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Veganuary - some vegan recipe tips

Going to try veganuary? We're going for it this year.

Here are some great recipes I made/found recently, all vegan. Maybe they'll help you to enjoy January extra-special:

  1. Pad thai - do it Vegan Black Metal Chef style! (We used peanut butter instead of peanuts which makes it easier to make the sauce saucy.)
  2. Chilli sin carne with pulled jackfruit
  3. Fake fish and chips - battered aubergine. Alex Shaw liked this one so much he messaged from Scotland to say so :)
  4. Gado gado - an Indonesian dish that's popular in the Netherlands, and with good reason! Fried tofu, fresh salad veg, potatoes, peanut sauce and crispy onions. - of course you'd be leaving the traditional boiled egg out of the recipe, but that's fine. We made our own echt peanut sauce but you can buy it.
  5. Beetroot nisk soup - a simple warming Kurdish soup
  6. Vietnamese banana and coconut cake - ah, I have this in a little recipe book here (Vietnamese Fusion by Chat Mingkwan) and I need to type it up. It's basically white bread, sliced bananas and sugar, layered up, soaked in coconut milk (plus a touch of vanilla, brandy, cinnamon for flavouring) and then baked. So, it becomes a kind of bread pudding.

We'll also be buying some cheez from Black Arts Vegan and making some vegan pizzas etc. Personally, I'd say be careful with vegan cheese, since some of the main brands in the shops might put you off for life...

Next I want to work out how to cook "beet wellington" and how to make vegan mayo. Tips welcome!

| food |

Academics who fly less - my story

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:

  • I've declined various opportunities to fly (e.g. to North America and Australia - I'm Europe based). Sometimes this hurts - there are great meetings that you'd like to be at. In general, though, you usually find there are similar opportunities nearer by. You'll probably meet most of the people in one of those events anyway. In the big picture, it's probably better for academia to be structured as an overlapping patchwork network, rather than having single-point-of-groupthink.
  • I've taken the train to many conferences and meetings. From the UK I've taken the train to France, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, and I'm happy to go further. If you haven't done long train journeys for work then maybe you don't realise: with a laptop, many long-distance train journeys are ideal peaceful office days, with a reserved seat and beautiful views scrolling past. (UK folks: ask The Man In Seat 61 for the best train trips.) If your concern is making time for the journey, don't worry! You'll be much more productive than when you fly!
  • When invited to fly somewhere, I always discuss lower-carbon ways of doing it. Rome2Rio is a handy site to compare how to get anywhere by different means. If flying is the only way and I'm tempted to accept the invitation, I ask the inviters to pay for carbon offsetting too.
    Many university administrations don't want to pay for carbon offsets - why? This needs to change. If they're paying for flights they should be paying for the negative externalities of them. I'm not worried here about whether carbon offsetting is a good excuse or not - I'm concerned about research being more aware of its responsibilities.
  • If travelling somewhere (even by train), always try to make the most of the journey by finding other opportunities while out there - e.g. a new research group to say hello to (even if just a cuppa), a company or NGO. It's good to make face-to-face contact because that makes it much easier to do remote collaboration or coordination at other times (with the same people, I mean), reducing the need for extra trips.
    (Talking to my German colleagues, I learn that the German finance rules mean you have to travel home as soon as possible after the event, i.e. not roll multiple things into one trip - that's an unfortunate rule, we should change that.)
  • And of course I've done plenty of video-conferencing and audio-conferencing. It doesn't replace face-to-face meetings and we should be realistic about that, but it's a tool to use.

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?

| science |

The good news of 2018

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:

Big Good News


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


Over the past 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.

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

The Britain First leaders have been jailed

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

'Gay conversion therapy' to be banned as part of LGBT equality plan

Greece emerges from eurozone bailout programme

Boris Johnson faces court over his well-publicised £350m Brexit claim

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:

Record-breaking numbers of UK's rarest seabird return to island after near extinction

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

Lancashire Fracking protesters walk free after court quashes 'excessive' sentences


UK became the first country to enforce documentation of the gender pay gap in companies

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

...and finally...

Paris hero climbs four-storey building to rescue dangling child – wow watch this video

| None |

Soft-drinks that pubs should serve but don't

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.

| food |

Chilli sin carne, using pulled jackfruit

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...)

  • 1 tin young (green) jackfruit (drained)
  • The dry spices:
    • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tbsp paprika
    • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped, or pressed)
  • oil
  • 1/2 or 1 red chilli, according to preference (thinly sliced)
  • 1 box brown button mushrooms (or whatever mushrooms you prefer) (chopped into chunks)
  • 1 red pepper (sliced)
  • 1 fairly large carrot (diced)
  • 1 packet chopped tomatoes
  • 1 splash red wine
  • 1 packet kidney beans, drained
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander

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.

| recipes |

Fake fish and chips - battered aubergine

Aubergine makes a great simple vegetarian/vegan alternative to battered fish and chips. Cook it like this.

Serves 2. Takes 25 to 30 minutes.

  • 2/3 ratio of plain flour (100g? dunno)
  • 1/3 ratio of cornflour (50g? dunno)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 bottle beer (ideally a flavourful pale ale or bitter) - you won't need all of it
  • 1 medium but fattish aubergine, or whatever you need to get two fillet-like pieces out of it

And to serve:

  • Oven chips
  • Mushy peas

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!

| recipes |

What do vegetarians really eat?

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 …

| food |

ICEI 2018 special session "Analysis of ecoacoustic recordings: detection, segmentation and classification" - full programme

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 …

| science |

e-ink and academia - saving paper, reading outside

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 …

| IT |

Notes from LVA-ICA conference 2018

This week we've been at the LVA-ICA 2018 conference, at the University of Surrey. A lot of papers presented on source separation. Here are some notes:

  • Evrim Acar gave a great tutorial on tensor factorisation. Slides here
  • Hiroshi Sawada described a nice extension of "joint diagonalisation", applying it in synchronised …
| science |