Well quite a lot of you seemed to sort of like my previous ramblings about my first long distance Tesla Model S trip, in fact one comment was “I can see a real potential for you as travel commentator if your day job dries up. At least it worked for two other Pommy wankers, Alistair Cooke and Stephen Fry”. Another individual, a former graduate student of mine, who may remain anonymous for now since I didn’t ask him if he wanted to be nonymous, was so impressed that he just bought a new Tesla 90D, the latest version of my car. To be fair I should also mention some people wondered why I was bothering with all this textual ramblings and asked why I don’t spend my time more productively in cinemas, bars or restaurants like normal people. So here is a link to my ramblings about that previous trip if you happen to be interested. Anyway despite my textual problems I felt impelled to write another one about this recent Tesla trip to Chicago and back, I don’t know why. This took place about 6 months after the first one, in October 2015, and is actually my fourth really long Tesla trip; after Gainesville > Texas I did Gainesville > New Mexico, then Gainesville > Rhode Island. And of course back, in all cases using superchargers or somehow finagling free electrons so the cost of actually moving me down the road was a nice round number, a big round zilch. So this is another missive from the dawn of the EV era. So now I got a much better idea about how the car works, so navigating charging etc. is a lot more efficient. In fact since this Chicago trip I did another long one to Pennsylvania, Scranton actually, as my son moved up there on a whim, with his girlfriend on her whim also, and so their two whims railroaded me sort of to move a bunch of hisnher stuffs up there and also do some solstice celebratering, so now the Tesla is at over 22,000 miles in 8 months at no direct cost in noxious fossil fuel crap to me anyway.
Anyway, I digress, so in October 2015 I had to go to this meeting in Chicago, the big annual Society for Neuroscience, a giant affair with 30,000 or so participants, so I will be a mere mote on the giant dust bunny of humanity there. I’ve been to that meeting numerous times, mostly as a scientist but for the last two previous years as the owner and founder of my own little biotech company. So I will have a booth there where I will show off what my company can and/or can’t do. Normally I would have some help from someone else in the company, but this time, and it is very long story why, I was on my own. Also, I have a lot of stuffs to take to set up the booth and being a serial procrastinator, I am not good at organizing stuffs until the very last possible moment. Why? Well the reason is that being a serial procrastinator my time is always taken up dealing with the previous crisis at the very last possible moment so I can’t get on the next crisis til that one is dealt with. Getting all these stuffs together in time for shipping means getting them all packed up a week or more before the meeting, nicely in boxes and sent off to Chicago. It’s about 1,200 miles to Chicago from Gainesville and I now know I can drive that in less than two days, so if I take stuffs there in the car I have several more days to get my ass and various other parts of me and other things together. So I decide to drive, it will also not cost much, I can bring my Leatherman tool, normal sized toothpaste tubes and anti-armpit stink stuffs, any amount of any drink I want, I won’t have to stand in long lines at the airport, I won’t be embarrassed by the holes in my socks as I forget I would have to take my shoes off, I won’t have the TSA steal my stuffs (this happens a lot apparently), I won’t get stranded for hours or overnight in Atlanta or Charlotte, I won’t have to sit next to some monstrous porkers who fall asleep and then flop over onto me on the airplane, I won’t loose my baggage and I can visit friends on the way, have various adventures and lollygag around as and when I feel like it especially on the way back. Also airplanes dump huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, in fact flying in a shitty fossil burning jet burns about as much of the oily crap as if you drove the same distance in some useless Mercedes or some other old crap SUV on your own. So I avoided at least 4 jet flights this year since I would rather go in the car anyway, directly generating absolutely no CO2.
Day 1, Thursday
I fully charged up the day before at home using my clothes dryer 220V outlet so I had 200 plus miles on day 1 before I started, the tacho is at 15,118 miles. I set out from my company lab at about 5:00 p.m, after a fairly normal days of what we can refer to for the sake of argument as work. During the day I installed the new 7.0 version Tesla software, just available right then, which is supposed to add the lane assist thing and some other options which I am eager and willing to test out. I start up the car and all the dashboard things now look a bit unfamiliar, and I think I liked the older version better, but I suppose I will get used to the new type. The lane assist does not seem to work and I wonder if I have to put in a password or something, but don’t really spend much time futzing with it. Later I found out it worked fine and that I had just been too stupid to figure out exactly how to turn it on, so I did not use it on this trip which was a pity as it would have been quite useful. To digress again, it works great and is particularly useful on long trips on the interstate. Here is an interesting thought. I am sure that in the next few weeks and/or months some person will get in their Tesla, get on the interstate, put on the cruise control and lane awareness things and then die of a heart attack or stroke or something. The car will keep on going, slowing down if the car in front slows down, stopping if the car in front stops, taking off if the car in front takes off and staying safely in the lane. So the car might end up in the next state with a dead driver and will only stop when the battery is totally flat. I confidently predict there will be a news story about this, which may say negative things about the Tesla. But of course if you die in a car without an autopilot you won’t stay on the road which would presumably not be good also. Anyway, remember, you heard it here first.
But anyway I set out and headed off to a celebration in Alachua, a minor native settlement fortuitously about 15 miles north of Gainesville off of I95, and so on the way to Chicago. This is where I had a small lab from 2002-2006, in the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, so I know quite a lot of people up there that I don’t get to see so much now. Had three beers and some sort of meaty pie things, did a lot of blah blah with a lot of people, including Barb, Pattie, Merrie, Maulik, John, Roger, Stephen, Tammy and several others, and also met some people I did not know before who mostly seemed normal and fairly reasonable. Was particularly pleased to see Steve Benner, a brilliant scientist who I had not been in contact with for a while. My son and his were friends when they were growing up 10 or more years ago, and we catch up on what each of them are doing, and, like most parents, we just shrug our shoulders and agree we have to just put up with whatever shit it is they decide to do or not do, they are clearly not going to take any advice from us anyway. Showed off the Tesla to a few people who were duly impressed. Anyway, the party does not last too long, so at about 7:30 I headed off north, thinking that the three beers I just drank is sort of borderline for a long distance trip, but am fairly confident that I, and my very powerful and well trained liver, can handle it. Since I still have plenty of electrons I bypassed the Lake City supercharger about 30 miles north of Alachua and headed off to the Tifton, Georgia, supercharger. I only need about 20 minutes charge to get to the next charger from there so I plug in, as usual in the south mine is the only Tesla there. I just wander off to a convenience store, get a coffee, use the bathroom and then back to the car and off I went. I did stop long enough to see if you can use the Starbucks free Wifi without actually going in, and I found in fact you can, a factoid which I will store in my little brain for future use. For some reason I have an unreasoning fear of Starbucks, maybe because I usually just want a simple cup of coffee which they don’t seem to have, not some fancy nonsense thing.
Next stop the Macon, Georgia, supercharger, 95 miles away behind a big civic center, again my car the only one there at around 11:30 pm. I wander around the Macon downtown, looks quite nice, some bars, restaurants and punky looking people walking around. I wonder if Macon is similar to Athens, Georgia, home of the amazing bands REM and the B52s, but I don’t know about that. Later on the trip I meet someone in a bar who tells me that Macon is an absolute dump, oh well. So after a few minutes I have enough charge to make it to Atlanta so I set off again.
I drive til well past midnight and finally think I had better crash (I mean sleep, as I otherwise might actually really crash) somewhere. I find a Motel 6 in Forsyth still in Georgia. I check in, and there is a rather largish dark haired maybe 18 year old lady behind the counter. I ask her about the rooms and try get both an ARP and AAA discount, but can only get one apparently. I ask if there is an AA discount, and she says no, apparently Alcoholics Anonymous have to pay full price, but I think she didn’t get it. Anyway I then head off to the room. I am hungry having only had a snack at this party thing in Alachua with nothing else all day, and I could also do with a beer (or two)(or three)(or four). I walk around the hotel and the environs of the hotel and everything is closed, well it is like 1:30 am. Disappointed I head back to the hotel where I go to the junk food machines and buy 4 bags of chips as there is nothing else. I see the check in lady sitting there smoking and futzing with her smart phone and she tells me breakfast starts at 6:00 am and she makes the coffee at 5:30, so I can see she is the all night shift, poor girl. So I yak with her briefly but not too much as I sense she is a little worried to be talking to a quite strange man with a funny accent late at night with nobody else around. So I go off to bed and sleep.
Day 2, Friday
I get up at 7:20 and get myself watered, scrapped, deodorized, dressed etc. I check out, the people behind the counters are now two Asians, a younger one and an older one, maybe the father. An awful lot of Asians run hotels in the US, and I wonder why that is. I guess it is because they are well educated and entrepreneurial and I remember they basically took over the corner shop industry in England in the 70s when I was a poor, in both senses of the word, student. There is no breakfast in the hotel, but some coffee, and so I get some. A skinny black guy, maybe 40 or so, with hair like Bob Marley, says good morning in a very friendly way and asks me if I traveling and I say yes. He asks where I am going and I say Chicago, so he says that I must go past Atlanta and I say yes as this is sort of undeniable given how the US interstates are organized. He then is on his cell phone the next second but asks me to wait till he is done. I wonder if I should not just bugger off, but anyway I don’t. I am feeling good, I am over 6 foot tall and in good physical condition, dressed in my camo top and cargo pants so I don’t look as if robbing me would be a pushover. The guy presumably wants a lift. Of course I wonder what I might be getting myself into, will this guy try to rob me or does he have a knife or gun or something? Was it totally racist of me to be thinking along those lines? Maybe, but I would likely have exactly the same thoughts with any white guy trying to get a lift. Anyway my curiosity gets the better of me, he wants a ride to Atlanta and I think for a second and decide why the hell not, it might be interesting. So we set off. His last name is Fudge, and he says a school he was teased as “brownie fudge” or something. It’s about 1 hour drive to the Decatur supercharger so I get his life story, all a bit sad. Trouble with the law, prison, drugs, but now he is apparently trying to make it more or less legally. He tries to sell me some nice looking socket wrenches but I tell him I got some already, which I am not making up, as I am in fact overflowing with socket wrenches of all possible sizes. Then he has some cell phone cables and chargers and stuff and I say I will look at them when we get to Decatur. I ask where he got them and there is some vague thing about some lady with a credit card who gave them to him which I don’t quite get. Since we seem to be getting quite honest with each other I ask him if the stuff is stolen and he says no. I tell him the expurgated version of my life story and he is interested in the car, he did not know Teslas existed before. Finally we are having a grand old time, talking about life, the south, politics and he really opens up. He likes Hillary Clinton but has apparently never voted, and I tell him he should, at the same time wondering if he is allowed to being presumably a felon. He lives in motels which would be expensive if you paid for the rooms every night, and I sort of wonder about that too. He is going to a training course in North Dakota with his wife to be a truck driver, they can both drive one of those big rigs which he tells me often have two beds and two drivers which I did not know. He really loves his wife he says. Finally he tells me he has been HIV positive for 19 years, and he got HIV from a white prostitute. I ask him if he is on drugs and very defensively he says “what do you mean, crack, cocaine?” I say no, I mean like AZT or something. So he goes on about AZT, apparently a drug with side effects, and some of the newer drugs which are apparently much better. I naturally ask how he can pay for all the drugs, the AZT type I mean, not the crack and cocaine, and he says that the guvmint apparently pays for them, since he doesn’t earn enough to pay for them himself, which I find a bit surprising, the US is not quite so heartless after all. Anyway he uses my phone to call all kinds of people and wants me to drop him off at a MARTA station, the Atlanta subway. He is being a bit demanding but I do this as it is only a mile or so out of my way. He tells me he always has to hustle to make it in life, and I buy a battery charger thing for a cell phone from him for $5 and he is ecstatic. So we part as the best of friends, though I suppose we will never meet again. I take a picture of him as he is leaving and he looks very suspicious, maybe wondering if I have some connection to law enforcement or something. I feel sort of good for not being frightened of him and giving him the chance to not rob me or assault me but just behave as a decent human being.
So anyway I pull into the Decatur, Georgia, supercharger, really part of Atlanta. This is in a Tesla Dealership and I plug in my car right next to another Model S. There are a load of other Tesla model S cars parked all over there, maybe 10 or more, the most I ever saw in one place. I decide to wander off to a huge mall in the next block but this is being built so all I manage to do is walk through a building site. I find a Moe’s Southern Grill there but that is also sadly not built yet, so no burrito for me. I do find a convenience store to get a coffee and then I head back to the car. I had noticed, using the Tesla iPhone app, the car was charging unusually slowly at first, and I wonder why that might be. I then remember that someone told me that if you plug two Teslas into neighboring superchargers the speed of charging of both is lower, so I think I may have done something stupid, plugging in right next to that other Tesla, as there were several other chargers I could have plugged into. The chargers are usually labelled 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B etc. which seems to lend credence to this hypothetical. Anyway, suddenly the charging rate returns to normal and when I get back the other Tesla is gone, so I guess this is all true. I go into the dealership to use the rest room which I manage to do without anyone seeing me, which is a marginal thrill, maybe I could do that in the White House? When I get out I talk to one of the guys there, since I have noticed they have some Tesla t-shirts and jackets. He is a tall thin friendly white haired Caucasian, maybe 50 or so. With my usual brilliant planning I had realized that it might be cold in Chicago in October and that I should take a jacket, so I had even figured out which one to take, but then forgot I had thought that, so I didn’t, so I now need a jacket. The guy tells me the jackets are all for women and anyway, even if I want to go transexual, they don’t have any my size but they might have one at some other place across town. So I tell him I’m just passing through on the way to Chicago and don’t really want to dawdle too much on the way out, as I have to be there for this meeting thing. We then go on about Teslas for a bit, the usual how fantastic they are blah blah etc., which of course you would expect to hear from a Tesla dealer. I forget to ask about the two charger thing and off I head. As I am driving around Atlanta I see several Nissan Leafs and another Model S on the road, and I remember I read somewhere that Georgia and Atlanta in particular have a lot of EVs as a result of very generous state subsidies on top of the already generous federal tax breaks, $7,500 from the feds and $5,000 from the state I think it was. I also heard that they just stopped the state subsidies and actually started a new annual fee for EVs, on the grounds that EVs obviously don’t contribute anything in gas taxes. So I wonder if EV sales there will now plummet, a shame if they do.
Next stop is the Chattanooga airport supercharger. This is in a parking lot next to the air terminal so I go into the airport while I am charging, mine being the only Tesla there. This part of the country must have a VW factory in it, as there is some crappy VW fossil burning junkmobile car sitting in the airport on display. All the news at that time is about how VW had put some software into their shitty Diesel engines so that the car would know when it was being tested for emissions, at which time it would temporarily go into low emission super clean mode, thus passing the test. But the engine in normal driving mode produces 40 times as much NOX pollution as in this cheating mode. I am surprised to hear about this as VW has a reputation for high technology, reliability and I had thought honesty and Germany in general is far more environmentally aware than the US. In fact Germany now gets almost 30% of its energy from renewables, mostly installed in the last few years, and this will continue to increase, check out the Energiewende. So finding out that VW was just plain dishonest is sort of shocking, polluting their own people 4,000% more than they claimed. I also wonder about the future of the German Rudolf Diesel engine, which in terms of efficiency is far better then the ridiculous crappy old also German Nikolaus Otto gasoline engine. Can you really make Diesels clean without producing all this crap which people have to breath? A coincidence that I see the car prominently displayed in an airport at the same time as I hear all this VW stuff on the radio? I DON”T THINK SO. This is of course also further evidence for the Truman show theory of life. There is also a Triumph motorcycle on display in the terminal, further evidence for the Truman show theory of life, as I have owned four of those over the years. Anyway I am hungry so I order a hot dog and fries from the punky studenty lady in the little fast food place there and cruise the free WiFi. I think what the hell and I get a beer also.
So then I navigate off to the Knoxville supercharger, about 90 miles away. I realize the beer was not such a great idea as I am in danger of just nodding off, which, with no autopilot, might not be too wonderful. Anyway I make it and wander off to the Target, where I buy a jacket. They have some cargo pants and they have 32″X34″ size, which I usually buy if I see them as they are my size but fairly rare in the US. This is because many people in the US are seriously overweight, so you can find 38″, 42″ and larger waists without any problem, sometimes coupled with comically short legs like 28″ or 30″, and this gives a good view of the most common US body forms. There is a Starbucks in the Target and right next to it Target’s own little restaurant, and so being the connoisseur that I am I buy a coffee from Target and not Starbucks, well it’s cheaper and I can’t tell the difference anyway but it should keep me awake, then I head back to the car.
Next stop is the London Kentucky supercharger, which I find without too much difficulty. As I come in there is some intense looking unshaven white guy in a non-Tesla car in one of the Tesla bays sitting in the front seat of his car drinking a coffee and staring fixedly forwards. He totally ignores me as I incompetently back in. He has two little blond girls in the back seat who do look at me and clearly are talking about this car coming in backwards or whatever, but the guy continues to ignore me. I then notice a black car which I take to be a Tesla in one of the other Tesla spots. Anyway wondering what is up with this guy, I head off for a coffee and a leak as usual and when I get back the guy and his girls have gone and two tough looking young white guys with tattoos and dirty jeans come up and talk about the Tesla. They are working on the black car which on closer examination turns out to be some crappy old Honda which they are doing something to. We go on about Teslas, range, cost of charging all the rest of it. One guy has a red beard and strong southern accent with a faintly Scottish turn to it and he does almost all the talking. Presumably an Appalachian, which has a strong Scottish and Irish influence. The other guy has very intense black eyes and is very quiet but keeps looking at me. My old PhD adviser told me that people with black eyes are always very intelligent and I wonder if that is true, there must be some data on this by now. This guy is a little unsettling anyway, but after a few minutes him and his buddy take off and soon after so do I.
The next stop is the Lexington Kentucky supercharger, and I get there at about 6:30, my Tesla is the only one there and I plug in. I wander off to look around and fairly urgently look for a bathroom as I am having what can only described as an exploding fart attack, this happens a lot when I travel. The charger is in a big mall right next to a Meijer store which I realize must be the local clone of Publix, Wegmans and so on. As I walk past the building on the way in I see what appears to be a turd stuck on the wall, which is a bit odd so I look at it more closely and it is actually a little furry turd, even more peculiar. Then I realize it is a tiny bat, just out there in the open. So I go off into the store to do my noisy and noxious business in the bathroom and head back to the car, noting that the little furry turd/bat thing is still there. I get some photogear from the car and return to the furry turd/bat to take pictures, poking it with my iPhone to make it open it’s mouth. It seems to get quite annoyed by this but does not fly off. A big SUV pulls up and stops next to me, the people obviously wondering why this strange lanky guy in camo is energetically taking pictures of something on the wall of a supermarket which most closely resembles a turd. Eventually a white guy with a hat and very interesting beard gets out with his two kids, I suppose, and asks me politely what I am doing. I point out the furry turd/bat thing and they are all interested, pulling out tablets, phones etc. and soon a bunch of other people are staring at the furry turd/bat also. The guy seems to know a lot about furry turd/bats and tells me it is a “little brown bat”, which is a good description as it is in fact not a furry turd but a little brown bat. So I nod sagely and agree, wondering if he is bullshitting me, and thinking that I that I am certainly bullshitting him as nodding sagely implies I knew that when I didn’t. Later I look it up and “little brown bat” is apparently a real thing, scientific name Myotis lucifugens, which means “mouse ears, light fleeing”, though this one does not seem to have fled the light much, being as it is clasped onto a wall in broad daylight. I remember that in Australia there is a “superb parrot”, which was a real thing also, look it up if you don’t believe me. The guy seems very knowledgeable and has some sort of biology background and we go on about echolocating and how bats don’t really fly into your hair with some other furry turd/bat fanciers listening to our putative erudition. We both heard about this totally blind guy who makes this clicking noise and can use that to echolocate like a bat, I think there was a TED talk from him. The beardy guy says that this bloke is able to ride a bicycle safely, which I had not heard, but again I bullshittingly nod sagely as if I knew that. Other people come up to look at the furry turd/bat, several old guys and one middle aged lady who pushes to the front of the crowd of furry turd/bat fanciers, takes a cell phone picture of the furry turd/bat thing and then takes off without speaking or making eye contact to anyone, except perhaps the furry turd/bat.
Then off to the Cincinnati supercharger, which is next to a Tesla dealer, and I get there at maybe 10:00 pm, so of course it is closed. Unusually two other Teslas are plugged in, and both have people in them, but they don’t seem too interested in talking to me. I guess Tesla novelty is beginning to wear off and it now becomes more and more possible that another Tesla owner might not be a really cool person like you but just some other typical asshole. Recently I noted that certain people I come across at the chargers who have the larger and more expensive 21″ wheels or the cool red brakes or the performance p85 models look down on mere mortals who only shelled out $70, $80 or $90K for the versions with slightly smaller wheels, what absolute asshole snots. Anyway I decide to go for a walk so I blunder around in the dark as there is really nothing much of interest around this particular charger especially at this time of night. So after about 20 minutes I find some bushes that I can safely urinate in without getting arrested. And then I go back to the car and head off again.
So what do I do on these long trips? Well I don’t get bored, I listen to the radio, hunting for a NPR station in range is usually the first thing. I am a news junky, I want to know what is going on in the world, quite a lot of which I have managed to see one way or another. I also listen to music, to podcasts and just got into recordings of books. So I downloaded Chuck Darwin’s famous Origin of Species book, which I certainly thought I had read, but on hearing it read out to me didn’t recognize it much at all. So on reflection I think I must have read like the first few chapters and then somehow thought I had read the whole thing. The whole thing is a revelation. This guy was obviously unbelievably erudite, he knew enormous amounts about all manner of plants and animals, he knew what hundreds of others around the world were up to from their letters and books and he was also a first class and original geologist. So I am treated to all kinds of interesting little descriptions of pigeon breeding, stripes on horses, the life of barnacles and numerous other topics. I wonder what he would have thought of DNA and protein sequence work which makes his theory undeniable, though it was undeniable already. Also what he would have thought of Alan Turing’s work on diffusible morphogens which explains how stripes and spots appear on the backs of animals and really also explains how genes can make things like fingers, toes, other body parts. That is really cool stuff and I’ll write a blog on that sometime also.
I drive some more until I get tired. I find when I am tired I drift from one side of the lane to the other which can get a bit dangerous, so it would be great if I had been smart enough to figure out how to turn the lane awareness thing on, but as I noted I initially wasn’t. If I kept driving I could get to Chicago at maybe 3 in the morning, but there is no particular need for that so I find some random hotel, a Quality Inn in Shelbyville, Indiana. The guys behind the counter are a maybe 25 year old rather slow witted American who seems to be learning the job and a dark skinned Asian who clearly knows what is going on. The American has a goatee and is quite overweight, while the Asian is very self possessed, thin, erect and clearly the boss, as the American keeps asking him how to do this or that. The American also seems to have a very hard time entering my phone number into the computer which seem odd as this is, well, just numbers, so it should not be so difficult. Also there is a calendar on the wall and the picture shows some white mustachioed Indian guy with a crazy smile and one of those spots on the space right between the eyebrows, and I guess he must be some possibly Hindu or something holy man, I dunno. In the west I have never seen holy men calendars, but I suppose some people have Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen and other allegedly holy men on their calendars, all beyond my experience however. They ask me if I want two queen beds or a king size and I say I really don’t care as there is only one of me so whatever. That is not a useful response and they clearly want a firmer answer so I then ask if one is cheaper than the other, and they say no difference. So I say that I normally only sleep in one bed per night, not unusual behavior and like most people I expect, so the king size is probably fine, so we settle on that. Another guy comes in to the hotel, and he is also a little overweight, has a goatee and is clearly American, so I ask the goatee guy behind the counter if they are related, I would have guessed they are. Apparently not, and the suggestion is hilarious for some reason, maybe some class or ethnic difference in the Midwest that I am not aware of makes this suggestion idiotic and/or highly amusing. So I go up to the room and this turns out to be a somewhat luxurious suite, the best in the hotel, too good for the likes of me, but then who is going to pay a lot to visit the outskirts of Cin city the late fall? I go back down to the car, thanking them for the nice room, and head off to Walmart. It is very late, around midnight, but the parking lot has quite a lot of cars in it and the shop is not exactly full but certainly there are quite a few people there. I get some beer, surprise surprise, and some peanuts, bread stick things and some salad, and head off to the checkout. In front of me is a very porky women and her equally porky daughter and they are buying enormous mounds of porky food, including notably mounds of bagels. More examples of the pan-generational obesity which is such a feature of the currently very porky US population about which I can continue to be judgemental about. I am opposed to bagels after I found that they are basically lumps of sugar held together with a bit of bread so the only healthy bit is the hole in the middle. I am tired, and maybe that is why I am very nervous as I wait in line, just as I would feel if I had stolen something, but in this case I am for some reason tensing up in case I can’t get the beer. I don’t think I am an actual alcoholic but I certainly do like my beer. On these Tesla trips I often come up against some stupid state rule about when and where I can and can’t buy beer but fortunately in this case I can. So, relieved, I head back to the hotel, drink my beer and eat the rest of the stuff.
Day 3, Saturday
I have breakfast in the hotel, clearly not memorable as I can’t remember it, and then I head off to the Lafayette, Indiana supercharger. As I am driving down the interstate I notice a sleek red car behind me and on looking carefully it is another Tesla Model S. So I am in a Tesla platoon; using the cruise control I platoon behind a truck and a red Telsa model S with a man and women in it platoon behind me for 30 or 40 miles. So the truck driver is our unpaid assistant working both my and their brake and accelerator pedals. I wonder if they are going to charge up in Lafayette but they just carry on when I turn off- they wave to me as they go, maybe they have enough juice, I mean electrons, to get all the way to Chicago. Anyway in Lafayette I park, only Model S at the charger as usual. I go to the Stake and Shake where I get an avocado burger and fries. I am served by a very large overweight very friendly blond lady who wants to know where I come from as I have this funny accent. She keeps coming back every few minutes asking how the food is, do I want more coffee and so on. So we get into a longer conversation and she is interested in Brits for some reason and she is a big Dr. Who fan. I tell her I saw the very first Doctor Who episode in 1963 in glorious techni black and white when I was a boy in short pants and I thought at the time that it was the very best thing ever. I also point out that it ran the day after JFK was assassinated and that if that wasn’t evidence of a huge conspiracy I don’t know what was. I jest of course. She looks at me a bit oddly and I am wondering if she thinks I am totally nuts or if she is taking me seriously, in which case she must be totally nuts. Anyway she has never been to the UK, but she really wants to go. This is a shame, she should get hold of a TARDIS or possibly just an airplane ticket sometime and check the old country out, it’s odd how many Americans have this very strong bond to the UK, but have never been there.
Anyway now it a short way to Chicago, driving through Gary which I remember from Steven King’s “The Stand”, but don’t see any explosions, Trash Can Man or anything else interesting and so get to downtown Chicago about 2:00 pm. I park in a side street and walk around a bit to get the lie of the land around the convention center, which is a huge place like it has to be if there are 30,000 people to deal with. I find a car park and register for the meeting which you have to do, getting a name badge thing without which they won’t let you in. Then fully badged up I spend the next couple of hours hauling stuff from my car and setting things up. This requires quite a lot of walking and hauling fairly heavy stuffs so is fairly tiring. Thankfully the one box of really heavy things I managed to organize shipping from Gainesville has showed up so by about 4:00 pm I have the booth done. While I am walking around I see a guy about my age who looks sort of familiar so I look at his name badge and it is in fact him, Harm Knot, a Dutchman with a very unlikely name to English ears. He was a faculty member in the University of Florida a few years ago where I was also, and I worked a little with him. I used to say “Harm Knot your fellow faculty member” in my best JFK impersonation which is just the sort of pithy punny kind of nonsense that I come up with. Anyway he is now working in some biotech company in Germany, and we compare life notes for a while. I then head back to my fancy hotel, about 3 miles away, and park outside and check in. I chose this AC Marriott as it has what Tesla calls a destination charger, so I can charge up for free in the car park. Though on other trips I have charged up for free in hotel car parks as there is usually a 110V plug somewhere in the wall and the hotel people don’t seem to mind if you plug in. At the check in a nice attractive young lady deals with me, and I ask about the Tesla charger. She has no idea what I am talking about or what a Tesla is or in fact that there are such things as EVs. So I am wondering if the charger actually exists, it’s the only reason I chose this particular hotel. I then get in my fancy car and go into the parking garage, where I am surprised that I have to apparently pay. I think that can’t be right, so I don’t take the ticket, and, seeing an unmarked slot on the ticket machine thing, shove my room ticket in there, which does not seem to fit at all. For some reason the gate opens anyway and I go in. I go to the room and room key now doesn’t work, I fried it somehow, so I go downstairs and tell them the key don’t work, and they give me a new one. Now I’m wondering how I can get my car out of the parking garage without a parking ticket as it is all automatic, no attendant. Oh well, deal with that later and I take the opportunity to wander around the park and downtown areas of Chicago with my cameras. I take a lot of pictures at that shiny reflecting blob thing, first time I saw that, which is a blast. Also the buildings by the river and the above ground railway lines all very Chicagoian. I’ve been to Chicago before but that was just for one day back in 1983 or 1984, so there is much to see and little time to see it. Then I go off back to the hotel where I check out the hotel bar and have a couple of beers. Various people in there start talking about various things and one clearly very drunk guy asks me where I come from and some other incoherent stuff. I avoid eye contact and he eventually leaves me alone. Other guys, travelers, salesmen of one sort or another, are talking about sport and US TV, both topics on which I know absolutely nothing, so I mostly just futz with my computer.
Day 4, Sunday
The breakfast at the hotel looks good but is expensive and anyway I am not hungry so I don’t have any. There is really not too much point in eating anyway, you only get hungry again. I had got some stuff for the meeting shipped to the hotel and this has shown up, but it turns out to be quite a large heavyish box and I don’t feel like hauling that on the bus or train. Also I am not sure how to get my car out of the parking lot because of the ticket screw up thing. Also I got up a bit late, so it is about 9:00 and the booths are supposed to open at 9:30, so I get a taxi to the convention center. The taxi driver is one of those not interested much in yaking so after a few attempts to converse about the weather and Rahm Emanuel I just look out the window. The booths have just opened when I get there, and I am at mine continuously from then to 5:00 with basically no breaks. Perhaps I should briefly describe one of these big science meetings for those of you who have never been to one. Basically about 30,000 people show up for an intense 4 day meeting which has talks about all kinds of things going on in lots of different rooms all at the same time, usually presented by professors and more senior researchers. These run over the entire 4 days of the meeting so there are thousands of talks you could go to if you could be in dozens of different places at once. There are also poster sessions where usually the younger scientists present data on poster boards and have to answer questions on whatever it was they were (or were not) doing. The posters are changed during the day so there are eight different poster sessions over 4 days meaning that several thousand posters get presented. Finally, and lowest on the academic totem pole, are the exhibitors, who are there for the entire meeting, sitting at a booth and trying to attract attention to whatever goods or services they have. Some of these end up being sort of sad, people sitting there for days with hardly anyone taking any notice of them. As I noted this is the third time I was in the low totem pole group, having deteriorated from someone who gave talks or at least a poster or two to now become a booth exhibitionist. So I noted that you have to have a striking booth and give out a lot of free stuff to get noticed. I have been showing pictures of brain cells made using my company reagents which seemed to go well and I also give out nice pens, flashlights, postcards, memory cards, tool things and other nonsense, in fact way too much nonsense. Often people come by the booth, grab hand fulls of goodies and take off, showing no interest at all in what my company is doing. Having one of these booths is fairly serious, the cheapest and smallest being over $4,000 to rent and then you have to pay extra for the carpet, desks, chairs and then you have ship your free stuff, catalogs whatever, pay for your companies travel, hotels, food, drink etc., so even a small company is going to be investing something well north of $10,000. In general these meetings get to be very tiring but usually a lot of fun. The older guys meet lots of people they used to work with, or their former students or employees or whatever, so they end up bullshitting a lot in bars and restaurants. The younger people, the students and postdocs, have a great time, being let loose often with their friends in some big city with somebody else paying and there are epic stories of booze ups, misadventures, total screw ups, sex, drugs and rock and roll and other hilarious episodes. In fact here is the easy to complete postcard my company gives out to graduate students and postdocs so they can document their various misadventures with little effort on their part, we even gave them free stamps.
These big meetings are usually somewhere interesting and the Neuroscience meeting is often in Washington or San Diego but has also been to Miami (where it hilariously coincided with a hurricane), Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco, Toronto, and, this time, to Chicago. Since a lot of people will be traveling to these big meetings hotel prices go up and rooms get hard to find even in these big cities. And since people are in town anyway, there are often “satellite” meetings a day or two before or after the main event. Finally, in the evenings, there are presidential lectures where some Nobel Prize winner or someone of similar stature spouts off about something or other in a huge auditorium so thousands of people can pretend to listen and/or watch. So this combination of very large numbers of visitors suddenly in town renting hotel rooms, going to bars, restaurants and no doubt titty shows leads inevitably to the spending of an awful lot of money in a city, so cities are only too pleased to attract these meetings. The Neuroscience meeting is held in October or November when hotels in most places are normally pretty empty, so being suddenly being able to bump up prices for several days and be full is a kick in the butt for them. Who pays for all this? Well senior scientists get grants and those grants have funds in them specifically to got to meetings like this, so a typical biggish grant will have some money in it for one meeting a year for the lead investigator and perhaps a postdoc or student. So if a senior guy has three big grants he can go to a major meeting and take several of his people with him, students and postdocs, though the junior people might have to share a room or go Airbnb or something. A lot of grants come from the federal government and some come from foundations like the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Heart and the American Cancer Societies. These grants are in no sense handouts but are very difficult to get so the lead investigators at these meetings are serious people who have likely spent years working to get their funding. Having been to a lot of these meetings I think it is well justified to spend money on them as investigators can inform the world about what they have been up to, learn a lot about what everyone else is up to, set up collaborations and they may even learn something useful from the exhibitionists. And also have a good booze up and behave like a teenager again.
Anyway on the first day I meet a lot of old friends and business partners who I only ever see at these kinds of meetings, Andy Chalmers, Ina Wanner, Jan Voskuil, Gary Ciment and many others. So I set up various collaborations, things to do in future, whatever, though of course I and they forget about many of these when we get home. There were two chairs in the booth which just take up space so I try to give them away but nobody wants them so I hide them away and just stand all day. This is something I do normally, I don’t sit in my office or lab either, so it is not a problem for me. In fact there is a lot of evidence that sitting all day is very bad for you so I don’t do it anymore. Some of my friends and collaborators come by at various times and offer to cover for me while I go to the bathroom or get something to eat and that is nice of them but being basically weird I also don’t eat during the daytime and somehow I get through the whole first day without going to the bathroom this presumably being because I didn’t get anything close to my normal 15 plus cups of coffee. There is a lot of activity at my booth and I sell a surprising number of brain cell images. I also put out a lot of free stuffs which very rapidly disappears. Anyway 5:00 eventually arrives I get invited to dinner with some friends and I decide to walk the three or some miles back to the hotel to see some more of the Chicago sights. I take a few more pictures and then I meet them at their hotel a bit late as I use my iPhone GPS app which gets me to the right place in two dimensions, while Chicago is very much a 3 dimensional city so I am wandering around in some subterranean road and parking lot with the right X and Y before I find the right Z level. So we go off to some famous Chicago pizza place where we have what turns out to be really awful pizza, mine is totally burnt. One of my friends really complains about this and the poor serving guy, who is of course not the cook, is put in a bit of a spot. I helpfully opine that food is just precocious poo, so nothing to get worked up about, even the most high class food is just a smelly pile of you know what the next day. And beer, wine, whisky etc. would by extension be precocious pee, which is all true, but strangely none of the others seem to be mollified by this point of view. Anyway we leave there and go back to one of the guys hotels. We blather on some more, I get introduced to some apparently important people including a cute Italian lady, but I forget who they were exactly, though I do remember drinking some whisky with them. Back to my hotel very latish, sat and did emails in the bar again, again got into the story of my life with some of the guys who are all salesmen of one kind or another and made it to bed still able to take my clothes off, not bad.
Day 5, Monday
The next day I decide I will drive to the convention center so I have to figure out how to get the car out of the parking garage, which turns out to be not a problem, the people at the front desk in the hotel seemed to be quite used to dealing with total idiots like me. Anyway this time I meet up with Eric Johnson, John Baron, Karen Padgett, Cristy Sigidroth, Michele Lemons, Lucia Notterpek, Dave Fromholt, Raul Diaz-Arastia, Tim the student from somewhere and no doubt many others. So I have more of the same kinds of possibly useful conversations as the day before. I tell Michele that I am now retired, and she says I was already retired last time I met her at last years meeting which I had of course forgotten, so I opine that I am now even more retired, which gets a laugh. The day goes on like before, people buying surprising numbers of brain cell pictures, grabbing astonishing amounts of free stuff and 5:00 pm eventually rolls round again. I had been asked to have dinner with people from two companies I deal with, so I show off by taking them to the restaurant in the Tesla, which I accelerate producing the usual mixture of shock, delight and fear from my passengers. They get another shock when I stop at some traffic lights and don’t notice that the car is rolling backwards til one of them shouts out and I put the brakes on. Then I get to my hotel and go into the wrong parking garage entrance which is for a Trader Joe’s, so I get out of that and find the right one but manage to bang one of the rear view mirrors on the wall, no damage done though. But they all now doubt my general competence and I do sort of too, but wonder if it is because I am just tired or dementia is setting in or what. Anyway we walk to a Mexican restaurant and have a fun time bullshitting away in between stuffing ourselves with burritos, tacos, Dos Equis and Modelo. Some of the talk is the usual pure nonsense that people get into but there is some serious talk about what antibodies to make in future and some discussion about mergers, take overs, that sort of thing, though it’s not really clear who might be taking over who. My company is now noticeable enough that other companies are interested in buying it, and I am also thinking that maybe, being noticeable enough, I could gobble up another company, after I’m done with the tacos and burritos. Stuff to think about in future, then we all wonder off to our hotels.
That night I have a strange dream. I am with an old girl friend in my Tesla and I am trying to park somewhere and my foot spazes on the accelerator instead of the brake somehow and I therefore somehow manage to drive the car into a swimming pool. Strangely I don’t get wet and the old girlfriend just vanishes I suppose, as she is no longer part of the story. Anyway then I get into a real anxiety thing about how I am going to get the car out of the swimming pool, thinking about trying to winch it out with a come-a-long thing, and realizing that this probably impossible with the car being so heavy. Then I realize how all my photogear will be totally destroyed, reflecting that my old Nikon F could survive a dunking being mechanical, but a digital D800, as I know from personal experience, is totally destroyed. And I expect an electric car would be totally trashed if it got submerged. I also figure out where I would have to tow the car assuming I could get it out of the swimming pool, and the swimming pool is somehow connected to a garage, a bar, and round the corner a warehouse, a workshop with a bunch of big machines and there are obstacles everywhere. So it looks pretty much impossible to get the car out. I am seriously worried about how I will deal with all this, who do you call to get a car out of a swimming pool and drag it through a garage, a bar and round a corner to a warehouse then a workshop full of big machines? Eventually I wake up and am initially really worried about this big mess. Then I am enormously relieved when I suddenly realize that all this never happened. I wonder why I dreamed all this nonsense, maybe it is because I almost damaged the car, which makes me realize that cars are mortal too.
Day 6, Tuesday
No breakfast again. Drive to the convention center, more of the same kind of stuff as before, I am running out of a lot of free stuff, in particular the one thousand fancy company logo pens I had are almost all gone, so I institute a policy of only giving them out to people who talk to me. Make some more useful connections, hopefully, and the posters are going like hot cakes, people hearing about them from other people and coming by the booth. I have a lot of cheap posters printed by a wrapping paper company which I can sell for $5 since they cost $0.50 to print, this being the 1,000% mark up typical in the antibody market. I also have a few more fancy ones printed on high class paper and I sell these also, but at $25. The classy ones all go by the end of the second day, so next time I need to bring a big pile of these. These are extremely cheap by art market prices, but they also actually cost very little to print since I have this big printer thing so I can do them myself. So 5:00 again comes around and I arrange to meet a collaborator from UCLA, Ina Wanner, who I have been working with for a while. We go off in the Tesla and she is also impressed and/or terrified by the instant acceleration. I park at my hotel without messing up in any obvious way this time and we go to a fancy Indian (from India) Restaurant and eat far too much of the runny and spicy food, bhajis, chapatis etc. Well I like Indian and it is much harder to get in the US than it was in the UK. So we talk about grants, papers, future work and so on and she gets a taxi back to her hotel. That evening I ask a very competent black lady in the check in at the hotel where the Tesla charger is and she tells me it does in fact exist, there are in fact two of them in the hotel parking garage. I find I had driven past them several times and not noticed, so I plug in to charge up. These are the small 40A units, so charge at about 30 miles per hour, easily fast enough to get fully charged overnight. This is free and the basic reason I went to this hotel. However it is the only thing there that was free, parking overnight was $50, breakfast was I don’t know what since I never had any but not free and the room was over $300 per night.
Day 7, Wednesday
Last day at the meeting, so I pack up all my stuffs in the hotel and get it into the car, being careful not to leave something or other behind in the hotel room which is one of the few things I have a real talent for. So I drive off to the convention center and park there, which is also not free between $25 and $40 each time. At these big meetings the last day, particularly in the afternoon is usually pretty dead, as a lot of people have left, but this time for whatever reason it is still pretty busy so I am there till 5:00 on the dot. More of the same with people coming by, getting what free stuffs is left, buying posters, blah blah about this and that and so on. In talking to one group I say that the $5 brain cell images might be sold, on the last day, for $2 if they are used only as wrapping paper and not as poster images. I soon realize that this is not too smart as several people come by wanting $2 wrapping paper, not the same item as a $5 poster image. I say OK but I will follow them home and look through their windows to make sure they are not using the images as posters, which amuses these people and of course I am never going to do that. And anyway $2 for something that cost $0.50 to make is not such a bad deal. I do find time to bond with the occupants of two neighboring booths, one making microdialysis equipment and the other making antibody assay kits. The assay kit people are in a biggish Chinese company but have a facility in Pleasantown, CA, which I opine should be very pleasant, but I am told is actually fairly boring. I get the guy from Pleasantown to take a picture of me and his attractive boothmate, Wendy also from Pleasantown, see below.
At 5:00 the show is finally over and it is quite astonishing to see how quickly all the booths disappear, the exhibitionists are only too eager to get out of there as soon as possible. All these banners and things are collapsible and within a few minutes most of them are collapsed already. I put a lot of my collapsibles in the box I got shipped from Gainesville and, since I gave a lot of stuff away or sold it, there is a lot less stuff to deal with so I don’t have to carry too much back to the car. I debate about staying another day in Chicago, but decide not to but hope to make it there again sometime. Then I head out, and since I was fully charged in the morning I have well over 200 miles range. I get to the Lafayette charger like on the way out and then get to the outskirts of Indianapolis before I decide to pack it in for the night and I stop at the Wingate Inn at the airport. I email this old friend John Glenney and in searching for his last email to me find he had emailed me a few days ago but I missed it. I get ridiculous numbers of emails these days to three different email addresses and most of them are about Viagra, Cialis or that someone in Nigeria is going to give me $26,000,000 so it’s easy to overlook the very small percentage that I would actually like to read. So anyway I email him back, get his address and say I will meet him there about 12:00 the next day.
Day 8, Thursday
I get up and on the road, drive a ways and feeling hungry so I stop at the same Steak and Shake in Lafayette Indiana again while I am charging up. I wonder if the large blond Dr. Who fan lady will be there again, but she isn’t. Instead there is a nice Iranian or something related kind of lady, who also asks me where I come from like most people do. I go into the usual Nottingham, England, Robin Hood stuffs and then eat a burger and fries. Then I head off to the Indianapolis charger and there is a huge great truck loaded with pickups in front of it. There is a black Model S charging, and there is just enough room, with a few inches to spare, for me to get in so I can charge also. I back up and start charging and the lady in the Model S comes out to talk. She is tall, thin, short white hair, 40ish, attractive dressed in jeans and a tight top, very perky little boobs and very business like, I would guess an MD or something similarly professional. I look at the big truck and my first comment is “Assholes”. She says that was her first thought also. I ask her if she has some sticky notes that we may leave a suitably pithy message on the window of the truck, describing in some detail where we would like him or possibly her to place his or possibly her truck in future, though it likely would not fit. It’s annoying that for some reason he (most likely a he of course) deliberately blocked off the Tesla chargers when he (see previous bracketed comment) could have parked in plenty of other places without blocking off anybody. Maybe part of the backlash against rich eco freak tree hugger commie liberal types like me. Anyway she says no she has no stickies so that is no go. I make a mental note somewhere in my disturbed cortex that stickies would be a good thing to carry around in the car, then suggest that there might be one of those “how is my driving” things and a phone number on the back, but there isn’t. So anyway I take a cell phone picture of the truck and so does she, and she says she will send hers to Elon, who she may know for all I can tell. Then she takes off, possibly not quite sure if a slobby looking foreigner like me is safe, I don’t know. So I get a coffee etc., and look for truckers, but I don’t see any overweight middle aged stereotyped white men anywhere so I guess they are in the hotel or somewhere, either that or teenage girls can now be truckers, as there were several of those around. This seems unlikely so I don’t confront anybody and so head off to my friends place in Lexington, missing out the Cincinnati charger as I got enough charge in Indianapolis to get the whole way.
I go there and meet him, he looks a little older but healthy enough and I see his Tesla P85D, black and clean unlike my dirty 85D. He is in a cabin he is building on his farm, which is apparently 200 acres or so in Georgetown, the most horsey part of very horsey Kentucky. He takes me off to a big shed where he has a 40A Tesla charger thing and I plug my Tesla in, and then we go off to a restaurant, where we eat some stuff and I have a couple of beers. He has no beer which is perhaps more prudent as it is like 1:00 pm, but once again I can count on my superbly conditioned liver. He is into horses for some reason, so then we go to the Lexington racetrack horsey place and look at some horses and then we bet on them and then go to look at some races. I have no idea what is going on, all the horses look the same to me except some are very dark brown and some are more light brown, they all have 4 legs and a head at one end as far as I could see, and none are blue or purple which I would have noticed. So I bet randomly on horse things and I manage to win something somehow but then lose it all. John manages to win $300 plus though, and I get a picture of him with his winnings.
I met him in Germany when we were both Postdocs in the Klaus Weber lab (guess who made that Wikipedia page), and we became great friends in the three years we overlapped there. I kept in contact with him on and off over the years, but had lapsed a bit since about 2012, and, just after I got my Tesla, I was wondering what he was up to, so I Googled him. To my surprise, the first thing that came up was something about him and his older daughter driving across the US in guess what, a Tesla model S! They were the first people to go New York to Fremont, the Tesla factory, only using Superchargers all the way, which had only just been put in days before. Here is one of the articles describing this and they actually did it before Elon Musk did the same trip a few days later, so John got to be famous, somewhat.
Anyway, he left Germany in 1982 and went to the Salk Institute in San Diego for a few years, then to the University of Kentucky. While in the Salk he had made some great antibodies, which he somewhat illegally took with him to Kentucky, where he started selling them in his own little company, Transduction Labs. This took off dramatically and he quit UK to work in the company full time, which he did for a few years, and then sold the company for I would guess several tens of million dollars and so retired from science and business. He then went into the horsey breeding and training thing, but then had some problems with the tiny little jockeys, who are apparently not only severely restricted in the vertical dimension but also a corrupt bunch of hoodlums, causing him some problems, and so he quit that too after a few years. Now he seems to be busy doing various projects on his land in Kentucky and some land in California where he is trying to grow grapes. So his life is sort of an eerie parallel to mine, starting an antibody business and quitting the University, except I am clearly much much slower. His interest and passion for electric cars was completely independent from mine, so it was sort of astonishing that we were both not only into electric cars but also multiple cars- me on my second one, he having had a Tesla Roadster right when they first came out and then various Model S cars. Also we both independently developed a passionate hatred of the fossil fuel industries, not something that was a big issue in 1980-1982. Also we are both into solar power, I got some on my company building and he having some at his house. Strange, very strange, GMTA or FND, take your choice, but further compelling evidence for the Truman show theory of life (vide super and/or look above).
Anyway, he pays for everything, even my bets on the horsey things. Of course he is a multimillionaire, but hey, so am I. Granted, he is a double figures multimillionaire at least but I am just maybe a modest single figure multimillionaire, but I can obviously pay my way some of the time. I know he is very competitive so I wonder if he is trying to show me who is the more alpha alpha male. He was definitely a better scientist than me, in fact he was really outstanding, though I was actually also pretty good, but in a more fumbling, learn as you go, first approximation, British muddling through, persistence is more important than competence kind of way. I was better at some things though, I learned some bastardized version of German in 1980-82, while he didn’t, and I am much more computer savvy then him. But I am not that competitive, I sort of don’t care much if people are better at things then me, or if they get paid more, or have bigger houses or whatever. In England we have so many examples of people living fantastic easy lives simply because they were lucky enough to plop out of the right vagina, take the vast family of royal hangers on as just one example. As long as I have enough of whatever we are talking about I am fine. As a postdoc different people, John being one, were getting paid wildly different amounts for doing the same job as I was, but I did not care much, I was getting paid plenty. As a faculty member I never argued with my chairman, asked for a raise or whatever, while many of my colleagues would go to great lengths to proclaim how great they were and how much they deserved a raise. And I worked in a medical school in the US where the MD faculty are often just not that smart but still got paid 2 or 3 times what a poor feeble PhD like me was getting. Good for them. So I basically don’t get jealous, though most other people do. Why is that? Possibly I’m so egocentric I just don’t give a rats ass what other people do, this might also explain why I am very hard to insult as I don’t really care about other peoples views on my numerous and obvious failings. Life is not fair, get over it, I did. So why did I buy this fancy Tesla car in the first place, was that not to show off my alpha male status or something? Well not really, remember my two previous cars were a Honda Insight and a Nissan Leaf, both techno marvels when they came out, but hardly status machines. I would never ever have bought any of those other stupid great status cars, Mercedes, BMW, Lamborgini all that crap. Which reminds me of a very bad joke, what is the difference between a Mercedes and a VW? Answer, Lady Di would never be seen dead in a VW. Anyway, I bought the Tesla because it is a really, really great car, I admire the technology, it does not support the evil fossil fuel industry and I want to support Tesla as it is a significant part of a viable way forward to get the world off of all this ridiculous fossil burning shit, about which nothing good can be said. Interestingly my Tesla is often quite dirty since I live down a dirt road, and I can’t be bothered to waste my time cleaning it very often, and it only gets dirty again anyway. People who do buy cars for status reasons are astounded and somewhat offended that anyone could not keep such a fancy car spotlessly clean, well yarbles to them, I don’t have my car to please anyone but me.
Anyway John was a really great scientist so I was surprised when he just quit science. I’m even more surprised that he apparently is not keeping up on what has been going on recently and I give him my take on the most awesome stuffs to have been done in the last few years. In my view one is optogenetics, where you can get a rhodopsin family protein originally from a bacteria or plant cell and express it in some other kind of cell, usually a neuron, in either rat, mouse, fruit fly, worm, fish, human or whatever, and get it inserted into the cell membrane. So then by flashing the right wavelength of light you can make the rhodopsin molecule open up to make a hole in the membrane and, depending on what kind of rhodopsin it is, make the cell take in or let out one or another kind or ion. This sort of sounds like a “so what” to the layman, but in practice it means you can turn on or off neurons in real time without sticking an electrode into them and believe me it allows scientists to do all kinds of experiments that would be impossible or difficult any other way. Some version of this might be used one day to treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, who knows? The main guy in this area is Karl Deisseroth, an excellent bet for a Nobel in the next 5 years, though others were involved also. The other big thing, actually much bigger thing, is the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing stuffs. The Cas9 is an bacterial enzyme which cuts DNA if it is guided to the right place on the DNA by a specific RNA sequence which hybridizes with specific DNA sequences. So you can design a RNA sequence to take Cas9 to and cut more or less anywhere in a genome. Since it is simple to express both Cas9 and the guiding RNA using viruses or other means it is possible to make designer cuts in DNA very easily. Multiple cuts are possible, so you can remove defective genes or gene segments. And adding a piece of DNA to replace the bit you cut out is also possible, so it now becomes feasible to actually repair genes. The consequences of this are fairly astonishing if you think about it, correcting genetic defects and potentially permanently improving the human genome. Of course this is likely to generate a lot of controversy, though most people have no clue about this. Some who do, who have family members with diseases like cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy, can’t understand why scientists don’t get off their bottom bits and just do it. Others have some sort religious reason for not doing it which to me makes no sense at all as religions are not based on anything sensible in my humble opinion. Of course there are legitimate ethical concerns particularly as correcting genes is likely to be expensive so the evil Kochs can do it but poor Joe Sixpack can’t. Anyway, the main person behind this appears to be Jennifer Doudna, another sure bet for a Nobel in 5 to 10 years, though again others are involved. I also did not mention to John that in 2010 already the J. Craig Venter Institute arguably made the first synthetic life form, not a minor breakthrough but one the public does not seem to have picked up on yet. I am not surprised that the average person is unaware of all this, but this guy, a very talented scientist? Surely at least the Readers Digest version of all this is covered in the press? It occurs to me he is just trying to figure out how much I know about all this and if I can coherently explain it, as I said he was always a competitive kind of guy. I dunno, I’ll ask him next time I see him.
Then we go to dinner with him, Kim, his wife, and his 8 year old daughter, and eat some Mexican. I mean Mexican food, not a Mexican person, that would be illegal even in Kentucky. The restaurant has jellyfish in it in a huge tank, maybe 12 feet tall (the tank, not the jellyfish), which is a bit unusual, especially being that Kentucky must be over a thousand miles from any possible sea and Mexican restaurants usually leave jellyfish out of tacos and burritos as far as I know. The restaurant owner apparently breeds the jellies so I ask him about comb jellies which are even more awesome transparent blobby things than jellyfish, and the guy knows what they are but does not have any. He seems a little challenged by my questions, Americans often get defensive when Brits ask them things, there is clearly some inferiority complex which I have often noticed. Anyway, Kim just bought a Microsoft Surface computer thing for the kid, and I mess around with it a bit, noting that it basically does not do anything unless you pay for it and then I rant and rave about the unspeakable horrors of Windows 10, which I actually don’t know too much about, but that does not seem to stop me. I do use Windows 7, which is adequate but not great and I have had horrible experiences with Vista, 95 and 98, which make me think that Microsoft stuff is over priced and under qualitied. I use both PCs and Macs, and neither is perfect, but in my experience Macs give you a lot less trouble. I tell them they should get one of those Google portables which are cheap and have perfectly workable clones of Word, Excel and Powerpoint and you can save the files on the Google drive basically for free, and this is in fact what some of the kids friends are using at school. So I dunno if they got one of those, but later I did, buying an Asus Chrome Google machine which is fairly awesome, a small combo portable and iPad clone thing. I bought it on my company account because, well, I could, and I might even use it one day. Later John asks me if I want to spend the night, but I am feeling like getting on, so he takes me back to where my car is charging, now fully charged and I say my goodbyes and head off into the darkness, completely in the wrong direction as it turns out. I retrace my path and head south for a few hours and spend the night in a Hampton Inn in London KY. As usual I manage to get some beer to relax my fevered brain so I sleep like a log, except that large fungi don’t seem to grow on me, possibly I am not damp enough.
Day 9, Friday
From the Hampton Inn after another totally not memorable breakfast I set off to the Knoxville charger, charge up, go to the Target there, get a coffee, not much happens, then on to Chattanooga, where, despite having been there before I go into the wrong parking entrance and have to go out and the large black and friendly ticket collector lady tells me where I should go, but politely. So I drive round again, try a different entrance but still the wrong one, so I go past the same lady again and apologize again, promising I will get it right the next time. So there are two parking lots and you can’t get from one to the other and for some reason I kept going to the wrong one. Idiotic, this is the third time I charged here, so how did I manage to find the right entrance the first two times? Anyway I finally find the chargers and mine is the third Tesla there! This is only the second time this has happened. I go into the terminal and get a coffee, do the restroom, look at some art work and head back, and now there is yet another Tesla, a silver one, this is the first time I have seen four Teslas at a supercharger. The family in the silver one just came in and the driver is a Hispanic guy who I talk to and his mother who does not seem to be able to speak English. He has what I assume are his wife and kids, and grandma takes a picture of me and him by his Tesla. He just bought it that day so he does not know too much about the superchargers and so on, so I fill him in on that, and I tell him that four Teslas at a supercharger is highly unusual at least in this part of the country at this point in time. So then I head off again.
There are two superchargers in Atlanta, the Decatur one I used on the way out, and another one at the Atlanta Station, some huge great shopping center mall thing. So I decided to check out the mall one, good for my general experience. It was the hardest one to find ever, since the charger is in a large underground parking garage and the iPhone GPS and the Tesla map thing do not work in three dimensions as I noted above and also tend to crap out underground. I drive around randomly for maybe 20 minutes, and wonder why Tesla can’t signpost these chargers so you could find them a bit easier. So anyway I finally blunder across it and plug in with one other Tesla there and wander around upstairs in this huge shopping mall while it is charging up, eating some Mexican food in a Moe’s Southwest Grill, which has become the place I stop on these kind of trips. After that I am quite tired, too tired to go on and anyway I want to see the Hillary Clinton interview with Rachel Maddow, which is on at 9:00 on MSNBC, the day after the Benghazi hearings. So I head off to a hotel, a Days Inn in Forsyth GA, not the same hotel as last time, but the same town, which I did not realize at the time. I naturally get some beer so I can relax and watch these two smart and coherent individuals, much in contrast to the craziness on the replicant side, what with Trump, Carson, Cruz et al. Hillary just got sort of grilled by the ridiculous Benghazi committee, but the grill was clearly out of gas and she did not look even a bit cooked. Basically the replicants were trying desperately to make her look bad somehow, and failing since some of their own now admit this Benghazi bullshit is all just an attempt to damage her. I like Hillary, though I like Bernie Sanders too and I think Americans could do with a bit more socialism, which they clearly don’t understand. In fact the only reason I came to the US in the first place was socialism, in my case the most important socialism being the Universities, funding of basic research, libraries and other scientific infrastructure almost all of which was payed for by the federal government. Of course I am not mentioning the interstate highways, national parks, museums, air traffic controllers, postal services, police and other many good things that US socialism does. Granted, US socialism does some really stupid stuff too, notably like funding a huge, bloated and inefficient military which is an enormous waste of money, the biggest sucker on the federal teat by far. It didn’t do anything to guard against 9/11 and it’s presence just encourages military intervention by less smart presidents like GWB for example. And whenever the military does get used it tends to botch things up and leaving a huge mess behind it. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, all big messes costing millions of lives and achieving nothing good unless you are a member of the military industrial complex. The US would be far better off just disbanding it, nobody in their right mind would want to invade the US anyway, what with all these nutty heavily armed white guys everywhere.
Day 10, Saturday
Last day, not memorable, so head off to the Tifton charger, coffee, bathroom, another exploding fart attack, enough charge to get to the Lake City charger in about 20 minutes, then off to Lake City, 10 more minutes and I have enough to get home. Tacho at 17526, so 2,408 miles in all.
Conclusions from this trip
So it is clearly not a problem to do a very long distance trip in a Tesla at no cost for transportation, and, if you do a few you get better at it. But that was the conclusion from my previous bloggings also, here if you really want to know. So there were no problems at all with charging, it has never happened that I had to wait to charge because all the chargers were occupied. The highest number I have ever seen was 4 Teslas at a 6 charger station. However this is likely to change. My Tesla has a number which tells you how many have been made and is a bit more than 70,000, so about 70,000 had been made at the end of March 2015, when I got mine. In 2015 Tesla sold about 50,000 Model S and a few hundred Model X, so as of today, early January 2016, there are about 110,000 Teslas on the road. About 60% of these have been sold in the US I read somewhere. I have noticed that I do see another Tesla at a charger more frequently then I used to, and Tesla will unveil the Model 3 in March 2016, for delivery in 2 years or so. So there are going to be more and more Model S and Model X cars over the next couple of years and when the Model 3 comes on line it might be much more difficult to do the type of trip I described here. Maybe this is the fleeting golden age of EVs, I had better make the best of it. Still the trip cost nothing in gas but there were other costs I had not anticipated. The Chicago hotel did have a free Tesla charger, but the hotel was very expensive, I had to pay $50 on top of the hotel bill per night just to park there, and then had to pay to park at the convention center. Clearly you want somewhere reasonably safe to park your expensive Tesla. Next time I might just get a less central hotel or an Airbnb with a garage. But the basic concept of the Tesla as a great 4 wheeled distance reducing module is confirmed, it works fine and is very practical. Anyway I live and learn.