Couch to 5K: The easiest way to start running

If you’re anything like me then running alone is a little nerve racking. Should you muster the energy to step outside you’re faced with the embarrassment in sweating past strangers as you try to shift your holiday weight. And when you stop you’re confronted with the feeling that you’ve not run fast or hard or long enough. Anxieties like these make it almost impossible to maintain a regular running routine and achieve long term health goals. Fortunately, we live in a digital age where even our exercise can be enhanced with mobile apps.

After an eighteen month running hiatus I downloaded Couch to 5k. Being away from exercise for so long meant I could only run half the distance I achieved less than two years before. My efforts were disappointing and I needed a programme to rebuild the lost fitness level Couch to 5k offers this. The app encourages you to slowly develop your running abilities over a nine week schedule. By the end of the plan you’ll progress from a one minute sustained jog up to a half hour run.

As well as a providing an effective exercise schedule Couch to 5k comes with several features to keep you motivated such helpful reminders and encouragement from a well known celebrity voice (personally I chose stand up Sarah Millican). Not only does the app help you reach a goal practically but it efforts to keep you on the track by supporting your exercise.  The steady but successful incline along side the helpful motivational features makes it an ideal app for the beginner runner.

Teeth Whitening Toothpastes: Do they work?

I like my coffee black, my wine red and I drink both far too often. As every good dentist will tell you, over indulging in my favourite beverages can quickly take the shine out of your smile. To prevent this I spend too much time scouring stores for new toiletries to preserve my dental sheen. Retailers are packed with toothpastes promising to remove discoloration and deliver an award winning smile. With heavy competition in a crowded marketplace good products need to whiten effectively and fit your budget. Most importantly, they need to give you a feeling of security. If you’re using a toothpaste twice a day it should not only brighten your smile but provide good oral health.

I’ve trialed three easily accessible examples against these standards over the past month. Giving each one week of twice daily use and compared it with the others. The reason for this project is because there are now so many choices all claiming to produce great results. Until you’ve tried a few it’s impossible to know which brand is best. Hopefully this will save you some of that effort.

Arm and Hammer Advance White

I stumbled across this toothpaste when packing for a city break in the travel toiletries section. At an affordable £1 (usually £2.50 for regular), this miniature was the perfect sample to start to my weekly trials. The unique selling point of Arm and Hammer toothpastes is that their whitening comes from bicarbonate of soda, a product most of us are familiar with. I found this immediately reassuring,  thinking that if it’s safe enough to eat, it’s safe enough for teeth. After a week your mouth feels healthy and after continual use the toothpaste is moderately effective. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the taste of bicarb, which dampened my experience. I’d recommend people try Advance White but be wary that the flavour may prevent the product from becoming a favourite.

 

EcoDenta Black Whitening

Like most toothpaste brands, EcoDenta offer several products with a variety of  flavours and effects. On the recommendation of a friend I settled on trying Black Charcoal. My tube came from a health food store running an offer on the toothpaste at £2.50. EcoDenta state that this product is made of 96% natural ingredients and contains no fluoride. The dark colouring, unique taste and eco friendly origins make the brand appealingly unique. The main drawback of Black Whitening is the mixed reviews. There seems to be some online uncertainty if the product is suitable for daily use. After several days this made me feel slightly uncomfortable and regulated use to night time brushing only.

 

Colgate Max White Expert White Anti-Stain

When you think of teeth whitening toothpastes this is the most typical of the products. Looking over the ingredients there’s the usual list of chemicals, including Hydrogen Peroxide. My initial expectation was that the toothpaste would be unsuitable for daily use. Working more like a nuclear bomb to remove stains and discolouration but not having a positive lasting effect on my oral health. Thankfully, all my assumptions were pleasantly incorrect. After a week there was a visible improvement in the whiteness of my teeth and my gums felt healthy. Overall, this was my favourite product for both quality and taste but it does have a heavy drawback. Currently, a tube is retailing at a hefty £12. I anticipate this toothpaste will become more affordable when it has been on the market longer.

 

 

Circe by Madeline Miller Review

Circe is Madeline Miller’s second retelling of ancient Greek legend. The novel introduces us to the title character Circe, an underdog nymph and daughter of the sun Titan, Helios. We follow the minor immortal from her creation to final scenes as she is interjected into the lives of some of Greek mythology’s most prominent players. But even when placed in the path of famous beasts like the Minotaur; heroes such as Odysseus; and the proud Olympians Athena and Hermes, Circe carves her place among the illustrious cast.

The legend of Circe is often forgotten outside of Homer’s Odyssey, however Miller paints fresh layers onto one of the lesser characters in the Greek Pantheon. We are given an imaginative retelling that is overflowing with tragedy, magic and destiny. Such a story allows Circe to steal the pages, upstage the most famous characters and cement her place in legend. A must read for anybody with an interest in mythology.

‘Introducing Lacan: A Graphic Guide’ Review

The Graphic Guide series take the complete works of writers or a subject and turns them into a basic introduction. For Lacan, they lead you through his biography and key concepts and demonstrate how they matured over the course of his career. The information is broken down into easily accessible paragraphs, accompanied by visual aids and humour to cement your understanding of his theories. This approach is particularly helpful for English speakers who often receive the psychoanalyst/philosopher’s dense works in translation. ‘Introducing Lacan’ gives clarity to the often muddy and sprawling sentences that form the writer’s original French texts. I’d implore every school, college and university to purchase a complete collection of these graphic guides to coax their students into complex writers and their concepts.

Rating: 4/5

Playing with Water Colour Pencils

My first encounter with watercolour pencils was in an art supply kit. The kind you receive for Christmas as a kid containing pencil crayons, a couple of erasers and sometimes a few pieces of charcoal. Of course, I had no idea what to do with the water colour pencils and after a few failed attempts neglected them to the bottom of the box.

Recently, I stumbled across a set in a craft store and wanted to unearth the purpose of these mysterious objects from my childhood. So, I purchased a beginner sample of twelve pencils and some water colour post cards. For the first few weeks my efforts were appalling. But I persevered and discovered that I could replicate a half decent rock. With  bit more practice I was producing pretty impressive formations. However, whilst stone circles, cliff faces and craggy boulders are great, I started to become a bit bored of the only subject I could successfully capture. I found the solution on the internet.

Like every other skill there are online resources from masters in their field. After hours of studying their techniques and practice I am beginning to appreciate the diversity of water colour pencils. Their hybrid nature allows you to use them as a regular pencil crayons but with bit of water you can layer into effective, blended painting. Versatility is their main strength. With  few drops you can move from a fluid landscape into fine detailing with a dry pencil. This adds a depth and boldness to your creations that cannot be obtained using pencil crayon or water colour paints alone.

Another great aspect of water colour pencils is how portable they are. With just a few hues you can create on the go without having to carry a canvas and other art supplies. Being able to transport such a versatile and effective tool becomes a blessing on long journeys or if you want to paint outside the home.

I would have uploaded a few of my own attempts but I have no aptitude for art. Rather than let my hobby level efforts deter you from water colour pencils I’ve included some tutorials by professionals. Their tips and insight into watercolour pencil techniques will hopefully entice you into getting started.

 

 

 

 

World of Warcraft: Is it worth it?

Blizzard has recently released their latest expansion for the World of Warcraft Series, Battle for Azeroth. It wasn’t long before online recommendations pointed me towards it. The trailers, available cut-scenes and information about the new content were enticing. However, I have always been apprehensive about signing up for WoW. As a frequent player of MMORPGs I have sampled various titles from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. I played them for about a month, grew tired and turned to something else. Naturally, I was worried I would end up in the same scenario with WoW. To investigate I decided to dedicate some time to the free trial to discover if I could justify spending about ten Great British Pounds a month on World of Warcraft.

When evaluating if a game is value for money then we have to consider the amount of content available, and whether it is engaging. Since its inception in 1994, WoW has grown considerably and currently boasts a total of seven expansions. This provides players with a strong arsenal of backstory and gameplay to explore. In an RPG this is an essential element because it allows new players fully immerse in the universe from its early releases like The Frozen Throne right up to the latest title. Furthermore, Blizzard has split the character creation into two distinct sides, with multiple races and classes. This not only deepens the amount of content and lore available, but also provides several different opportunities in which you can tackle the game.

Most entertainment is now packaged as a subscription service: Our music comes from Spotify; films and television from Netflix; even snacks and toiletries are sent through the post to save a trip to the supermarket. Why should gaming be any different? Of course, the real question is whether WoW is value for money. Taking a browse over the price of new releases you see an immediate price difference. Most recent titles come onto the market upwards of thirty pounds (assuming there is no additional downloadable content). If you find yourself enjoying the game you’ll receive an average of four days worth of game-play. On a purely financial comparison WoW comes in cheaper than buying a new game, whilst assuring that you are making your way through the kind of content that you already know you enjoy.

After three weeks of exploring the free trial I have found that the pleasure in WoW comes from the immersion. Overtime, you and your friends have explored the world of Azeroth, enveloped yourselves in its rich lore and developed your skills throughout each expansion. What Blizzard offers, in their most famous title, is a fantasy world that can be continuously explored and challenged. The addictive nature as well as the frequency of fresh content sells a monthly subscription, often making World of Warcraft cheaper and more rewarding than buying a new game once or twice a month.

Language Learning made Simple

After completing all the tasks on Duolingo I found myself a bit lost. Suddenly, I had exhausted the app and needed a new direction for my Swedish lessons. The alternate learning methods needed to develop on the basics of Duolingo and engage me into further study. There are a variety of information points available ranging from websites with lessons plans to online video tutorials and subscription apps. With a bit of experimenting I found a combination of several resources suited me best.

 

Changing media

This is probably the simplest way to boost your vocab. Once you have changed the language settings on your devices, social media and Netflix you will pick up new words everyday. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram translates all the adverts, which makes them slightly more interesting and streaming your favourite show teaches you all the swear words that family friendly sources won’t. The only problem is if you have a technical issue. It’s easier to walk past discount Ben and Jerry’s than turn your phone back to factory settings.

Memrise

Finding an app that fits for you is exhausting. They all seem to offer the same intermediate level lessons and charge the GDP of Kuwait. It took a lot of experimenting before I settled on an app that would engage me and justify a monthly subscription. Eventually, I settled on Memrise partly because it was the cheapest on offer at less than £6 per month. However, the app offers a lot of features others don’t such as videos of native speakers pronouncing vocabulary, an interactive story-line as well as access to tutors for an additional charge. As you complete each lesson your extraterrestrial avatar grows and journeys further into space. Learning this way keeps exploring a language fun and feels less like a chore. Ideal if your children are insisting on being bilingual.

https://www.memrise.com/

 

101Languages

If language learning resources were gold then 101Languages is as valuable as the crown jewels. Just like the name suggests they have information on about 101 languages available. The site offers samples of everything from vocab flashcards to links to radio shows and a smorgasbord of audio lessons. There is so much choice, all you have to do is click a link and learn.

http://www.101languages.net/