visitlaughlin.com/visitor/restaurants.html)

To my right was Dr. Kat Cotter, who had completed chiropractic training only a year earlier. To my left was Jim Davis, an airline pilot with Continental Airlines who was completing his signup with Alcor. He had seen a copy of THE FIRST IMMORTALIST in an airport bookshop. Near us was Mary Margaret Glennie, an Alcor stalwart.

Afterwards I went with BioTransport principal Michael Riskin to the blackjack tables. Michael and I discussed future collaboration between CryoCare and BioTransport with special attention to issues concerning member's funding. Sitting at the blackjack table, Michael looked very adult and I felt so childlike that I almost overcame my aversion to gambling enough to have a game.

The first speaker at the Conference on Saturday morning was Dr. Glenna Burmer, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of LifeSpan Biosciences of Seattle, Washington ( www.lsbio.com). The scientific calibre of her presentation, her work and her credentials knocked my socks off. She had become interested in anti-aging research at the age of 16, and steadfastly pursued her MD and PhD with the goal of becoming a researcher against aging (for life).

She mentioned that only 10,000 of the 100,000 genes in the human genome have been mapped and only 350 are currently targeted by drugs. By implication, there is still a vast untapped potential for pharmaceutical intervention. She said that her organization is the only company in the world producing molecular pathology data for large pharmaceutical companies — and her company counts virtually every major pharmaceutical company among their clients.

Dr. Burmer said that telomeres are only the first example of aging-related genes. Using DNA chip technology, with 1,000 genes on each chip array, they have been able to monitor whether genes are turned-off or turned-on. Studying different tissues from different age-groups, they found a kinase that increased expression in both heart & skin with advancing age. Their company is searching for genes that will either increase or decrease in a variety of disease conditions (including aging) in more than one tissue. One particularly exciting discovery they had made was of a gene that is expressed in senile plaques and pre-senile plaques. This could lay the groundwork for stopping senility in its tracks.

Dr. Burmer mentioned that hair follicles from bald humans will grow hair when transplanted to the skin of mice. She raised the possibility of a shampoo ingredient to reactivate follicles. Hugh Hixon emphasized the unimaginable wealth the implementation of this idea would bring to Dr. Burmer's company.

During the question period I asked if any of their results had been published in peer-reviewed journals. She said that they weren't ready to do that yet. I also asked, considering the focus on the genome, whether she thought mitochondrial DNA played a significant role in aging. She said that the fact that young nuclei can rejuvenate cells when substituted for old nuclei by transplant had made her doubtful that mitochondrial DNA is crucial, although she is now having second thoughts.

I was impressed by her to the point of being intimidated — which is the only explanation I can give for the fact that I made no attempt to talk to her. The quality of her presentation was so far above that of the others that I was amazed that she remained in the room for the rest of the day — and embarrassed by the amateurish impression it may have given her of cryonics research.

I asked Jack Zinn how he had gotten Dr. Burmer as a speaker. He said that he had asked Michael Fossel to speak, but Dr. Fossel wanted $10,000. When Jack asked Fossel for an alternative speaker who would not charge, Fossel gave him Dr. Burmer's name.

Ralph Merkle was the next speaker. I have listened to Ralph's nanotechnology presentation umpteen times at various conferences in the last ten years. Ralph himself has told me that if I have already heard his presentation a few times, there is no need to hear it again. If Ralph was planning to only give updates, I would have stayed. But he asked for a show of hands of people who had not heard his basic talk before, and decided the number was large enough that he should deliver it.

I probably returned later than I should have, because Ralph was talking about a new topic — the upcoming release of a book on Nanomedicine. The technical book would be followed by a popularizing book — and Ralph gave reasons why he thought this sequence would have more impact than the reverse sequence followed by Drexler's books. My own perception of the basis on which people accept or reject ideas makes me doubtful that sequence makes any difference.

Opening the afternoon sessions, Dr. Paul Segall stated his thesis that the Syrian golden hamster is the best model system for cryonics research. He reviewed the protocol being used for hamster cryopreservation experiments at Bio*Time. In the mid-1950s Audrey Smith had shown that hamsters could be cooled until 55% of body water was frozen. But the hamsters would die within 18 hours of re-warming. Examination of hamster brains shows widespread petechial (pinhead-to-pinpoint size) hemorrhaging. Paul said that Dr. Mark Voelker had been employed with Bio*Time for a month, and would be doing research on this problem using high-pressure chambers.

Paul then introduced another new Bio*Time worker, Lee McCook, a graduate student who had taken an aging course at Berkeley with Dr. Paola Timiras (Paul Segall's "mentor", and author of the 1983 book NEUROENDOCRINOLOGY OF AGING). McCook took the stage and explained that he wanted to continue the work Paul Segall had begun based on the neuroendocrine theory of aging. Since McCook has not yet had much time to do original work of his own, most of his presentation was a review of aging research material which would be familiar to anyone who has studied the subject carefully.

Lee argued that the signalling environment of the genome is the "ultimate determinant" of gene expression, rather than the genome itself, that the endocrine profile is an important part of this environment, and that the brain (under feedback control from lower systems) controls endocrine profile. He showed the beginnings of his work done in collaboration with a computer programmer named Steve Garran to study samples of brain tissue under a computer-controlled microscope.

After the lecture I spoke with Steve Garran who, it turns out, is a Canadian from Waterloo. He is eager to apply computer technology to the aging problem. He was impressed when I told him that I had taught a Java course at George Brown College in the first quarter of 1999, because he was interested in having some of his code rewritten in Java. He was also impressed when I told him how much time I have spent installing and configuring Linux. He thought that we might be able to find a way to work together, but he was unable to come up with anything tangible. Steve invited me to visit his lab in Waterloo, but I told him I don't have a car. His website is www.arclab.org.

When I asked Steve about cryonics, he told me that he is too young to be thinking along those lines. I told him that I too am hopeful that aging can be eliminated soon ("plan A"), but if that fails, I want to have cryonics ("plan B") in place. I would expect that serious life-extensionists would have both plans in mind, with increasing emphasis on "plan B" as they get older. But I see many life-extensionists who have no interest in cryonics as well as some cryonicists who don't pay much attention to life-extension.

Dr. Mark Voelker had been in the program to speak on Sunday morning, but he decided to take advantage of the time available for Bio*Time. He spoke of his plans for high pressure research, rather than about electron microscopes — his topic scheduled in the program.

Mark explained that different solutes depress the freezing point of water to a different degree (sodium chloride has a eutectic temperature of -21.6°C, whereas for calcium chloride the eutectic temperature is -55°C). He said that both temperature & pressure are independent variables which may independently govern the minimum amount of cryoprotectant necessary to cryopreserve. He suggested that much can be learned from exploring the 3-dimensional space represented by a plot of temperature, pressure and percent cryoprotectant.

Mark showed a picture of the hamster-sized hyperbaric chamber he said he built to explore this 3-dimensional space. At that point, Bruce Cohen interrupted to say that he had built the chamber — including welding — and accused Mark of dishonesty. Mark objected by saying that he had found only a box of parts when he arrived. I don't know the truth underlying this dispute, but the tone of it was embarrassingly unprofessional.

Since the afternoon had been going so swiftly, Fred Chamberlain asked the participants if they would like to finish the entire conference that afternoon by having him give the BioTransport presentation originally scheduled for Sunday. The attendees favored the idea.

Fred began by describing the naive approach he had toward cryonics rescue when he first became involved, over 25 years ago. Instead of sending cards that said "Get Well Soon", he said "Sorry you're sick and going to die — you should make arrangements to be frozen". Fred was interrupted and given a note which shocked him into stepping-up his pace and focusing on the current organization and plans for BioTransport.

But Fred was soon interrupted again. He announced that his presentation would have to be cut short because an emergency cryonics case had come-up and the team needed to mobilize immediately. The timing of this event was ironic, in light of the fact that it had been 2 years since Alcor last cryopreserved anyone. In short order the Alcor people were packing-up and vacating.

Don Laughlin was talking to Jim Davis about his eagerness to have regularly scheduled flights between Las Vegas and the Bullhead/Laughlin airport. Jim said he would look into the matter and send Don a report. Don emphasized that the report should be short & succinct.

Mary Margaret, Kat Cotter and I had all agreed the night before that what the Riverside needs is a good gym. I asked Don if it would be possible to build a gym under the South Tower (which has the non-smoking casino area), but he said ground-water would prohibit this. He told me plans for a gym were already underway, and that construction would begin in the near future. I told him that another great addition would be facilities for guests to have Internet access — browse the web and get their e-mail while away from home. He said it should not be too difficult to have computer terminals set-up in a room much like the one in which we had our conference presentations.

I asked Don whether he takes any supplements for life-extension purposes. He told me he is taking about 80 different vitamins and other supplements on a regular basis. I asked him, given his lack of scientific training, how he decides what supplements to take. He said he has advisors to make these decisions for him. I may have made him uncomfortable by asking him this because he abruptly walked away.

I spent the rest of the evening taking a final look inside some of the other hotel/casinos on The Strip. Sunday morning I ran into Paul Segall and Dave Greenstein in the lobby and we agreed to go to the Riverside buffet together for breakfast.

Paul said that the FDA approval had just been given for his Hextend blood-substitute and that the pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories would be doing the marketing. This should mean big money for Bio*Time. Paul described a few more blood substitute products Bio*Time has developed — and the differing conditions under which they can be used — but I have unfortunately forgotten the details.

When I mentioned the poor results Greg Fahy had with cryoprotectants at high pressure, Paul told me that he figured Greg's specimens had suffered from nitrogen toxicity ("the bends"). At Bio*Time they plan to used a helium atmosphere. He said that if fish can live in the Mariana Trench, there is no reason to believe that pressure itself is "toxic". Paul even suggested that high pressure may promote perfusion in such difficult areas as eyeballs & bones.

Although his remarks seemed reasonable at the time, I am now doubtful that substituting helium for nitrogen is of any benefit. "The bends" is not due to "nitrogen toxicity", but is due rather to decompression (which is why its other name is "decompression sickness"). Decompression results in the formation of nitrogen bubbles — and it is the bubbles, not the nitrogen which causes damage. Helium bubbles would be every bit as damaging — and would probably form more easily. But of course bubbles would not form until the pressure is released. Fish in the Mariana Trench are not at risk because they stay in the Trench rather than rise rapidly to the surface.

Paul said that Ian Wilmut deserves the Nobel Prize for his cloning discovery — and I think Paul even said he had submitted a nomination. I told him that cloning is far too much of a political hot potato for the Nobel Committee to consider such a thing. Paul seemed confident that as the medical benefits of cloning become manifest, perceptions will change very quickly.

On my drive back to Las Vegas I stopped by Hoover Dam, which has a large tourist centre. Hoover Dam appeals to my megalomania as a colossal "concrete" tribute to human engineering — set against a backdrop of towering mountain rock. Unfortunately, it is also a tribute to central planning and public works projects. At the time of its construction its psychological impact was equivalent to a moon landing. It was the highest dam in the world, and for ten years it was the world's largest hydroelectric installation. Lake Mead is still the largest man-made reservoir in the United States.

Dams are currently very controversial among environmentalists. Although dams generate one-fifth of the world's electricity as a "renewable" energy source, they impede fish passage and destroy riparian flora & fauna in a number of ways.

I took the "hardhat" tour, which went through some of the deeper passageways of the dam. The tour guide said that the entire electrical distribution system for the dam is now controlled by only 3 PCs, which he hopes are Y2K compliant. I am thinking of going to next year's High Rollers' conference. If I do, I will probably take the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon.