Drink driving

Friday 28th August 2015

Having previously said I don't drink, I'm going to see how drunk I can get and still be under the UK alcohol limit. I decided it was a teeny bit unethical to get behind the wheel, so I'm going to test myself on GTA V instead.

I created a simple course that mimics my everyday life. So I'm going to drive from my luxury penthouse apartment to the clothes shop for a new dress, then go for a haircut before driving to the golf course.

But first, Science™. Or if science isn't your thing, just skip to the heading marked Sober.


Blood alcohol concentration

When a bottle says that it's 5% or 40% alcohol, that's the amount of the liquid in the bottle which is pure ethanol, the stuff that gets you drunk. So a pint (568mL) of Carlsberg Export at 5% is 28.4mL of ethanol (568 * 5 / 100).

In the UK we use a system called units to make it easier to keep track of what you've drunk. One unit is 10mL of ethanol. So a pint of Carlsberg Export is 2.84 units (28.4 / 10), although it just says 2.8 on the can to avoid confusing drunk people.

Still with me?

Drink drive limits are expressed as the amount of ethanol in a certain amount of blood, or breath. The UK drink drive limit is currently 80mg of ethanol per 100mL of blood (or 35 μg per 100mL of breath). 80mg/100mL is more commonly expressed as 0.08 BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration).

But how much do I need to drink to stay below that?


The Widmark method

The generally accepted method for calculating blood alcohol is the Widmark method, which is gives the blood alcohol concentration in g%:

BAC = (0.8 * ethanol in mL * 100) / (weight in Kg * 1000 * gender constant)

The gender constant is 0.68 for men and 0.55 for women and relates to the different amounts of water in the bodies of men and women. Re-arranging this to give me the most I can drink and still be below the UK drink drive limit gives me a wonderfully simple formula:

Ethanol in mL = weight in Kg * gender constant

For me, this is 47.6mL ethanol, which is 4.76 UK units. This is just over a pint and half of Export, or four shots of gin, which is what I'm going to drink.

I know before I even open the bottle that I'm going to be utterly incapable of driving anywhere.



First, I need a benchmark, so I drove the course sober in 5 minutes and 39 seconds.


Drunk in the game

If you've played GTA V, you'll know that there are all sorts of ways to get high in the game. As an extra benchmark I wanted to get plastered in the game (still sober in real life) and then drive the same course to see what time I get. The vehicle swerves all over the road after you've had a few and is very hard to control.

The main problem here is that you can't shop or get a haircut while the police are after you, and drink-driving catches their attention pretty quickly.

It didn't end well and no matter how many times I tried, I couldn't get to the golf club without dying. Here's an example.


Drunk in real life

To be honest I wasn't looking forward to this, it's definitely one of the worse ideas I've had lately. But here goes.

I drank four shots of gin and a pint of tonic water in ten minutes and then tried to play the game. I got round the course in 7 minutes 12 seconds, but I found it hard to navigate the menus and failed to buy a dress or get a haircut.

There's no way I should be driving in real life. My driving wasn't that bad, I could control the car much easier than being drunk in the game, but I found it very hard to concentrate on playing and keeping the truck on the road. I guess this is why we have drink-drive laws! Apologies for the mumbly, slurred commentary in the video.


Want to give it a go?



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Copper refining

Friday 21st August 2015

I've just had my first go at copper refining from some old scrap copper pipe, and it's really really hot.

I've been playing with aluminium up to now which melts at a balmy 660 °C, easily achievable with my furnace. Copper melts at 1084 °C which makes it glow bright yellow!

Here's a quick video of my first attempt at copper.


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Friday 14th August 2015

I'm a massive Nutella fan, so when a friend posted a link explaining how to make it, I ran right out to buy some hazelnuts. I wanted to avoid using palm oil, and thought it would be extra awesome with coconut oil instead. I made a batch with normal oil, a batch with coconut oil and a batch with dark chocolate just to see what would happen.

Here's a quick video showing what I did:


Update: I've since discovered a much simpler version if you're in a hurry - see the end of the post for details.

  • 170g hazelnuts
  • 340g chocolate - milk or plain depending on what you like
  • 45ml coconut oil (or vegetable oil if you prefer)
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • ½ tsp salt


Heat your oven to 160°C (non-fan oven 180°C) and bake the hazelnuts for 10-12 minutes until they brown slightly.

Microwave the chocolate until it's just liquid and then stir to make it smooth.

When the hazelnuts are done, rub the skins off with a tea towel, leave them to cool down and then puree in a blender for about 5-10 minutes until they become smooth and buttery. If they're very fresh nuts, you may want to roast them for a bit longer, otherwise the water in them is going to react with the chocolate to form a solid mess.

Add all the remaining ingredients and continue to blend for another few minutes, until the mixture is smooth.

Strain through a sieve to remove the larger chunks (there will be some small pieces left in the mixture) and then scoff it all straight out of the bowl immediately.



Since I wrote this post I've refined the ingredient and made it much simpler, here's an updated recipe:

  • 170g smooth hazel butter (like Biona)
  • 340g chocolate - milk or plain depending on what you like
  • 3tbsp coconut oil

Melt the chocolate in a microwave and then mix all the ingredients together. Done!

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Playing cards

Friday 7th August 2015

One of my favourite questions is 'how did it come to be like this?'. My recent obsession with playing poker has led me to wonder why the standard 52-card deck looks the way it does, specifically the face cards. Here's what I've discovered.


Ante up

Being British I've got a tendency to think that everything was invented here, but playing cards originated in China. As early as the 9th century there are references to a "leaf game", which is about the same time that China invented printing on sheets of paper instead of rolls. Sadly the rules for this game were lost by 1067. Card game enthusiast and sinologist William Henry Wilkinson suggested that the first playing cards may have been paper currency, being the game and the stakes combined. By the 15 century there were four suits to a pack of 38 cards.

These cards made their way to Mamluk in Egypt by the 11th century. The Mamluk deck was 52 cards in four suits (polo sticks, coins, swords, and cups) of 13 cards with three male face cards: king, viceroy and under-deputy. Possibly because of Sunni Islam aniconism, the cards used the words of the titles but didn't include their pictures.

Here is an example of the Mamluk deck, remember these are the front of the cards not the back!



From Egypt, playing cards made their way to southern Europe by the 14th century, and traditional Latin decks still use the same four suits. These were originally made by hand, with the earliest playing card print woodcut dated to 1418. Once print became widespread in Europe there was an increase in variety of different card types created by different manufacturers.

The earliest card game to which the rules are still known is Karnöffel, from what is now Germany in early 15th century, using 48 cards but can be played with a standard 52-card pack with the aces removed. These are some example cards.

It is about this time that the Tarot deck came into existence, with the oldest examples from Italy. I didn't realise that the decks were related, but Tarot cards are based around five suits numbered 1-10 with King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave cards.

As cards spread to Germany the suits changed to Leaves, Hearts, Bells, and Acorns, and included a Queen card for a while. As they spread into France the suits evolved to Clovers (clubs), Tiles (diamonds), Hearts, and Pikes (spades), the Queen was permanently included and the Knight was dropped.

It's the French set that evolved into the standard pack used in most card games today, but there are still different sets which are widely used in Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.



In France, a number of variants appeared, with the card manufacturers in Paris and Rouen dominating.

The Parisian pattern became predominant in France by 1780, and is known as the portrait officiel. It most commonly has 32 cards (the 2-6 cards are removed) with a 1 instead of an ace. The most interesting feature of this pack is that all the face cards are named: the King and Queen of Hearts are called Charles and Judith, which is nice.

However it was the Rouennais pattern that was exported to Britain starting around 1480. English manufacturers started making their own, and a ban on the import of playing cards in 1628 isolated the designs from the rest of Europe.

James I passed a law requiring a company logo on the Ace of Spades to prove that cards were made in England and tax had been paid. Similar taxes were introduced in other countries, with the ace of clubs being the most elaborate in France, and the ace of diamonds in Russia.



The English cards were of a poor print quality, and so the Rouennais cards lost their detail to become the more familiar stylised representations until Charles Goodall and Son fixed the designs in their current form in the late 19th century.

Reversible cards were patented in the late 18th century. Before then card players had to flip their cards the right way up, which can give a clue to your hand, but it meant losing more detail on the face cards.

Here's Charles growing up:

Indices (the numeric value) on the corners of the cards were introduced in 1874, and it was around this time that the Knave changed to a Jack in English language packs - early indices used Kn for knave but this was too similar to K for king. Similar problems occurred in Latin languages (the words for King and Queen both start R) and  Germanic languages (where they start K).

Rounded corners were introduced to help reduce wear on the edges of the cards, and designs were added to the back of the cards to help discourage writing on the backs and giving away information.

Jokers were introduced by the USA around 1860 as a third trump card to play the game Euchre, and were standardised into the English-language packs.



Finally, the face cards in a standard pack are facing specific directions and feature specific items. These are great for pub quiz questions:

  • There are 42 eyes shown in a standard pack. The Jack of Spades, the Jack of Hearts and the King of Diamonds are drawn in profile, with only one eye showing.
  • The King of Diamonds (the only king with an axe) and the King of Hearts have their weapons behind their heads and are sometimes called suicide kings
  • The King of Hearts is the only king with both hands showing and without a moustache
  • All three Spades and the Jack of clubs are facing right, the others all face left
  • Jacks have coloured (usually yellow) hair whereas queens and kings have white hair



The advent of online poker has seriously changed the appearance of cards for the first time in maybe 100 years. There's no longer a requirement for them to be reversible since the computer always deals them the right way up. The indices are generally larger, especially on mobile apps, to make it easier to identify your hand.

But old traditions die hard, and the King of Hearts from Zynga Poker is still a suicide king, although he doesn't have both hands showing.

The most important change is that the players don't need to use the same pack as each other. Sites like PokerStars, below, allow you to optionally use four-colour decks that make it easier to differentiate suits. You can buy these decks for real-life play, but some players find them distracting.

Shame this hand was only for play money:


Fancy a game of poker?



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