Digital World Series event at The Studio

Last month I attended the Digital World Series event, held as part of the Greater Birmingham Digital Academy series, in conjunction with Digital Birmingham (I know, how many times can I use ‘digital’ in one sentence).

IMG_5856The event was loosely billed as a way for small/medium businesses to learn from leaders (and experts) to gain a greater understanding of digital technologies. The line up looked impressive, with speakers from internationally recognised digital leaders like Twitter, Facebook and Uber, as well as some local speakers like Simon Jenner, one of the founders of Urban Coffee Company and Justice Williams.  Having been involved in digital communications for a while now, it’s always interesting to hear how other organisations are making the best of the internet, and new emerging trends.

The day kicked off with an introduction to the day from Raj Mack, head of Digital Birmingham, followed by Neil Morgan from Sage, the accountant software organisation.  He give a frank and interesting presentation about how through acquisition and general enthusiasm, the organisation had ended up with a fragmented approach to social media, and how they aligned the digital strategy to that of the business ones.  Neil spoke about the importance of getting buy-in from the CEO but also from staff to encourage them to share online, and also forming a community of people who follow and engage with your business.

Next up was Fouzan Ali from Uber, who spoke about his journey on getting to work at Uber and how the organisation works between local teams with local decisions making and accountability, and centralised departments.

IMG_5867 Video was something which became a bit of a theme, started by Sophie Rayers, director of marketing at Brightcove.  She spoke about the benefits of utilising video, how to make them more engaging, using user generated content and how businesses like clothing companies and financial services are using video differently.  Video was something Paul McCrudden from Twitter also spoke about, talking about the company’s live streaming Periscope app and how its authenticity means it doesn’t need to be glossy, keeping costs down, which is particularly useful for smaller businesses.  He also spoke about linking into social media influencers;

“Most celebrities are household names; we are handheld names. People take their phones everywhere” – Simone Shepherd.

One of my favourite talks was from Amy Hobson, partner at Social B.  Amy’s talk was realistic and practical and gave some really good insights for smaller organisations that might not be able to do it all.  She started off explaining how social media relates to and links back to traditional marketing, something which I think is often confusing for people not confident with digital communications.  Asking people what “success looks like for you” she was able to explain simple but effective ways to manage and collect useful information from social media interactions.

IMG_5874 Simon Jenner, founder of Urban Coffee Company spoke about the evolution of coffee companies in Birmingham but how Urban had experimented with technology to drive forward their business.  He spoke about how they had been prepared to experiment with a number of ideas, some of which worked and some of which didn’t, but the importance of realising that some experiments might seem like a failure but that they might be a case of wrong timing.  He also spoke about how Urban would like to use data to help drive forward the business and whilst a number of the other organisation are large national or international businesses, it was good to hear how smaller businesses could utilise digital communication innovations.  Another local speaker, Justice Williams, also spoke about the importance of authenticity, looking at how a number of women are leveraging digital to create successful businesses that give them the freedom to work for themselves whilst utilising their content and retaining their authenticity.

IMG_5878Big data is something that seems to be everywhere and another stand out talk of the day was from Ian West, VP Analytics & Information at Cognizant, an international consultancy.  He spoke about the vast amount of data being produced, and the importance of collecting the right sort of data and analysing it to improve the customer experience.  Ian’s talk was funny but informative and gave some important insights into people’s fears of data, but how lots of well known businesses are using it to their advantage.

The final talk belonged to Greg Russell of Facebook, who nicely managed to knit together a lot of the threads from the other speakers, talking about the increase in photos and video being shared and how competitive everything is, so the importance of personal relevance – and having a mobile strategy.

And with that the day was done.  There was time for networking afterwards, but my brain was full of the day’s insights and I wanted some time to digest them.  I’d come away fascinated by what some organisations were doing and how well the speakers had done at translating how that could be applicable to other organisations to positively increase their digital footprint.

Interestingly it wasn’t always the big ‘star’ names that were the most inspiring; the more hands-on approaches from Amy at Social B, Simon at Urban Coffee Company and Ian at Cognizant provided practical applications which could easily be implemented, even in smaller teams.  That said, Greg from Facebook and Paul from Twitter presented a really positive outlook to the digital landscape and how businesses, both big and small, could utilise some of these exciting new developments.

Themes which are mentioned a lot in digital communications…big data, the importance of authenticity and the increasing popularity of video were all touched on and explored.  With a good mix of big names with large internationally recognised brands and smaller more local organisations, on the whole the speakers did a good job of breaking down the big ideas and wins for their organisations into ways that might work, or inspire, some of the smaller businesses in the room to develop their approaches. I’d been a bit wary, given the price of the ticket, but felt that I’d gained some valuable insights into some really exciting businesses and some practical ideas on digital communications.

The Digital World Series are organising a second event, being held in Birmingham on 27th October and tickets are available at their website;

My experiences of using a Jawbone UP2

Years ago, I got involved in one of those workplace campaigns to see which department did the most steps and it mainly involved wearing an annoying little pedometer.  As someone who doesn’t drive and co-ordinates events on a fairly regular basis, I was pretty interested to work out how many steps I do – both on event days and not. 

It feels like there’s been a bit of an explosion in wearable tech, particularly in trackers measuring steps and sleep, as well as others doing things a bit snazzier (like heart rate).  And I love a good graph with data, so at the end of January, I decided it was time to get myself and a friend recommended the Jawbone UP2.

Wearing my Rolex Jawbone

I did a little research and the web seemed pretty convinced that for the price the Jawbone UP2 was a pretty good deal.  I wasn’t sold on the strap, which looked a bit fiddly, although I didn’t get it caught nearly as much as some of the reviewers suggested.  Also, is it just me or does most wearable tech just look a bit ugly?  The Jawbone is less blocky than some other popular wearables, but still isn’t the nicest thing; I’m hoping as their popularity increases, manufacturers will more inclined to make something less functional and something more appealing.

The Jawbone Up2 lasted a week, if not a little longer – which I think tended to be on weeks when I didn’t sync with the app as much.  To me this is a major bonus as I could charge the Jawbone once a week on a Sunday whilst watching Netflix and not feel bad for not moving.  The USB charging cable wasn’t my favourite; it’s small, wasn’t overly helpful if charging from a desktop and the magnetic element is helpful, but you have to remember to get it the right way round – thankfully the flashing lights tell you if it’s charging.

Sing me to Sleep

IMG_5557As someone that has suffered from sleep problems for over a decade, the sleep tracker was something I was really interested in.  I’ve previously tried one of those apps where you leave your phone under your pillow so the tooth fairy can leave you a graph to tell you how well (or not) you slept – and frankly I found it a bit crap. 

After three months of using the Jawbone UP2’s I was impressed by how well it seemed to pick up on my sleep habits; on mornings I’d woken up feeling like I’d had a rubbish night’s sleep, the Jawbone seemed to agree.  And as someone who fidgets a lot, even asleep, the Jawbone did a good job of recognising what was me moving around during my 40 winks and what was me being awake.  It also did a fairly good job of knowing when I woke up, hit the snooze button and went back to sleep for a few more minutes.  It also does this automatically, so there’s no need to tell it when you’re going to bed and worrying how long it’ll take you to fall asleep, which I thought was a major bonus.

Steppin’ Out

There’s a lot out about how accurate wearable tech is, given that most rely on a accelerometer, and frankly those guys did more research and testing than I’d done – the most I did was try and see what my iPhone and Jawbone UP2 thought about the steps and I don’t know enough to know which was more likely. But it seemed fairly alright as a general guide.

The UP2 app also allows you to track bursts of activity – and is responsive enough that it will often prompt you to do so if it thinks you’ve been doing something energetic.  Apparently if I’m on a bit of a mission, my Saturday morning power walks to the bakery would count.  As there’s no heart rate monitor it asks you to decide the intensity of the exercise, which I struggled a bit with, as there’s no guide so deciding whether a hilly hike is harder work than a faster walk is up to you.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 22.36.14I Get By With A Little Help

In hind sight I should probably have looked at using the tracker to monitor my longer walks, but some of the reviews I’d read suggested that they weren’t too keen on if you stopped – although I didn’t find this on my walks to and from the bakery.  I tended to use Map My Walk for longer walks (5+ miles) and the app integrated well with the Jawbone UP2’s.  Actually, there were a few apps that I ended up syncing with it, including the Apple Health app and My Fitness Pal (although I was less good at remembering to use that).  Having had a look, Jawbone also created a bunch of other apps and I quite liked the one to measure caffeine too, although it was annoyingly geared towards the US market and measuring drinks wasn’t as easy.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone

IMG_5672The Jawbone UP2 app itself was simple and easy to use, and I liked the interface which gave you the details simply – and that celebratory pattern on the step/sleep bar if you’d hit your targets was a nice touch.  I didn’t find the food tracker particularly helpful, and so when I did use this I found it far easier to use My Fitness Pal, which had a lot more UK foods and generally felt a bit easier to use.

Smart Coach, one of the things Jawbone seems to pride itself on, was for the most part pretty good.  There were a few things that made me go “hmm” a little, mainly ones on mental health and physical beauty, but for the most part it was encouraging and gave some nice little snippets of trivia.  Although it was really very excitable and (over) enthusiastic, something which I suspect works a little better in the US market than the UK one, but I did enjoy that for the most part it didn’t feel judgemental if you missed your target, rather than supportive – and gave you the option to choose your own targets to begin with.

Generally though, it was the weekly insights, which I also had on an email, that I was interested the most; these told you how you’d slept and stepped compared to the previous weeks.  Whilst you could see a how you were doing daily, I enjoyed seeing the weekly compare and contrast.

So in conclusion have I made my decisions clear

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 20.15.10Aesthetics aside, for three months I really enjoyed the insights and the reminders to get myself moving more.  The Jawbone UP2 for the price is a nifty little gadget and seemed to work well.  However, one thing I have to mention is that just over three months of daily wearing, the strap seemed to inexplicably brake and dropped off my wrist with no warning.  And whilst the tech bit worked fine, the wearable element was redundant and sadly had to be taken back.  Having had a look online, this seems to be a reoccurring problem (at least from photos on Amazon) and I’m hoping that the lack of stock in store means that Jawbone are looking to resolve its problem. 

Sadly for me though, it means I was unable to replace my Jawbone and have gone for another make of wearable tracker, so will review in due course.

Living Lagom – midpoint

“Oh my gosh, it’s like the sun!” was the first comment I had when installing the LED lights in my kitchen as part of the Live Lagom project.

Seeing the bright side of things


Okay, so beforehand I’d gotten to the point where there were only two lights working, but when I swapped over the light in my hallway too and could finally see to the front door, I realised that these were useful AND money saving.  Couple that with my snuggly STOCKHOLM blanket, which means I rarely put the heating on, and a new quilt on my bed and my energy bills have dramatically decreased…they’ve gone from £78 a month to £5. Yes five!  I’m fully expecting them to go back up after the surplus has been decreased on my account but even still it’s pretty evidential this project is saving me money.

Food glorious food


It’s really no surprise, but my favourite thing from the project so far has been cooking.  I’ve become a master at meal planning and sit down to work out what I’m going to eat for the week.  I really expected that I’d hate this, that knowing what I was going to eat all week would ruin the fun but if anything it’s the opposite. It means that I can legitimately spend time more time thinking about my dinner, not less.

Failing miserably on the whole staying in to cook and then having leftovers for lunch the next day (which would’ve made this so simple), I’ve realised is that batch cooking is the future.  I’ve become slightly obsessed with the FÖRTROLIG glass food containers which are the perfect portion size for most things, and as well, they move between freezer and oven and also don’t stain.  Honestly, that not staining thing is way more of a plus side than I’d ever have realised, and doesn’t make me look like I’m keeping the local takeaway in business.

vegan pie

One of the successes I’ve rustled up was a recipe for vegan shepherds pie, a portion of which fits in perfectly and can be frozen and cooked in the same dish – hurrah for less washing up!  Also, after a bit of a flirtation with soup, I seem to have developed a thing for turkey meatballs for lunch.  I make a batch every couple of weeks, load the sauce up with vegetables and pop portions in the FÖRTROLIG containers and defrost them for lunch throughout the week.  Oh and the Ikea 365+ food containers mean I can finally make porridge without it exploding everywhere – a fate I’d resigned myself to a long time ago.

Is that it?

Because all of this was a bit too easy, I decided that I might as well take the whole Lagom ‘the right amount is best’ philosophy one step further.  As I’m already planning what I’m eating Monday through Friday, I’ve also invested in a fitness tracker, which I joked was a chic new version of an ankle monitor, as it’s definitely controlling my life but in a good way.  I’m much more aware of how much (or not) I’m sleeping and often find myself going out for lunchtime walks to get my step count in…it’s definitely a case of ‘the right amount is best’!

Honestly, I thought this whole Lagom project would be a lot harder.  The saving on my energy bill was a wonderful surprise and other than change the lightbulbs I haven’t really had to do much.  Even the food thing hasn’t been a massive effort and the pay off in how I feel has been worth it.

Pecha Kucha Birmingham vol 12

IMG_5425 I like any excuse to learn something new, and Pecha Kucha Night is a great way to hear about a whole range of topics in a short, fast-paced evening.  Developed around a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each, the talks are deliberately concise and yet still fascinating.

IMG_5427Teaming up with Birmingham City University’s ReThink Media conference, PKN Birmingham volume twelve’s location was the newly opened Curzon Building which has fantastic views over the city.  The seven speakers presented on a range of topics, from bread stamping to podcasting and operatic soprano Lily Pons.

To my mind, the great thing about PKN is that the short, sharp presentations have enough time to spark the interest of the audience, but if a topic doesn’t grab you, then they’re also quickly over.  Thankfully all seven topics were fascinating with everything from storytelling in colonial Mexico via artwork stamped onto bread, through to popular podcasts and the future of cameras.

Rocio Carvajal’s talk on “The language of food: Bread stamping in colonial Mexico” was a speedy run through Mexican bread stamping from a historical perspective, but also her efforts to recreate this artistry and examples of her work, which we then got to eat after!  I also enjoyed the camaraderie of the organisers who seem genuinely passionate about spreading interesting ideas in the city – evidenced by them allowing a presentation by Mark Stedman, founder of Ignite Brum, which runs a similar-format event of “five-minute presentations with slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds”…although Mark was at PKN to talk about his passion for podcasting.

The presentations on the night were recorded and are available to view on PKN Birmingham’s website and they have a number of other events lined up for the rest of the year.  There’s more info at;

2015 film round up

Ever since the 2013 film challenge I seem to have decreased the number of films I’ve seen and 2015 carried this on; although with 34 films at the cinema-ish is still pretty good.

The year started off typically with a lot of the films that I thought would be Oscar nominated, and I was right.  Personally of the films I saw that were Oscar nominated, Whiplash was by far my favourite for how much it kept me holding my breath and engrossed in the film.  There were also lots of big blockbuster movies; Mad Max, Jurassic World and Ant Man, as well as rom-coms like Pitch Perfect 2, Trainwreck and The Duff and a couple of documentaries like Internet’s Own Boy and Amy.  Actually, looking back it was a more rounded list than I’d realised.

Anyway, should you be interested, here’s the full list is below (or clickable here).

Screen shot 2016-03-26 at 13.58.54

Living LAGOM

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 23.32.57Six months ago when I finally moved into my own flat I had high hopes of rolling all my New Year’s Resolutions into one and being a better person.  I started off pretty well; I made sure it was near a pretty regular bus route, then dutifully filled it with mainly pre-owned furniture and started bothering anyone who was involved about the lack of recycling.  I told myself eventually I was going to get back into cooking, after a year and a half of not really doing so, partly due to a previously tiny unworkable kitchen and partly due to running an award-winning blog that centres on dining out.


And then, an email dropped into my inbox inviting me to take part in IKEA’s ‘Live LAGOM’ project to make changes to lead a more sustainable life.  Coming from the Swedish phrase “Lagom är bäst” which seems to translate roughly as ‘the right amount is best’, IKEA were offering to help improve my sustainability with a bunch of products – and advice.

And so as read through all the stuff they sent over about the project and chatted about ideas with my IKEA Live LAGOM project leader Kevin, I remembered telling myself that once I’d settled into the flat I’d start cooking again.  That was six months ago, and if anything I’d gotten worse.  With no housemates to guilt my into going to bed at a reasonable hour I stayed up late and breakfast became a rushed take-out coffee and pastry eaten at my desk at work, lunch was a meal deal from the supermarket and food was whatever I picked up on the way home.  It was neither particularly sustainable for my overall health, bank balance and, when I totted up the amount of packaging I was throwing away, the environment either.

My Resolution

img_5124.jpegSo when IKEA asked us to create a New Year’s Resolution relating to the Live LAGOM project, I figured I’d do two.  The first was I a challenge to cook more, thereby being responsible for, and reducing, my food and packaging waste.  The second was to continue to make sure my flat was comfy and cosy, but that I wasn’t using energy unnecessarily.

I wanted to make sure that the resolutions would be improvements to my life, but also ones that would last beyond the usual January “New Year New Me” period.  So I decided that Monday through to Friday I had to eat ten home-prepared meals, which would not only force my to cook but also to make sure I used the stores of spices I had. I’d also use a blanket if I was a bit cold and break my nighttime dependance on my electric blanket with a thicker quilt.

What Next?

Well. this is hopefully the start of a fun few months settling into the challenge. I’m aiming to do a few updates here, as well as the occasional recipe over on my food blog Full to the Brum.  Fingers crossed it’ll go well!

West Midlands Blogger Meet


A few weeks ago I went to a West Midlands Bloggers Meet, organised by Adele and Kirsty of Pretty Lovely Bloggers, held at the Rainbow in Digbeth.

Over the years I’ve been to a few bloggers meet ups and it’s always interesting to see the variations in them – some are like workshops, others are just a catch up and some are blogging conferences.  Having been focusing on Full to the Brum, and food blogging developing a bit of a scene in Birmingham, most of the other bloggers I’ve met recently have been either food, or food and lifestyle bloggers.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but what surprised me about this was I knew very few of the bloggers in attendance – which made me a little nervous, but I chatted to some lovely people.

The afternoon started off with us all generally mingling about, photographing and chatting to some of the reps from various products – I spoke to Sarah from Earlybird, which is a subscription box a little like Graze but combines music, food and art under the motto ‘Eat well. Play more’.  There were also plenty of samples to try and after grabbing a drink, we all sat down to listen to Elizabeth from Rosalillium to tell us more about getting the best out of Pinterest and another blogger (who’s name I’ve forgotten – sorry!) who talked about how to interact with brands.

During the session Adele and Kirsty were selling raffle tickets to raise money for Mind.  I rarely win anything at raffles but Mind is a great charity so I bought a couple of tickets – and only went and won a Degustabox box!  Actually two of my tickets got pulled out but one prize was enough for me…although there were some great prizes on offer.  After that it was time to pick up our ridiculously generous goodie bags and struggle off home (I caved and got a taxi).  Due to a general back-log of blogging stuff I haven’t sorted through all the goodie bag, but I’ll post about it when I do.

They’re organising another blogger meet in Birmingham in November, which #PLBSantasGrotto and sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Moseley and Kings Heath councillor hustings – April 2015

Tonight, Kings Health Residents Forum and Moseley Forum organised hustings for the local councillor election which takes place in May.

Tonight’s event, which took place in the hall at Kings Heath Primary School, was well attended, with a surprisingly few empty chairs.  With six of the seven candidates in attendance (no sign of UKIP’s Rashpal Mondair), it was clear that there was an appetite for community involvement and after a brief three minute introduction by each of the candidates, the rest of the time was given over to questions.

Candidates in attendance

  • Mike FRIEL – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
  • Luke HOLLAND – Independent (on Twitter as @lukeeholland)
  • Martin MULLANEY – Liberal Democrats (on Twitter as @mullaney3)
  • Elly STANTON – Green Party
  • Martin STRAKER-WELDS – Labour
  • Owen WILLIAMS – Conservative (on Twitter as @vwozone)

Questions ranged from issues with cuts to the Library of Birmingham, problems with traffic on Kings Heath High St, green waste bins and council tax rises – oh and I even got in one about the much promised local train station.

Rather than write up an account of the hustings, I live-tweeted the whole thing instead.  Here’s a link to a Storify, where I’ve pulled together and sorted the tweets to give you a better flavour of the evening:

National Stationery Week

NSWbloglogo2It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m partial to a bit of stationery, so I’m really excited to be part of National Stationery Week, or #NatStatWeek as it’s known on Twitter.

National Stationery Week runs from 27 April to 3 May 2015 and aims to celebrate the written word – and, of course, all things stationery.  From pens to paper, stamps to rulers, stickers, note-lets, erasers and everything in between.  It’s pretty much my idea of heaven.

Expect lots of stationery related blogposts shortly!


UKYA Extravaganza

What do you get if you put 35 authors in the top floor of a book shop on a Saturday afternoon and a while pile of people who really like books? Chaos.

I went along to the inaugural UKYA Extravaganza at Waterstones Birmingham New St, which was organised by authors Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass. The idea had been to pull together authors and fans and celebrate the genre that was Young Adult. This was purely a labour of love and with £3 a ticket no one was there for the money and the sheer enthusiasm was palpable.

Sure it was chaotic; it was sometimes a choice between quietly chatting with authors at the back of the room and listening to the panels. But ultimately it was a lovely event, full of enthusiasm and good will – and two groaning tables of cake!

As a fan of YA it was lovely tto hear from authors, some of who I knew and have read their books and others who enticed me into buying their novels whilst I was there – I went home with another five books, much to my groaning ‘to read’ pile’s displeasure! The range of authors, and genres, was fantastic and Emma and Kerry have plans to do some more events, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the hashtag #ukyaextravaganza if you want to go along.

So many authors, I couldn’t fit them all into one photo!