Bicycle Day

Before there was “ride to work day” there was Bicycle Day. Ask any hippie.

This commemorates the day back LSD was first administered by its inventor, Albert Hofman.

he had been developing a drug for use with psychiatric patients, so it was intended to influence the mind, but it worked better then he ever had hoped.

He administered 250 µg to himself (which is an awful lot) and then headed for home on his pushbike.  The account of what happened next is here:

4/19/43 16:20: 0.5 cc of 1/2 promil aqueous solution of diethylamide tartrate orally = 0.25 mg tartrate. Taken diluted with about 10 cc water. Tasteless. 17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh. Supplement of 4/21: Home by bicycle. From 18:00- ca.20:00 most severe crisis. (See special report.) Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great effort. By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense. I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly. Finally, we arrived at home safe and sound, and I was just barely capable of asking my companion to summon our family doctor and request milk from the neighbors. In spite of my delirious, bewildered condition, I had brief periods of clear and effective thinking – and chose milk as a nonspecific antidote for poisoning. The dizziness and sensation of fainting became so strong at times that I could no longer hold myself erect, and had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forrns. They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk – in the course of the evening I drank more than two liters. She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask. Even worse than these demonic transformations of the outer world, were the alterations that I perceived in myself, in my inner being. Every exertion of my will, every attempt to put an end to the disintegration of the outer world and the dissolution of my ego, seemed to be wasted effort. A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I had wanted to experiment, had vanquished me. It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will. I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was this the transition? At times I believed myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an outside observer, the complete tragedy of my situation. I had not even taken leave of my family (my wife, with our three children had traveled that day to visit her parents, in Lucerne). Would they ever understand that I had not experimented thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost caution, an-d that such a result was in no way foreseeable? My fear and despair intensified, not only because a young family should lose its father, but also because I dreaded leaving my chemical research work, which meant so much to me, unfinished in the midst of fruitful, promising development. Another reflection took shape, an idea full of bitter irony: if I was now forced to leave this world prematurely, it was because of this Iysergic acid diethylamide that I myself had brought forth into the world. By the time the doctor arrived, the climax of my despondent condition had already passed. My laboratory assistant informed him about my selfexperiment, as I myself was not yet able to formulate a coherent sentence. He shook his head in perplexity, after my attempts to describe the mortal danger that threatened my body. He could detect no abnormal symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils. Pulse, blood pressure, breathing were all normal. He saw no reason to prescribe any medication. Instead he conveyed me to my bed and stood watch over me. Slowly I came back from a weird, unfamiliar world to reassuring everyday reality. The horror softened and gave way to a feeling of good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions and thoughts returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity was conclusively past. Now, little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color. Late in the evening my wife returned from Lucerne. Someone had informed her by telephone that I was suffering a mysterious breakdown. She had returned home at once, leaving the children behind with her parents. By now, I had recovered myself sufficiently to tell her what had happened. Exhausted, I then slept, to awake next morning refreshed, with a clear head, though still somewhat tired physically. A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created. All my senses vibrated in a condition of highest sensitivity, which persisted for the entire day.

Of course, Hofman had no idea back his drug would fuel the entire hippie counterculture.  How could he?  Recreational drugs were not a big thing back in those days, and he would not have been aware of the explosion of use of recreational drugs that LSD would initiate.

So what effect did LSD have? Here’s the result of an experiment on a housewife.

How Much Fuel Did Kent Roberts Save?

The other day on 6PR Kent Roberts said that on his way into work he turned off his rear window demister, to save, he said, a bit of fuel.

He made the point that he realized that it was probably inconsequential, but he did it anyway.

So let’s do a ballpark calculation to work out how much it was.

I have no idea where Kent lives, or what car he drives, but for the sake of the calculation, let’s assume he lives 50km away and drives a car that gets fuel consumption of 10L/100km.

If we assume that his rear window demister draws 5 Amps, and it’s a 12V system, this means that this requires 12 x 5 = 60W (Watts, the unit of power).

Let’s now assume that his car, while he is driving it, is generating 60kW of power. This is 60,000W.

Now, if the rear window demister is using up 60W of power, this is 1/1000th of the power that the engine is producing. So the engine must work harder, by a factor of 1/1000 to operate the rear window demister.

So this is also the same factor by which the fuel consumption increases.

If he is driving 50km, and his car uses 10L per every 100km, this means that he has used 5L of fuel.

Now, since his engine has to work harder by a factor of 1/1000, this means that his engine will use an extra 5L/1000 = 5mL

So by using his rear window demister, he has used an extra 5mL of fuel. Or to put it another way, by not using it, he has saved 5mL.

Which equates to about 0.75c, at current fuel prices.

So if he did it for a year, he would save himself about enough for a packet of chips.

I reckon that’s worth it Kent, don’t you?


DIY Firestarters

Last week a listener told us you could use Twisties as firestarters.

Being a scientist I had to check it out of course. And while I was at it I thought I’d check out some other snacks.

So here’s the list:

  • Twisties
  • Chezels
  • Smiths chips
  • Burger rings
  • Woolworths rippled wholegrain chips
  • Chezels bacon boy rashers
  • Peanuts

The test was that I simply lit them and see how well they burnt.

Did the Twistie work? Yes it did, and as it burnt you could see the fat melting and running back down it.

In fact, they all pretty well worked OK, but there was one standout performer – the Chezel. It’s cylindrical shape meant that there was enough air flow to ensure highly efficient combustion, and in fact it was the only one that burnt completely.

So there you go – next time you go camping, pack the Chezels, just in case you forget the firestarters.

No one can say that I don’ttackle the big issues on this blog.



Science and the Olympics

Last night whilst watching the trampolining Liz Chetkovich noted that they now quote “time of flight” as one of the measurements that defines an athlete’s performance.

She then went on to say that this advantaged heavier athletes as they could depress the springs further when they landed, thus getting more push into the air.

Not quite right.

In layman’s terms, although the heavier athlete will indeed push the springs down further, the springs then have more weight to lift when they push him back into the air.

In fact, if you dropped two different weights onto a trampoline, and there were no energy losses in the system, and the springs obeyed Hooke’s Law perfectly, then both would bounce back into the air to exactly the same height from which they were dropped.

But of course there are energy losses in the system, and so they would not in reality rebound perfectly.

But the trampolinists of course continue to bounce high, and the reason simply is that they are putting energy into the system with their legs as they push off.

Thus the time of flight is determined not by the weight of the athletes, but by their power to weight ratio – their ability to generate the explosive power in their legs that will overcome gravity and push them higher into the air.