Say goodnight with sleep apps

Sleep apps can at best help you discipline sleep habits, not tackle disorders.  There are many sleep apps that claim to use the accelerometer, microphone and camera in your phone to record the quality of your sleep, using sleep graphs to show how you slept, but all of them use average sleep patterns. This is based on the idea that interrupting the wrong sleep cycle—when you’re in slow-wave (deep sleep) or REM (dreaming)—can result in a sense of fatigue.

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But a study published in June in Preventive Medicine Reports, which screened 369 sleep apps available on Android and iPhones, analysed the most popular apps and found that while most help users set sleep-related goals, track and manage their sleep, and even offer white noise or guided meditation, few make use of other methods known to help the chronically sleep-deprived.

“There weren’t a lot of apps that had any information about the benefits of sleep, mentioned health risks associated with not getting enough sleep, and recommended the amount of sleep someone should get on a regular basis,” said Prof. Diana Grigsby-Toussaint from the University of Illinois, US, who led the research, in a press release.

Sleep apps can be useful in disciplining your sleep 

While you can use sleep apps to regulate and discipline your body clock and sleep cycles, you shouldn’t make the mistake of believing these can help you tackle sleep disorders.

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Post 35? It’s never too late to start exercising

You’re post 35 and you’ve finally decided to start exercising? That’s great news. For exercising regularly can reduce fat, stress and cholesterol, improve body functions, prevent diabetes and boost self-confidence, says Ali Irani, head (physiotherapy and sports medicine), Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. The tricky part, however, is to ensure that your routine is safe, painless and enjoyable, especially if you are above 35. “It’s best to keep yourself low on intensity and duration initially, especially when you’ve never done it before,” he says.

Our experts suggest ways to make sure you keep moving, steadily and steadfastly.

Keep small, realistic goals

Want those six-packs? It’s possible, but you need to be patient, for it won’t happen immediately.

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8 gadgets to make air travel more comfortable

One of the most annoying aspects of air travel is just how loud everything seems to be, especially when you’re trying to sleep. There’s the quiet but insistent hum of the aircraft, which becomes a rumble the further you are from the cockpit. Then there are people talking, laughing, babies crying, cold blasts of air, and the sharp thuds of washroom doors. Technology can help you shut off some of this noise.

Google Daydream view comes with a soft wearable design that is lightweight and designed to fit comfortably over most eyeglasses.
Google Daydream view comes with a soft wearable design that is lightweight and designed to fit comfortably over most eyeglasses.
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How to protect your eyes

Your eyes are getting no rest from screens. Here’s how to protect them

An average Indian office-goer spends 6-8 hours daily looking at computer, mobile or television screens, says P. Suresh, consultant ophthalmologist at Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. “The figure is worse for IT professionals or people who use computers for work, as they spend 12-16 hours in front of screens .” That’s more than half a day spent gazing at a screen, glued to a laptop or a smartphone.

“It is like running on a treadmill all the time. You’re not giving any rest to the muscles of your eyes”

Dr P. Suresh

Continuously gazing at a screen causes stress, “leading to eye fatigue and strain, with symptoms like headaches, itching, blurred vision, red eyes, burning sensation, heavy eyes and, sometimes, difficulty in focusing”, says Parul Sharma, senior eye surgeon at Max Eye Care, Delhi.

If you think taking a break from your computer and WhatsApping will make a difference, it won’t. The closer you are to the screen, the more you strain your eyes.

So what should you do?

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Indian fantasy has come of age. Here’s why

Almost surreptitiously, Indian fantasy has made a niche for itself in the English language in India. Three years ago, when HarperCollins published my urban fantasy novel Cult Of Chaos, An Anantya Tantrist Mystery (2015), I was at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. My editor contacted me and requested a video for the upcoming HarperCollins sales conference to explain the genre of the novel.

I dressed up, cycled through the campus and found myself in a professor’s office in the computer science department trying to angle my MacBook to make sure the background was filled with academic books, and not beams. “It’s like Sherlock Holmes solving supernatural crime,” I exclaimed, trying to make eye contact with booksellers through the little black dot on my laptop.

The nightmare for an Indian fantasy author

My aim was to make them avoid the one thing that gives nightmares to every fantasy author: A deep-seated fear that your novel will end up in either the Indian writing or mythology shelves in book stores. This fear has roots in reality: Because for decades, the Fantasy section has been petrificus totalus, with reprints of The Chronicles Of Narnia (1950-56), The Lord Of The Rings (1954-55), the Harry Potter series (1997-2007), A Song Of Ice And Fire (1996-) and, recently, the likes of the Percy Jackson series (2005-) and The Hunger Games (2008-10), with no space for Indian fantasy titles.

The Liar’s Weave by Tashan Mehta

Internationally, the urban fantasy subgenre wasn’t an uncharted section. Even the sub-subgenre that Anantya Tantrist mysteries belonged to, that of an occult detective dealing with the supernatural underworld of her city, was thriving enough for some literary agents to actively look for them and for others to discard them because too many of these “occult detective types” had been submitted to them.

Urban human-ish occult detectives with a problematic personal life had invaded subgenres ranging from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Notable examples included the vampire hunter series Anita Blake by Laurell K. Hamilton (1993-) and The Dresden Files (2000-) by Jim Butcher, told from the point of view of a private investigator and wizard based in Chicago. Indian author Mainak Dhar’s anti-hero zombie hunter in the Alice In Deadland series (2011-12) had also been on shelves for a while.

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What makes online games like Blue Whale so addictive?

What makes some online games so addictive that players are willing to harm themselves, even attempt suicide?

The Aerosol Challenge, a 2014 game, involved teenagers spraying themselves with deodorant at a distance of just a few inches from their skin, to see who could endure the pain the longest. It left some children with horrific burns.

In the Pass-out Challenge, young adults would choke themselves to the point of passing out in an attempt to reach an euphoric high—recording it all to post on social media.

The Fire Challenge saw people spraying themselves with flammable liquid and then setting it aflame, all for an online laugh. Neknominate had them drinking increasingly potent combinations of alcohol—this too led to some deaths. The Blue Whale game, the latest, sets tasks over a 50-day period, the last of which is jumping off a high-rise.

During Roman times, gladiatorial shows were a show of strength and violence. The Middle Ages turned execution into spectacle. Now, it’s online games like Blue Whale, says Shubha Madhusudhan, clinical psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru. “We have always had narcissistic personalities, sadists and psychopathic deviants in our society,” she says. The internet has just made it easier for all of them to connect with the vulnerable.

But what makes online gaming so addictive?

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How a skateboard brings social change in Madhya Pradesh village

Love of skateboard made Asha Gond, a 17-year-old tribal girl from Janwaar village in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh, the first person in her village to get a passport and travel to a foreign country. In November 2016 she stayed with a teacher in the UK for two months to learn to speak in English, something she was passionate about. All thanks to Janwaar Castle which crowdsourced the trip for her.

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Janwaar Castle: Girls First!

Janwaar Castle, is a project with India’s largest rural skatepark at its core.

Spearheaded by Ulrich Renate Reinhard, a 59-year-old German community activist, the skatepark happened by chance—over an impromptu conversation between Reinhard and Shyamendra Singh, the owner of Ken River Lodge resort in Panna National Park, in the summer of 2015. Singh asked Reinhard if she wanted to work in his home area. Reinhard suggested a skatepark and showed him a video of Skateistan, an NGO headquartered in Germany which empowers children and youth through skateboarding and education in various countries like Afghanistan.

“He loved the idea and agreed to donate land for it while I crowdsourced the funding to build the park,” says Reinhard who developes community projects with the internet at its core. She posted on her social media accounts and blogs, asking for artboards, or skateboards with artwork done by renowned artists from across the world, and received 19 of them. The artboards were then auctioned in October 2015 on eBay with the help of a German NGO skate-aid and Reinhard was able to raise $17,000 for the Janwaar Castle project. In April 2015, the skatepark had its grand opening and the project Janwaar Castle Community Organisation was formally turned into an NGO in January 2016. 

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How research into tantrism helped me find my mojo

“How much of the tantrism mentioned in this book is true?” a woman asked me at an event. She referred to my fantasy thriller series, Anantya Tantrist Mysteries, which has a tantric detective who fights supernatural crimes and is based in a world where tantric organisations run the supernatural world and liaison with the Indian government.

I opted for that cryptic babu reply: “It’s fiction but it reflects what’s real.”

Frankly, I was rather flattered. Here was a lady who had been in the spiritual business of things, attended congregations in ashrams across the country, was exposed to tantrics of all manners and she wondered aloud if the story, a book that calls itself fantasy fiction mind you, was based on true events or not. A whole year of in-depth research into the world of tantrism had paid off. Kaboom.

When Anantya Tantrist first came into my mind, as an urban fantasy series, I knew the 23-year-old was a tantric detective. After all, if you want to base a story in the Indian occult, the first image that comes to you is of a black choga-wearing villain who have an evil laugh, wears skulls while doing badly choreographed jigs and rituals that involve blood. Tantrics, in other words.

“Be careful,” advised my mother, upon hearing my new topic, “Tantrics can do jaadutona.” Continue reading “How research into tantrism helped me find my mojo”

7 reasons to add burpees to your exercise routine

Burpees are one of the hardest, most intense parts of a workout session. This sweat-inducing, explosive four-step movement involves squatting, thrusting, getting into a plank position and jumping. “It is a full-body exercise that helps develop muscle strength and burn calories,” says Kamal Chhikara, owner and head coach of the Reebok CrossFit Robust gym in Delhi. It engages all the major muscle groups like the arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings and abs.

Our experts list some of the additional benefits. But do remember, if you’re new to exercise in general or 40-plus in age, don’t start it without a trainer—you could get injured.

Good for weight loss

The key to fat loss is keeping the heart rate high long enough to burn stored fat, says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, a fitness expert and founder of fitness centre Vesna’s Alta Celo in Delhi. “The burpee demands all your strength and power, utilizing the muscles from your feet to the neck and shoulders,” she says.

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Shifting? Get help from a smartphone

Shifting to a new city comes with its own set of hassles. You have to find a place to stay, haggle with apartment owners, disclose personal information like whether you eat meat, stay out late, and how much you earn. Then there’s Wi-Fi, air conditioning, cable TV and other services to take care of. And that’s just the beginning. From getting furniture to figuring out food and modes of transport while handling work in a new city, the process can bog you down completely. We list a few apps that can help ease the transition.

Find a place to stay

Do you eat meat? Are you married? How long do you plan to stay? Save yourself these and other probing questions by simply renting an apartment from an online home rental company like Nestaway (Android, iOS; Nestaway.com). Search a place, visit it, pay a token amount to book it and move in. The house is furnished, with a ready kitchen, appliances and Wi-Fi, so you just need to carry your suitcases. Nestaway is available in Bengaluru, Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai. Grabhouse (Android, iOS; Grabhouse.com), a Quickr company, provides services in these areas as well as Kolkata and Chennai. It offers what they call cocoons, aesthetically done apartments. Bengaluru also has the option of RentMyStay (Android; Rentmystay.com), which rents out furnished flats on a daily or weekly basis, for up to 11 months. Continue reading “Shifting? Get help from a smartphone”