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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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If you are working with me e.g. for your MSc project, here are some starting points for reading, and for tooling up:

Recommended reading:

  1. Computational Analysis of Sound Scenes and Events - a good textbook from 2018. Chapter 2 is a very good intro to many of the fundamentals in audio processing for machine learning.
  2. Computational bioacoustics with deep learning: a review and roadmap - a very up-to-date review paper by me, for animal sound in particular.
  3. The Good Research Code Handbook - Read this!
  4. Suggested reading: getting going with deep learning - a list of useful reading that our lab members rely on (from 2019).
  5. Probabilistic Machine Learning: An introduction by Kevin Murphy - a very good comprehensive textbook (new edition 2022).

Useful software tools:

I'm assuming you will be using Python, as well as one of the standard deep learning frameworks and/or scikit-learn, and also git to keep track of your code. These are standard (and you'll see some of that in the "Good Research Code Handbook" above). Slightly more specialist:

Please do let me know if there are other top tips you would add to this list...

science · Fri 21 January 2022

Recently I've been learning more and more how to cook vegan. It seems hard at first to be totally plant-based, for sure. There are some super cheap ingredients which I had no idea were so useful! So here are my absolute top tips, things to put in your store cupboard and you can use every week, for all kinds of uses.

  1. Peanut butter. It's surprising how useful this stuff is - not just for spreading on your toast! But also for providing a big nutritious boost as well as a thick sauce in various stews, or thickening up the dough in cakes and cookies. Try these:
    • West African peanut stew - this is a lovely dish, and easy enough for a midweek meal.
    • Pad thai
    • Indonesian peanut sauce. This is a popular sauce in the Netherlands, a bit like "satay sauce" - a dark, sweet and thick peanut/chilli/soy sauce. (NB needs tamarind, and also kecap manis, but the latter can be substituted with soy+sugar.) You can serve this is loads of ways - a big dollop of it on top of your fried rice; "gado gado" (an Indonesian platter of veg+egg to dip into your peanut sauce), or just dip your chips (fries) in it!
    • Kidney bean & peanut butter burgers - very cheap and cheerful
    • Vegan peanut butter and rasberry jam Blondies - a slightly posh recipe since it uses chia seeds and coconut oil, but tasty.
    • TBC: peanut butter cookies. Seems obvious, but I haven't tried making those.
  2. Chickpeas. We don't have a lot of chickpea recipes in British cooking, so I didn't expect them to be that useful, and I certainly didn't think of putting them in the oven or in a frying pan...! The famous chickpea food is certainly hummus, and making your own hummus is very easy, quick and satisfying. Chickpea curry is also a go-to option when you want a big batch of curry!
    • Home-made hummus: chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and a touch of salt, all in the blender. Easy! ... If you don't have a blender you can even make "rough hummus" by just mashing it all up with a fork or a masher, resulting in a kind of hummusy salad which is nice on toast.
    • Warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds (a Nigella recipe)
    • Roasted / slow-fried chickpeas
    • Katte chhole (chickpea curry). I use a recipe from "Vegan Street Food" by Jackie Kearney, which infuses the chickpeas in tea (using a teabag) for some extra flavour depth. Other recipes online e.g. this one.
    • Chana chaat - this one takes a bit of work, but it's an awesome sort-of indian chickpea "nachos"-type salad dish, layers of amazing flavour.
  3. Gram flour (chickpea flour). Chickpea flour is common in Indian cooking (it's used for pakora and onion bhaji), and it's quite different from wheat flour - it's very handy to know how to use it. The thing you need to get right is the ratio of water to flour: in some cases you need a very liquid batter, and in some recipes you need it to be thicker so it doesn't "fall off". You'll get the hang of it!
    • Cecina - an italian thing, a kind of oven-baked dish - you can include whatever flavours you like, but I totally recommend the rosemary.
    • Spanish tortilla
    • Sweetcorn fritters
    • Panisse - it's a bit like polenta, you can make up a batch of big panisse "chunky chips" with a smooth texture and a crispy outer crust.
    • Pakora and/or onion bhaji
    • Herby jackfruit fritters
  4. Black beans. You can get all sorts of beans, but black beans are special because they have a good dark and ever-so-slightly meaty taste which helps add flavour to various veggie meals.

So: pick an ingredient, put it in your store cupboard, and learn how to make MORE dishes with that one ingredient. It's good to get better, and the practice comes in handy when you're low on ideas mid-week some time.

Of course there are some much more well-known ingredients which everyone associates with vegetarians: lentils, tofu. I'm assuming that you don't need as many tips about those, you can find recipes everywhere.

food · Tue 04 January 2022

This Indonesian-style peanut sauce is much loved by the Dutch in their "adopted" (!) Indonesian taste. It goes really well as a basis for gado gado, and also with many other indonesian dishes. Having never been to Indonesia, I can only claim this is a good match to the sauce we get in the Netherlands!

NOTE: If you have "kecap manis", then use it! -- you can replace half the soy sauce with kecap manis, and reduce the sugar (leaving out perhaps a third of it). That gives a more authentic full flavour. It's not very common in Britain.

Ingredients:

If using tamarind "block", remember to prep it first (by soaking the right amount in warm water for a few minutes at least).

In a small blender whizz up everything except for the garlic and the water. You can add a bit of the water, to make it easier to get it out again.

Crush the garlic and fry it in a little veg oil, in a milk pan or similar, just until softened (don't let it burn), Then add the blended mixture and cook it for ten minutes or more, stirring. Add water as it cooks, enough to get the consistency right.

Recipes · Mon 03 January 2022

My mum's pear frangipane tart is a classic. Rich almondy frangipane, and soft pears, go together really well. Here, I've made a vegan version, partly by adapting Domestic Gothess's frangipane recipe. (Follow that link for lots of photos and tips on the process.)

The rich taste of frangipane is traditionally made with butter and egg. In this version, the egg is replaced by cornflour, flour and aquafaba. Aquafaba is the liquid from a tin of chickpeas (!) and can be whipped up in various ways. Here you do NOT need to whip the aquafaba, it (and the cornflour) simply help to bind the mixture around all that ground almond, plus a bit of baking powder for rise. Instead of butter, it's good to use a vegan "block" butter instead of margarine, to ensure this vegan version has a good rich impression. I used Violife, DG uses Naturli. Non-vegans can use old-fashioned butter.

You get great results using tinned pears in syrup for this tart. Apparently you can also use fresh pears, but that didn't work so well when I tried it (perhaps I should have poached them slightly first?). Anyway, a tin of pears in syrup is great for this.

Makes a single tart good for 8-10 portions.

FOR THE PASTRY:

FOR THE FILLING:

To make the pastry: mix the flour, almonds, sugar and salt together. Add the butter, cold and diced, and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then add the vodka/water, bit by bit, mixing with your fingers or a utensil until the pastry comes together in a ball. (You can also do all this in a food processor.)

Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap in clingfilm, and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a springform tart tin, about 9 inches / 20 cm diameter.

Take the pastry from the fridge and roll it out to a disc large enough to fill the tin and go up the sides. (If you have to roll it back into a ball and roll it out again, that's fine.) Carefully lift it into the tin. Trim off excess pastry from the top. We probably only need it to be about 1cm deep, but deeper is fine.

Prick the pastry all over the base with a fork, then blind bake it, as follows. Place a sheet of baking paper or tinfoil in that will cover the whole base. Put baking beans (or rice, lentils...) in to fill the floor of the pastry, making sure they go right to the edge. Bake this in the oven for 25 minutes, then take out the baking beans and the baking paper/foil, and return to the oven for another 5 minutes of cooking.

During that last bit of cooking, make the frangipane. Whisk together the melted vegan butter and the sugar, then the flour and cornflour, followed by the aquafaba. Finally, mix in the ground almonds, baking powder, and vanilla/almond extract. I also added some of the juice (30ml?) from the pear tin, to make the frangipane liquid enough to pour a bit more easily, and of course for a bit of flavour.

Now assemble the tart. Take the pastry base out of the oven, and arrange the pear-halves nicely in it, cut side down. I used all five pear-halves in my tin. Pour the frangipane into the gaps where the pears are not, making a nice even layer in the pastry case. Spread it out evenly.

Return to the oven and cook for 30 minutes

Leave to cool in the tins for 20 minutes before turning out. Serve with cream, plain yogurt, or something like that; the tart is delicious warm or cold. Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

recipes · Mon 03 January 2022

We've discovered some lovely vegetarian recipes this year! The lockdown last year was actually a pretty good opportunity to get better at cooking, especially when we had to dig into our stockpile - yes, it really got to that point, strange to think now. This year was a bit less extreme in that sense, but we've come across lots of new recipes, and in particular getting better at being vegan-compatible. Here is a selection of the absolute best recipes we've been eating this year.

First, main courses - all vegan, all lovely!

These two main courses are not vegan but lovely anyway:

Desserts (all vegan):

Treats (all vegan):

See also my list from five years ago (FIVE??), The best vegetarian recipes of 2016. If you want to follow along with more foody explorations, I have a dedicated Twitter feed at @nomnomdan.

Shout outs to some awesome convenience foods we found in the Netherlands:

food · Tue 28 December 2021

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

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