I am a research fellow, conducting research into automatic analysis of bird sounds using machine learning.
—> Click here for more about my research.
I've been struggling with the tension between academia and flying for a long time. The vast majority of my holidays I've done by train and the occasional boat - for example the train from London to southern Germany is a lovely ride, as is London to Edinburgh or Glasgow. But in academia the big issue is conferences and invited seminars - much of the time you don't get to choose where they are, and much of the time there are specific conferences that you "must" be publishing at, or your students "must" be at for their career, or you're invited to give a talk.
What can you do? Well, you can't give up. So here's what I've done, for the past five years at least:
There's a cost implication which I haven't mentioned: flights are unfortunately often cheaper than trains and stopovers. This needs to change, of course - and can be a bit tricky when you're invited to speak somewhere and the cost ends up more than the organisers expected. However, I've been managing a funded research project for the past five years and I've noticed that in fact I've spent much less money on travel than I had projected. Why? Well back when I wrote the budget I costed for international flights and so on. But my adapted approach to travel means I take fewer big long-distance trips, but I get more out of them because I combine things into one trip, and I've skipped certain distant meetings in favour of ones closer to home - all of which means the cost is less than it would have been.
By the way, this handy flight CO2 calculator can help to work out the impact of speific trips, including multi-stop trips, so you can calculate if combining flights into a round-trip is sensible.
None of these are absolute rules. We can't carry all the burden solo, and we have to make compromises between different priorities. But if we all make some changes we can adapt academia to current realities. We can do this together - which is why I've signed my name on No Fly Climate Sci, a place for academics collectively to pledge to fly less. As I said, you don't have to be absolute about this, and the No Fly Climate Sci pledge acknowledges that. Join me?
I started collecting examples of "good news" items a couple of years ago - as a personal antidote to some of the bad things going on out there. This year I've ended up collecting almost too many to keep a handle on. Although the year isn't finished, I'm blogging it here so you can read!
Have a look here - what's a good news item that particularly grabs you?
There's so much good news that it's hard to know how to organise it... I'm writing from a UK perspective so there are plenty of UK things but the big ones are worldwide. I'll try starting with the Big Good News and then grouping other things into categories:
Breast cancer screening improvement - many women can avoid chemo
UK soft drink sugar tax - many firms have cut the sugar in their drinks
WhatsApp Co-Founder Puts $50M Into Signal To Supercharge Encrypted Messaging - this is great news for digital privacy, and Signal's a lovely app
Linus Torvalds, the inventor and maintainer of the Linux kernel, had an awakening about his rude behviour, wrote a detailed apology, and took time off to work on his behaviour
Microsoft open-sourced its entire patent portfolio (over 60,000 patents), pledging unrestricted use to the Linux world
Opening up MasterMap - Unlocking of Government’s mapping and location data to boost economy by £130m a year
Percent of Indian households with toilets goes from approx 50% (2014) to approx 90% (2017)
'Remarkable' decline in fertility rates worldwide (journal source) - while this is a complex issue, a cause and effect of many things, the reason I include this is that it's great news for women's empowerment, indicative of a "demographic transition" connected with such progress worldwide.
Spain: Mariano Rajoy and his PP finally ousted by no-confidence vote, after many corruption scandals
In Dutch local elections, GroenLinks ("Green Left") goes from 5% up to 8.4% of the vote - they were the biggest party in Amsterdam and in other cities! - while the anti-Islam PVV had a poor showing, collapsing from seven to two seats in The Hague for example
Uber lost its court battles trying to claim its drivers were not actually employees
Malaysia: Mahathir Mohamad says Anwar Ibrahim (who he was previously responsible for deposing) to be given royal pardon
The UK government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee concluded that international students are a good thing. Even when considered only in cash terms, "the average non-EEA student makes a net fiscal contribution of more than £5,000 a year"; and that they even benefit domestic students.
The UK's bulk surveillance powers - exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden - have been found to be illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
All kinds of subsidy-free renewable power schemes announced/commenced, meaning that renewables can be economical in themselves.
New government data confirms support for renewables is at an all time high
Chile creates national parks from donated land. "the area being protected was roughly the size of Switzerland." donated by founder of North Face
UK's total greenhouse gas emissions have fallen from 800 million tonnes in 1990, to less than 500 million (...though aviation's contribution doubled and no-one's doing anything about it!)
Bikes now most common vehicle type in City of London rush hour, says official traffic count study
Global carbon emissions could be cut 3% by following the UK’s example
UK introduces plans for a bottle deposit scheme (pfand)
Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge
Plastic-eating enzyme discovered (and improved) by scientists in Portsmouth which turns plastic back into its components:
Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry ("with China leading the way" - 17% of China's entire fleet already! Though the UK has the #1 biggest electric bus fleet in Europe.)
"mini-Holland" schemes in outer London boroughs proven successful - including an auxiliary increase in walking
MoD campaign to stop killing of songbirds on Cyprus hailed a success: Poachers killed 800,000 birds on UK base in 2016 but 72% drop was recorded in last year
Organic solar cells (flexible, multi-purpose) reach a new level of efficiency, competitive with silicon and could produce electricity very cheaply
Last year renewable energy made up 30% of UK electricity - a new record!
The number of vegans in the UK has doubled from 2014 to 2016 - and then more than doubled again from 2016 to 2018:
Groundbreaking 'spinning' wind turbine wins UK Dyson award - interesting design
Aberdeen offshore wind project opposed by Trump is officially opening
Dutch appeals court upholds landmark climate change ruling - the government is legally obliged to actually stick to its climate targets
A survey run by Waitrose (of everyone, not just Waitrose shoppers) finds "1 in 8" people veggie or vegan
British astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars, overlooked by the Nobels, finally won a $3m Breakthrough award
Lancaster City Councillors voted unanimously to save Lancaster Music Co-op
Why, if you're in a pub in Britain, and you don't want to get drunk, are you supposed to drink litres of sugar? Fizzy drinks are like that, but also so are the fruit-juice based things like J2O - waaaay sweeter than beer or wine. What should pubs serve? There are loads of options!
Apfelschorle. Common in Germany, this is apple juice mixed with fizzy mineral water. I had this in Germany and I noticed what a good drop-in replacement it is for beer. It's nowhere near as sweet as fruit juice, and has some of the same refreshing fizzy clarity of lager. Obvs it's nowhere near the same as lager but still a great drink for when you don't want to drink.
Iced tea. Even if it's simply bottles of Lipton Ice that'd be OK. But, as is common in some parts of the USA, it'd be great to brew up a nice big vat of fresh iced tea each day, especially on hot days. Tea is very very cheap to brew up so pubs should be able to do a good markup on it.
Club Mate. It's a sort of not-too-sweet soft drink made from "mate" and allegedly popularised by the Chaos Computer Club or something. Just like the other suggestions, it's got a beer-like bitterness and is unsweet enough that you can drink it in pints.
Kombucha? The Guardian seems to think it's starting to be served
Alcohol-free beer...! well OK this is obvious enough - most alcohol-free beers taste a bit odd, of course. My favourites are Brewdog's "Nanny State" and Claustenhaler's alcohol-free lager, the latter being very convincing German lager. ... But then, now that I've written down the arguments in favour of apfelschorle and iced tea, I'm starting to wonder why we're buying more of these expensive alcohol-free beers. Maybe we're missing a trick.
What strikes me is that the branded bottled options are of course the ones that get promotional effort, yet almost all pubs could easily set up with home made iced tea or home made apfleschorle with very little overhead.
Inspired by this version
This is easy to make. The tricky thing thugh is "pulling" the jackfruit at the end of the cooking - it's a bit labourious but it makes a massive difference to the way the food tastes in the mouth afterwards. Please don't skip it! You could ask your guests to pull their own platefuls if that works.
Serves 3-4. (It keeps fine in the fridge and tastes good next day...)
Preheat a medium grill. Coat the jackfruit pieces in the three dried spices. Put them on kitchen foil on a baking tray, and put them under the grill for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through. This helps dry the jackfruit out.
Meanwhile, in a large deep pan, start the base of the stew: fry the diced onion (gently, don't let it burn at all) for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and the chili. Stir. Let them fry for a minute or so before adding the mushrooms on top and stirring again. Optionally you can let this cook a bit more to get a touch of colour on the mushrooms, but either way, add the carrots, stir, and then add the shopped tomatoes, the red wine, and a splash of hot water (enough to loosen it to an ordinary stew thickness).
This is going to bubble for a good half hour, on a medium-low heat, with the lid on (take the lid off near the end if it needs to thicken up). You can start the rice cooking perhaps, if that's what'll be accompanying it.
Meanwhile, optionally you can griddle the red pepper to get some colour on it. Or just add it to the stew directly.
When there's about 5 minutes left, take the lid off the stew, and add the chocolate broken into pieces. Let it melt and then stir it through. It should make the stew thicken up and become more of a dark brown colour.
The main final thing you need to do is "pull" the jackfruit. With a pair of forks - ideally strong ones! - grab each piece of jackfruit one by one with a fork, and with the second fork rake at it to make it come apart into stringy pieces. (Don't do this in a non-stick pan, you'll ruin it with the forks.)
Chop the coriander roughly and mix it in to the stew just before you serve it.
Serve with rice, crusty bread, slices of lime... as you like.
Aubergine makes a great simple vegetarian/vegan alternative to battered fish and chips. Cook it like this.
Serves 2. Takes 25 to 30 minutes.
And to serve:
Preheat the oven for the oven chips. (The aubergine will be going in too, later.)
Mix the flours and salt in a medium-sized bowl, and then start to pour the beer in, stirring with a fork to get everything combined and beat the lumps out. Try to use as little beer as possible to get the batter smooth - you want it to stay nice and thick so it'll form a thick coating.
Cut your aubergine(s) into big fillets. It'll depend on the size and shape of your aubergines, but for the medium-sized fattish ones I buy you can cut one in half lengthways and that gives two nice pieces, one for each person. But! You need nice big fillet-like pieces with both sides having flat white flesh exposed - so that the batter sticks better, and so that it's easier to fry. So if one side of a fillet is umblemished purple round skin, cut a thin slice off. You can discard that slice or you can keep it to batter+fry as scraps later.
Put the oven chips in the oven.
Heat a frying pan with a decent amount of oil for shallow-frying. Be a bit generous.
Dip the aubergine pieces in the batter, turning them around to coat them properly. Then immediately pop them into the hot oil.
Let them fry about 5 minutes on one side - don't move them around much, just let them fry to get a good coating. Just before you turn them over for the other side, take the leftover batter and pour a little bit on top of the aubergine, to replenish the raw batter on the uncooked side. Then you can turn the aubergine fillet over and fry the other side for 5 minutes.
When the aubergine fillets have fried to a nice golden crust on each side, take them out of the pan and put them on a baking tray, and pop them in the oven alongside the chips, to cook for another ten minutes. This will get the inside of the fillets nice and cooked and yielding.
During the last ten minutes, you can warm up the mushy peas or sort out whatever you want as accompaniment. You can also batter and fry those leftover pieces of aubergine. Or just fry some of the batter to make scraps.
Warning - the aubergine fillets retain heat really really well. Beware of burning your mouth when you tuck in to them!
I seem to know more and more vegetarians. (The official stats say it's growing and growing in the UK, so it's no surprise.) Me too. And for some reason, I was wondering, what does everyone tend to eat, on an ordinary weekday evening meal? Although it's nice to share recipes and maybe even food photos, that's a completely different thing from the mid-week everyday cooking.
So what do people have on a normal Wednesday...? Well. I asked them all. This Wednesday. Here are the answers I got:
"Cereal (sorry! my bad!)"
"Veggie moussaka made with Quorn mince and aubergine"
"Homemade patatas bravas with salsa and sour cream and tomato & cucumber slad with croutons"
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm niiiiiiiiiiiice. That all sounds lovely.
Have we learnt anything? Well, Quorn gets a decent showing (I notice that because I'm not into it myself), pops up 3 times versus halloumi's 2. At a rough guess, approx half of the meals rely on cheese. I kinda think I rely too much on cheese for veggie cookery. But there's a pretty good spread in the types of protein and the types of carbs people have in their meals. Anyway. It all sounds very nice.
I'm really pleased about the selection presentations we have for our special session at ICEI2018 in Jena (Germany) 24th-28th September. The session is chaired by Jérôme Sueur and me, and is titled "Analysis of ecoacoustic recordings: detection, segmentation and classification".
Our session is special session S1.2 in the programme and here's a list of the accepted talks:
We also have poster presentations on related topics:
You can register for the conference here - early discount until 15th Sep. See you there!
I've been trying out an e-ink reader for my academic work.
"e-ink" - these are greyscale LCD-like displays. You see the image by light reflectance, almost the same way you read a printed page, not by luminance like a TV/laptop screen. This should be better in lots of ways: better on your eyes, low-power, and you can read outside. The low-power comes because it doesn't need a full jolt of energy 50 times a second as does an LED display: if the image doesn't change, no power is needed, the image stays there for free.
Why for academic work? A LARGE portion of my everyday work consists of looking at academic article PDFs, scribbling on them, then giving/implementing feedback. This comes from students, collaborators, reviews for journals/conferences, and from editing my own work as I do it. Some people can do this kind of stuff directly on a laptop screen. I'm afraid I can't. It's less effective, less detailed when I do that - so, for years, I've been printing things out, scribbling notes on them, then throwing them away afterwards.
If an e-ink reader can replace all that, maybe that's a good thing for the environment?
Note: it takes a lot of resources to build an e-reader. At what point is it "better" to print thousands of pages of paper, versus manufacture one e-reader? I don't know.
You can't use any old e-reader, for academic reviewing: it needs to be large enough to render an A4 PDF well (ideally, full A4 size), and needs some way of annotating. This one I'm trying has a stylus that you can use to scribble, and it works. Surprisingly good so far.
NOW THE NEXT STEP:
We sometimes have sunny days, you know. For some reason this often happens when we've a workshop or conference organised. "Why don't we have the session outside on the grass?" I'm tempted to say. The answer would be... because you can't really look at people's slideshow slides out on the grass. Pass a laptop around? Broadcast the slides to everyone's smartphones? Redraw everything from scratch on a flipchart? Meh.
What I'd like to see is an e-ink screen, large enough to host a seminar with. The resolution doesn't need to be as high as all that, certainly doesn't need to be as high as is needed for reviewing PDFs. it just needs to be big. It would be great if there was a stylus or some other way of scribbling on the screen too.
Most academic slides are not animated. So an e-ink type screen is much more suitable than an LED screen, and would use much much less power. (Ever noticed the amount of cooling needed for those LED advertising signs in the street? Crazy power consumption.)