Other things on this site...

Evolutionary sound
Listen to Flat Four Internet Radio
Learn about
The Molecules of HIV
Make Oddmusic!
Make oddmusic!
[Blog archives] [Categories]

The best alcohol-free beers in Europe

We've sampled LOTS of alcohol-free beer in the past year. Why? Well - you might not believe me about this - some of it's getting really good. And it's great to be able to have a lovely beer even if you don't want to be woozy afterwards.

So WE HAVE DONE THE RESEARCH and YOU can benefit from it! We've drunk beers good and bad from all over Europe. Here are six fabulous alcohol-free beers that are truly excellent and you should DRINK THEM!

bottle photo1. Mariestads "Sommarlager" (Sweden, 0.5%): a delightful lager, perfectly balanced, fizzy yet with creaminess/butteriness. I'm amazed that a lager (rather than an IPA) is in here in the top spots but there you go. It's refreshing and beery and delightful.
bottle photo2. van de Streek "Playground IPA" (Netherlands, 0.5%): This IPA is phenomenal, with the full complex and vibrant flavour you want from a modern IPA. I don't know how they did it. Out of all the low-alc IPAs, this one is the one that can compete with normal ones.
bottle photo3. Värmdö "Ingarö Eko IPA" (Sweden, 0.5%): delightful unsweet, slightly sour almost kombucha-y, yet juicy and no bad notes. I liked this one for being a little bit different.
bottle photo4. Big Drop "Pale Ale" (UK, 0.5%): Another IPA that passes the test. I've no notes on this one, and only a fuzzy paparazzi photo (must have been a good night huh?) so you'll just have to try it.
bottle photo5. Mikeller "Drink'in the sun" (Denmark/Belgium, 0.3%): A good IPA (allegedly a wheat pale) with summery juicy grapefruit.
6. Clausthaler "Original 0.5%" (Germany, 0.5%): this is in the classic German style, and was the first time I drank an alcohol-free beer and felt refreshed, without that curious slightly-wrong flavour that's in the mainstream alcohol-free beers. Since I first tried it, I discovered the other ones, but this one is still great, and notable for getting the balance of flavours just right to make a quality German beer despite the constraint.

Others which are ALSO recommended:

  • Mariestads "Alkoholfri" (Sweden, 0.5%): good reliable beer.
  • Sigtuna "NAPA" (Sweden, 0.5%): good IPA with a hint of Nanny State.
  • Adnams "Ghost Ship" alcohol-free IPA (UK, 0.5%): pretty convincing! A little bit drying imho.
  • Brewdog "Nanny State" (UK, 0.5%): Brewdog's well-known low-alc, with a very nice complex flavour, a malty pale ale.
  • Sainsburys "Low alcohol Czech lager" (Czechia, 0.5%): Surprisingly not bad for a supermarket lager. Pilsner-style.

Plus there are plenty I don't recommend, of course :) but I won't bore you with them. Some more of my tasting notes are in this twitter thread.

While writing this, I found a nice list of top 70 low-alcohol beers from "Steady Drinker". However... it looks like he hasn't been to Sweden! He hasn't reviewed Mariestads, Värmdö or Sigtuna, which is why he's missed some of my top ones. In Sweden they have quite hefty taxes on alcohol, which may be why it's become a great place for innovative low-alcohol beers.

| food |

Holiday by train - from Britain to Sweden

Our holiday this year was great "grounded travel" - we went from the UK to Sweden, going all the way by train! We stopped in multiple cities on the way, in Germany and Denmark as well as Sweden.

I want to tell you how we did it. But before all that there's one handy thing you need to know:

  • Yes you can go by Interrail - it might be the cheapest way - and no you do not need to be a teenage student, any age can do it!

We met LOTS of people on our travels who said "Oh I thought that was just for under-25s". It's not. There are some extra-cheap offers for young people, but even without those it was the most economical way for us to do it.

I'm not going to tell you the details about Interrail passes, because I don't need to: the magnificent Seat 61 Interrail guide is all you need. We bought ourselves Interrail passes, and then added a couple of reservations: there are some services in particular Eurostar (Channel tunnel) where you'll need a reserved seat in addition to the pass. I used the UK phoneline for Deutsche Bahn to book my Eurostar and other reservations, and it was all really easy and friendly.

A nice European train

Taking the train in Europe is great. The trains are generally more modern, spacious and relaxing than UK trains, at least in the countries we've seen. You get to see some great countryside - fields, mountains, lakes, rivers, little town centres - from your seat. And of course there's none of the hassle of flying (getting to the airport; going through security; hanging round after security). We only had to show our passports at two points: the Eurostar, and at the Danish border when we got off a boat.

Oh yes, a boat: we didn't 100% exactly take the train all the way. There was one point in Denmark where we took a rail-replacement bus. And in order to get from Germany to Denmark we took the train that goes on a ferry, woo!

We met lots of lovely people on the way. We shared food with people, we got some excellent local tips for things to do. We even played Yahtzee with some strangers, and played a game of memory-game with a six-year old Swedish girl :)

Playing Yahtzee

How far did we get? Stockholm. It takes two days to get from London to Stockholm (stopover in Hamburg or Cologne) and seat61 has some tips for other ways to do it.

Saloon in our lovely train hostel

We then went into the Swedish countryside and stayed in a... converted train! In a beautiful setting by a lake.

Lakeside train view

We spent about £350 each on getting the Interrail pass that lets you travel on 10 different days (over a stretch of two months), plus about £60 extra on reservations (mainly the Eurostar). In the end we only travelled on seven of the days meaning we could have gone for a cheaper (£300) ticket, but we weren't sure which we'd need.

You can do it much cheaper if you don't want to visit other places on the way. We deliberately wanted to hop around.

Here's our route:

Our route map

Some random tips for you:

  • Use The Man In Seat Sixty-One to work out how to do your trip, wherever you want to go. You can also use the German train website bahn.de for searching all kinds of trains (NOT just German trains), to work out your timetable. You can also make reservations using the site, or as I said before, you can ring their helpful English phoneline.
  • Brussels Midi station (Eurostar) is great for connections, and there are food shops there, but there's not much you can do for a short stopoff (e.g. 3 hours) - there are very few good eateries in the area, for example. Conversely, Paris is good for that sort of thing, and the Eurostar to Paris drops you in the heart of it.
  • The Scandinavian trains were all on time. We were surprised that lots of the trains in Germany were delayed (I really expected them to be more efficient than that...). However the Deutsche Bahn website gives you live information about all of that, and even recommends journeys that take account of any delays live as they happen. It was very useful for us to be Interrailing because it meant we could switch on to a different train, going via a whole different German city, at no extra cost.
  • Our Interrail pass was accepted on a long bus route in Sweden too (we didn't expect it to be), so it's always worth trying.
  • Pack some snacks - sometimes you don't have time to buy food in the station, and sometimes there's no onboard catering.

And enjoy it! We did :)

| eco |

Running Mopidy as a service with PulseAudio on Ubuntu - gotcha

I've been enjoying using Mopidy and ncmpcpp as my music player.

On Ubuntu though I encountered a persistent problem:

  1. I had set Mopidy up to run as a service, which seemed like a good idea - it's not just some application I want to start from time-to-time, it's the main music player for my flat, so I want it to be there on tap.
  2. I had set Mopidy up to connect to PulseAudio, which seemed like a good idea since then it should "play nicely" with other things on the computer, e.g. it should be able to play music even when there's a video playing from Firefox.

However, it kept failing to connect to PulseAudio. It seemed to be unable to make any sound play back, unless I manually killed pulse, after which it could start playing.

Yes I had followed all the instructions. I had changed Mopidy's config as well as PulseAudio's config. I tried everything, setting PulseAudio to be as permissive as possible (allowing remote connections etc).

The solution, as far as I can tell, for my standard Ubuntu 18.04 is: you should not do both of these things. This is because if you run as a service, you're running something that starts up as soon as the computer boots, and doesn't use your login userid. PulseAudio, however, does not run on startup, but is part of your login session. So it simply isn't there for Mopidy to connect to, until you log in. (I still don't know why that should mean it's unable to connect, even after logging in. I suspect it's because it's running under a different user id.)

So here's what I've got now: instead of running Mopidy as a service (using mopidyctl to control it), I'm running it as a "startup application", i.e. something that runs on my own user account as part of my graphical desktop login. On Ubuntu there's a program called "Startup Applications" that you use to add/remove things easily. The one small drawback with this approach is that the music player won't be running if the machine reboots and I haven't logged in yet. However, there's usually a logged-in session running.

You might think that "running as a service" and "outputting audio via PulseAudio" would be compatible, especially as they're both listed on the same piece of documentation on the Mopidy website. Perhaps there's an extra trick (e.g. some permissions) that my system needs. But this non-service setup works fine.

| linux |

Tool needed: simple solar spotter

The OSM UK community is great, but it's hard to guarantee we can do the detective work to spot all 800,000 solar PV installations. There's a "long tail" of solar panels tucked away down side-streets. It's very much a needle in a haystack, and we would benefit from as many hints as possible.

(We're already working with (a) machine learning and (b) official data sources. They're good sources of hints too, but not the full picture.)

We could ask the general public for help with this. Almost everyone must pass a solar panel during their daily commute, their weekend stroll, or suchlike. But we can't expect the general public to use map editing tools, or in fact anything that requires technical commitment or expertise. Also nothing that requires login or user registration.

Can we make a tool that makes it so simple, that many thousands of people can send in just one or two sightings each?

We don't have the resources to make a fancy phone app. (And would people use it if we did?)

Option one: "drop a pin in a map" approach. Provide a simple webpage which lets people, with no login required, put a pin at a location where they think there's a solar panel. This is fairly easy to code (and could use the OSM Notes API, e.g. with a specific pre-agreed template for the Note text). However it's not ideal for people out-and-about with a smartphone, since it's all about the top-down birds-eye view.

Option two: people can take a photo of a solar panel they see, and post it to a service they already use. (Smartphones often record GPS location along with photos.) Posting to Twitter (with a particular hashtag) would be easy to set up and to scrape. However not everyone uses Twitter. Loads of people use WhatsApp. Can they report their solar spottings directly through a WhatsApp number? It would need someone to set up a number, fine - and then the coding required is to create a system that can slurp whatever photos were sent in, do a bit of sanity-checking and maybe some basic "bot" interactivity, and output a dataset of suggested-geolocations for panels. (These suggested-geolocations would not go into OSM directly, they're not appropriate for that. We can simply provide them as a dataset for mappers to refer to.)

Thanks to Max+Esther at 10:10 for suggesting the second idea. I approached them because 10:10 has previously been involved in something a little bit similar (a mobile app for spotting rooves that would be good places for new panels). They've clearly got the right idea for the kind of simple everyday interaction that's needed.

| openstreetmap |

The H-index can not be relied on for recruitment

The H-index is one of my favourite publication statistics. It's really simple to define: a person's H-index is the biggest number H of publications which have been cited H times each. It's robust to outliers: if you've a million publications with no citations, or one publication with a million citations, this doesn't influence the outcome - it's the "core" of your H most cited publications that matter. This makes it quite a nice heuristic for the academic impact of a body of work. A common source of the H-index is Google Scholar, which automatically calculates it for each scholar who has an account, and influential academics with long publication records typically have a high H-index.

However, the H-index should not be used as a primary measure for evaluating academics, e.g. for recruitment or promotion.


The main reason is it's straightforward, in fact almost trivial, to manipulate your own H-index. You can make it artificially high.

Google Scholar doesn't exclude self-citations from its counting. It even counts self-citations in preprints, so the citations might not even be peer-reviewed. You could chuck a handful of hastily-written preprints into arXiv just before you apply for a job. (Should Google exclude self-citations? Yes, in my opinion: it's trivially easy given that they have groundtruth of which academic "owns" which paper. However, that wouldn't remove the vulnerability, because pairs of authors could go one level beyond and conspire to cross-cite each other etc.) Self-citations are often valid things to do, but they're also often used by academics to promote their own previous papers, so it's a grey area.

Google Scholar often automatically adds papers to a person's profile, using text matching to guess if the author matches. I've seen real examples in which an academic's profile included extremely highly-cited papers... that were not by them. In fact they were from completely different research topics! Google's text-matching isn't perfect, and like most text-matching it often has a problem with working out which names are actually the same author.

You can further manipulate your H-index, by choosing how to publish: you can divide research outputs into multiple smaller publications rather than single integrated papers.

Or you can do that after the fact, by tweaking your options in Google about whether two particular publications should be merged into one record or not. (Google has this option, since it often picks up two slightly-different versions of the same publication.)

Most of the vulnerabilities I've listed relate to Google's chosen way of implementing the H-score; however, at least some of them will apply however it is counted.

The H-index is a heuristic. It's OK to look at it as a quick superficial statistic, or even to use it as part of a general assessment making use of other stats and other evidence. But I'm increasingly seeing academic job adverts that say "please submit your Google Scholar H-index". This should not be done: it sends a public signal that this number is considered potentially decisive for recruitment (which it shouldn't be), creating a strong incentive to game the value. It also enforces a new monopoly position for a private company, demanding that academics create Google accounts in order to be eligible for a job. Academia is too important to have single points of failure centred on single companies (witness the recent debates around Elsevier!).

When trying to sift a large pile of applications, people like to have simple heuristics to help them make a start. That's understandable. It's naive to think that one's opinion isn't influenced by the first-pass heuristics - and so it's vital that you use heuristics that aren't so trivially gameable.

| science |

New journal article: Automatic acoustic identification of individuals in multiple species

New journal article from us!

"Automatic acoustic identification of individuals in multiple species: improving identification across recording conditions" - a collaboration published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

For machine learning, the main takeaway is that data augmentation is not just a way to create bigger training sets: used judiciously, it can mitigate the effect of confounds in the training data. It can also be used at test time to check a classifier's robustness.

For bioacoustics, the main takeaway is that previous automatic acoustic individual ID research may have been overconfident in their claimed accuracy, due to dataset confounds - and we provide methods to try and quantify such issues, even without gathering new data.

This journal article is the output of a nice collaboration we've been working on, to try and bring machine learning closer to solved the problems zoologists really need solved. It's been very pleasant working on these ideas with Pavel Linhart and Tereza Petrusková (I didn't actually meet Martin Šálek!). The problem of detecting individual animals' vocal signatures is not yet a solved one, but I hope this paper helps nudge us part of the way there, and helps the field to get there more efficiently by a careful use of audio datasets.

| science |

Where are the solar panels in Britain?

Where are all the solar panels in Britain? Are they in the south? The sunny east? The countryside, the city?

The UK's office "Ofgem" publishes open data about the solar PV installations that they know about. In the latest "feed-in tariff" (FiT) data, there are about 800,000 of them …

| openstreetmap |

Spotting solar panels in London

Jack had this great idea to find the locations of solar panels and add them to OpenStreetMap. (Why's that useful? He can explain: Solar PV is the single biggest source of uncertainty in the National Grid's forecasts.)

I think we can do this :) The OpenStreetMap community have done lots of …

| openstreetmap |

Suggested reading: getting going with deep learning

Based on a conversation we had in the Machine Listening Lab last week, here are some blogs and other things you can read when you're - say - a new PhD student who wants to get started with applying/understanding deep learning. We can recommend plenty of textbooks too, but here it's …

| Science |

Favourite audio/science/misc software to install on Linux

I was setting a new laptop up recently. If you're not familiar with Linux you probably don't know how amazing is the ecosystem of software you can have for free, almost instantly. Yes sure the software is free but what's actually impressive is how well it all stitches together through …

| IT |

Veganuary 2019 - the results

| Food |

Vegan chorizo carbonara

| recipes |

Black bean chorizo

| recipes |

Veganuary - some vegan recipe tips

| food |

Academics who fly less - my story

| science |

The good news of 2018

| None |

Soft-drinks that pubs should serve but don't

| food |

Chilli sin carne, using pulled jackfruit

| recipes |

Fake fish and chips - battered aubergine

| recipes |

What do vegetarians really eat?

| food |
[Blog archives]