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I am an academic computer scientist, conducting research into automatic analysis of bird sounds using machine learning.
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As I write this, I am flying through the night on a Nightjet night-train from the Netherlands to southern Germany. It's a delightful train ride with lots of nice little touches. Before bedtime, I sit here with a drink in my hand, watching the views go by outside. The view alternates between peaceful countryside and urban/industrial busyness. It really feels like you can see a lot from here.

I'm angry. I'm angry on behalf of my friends, family, and everyone else back home. The UK government has just upended plans for the HS2 and "Northern Powerhouse" railways. I left the UK partly because it has a stupid political setup that frustrates all attempts at (simultaneously) two important things: sensible evolution of policy, and sensible planning and provision for our future. One of the scraps of hope I held on to had been this: The HS2 rail project, imperfect as it is, was one of the few big projects that the UK had actually got its act together on, during my lifetime, or at least one of the few big projects outside London. As a northerner I need HS2 to be implemented sensibly, because I know and feel how left-behind we've been in terms of the over-centralised London government investing in us. Plus, of course, modern train systems mean there's less need to fly or drive: so even when they have some impact in being built, they're likely to be good for our climate aims as well as for providing nice things to ordinary people, making life a little better.

The UK political system means, to a first approximation, that it's pretty likely the wind will blow the opposite way every four years. This is because it's effectively trapped in a two-party system, seesawing between the two. Big projects might eventually get planned - but then they get canned, or at least bodged, a few years later. Thanks to the stupid voting system it's really unlikely this will change in the next couple of decades. In a more sensible system, such as a proportional system, people's votes actually have the effect they're meant to. Parties that were once top-dog can fade to nothing if they don't do good work.

And the UK's problems are even more stuck when you realise how heavily centralised it all is. I hadn't realised this until I left the country and saw other ways of doing it. Running the country from London, pushing all local democracy to the fringe and hoovering up the person-power (see stats from Tom Forth on this), is so blinkered it hurts. The broken voting system, mentioned above, wouldn't matter so much if our local regions (county councils) still had budgets and leverage to get stuff done.

I want the UK to be better. I want to help too. I tried to make a difference while I was there, and I hope I can do again one day. I tried, and in many ways I was stymied.

I'm now living in a European country which - while not perfect - gives me a sense of optimism, a sense that it's possible to make sensible investments and plans that will help everyone. The basic feeling is the feeling that at the top level (politics, civil society, whatever), the rules of the game are not fixed to fuck us over.

I'm flying through the pitch-dark countryside right now, in a delightful night-train that crosses three countries, and I'm still impressed that it can cross countries so effortlessly. - Funnily enough, night-trains were more common in the past before the era of the motorway. Many night train services were dismantled as the car took over. Now, though, we realise they're a good way to do things, and there are many night train services being rekindled across the continent, in an evolving mix of government planning and commercial endeavour. All democracies are messy, and all have good decades and bad decades. I feel hope here, seeing what happens when there's a foundation that allows for civil negotiation and long-term planning.

politics · Sun 21 November 2021

This week was the DCASE 2021 workshop, a great workshop with lots of interesting research activity on Detection and Classification of Acoustic Scenes and Events.

Some observations from me:

In the "town hall" plenary we discussed some interesting opinions about how to organise DCASE going forward. There was also a very interesting discussion, emerging from the "industry panel" plenary, of privacy and GDPR issues in using sound sensors in public. I'd like to thank the contributors to that discussion - it's a non-trivial issue and so it's very good to hear some well-considered perspectives on this.

You can watch the videos from DCASE 2021 here.

I'm looking forward to DCASE 2022 - in Nancy, France, in November. See you there!

science · Fri 19 November 2021

I'm an academic working on AI and Biodiversity - my research is described here. If you're an MSc student at Tilburg University CSAI department (or elsewhere), you could take your project with me. In most cases you will need some deep learning skills, and in most cases you'll be working with natural sounds such as wildlife sound monitoring. Here are some specific topics of interest right now, that you could study:

Also we have INTERNSHIP ideas:

Here are some PAST projects I've supervised:

Check out the published papers to see some details from the kind of work we do!

Get in touch with me by email, info here. You're welcome to suggest a topic of your own, though to work with me it should concern new deep learning methods and/or animal sounds.

science · Mon 15 November 2021

A Caribbean-inspired easy mid-week dish. The chickpeas go nice and roasty and sticky, flavoured with rum and soy. I served it with rice and peas, an imitation of the classic Caribbean dish, of which you can certainly find more authentic recipes out there. (My rice and peas was in fact a quick imitation of the recipe from Levi Roots.)

You should probably add some chilli sauce somewhere.

Serves 2, takes about 45 minutes plus an optional gap of half an hour while things infuse.

PREPARATION:

Rinse the chickpeas and leave them to drain well.

Put the coconut milk in the pan that you will use for the rice (one that has a tight-fitting lid), and put it on a gentle heat to warm up a bit. Add the onion, cloves and peppercorns - I added all these using an "empty teabag" so I could get them out again. Turn the heat off (it will infuse, for 30 mins or so).

Once you've prepared the coconut milk, put the rice in a sieve and rinse it, then leave it to soak in a big bowl of fresh water for about 20 minutes.

Also put the chickpeas into a mixing bowl, then sprinkle over the sugar, rum, and soy, and mix well. This doesn't have to marinade for long, but it can do.

...At this point it's OK to go away for half an hour or more...

COOKING:

Heat up an oven to 200 C.

Oil a roasting tin. Slice the peppers into long bite-size strips, mix them with the chickpeas, and then spread all of that out in the roasting tin. Put in the oven, to cook for approx 35 minutes, giving a good stir half way through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice and peas. Drain the rice (in a colander or sieve). Warm up the coconut milk again until only just bubbling, then add the thyme, beans, and rice. Give it a stir and then put the lid on. Leave it to cook gently, on the lowest heat you can, for about 20 minutes. Do not stir. When that's done, at the end you can fluff it all up with a fork, put the lid back on, and leave it off the heat while you get the rest ready.

Serve the rice and peas with the chickpea mixture over the top. Garnish with the zest of 1/2 a lime, and serve with perhaps a little salad on the side (e.g. cucumber).

recipes · Mon 20 September 2021

These pancakes are lovely - they're quite filling, and very easy to cook. The flavour and texture are excellent: the sourdough starter gives some depth of flavour that might otherwise come from eggs, and the almond helps to balance it. They are not thin crepe-style pancakes, more like American or Dutch style.

You can prepare the batter the night before (and leave it in the fridge), or you can just let it stand for at least 30 minutes. The original recipe suggested that you can leave the batter out overnight to "develop the flavour", but we do NOT recommend that - our sourdough starter is quite active, and so if you leave the batter at room temperature for that long it over-proves and tastes very sour. Instead, pop it in the fridge overnight - that's perfect! Or just make it 30--60 minutes before you need it.

This recipe is based on the pancake recipe from healthienut. It's a good thing to do with sourdough discard, but you can also use fresh starter.

The recipe also uses ground flax or chia seed. You can probably buy it as pre-ground "meal", but I don't have that. Instead, I grind up some chia seeds in a pestle and mortar, and the salt goes in with it (because salt crystals can help to grind things up).

Makes 6 small or 3 large pancakes, good for a hearty brunch for two.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sourdough starter, milk, and flours until smooth. Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature for 30 min-1 hour, or cover with clingfilm (or similar) and leave in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready (maybe 15 minutes before time to eat), combine the flax/chia seed meal and water in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 min. (You might also pre-heat the pan now, see below.) Then add flax egg to the bowl with the starter along with the rest of the ingredients (sugar, baking powder, salt). Stir until a smooth and slightly thick batter forms.

Heat a large skillet or frying-pan over medium heat. Add a dollop of oil /marge to prevent sticking - not too much. Pour a ladleful of batter on to the skillet (about 50ml?). Spread to a circle with the back of the spoon if needed. Cook until the edges start to become matte (about 1.5 minutes). Flip and cook for an additional minute or until golden brown on each side.

Top with preferred toppings, such as berry compote, fresh fruit, and/or maple syrup. Top tip: blueberries and coconut cream!

recipes · Mon 09 August 2021

After some in-depth field research, I'm ready to report that the Netherlands alcohol-free beer scene has boomed in the last couple of years. We've now tasted 24 of them! And 7 of them are great.

Van de Streek's "Playground IPA" has been around for a while now and is in all the supermarkets, cafes, etc - and, I have to be blunt, it's still the absolute best low-alcohol IPA we've tasted, even though we've now tried over 100 from around Europe.

But there is a whole carnival of others, and some of them are right up there in the top. There's a good representative for each of the classic beer styles, plus some funky quirky ones too. You should definitely check out:

Other Dutch breweries have attempted the low-alc wheat beer: Grolsch and Brand's are OK, Lowlander's tastes like a bitter lemon not a weizen. (Also, FYI, don't go anywhere near the Hoegaarden 0.0 - it's awful, despite my hopes for it. It's not Dutch... but the warning is needed.) If you want a wheat beer, go straight for the Vrijwit!

And if you want more... van de Streek's other alcohol-free beers: Fun House is a good NEIPA, Non-Bock a tasty bock, the grapefruit IPA good and fruity.

Other IPAs: there are good ones from Jopen, van Breugem ("Klein Zoentje"), Uiltje ("Superb Owl"), Waterland and Brand. The "Brand" is a great choice if you need genuine-zero in an IPA.

As ever - the big spreadsheet lists these and hundreds of others (or here's a PDF of it) from around Europe (124 at time of writing).

food · Thu 17 June 2021

Foodgeek has some of the best sourdough bread recipes I've found. It's his precise measurements and careful explanations that really enabled us to actually bake good sourdough. You should watch some of his videos.

One of his recipes is for sourdough English muffins. These are great for breakfast, and they're also really handy when you don't have access to an oven, because they're cooked in a pan.

Here I've veganised his recipe. I'm simply switching cow milk for oat milk, but I find you need to reduce the amount of milk (else they become really sticky to work with). I'm also including some tips which for me made it easier to handle everything.

Ingredients

Instructions

Make the dough: Add the flour, sugar and salt to a bowl. Mix it well with your hands. Then add the milk and the sourdough starter. Mix it until it comes together. Once it gets too stiff dump it out on the kitchen counter and knead it until all the flour has been absorbed into the dough. Then cover the dough and leave to ferment for 8 hours. If it’s very warm you may want to shorten that time.

Next, when the fermentation is done, shape the muffins. I do it differently from him, partly because I don't have a cookie cutter, but also I found it really handy to use a little square of baking paper for each individual muffin. Here's a picture showing how I do it:

My English muffins kit

Use a roasting tin, or anything that you can keep the un-cooked muffins in - it should have high sides, so that when you drape a towel over the top it won't touch the muffins. Cut/rip 10 little squares of baking paper, about 4 inches (10 cm) square. Put them in the roasting tin(s), and dust them with semolina.

For the next step, it will help to have a dish of water available, and occasionally dip the palms of your hands in this bowl - this stops the sticky dough from sticking to you.

Dump the dough out onto the counter or a big chopping board, flatten it a bit, and use 1 or 2 dough scrapers to chop it into 10 equal-sized pieces. (If you don't have scrapers you can do it by hand.) Now, for each piece, with slightly wet hands you can roll and shape it into a flat burger shape, then place it on a piece of baking paper.

Sprinkle the dough with more corn flour. Cover the whole lot loosely with a dish towel and let the muffins rise for an hour.

Cook the muffins:

Put a pan on to medium high heat and let it come up to temperature. Put as many muffins as you can so that they don’t touch each other. You do NOT need to remove the baking paper! You can place them in the pan with the baking paper face up. This makes the whole job easier.

Put a lid over the top of the pan so that the muffins can steam themselves. Cook for about 7-10 minutes until the muffins are golden brown. Then take off the lid, peel off the baking papers, and flip the muffins over and cook them 7-10 minutes on the other side.

Put the muffins on a wire rack and let them cool.

My English muffins, cooling on a wire rack

For a whole lot more detail and a nice video, see Foodgeek's sourdough English muffins recipe.

recipes · Wed 05 May 2021

We're pleased to announce a new data challenge: "Few-shot Bioacoustic Event Detection", a new task within the "DCASE 2021" data challenge event.

We challenge YOU to create a system to detect the calls of birds, hyenas, meerkats and more.

This is a "few shot" task, meaning we only ever have a small number of examples of the sound to be detected. This is a great challenge for machine-learning students and researchers: it is not yet solved, and it is great practical utility for scientists and conservationists monitoring animals in the wild.

We are able to launch this task thanks to a great collaboration of people who contributed data from their own projects. These newly-curated datasets are contributed from projects recorded in Germany, USA, Kenya and Poland.

The training and validation datasets are available now to download. You can use them to develop new recognition systems. In June, the test sets will be made available, and participants will submit the results from their systems for official scoring.

Much more information on the Few-shot Bioacoustic Event Detection DCASE 2021 page.

Science · Tue 02 March 2021

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