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    Blogmas 2016

    I’ve decided to do Blogmas this year!

    Well, kinda, I’m doing my version of Blogmas.  For those of you who don’t know, Blogmas is a thing where bloggers, or vloggers (aka vlogmas) try and blog/vlog every day in the run up to Christmas.  I’m not really sure why, but there’s loads of things like Blogtober and Blog Every Day in May and I think bloggers just like a challenge.

    But, knowing how long it takes to blog for me on my main blog, I figured I’d do a type of Blogmas, but make it more about gift giving…or rather comment giving.  You see, I always like it when people leave comments on my blog posts, and I’ve been finding that it happens less and less these days, although I know people are still reading.  So this time I’ve decided that for every day in the run up to Christmas, I’m going to post a comment on at least one blog post I read that day.  I guess it’s more like Blog-advent.  It’s simple, it takes a couple of minutes and hopefully it’ll make people smile, the way it does me, when they notice someone has posted.

    I’m expecting I’ll mainly post on fellow Brum Blogger posts, but that’s not a rule of my Blogmas challenge, any post I fancy counts but it has to be a blog…and unlike my advent calendar chocolate, I can’t save up the comments and blast a bunch in a day.

    To keep me accountable, I’ve made up a quick image (using a creative commons image from Dineshraj Goomany), and will be linking back to the posts below.  Now that I probably will do in batches!

    Day 01 – Jess from Jess & Josh Cook explain why she/they are doing blogmas

    Day 02 – Jamie explains how to make an amazing sounding Nutella hot chocolate

    Day 03 – Rebecca’s experience at the Festive Gift Fair 2016 at the NEC

    Day 04 – getting some inspiration for 29 ‘to-dos’ before you go on holiday

    Day 05 – checking out the five types of gin you might not know on Sally’s blog

    Day 06 – reading about Elizabeth’s wedding dress shopping, because pretty dresses

    Day 07embracing festive books and snacks because it mentions Nightmare Before Christmas

    Day 08 – a really honest post about how to keep going when it feels like life is against you

    Day 09Bullet Journal Christmas planning at Delightful Planner

    Day 10 – Poppybead Creative’s year in photography

    Day 11 – how Iman from And Then She Said organises her spices

    Day 12 – Reading about Becky’s experience at the Blog at the Beach event hosted by Ice Lolly

     

    Day 13 – Rosalilium’s November self-care favourites – an idea I adore!

    Day 14 – Tashpantz’s CLC World competition

    Day 15 –

    Day 16 – Charlotte’s vlogmas day 15

    Day 17 –

    Day 18 – Sam from Thoughts on Tombs’ Series that went downhill

    Day 19 – Kirsty’s five star books of 2016

    more soon…

    Internet and social media

    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;  http://digitalworldseries.com/

    Tech

    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 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.

    Blogging

    West Midlands Blogger Meet

    westmidlandsbloggermeet

    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!

    Birmingham, Internet and social media

    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: https://storify.com/lauracreaven/moseley-and-kings-heath-hustings-april-2015

    Photo by Community Spaces Fund, used under creative commons.

    Blogging

    Birmingham Blogger Meet

    IMG_4164.JPGIt hasn’t escaped me, the irony of being a week late blogging about a blogging meet up that was about getting more organised, but you know what they say – better late than never!

    Last weekend I trundled off to the Birmingham Blogger Meet (or #bhmbloggermeet), as organised by Abbigayle over at stealstylist.com.  Back when I first started getting into blogging the types of meet ups were very much on the more nerdier side of things, but now it seems the beauty/fashion blogger reigns supreme.  That said, whilst beauty/fashion/lifestyle bloggers made up the most numbers everyone swapped lots of blogging tips and there was plenty to talk about.

    First things first, we were given some lovely goody bags with some exciting treats inside; a necklace from Lylia Rose, a blending brush from Nanshy, hand cream and lip balm from Bee Good, Lovely Lotions handmade soap, Colour Me Fragrance perfume samples, a whole bag of stuff from Lush, a pencil and sign from Dottie Rocks, and saving the best till last – a blogger ring-binder organiser and goal jar from Abbigayle herself.  I’m a complete stationery nerd, so knowing that I need to get more organised with my blogging made this all the more exciting.

    IMG_4167-0.JPGAs well as the goody bag (I’ll blog about some of the items in individual posts), Abbigayle had organised a series of games for us to play.  I particularly enjoyed listening to the individual questions she asked everyone, from “Where do you see your blog in five years” to “What city would you move your blog to if you could”.   The second question was the one I was asked and given my other blog Full to the Brum is Birmingham based it would make it sort of redundant, but this blog would happily go travelling, if the mood took me!

    After photographing ourselves with our binders and coming up with witty slogans for cupcakes, we were given a talk by Kirsty from Motives cosmetics, who showed us some of their bestsellers.  This was followed by a demonstration by Maria and Jessica from the Central School of Make Up who showed us how to do winged eyeliner.  I’ve always been curious as to how people get this to look right, turns out it’s all in the tilt of the head.  That said, I doubt I have the patience to master this look.

    With a couple of games left, and prizes being awarded to the winners, the meet up finished with a buffet lunch and a good gossip about blogging with some of the other people at the meet up.  The warm up questions at the beginning of the session and the fact were were all bloggers meant that conversation flowed easily and it was nice to get some great hints and tips, as well as some new blogs to add to my RSS reader.  It’s also inspired me to re-start this blog, so hopefully you’ll see more posts on here from me soon!

    Birmingham, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.