Earlier this week BBC News reported that a seventeen year old boy had admitted to supplying controlled class A drugs at a court hearing. The hearing followed the death of schoolgirl Martha Fernback, who swallowed half a gram of MDMA powder and suffered a cardiac arrest at a lakeside in Oxford last summer. Her mother, Anne-Marie Cockburn, immediately turned to writing as a way to cope with her grief and Infinite Ideas published her first book, 5,742 Days, in December last year.
Last week the news broke that a fifth former Marlboro Man, Eric Lawson, has passed away due to smoking related causes (read about it here). It got us wondering how many people started 2014 resolving to fling the fags for good; and how many stuck to it. We all know people who are trying desperately to quit – maybe your boss is giving up again, your best mate has tried all the latest gadgets in her quest, or Uncle Larry is constantly covered in nicotine patches and just wants to feel free again. If you’re a heavy smoker yourself, your teeth are probably stained, your fingers may be yellow and your careworn family are very likely at their wits’ ends. Quitting smoking is never going to be easy, but these days there are many routes to success and they don’t necessarily involve going cold turkey. Here are some options we’ve tried:
- The cold turkey approach: purge your house and pockets of cigarettes, resisting the urge to go scrambling after them in a nicotine-fuelled frenzy (superior willpower required – only 3% of smokers succeed by willpower alone);
- Get your hands on one of the latest e-cigarettes, such as Green Smoke, designed to take some of the nasties (and social stigma) out of smoking;
- Search the web for online stop smoking campaigns such as Stoptober and quit together with thousands of others;
- Nicotine patches. Lots of them;
- If you live in the UK, check out the range of support services provided by the NHS;
- Download a stop smoking app on your Android or iOS device (most popular at the moment are NHS Stop Smoking and Smoke Free);
- Websites. Many stop smoking charities, such as Quit, have sites where you can access information, shop for stop smoking products, develop your own ‘Quit Plan’ and find out where you can get the best support;
- Ditch your chain-smoking friends and start your new life as a Buddhist monk;
- Buy Stop Smoking or Quit Smoking for Good, read it from cover to cover and then tell all your friends and colleagues how life-changingly fantastic it is.
Ten years ago this list would have been a lot shorter. The recent growth of stop smoking products is due in part to smoking bans, making it far more inconvenient to smoke in public. Products such as electronic cigarettes, combined with online campaigns, supportive communities on social media sites and the many practical stop smoking apps available, have made us better equipped than ever to give up for good (the wonders of modern technology!) So if you don’t fancy going cold turkey or giving up your day job to seek enlightenment, have no fear – there’s probably another option for you (and probably for the big boss, Sarah and Uncle Larry, too)…
Gone are the days when a run in the park involved nothing more than a solid pair of Reeboks, three Weetabix, a purple shell suit and optional slobbery dog. In 2014, your weekly jog can involve any number of fancy gadgets and gizmos designed to enhance the running experience and improve performance. Developers are using the latest technology in new and innovative ways, and the market for fitness apps, websites and gadgets is growing faster than ever.
A glance at iTunes will show you what’s popular right now. Map My Run (part of a family of apps including Map My Walk, Map My Fitness and Map My Ride) is one of the top free fitness apps of the moment. It counts your calories and tells you how many you’ve burned, connects you with friends and suggests new routes. Most importantly, it maps your previous runs using GPS and records personal fitness stats, like heart rate. But running isn’t for everyone; if you prefer to work out in the gym or in front of the telly, you could try the 7 Minute Workout Challenge. It’s a clever interactive app that guides you through twelve exercises that, it claims, are scientifically proven to produce results in seven minutes. And like Map My Run, it contains other features such as a weight tracker, activity calendar as well as unlockable extras.
This might all sound like a belly-busting alternative to a pricey gym membership, but do fitness apps actually work? It depends what you’re looking for. Fitness apps can only go so far towards motivating a confirmed couch potato – the promise of a virtual trophy is no match for a personal, potentially lycra-clad Mr or Ms Motivator, and although sharing capabilities can go some way towards providing a sociable experience with a competitive element, for many the thought of a night at home with their phone is far less enticing than a game of footie or Zumba class with mates.
Having recognised this fact, developers are looking for other ways to lure in potential buyers. This week Mashable is touting Fitmob, a website and app that brings together certified fitness trainers and would-be gym goers with the shared goal of reducing the costs of fitness instruction (read the full article here). The idea is that by attending sessions regularly, you pay less. The catch? Fitmob classes are in the initial stages of development – for now, unless you’re lucky enough to live there, you’ll need to catch a plane to San Francisco to attend.
Another popular fad this year is personal ‘fitness trackers’ – wristbands designed to track how often you exercise, how well you sleep and, like the apps mentioned earlier, monitor vital stats. Some reviewers of the leading brands (such as Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex) are sceptical about how useful all this information actually is: ‘If mainstream users are going to get better insights, we will need smarter gadgets that collect more types of data, more accurately, which are backed by intelligent services that can turn that data into useful recommendations – immediately.’ (Read more here).
Through apps, websites and now even wearable accessories, developers and entrepreneurs are pioneering some fantastic fitness ideas; if the developers have their way we will have evolved into a race of super-humans by 2020 (we’re changing in other ways too – take a look at our previous ramblings to find out how technology is affecting the arts and media industries). But there’s a long way to go before these complex new innovations can provide a seamless, intuitive user experience, that gives the user more than just a list of statistics of dubious accuracy. It’s also hard to replicate the social, interactive aspect of a workout session that provides an essential motivating factor for all but the most hardcore gym bunny.
So for now, let’s go back to basics; ditch the naff bracelets, forget the virtual trophies and keep it simple. We know that good information is king, and that exercise should start with you. With the right frame of mind and the best ideas at hand you can develop a fun exercise routine and get the most out of your workouts on your own terms. So check out our range of books and ebooks, which are full of inspiration to kick start your fitness plans and find the way to a healthier new you. (By the way, just in case apps are more your thing we’ve teamed up with Mobifusion to develop Better Body Abs; remember to check back soon for more simple, effective workout apps that draw on advice from our very own expert authors … because let’s face it, Mr Motivator is just so 1993).
Winter is here (if you’re in any doubt just ask most of the USA) and this year it brings the special excitement of a Winter Olympics. The 22nd Winter Olympic Games take place in the Russian city of Sochi, and from 6th February we can look forward to over two weeks worth of wintry thrills, including twelve new events.
From the start I should probably confess that I have never skied, snowboarded or luged and I doubt I ever will. I did once spend an afternoon on the ice* at my local ice rink, and that was enough to convince me that frozen water + sport + me did not equal anything good. The thought of taking part in any of these sports terrifies me. The way I look at it, if the universe had wanted me to hurl myself round a track on a tea tray or throw myself off a mountain with only two planks and a couple of sticks to aid my descent it wouldn’t have invented Ski Sunday or made my sofa so comfortable. But I love watching those professional sportsmen and women cutting their way through pristine snow or executing a perfect triple Axel on the indoor rink. Add a glass of schnapps and a few toasted crumpets and you can count me a very happy bunny.
I think the first Winter Olympics I really paid any attention to were the ones that took place at Lake Placid, NY, in 1980. In school we each did a project on the games and I remember the cover of mine featured a very large picture of Robin Cousins, Team GB’s gold-medal winning figure skater (hey, I was 7, don’t judge me). Of course all Brits remember the pairs figure skating from the games that followed, as Torvill and Dean romped to victory to the strains of Ravel’s Bolero (a tune we all soon grew heartily sick of). Astonishingly we had to wait eighteen years for another winter gold, which was finally brought to us at Salt Lake City’s games by the women’s curling team (and oh how the Scots enjoyed pointing out to us Sassenachs that the team was made up entirely of women from north of the border). During our long wait we were kept entertained by the likes of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards and his good-natured but hopeless ski-jumping attempts and the most unlikely team in history, the Jamaican bobsleighers.
If you’re still sighing at the prospect of blanket news coverage of ice-hockey, skating and snowboarding remember that the Winter Olympics has also kept us enthralled off the ice, with controversies such as Tonya Harding’s attempt to scupper the figure-skating hopes of Nancy Kerrigan, her Team USA rival, with a plot to break her legs – if you saw it in a movie you’d think it was too far-fetched.
Now, while I warm up my slippers and make sure I’m well stocked with hot chocolate and teacakes, I realise there are some folks out there crazy enough to want to venture out on the mountains and actually DO some of these sports. If that’s you, you could do worse than check out Skiing and snowboarding or Win at winter sports, both of which are available as ebooks so won’t take up too much room in your luggage as you head to the slopes.
However you choose to do it, enjoy the snow!
*most of it on my arse
Infinite Ideas author (ex-Burger King CEO Barry Gibbons) today shocked the scientific establishment by unveiling work that claims to prove that one gene is responsible for success in a variety of endeavours.
Without a microscope, any scientific training and through experiments on only one animal – himself – Gibbons has managed to isolate the elusive W Gene*. Unharnessed, this rogue gene, found mainly in the human male, can cause disastrous life consequences but, claims Gibbons, it has astonishing potential when brought under control.
“It triggers a strange behavioural pattern in those who possess it,” says Gibbons. “When things are going well, when recent life has been a sequence of climbing small ladders, this demographic, for no apparent reason, does (or says) something which provides a snake to slide down. But the W Gene might be controlled, and even harnessed, with positive results. Under certain circumstances the W Gene might prove to be an ally.”
It is estimated that only a small proportion of the population carries this gene, though incidence of W-Gene affected people seems to be particularly high in the north of England (Gibbons himself hails from Manchester), among football managers and in all strands of the media. Diagnosis can take years but signs include:
- An uncanny ability to mess up one’s life, particularly when it’s going well – the W Gene seems to switch on when things get ‘boring’;
- A heightened ability to say the wrong thing to the wrong person at precisely the wrong time;
- Possession of a finely tuned bullshit detector;
- An unwillingness to suffer fools at all;
- A mischievous sense of fun and dry wit, neither of which is tuned to appropriateness of situation;
- A highly developed sense of right and wrong and an unwillingness to pursue any other course, regardless of consequences.
Once Gibbons discovered this genetic quirk it became clear that it was behind both his career accomplishments and his continuing successful battle against bowel cancer. More detail on this potentially world-changing discovery can be found in Gibbons’ new book Pushing doors marked pull. Rude, funny, revealing and straight talking, this book is for anybody who wants to know what it takes to succeed in spite of, or perhaps because of, yourself.
*Also known as the Wanker Gene, this hereditary gene most usually occurs in men, and can cause a range of irrational behaviours.
Scientists have grown a hamburger in a lab by transforming cells into muscle and combining them to make a ‘meat’ patty. The patty, inevitably christened ‘Frankenburger’ by the Daily Mail, among others, was revealed and eaten at a news conference in London today.
Pioneered by scientists in the Netherlands, this new method of growing meat is developing in response to a rising global demand for food, an issue surrounded by questions about sustainable and ethical farming. According to a BBC article, growing beef in this new way uses 45% less energy, creates 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 99% less land than traditional beef cattle farming. So it’s easy to see the benefits.
But these ‘hamburgers’ haven’t made it big yet. To most people the idea of a white, chemically-grown muscle mass dyed red with food colouring and flavoured to make it taste of something is as repugnant as any fast food burger could be. Surely what we really want is food that hasn’t been tampered with – not processed meat padded out with pink slime and sprayed with poisonous chemicals (studies in the US have shown that 70% of processed meat is produced in this way), and not something grown by a twenty-first century Dr Frankenstein using a few cells, a pipette and a Petri dish.
The idea of playing with food isn’t new by any means. The first genetically modified crop – a tomato engineered to ripen later than its natural counterparts, went on sale in 1994 (the full implications of GM crops are not yet known but in June this year, the British Environment Secretary declared the health risks of GM farming to be ‘infinitesimally small’). And then of course there’s Dolly the sheep, who made headlines in 1996 having been cloned from a cell ‘as a means of replicating the very best animals with respect to agricultural production’.
Naturally most of us would choose a cruelty-free, environmentally friendly option over the Big Mac driven, mass produced meat many of us are eating right now. But the problems we’re facing are a result of a deeply ingrained Western culture – a thriving food culture based on consumers’ needs for convenience and affordability, and a corporate lust for global domination and a fortune to boot. It’s no wonder that scientists are experimenting with new, weird and wonderful ways to meet demand. The market is there – everywhere, in fact.
Of course, not everybody agrees that fast food is automatically bad. Some argue that it means that millions every day who would not get a hot meal any other way are fed something filling and relatively cheap. For such an alternative view of fast food read Barry Gibbons’ hilarious Five loaves, two fishes and six chicken nuggets. Gibbons writes with real authority on the subject since he was global CEO of Burger King for five years.
Perhaps we shouldn’t try to replace fast food, but move away from it altogether. One of the most obvious issues associated with the industry is the increasing incidence of weight problems in both adults and children. Children are often encouraged to regard fast food as a treat for behaving well, so it’s no surprise that 22% of four and five year-olds in England are overweight or obese. It’s worthwhile noting here that while more than one billion people worldwide are obese, around the same number will go to bed hungry tonight. Perhaps instead of looking for new ways to industrialise the food industry we should be focusing on farming and distribution models that redress the balance.
Happily, our attitudes are changing – the health risks of fast food are widely known and questions about ethical food are ever-present in the media – this year’s horse meat scandal being just one recent instance. But availability is key, so it’s gratifying to note the increasing visibility of sustainable fishing campaigns such as Hugh’s Fish Fight, and a growing (but yet little) quantity of ‘free range’ and organic produce in supermarkets today.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future we will find the time and resources to prepare fresh, healthy food with a minimum amount of locally-sourced meat. We might return to the old days of home-grown or locally farmed produce (we’ve been reading Grow Your Own Food and making the best of this year’s glorious sunshine) … we could even go continental, returning to siesta full-bellied from an hour savouring the specialities of our local café. Or perhaps we’ll all move to Asia, take up Hinduism and live plentifully on a vegetarian diet. If we want the food industry to change it’s up to us as individuals to ensure that we demand better quality food and turn our backs on the pink-slime and Frankenburger salesmen.