Books I love: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Better, simpler, faster is a digital principle that I’d love to translate into the way I manage my life. Bea Johnson’s book, which hit shops last year, certainly ticks the ‘simpler’ box. Her core message is a green one: Western households can’t keep producing waste at the levels we have been if our children are to enjoy the same world and way of life that we have.

French-born Bea, who lives in California with her husband and two sons, got rid of 80 per cent of her possessions. No small feat, and one that took her a couple of years. Her purpose was ecological, but by scaling back she also set herself free from housework, endless sorting and the arduous cycle of getting and spending.

The urge to change came to Bea and her husband when they realised they were spending all their free time looking after the home and possessions that they were spending their working lives to acquire. Not enough of it was spent with the kids, and even less with each other.

Their hand was forced by the economic downturn and they had to downscale. Their smaller home presented a challenge, which Bea responded to by stripping away their objects. Radically.  As it turned out, fewer objects meant they had more time for experiences, getting their family outdoors rather than entertaining within. Take a look at pictures of Bea’s home here.

Living lighter meant they could pick up and go in and instant, and a clutter-free home proved easy to hand over to others. So renting out their home and using the proceeds to go on vacations became a new part of her family’s life with their pared-down living.

What did Bea get rid of? Almost all her clothes except a few essential items she wore more often. She also freed herself from kitchenware and utensils she didn’t use from day to day, and offers a handy list of all that you really need to get by. Turns out you don’t need a salad spinner, garlic press, or even a food processor.

Old toiletries and medicines were chucked out and then sentimental items like trophies and gifts as well as sports equipment like golf clubs and tennis rackets. Food-wise, Bea shops in bulk and uses glass jars to store her purchases, neatly side-stepping the need to discard all that plastic packaging. She refuses till receipts, plastic cutlery, junk mail – stop it coming into the house and then you won’t have to get rid of it.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot are Bea’s 5 Rs that she lives by. You can find out more about her Zero Waste Home on her blog and she shares tips there to get you started. Green living and tackling waste are her primary concerns, but I found the side-effect of simplifying one’s home life the most appealing part of her book.

In this respect, it’s not a million miles away from the tiny house movement in the US that aspires to prising us out of our comfy, over-stuffed homes and into the outdoors. I’m still a long-way from this and from Bea Johnson’s super streamlined home. Getting close to zero-clutter as opposed to zero waste is my current goal. I suspect I may need the services of a Clutter Fairy to sort me out. Watch this space.

Thanks to Alex Johnson of Shedworking for introducing me to the tiny house movement. Find Manchester’s Clutter Fairy on Twitter.



Eight things I learned about Google Glass from someone who’s got one

Bob Schukai

Bob Schukai

I was lucky enough to spend an hour today finding out a bit more about Google Glass than I knew yesterday (which I’ll confess didn’t extend much beyond tittle tattle about the people working on Glass).

Bob Schukai (left) head of mobile technology for Thompson Reuters kindly made the trip from London, presumably having first made the hop over from the US, to show us his Glass which he’s had for a year. Bob is one of the 8,000 people given Google Glass to try out, after having come through a selection process based on best Twitter hashtags.

OK Glass, so what did I find out?

1. Bob loves his Glass and wears it most of the time – except when he goes to theme parks like Disney and then he wears them on top of his head so it’s clear he’s not taking pictures of other people’s kids.

2. He’s been through two sets of Glass already as they’re not very weather resistant.

3. They are great for interviewing people informally but not very good in noisy places – the mic’s not brilliant to be honest. Plus you need to remember not to move your head up and down if the interviewee says something you agree with.

4. They’re great for running, walking and cycling if you want to take a picture or capture footage of the view. Taking pics of those special ‘Oh my God what a sunrise’ moments while out running is one of Bob’s favourite uses for Glass.

5. They’re really useful when you travel to a new place as they’ll tell you what’s around you and nearby. Handy if you haven’t visited somewhere before.

6. You can hold a video conference with someone else with Google Glass really easily. Unless it has to be done via BBC wifi, in which case you can’t.

7. The push notifications Glass sends you based on your interests and habits are handy and really save on time spent fiddling with your phone.

8. Looking up and out of the world instead of down at your phone is the other great thing about Glass for Bob. Makes particular sense for people in things like law enforcement to be upright and alert when receiving information, he believes.

Will Glass go mainstream if and when it’s launched commercially? Bob’s not sure. He’d definitely have one and says the pluses far outweigh the ‘creepy’ aspects to Glass, such as: looking like a tech geek; talking to yourself; and the privacy issues raised in a world where we can all photograph or film our lives and each other without it being obvious we’re doing so.

Bob thinks what this does for personal privacy while in public spaces is yet to come out in the wash – and is it really so different to what CCTV is already doing in the name of safety? I couldn’t stay for the demo of Glass, as the queue to try on Bob’s snaked around the room – but here’s my colleague Gemma aka @RetroWench having a go.

Gemma @RetroWench tries on Bob's Google Glass

Gemma @RetroWench tries on Bob’s Google Glass

Thanks to @MarcSettle from the BBC College of Journalism for organising this event.

Speaking at 300 Seconds in Manchester

In November 2013 I was one of the speakers at the 300 Seconds event at MediaCityUK in Salford. I spoke about launching this blog and finding my own niche as a woman working in digital media.

300 Seconds was set up by Sharon O’Dea, Ann Kempster and Hadley Beeman. In their own words:

“We were fed up with seeing all-male speakers, panel members and presenters at digital and tech events. With over two decades’ experience in digital industries between us, we know there are just as many amazing, talented and inspiring women out there. We want to give them a chance. So we created 300 Seconds.”

The event offers women in digital media and technology the chance to take the stage and tell their stories, gaining exposure and experience in public speaking. Find out about past and upcoming events here.

Game on: Fraggers gaming cafe in Altrincham, Manchester

Playing Sims 3 at Fraggers, Altrincham

Playing Sims 3 at Fraggers, Altrincham

Altrincham boy Mike Hardman has packed in his software developing job in London and returned to his hometown to bring joy to the gaming-hungry youth and grown-ups of the North West.

Fraggers, at 6 the Downs in Altrincham, Cheshire, opened its doors in late February 2014 and offers two floors of game heaven, with 25 PCs stations and four console stations complete three large-screen TVs and leather sofas. Players have access to nearly 300 games and pay by the hour, either up front or via an account.

Gaming got you hungry? The cafe to the front of Fraggers serves snacks like hot dogs and paninis as well as coffees and soft drinks. Parents have to stick around with kids under 13, but like me they can plug in to the free Wifi and keep busy. Parents: The cafe isn’t licensed and kids are only allowed access to age-appropriate according to the age on their account.

Mike’s plans for Fraggers goes beyond reaping money from games enthusiasts. He hopes to build a community of gamers and digital kids, with school tournaments, girl-gaming sessions, game-building clubs, dev days and code jams.

Mike was once the youngest trained Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) in Europe, and it’s clear he wants to help the younger generation explore and develop their digital, coding and gaming talents. His contagious enthusiasm and obvious expertise come at no extra charge.

Find out more about Fraggers at and follow Mike and Fraggers on Twitter and on Facebook.

Matthew Clarke’s Convos with my 2-year-old

I have to thank my 10-year-old daughter for introducing me to this viral series of videos by parent Matthew Clarke about life with his two-year-old daughter.

Clarke, an actor and writer, appears as himself in the videos, while the part of his toddler is played – with a completely straight face – by his actor friend David Milchard. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also surreal. Any parent will recognise the power battles in the relationship and laugh. But you can’t help noticing that a toddler’s words in the mouth of an adult are more than a trifle scary.

Huffington Post interviewed Clarke last year about the videos, when there were only two produced. Today there are a dozen to choose from, with millions of views apiece. Great concept, well written and acted, and sleekly produced. All the ingredients for a YouTube video hit. But I suspect the real key to their success is Clare’s wonder and appreciation of the mysteries of parenting, which he explains very beautifully in this post:

” …the love I felt for this baby went completely against a central tenet of modern life: Convenience. This baby was the opposite of an iPad. It made everything more complicated, made me more vulnerable, made me late for every appointment.

“We all deeply want to be inconvenienced, woken up, bothered, shaken from our natural resting state. We want our lives to be intruded upon.”

Yep. That’s parenting for you.

Watch the videos on YouTube

Follow the series on Twitter @convos2yrold

Digital Me: Connected TV’s Jennifer Lyons

Twelve questions for women who work in digital media on their work, digital habits and their passions. This month: Product manager Jennifer Lyons, who lives in Manchester and works at MediaCityUK.

Jennifer Lyons

Jennifer Lyons

What’s your job?
Product Manager in TV Platforms, Future Media at the BBC and currently I’m the
product owner for the BBC Connected Red Button.

What did you study at university?
Business Studies.

How did you get into technology?
Via a digital marketing pathway. In the past I was working in mainly
printed marketing and I decided I need to gain more exposure online and got a position
as a Product Marketing Manager at a mobile games publisher. In this role I developed
my skills in Product Management and gained great exposure working with web and mobile
technologies. This was a great stepping stone into the technology space for me and two
years on I was lucky enough to be offered my current position at the BBC in Future

What’s the best thing about working in technology?
There are so many but I would say its forgiving nature! Changes and improvements can
be made in a matter of hours and updates can be made regularly for the end user. This
is incredibly important for me as a Product Manager to ensure we provide our audiences
with the best experience possible. When I worked with printed material there was
nothing worse than getting the new season’s catalogue delivered to my desk and spotting
mistakes and errors which the customer would then see for three months or more!

And the worst?
The limitations we can face with software and device capabilities can often be

How many gadgets do you have and what’s your favourite?
Six and counting! It may be the obvious choice but I would have to say my iPad, worth
every penny (although I would now quite like the air version but can’t quite justify
it). Looking forward to getting a Google Chromecast next.

What annoys you most about technology?
When devices are launched in the US before anyone else.

What three websites or apps could you not live without?
I think I’m quite practical with my app choices and I constantly think about apps I
would love people to develop; but I would say iPlayer (maybe a biased choice!), Amazon
and the Trainline app.

Facebook or Twitter?
I’m back to preferring Facebook

Why should women get into technology?
Because it’s a fascinating space to be in and for those in the North West, Media City
is a fantastic place to work.

What do you plan to do next?
I really enjoy working at the Beeb and it’s only one year in so I still have a lot to give. I
would like to explore more of the mobile space perhaps. Also getting married this year
which is my most exciting ‘do next’ ever!

If you didn’t do your job, what would you do?
I think I would retrain in design or follow my passion for baking and cooking, maybe
food photography. I would love to be paid to do that!

Absolutely Altrincham: Five good reasons to love it

I moved to Altrincham in Cheshire in 2011, leaving behind Hertfordshire and the local blog I ran there for several years. I’ve resisted the urge to take up hyperlocal blogging again, but that’s not to say there isn’t room for posts about Altrincham life in this Digital Witch.

So here’s the first of them – my favourite things and places in my new Northern hometown.

Altrincham Christmas Market's live music billboard

Altrincham Christmas Market’s live music billboard

1. Altrincham Market, historic with a modern twist
This played a blinder with its Great British Markets in the run-up to Christmas, securing a strong place in locals’ hearts. Live music, good food and great independent stalls from around Manchester – this is Altrincham’s bet for revitalising the once thriving town centre. it’s due to close for a few months in early 2014 but will return refreshed and better than ever. Altrincham Market website. @AltyMarket

2. Beatnik Records vinyl cafe
Thank you good people of Beatnik, for choosing to open in Altrincham instead of your natural home, Chorlton. Seventies decor, vintage vinyl, coffees and light food. But it’s the laid-back and friendly vibe that’s the X factor. Pay it a visit as soon as you can. Greenwood Street, Altrincham WA14. @Beatnik_Shop

Beatnik Records

Beatnik Records

3. Mort Subite cellar bar
The name points towards what’s reputedly the original function of this cellar space on Greenwood Street near the Market – Altrincham’s original morgue. Makes sense as the old hospital building is just opposite.

Descending the stairs to Mort Subite is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. You step into a different world as you draw back the curtain in the doorway: Continental jazz bar without the smoke or the jazz? Or possibly even a pre-war brothel parlour, without the brothel.

It’s dark and hushed, with waitress service bringing you drinks from a vast Belgian beer selection. Pay it a visit to ease away the cares of the modern day, but be warned, you’ll lose track of time down here. 28-32 Greenwood Street, Altrincham WA14 1RZ. (Not to be confused with @Lamortsubite, ‘purveyors of retro Bohemian dancehall erotica’ in, um, Reading, Berkshire.)

4. Dili Indian Restaurant
Regarded as one of the best Indian restaurants in the country, surprisingly Dili is seldom full to bursting and the staff are engaged with locals (they had stalls at the Christmas markets) and always accommodating. Try the Sunday buffet as an introduction. 60 Stamford New Road, Altrincham WA14 1EE

5. Traders Outlet independent shops
This is just a stone’s throw from my house and I’m eternally grateful to have a source of short-notice presents close at hand, as well as the vintage goodies find their way from Trader’s Outlet into my house. Hummingbird Flowers and Vintage Angel, both in the shop front, deserve special mention. Pay Renee a visit in Fab Patisserie next door if you want stretch your visit out with cake and a cup of tea. 16 the Downs, Altrincham WA14 2PU. @Traders_Outlet

BONUS: County Galleries art
The family-run Gallery on Railway Street has a beautiful selection of artist’s cards sitting alongside the pricier art items. Birthdays, ill friends, new jobs – they all give me an excuse to browse the signed L.S. Lowry limited-edition prints and Geoffrey Key originals before walking out with my £2 card. I can dream, can’t I? 32-34 Railway Street, Altrincham WA14 2RE