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What tracks would you take into a shop to test out a hifi?

What tracks would you take into a shop to test out a hifi?

FWIW here's what I'm thinking.

Friday 21st August 2015 | music | Permalink / Comment

Warblr bird app launched today

Today we launched Warblr, our app for automatically recognising the sounds of the UK's hundreds of bird species.

It's £3.99, and it's in the Apple Store here.

It's built using our research here at QMUL. The research was funded by the EPSRC - they funded me to do the basic research, and they also funded the "innovation" grant that helped turn it into software people can use on their phone.

One question you might wonder... If it's based on public research funding, why is it a paid app? We're going with a spin-out model, creating a business (a social enterprise with open data and conservation goals) and we believe that's a good route to making it sustainable. The basic research is publicly available to all.

I'm particularly happy to see the Guardian did a head-to-head test of our app and another one. Yes they agreed our app was better :) but the broader point is that this research on machine learning and sound is now reaching the point where, like speech recognition, it becomes more than just a research idea to become something people can use as an everyday tool.

The data we used during development: Xeno Canto, the big crowdsourced bird sound database, has been invaluable. And more recently the British Trust for Ornithology also very kindly allowed us to use some of their bird monitoring data (collected by thousands of volunteers over decades) as part of the recognition process.

The data we collect: we shall see! But a big motivation for this endeavour is to collect audio as well as geospatial data, that can help research and one day will also help organisations such as the BTO to monitor bird conservation.

It's been interesting getting to this point. Thanks to all who helped us on our way, including my business partner Florence Wilkinson who's been working tirelessly on this. And a personal thanks from me to Mark Plumbley for his enthusiastic support and discussion all through the early stages of this research!

Thursday 13th August 2015 | science | Permalink / Comment

Muslim feminist reading list

I've never encountered any writing that looks at feminism and Islam, let alone written by Muslim feminists. I wanted to fix that, so I asked on twitter: "Muslims, feminists: any good writing on feminism and Islam out there?" Here are the answers I got:

Eilidh Elizabeth said:

Fatima Mernissi, Lila Abu-Lughod, Azadeh Moaveni, Pardis Mahdavi, Therese Saliba, Kecia Ali, Ziba Mir-Hosseini

zara said:

http://haleemaakhtar.wordpress.com @haleema_kabir

to which Haleema Kabir replied:

@zaraisfierce @mclduk http://haleemakabir.wordpress.com >.< ♥

I've not read any of these yet, but it's great to have some starting suggestions. Thanks!

Thursday 23rd July 2015 | feminism | Permalink / Comment

BBC charter review - consultation responses

OK, I'm getting stuck into the BBC Charter Review this evening. (Here's why.)

Here are some of my answers...

  • Q1: How can the BBC’s public purposes be improved so there is more clarity about what the BBC should achieve?

    The charter period is ten years, which is too long a period to carve into stone what the BBC "should" achieve. The media landscape will have changed dramatically in two years, never mind ten. No-one I know has ever said the BBC needs to pin down its aims better.

  • Q4: Is the expansion of the BBC’s services justified in the context of increased choice for audiences? Is the BBC crowding out commercial competition and, if so, is this justified?

    The increased number of radio and TV channels obviously makes heavy use of lots of BBC archive and repeat material - that's clear to anyone who watches/listens. The increased number of channels isn't a sign of the BBC getting too big - it's just a sign of digital TV and radio having room for more channels than in the past. If we chopped off some of the less-used channels, it wouldn't save much money.

  • Q5: Where does the evidence suggest the BBC has a positive or negative wider impact on the market?

    The BBC played a massive role in promoting digital radio and TV through the simple act of jumping in and providing new channels because it could. This didn't crowd people out of the market - it stimulated the market.

  • Q8: Does the BBC have the right genre mix across its services?

    It could benefit from putting more critical and investigative journalism - something that many commercial providers don't want to dedicate budget towards. BBC journalism has been a little un-critical in recent years. Twenty-four hour news is not as important as deep thorough journalism.

  • Q11: How should we pay for the BBC and how should the licence fee be modernised?

    The "universal household levy" discussed in the consultation document would be good - it would be just, progressive, and would maintain the pooled British nature of the BBC. (It's not very different from being a hypothecated general tax - and therefore good - see below.)

    I have no no objections to the licence fee, but it might be better simply funded from general taxation. The subscription model that people have been talking about is very unhelpful, because (a) it leeches away the pooled "by Britain, for Britain" feel of the BBC, and (b) it puts it on much shakier financial foundations because subscriptions could collapse at any point (e.g. due to competition from global rivals like Sky deliberately undercutting it).

    The consultation document says general taxation "is not appropriate because it would risk lessening the BBC’s independence from Government" but this is a false argument, as the Government has recently delivered financial shocks to the BBC (in relation to the World Service, and the cost of licence fees for older people) of exactly the kind that would be risked under general taxation. A mechanism for stable hypothecation could easily allay those concerns.

  • Q12: Should the level of funding for certain services or programmes be protected? Should some funding be made available to other providers to deliver public service content?

    No need to make some of the BBC's funding "contestable" by others. The document mentions BBC having a "near monopoly" on children's broadcasting but that's because it's expensive to produce and commercial operators have chosen to focus on lower-cost genres.

  • Q13: Has the BBC been doing enough to deliver value for money? How could it go further?

    Yes it has been doing enough. Recent government moves such as making the BBC pay for World Service and then for old peoples' TV licences have added financial shocks to the system, not helping with delivering true value for money.

Monday 20th July 2015 | media | Permalink / Comment

Asian-style pork suet dumplings

I got a big pot of kim-chi from the chinese supermarket, so I decided to make some pork dumplings and give them a vaguely asian flavour. This was nice and makes good use of a very small amount of pork. Serves 1 as a main, or 2--4 as accompaniment, takes 25 mins:

  • Small handful pork mince
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g suet
  • 1/2 tsp chinese five-spice
  • Cold water
  • Small handful fresh basil leaves
  • A pot of kim chi

In a frying pan, fry the pork mince for 5 mins, breaking it up well into small pieces as you go. Then take it off the heat and let it cool a little bit.

Meanwhile, you can start making the dumplings even while the pork is frying. Mix up the flour, suet and five-spice. Add a splash of cold water (2 tbsp?) and with your fingertips mix and rub the mixture. If it's not wet enough to come together, add a bit more water; if it's too wet to work with, add a touch more flour; etc.

Sprinkle the basil leaves over the mixture, then sprinkle the slightly cooled pork mince over too. Make sure the pork isn't too hot to work with your hands, then mix everything up nicely and form into about 8 round balls.

Place the dumplings in a steamer and steam for 15 minutes.

Serve with plenty of kim chi.

Sunday 19th July 2015 | recipes | Permalink / Comment

Dudhi, chicken and basil

I first encountered the vegetable which I call the dudhi many years ago. But now I've moved to a part of London with a large Bangladeshi community it's available everywhere.

It's a big vegetable like a cross between a cucumber and a potato. You can treat it a bit like a tough courgette. Steaming it the other day didn't work out well. But today I tried frying it with chicken, in a mediterranean fashion, and yeah that worked out.

This simple thing is to serve one and takes less than 20 minutes:

  • Half a dudhi (depending on its size...)
  • 1 chicken breast
  • Plain flour
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves (e.g. about a dozen) (not dried basil, it won't work)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Salt and pepper

Slice the dudhi down the middle and then into slices about 1cm thick. Get some oil nice and hot in a big frying pan and add the dudhi. Fry the dudhi for a total of maybe 15 minutes, but adding more things about half-way through as follows.

While the dudhi is cooking, dice the chicken breast. Add some salt and pepper to a handful of plain flour on a plate, and toss the chicken in the flour, to coat evenly. Add it to the hot pan, making sure the chicken pieces are in the hottest and oiliest bit of the pan so that they're going to fry and cook. Slice the garlic and add that too.

When the food is ready to serve - you need to be confident that the chicken has had time to cook through - turn the heat off, then sprinkle the basil leaves on top of everything. Also sprinkle a small splash of water on top, which will instantly turn to steam and just help the basil along a touch. Stir briefly and serve, with bread or pasta.

Tuesday 23rd June 2015 | recipes | Permalink / Comment
The invention of cooking (Sunday 14th June 2015)
Best places to eat in Cambridge (Monday 25th May 2015)
South Woodford: the nom review (Sunday 10th May 2015)
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