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Vegetarian armoury: things you might need

I've been cooking more and more vegetarian food this year. It's better for the climate and why not. You don't have to give anything up, in my opinion - you don't ned to go full veggy, just go in that direction.

So, to mark World Vegetarian Day here are my secrets, as a meat-eater, for how I'm cooking vegetarian for myself and not going hungry or getting bored. It's not really a glamorous list. The point is everyday eating. These are things that I didn't always have in the past but are now really handy go-to things to have in the cupboard:

  • Halloumi - lasts ages in the fridge. It's a classic veggie standby but the main reason I've added it is I've worked out a few different recipes with it - it's not just a one-trick pony. Most veggies will tell you "just grill it and eat it, it's lovely" but you need to have a few options. One unusual but easy and good is griddled halloumi+carrot+orange - a trick I got from the "River Cottage Fruit" cookbook - those three flavours go together great as a fast warm salad.
  • Black beans - a tin of black beans is really handy. A full flavour, and versatile. My top tip is my "black bean chorizo": Drain & mash 1 tin black beans, marinate with red wine, paprika, fennel, crushed garlic, salt&pepper. Then keep that in a sealed box in the fridge - it lasts for weeks and weeks and you can add a dab to stews or whatever to add a deep developed flavour that sometimes is missing from veggy life. Other things you can do with black beans include putting them in a wrap/taco, using them in stews, salads, you get the idea.
  • Puy lentils (ready-cooked and vacuum packed) - a pack lasts for ever in the cupboard, can be an emergency meal in itself, and is a great ingredient for a roast tomato lasagne, or a stew. The roast tomato lasagne is a great recipe in Take One Veg by Georgina Fuggle.
  • Chickpeas - kinda obvious, but: chickpeas are (a) handy for curries or tagines, (b) can be whizzed up for a nice fresh hummus at the drop of a hat, and as a bonus trick, (c) the water from a tin of chickpeas can be used for those bonkers vegan meringues.
  • Spinach - lasts ages in the fridge, and versatile - it can be salad, or cooked, or put into curries etc.
  • Cauliflower/broccoli - in British cookery, the tradition is to have these as just a veg on the side of your meat dish. But a cauliflower or a broccoli can totally be the centrepiece of lots of good veggie main courses. Cauliflower cheese is an obvious one. Roasted cauli/broccoli makes a good basis for a warm salad like this one. This year has also seen lots of recipes for "cauliflower couscous" or "cauliflower pesto" in which you put a cauliflower in a blender. Not my favourite thing to do with a cauli, I'll admit, but at least it's showing its adaptability.
  • Nuts! I've now got an old ice-cream tub full of different types of nuts. peanuts (plain), almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc etc. again, they last forever, they add protein and sweetness and variety, and yeah loads of recipes.

None of this is big news, especially not to anyone who's already a vegetarian. But if you're a meat eater, try getting these things in stock, and adding a couple more recipes to your inventory.

There are a couple of things not included in that list above. I'm too impatient to spend a lot of time with tofu (I don't see why I should spend ages marinating tofu to add some flavour to it, when I could just fry some halloumi or some paneer instead), though I love tofu in a thai green curry. Avocados are great but they don't last long, they're expensive, and although people do various weird things with avocados (like make cakes from them), I usually find the best thing to do with an avocado is just to eat it!

Sunday 2nd October 2016 | food | 1 Comment

Some papers seen at MLSP 2016

MLSP 2016 - i.e. the IEEE International Workshop on Machine Learning for Signal Processing - was a great, well-organised workshop, held last week on Italy's Amalfi coast. (Yes, lovely place to go for work - if only I'd had some spare time for sightseeing on the side! Anyway.)

Here are a few of the papers that caught my interest:

  • Approximate State-Space Gaussian Processes Via Spectral Transformation by Toni Karvonen and Simo Särkkä. This is an important contribution to the current work on Gaussian processes and in particular on running efficient Gaussian process inference. It builds on other work from the Särkkä lab converting Gaussian processes to state-space models, which often involves a (mild) approximation. This paper introduces some new methods in that vein, with proofs, and in fact the paper includes various ways to approximate a GP. A veritable mathematical toolkit. It seems the Taylor expansion (the most immediately comprehensible IMHO) is not the best.

Actually, there was substantial work involving Gaussian processes at MLSP. Is it a growth area? Well, if the use of GPs can be made more scalable (as in the above paper) then yes, it certainly should be. They are a very flexible and general tool, and nicely Bayesian too. Richard Turner's keynote about Gaussian processes was a beautiful introduction - he manages to make GPs extremely understandable. If you get a chance to see him speak on them then do.

  • Localizing Users And Items From Paired Comparisons by O'Shaughnessy and Davenport. This is a nicely conceived addition to the literature on recommendation algorithms, and with good demonstrations of how the approach is robust to issues such as incoherent paired comparisons.
  • "Data Privacy Protection By Kernel Subspace Projection And Generalized Eigenvalue Decomposition" by Diamantaras and Kung. Privacy-preserving computing is an important area for current research. It's made obvious when we see how much a large company like Facebook or Tesco can infer about its users. Here, the authors treat privacy as a classification task - i.e. the data to be kept private is some kind of discrete label - and they apply an LDA-like method: maximise the scatter between the target classes for the "allowed" task, while minimising the scatter between the private classes. (I raised an issue with their "Privacy Index", noting that the desired accuracy for the private task was not in fact zero but ignorance. I'd presume that a metric based on mutual information would be a nice alternative.)
  • "Scale and shift invariant time/frequency representation using auditory statistics: application to rhythm description" by Marchand and Peeters. They use the "Scale Transform", a class of Mellin transform. Equivalent to exponentially time-warping a signal then weighting by an exponential window. Since it's not shift-invariant you don't want to apply it directly to audio, but to e.g. autocorrelation. From there, they argue you get a good featureset for characterising musical rhythm.
  • Score-Matching Estimators For Continuous-Time Point-Process Regression Models by Sahani, Bohner and Meyer - good to see this. I've been using point process models to analyse bird communication and so I'm interested in efficient ways to do such analysis, which commonly seem to come from the computational neuroscience literature at the moment. Notable that this approach doesn't require any time discretisation, so could be useful. The functions analysed need to be differentiable, so to work with impulsive time series they actually convolve/correlate them with basis functions; feels like a minor hack but there you go.

Also, I was very pleased that Pablo A Alvarado Duran presented his work on Gaussian processes for music audio modelling - his first publication as part of his PhD with me!

Sunday 18th September 2016 | science | Permalink / Comment

Some papers seen at InterSpeech 2016

InterSpeech 2016 was a very interesting conference. I have been to InterSpeech before, yes - but I'm not a speech-recognition person so it's not my "home" conference. I was there specifically for the birds/animals special session (organised by Naomi Harte and Peter Jancovic), but it was also a great opportunity to check in on what's going on in speech technology research.

Here's a note of some of the interesting papers I saw. I'll start with some of the birds/animals papers:

That's not all the bird/animal papers, sorry, just the ones I have comments about.

And now a sampling of the other papers that caught my interest:

  • Retrieval of Textual Song Lyrics from Sung Inputs by Anna Kruspe. Nice to see work on aligning song lyrics against audio recordings - it's something that the field of MIR is in need of. The example application here is if you sing a few words, can a system retrieve the right song audio from a karaoke database?
  • The auditory representation of speech sounds in human motor cortex - this journal article has some of the amazing findings presented by Eddie Chang in his fantastic keynote speech, discovering the way phonemes are organised in our brains, both for production and perception.
  • Today's Most Frequently Used F0 Estimation Methods, and Their Accuracy in Estimating Male and Female Pitch in Clean Speech by Sofia Strömbergsson. This survey is a great service for the community. The general conclusion is that Praat's pitch detection is really among the best off-the-shelf recommendations (for speech analysis, here - the evaluation hasn't been done for non-human sounds!).
  • Supervised Learning of Acoustic Models in a Zero Resource Setting to Improve DPGMM Clustering by Heck et al - "zero-resource" speech analysis is interesting to me because it could be relevant for bird sounds. "Zero resource" means analysing languages for which we have no corpora or other helpful data available - all we have is audio recordings. (Sounds familiar?) In this paper the authors used some adaptation techniques to improve a method introduced last year based on unsupervised nonparametric clustering.
  • Speech reductions cause a de-weighting of secondary acoustic cues by Varnet et al: a study of some niche aspects of human listening. Through tests of people listening to speech examples in noise they found that people's use of secondary cues - i.e. clues that help to distinguish one phoneme from another, which clues are embedded elsewhere in the word than the phoneme itself - changes according to the nature of the stimulus. Yet more evidence that perception is an active, context-sensitive process etc.

One thing you won't realise from my own notes is that InterSpeech was heavily dominated by deep learning. Convolutional neural nets (ConvNets), recurrent neural nets (RNNs), they were everywhere. Lots of discussion about connectionist temporal classification (CTC) - some people say it's the best, some people say it requires too much data to train properly, some people say they have other tricks so they can get away without it. It will be interesting to see how that discussion evolves. However, many of the other deep-learning based papers were much of a muchness: lots of people use a ConvNet or an RNN and, as we all know, in many cases they can get good results. They apply these to many tasks in speech technology. However, in many cases there was application without a whole lot of insight. That's the way the state of the art is at the moment, I guess. Therefore, many of my most interesting moments at InterSpeech were deep-learning-less :) see above.

(Also, I had to miss the final day, to catch my return flight. Wish I'd been able to go to the VAD and Audio Events session, for example.)

Another aspect of speech technology is the emphasis on public data challenges - there are lots of them! Speech recognition, speaker recognition, language recognition, distant speech recognition, zero-resource speech recognition, de-reverberation... Some of these have been running for years and the dedication of the organisers is worth praising. Useful to check in on how these things are organised, as we develop similar initiatives in general and natural sound scene analysis.

Sunday 18th September 2016 | science | Permalink / Comment

The Lancashire accent in pop music

I've been trying to think of times when I've heard a proper Lancashire accent in music recently. (Pop, rock, rap, whatever.) It's not easy! Suggestions please? We want someone who's done for the Lancs accent what the Arctic Monkeys have done for Yorkshire...

A couple of nice examples are Shaun Ryder and Guy Garvey. But then it's a bit of a mixup because the county of Lancashire used to include Manchester, but the modern county doesn't include Shaun or Guy's hometowns, so, well, they've got the right voices but they might get disqualified on a technicality :(

Looking back to earlier eras... the same thing happens with The Beatles. Liverpool used to be part of Lancashire but not any more. Anyway The Beatles are confusing because they sometimes used quite genuine regional accents, sometimes transatlantic rock'n'roll accents - quite explicitly hopping about. Much more dependable, and much older, George Formby's voice is a proper representative sample.

Here's one modern example, though not famous: The Eccentronic Research Council - the woman in that track is Maxine Peake (another Manc/Lanc stowaway).

Oh and I don't really want to mention The Lancashire Hotpots because they're too daft.

Chumbawamba were from Burnley, hoorah. But their singing doesn't have much of the accent as far as I can tell.

FFS come on! This list needs some vim. Let's chuffing represent! Answers on a postcard.

Edit: top tip from Lucy: The Lovely Eggs - that's what I'm talking about!

Friday 2nd September 2016 | music | Permalink / Comment

Remembering the run-up to the Iraq War

The LRB has an excellent article by Philippe Sands about the Chilcot Report and the Iraq War.

The UK had a key role in the Iraq War, and even before it happened there were millions of us on the streets marching against it: we said in advance that it was unjustified and would escalate terrorism in the region. (There's a video going round at the moment of Jeremy Corbyn back in the day, saying exactly that.) Now, looking back from a 2016 in which we have Isis/Da'esh and waves of refugees, there's no pleasure in the confirmation that we were right. The consequences reverberated not just through the region, but through to the EU and the UK too. Millions of us ignored, and so many killed (not least, directly killed in the war), because Tony Blair had pledged to Bush: "I'm with you, whatever".

Some quotes from the article:

"[The inquiry said] 'we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council's authority.'"

The inquiry received 37 legal responses regarding the war's legality, "reflecting the views of 57 expert individuals and six organisations. Just one of them supported the claim that the war was lawful."

"On 31 January [2003], Blair met Bush and offered a commitment that contradicted the legal advice given to him by Goldsmith the previous day."

"[Goldsmith's] formal advice - the 7 March document permeated with an understanding of the uncertainty and risk involved in going to war - was deliberately withheld from cabinet."

Our government (and related organisations such as the UN Security Council) are built with checks and balances, so that things such as ill-advised wars on the basis of misconstrued information should be less likely.

The article is well worth a read.

Friday 5th August 2016 | politics | Permalink / Comment

I bumped into the Iron Curtain

So I was on holiday in the mountains bordering Germany and the Czech Republic. Walking around, it was actually a bit odd to be simply walking between Germany and the Czech Republic simply by pootling down a street - i.e. making good use of the Schengen free-movement area that's been one focal point of the migration and refugee news this year. So that was on my mind a bit. (And no I didn't spot any migrants!)

Then in the woods, I saw something unexpected. - A grid of little concrete pyramids, each about a metre high. Just sitting there, not part of a building, or an art installation, or anything, as far as I could tell. Looking fairly old and unkempt. An area of about 15 by 20 metres, weird.

I didn't take a picture, so here's an artist's impression:

Artist's impression

Weird huh?

Eventually I saw there was a little notice by the side, explaining that these were a leftover part of the tank-trap strip that defended the Iron Curtain a few years ago. Thick forest provided a lot of the border defence against tanks - but in the channels between forests, these tank traps would be built so that tanks would scupper themselves on the pyramids. Then the guards watching from the nearby towers could do the rest.

Here's a picture I found online, of some similar leftover pyramids in the Czech Republic border area:

Čížov (Zaisa) - preserved part of Iron curtain.JPG
(Photo is by Marcin Szala via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

There were a couple of photos included, of tests where they drove tanks on top of the pyramids. The thought of it, in this peaceful forest. An "enemy" (or any) tank coming hurling down the way, aiming for the border, crashing over the landscape, through fences etc. This is what borders in Europe used to be like. Within my lifetime. These are the eventualities that planners had in mind.

It puts in perspective how we currently talk about borders, with the EU and Schengen and Brexit. I presume that Germans who remember their country before unification already have this perspective...? But as a mainland Brit, it's not like that.

(I know it's also how some borders are right now. For example between Israel and Palestine. Maybe we should all go and experience the physicality of those things first hand.)

Politically, the world is quite unstable right now, and it's really unclear how the multiple crises of 2016 will play out. Whatever happens, the future will not be exactly the same as the past. But when you bump up against our very recent history (the Iron Curtain) in physical form it really brings it home, for someone who never experienced a war - never really even felt the brunt of the troubles in Ireland, though I remember the Manchester Arndale bombing - that the peace and stability that happens (?) to coincide with the EU era is not something to be taken cheaply.

Further reading: I found this nice travelogue from someone who travelled along exploring the Iron Curtain etc, while I was looking for the photo.

Monday 1st August 2016 | travel | Permalink / Comment
Food in the Bavarian Forest (Sunday 31st July 2016)
Sweet onion and puy lentil stew (Thursday 14th July 2016)
Bacup test kitchen July update (Sunday 10th July 2016)
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