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I've been cooking more and more vegetarian food this year. It's better for the climate and why not. You don't have to give anything up, in my opinion - you don't ned to go full veggy, just go in that direction.

So, to mark World Vegetarian Day here are my secrets, as a meat-eater, for how I'm cooking vegetarian for myself and not going hungry or getting bored. It's not really a glamorous list. The point is everyday eating. These are things that I didn't always have in the past but are now really handy go-to things to have in the cupboard:

None of this is big news, especially not to anyone who's already a vegetarian. But if you're a meat eater, try getting these things in stock, and adding a couple more recipes to your inventory.

There are a couple of things not included in that list above. I'm too impatient to spend a lot of time with tofu (I don't see why I should spend ages marinating tofu to add some flavour to it, when I could just fry some halloumi or some paneer instead), though I love tofu in a thai green curry. Avocados are great but they don't last long, they're expensive, and although people do various weird things with avocados (like make cakes from them), I usually find the best thing to do with an avocado is just to eat it!

food · 1 comment

MLSP 2016 - i.e. the IEEE International Workshop on Machine Learning for Signal Processing - was a great, well-organised workshop, held last week on Italy's Amalfi coast. (Yes, lovely place to go for work - if only I'd had some spare time for sightseeing on the side! Anyway.)

Here are a few of the papers that caught my interest:

Actually, there was substantial work involving Gaussian processes at MLSP. Is it a growth area? Well, if the use of GPs can be made more scalable (as in the above paper) then yes, it certainly should be. They are a very flexible and general tool, and nicely Bayesian too. Richard Turner's keynote about Gaussian processes was a beautiful introduction - he manages to make GPs extremely understandable. If you get a chance to see him speak on them then do.

Also, I was very pleased that Pablo A Alvarado Duran presented his work on Gaussian processes for music audio modelling - his first publication as part of his PhD with me!

science · Permalink / Comment

InterSpeech 2016 was a very interesting conference. I have been to InterSpeech before, yes - but I'm not a speech-recognition person so it's not my "home" conference. I was there specifically for the birds/animals special session (organised by Naomi Harte and Peter Jancovic), but it was also a great opportunity to check in on what's going on in speech technology research.

Here's a note of some of the interesting papers I saw. I'll start with some of the birds/animals papers:

That's not all the bird/animal papers, sorry, just the ones I have comments about.

And now a sampling of the other papers that caught my interest:

One thing you won't realise from my own notes is that InterSpeech was heavily dominated by deep learning. Convolutional neural nets (ConvNets), recurrent neural nets (RNNs), they were everywhere. Lots of discussion about connectionist temporal classification (CTC) - some people say it's the best, some people say it requires too much data to train properly, some people say they have other tricks so they can get away without it. It will be interesting to see how that discussion evolves. However, many of the other deep-learning based papers were much of a muchness: lots of people use a ConvNet or an RNN and, as we all know, in many cases they can get good results. They apply these to many tasks in speech technology. However, in many cases there was application without a whole lot of insight. That's the way the state of the art is at the moment, I guess. Therefore, many of my most interesting moments at InterSpeech were deep-learning-less :) see above.

(Also, I had to miss the final day, to catch my return flight. Wish I'd been able to go to the VAD and Audio Events session, for example.)

Another aspect of speech technology is the emphasis on public data challenges - there are lots of them! Speech recognition, speaker recognition, language recognition, distant speech recognition, zero-resource speech recognition, de-reverberation... Some of these have been running for years and the dedication of the organisers is worth praising. Useful to check in on how these things are organised, as we develop similar initiatives in general and natural sound scene analysis.

science · Permalink / Comment

I've been trying to think of times when I've heard a proper Lancashire accent in music recently. (Pop, rock, rap, whatever.) It's not easy! Suggestions please? We want someone who's done for the Lancs accent what the Arctic Monkeys have done for Yorkshire...

A couple of nice examples are Shaun Ryder and Guy Garvey. But then it's a bit of a mixup because the county of Lancashire used to include Manchester, but the modern county doesn't include Shaun or Guy's hometowns, so, well, they've got the right voices but they might get disqualified on a technicality :(

Looking back to earlier eras... the same thing happens with The Beatles. Liverpool used to be part of Lancashire but not any more. Anyway The Beatles are confusing because they sometimes used quite genuine regional accents, sometimes transatlantic rock'n'roll accents - quite explicitly hopping about. Much more dependable, and much older, George Formby's voice is a proper representative sample.

Here's one modern example, though not famous: The Eccentronic Research Council - the woman in that track is Maxine Peake (another Manc/Lanc stowaway).

Oh and I don't really want to mention The Lancashire Hotpots because they're too daft.

Chumbawamba were from Burnley, hoorah. But their singing doesn't have much of the accent as far as I can tell.

FFS come on! This list needs some vim. Let's chuffing represent! Answers on a postcard.

Edit: top tip from Lucy: The Lovely Eggs - that's what I'm talking about!

music · Permalink / Comment

The LRB has an excellent article by Philippe Sands about the Chilcot Report and the Iraq War.

The UK had a key role in the Iraq War, and even before it happened there were millions of us on the streets marching against it: we said in advance that it was unjustified and would escalate terrorism in the region. (There's a video going round at the moment of Jeremy Corbyn back in the day, saying exactly that.) Now, looking back from a 2016 in which we have Isis/Da'esh and waves of refugees, there's no pleasure in the confirmation that we were right. The consequences reverberated not just through the region, but through to the EU and the UK too. Millions of us ignored, and so many killed (not least, directly killed in the war), because Tony Blair had pledged to Bush: "I'm with you, whatever".

Some quotes from the article:

"[The inquiry said] 'we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council's authority.'"

The inquiry received 37 legal responses regarding the war's legality, "reflecting the views of 57 expert individuals and six organisations. Just one of them supported the claim that the war was lawful."

"On 31 January [2003], Blair met Bush and offered a commitment that contradicted the legal advice given to him by Goldsmith the previous day."

"[Goldsmith's] formal advice - the 7 March document permeated with an understanding of the uncertainty and risk involved in going to war - was deliberately withheld from cabinet."

Our government (and related organisations such as the UN Security Council) are built with checks and balances, so that things such as ill-advised wars on the basis of misconstrued information should be less likely.

The article is well worth a read.

politics · Permalink / Comment

So I was on holiday in the mountains bordering Germany and the Czech Republic. Walking around, it was actually a bit odd to be simply walking between Germany and the Czech Republic simply by pootling down a street - i.e. making good use of the Schengen free-movement area that's been one focal point of the migration and refugee news this year. So that was on my mind a bit. (And no I didn't spot any migrants!)

Then in the woods, I saw something unexpected. - A grid of little concrete pyramids, each about a metre high. Just sitting there, not part of a building, or an art installation, or anything, as far as I could tell. Looking fairly old and unkempt. An area of about 15 by 20 metres, weird.

I didn't take a picture, so here's an artist's impression:

Artist's impression

Weird huh?

Eventually I saw there was a little notice by the side, explaining that these were a leftover part of the tank-trap strip that defended the Iron Curtain a few years ago. Thick forest provided a lot of the border defence against tanks - but in the channels between forests, these tank traps would be built so that tanks would scupper themselves on the pyramids. Then the guards watching from the nearby towers could do the rest.

Here's a picture I found online, of some similar leftover pyramids in the Czech Republic border area:

Čížov (Zaisa) - preserved part of Iron curtain.JPG
(Photo is by Marcin Szala via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

There were a couple of photos included, of tests where they drove tanks on top of the pyramids. The thought of it, in this peaceful forest. An "enemy" (or any) tank coming hurling down the way, aiming for the border, crashing over the landscape, through fences etc. This is what borders in Europe used to be like. Within my lifetime. These are the eventualities that planners had in mind.

It puts in perspective how we currently talk about borders, with the EU and Schengen and Brexit. I presume that Germans who remember their country before unification already have this perspective...? But as a mainland Brit, it's not like that.

(I know it's also how some borders are right now. For example between Israel and Palestine. Maybe we should all go and experience the physicality of those things first hand.)

Politically, the world is quite unstable right now, and it's really unclear how the multiple crises of 2016 will play out. Whatever happens, the future will not be exactly the same as the past. But when you bump up against our very recent history (the Iron Curtain) in physical form it really brings it home, for someone who never experienced a war - never really even felt the brunt of the troubles in Ireland, though I remember the Manchester Arndale bombing - that the peace and stability that happens (?) to coincide with the EU era is not something to be taken cheaply.

Further reading: I found this nice travelogue from someone who travelled along exploring the Iron Curtain etc, while I was looking for the photo.

travel · Permalink / Comment

Just back from a trip to the Bavarian Forest - hiking, eating, wandering around. Here are the highlights of what I ate!


Not particularly traditional:

But my special prize goes to this which is... not traditional but has some "tradition" to it:

food · Permalink / Comment

Inspired by Nigel Slater's recipe I made a great and simple vegetarian stew (vegan, in fact), using my black bean chorizo to help add depth of flavour. (If you haven't got any of that, you could probably do something similar just with a blob of black bean sauce, even though the flavour is different?)

Lovely stew

Serves 1 (fairly big portion), takes 25 mins.

In a deep pan which has a lid, heat up about 1 tbsp vegetable oil, while you chop the onion. You want to chop about three-quarters of the onion into whatever size pieces, and the remaining one-quarter of the onion slice it into nice rings, about half a centimetre thick.

The misc pieces of onion, put them in the pan and give them a good fry to get them softened. Add the three spices and stir around. Then add the chorizo - not too much, it's mainly for flavour. Let this cook for two minutes or so.

Then add the lentils and stir, then add enough boiling water to only-just-cover. Put a lid on, turn the heat right down, and let this bubble for 15 minutes.

In the final five minutes, heat about 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a frying pan. Make sure the onion rings are separated into circles, and put them in the pan to fry briskly for 5 minutes, turning halfway. While these are getting a little crispy, chop the mangetouts roughly into maybe 3 pieces each and chuck them into the stew, and also add the bits of parsley and the lemon juice.

When the onion rings are ready, simply put the stew in a bowl and sprinkle the onion rings on top.

recipes · Permalink / Comment

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