I am a research fellow, conducting research into automatic analysis of bird sounds using machine learning.
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Newham Council has handled the current Carpenters Estate protest shockingly badly. Issuing a press release describing the protesting mothers as "agitators and hangers-on" is just idiotically bad handling.
BUT they have also described Carpenters Estate as not "viable", and many commentators (such as Zoe Williams, Russell Brand) have lampooned them for it. After all, they can see the protesting mothers occupying a perfectly decent-looking little home. How can it be not "viable"?
Are they judging viability compared against the market rate for selling off the land? That's what Zoe Williams says, and that's what I assumed too from some conversations. But that's not it at all.
Newham's current problem with the Carpenters Estate is basically caused by the two different types of housing stock on the estate:
So "not viable" means they can't find any way to refurbish those tower blocks to basic living standards - especially not in the face of the Tory cuts to council budgets - and that affects the whole estate as well as just the tower blocks. This appears to be the fundamental reason they're "decanting" people, in order to demolish and redevelop the whole place. (Discussed eg in minutes from 2012.) It's also the reason they have a big PR problem right now, because those two-storey houses appear "viable" and perfectly decent homes, yet they do indeed have a reason to get everyone out of them!
After the UCL plan for Carpenters Estate fell through it's understandable that they're still casting around for development plans, and we might charitably assume the development plans would be required to include plenty of social housing and affordable housing. You can see from the council minutes that they do take this stuff seriously when they approve/reject plans.
(Could the council simply build a whole new estate there, develop a plan itself, without casting around for partners? Well yes, it's what councils used to do before the 1980s. It's not their habit these days, and there may be financial constraints that make it implausible, but in principle I guess it must be an option. Either way, that doesn't really affect the question of viability, which is about the current un-demolished estate.)
But the lack of a plan has meant that there's no obvious "story" of what's supposed to be happening with the estate, which just leaves space for people to draw their own conclusions. I don't think anyone's deliberately misrepresenting what the council means when they talk about viability. I think the council failed badly in some of its early communication, and that led to misunderstandings that fed too easily into a narrative of bureaucratic excuses.
"A group of local mothers are squatting next to London’s Olympic Park to tell the government we need social housing, not social cleansing" as featured in the Guardian and on Russell Brand's Youtube channel. The estate is Carpenters Estate, Stratford.
"Carpenters Estate," I thought to myself, "that rings a bell..."
It turns out Carpenters Estate is the one that UCL had proposed in 2011 to redevelop into a new university campus. The Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood "has been earmarked for redevelopment since 2010". "All proposals will take into account existing commitments made by the Council to those people affected by the re-housing programme." However, locals raised concerns, as did UCL's own Bartlett School (architecture/planning school) students and staff. (There's a full report here written by Bartlett students.) In mid-2013 negotiations broke down between Newham and UCL and the idea was ditched.
It seems that the council, the locals and others have been stuck in disagreement about the future of the estate for a while. At first the council promised to re-house people without breaking up the community too much, then it realised it didn't know how to do that, and eventually it came to the point where it's just gradually "decanting" people from the area and hoping that other things such as "affordable housing" (a shadow of a substitute for social housing) will mop things up. I can see how they got here and I can see how they can't find a good resolution of all this. But the Focus E15 mothers campaign makes a really good point, that irrespective of the high land prices (which probably mean Newham Council get offered some tempting offers), the one thing East London needs is social housing to prevent low-income groups and long-time locals from being forced out of London by gentrification.
The gentrification was already well underway before the London Olympic bid was won, but that had also added extremely predictable extra heat to the housing market around there. One part of the Olympic plan included plenty of "affordable housing" on the site afterwards - in August 2012, housing charity Shelter said it was good that "almost half" of the new homes built in the Athlete's Village would be "affordable housing". Oh but then they calculated that it wouldn't be that affordable after all, since the rules had been relaxed so the prices could go as high as 80% of market rate. (80% of bonkers is still crazy.)
Oh and it wasn't "almost half" (even though in the Olympic Bid they had said it would be 50% of 9,000 homes), by this point the target had been scaled back officially to about 40%. In November 2012 Boris Johnson insisted "that more than a third of the 7,000 new homes in the Olympic Park would be affordable". The Mayor said: 'There’s no point in doing this unless you can accommodate all income groups.'"
Oh but then in January 2014 Boris Johnson announced that they were changing their mind, and instead of 40% affordable housing, it's now going to be 30%. "Fewer homes will be built overall, and a smaller than promised percentage of those would be affordable." ("The dream of affordable housing is fading," said Nicky Gavron.) The new target contravenes the House of Lords Select Committee on Olympic Legacy report 2013-14 which said "It is important that a fair proportion, at least [...] 35%, of this housing is affordable for, and accessible to, local residents". Boris Johnson said it was a "price well worth paying" as a trade off for more economic activity. Strange assertion to make, since East London has bucketloads of economic activity and a crisis in social and affordable housing!
P.S. and guess why they decided not to build as many homes as they had planned? It's to make room for a cultural centre codenamed Olympicopolis. (Compare against this 2010 map of planned housing in the park.) Plans for this are led by... UCL! Hello again UCL, welcome back into the story. I love UCL as much as anyone - I worked there for years - but we need to fix the housing crisis a billion times more than we need to solve UCL's real-estate issues.
I'll admit it: I wasn't sure I could tolerate 48 hours of nothing but post-rock. Lots of great stuff in that scene - but all at once? Wouldn't it wear a bit thin? Well no, ArcTanGent festival was chuffing fab. My top three awesome stickers are awarded to:
Bear Makes Ninja - wow like math-rock with great indie-rock vocals and harmonies, and some blinding drumming which isn't obvious in that video I linked but you should really see.
AK/DK - a twopiece, and both of them play synths and effects and vocals and drums, shifting roles as they go to make great electro stuff totally live. Fun and danceable as hell.
Cleft - another twopiece, drums and guitar, using a loopstation to fill it out and make mathy tuneful stuff. Oh and great crowd interaction - this might violate postrock ethics but I do like a band that talks to the crowd. This crowd was pretty dedicated, they were actually singing along with the zany time-signature riffs.
Unfortunately we missed Rumour Cubes while putting our tent up in the rain, so I'll never know if they would have earnt a top awesome sticker. But loads of other stuff was also great: Jamie Lenman (from heavy to tuneful, like early Nirvana), Sleep Beggar (heavy angry hip-hop and chuffing rocking), Luo (ensemble postrock with some delicious intricate drum breaks), Year Of No Light (dark slow heavy doomy, like a black hole), Alarmist (another dose of good ensemble postrock), and Human Pyramids (sort of like a school orchestra playing postrock compositions... in a good way).
Almost all of these things I've mentioned were non-headline acts, and most of them were amazed to be in a tent with so many people digging their shit, since they were used to being the niche odd-time-signature weirdos at normal festivals :)
By way of contrast, a couple of the big names I found a bit boring to be honest, but I'll spare you that since overall the weekend was great with so much great stuff. Mono was a nice headliner to end with, enveloping, orchestral and often low-key - we were actually not "at" the main stage but sitting on a bench 50m or so up the slope. Lots of people were doing as we did, letting the sound wash its way up the hill as we took in the night.
I didn't join in the silent disco in the middle of the night but it had a lovely effect, as hundreds of people with headphones sang along to some indie rock classics, and from afar you could hear nothing except their perfectly-timed amateur indie choir, it sounded great.
Wow. The Jabberwocky festival, organised by the people who did many amazing All Tomorrow's Parties festivals, collapsed three days before it was due to happen, this weekend. The 405 has a great article about the whole sorry mess.
We've been to loads of ATPs and I was thinking about going to Jabberwocky. Really tempted by the great lineup and handily in London (where I live). But the venue? The Excel Centre? A convention-centre box? I couldn't picture it being fun. The promoters tried to insist that it was a great idea for a venue, but it seems I was probably like a lot of people thinking "nah". (Look at the reasons they give, crap reasons. No-one ever complained at ATP about the bar queues or the wifi coverage. The only thing I complained about was that the go-karting track was shut!) I've seen a lot of those bands before, too, it's classic ATP roster, so if the place isn't a place I want to go to then there's just not enough draw.
That 405 article mentions an early "leak" of plans that they were aiming to hold it in the Olympic Park. Now that would have been a place to hold it. Apparently the Olympic Park claimed ignorance, saying they never received a booking, but that sounds like PR-speak pinpointing that they were in initial discussions but didn't take it further. I would imagine that the Olympic Park demanded a much higher price than Excel since they have quite a lot of prestige and political muscle - or maybe it was just an issue of technical requirements or the like. But the Jabberwocky organisers clearly decided that they'd got the other things in place (lineup etc) so they'd press ahead with London in some other mega-venue, and hoped that the magic they once weaved on Pontins or Butlins would happen in the Excel.
This weekend there will be lots of great Jabberwocky fall-out gigs across London. That's totally weird. And I'm sorry I won't be in London to catch any of them! But it's very very weird because it's going to be about 75% of the festival, but converted from a monolithic one into one of those urban multi-venue festivals. The sickening thing about that is that even though the organisers clearly cocked some stuff up royally, I still feel terrible for them having to go bust and get no benefit from the neat little urban fallout festival they've accidentally organised. Now if ATP had decided to run it that way, I would very likely have signed up for it, and dragged my mates down to London!
I'm going to try and avoid ranting about Israel and Palestine because there's much more heat than light right now. But I want to recommend some background reading that seems useful, and it's historical/background stuff rather than partisan:
I also want to point to a more "one-sided" piece (in the sense that it criticises one "side" specifically - I've no idea about the author's actual motivations): Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza - Debunked. I recommend it because it raises some interesting points about international law and the like, and we in the UK don't seem to hear these issues filled out on the radio.
Also this interview with Ex-Israeli Security Chief Diskin. Again I don't know Diskin's backstory - clearly he's opposed to the current Israeli Prime Minister (Netanyahu), but the interview has some detail.
As usual, please don't assume anyone is purely pro-Palestine or pro-Israel, and don't confuse criticism of Israel/Hamas with criticism of Judaism/Islam. The topic is hard to talk about (especially on the internet) without the conversation spiralling into extremes.
There's a poster produced by the UK government recently that says:
1 in 3 rape victims have been drinking. Know your limits.
I can imagine there are people in a design agency somewhere trying to think up stark messages to make the nation collectively put down its can of Tennents for at least a moment, and it's good to dissuade people from problem drinking. But this is probably the most blatant example I've ever seen of what people have been calling "victim blaming".
If your friend came to you and said they'd been raped, would you say "You shouldn't have been drinking"? I hope not. And not just because it'd be rude! But because even when someone is a bit tipsy, it's not their fault they were raped, it's the rapist's fault.
It sounds so pathetically obvious when you write it down like that. But clearly it still needs to be said, because there are people putting together posters that totally miss the point. They should also bear in mind that a lot of people like to have a drink on a night out, or on a night in. (More than half of women in the UK drink one or two times a week, according to the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey table 2.5c) So it's actually no surprise AT ALL that 1/3 of rape victims have been drinking. What proportion of rape victims have been smoking? Dancing? Texting?
(By the way there's currently a petition against the advert.)
On the other hand, maybe it's worth thinking about the other side of the coin. People who end up as convicted rapists - some of them after a fuzzy night out or whatever - how many of them have been drinking? Does that matter? Yes, it matters more, because rape is an act of commission, and it seems likely that in some proportion of rapes a person went beyond reasonable bounds as a result of their drinking.
So how about this for a poster slogan:
1 in 3 rapists have been drinking. Know your limits.
(I can't find an exact statistic to pin down the number precisely - here I found an ONS graph which tells us in around 40% of violent crimes, the offender appears to have been drinking. So for rape specifically I don't know, but 1 in 3 is probably not wide of the mark.)
So now here's a question: why didn't they end up with that as a slogan? Is it because they were specifically tasked with cutting down women's drinking for some reason, and just came up with a bad idea? Or is it because victim-blaming for rape just sits there at a low level in our culture, in the backs of our minds, in the way we frame these issues?
In mainland Britain, you are never more than 34 miles from a pub.
I've been awarded a 5-year research fellowship! It's funded by the EPSRC and gives me five years to research "structured machine listening for soundscapes with multiple birds". What does that mean? It means I'm going to be developing computerised processes to analyse large amounts of sound recordings - automatically detecting the bird sounds in there and how they vary, how they relate to each other, how the birds' behaviour relates to the sounds they make.
What's the point of analysing bird sounds? Well...
One surprising fact about birdsong is that it has a lot in common with human language, even though it evolved separately. Many songbirds go through similar stages of vocal learning as we do, as they grow up. And each species is slightly different, which is useful for comparing and contrasting. So, biologists are keen to study songbird learning processes - not only to understand more about how human language evolved, but also to help understand more about social organisation in animal groups, and so on. I'm not a biologist but I'm going to be collaborating with some great people to help improve the automatic sound analysis in their toolkit - for example, by analysing much larger audio collections than they can possibly analyse by hand.
Bird population/migration monitoring is also important. UK farmland bird populations have declined by 50% since the 1970s, and woodland birds by 20% (source). We have great organisations such as the BTO and the RSPB, who organise professionals and amateurs to help monitor bird populations each year. If we can add improved automatic sound recognition to that, we can help add some more detail to this monitoring. For example, many birds are changing location year-on-year in response to climate change (source) - that's the kind of pattern you can detect better when you have more data and better analysis.
Sound is fascinating, and still surprisingly difficult to analyse. What is it that makes one sound similar to another sound? Why can't we search for sounds as easily as we can for words? There's still a lot that we haven't sorted out in our scientific and engineering understanding of audio. Shazam works well for music recordings, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security by that! There's still a long way to go in this research topic before computers can answer all of our questions about sounds.
I'll be developing automatic analysis techniques (signal processing and machine learning techniques), building on starting points such as my recent work on tracking multiple birds in an audio recording and on analysing frequency-modulation in bird sounds. I'll be based at Queen Mary University of London.
I'll also be collaborating with some experts in machine learning, in animal behaviour, in bioacoustics. One of the things on the schedule for this year is to record some zebra finches with the Clayton Lab. I've met the zebra finches already - they're jolly little things, and talkative too! :)