Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas 2012: Chorizo and roasted pumpkin risotto

In my quest to find interesting things to do with pumpkin, I came up with this chorizo-flavoured pumpkin risotto. Chorizo in a risotto base is something that I've been doing for about 3 years, but I found that the contrast between creamy risotto, smooth pumpkin, and tart lemon works remarkably well in this dish. Serves 4–6 as a main course.

  • 1 kg pumpkin
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2 medium onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 100 g unsliced chorizo sausage
  • 750 mm hot chicken stock
  • 150 mm white wine
  • 50 g Parmesan (or similar hard cheese)
  • 50 g butter
  • 1 lemon
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 °C (185 °C fan). Dice the pumpkin into 2–3 cm cubes. Spread the cubed pumpkin out on a baking sheet, use a pastry brush to roughly coat them with olive oil, and season generously. Put in the oven to roast for 35–40 min.

Finely chop the onions, celery, garlic and chorizo. In a wide-bottomed, covered pan, gently fry the onions, celery and chorizo in about 2 tbsp of the olive oil until very soft.

Next add the risotto rice and garlic, and fry for further 3 min. Now turn up the heat, and add the white wine to the pan. Keep stirring the risotto and gradually adding the hot stock until the risotto is cooked. It's okay not to use all of the stock; if you find that you need more liquid, just use boiling water.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter. Gently stir in the roast pumpkin cubes, and allow the risotto to rest for at least a minute. Serve garnished with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas 2012: Spicy pumpkin and carrot soup

This Christmas, I'm in charge of the menu (and the cooking) at home, and I'll be posting recipes for some of the food I cook. First up is a lovely warm and spicy vegetable soup that's delicious and quick to cook, and makes a great lunch. This recipe serves 3&ndash6 people depending on how hungry they are!

  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 stick celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 600 g pumpkin (approx)
  • 1 chili
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
  • Large handful of red lentils

The key here is to chop the vegetables to appropriate sizes so that everything is ready to eat at the same time. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Finely chop the onion, garlic and chili, and cut the celery into pieces about 1 cm on a side, and gently fry them in the oil with the cumin seed for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and clear.

Meanwhile, boil a kettle. Dice the carrots into pieces about 5 mm in size, and add to the pan. Next, cube the pumpkin to about 15–20 mm and add to the pan. Add the paprika, and continue to fry the vegetables together for another 2–3 min.

Add about 750 ml of the boiling water from the kettle to the pan along with the bouillon powder, and season with salt and pepper to taste (the liquid should be just enough to cover the vegetables). Bring to the boil, and sprinkle the lentils in. Finally, cover the pan, and simmer for about 30 min until ready to serve — preferably with some crusty bread and a wedge of cheddar cheese.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Making schematics look good with "gaf export"

<CareBear\> peterbrett : hey. gaf export is f-ing awesome!

People who've been testing the gEDA "master" branch over the last few hours will have got a sneak preview of a cool new tool that will be arriving in gEDA/gaf 1.9.0. The new gaf export command-line utility lets you quickly and easily export your schematics and symbols to a variety of image formats.

I've been wanting to introduce a tool like this for a while, but it's only become possible thanks to finally finishing a couple of big features that have been cooking in my personal branches for a couple of years: a new Cairo-based rendering library for gEDA designed to be used for both rendering in gschem and for printing/exporting graphics, called "libgedacairo"; and a new gEDA configuration subsystem, which I'll write about in more detail another time.

To get started, suppose I want to create a PDF from a schematic called grey_counter_1.sch. It's very straightforward!

gaf export -o grey_counter_1.pdf grey_counter_1.sch

From the output filename that I passed to the "-o" option, gaf export will detect that I want a PDF. It'll detect the size of the drawing, centre it in the default paper (choosing some suitable margins) and generate a PDF file.

Batch generation of PostScript files

Many people previously used gschem along with the (relatively obscure) print.scm script for batch generation of PostScript files. Usually the command looked something like:

gschem -o -s /usr/share/gEDA/scheme/print.scm grey_counter_1.sch

Don't do this any more. It is slow (because it needs to load all of gschem's configuration), requires an graphical desktop to be running (because gschem can't start without trying to display its windows) and doesn't provide any way to directly customise formatting options without fiddling with Scheme scripts. Also, gaf export generates much nicer PDF output than PS, especially if you want to do anything with the output file other than printing. You could directly replaced the gschem command above with something like:

gaf export -o grey_counter_1.pdf grey_counter_1.sch

A Makefile rule for creating PDF files from schematic files might look like:

%.pdf: %.sch
	gaf export -o $@ -- $<

Of course, one advantage of the new tool is that it can do multi-page output. So rather than generating a whole bunch of separate PDF or PostScript files and stitching them together, you could directly generate a single PDF file with the whole of your design in it:

gaf export -o schematics.pdf grey_counter_1.sch filter_1.sch

Tweaking the output

gaf export also lets you tweak the output for different applications. Suppose I want to produce the PNG file displayed in this blog post. First, I don't care about paper sizes; I want the output file to be sized according to how large the drawing is. To do this, I can use -s auto. I can also set the margin on the output with -m 5px. I also want to print in colour (-c). So the overall command is:

gaf export -c -s auto -m 5px -o gaf_export__40160-1.png 40160-1.sym

It can also be useful to set the paper size (for example, to get suitable margins for larger paper sizes). By default, gaf export uses whatever GTK thinks the default paper size is on your system. For most people, this will be ISO A4. In addition to providing measurements directly via the -s option, the -p option lets you specify a PWG 5101.1-2002 paper name. For example, to use US "D" size paper:

gaf export -p na_d -o grey_counter_1.pdf grey_counter_1.sch

Changing default settings

The default settings for gaf export can be modified using the new gaf config command. For example, to set the default paper size for all your projects to US "Letter":

gaf config --user export paper na_letter

Or to make sure that all printing for a particular project is in colour:

gaf config -p /path/to/project/directory/ export monochrome false


gaf export is a fast, easy-to-use way of generating graphics files from your gEDA/gaf schematics and symbols. Along with several other new features, it will be available in the upcoming unstable gEDA/gaf 1.9.0 release.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Remote Sensing journals and open access

The Remote Sensing Applications Research Group at Surrey Space Centre is in the first stages of thinking about the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) system that will be used to assess the quality of our research.

We've been told by the University that we each need to demonstrate four "research outcomes" for REF. Initially, we've been given the advice that an appropriate "outcome" would be a journal paper published in one of the "top five journals in our field", as determined by various arbitrary and generally misleading journal metrics. Unfortunately, at a recent meeting to discuss this, we realised that there were a few problems with this; for example, the list of "remote sensing" journals as categorised by the ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports included quite a few journals that would have been completely inappropriate for our work, while some highly relevant and high-profile journals such as IEEE J-STARS were a long way down the list due to being newer and not yet having had time to accrue high-scoring metrics.

However, I noted and was asked to further investigate another potential problem with our list of target journals: the problem of up-and-coming open access mandates from our UK funding bodies.

The 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative defined open access as:

Free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of... articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

The policy that the UK Research Councils (RCUK) are proposing to adopt in the near future would make it mandatory to publish results from research that is wholly or partially funded by the research councils in journals that meet RCUK standards for open access. This is a significant departure from the previous position, where open access publishing even of research council-funded results has been effectively optional. The key points from the draft policy seem to be:

  • A user must be able to access, read and re-use papers free of charge under an extremely permissive licence. RCUK explicitly identify the Creative Commons CC-BY licence as a model.
  • Open access to the paper may be provided directly by the publisher via the journal's website at the time of publication ("Gold OA"; publishers may charge the authors for this), or the author can archive the final version of the paper as accepted for publication in an online repository other than one run by the publisher ("Green OA"). Surrey Research Insight is an example of such a repository. Journals are allowed to impose an embargo of at most 6 months.
  • RCUK grant funding can be used to pay publishers for Gold OA publication, and researchers are recommended to request funding for this in grant applications.

The question, therefore, is: to what extent do "remote sensing" journals comply with this policy? To answer this, I examined the publication policies of all English-language journals in this category with respect to self-archiving of the accepted version of a paper (Green OA), the "normal" published paper, and (if applicable) paid-for open access publication (Gold OA), using the SHERPA RoMEO database, Ross Mounce's publisher licence spreadsheet, and publishers' websites. My results are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Remote sensing journal compliance with proposed RCUK open access rules, sorted in descending order of impact factor. "R" indicates restrictions on "open access" options that prevent full compliance. Minimum publication fees are shown in brackets.
NamePublisherRegularGreen OAGold OA
Remote Sens. Environ.ElsevierNoRR ($3000)
IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens.IEEENoRR ($3000)
ISPRS J. Photogramm. Remote Sens.ElsevierNoRR ($3000)
J. GeodesySpringerNoRYes ($3000)
Int. J. Appl. Earth Obs. Geoinf.ElsevierNoRR ($3000)
GPS Solut.SpringerNoRYes ($3000)
Int. J. Digit. EarthTaylor & FrancisNoRR ($3250)
IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Lett.IEEENoRR ($3000)
Int. J. Remote Sens.Taylor & FrancisNoRR ($3250)
GISci. Remote Sens.BellwetherNoNoNo
J. Appl. Remote Sens.SPIENoRUnclear ($1500)
J. Spat. Sci.Taylor & FrancisNoRNo
Can. J. Remote Sens.Can. Aeronautics and Space Inst.NoNoNo
Radio Sci.AGUR ($1000)RR ($3500)
Photogramm. Eng. Remote Sens.ASPRSNoUnclearNo
Photogramm. Rec.Wiley-BlackwellNoRR ($3000)
Mar. Geod.Taylor & FrancisNoRNo
Surv. Rev.ManeyNoRR ($2000)
Eur. J. Remote Sens.Assoc. Ital. TelerilvamentoYesN/AN/A

The most common restrictions encountered on Gold OA content were prohibition of commercial use (e.g. via explicit Creative Commons CC-BY-NC licensing), prohibition of redistribution, and field-of-use restrictions such as prohibition of text-mining. In addition to these restrictions, in several cases self-archiving was only permitted with an embargo period of more than 6 months. One somewhat bizarrely convoluted rule for Elsevier journals can be boiled down to: "You may archive the accepted version of your paper in your funding body's repository, but only if you don't have to archive it in your funding body's repository."

At this stage, Springer's recent change to CC-BY licensing of papers in their "Open Choice" system is particularly notable. It's also clear our current target journals (IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. and IEEE J-STARS) still have some way to go before they will be BOAI-compliant or compliant with the proposed RCUK publication requirements. In my opinion, over the next few years a good outcome would be for publishers like IEEE and Elsevier to standardise on CC-BY publication for Gold OA publications.

In the short term, I will be recommending to my group that we should consider submitting to open access megajournals such as PLoS ONE, many of which have considerably higher journal metrics than any of the dedicated remote sensing journals. Adding PLoS ONE to the Space Centre's list of preferred journals should not be particularly controversial, as it is already listed as a preferred journal for other research centres in the faculty.

In conclusion, I have demonstrated that the open access publishing options available in the field of remote sensing are limited, and that this may become a problem if stricter rules, similar to those set out by the Budapest Open Access initiative, are laid down by the UK Research Councils. Either journal publishers will have to change their policies, or research groups in this field will need to consider different publishing strategies.

This post is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Planning the Guildford Cycle Network

Since soon after arriving at the University of Surrey to begin my PhD studentship and discovering the terrible state of cycling infrastructure in Guildford, I started attending Guildford Cycle Forum meetings to try and discuss what could actually be done about it. For most of that time, the meetings have had a rather predictable format: a chorus of Forum members pointing out problems experienced by cyclists and opportunities to fix them, countered by County and Borough Council officials explaining either that no budget exists for cycling improvements, or that the changes requested weren't in their department and they couldn't address them.

Recently, however, some money has finally become available via the government's Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), and Guildford is hoping to receive approx. £900,000 of it, a large chunk of which is intended to fund cycling improvements.

A major component of Guildford's bid is the establishment of a network of cycle routes within Guildford. On Thursday 3rd May, Alan Fordham, the "Sustainability Programme Delivery Officer", hosted a Guildford Cycle Forum meeting at the Guildford Borough Council offices to present and discuss the routes that are currently planned for the network.

A total of fourteen local cycle routes are planned to be defined, mostly radial routes fanning out to the north from the town centre, which actually lies in the southern part of the town. Unfortunately, the route maps that Alan handed round at the meeting aren't available online anywhere yet; I asked him to circulate some digital copies by e-mail, but in case he doesn't get time to do so I will try to copy them onto Google Maps or something.

In following blog posts, I plan to discuss the routes and the weaknesses that I see in them based on my experiences cycling to and from Guildford every day. However, in this post, I want to discuss some more general points about the plans.

The most important point which I haven't seen addressed is what the overall objective of the project is, and how it will be assessed. In my opinion, the logical objective is modal shift, where journeys currently made by car are transferred to other forms of transport, and both the design of the network and its performance should be judged by how well it achieves that. I think this is supported by the purpose of the LSTF, which is to help promote the use of and migration to sustainable transport.

Tying into this point, one of the things that really isn't clear to me is what type of cyclist the routes are intended for.

  • Are they intended to be used by regular cycle commuters? Many of this class of cyclists will be aiming to cycle quite quickly and travel at all times of year in all weather conditions. Quite often they will be travelling at rush hour, and given rush-hour congestion and aggressive driving, would likely welcome the addition of good new cycle routes. These cyclists desire routes that have good sight lines, are no more obstructed than roads, and facilitate bidirectional flow well. Unfortunately, these kind of requirements can be very difficult to accommodate well without new, purpose-built segregated cycle facilities or the provision of mandatory on-road cycle lanes. I am one of these users.
  • Are they intended as an 'easy option' to attract occasional cycle commuters? The provision of signposted routes might be the key to persuading people to take up cycling to work, but if the routes are too much slower than driving, or have significant sections that put them in conflict with rush hour traffic, they might be put off. To me, this is a core target group, as moving them to cycling will often directly replace a single-occupant car journey, and I suspect that the problem may not be getting them cycling as keeping them cycling.
  • What about parents taking their children to and from school? When I was in Cambridge, I used to see a couple who would cycle to work at the university on their tandem, taking their children with them in a trailer and dropping them off at primary school on the way. For this kind of user, the routes really need to be accessible either when towing a trailer or when using one of the Dutch-style family carrier bikes with a bay in the front (these are also really good for shopping, or so I hear). For these cyclists, who are often heavily laden, it is important to provide facilities that are wide enough to accommodate them and have few sharp corners. Even a single chicane like this one can make a route impassible.
  • Are the routes intended to be used for school travel by children old enough to ride their own bikes, but not experienced or confident enough to fall into one of the first two categories? For these users, good segregation of cycle routes from traffic is important, because they will commonly want to ride with their friends and might be easily distracted from paying attention to other vehicles. Another factor is that, unfortunately, many of these users will be using equipment that is incomplete or in poor condition (e.g. bad brakes, or no lights), and once again, good segregation may be key in keeping them out of danger.
  • Or are the routes intended for casual cyclists and cycle tourists? These users, who will usually be travelling with a flexible itinerary, in favourable weather conditions, and at times of day when traffic is relatively light, can be accommodated much more easily than any of the other types of user described above.

In following blog posts, I will try to consider the proposed routes with reference to how suitable they are for each of above types of user. Unfortunately, one of my biggest worries about the network as a whole as it is currently envisaged is that it accommodates the last of those classes of user really well, but that many of the routes are fatally flawed for any of the other groups to depend on. Because of that, I worry that the objective of getting many people living in Guildford to change to cycling might be compromised.

Another problem is that there is very little money actually allocated under the plan to major improvement works (such as altering junctions to make them safer for cyclists, or changing road layouts to add cycle lanes of appropriate width), and that the main Surrey County Council highway planning department doesn't seem to be involved in the process. As far as I can tell, this seems limit the project to mostly an exercise in putting up signposts to direct cyclists onto the least inadequate of the existing routes (and even then, one of the Cycle Forum members raised the "environmental concern" that "ugly" signs were "unnecessary"). Fortunately, however, there are a few improvements being made to some of the most obviously hopeless spots.

Overall, I think that just the fact that this project is taking place is a major step forward for cycling in Guildford, finally making a move onto the long road towards making Guildford a town that's genuinely accessible by bicycle.

In my next post, I will investigate Route 4: Wooden Bridge to Jacobs Well, and how well it holds up during rush hour.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Leek and potato soup

It's been a while since I lasted posted a recipe. Here's a recipe for some delicious leek and potato soup that I first tried out last Christmas. Serves 3-4.

  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 large leeks
  • 350 g potatoes
  • 250 ml white wine
  • 150 ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder

Peel and dice the potatoes.

Finely chop the onion and leeks and, using a large heavy-based saucepan, fry gently in the olive oil over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Crush and add the garlic, and fry for a further 1 minute. Meanwhile, boil a kettle.

Add the potatoes, wine and bouillon powder to the pan, with enough boiling water to just cover the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook for 30-40 mins until the potatoes are nice and soft. Blend or mash the soup, and finally stir in the double cream just before serving.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Paper for EUSAR 2012

I'll be presenting a paper in an invited session on urban remote sensing at this year's European Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar (EUSAR 2012). The preprint is now available on my website.

  • P.T.B. Brett and R. Guida. Geometry-Based SAR Curvilinear Feature Selection for Damage Detection. In 9th European Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar - Invited Papers (EUSAR 2012 - Invited Papers), 23-26 April 2011. [Preprint]

In other news, I will be joining the boycott of Elsevier and their journals, and I encourage other researchers to do the same. Their behaviour is actively damaging to science.