Tech in the Park: Making Clever Use of Teens' Love of Music

Recently, I’ve taken a particular interest in technology in public places, probably due to spending too much time pondering my surroundings while waiting for the train. This latest example, discovered thanks to Michael Dales, is close to home just North of Cambridge. It’s so simple and it’s bound to make a lot of young people happy this summer.

Bluetooth speakers for your phone

Wondering what this is? It’s a rather clever contraption, apparently installed by Monster Play, a Hertfordshire-based company.

Built into the rain/sun shelter that sits on the edge of a new local skate park, this unit allows you to broadcast music to a small speaker from your phone, mp3 player, laptop, etc via Bluetooth. After 7 minutes, you get booted off, leaving the airwaves free for the next music lover. Alternatively, you can listen to the local radio.

Michael reports that the sound may disappoint audiophiles but seeing as teens will listen to music on their tin-can speakers mobile phone, this is probably a better alternative.

Teens have been demonised as truants and troublemakers, some people going as far as setting up Mosquito alarms as deterrent from loitering near their homes and shops. (Don’t get me started on those, I may not be under 25 but I can hear them cringingly well!)

This is as close as we can get to celebrating their love of music. They may be listening to Pixie Lott and Miley Cyrus, and us Jack Johnson-listening oldies may have lost hope in their judgement of what “good” music is, but in perspective, this gadget gives them a sense of belonging and something to do on those sunny summer afternoons.

With the gorgeous weather we’ve got this week, wouldn’t you want to be outside hanging out with friends listening to good music?

[Image credit: Michael Dales]

Kicking off 2009 with a new themeword: Impact

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about my #themeword for 2008, which was exploration. My objectives were to explore in four key areas; travel, business opportunities, new or unused skills and friendships/ relationships.

Owl photo by Aussie Flickr user AaardvaarkIn reflection, it was a good year. In fact, it was an amazing year. I could have done better in terms of travel; I did an awful job of going to new destinations to which I’d promised myself a visit! But I did well in balancing work and fun, with plenty of dinner parties and get togethers with friends throughout the year.

When I wrote about business opportunities exploration, in the back of my mind, I knew I would work for myself before the year was out, it was just a question of having the cojones to jump, so the latter part of 2008 has offered me a taster of what 2009 will bring.

So on with this year’s themeword. I’ve opted for one overarching theme, divided into three key goals, reflecting what Chris Brogan and many others have done.

In 2009

I hope that in 2009, I can use the knowledge I’ve acquired to make a difference. If I can help one business make a lasting impact on their customers, or help someone learn the true value of the communication tools I’m so grateful for, I’ll be a happy gal.

To put it into action, I want to create, lead and focus.

Create by pushing ideas beyond replicas of what’s been done elsewhere by someone else and produce something remarkable.

Lead by example in doing marketing work that is graceful, ethical and genuinely valuable to its participants.

Focus on the right things. With rivers of news and infinite numbers of social networks, with masses of potential projects, clients and events, in 2009 I will need to focus my attention, energy and abilities on the most important ones. After all, there’s only one of me!

Beyond this big picture, I’ve also got a few simple things I’ve promised myself this year, most more personal than the above.

  • Backup my digital life regularly and reliably
  • Host or go out for dinner with (non-business) friends at least once a month
  • Call my mom more regularly and book a trip to Canada before summer 🙂
  • Visit my sister in Paris when she heads there to study for a few months
  • Take (and publish) more photos on Flickr to remember important life events
  • Keep making homemade stuff like cards, liqueurs and tons of fresh cooking. It’s good for the mental health.

What’s your themeword for the year? Need inspiration? Try searching for #themeword on Twitter Search.

[Image: Owl photo by Aussie Flickr user Aaardvaark under Creative Commons]

Christmas Giving

The weeks preceding Christmas are bloody awful. I hate going into Cambridge and finding myself attacked by people with a dozen shopping bags in each hand, looking haggard and miles from the supposed Christmas spirit we’re meant to be in.

My favourite bit about shopping centres is usually people-watching; everyone is so self-absorbed when shopping, it’s comedy to try to understand the thought process that leads to buying those god awful mustard yellow boots or that garish tie. 😉

But this year, I’m amazed how many times I’ve heard “But what do you buy for someone who’s already pretty much got everything?” There are the obvious options; a new jumper, the latest video game, a scarf… or surfing Amazon to find some stocking fillers (at the expense of some exhausted Amazon elves)

So what about the alternatives to spending on tat that will disappear into the cupboard as soon as the holidays are over?

Give them something handmade or unique

Make it yourself if you’re crafty or skilled in something they aren’t. If you aren’t feeling up to the challenge, buy something that’s been handmade.


  • Make a batch of Christmas cookies, wrap them in parchment paper and a nice ribbon
  • Make homemade liqueurs (for next year!) and bottle them nicely with a handmade label
  • Create a photo album or a book with Lulu or your own photo editing software
  • Get handmade jewellery: Unique pieces are so much more interesting! (More on this one later, but I love Ostara for handmade stuff) You’ll also be supporting small businesses rather than line the pockets of multinationals!
  • Give the gift of time: Make vouchers good for a day out together, a Sunday lunch or a night at the movies. It’ll remind you both how important it is to spend time together over the course of the year

Give to charity instead

Some may say it’s a cliché suggestion and unoriginal of me, but it’s a perfectly valid one. I asked fellow Twitterers what charities they supported and I received some very powerful answers.

  • Niall Harbison, Irish foodie, put together a charity campaign Twitter-style by donating the proceeds of the auction of a brand new Nokia E63 to Crumlin Children’s Hospital. See Niall’s post to take part by donating €5.
  • Bango, who provide mobile analytics & billing services, put together a Christmas campaign called “All I want for Xmas!” where you contribute content (jokes, images, mobile games) and any money made from the content will be doubled and donated to Save The Children.
  • @reyes supports The Multiple Sclerosis Charity and Every Child who are committed to protecting the rights of vulnerable children and are always looking for our help
  • Teemu told the story of a friend who committed suicide last week, leading me to seek more information on SupportLine who provide emotional support for people of all ages.
  • If you can’t contribute financially, give time. Speak to your local charities to find out how you can help, as Dale (@dalelane) will be doing with Crisis Open Christmas, who open their doors to the homeless over the holiday season to ensure everyone can have a warm meal and some company.

So tell me, this year, would you rather spend less and take the time to make something personal as a gift? Or prefer to treat them to a luscious gift even though it may be breaking the bank a little bit more than you’d hoped because it’s that one time of the year?

I don’t think either answer is wrong, but in my eyes, there has to be a balance: If you’ve had a nice Christmas bonus and you’re feeling generous, then it’s fun to get friends and family a few goodies they may not otherwise treat themselves to, there’s no denying that. But meaningful handmade gifts can be more heartwarming and personal than anything bought from a store shelf.

Want to write for Innocent Drinks?

Dan Germain blogged about the ultimate job at Innocent Drinks, one of creative writer.

Innocent DrinksAnyone who knows the Innocent brand and loves it as much as I do will agree that these are big shoes to fill. The writing is one of the assets that make the (somewhat overpriced) smoothies seem so much more appealing than their less expensive, but not so adorable, supermarket’s-own alternative.

They’ve created a new benchmark for fun, cute and downright comical writing, so if you feel that you’re suited for the job, give ’em a ring on the bananaphone or apply for the job!

[Via Gapingvoid on Twitter]

Plastic carrier bags vs paper bags

Dear Britain,

Plastic bagsEvery year, over 17.5 billion plastic carrier bags are given out by supermarkets to enable you to take your shopping home. We all collect bags of bags, reusing maybe 5% of them at most, and disposing of the rest either by dropping them in those big supermarket bins, or at home in the usual rubbish.

The above is crap. Completely, utterly crap.

What I want everyone to ask next time they go to the supermarket is whether there are brown paper bags to use as an alternative. I find it shocking that none of the big shops, Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Asda, offer paper bags. They offer reusable bags, but being realistic, the vast majority of people are disorganised and forget their reusable bags at home, or they go immediately after work without popping home.

Supermarkets, please get brown paper bags into the stores. People, demand them and use them.

I’m far from an environmentalist and I know I probably leave a Bigfoot-sized carbon footprint on the planet, but this is one area where I think we’d all benefit.

Thank you.

Peace, love and H2O,

Off topic: Sprouted lentil salad

I don’t know why I’m calling this post off-topic, it’s not like there’s much consistency in what I post here. It’s a bit like me talking, it rarely makes sense and there’s little common thread! 😉

A couple of months ago, I went on a little hippie trip and bought a sprouter*, in which you can stick alfalfa seeds, lentils or beans of all sorts. They then sprout little tails in the first few days, making them lovely to have in salads, or even just as a mindless snack while working – it’s certainly better than a bag of crisps, and with a bit of paprika and herbs, it’s quite tasty!

So for dinner, I tried to make a salad using the lentils I sprouted over the past few days. I based myself on this recipe from but, as usual, couldn’t be bothered to print it, so I made up my own variation once in the kitchen.

Sprouted lentil salad with avocado & garlic dressing

  • A couple of handfuls of sprouted lentils
  • A third of a cucumber, chopped up
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • A couple of spring onions, chopped up

Now for the dressing

  • One overly ripe avocado (but not bruised/brown)
  • Some olive oil (I added a drizzle of garlic olive oil too)
  • Some white wine vinegar
  • A teaspoon of tahini
  • Salt, pepper, morrocan spices
  • Lime juice

I think that’s probably it, but in the same way I made it on the fly, you should just use what you’ve got at hand to flavour it up. I’ve even got some leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

All in all, the sprouter’s been a good purchase. Sprouts need a little bit of love and care, keeping them nicely rinsed twice a day, but so far it’s worthwhile!

[* If you’re looking for a sprouter, I bought mine from Greensfoods but it’s also available from places like the Organic Gardening Catalogue. You’ll probably also find it in your local health store.]

I must be in a mediterranean mood

My Sainsburys purchases for the next couple of days

  • Olives
  • Mozzarella
  • Sunblush tomatoes (mmmm!)
  • Sea salt & rosemary flatbread crackers
  • Chilli topped hummus
  • Lentils, carrots, parsnips and coriander to make a nice hearty soup tonight
  • Chorizo sausage
  • Fresh thyme and rosemary
  • Antipasto tear & share bread
  • Big juicy cherries and greek yogurt for dessert

While it wasn’t planned that way, I’m pleased to say that yet again, aside from the tear & share bread, pretty much everything else is its most simple state, for me to cook, bake, stew or have in a nice big salad. Ready meals are rare in this house, and every time we get a bout of laziness and get ready meals, I feel bummed out and dissatisfied.

Home cooking definitely is the way to go.

Average British menu limited to four dishes

I gasped at the stats I heard this morning on Radio 1 and had to go find the original article myself for a bit more information.

Research highlights our lack of imagination in the kitchen, with few of us bothering to cook new dishes, and most living on around just four regular dishes. The average menu in British households extends to 4.1 dishes, with Scotland’s average even lower at 4.0 meals.

The Scotsman‘s summary of the research was published yesterday claims that the staple diet of the 2,000 adults surveyed is composed of “spaghetti bolognese, stew, sausages and mash and fish and chips” as regular standbys, “with other favourites including chilli con carne and chicken tikka masala.”

Most people claim they’re too busy to cook when they get home at night, but a few do admit to being a bit timid when it comes to introducing new meal ideas.

Well, I don’t think either of those arguments have a fighting chance, they’re both ridiculous. Everyone works long hours nowadays, and cooking can actually be a therapeutic and relaxing activity. Sure, it means 20 minutes less watching some rubbish TV or doing whatever else lazy people do in the evening, but it’s bound to be better for their health than a ready meal.

Aside from the biweekly (that’s every 2 weeks, not twice a week) treat of fresh oven pizza on a Friday night, we probably have ready meals once every two or three months. And EVERY time, I feel let down. Ready meals are rubbish, generally don’t taste particularly good and the texture is usually pretty awful.

I couldn’t imagine living off a range of four meals. What a miserable existence! I can think of a dozen meals made using rice, a meat/fish and some vegetables, and tons more involving chunky soups, roasts or exotic salads. I’m not sure what else to say – Every time I think of this article, I find myself shaking my head, feeling baffled and terribly sorry for these people.

I still want to believe this article is wrong, and the 2,000 people they surveyed were heavily biased and “the type who actually spend time filling in junk to win a car”, as one commenter on suggested. Please, Britain, don’t head down the ready meals and growing aisles of frozen foods in supermarkets. Do we need to call in Superhero Jamie to save the day again?

[tags]healthy eating, food, Britain, cooking,, health news, fish and chips aren’t good for you[/tags]

Lush rumours

Thought I’d post this to let the girls know… Lush*, who usually make funky soaps and can cause a cloud of girly candyfloss smell to take over a mile ’round every one of its shops, is opening a few spas across the UK. No details as far as locations go, but the goss from the shop girls is that they will open in the Spring-Summer.

Another little notice to Lush fans is that their whole Ginger range is being discontinued very soon, so if you’re a big fan of it (I’m not, but I know some who are) get it while it’s still around. It’ll be replaced by another full range of no-doubt lovely-and-hippie-smelling fragrances.

So yup, that’s it for my ickle Lush update.

[* I apologise on the behalf of their website. It’s less ugly than the old one, but could still do with some improvements. I’d kill to do that website…]

Five reasons to use compact fluorescent lightbulbs

This might seem like a bit of an inane topic to be posting about, but Seth got me thinking tonight. (he does that a lot…)

The reason this got me thinking is that we (my husband and I) have swapped every possible lightbulb in our house with energy saving ones, and I take such a thing for granted. However, very few people do. If every household changed a single regular lightbulb for a more energy-efficient one, it could make a significant difference.

Five reasons why we’ve moved to compact fluorescent lightbulbs

1. In the UK, they’re generally called “energy saving”. Doesn’t it give you a fuzzy feeling in your tummy to use something that’s got such a positive name yet requires so little action on your part?

2. It’s a tiny way to know you’re doing your part to save the world. My husband and I are both notoriously bad at recycling and our car is far from energy efficient, so at least it’s one small area where we can do good.

3. They save marital arguments. As Seth points out, they’re not cheaper than regular lightbulbs, and if you calculate the savings you’ll make in a year, it’s not insignificant, but it’s a drop in the ocean of your yearly spending. The reason they’re great is that they don’t burn out half as often! They last SO much longer, it allows us to avoid “Oh where the hell did you put away that box of lightbulbs THIS time?” conversation for a long time.

4. They’re kind of funky. They look a little bit odd, they sometimes come with a slightly rubbery outside, and we generally buy them at Ikea. These three things make it cool.

5. They can be left on and my OCD husband won’t worry the house is about to burn down. Enough said.

So why not make an effort to pick an energy saving lightbulb or two on your next trip down to the store? Go on, it’ll make you feel good.